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At Inova, Children Helping Children

Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children 'Kid Power' program created for children to practice philanthropy in community.

USED RH 12/1

In front of a room full of 300 Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children health care professionals, then 9-year old Alexandra Weaver launched Kid Power — the hospital's first organized child-run philanthropy to benefit sick and injured children.

"I wanted to help the kids," said Weaver, now 11, about why she headed the program. "A year ago my sister was in the hospital and I just felt like giving back."

On Nov. 6, Weaver was recognized at a Northern Virginia Leadership Award gala for her dedication and accomplishments with the program as the recipient of the Freddie Mac Youth Leadership Award.

"I was very nervous at the gala," said Weaver who, in addition to receiving a trophy and medal, was given a $1,500 check for the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. "When they announced my name my mom knocked over her chair so that was funny — but then I had to go up in front of 500 to 600 people and I was really nervous, but I did my thing."

Weaver said although she was nervous, talking to a room of adults has become a normal occurrence ever since she took on the Kid Power program in June 2003.

"I first met Alex when we decided to develop Kid Power," said Leslie Brady, manager of special fund-raising for Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. "She helped us kick it off in front of 300 health professionals of Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, which demonstrated a lot of courage."

Brady said she nominated Weaver for the Freddie Mac award because of her leadership with the program and the fact that she was able to devise and organize the hospital's first child-run fund-raiser last spring.

"Kid Power was born out of kids like Alex. ... She's very committed to our charitable mission at our children's hospital," she said. "Alex, at the tender age of 9, carried out our first annual Beanie Baby Bingo Festival, but really her vision was for the children to have a fun time."

KID POWER was created so children in the community dedicated to making a difference could have the opportunity to help the lives of other young people through philanthropy and community service.

Through the program, the children are not only helping the sick and injured children in the hospital, but they are also learning the importance of volunteering in the community.

"Kid Power is innovative because it is the first of its kind," said Brady. "We've always had kids wanting to help the hospital, and now through Kid Power, we can help guide them by building developmental aspects."

Brady said she thought Alex's accomplishments should be rewarded because of how much she was able to do in one year.

"Alex is unique in what she's done," she said. "She's taken [Kid Power] from an internal Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children project, to the community level."

As a leader for Kid Power, Weaver and her friends — who she asked to volunteer — created the first annual Beanie Baby Bingo Festival to benefit the children's hospital.

The event attracted around 300 community members and raised more than $10,000 in contributions for the hospital.

"I was sitting with my two best friends in my room and they said you have tons of Beanie Babies, and then we just decided we wanted to give them to the children in the hospital," said Weaver about how she came up with the idea for the theme of the fund-raising event. "I was very happy that the [festival] was a success — I was looking forward to it going far but didn't know it'd go that far."

Patricia Weaver, Alexandra's mother, said although adults are on hand to supervise the events and help break down the children's ideas so they take the proper steps to accomplish them, the children are the ones who run the show — not the adults.

"They're responsible for the ideas, they use white boards to write them up," she said. "She's responsible for getting the volunteers, setting everything up and cleaning it up when it's over."

Brady said from the hospital side, the only involvement they had in the event was making sure the children had a location for the fund-raiser — everything else was done by Alexandra and other children volunteers.

"It was really a lesson in skill building ... it really does boggle your mind," she said. "When we had the planning meeting the kids were all sitting around in the chairs — they took it from a concept to implementation to execution."

Weaver said she thinks her daughter became interested in philanthropic events because of the annual Kiddos Charity Golf Classic she organizes each year to benefit the children's hospital.

"She's just got a passion," she said, adding Alexandra volunteers at her school — Navy Elementary School — as a PE Pal to help the school's children with disabilities participate in physical education, and she delivers turkey on Thanksgiving to the homeless with her mother.

In addition to being exposed to her philanthropic events, Weaver said Alexandra was exposed to the children's hospital last year.

"Her sister had open heart surgery and she saw what they did — that just added to her desire to help," she said. "I was impressed with the tutorial they provided, it was a very child friendly explanation of what was going to happen and that made her more aware."

Weaver said regardless of the surgery she thinks her daughter would have become involved in community service, adding it is important to her that she is involved in helping others.

"We're trying to teach them the tools that can help them with community service," she said. "Kids get excited when they get the opportunity to do this, they just need to be introduced to it."

Brady said in addition to honoring Alexandra for her accomplishments, she also commends Patricia Weaver for "introducing philanthropy and community service at such a young age," to her daughters.

"Alex wants to do these things, it's not her mother twisting her arm," said Brady. "She cares and she really wants to do them."

IN ITS FIRST YEAR, Kid Power already has more than 50 volunteers ranging in age from six to 12 years old.

Of those, Brady estimates about 12 to 18 are Alexandra's friends whom she has asked to volunteer either from her travel soccer team or her school.

The Kid Power program is open to children from kindergarten to 12th grade, and is a good opportunity to brighten the lives of sick children while learning about community service, Brady said.

"They had a great time," said Brady of the hospital children who were well enough to participate with the fund-raiser. "They were happy to be there — they could just escape the world of being sick or injured."

Although her schedule has become more active as a fifth grader and with her traveling soccer team winning more games, Alexandra Weaver said she plans to continue with the Kid Power program and hopes more children will volunteer their time.

"It's a very hard time in life when you're sick or ill," she said about why the program is so important to children in the hospital. "A lot of times the hospital isn't the best place where they want to be."

Weaver's mother said she although her daughter is fortunate enough to understand the importance of community service, she is still learning time management and the impact her fundraising has on others.

"She's your typical 11-year old going on 20," joked Patricia Weaver. "She's just at an advantage because she's been exposed to charity."