(Editor’s Note: ‘Helping the Helpers,’ a cooperative effort between The Pennsylvania Capital-Star and Uniontown Herald-Standard is a daily series highlighting the work of volunteer groups and nonprofit organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania who are making a difference in their communities. The stories will run through Christmas Day)
By Jennifer Garofalo
WEST BROWNSVILLE, Pa. — Parents often tell their children to do good deeds and give back to their communities. Then, without meaning to, they throw up barriers, nixing the ideas children come up with.
West Brownsville, Fayette County resident Brianne Mitchell didn’t. In fact, she got behind her daughters’ ideas and brought them to life with the Della and Lila Children’s Book Series.
“We talked about community service in the series, and we didn’t want it to be lip service,” Mitchell said, so when the series launched, the Mitchell family, including Brianne, her husband, Mitch, and daughters Della, 12, and Lila, 9, simultaneously started The River Fund, putting a portion of the sale of each book toward the nonprofit.
“It was easy – you sell a book, you save the money and donate it a worthy cause – and children and families are worthy causes,” Mitchell said.
The fund, which also raises money through other endeavors throughout the year, supports a number of causes, including a Christmas program to provide gifts to students in local school districts who may not otherwise receive much. Guidance counselors at the schools provide the names of at-need students, and money from the fund is used to purchase them several gifts.
This year, the program will give gifts to students in the Brownsville Area, California Area and Charleroi Area school districts. It’s a scaled-back number of schools than they typically help, Mitchell said, because having in-person fundraisers has been nearly impossible due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
“Normally, my house is filled,” Mitchell said. “We do bikes, presents, and people just come in and drop stuff off all day, every day.
- HOW TO HELP: A link to purchase the prints or donate to The River Fund can also be found at dellaandlila.com.
“People really answer the call,” she said.
She’s hoping people will do so again this year, so that The River Fund can support buying for as many students as possible.
In addition to the Christmas program, the fund also donates to other charities across the area and around the world, including the Zephaniah Free Education Center, based in Pakistan.
The organization takes in and educates children in children in need, focusing on young women.
Mitchell said the charity was meaningful to her family, making them thankful for the freedoms and opportunities afforded to young girls in America.
All of that reach of the The River Fund, she said, came from a desire to support her children in wanting to do good through the book series.
The books, “Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Mermaid,” “Della and Lila and the Treasure Adventure” and “Della and Lila Meet the Monongahela Monster,” took five years to write. They started when Della was 5 and Lila was 3.
“The reason why I think we felt called to serve or drawn to give is we talk so much about it in the books what it means to give back to your community and be good to your neighbors,” Mitchell said.
But, she noted, there are many opportunities available for children to practice doing good – around their neighborhood, or with community organizations that are in need of volunteers of all ages.
“We, as adults, tell children, ‘Be good neighbors,’ … but we never give them the opportunity or space to do that, because they’re either not allowed or we don’t create the opportunity,” Mitchell said. “We need to be able to encourage children to be good leaders … and provide them a safe space to be able to do that.”
Recently, Mitchell started a sale of art prints of Brownsville landmarks to help support the fund’s Christmas program.
The prints feature the Monongahela National Bank, Nemacolin Castle, Union Station Building and a streetscape that includes the borough’s “telephone building,” old bank building and Snowden building. All of the proceeds will go to The River Fund.
Jennifer Garofalo is the managing editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Readers may email her at [email protected]