Ariana DeMattei, 16, of Center Moriches, N.Y., a junior at Westhampton Beach High School, has raised over $100,000 to provide more than 1,000 new backpacks filled with school supplies for local elementary students through an organization she founded in 2012 called “Backpacks for Fellow Students.” “As a 12-year-old I never really understood how a family’s economic situation would affect their child’s ability to start off the school year prepared and ready to learn,” Ariana said. But one day while at the checkout stand buying her own school supplies, she was astonished to see how much the total bill was. The thought occurred to her that there were students in her community whose families couldn’t afford to spend that much. She wanted to help.
To buy her backpacks and school supplies, Ariana has organized numerous fundraising events, including a “polar bear plunge,” 5K races, movie nights, bake sales and an annual appeal. She publicized her events by writing press releases, arranging media interviews and using social media. In addition, Ariana spends time writing appeal letters, applying for grants, soliciting sponsors, recruiting volunteers, ordering supplies, and packing and distributing her backpacks to children whose family incomes qualify them to receive free or reduced-price school lunches. “My hope is to create a level playing field in the classroom, no matter what the socioeconomic status is, and maximize a child’s opportunity for educational success,” Ariana said.