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State Honoree

Alex Vanharen

Oxford, Michigan

Alex Vanharen, 13, of Oxford, Michigan, an eighth-grader at Oxford Middle School, has donated more than 7,500 hats, gloves, and scarves to people in need over the past five years, and has organized annual donation drives to collect pop tops for a Ronald McDonald House, eyeglasses for the Lions Club and hygiene items for victims of domestic violence. It all started one cold day when Alex was out on the school playground and saw a group of students wearing lightweight clothing, trying to stay warm. “At that very moment, I realized how fortunate I was and I wanted to help them,” he said. As soon as he got home, he announced to his mother, “We need to learn how to knit right now!” That same day, they studied a YouTube video on how to loom, and went out to buy knitting supplies.

Before long, word got out about his desire to help others, and volunteers began offering to assist with knitting, to donate or purchase yarn and other items, and to make deliveries. Alex now spends most of his time tracking and organizing donations, storing and loading them onto delivery vehicles, and maintaining a Facebook page to promote the initiative. To date, Alex’s nonprofit has distributed winter apparel accessories through 22 schools and more than 20 charitable organizations. In addition, his drives have collected more than 40 pounds of pop tops for Ronald McDonald House, and over 400 pairs of glasses for the Lions Club, plus building materials for Habitat for Humanity, blankets and towels for an animal rescue organization, used books for a children’s charity, and personal hygiene items for an agency serving victims of domestic violence.