Six-year-old Zephyr Gold says her family borrows 150 books from the Frederick County Public Library each week.
“It’s sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not,” says her mother, Kate Gold, with a smile. Kate and Brian Gold use the library as their primary source of curriculum for homeschooling their children, Zephyr and 4-year-old Perrin.
Without the library, they wouldn’t be able to afford all those books, she says. They even get special orders for books they need.
In gratitude for what the library has given her family, Zephyr wanted to give back.
“She said, ‘Since they always buy us books, maybe we could buy them a book,'” Kate says.
Staff agreed to let Zephyr and her family sell homemade Butterfingers to friends and neighbors to raise money for a donation.
“They told me afterward they expected her to make $1.50 or $5,” Kate says, but she came back with a Tupperware bursting with $67.50 in pocket change.
Frederick’s Child caught up with the Gold children and 17-year-old Stella Henson, who prove that charitable giving does not have an age limit.
A Heart for Books
Kate Gold recalls her own love of books. During her childhood, she would see the many stacks in her basement from her father’s work at national nonprofit First Book—an organization dedicated to making sure children have equal access to books and educational materials.
“The magic of that got in my blood, and then got in their blood,” she said of her children.
Since Zephyr and Perrin first started to read, the library cultivated a love of learning in them, which led to the inspiration for their latest project: a pedal-powered iPad charger.
“We read a book called ‘Energy Island’ from the library,” Kate says.
“It’s about global warming!” Zephyr interjects.
“And an island that became energy self-sufficient,” Kate continues.
Her children asked her if they could power their house with a bicycle, and Kate suggested they start with an iPad.
“About 50 years I think,” Perrin says when asked when the project will be completed. Kate laughed and clarified that it should be done by the winter. They will need $75 to build the bike, and Kate says it was Zephyr who persuaded her to let them donate any extra funds they receive to the library.
The library has been more than a resource—it’s been a lifeline for them, she says.
“Without it, me and Perrin would be bored to death,” Zephyr says.
Perrin adds, “We would have to read the (same) books over and over.”
“And we would memorize your cookbooks,” Zephyr says, addressing her mother.
When the library closed for two weeks during the pandemic, they read all the books in their house—until some librarians saved the day with more.
“We would drive up, and they’d run outside in their masks and drop them in the trunk, and we’d wave to them through the window (before) they’d vanish back inside,” Kate says.
She adds that it wasn’t just about the books but also the relationships they formed with the librarians, who would talk to Zephyr about battle tanks and to Perrin about ham radios.
Fresh off their entrepreneurial pursuit with the Butterfingers, the kids wanted to continue raising money to give back.
Kate says she’s always tried to model that it’s OK to accept help. When she needed extra help as a mom, it made her feel better, and it made the people helping her feel happier too. When you are stuck on your own problems, she says, it also helps take the focus off you and direct it toward helping someone else.
“If I help them, they will help me back,” Perrin says of why he likes helping others.
Getting involved with raising money was also a great learning experience for them, Kate says. They had to present and make an investment pitch for their bike. They did the math and learned how much they would need to invest and offered the bike plans, a homemade blondie recipe and free iPad chargers to their investors.
Both said they enjoyed the experience of talking to and spending time with others.
Making a Difference with What You Love to Do
Frederick High School senior Stella Henson always wanted to bring about change in her community but didn’t know where to start until her aunt gave her the idea of putting on plays for charity in 2015.
At age 11 or 12, she knew she couldn’t run for mayor, Stella says, “but I can do something I love and have fun with my friends and make our community a better place,” she remembers thinking at the time.
She organized productions each summer for children of family friends at her aunt and uncle’s pavilion under the name “The Kids of Backyard Theater.”
From 2015 to 2020 (when she had to stop because of the COVID-19 pandemic), Stella wrote scripts based off classic plays such as “Annie” and “Robin Hood” and customized them to the age groups that performed each year. With parents and children also helping with sets and costumes, it became a community effort.
She donated $1,000 to various organizations each year over five years.
“I realized probably the biggest thing was just that no matter your age, you can make a difference in your community,” she says of the experience.
Stella was also heavily inspired by her family.
She grew up in Kenya. Her father was a conservationist working with the African Wildlife Foundation and her mom was a teacher. They both worked in nonprofits. Locally, her family is active in the community through food drives and church events. Stella has done the same, including volunteering in school service clubs and local organizations.
“My parents have always just kind of instilled this idea that you need to make your community a better place,” she says.
Her mother’s early work tutoring at the literacy council gave her a heart for immigrants. Stella is now interning with The Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland, where she also donated $2,000 she received this year via the Wertheimer award from the Community Foundation of Frederick County.
She hopes to one day do pro-bono work as a human rights or immigration lawyer.
For now, Stella continues to serve her community through another one of her talents: crafting. During her junior year in 2020, she was contracted to make about 20 birthday cards each month for Morgan Stanley clients.
With clever taglines such as “Oh Deere! It’s your birthday,” for a tractor-themed card, it was another opportunity to brighten the community in a small way, and it really resonated with people.
“In this modern day with technology, often you don’t receive a nice card. A lot of people were just touched that someone spent the time and energy doing that,” she says.
Advice From the Experts
What do the Gold family and Stella Henson have to say about volunteering?
Kate Gold suggests keeping the needs of the organization in mind and asking “‘Is this the type of help that would be useful or is there something more useful I could be doing?'”
If you don’t know where to start, use resources you know you have to offer and people you know in the community, she says: “Starting small is better than not starting at all.”
Stella Henson recommends looking to your passions for inspiration.
“I would say volunteering and giving back comes in all different sorts,” Stella says. “I took something that I thought was going to be fun and then was able to spin it around and give back to our community and make a bigger impact.”
“Find something you’re passionate about,” she says. “The world needs people who love what they do. Just be creative.”