The Small (but Mighty) Foundation Fueled by a Child's Inspiration
Photo by Catie Viox
It takes a great deal of effort to keep any charity afloat, but when that charity is a small foundation in a city the size of Cincinnati, the challenge can be especially daunting. Still, Heather Alessandro and her team have managed to not only keep Paige’s Princess Foundation afloat over the past five years, the organization is thriving, growing and making a difference in hundreds of children’s lives throughout the area.
“We work for literally every dollar that comes our way,” Alessandro says. “Many people are hesitant to support a newer organization because they want to ensure their funds are properly used in the long-term.”
The foundation takes that responsibility seriously. “Five years is a long time for a grassroots charity, so we are hoping to have earned a spot at the table for Cincinnati’s charities,” she says. “The biggest factor in our success thus far is passion and tenacity.”
The board members take nothing for granted. Alessandro says the board is constantly rededicating itself to their mission to reach as many children as possible; this helps to ensure they are consistently doing things the best way they can. Like any charity, sometimes the request for donations is met with a flat “no,” but Alessandro and the board sees those responses as motivation to work harder and to make the most out of the generous donations they do receive.
One way the group maintains its focus is by staying true to its mission to make lives a little easier for families who, like her own, have been affected by raising a child with a disability. The loss of her 6-year-old daughter, Paige, in 2010, was the original impetus for the organization. The child who dealt with a host of disabilities is never far from her mother’s mind.
“When you lose a child,” Alessandro says, “there is absolutely nothing that will ever make that pain and emptiness subside. I’ve always felt that I should choose to fill the emptiness with something that would have made Paige proud, and would leave a similar impact on the world as she would have.”
Alessandro draws strength from the strong character and empathy Paige always displayed, and considers the example of her young daughter’s courage and determination vital to the success of Paige’s Princess Foundation.
In a way, the depth of emotion related to losing a child was a potential hindrance for Alessandro. She had to reckon with whether she would be comfortable constantly explaining what happened to her daughter and how the loss has impacted her family. “My only hesitation was that starting something like this as a bereaved parent means that to some extent I will always have this tragedy as a focal point in my life, which can take a lot of strength.”
Alessandro says it can be difficult to convey what Paige was like to people who never met her. Two of the board members are in that camp. She and others still share stories about Paige, including one a friend recounted to Alessandro after Paige had died.
“It was the first day of school,” Alessandro says, “and she was feeling pretty comfortable. We knew the school well, and her teacher. Paige already had some friends in her class, and a girl she didn’t know had started talking to her and said ‘I’m a little scared; would you be my friend?’ Paige said ‘Yes, I will be your best friend,’ and she stayed true to that promise.” Alessandro thinks of this story any time someone asks something of the organization. “I think of how Paige, at 5 years old, was so capable of making someone else’s life better in an even greater way than they had asked.”
This mindset has helped to grow an organization that started at Alessandro’s kitchen table into one that hosts an annual 5K run with more than 500 participants (Paige’s Princess Run), several inclusive outings for families throughout the year and events like the recent Princess Tea fundraiser. There is always something coming up on the foundation’s calendar.
Over time, she has been able to differentiate her feelings between Paige as a person and Paige’s Princess Foundation, the organization. “And it’s certainly worth it,” Alessandro says. “To realize that so many people each day still say her name when they speak of us and our foundation does mean that the best part of her will live on.”
The volunteers who keep this small, but mighty organization running and thriving, keep Paige at the center of all they do. They do a lot.
“All of our board members are volunteers,” Alessandro says of the folks who average 15 hours of work per month on top of jobs, raising families and other obligations. “To find the kind of time our board members find each month speaks to the dedication and reward we find in working for the children. It’s not often in life where you can do something that you can literally see making a positive impact on someone who truly deserves it.”
The board members work to plan events, research grants and fundraising opportunities, make countless calls, negotiate costs and work together to scrutinize the grant applications that never stop trickling in. In 2016, the organization was able to supply 71 grants to families that needed help paying for expensive therapies and adaptive equipment not covered by insurance, services that can make a big impact on kids who need them. Over the past five years, the organization has provided funds to more than 300 local families that have allowed local children with disabilities to participate in equine therapy, adaptive swimming lessons, speech, music and art therapy and to receive equipment that allows them to move, play and communicate better.
None of the board members are paid, including Alessandro, who says every dollar raised goes toward helping every child possible. “This means that sometimes, we are simply out of money. We have to be so careful and considerate in how we spend and how we can make the funds that we have go the furthest. Therapy and equipment for kids is not cheap.”
Alessandro says the organization never stops trying to raise money through every channel possible. Lately, they’ve been able to attract some corporate involvement. She says these donors have stepped up because someone at the company knows someone who has been helped by the foundation, something that happens more often these days. They’ve seen the large impact this small organization can make.
Alessandro is humble about the success she’s seen in her role as president and founder of an increasingly respected local charity: “We just keep working.”
To get involved with Paige’s Princess Foundation or make a financial contribution, visit Paigesprincessrun.com.