A passion for helping children

Name: Rebekah Thomas
Major: Organizational leadership and supervision
Year: Senior
Hometown: Logansport, Indiana

Not your typical student: Rebekah is a student at Purdue's College of Technology at Lafayette location, but this is not her first time as a Purdue student. She attended for a few years starting in 1999, then life took her in a different direction. "I got married and had three children. I wanted to finish my college degree because I want to be a good example to my children." Her family includes her husband, Justin, and children Emily, 9; Ethan, 4; and Elijah, 22 months. "My children inspire me to do more, be more, work harder."

Putting others first: She started Project Birthday, Kids who Kare, in January 2010 after hearing a comment from her daughter, Emily, who was having her ninth birthday party. "She said to me, 'I have everything already. Why don't we collect donations for kids who don't have anything?' " So instead of having the guests bring presents for Emily, they brought presents to collect for underprivileged children in the community.

A simple idea, multiplied: Project Birthday works by having children in the community agree to hold birthday parties and donate the gifts collected to children in need instead of the birthday boy or girl. After Rebekah's daughter started the ball rolling, many of her friends held similar birthday parties where they donated gifts. From there, Rebekah has spread the word about Project Birthday through fliers and meeting with many community leaders. "A birthday is something children can relate to. The project has been so popular because it's easy for them to understand."

A big need, a big impact: Rebekah said she conducted quite a bit of research in the community on how many children are in need, what items they need and where best to send donations. Right now, she mainly organizes donations of toys, DVDs, traditional and electronic games, gift cards and other items that are delivered to local hospitals, agencies and churches. Although she hasn't tracked the numbers, she estimates that in less than a year, hundreds of children have received donations from the project.

Future plans: Rebekah, who will receive her bachelor's degree in December, said the experience of Project Birthday has caused her to want to help others in need as a career. She plans to keep working to grow Project Birthday and would like to launch a Website for the organization.

Words to live by: "Life is a gift, and it's our responsibility to give back. I don't dream about the newest handbags or shoes. I dream about making a difference in someone's life."

By Kim Delker