For most kids, the ideal birthday gift is anything ranging from a pair of roller blades to the latest Call of Duty (or, if you’re lucky, an envelope stuffed with cash that you can spend on anything). This doesn’t apply to Janette and Jackie Keller, two seventh graders at Aspen Middle School who have decided to forgo birthday gifts to instead make donations to their favorite non-profits. This year, Action in Africa was a beneficiary of their generosity, receiving a $75 birthday donation from the girls! This money will go towards our scholarship program, allowing one fortunate Ugandan teenager to pursue an education that would otherwise be unaffordable.
Janette and Jackie were born in Guatemala, but the two of them moved to Aspen with their mom when they were young. The girls have grown up in the Aspen School District, attending Aspen Elementary before starting at AMS in 2015. They both feel incredibly lucky to live in Aspen, which was one of the driving inspirations for their birthday donation to Action in Africa. Janette explained, “I’m proud that I can make a boy or girl go to school for the first time in their lives, it makes me feel great and it reminds me of how fortunate I am to live here in Aspen in a safe place.” When I asked them what, if anything, was there least favorite part about living in Aspen, the girls were quick to answer. “Hiking the bowl,” Janette and Jackie said in unison before adding, “and skiing down afterwards.”
The girls first got the idea to make birthday donations from their mom. “My mom said we should do it since we have too much stuff,” Jackie explained, adding that they were skeptical of the plan at first. When I asked them why they were reluctant, the girls looked at me blankly and said, “because we like presents.” This, I admit, should have been obvious. Less obvious, though, is the fact that the girls have really taken to the idea, embracing their birthday donations with a positive disposition and a wide smile. The girls always donate to organizations they know, which is why they donated to a primary school in Rwanda run by one of their mom’s friends last year. Specifically, their money helped finance the construction of a new playground for the students.
Janette and Jackie have been engaged with Action in Africa for the last two years. After our president, Sarah Nininger, gave a speech to the students describing our work in Uganda, the girls immediately decided to put on a bake sale to help raise money. The girls sold over $100 worth of cookies and brownies, donating 100% of the proceeds to our organization. They have stayed in touch ever since, paying particular attention to our videos. “I really love the Action in Africa videos,” Jackie explained, “especially the ones with dancing.” When their birthdays rolled around this year, donating to Action in Africa was an easy choice.
It doesn’t stop at a birthday donation once a year, though, as the twins also volunteer at local organizations. Janette works with kindergarteners at Aspen Elementary doing mostly arts and crafts. She first started working with kids as an apprentice at Aspen Tree’s Earth Keeps program, which, as Janette explained, “is an organization that lets kids help the environment.” Jackie volunteers as well, working at the animal shelter where she takes care of dogs, cats, and birds. The girls love animals, which is why they also donated $75 worth of birthday money to an Elephant sanctuary.
The girls are at once loquacious, thoughtful, and full of life, and it was an absolute pleasure speaking with them. Thank you, Janette and Jackie, for the donation and for being an inspiration for the rest of us! We can all learn a lot from your generosity. Happy belated Birthday!
Written By Michael Schwartz- Action in Africa