Amsterdam elementary school student’s charitable effort inspires schools

Tecler Elementary School student Sofia Harrienger, 9, center, with her mother Lara Kulpa and from left, Principal John Miller, Assistant Principal Robby Hisert, and Superintendant Rich Roberti Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

Tecler Elementary School student Sofia Harrienger, 9, center, with her mother Lara Kulpa and from left, Principal John Miller, Assistant Principal Robby Hisert, and Superintendant Rich Roberti Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

AMSTERDAM — When Sofia Harrienger told her parents a few years ago she wanted to “donate” her birthday to the local animal shelter instead of receiving presents, it came as a surprise.

“She came to us and was like, I have enough stuff, can I just donate my birthday,” her mother Lara Kulpa recalled. She was just 7 at the time.

Since then Harrienger has continued collecting donations to support area organizations on her birthday and the effort has grown each year. Her family formed the non-profit Creating Hope Foundation when the new custom became a lasting tradition.

“When other people feel good because of an action that I did, it makes me feel good,” said Harrienger, a fifth grader at Tecler Elementary School.

For her 10th birthday last month, Harrienger set a goal of raising $5,000 to support the Melodies Center at Albany Medical Center and families facing pediatric cancer after seeing the care her own friend received there.

Fulton, Montgomery counties

“My friend he had cancer when he was five,” Harrienger said. “I liked the way they were doing things with him.”

Harrienger raised money toward the cause selling bottled water at garage sales and through an online art auction organized by her family.

The fundraising initiative expanded into area elementary schools that got kids energized after administrators with the Greater Amsterdam School District learned of the effort.

“We focus a lot on teaching students to be leaders here, Sofia is definitely a model of that,” Tecler Principal John Miller said.

District Superintendent Richard Ruberti suggested organizing a schoolwide fundraising competition known as coin wars. Students and staff donated coins to the effort in jars at each classroom, but the color of their currency was the key to the competition.

Silver coins counted towards the total amount of money raised, while copper coins counted against the amount. Anyone could drop change in any classroom’s copper jar. The grade with the highest total at the end would win a pizza party.

“It makes it fun,” Ruberti said. “The beauty is all the money raised goes towards the whole goal.”

The competition was a hit with Harienger and her classmates. Kids raided their families’ coin jars and urged their parents to visit the bank before school. The collected coins filled mason jars, beakers and plastic bins.

“The entire school was so excited because they could help others and they were in a little bit of a competition between classes,” said Miller, who estimated the amassed contributions easily weighed over 100 pounds.

The fourth grade class at Tecler won the coin war and the school raised $1,847 towards the fight against pediatric cancer. Donations from community members rounded the sum up to an even $2,000.

Over $2,500 total was donated through the fundraising effort that was launched at Tecler, Marie Curie and McNulty Elementary Schools. With the money she already raised Harrienger was able to exceed her $5,000 goal.

“It was way better than anybody ever dreamed,” Kulpa said. “It was one thing for us all to get it started, but it was everybody else who participated who really made it happen and we’re very grateful.”

Harrienger plans to put the surplus towards her birthday fundraising effort for next year to help more families battling cancer.

Fulton, Montgomery counties

“The more I spread and inspire people, it’s going to go around and make more people happy,” Harrienger said.

Although she will enter middle school in the fall, Assistant Principal Robert Hisert suggested to Harrienger that she return to Tecler next year to talk to students about her fundraising efforts and continue hosting coin wars at Tecler. School officials eagerly agreed.

“As a district, we’re continuing to try to instill these values into our students and families of giving back as much as possible and recognizing the positive,” Ruberti said. “Being able to bring the community together with a 10-year-old doing it is incredible.”

“The world could use more Sofias,” he added. “I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, News

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