While many high school students go above and beyond when they perform school service, very few establish their own non-profit to aid those who are less fortunate. Mount Mercy Academy senior Olivia Larson of Orchard Park did just that. She saw a need and acted to try and help fill that need.
Her non-profit, For Every Little Handprint, has already made a difference in the community. As a result of her philanthropic endeavors, Larson recently received the Outstanding Young Philanthropist Award at a National Philanthropy Day luncheon. The award is presented to an individual who is 18 years old or younger who demonstrates exceptional skill in coordinating a fundraising project and/or motivating groups of volunteers to assist. She must have a passion for the cause and a sincere effort to achieve fundraising success. National Philanthropy Day is a celebration of benevolent donations of time, talent and treasure.
Mount Mercy Academy Principal Margaret Staszak is well aware of how unique a young woman Olivia Larson is. “It is rare to find a young person so insightful and so willing to make positive change in our world that she would create her own non-profit organization, and yet you would expect nothing less of Olivia Larson. She truly exemplifies the spirit of mercy and compassion we hope to instill in all of our students,” Staszak remarked.
Approximately 500 guests gathered at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens to honor organizations and individuals whose lifetime or long-term accomplishments have impacted the Western New York Community in a significant way.
The Western New York Women’s Foundation, where Larson has interned for the past two summers, nominated her for the prestigious honor. While she was there she worked on the group’s Community Civic Engagement Effort (CCEE) which handles voter registration for the 2020 census.
As a sophomore, Larson heard a presentation in her Spanish class that mentioned that Buffalo had a high poverty rate. She researched poverty in Buffalo and discovered that the poverty rate was 44 percent in 2016 and it currently sits at 47 percent. Due to the influence that Mount Mercy’s emphasis on service has on her, Larson knew she had to do more. She spearheaded a drive for baby supplies sponsored by her church and was gratified by the positive response to this effort. However, she knew that she needed to do more.
Larson knew she wanted to do something that was more long-lasting, so with the help and support of her parents she began to form her non-profit. The organization obtained its Articles of Incorporation in October of 2018 and as of March of 2019 obtained 501(c) (3) tax status for non-profits.
The first project that she tackled was a school supply program. She supplied 30 students from pre-kindergarten to eleventh grade with backpacks. The backpacks were filled with all the necessary materials from their teacher’s supply list. Rather than resting on that success, Larson set additional goals for her organization. She started a Creativity Workshop, a mentorship program at West Buffalo Charter School, and a literacy program to supplement the School Supply Drive.
The Creativity Workshop allowed students to create a dream board, a poster of what their dreams are and who will help them achieve these dreams. Larson then arranged for eight young professional women to each mentor an eighth grade student for a year. The fourth project that she will tackle is supplying “Books With Love” to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Each of the applicants who were accepted into the program receives a book in the mail once a month for a period of a year.
In addition to these goals, Larson also has long-term goals. She hopes to set up a technology office where students will have access to technology in a safe environment that will allow them 24-hour access with a swipe card. She would also like to have the mentorship program expand to 30 students within three years.
For Every Little Handprint will open an office next month. Despite not having an official office prior to this time, Larson has been busy with her non-profit. She spends several hours each week meeting with community leaders and organizations, sending and answering emails, updating the website and working on marketing.
When asked who her role models for her works of service are, Larson did not hesitate when answering that her parents as well as Mount Mercy are her role models. Through the service she has done at Mount Mercy or seen done by others at Mount Mercy, she has been inspired to do something for someone or something that has been neglected.
“Mount Mercy has shaped my community service by instilling in me the ability to make a change in the world and the community. If I see a problem or injustice in the world, it is my duty to stand up and speak. I know that the Mount Mercy community will support me in my efforts,” Larson commented.
Although she does not have an official staff, Larson is quick to point out that her friends and classmates are willing to assist her with her projects. For Every Little Handprint’s Board of Directors includes Don Larson, Tim O’Shei, Michelle Ostrander, Heather McCarthy and Michael Seigler. Larson, in addition to being her father, is a pharmacist. O’Shei is a reporter for The Buffalo News, Ostrander is an administrator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, McCarthy is an assistant principal and Seigler works in finance at Delaware North.
Larson is unsure where she will attend college next year, but intends to double major in international affairs and business. She plans to continue to expand For Every Little Handprint and eventually work for an international organization like the United Nations.
“I am extremely honored to have been nominated for and selected to receive this award. To me, receiving this award means I am a part of a larger community dedicated to giving back to the community that has been so supportive of us. I believe it is important to serve others during our life through dedication of our time, talents and financial resources,” Larson concluded.
In addition, Larson, the daughter of Rebecca and Donald Larson, is extremely active at Mount Mercy. She is the president of student government, co-editor of the Mercienne yearbook, a member of the Mock Trial Team and a student ambassador.
Mount Mercy President Margaret M. Cronin commented, “Olivia embodies all that is possible through a Mercy education. She continues to amaze us through all the wonderful projects she has been involved with and the spirit in which she lives. More importantly, her example challenges us all to think bigger and do more. There are few guarantees in life, but one that Margaret Staszak and I are sure of is Olivia Larson will be a name that will be changing this world for the better for many years to come.”