WESTPORT, Conn. — Sometimes, the biggest rewards come from the smallest packages.
Layla and Maya Wofsy, 15 and 13- years-old respectively and founders (along with their parents, Hallie and Scott) of the Kidz Give Back Foundation, recently visited four Harlem public schools to give fourth and fifth grade students an opportunity to give back to the community by making stuffed animals that will be donated to other children in need.
The mission behind the 501 (c) (3) Westport-based organization, in operation since 2007, is to empower children to create gifts for families in need.
Most recently, there’s been a special focus on providing kids in inner cities who normally are only recipients of charity, to gain that same feeling of empowerment as those who are financially able to give charitably.
Last year the organization and its “Stuffed With Love” events reached 400 inner city kids along with more than 550 kids through private functions.
The need to help others all started when the Wofsy girls were small. At two, Layla was making stuffed animals for her birthday and donating them to children in need. By the time Layla was seven, she decided to forego a typical birthday party and instead asked to host a stuffed animal-making party for charity and invite the kids from the neighborhood to join in. The seeds for this giving tradition was born, turning Kidz Give Back into a family affair.
“We’ve had such incredible responses from the kids who participate in our events,” said Hallie. “Kids always tell us how much fun they had and some have even said it was the best day of their life.”
While some youngsters have only experienced what it is like to receive a gift, Kidz Give Back inspires children to make a stuffed animal for another needy child in the community, allowing them to feel the satisfaction of giving to someone else who is facing a difficult time in their life. Participants receive a “Stuffed With Love” silicone bracelet to remind them of the time they gave to help another child.
HARLEM — Dozens of Harlem fourth and fifth graders learned a lesson outside of the classroom Thursday.
The Kidz Give Back Foundation hosted a “Stuff With Love” event at P.S. 242 to build and dress stuffed animals — including bears, monkeys, lions and elephants — and write notes which will be donated to the Children’s Aid Society, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth.
“It’s really important that students understand that there are kids that are less fortunate than them,” said P.S. 242 Principal Marcia Hendricks.
“The kids are excited and the aim is to teach our kids to be international citizens.”
Students from P.S. 241 also joined the event, at which nearly 100 stuffed animals were made.
“It feels good because I’m helping kids who don’t have toys and this is my first time doing charity,” said Rokhaya Diakhate, a fourth grader at P.S. 242.
The foundation, a Connecticut-based nonprofit, was founded in 2010 by two teens — Layla Wofsy, 15, and Maya Wofsy, 13 — after Layla held a Build-a-Bear party when she was 7 years old. That morphed into a charity organization when Layla asked her mom to give the bears to less fortunate kids.
“In the past few years it has grown immensely,” Layla said at the event. “It feels so good.”
The organization travels to different towns, cities and schools throughout the Tri-State area hosting events.
As little girls, Layla and Maya Wofsy spent their birthdays at Build A Bear. They created stuffed gifts to give to children who needed them more than they did.
Taking cues from their kids, in 2007 Westporters Hallie and Scott Wofsy created Stuffed With Love. The charity event provides an environment where children can create stuffed animals, to be donated to needy youngsters.
Three years later the Wofsy family expanded the idea, forming the Kidz Give Back Foundation.
This area remains a focal point of SWL’s efforts. The day after Thanksgiving every year Kidz Give Back sponsors a Stuffed With Love event, at Weston’s Norfield Grange. Hundreds of children stuff, dress and prepare gifts for others in hospitals or financial distress.
But as important as the gift of giving is, many children and communities lack the financial resources to host their own Stuffed With Love events.
Fortunately, Kidz Give Back received a Fanny and Svante Kilstrom Foundation grant. That gives 400 children in Bridgeport the chance to create stuffed animal gifts to give to children in need in their own communities. The circle of care ripples outward.
The Wofsys invite all area children — and families — to join their efforts. To join, host or donate to a Stuffed With Love event, click here.
The Wofsy home in Westport was stuffed with love Friday as community members packed inside the Silverbrook Road residence to build stuffed animals for children in need.
The 4th annual “Stuffed with Love” open house charity drew 140 families and netted about 350 stuffed animals to benefit the Westport-based nonprofit Al’s Angels, according to Hallie Wofsy, who runs the event with her husband, Scott; and daughters Layla and Maya.
“It’s just amazing,” Hallie Wofsy said. “The first year we did this, we had about 50 families participate. It just keeps growing and growing.”
Each year on the Friday following Thanksgiving, the Wofsy family invites the community into their home to stuff animals, dress them in outfits, and complete the ensemble with pins, buttons and stickers. The finished product is then named, bagged and shipped to Al’s Angels, which distributes the stuffed animals to needy children throughout the region.
While Daniel Westphal, 9, put the finishing touches on a hockey stick-toting alligator, his sister Jennifer, 6, pieced together a tan bear in a denim skirt and jacket.
“It’s pretty incredible how many people get involved,” their mother, Sue Westphal, said.
The event is beneficial, she said, because it teaches children about the value of giving and supports their creative minds.
“That’s what this is all about,” she said, “giving back.”
“Stuffed with Love” has been held every year since 2007 on the Friday following Thanksgiving, when Layla Wofsy celebrates her birthday.
Rather than hold a big party for their eldest daughter, who turned 10 on Friday, the Wofsy family decided four years ago to invite others into their home and create gifts for the less fortunate.
And before that, Scott and Hallie Wofsy were taking their daughters to Build-A-Bear workshop to create stuffed animals for others.
Layla said she doesn’t mind replacing her birthday party with a charitable toy drive for children in need.
“It’s more important to give than to get,” she said.
Those interested in donating to the event can mail a check to Hallie Wofsy at 23 Silverbrook Road in Westport. Each check goes toward the purchase of the gifts, which are used to assemble the stuffed animals. To participate in future events, e-mail Hallie Wofsy at firstname.lastname@example.org
By CHASE WRIGHT (Hour Staff Writer)
Layla Wofsy turns 10 on Friday. But instead of planning a big birthday bash, she and her family are preparing to host their annual open-house charity event, “Stuffed With Love.”
For the event, which has been held the Friday after Thanksgiving since 2007, the Wofsy home is transformed into a stuffed animal workshop. Hundreds of family and friends join them in making stuffed animals for children in need. “Stuffed With Love” was Layla’s idea.
“When I was 6, I stopped having big birthday parties and decided to do this,” said Layla, a fourth-grader at Coleytown Elementary.
Though it may be uncommon for a child to make such a decision, charity has been a part of Layla’s life from a young age. Every year since her second birthday, Layla has gone to Build-A-Bear and made a stuffed animal for a child in need, said Hallie Wofsy, her mom.
But four years ago, Layla asked if they could have a stuffed-animal-making party for charity instead of a birthday party, Hallie said. And that’s how “Stuffed With Love” was born.
“I always liked giving,” Layla said. “It makes me feel good: I feel helpful.”
In the first year, about 50 families participated, said Hallie, a Coleytown Elementary PTA. This year, about 140 families will help create nearly 350 stuffed animals.
All of the animals, which are dressed, given a birth certificate and packed in a decorated gift bag complete with a personalized card, are given to the Westport nonprofit Al’s Angels for distribution to needy children.
Layla said she wouldn’t trade “Stuffed With Love” for a traditional birthday party.
“They don’t get stuffed animals and they don’t have all the things I do,” Layla said of needy children. “I’m making them happy.”
by Vanessa Inzitari11/22/10
Photo credit: David Esposito