PAYING IT FORWARD: Choosing to give instead

As Ally Mack and her mother made a list of people to invite to her 11th birthday party last month, it occurred to the Phillips Elementary fifth-grader that there would be many people bringing her many gifts.

“I already had a lot of stuff,” Mack said. “We made a lot of invitations for people, and I didn’t want them to all bring presents.”

So her mother, Natalie, asked her if she’d rather have people give her donations for a charity. As she listed possible choices, she came to BrAva, the local organization dedicated to finding a cure for and supporting families affected by childhood cancer.

Ally knew that was the one.

“I just felt really bad for … all the kids that had cancer, and I wanted to do something to help them,” she said.

So Ally requested donations for BrAva instead of presents. She said she didn’t have a particular goal in mind, but was surprised by how much her gesture raised.

After her party, Ally and a friend went through the cards and found donations ranging from $5 to $150. The final tally was $465.

“I didn’t think I was going to get, like, that much money,” she said. “I was really shocked.”

Ally still breaks into a smile talking about it – and her younger sister Molly gets a look of shock on her face when asked what she thought about her sister’s decision to forego birthday presents.

A few days after the party, Ally and her mother gave the money to BrAva co-founder Desni Crock, a family friend whose daughter Bridget is a cancer survivor and half of the group’s namesake, along with the late Ava Nichols. Crock didn’t know what the Macks were bringing.

“It means everything to me,” she said. “It impresses the heck out of me that a kid her age would be willing to give up her chance at gifts for kids like my daughter.”

Seeing Crock’s reaction was a highlight of the experience for Ally.

“I just felt real good about it because everyone seemed so happy,” she said.

Natalie Mack said her daughter was practically skipping to the car afterward.

“I was really proud of her,” she said. And “I was really surprised after when she said, ‘I always want to do this.'”

That’s right – Ally said she wants to make collecting donations for groups like BrAva, rather than getting presents, an annual birthday tradition.

“I don’t need any more stuff,” she said.