A chance encounter at a Waterloo animal shelter sparked what has become a tradition of generosity for one young student at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva.
In early 2016, 6-year-old Roman Nearpass, a first-grader at the school at the time, and his mother were at the Beverly Animal Shelter to pick up something for their dog, Brutus. There they met an older gentleman whose dog had recently passed away. The man was donating his leftover dog food to the shelter, and on the way home Roman remarked how nice it was of the man to donate the food instead of throwing it away, recalled Roman's mother, Amy Nearpass.
Nearpass asked Roman how he would feel about asking the guests at his upcoming seventh birthday party to bring items to donate to the animal shelter as well as gifts, and Roman readily agreed.
"He said, 'Yeah, and they don't have to bring me anything. I don't need anything,'" Nearpass said.
Roman's birthday is Jan. 20, less than a month after Christmas, so there's not much on his wish list at that point, he explained, noting that Brutus frequently plays a part in thinning his toy collection when it gets too large.
"Usually I don't really play with my toys and they get torn up by our dog," Roman said.
The guests at Roman's seventh birthday party in 2016 did as he asked and brought donations for the Beverly Animal Shelter, and Roman enjoyed this first taste of charitable giving so much that he decided to do something similar this year for his eighth birthday party, his mother said. Nearpass provided Roman with a list of several local nonprofit organizations, told him a little bit about each and let him choose which one would benefit from his eighth birthday party. After some deliberation Roman settled on the Family Hope Center, formerly known as the Care Net Pregnancy Care Center of the Finger Lakes. The Geneva organization provides abortion alternatives to women and their families, including pregnancy tests, limited ultrasounds, parenting classes and support for pregnant women who choose adoption.
"When I told him what each charity was about, he said that he didn't like the idea of babies not having anything, so that was why he chose the Family Hope Center," Nearpass said.
Doreen Teed, executive director of the Family Hope Center, said she was ecstatic when she learned of Roman's plan to help the center. She provided a wish list of items the center could use, including diapers, wipes and other baby essentials.
"When we were writing out the invitations we attached the list of their needs, and that's what his friends brought to the party," Nearpass said.
"I think they thought it was a good idea," Roman added.
After the party, Roman was left with a veritable mountain of diapers, wipes, baby shampoo and lotion, as well as infant sleepers, socks and bibs and one diaper bag. In late January he and his mom, sister and a friend brought their stockpile to the Family Hope Center, where Teed gratefully accepted the donations and gave her guests a tour of the facility. She explained that Roman's donations would be added to the other items in the center's material aid room. Parents in need are able to take items from that room after completing parenting courses at the center.
"It was a very interesting experience. It's not just for pregnant women. I didn't realize all the things they did there," Nearpass remarked.
What doesn't surprise Nearpass, however, is her son's penchant for helping others. Roman and his classmates at St. Francis-St. Stephen learn a lot about kindness, generosity and sharing, and the school involves its students in a lot of community-service projects, she said. The students are eager participants in the projects, which strengthens her faith in the younger generation, she added.
"They're learning this at school and taking it to heart and working with it and doing what they can. If other kids see this, maybe it'll spread," Nearpass said, noting that she's very proud of her son.
Teed, meanwhile, said she commends Roman's parents for teaching him to think of others.
"I love when I see this because I know that the parents are raising a generation of kids who want to look beyond themselves," she said.
Such generous acts from young people provide a figurative shot in the arm for people who work in ministry and spend hours upon hours fundraising and doing whatever they can to keep their ministries going, she added.
"When you have people who do this it really blesses you and it just makes you aware that yeah, God is in control and he knows our needs, and how he fills our needs is always different," Teed said. "This time he filled a need through this 8-year-old."