JOPLIN, Mo. —
Her mother is the chief financial officer. Her twin brothers handle quality control. And Sarah is the saleswoman, handing out cups of lemonade in exchange for donations for worthy causes from her front yard on Long Island, N.Y.
The 13-year-old’s enterprise has netted more than $10,000 for charities during the past seven years, with the most recently earned funds coming to Joplin.
The Connor family stopped Wednesday at the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department offices on its way across the United States to present an $800 check to be used to replace trees damaged or destroyed in the May 2011 tornado.
“I earned it selling lemonade during three different parades that came right past our house,” Sarah said.
She was the one who did the honors of writing out the check to hand to Chris Cotten, parks director, who called her “quite the entrepreneur.” He presented her with tokens of the city’s appreciation: a pin representing the state of Missouri and a pin representing Joplin’s status as a Tree City USA.
Sarah’s fundraising efforts really began when she was 4, and she did a mini-walk-athon for the March of Dimes, said her mother, Amy Connor. She saw the impact the organization had when her brothers were born prematurely.
Her desire to plant trees began when a cherry tree she admired on her street was cut down, which upset her. Then, a tree in front of her house was cut down, and she decided to raise money to replace not just those trees, but to plant 19 of them along Main Street in Northport, Long Island. She raised $3,000.
She also raised money for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
“Then I chose Joplin after hearing of the tornado,” she said. “You can’t live without trees.”
For the Joplin fundraiser, as she did with others, she asked those buying lemonade to donate whatever they could.
“Some people put in 50 cents, some put in $5, some dropped money in the box and didn’t take lemonade,” said her dad, Gene Connor, a high school dance and theater teacher.
The teen comes by fundraising for charity by way of example: Her dad is in the middle of a 3,700-mile, 64-day bike ride from California to New York to raise money for a summer camp for children with cancer. The rest of the family is serving as his crew, although Sarah has ridden about 120 miles with him and plans to complete 400.
Gene Connor is putting in 12-hour days in the saddle in excessive heat, and to date has raised about $18,000 of his $50,000 goal. The funds generated will be used to provide scholarships for children to attend Sunrise Day Camp, where he has taught music and theater in past summers.
In 2007, he commuted on his bike to and from work for a year, and raised more than $12,000 to benefit the American Cancer Society. His inspiration was from his three sisters and his mother, all of whom were diagnosed with various forms of cancer within an 18-month period.
“We’ve had great support along the way,” he said. “Sometimes people hear what we’re doing and just reach into their pockets and give us whatever they can, even if it’s $1 or $5. It all goes to Sunrise Camp, and all of those little donations when put together can add up to send a child to camp.”
During a stopover in Pittsburg, Kan., the family was given two nights of lodging by the proprietors of the Himmel House Bed and Breakfast. Their daughter, Maggie Stephens, recently wrote and performed a play about the impact of cancer.
Regarding what her next fundraising project might be, Sarah said, “Joplin is ongoing for right now.”
And it seems that younger brothers William and James are following in their father’s and sister’s footsteps: James is raising funds to save endangered tigers, while William is collecting thank-yous to send to members of the armed forces serving overseas.
“Are they change-makers? I don’t know,” their dad said. “I think my children just see what I do and that it helps, and so they’ve come up with their own ways to make a difference, too.”
Donations to Sarah Connor’s Joplin project may be made at www.projectlemonaid.org, while donations to Gene Connor’s ride to support Sunrise Day Camp may be made at www.connorsarmy.org.
CHRIS COTTEN, director of the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department, said the $800 donation would be set aside for trees to be planted in parks affected by the tornado. They likely will be planted in late September or early October.