At just 17 years old, Warwick resident Ava Librizzi and senior at St. Raphael Academy is a little young to be president. Regardless, that’s exactly what she is – albeit not of a country, but of her own nonprofit organization, Help a Hero, whose goal (for now) is to collect as much winter clothing for American military veterans in need as possible.
“It resonates with almost everyone,” Ava said of her mission. “Everyone has some connection the military in some way.”
The idea for Help a Hero – which has now been officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) – began last December when Ava and her father Chris, who is a rescue driver within the Warwick Fire Department, took a trip to New York City for her birthday. After seeing a large number of homeless people – many of them veterans – Ava took a simple challenge from her dad, to “help our heroes”, and ran with it.
Throughout the next few months, the Librizzi family collected over $8,000 in total donations – which included $2,000 in monetary donations and 251 winter hats, 85 pairs of boots and over 100 scarves, pairs of socks and gloves worth about $6,000 in total product value – which went to benefit Operation Stand Down.
Now, Ava is at it again.
“They asked me to help with that since the boots and hat drive went so well, and so now I'm on that quest,” she said.
Once again, she is looking to help Operation Stand Down by collecting 100 new or slightly used winter coats ahead of their “Stand Down Weekend” on Sept. 20 and 21. Perhaps indicative of her successful donation solicitation earlier this year, that 100 mark is half of Operation Stand Down’s overall goal for the weekend of 200 coats to give out.
Ava and Chris are optimistic they can reach and surpass that goal, especially given how the community rallied around her cause earlier in the year.
“Everyone is always willing to help,” she said. “Everyone is so generous.”
Making that goal even more likely is a family friend of Chris’, who owns a laundromat in Long Island, N.Y., who has already pledged his support.
“He said he can get me to that point alone, because people over time just forget to pick them up,” Ava said.
Ava recently met with Mayor Joseph Solomon to get permission to place donation boxes around the city. Not only did he grant the approval, Solomon recommended the most highly-trafficked city buildings in which to place the donation boxes.
As a result, collection bins have been set up on the main floor of Warwick City Hall (3275 Post Road), the Buttonwoods Community Center (3027 West Shore Road), McDermott Pool and the Thayer Ice Arena, both located in the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex at 925 Sandy Lane, The Warwick Fire Department headquarters (111 Veterans Memorial Drive) and the Warwick Police Department headquarters (99 Veterans Memorial Drive). Donations will be accepted until Sept. 15.
“Ava and her family have a long history of supporting charitable causes and events, including the police and fire departments’ Help a Hero benefit hockey game last spring,” Solomon said in a release. “Helping veterans is something very near to her heart, and the City is pleased to assist her in her efforts to help those who have served our country and are now in need. The compassion and kindness she demonstrates every day are the very qualities we hope to encourage and foster in our young people.”
The family’s garage might be even more cluttered with donations by the end of the campaign than it was with the boots and hats earlier in the year – but that’s all part of the process.
“We appreciate any assistance the citizens of the city of Warwick could provide to us,” said Chris. “It's greatly appreciated to help our veterans.”
In lieu of coat donations, monetary payments can be made via checks made out to “Help a Hero.”