While on a trip to New York City to celebrate her birthday last December, Ava Librizzi – a junior at St. Raphael Academy and a Warwick native – wasn’t focusing on herself. She was thinking how sad it was to see homeless individuals holding signs – many of them claiming to be military veterans – without ample clothing to protect them from the weather.
“It was like 10 degrees outside – freezing cold,” she recalled. “And they don’t have boots on their feet or hats on their head, and they’re freezing and asking for help. It’s just awful, and I wanted to make a difference.”
While she knew she wanted to help the plight of homeless veterans, she didn’t exactly know how. Her dad offered a simple, yet effective suggestion.
“I said, ‘Ava, why don’t you help our heroes?’ And that clicked for her,” said her father, Chris, an EMT for the Warwick Fire Department.
And so “Help a Hero” was born – a charitable foundation currently in the process of earning its 501(c)(3) status that seeks to provide new or slightly used boots and warm winter hats to veterans in need.
The generosity of the community began this January in multiple Catholic masses of St. Kevin’s and St. Benedict’s, where Father Robert Marciano arranged for Ava to speak in front of parishioners to pitch her charitable endeavor and ask for any help people could offer.
They did that, and then some.
“That helped spread the word and the parishioners were extremely generous and started donating right away,” Ava said. “Right after the first mass I had people coming up to me and handing me money and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh.’ I didn’t think it would blow up so fast, it’s just been amazing.”
Bins for donations continued to fill, until the young nonprofit had already raised over $8,000-worth of high-quality winter wear, which will be donated to Operation Stand Down this Wednesday.
Where can a single family contain all those donations, you may be wondering?
“Our garage is jam packed,” Chris said with a smile.
While the donation totals in a short time has exceeded all expectations, Ava is not content to quit now. The 7th annual charity hockey game held between the Warwick Fire Department and the Warwick Police Department will be held this Saturday at 6 p.m. at Thayer Arena, and the foundation to benefit from this year’s charitable drive will benefit Help a Hero. Chris facilitates the charity game each year and received widespread support to benefit Help a Hero.
Additionally, Operation Stand Down has invited Ava to help in their yearly coat drive, and through a connection with St. Raphael’s principal, Daniel Richard, Ava might have a foot in the door with the proprietor of Vibram Soles, a high-quality manufacturer of boots, shoes and soles for shoes that could potentially net even more support for the foundation. Her cousin also offered to set up a similar drive in Seattle, Wash. under her name.
Chris said that the support from the community and beyond has been astounding.
“It’s like a snowball effect,” he said. “The hardest part is starting that process. To say you’re going to do it is one thing, but to actually follow through and do it – the snowball effect is just tremendous with this community.”
The Librizzi family is not new to giving back to their community. Ava’s older brother, Zachary, earned a community service award from then-President Barack Obama for completing over 300 hours of community service during his four-year stint at St. Raphael.
“I never expected all of this to blow up this big. I’m so glad it did. It’s great to help,” Ava said. “I just think boots and hats are a necessity. If your feet are warm, it makes you feel better.”
“The thing Ava said was, they do so much for us, and I have to do something for them. Even just some little thing,” Chris added. “And it’s true. No veteran should ever go without boots on their feet, a coat on their body or a hat on their head. It sounds like a cliché but it’s sad – for everything they do for us, it’s the least we can do for them.”
There will be bins for more donations set up at the charity hockey game at Thayer Arena on Saturday, April 6, beginning at 6 p.m. The Librizzi’s encouraged any donations of new or slightly used boots and hats, as all will be donated to go towards giving back to homeless veterans.