DOVER — Melanie Ewing of Dover suggested that her daughter, Kamrie, make some hair ribbons to sell one summer, just to keep Kamrie and her older brother, well, out of each other’s hair.
That triggered then-9-year-old Kamrie’s charitable spirit. Since 2012, she has started her own nonprofit organization, Kamrie’s Colorful Creations, and has raised thousands of dollars for projects to help children in Dover and Russellville.
The hair ribbons led to bookmarks, then a backpack program, new shoes and more.
Now the 10-year-old has been honored by chambers of commerce in both cities.
Kamrie, a fifth-grader at Dover Elementary School, was named Russellville Citizen of the Year in January and received the Dover Outstanding Community Service Award this month.
“I have no idea why I got the award,” she said.
Kamrie’s projects and service were “mind-blowing,” said Todd Sweeden, chairman of the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce Board.
“For a child that is that age, it’s kind of amazing. When most kids would be outside playing, she’s raising money for different groups,” he said.
“We had seven nominations, and she was one of the seven. She just kind of melted our hearts in what she was doing,” Sweeden said.
Ewing said that when she suggested that Kamrie sell the ribbons to a few family members and friends, she thought the project might net $20.
“I said, ‘If anybody does buy these, what would you want to do with the money?’ At the time, she needed a new bike,” Ewing said.
“She immediately said she wanted to give [the money] to an orphanage,” Ewing said.
“I just looked at her and said, ‘Really?’”
“I said, ‘I have all the things I need, and other kids don’t, so I said orphanage,’” Kamrie said, repeating what she had told her mother.
Kamrie sold the hair ribbons at her brother’s baseball game and made $100.
“She came home, and she screamed at the top of her lungs,” Ewing said. “She was so ecstatic, and it just sort of snowballed.”
In six weeks, Kamrie had made $1,000.
Because the Ewings didn’t know of an orphanage, Kamrie decided to donate the money to Korey Heath of Russellville, who has cancer.
“She was really happy,” Kamrie said. “It just felt really good.”
“When we were backing out of the driveway, she said, ‘Momma, I want to do it again,’” Ewing recalled.
Kamrie then raised another $1,000 for Korey.
“I thought we were done. How many ribbons can you sell?” Ewing asked.
The next Sunday at their church, Ewing said, the pastor mentioned Southern Christian Home in Morrilton and used the word “orphanage.”
Kamrie’s ears perked up.
“I got a knot in my throat. I knew right then and there, she was not done. It was God all over,” Ewing said.
When they left church, Kamrie told her, “Momma, I want to try to raise $100 for those kids for Christmas.”
At that time, the children’s home in Morrilton had 49 residents.
Kamrie had leftover fabric scraps from the hair ribbons, and a friend of her mother’s, a teacher in Fayetteville, suggested that Kamrie make bookmarks.
Ewing said they used Facebook to get the message out. They asked for five people to donate $20 to sponsor a teacher, which would give Kamrie her $100 for the home, and Kamrie could make a bookmark for every student in those teachers’ classes.
Like every project Kamrie undertakes, this one mushroomed.
In a week, 106 teachers had been sponsored, and they had raised $2,000.
Ewing said she and Kamrie used their church in Russellville, The Journey, to have a bookmark party, and 30 people came to help for 4 1/2 hours to finish all the bookmarks.
Kamrie named the project Operation Bookmark Happiness and has just finished the second bookmark project.
Kristin Bunch, assistant director of Southern Christian Home, said Kamrie has helped with big items and small ones.
“Oh, my goodness; she’s just been amazing,” Bunch said. “If we have an event coming up, and we need a little something extra, … like we said, ‘Hey, Kamrie, we need some ice cream,’ and she went out and got the gallons of ice cream we needed.
“She’s always got a different idea of what she could be doing,” Bunch said. “At Christmas, she had some extra money, and she went out and bought all our boys Axe body spray. We love her. Her heart is bigger than she is,” Bunch said.
Southern Christian Home isn’t really an orphanage, Bunch said.
“We’re a family-style living home; some people call it a group home,” she said. A majority of the children are in Arkansas Department of Human Services custody. “Some of them are available for adoption, but most of them are not. Their plan is to reunify with their families.”
Bunch said the kids are happy to see Kamrie coming.
Kamrie used some of the proceeds from her bookmark project to buy 37 pairs of new shoes for needy students at Dover Elementary School. She spent 1 1/2 hours with her mother picking out all the shoes.
“Obviously, she can’t drive, but I do try to keep her involved as much as possible,” Ewing said. “I want her to be part of the parts that aren’t fun, too.
“I make her endorse the back of every check and fill out deposit checks, just for that experience. It’s not all fun; there’s a lot of work that goes along with this.”
Kamrie also had a tie-dyed-shirt booth at the Pope County Fair to make money to buy suitcases on wheels for foster children and collected 144 backpacks for kids in need.
Ewing said her daughter has raised “close to $12,000 in goods or cash,” including $5,100 for the Southern Christian Home.
Of all the fundraisers she’s held, Kamrie said, “I really like the yard sale — seeing all the random stuff,” she said. “We raised $2,100.”
Ewing owns Ewing Photography in Russellville, and her husband, David, is a Russellville police officer.
Because Kamrie attends school in Dover, “we’re active in both communities,” Ewing said.
Ewing said her daughter’s organization is making a difference at home, too.
“It’s changed our family,” Ewing said. “It’s changed our lives, as far as just being aware of this huge, huge need. I think we’re all just stuck inside our own boxes.”
Kamrie said she was surprised with both chamber awards.
She was impressed with the design of the Russellville Citizen of the Year award.
“It’s a starfish, and it’s purple and sparkly inside,” Kamrie said.
Her next fundraising project, which her mother has put on hold for a while, is a dog show.
“Categories that I want are like ugliest dog, the smartest dog, prettiest dog and the weirdest pet,” Kamrie said.
Ewing said she’s had lots of people volunteer to help with the show, so she’s thinking about letting Kamrie hold it in June.
“Are we really doing this?” Kamrie asked, barely able to contain her excitement.
An update on all Kamrie’s projects are on her website, www.kamriescolorfulcreations.org.
Kamrie said her advice to others who think they can’t make a difference is this: “If you can’t help 100, help just one.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.