When most young girls celebrate their 13th birthday, they won’t have raised thousands of dollars and awareness for sexual abuse. But Kelsey Hirsch of Schwenksville isn’t like most young girls.
Charles Hirsch, Kelsey’s father, said when the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case rocked the Penn State community in November, he and his wife, Tonya, made it their obligation to tell their children about the events that surrounded the case.
At the time, Kelsey was just beginning to prepare for her Bat Mitzvah scheduled for September. Part of this Jewish tradition is the Mitzvah project, a required project in which the Bar or Bat Mitzvah takes on a charity or charitable act to better the community.
Kelsey realized her Mitzvah project provided her the perfect opportunity to help prevent the child abuse like she heard about in the Sandusky case.
“I decided to do this because I heard about Sandusky,” Kelsey, who always wears an armful of bands, said. “I knew that they needed help and if we raised enough money, we could help them.”
When Charles, Class of 1996, suggested working with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an organization against sexual violence, Kelsey developed the idea for selling wristbands she personally designed herself. She used the RAINN slogan: “HOPE. COURAGE. STRENGTH.” and has since named her project “Bands4RAINN.”
Kelsey has raised more than $3,000 and has sold more than 1,300 bands after selling the majority of bands during Blue-White Weekend. Her goal is to raise 5,000 by her Bat Mitzvah on Sept. 8, but she hopes to go above and beyond that.
After setting up a table outside Beaver Stadium Saturday, Kelsey attracted celebrity attention with her first donor — former NFL star Franco Harris who made a generous donation.
With her Mitzvah project on somewhat of a larger scale than most, Kelsey said she has been receiving support from everyone she meets.
“They think it’s way more than a 12-year-old could do,” she said. “Most people would just do something for animals.”
Kelsey’s younger brother, Devon, has been in full support of his big sister, and has even sold bands to his teachers at school without being asked.
“If I was doing what Kelsey’s doing, I would feel like I was giving people a good life,” 9-year-old Devon said.
Charles said working with the university has been easier than he thought and that a few notable student organizations have been actively involved in helping Kelsey with her Mitzvah project.
About a month ago, One Heart Penn State held a fundraising event at Cold Stone Creamery where Kelsey and her family came to sell bands. One Heart has also been actively getting Kelsey’s message out to the public through social media and even started a campaign to bring Kelsey on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Kelsey hasn’t just been selling the bands at her school, in her neighborhood and at her synagogue, but she has also actively been promoting her cause through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Through Twitter, Bands4RAINN has even seen support through Penn State players and alumni including Evan Royster, LaVar Arrington and Adam Taliaferro. Kelsey has even had Twitter conversations with “Private Practice” actress and RAINN spokeswoman KaDee Strickland.
Charles said part of this project is letting the public know that Penn State still has so many great qualities, and the unfortunate events should not overshadow everything that is great about the university and the community.
“We want the media to know that it’s not all bad here,” he said.
Though many people tend to stop their Mitzvah project after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Kelsey is planning on continuing her efforts long after the day of her Bat Mitzvah, which also falls on her 13th birthday.
“It makes me feel like I’m a helpful person,” Kelsey said.
As of now, the bands are blue and white because of the affiliation with Penn State, but eventually those colors will change as their product and message reaches other schools and a national scale, Charles said.
The Hirsch family is also looking into selling T-shirts they have developed for the cause as well.
Bands4RAINN are now being sold at the Student Book Store, 330 E. College Ave., downtown and online at www.store.rainn.org.
The defining moment, Kelsey said, will be when she travels to Washington, D.C. in the weeks before her Bat Mitzvah, and hands over the big foam check to RAINN. If she reaches her goal and sells 5,000 bands, that check will have a minimum of $15,000 on it.
“She is going to change the world,” Devon said.