It was holiday time, and 4-year-old Ephraim Steigerwald had more presents than he had energy to open, courtesy of his parents’ business associates. That’s when his mother, Ana, had an epiphany.
“I knew it was overwhelming for a toddler and an extravagance when others had so little,” she says. So with Ephraim’s agreement, we donated some of the toys to Rady Children’s as a way to begin teaching our sons about community service.”
Ana then realized she could collect even more toys for Rady Children’s – and involve her sons in philanthropy – by starting a nonprofit organization. In 2002, she launched Kidz USA out of her home office with the goal of starting an official holiday toy drive benefitting Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. She then began recruiting local schools and businesses that wanted to support the Hospital by funding the purchase of toys and collecting them on site. The Gillespie School of La Jolla, which Ana’s sons attended, and Dunhill Marketing and Insurance Services, founded by her husband, Tony, were the first to come on board.
Fast forward 11 years. Ephraim, 16, and his brother, Alex, 13, are now students at Francis Parker, and Kidz USA continues to flourish. What started out with 60 toys collected and dropped off at Rady Children’s has grown to a truckload-size delivery. And the number of Kidz USA partners has expanded to include Francis Parker, Continental Catering, Diamond Brands Inc. and the Knock Around Camp run out of the UC San Diego Recreation Department.
The family now also recruits partners year-round, not just on holidays, and students fundraise to purchase additional toys, yielding a bounty for children in need. Ana’s sons are leading the charge.
“Ephraim and Alex are active participants in Kidz USA. They’re comfortable making presentations on their own—they recruited Francis Parker and the Knock Around Camp,” Ana says. They feel empowered, and their goal is to get all of the private schools in San Diego on board.”
Ana’s sons visit Rady Children’s periodically and volunteer in the playroom and toy room, where they enjoy organizing the toys donated through Kidz USA. Seeing the impact of their work first-hand brings them great satisfaction.
“It’s a feeling you can’t quite understand until you experience it,” Alex says. It’s like you’re seeing true joy on kids’ faces because they’ve forgotten about their illness or injury and they’re having fun. It brightens my spirit.”
Watching her sons mature and blossom is equally gratifying for their mom. “Ephraim and Alex understand their ethical obligation to help others. And they’ve learned humility, compassion and gratitude through their service,” Ana says. But what makes me most proud is how they’ve inspired their peers to get involved. As a parent, that’s incredibly rewarding.