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updated: 8/8/2014 10:21 AM

Carol Stream's Community Girlz raising money for homeless vets

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  • The Carol Stream-based Community Girlz organize annual fundraisers to help those in need. Members are, from left, Marielle Beleta, Tam Ta, Yahvi Mahendra, Jessica Xhumari, Kelly Boland, Donna Gieser, Abigail Sopiarz, Emily Giovingo and Lydia Sullivan. Not pictured is Kate Johnson.

       The Carol Stream-based Community Girlz organize annual fundraisers to help those in need. Members are, from left, Marielle Beleta, Tam Ta, Yahvi Mahendra, Jessica Xhumari, Kelly Boland, Donna Gieser, Abigail Sopiarz, Emily Giovingo and Lydia Sullivan. Not pictured is Kate Johnson.
    Safiya Merchant | Staff Photographer

  • The five Community Girlz back in 2010.

      The five Community Girlz back in 2010.
    Courtesy of the Gieser family

 
By Safiya Merchant
smerchant@dailyherald.com

A group of Carol Stream girls is trying to make their corner of the world a better place -- one cause at a time.

Since 2010, the members of Community Girlz have organized annual fundraisers in Carol Stream, with all proceeds going to a cause or organization, ranging from students with autism to homeless animals.

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The girls will be at it again Saturday, Aug. 9, when they hold a fundraiser to benefit the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans. It will run from 1 to 4 p.m. at 136 Arapahoe Trail in Carol Stream.

Community Girlz currently has 10 members, all of whom attended Jay Stream Middle School and are incoming freshmen at Glenbard North High School.

The five original members -- Donna Gieser, Tam Ta, Jessica Xhumari, Emily Giovingo and Lydia Sullivan -- held their first fundraiser to benefit DuPage County Animal Care & Control.

Since then, the group has expanded to include Abigail Sopiarz, Kelly Boland, Marielle Beleta, Kate Johnson and Yahvi Mahendra. One other member recently moved.

When they first came together, Lydia Sullivan said the girls found they all like animals, "so it was just kind of like, 'Hey! Let's help animals that don't have a home.'"

They collected $500 that first year selling homemade crafts, food and beverages, as well as seeking donations.

That set the template for future efforts, which included the sale of jewelry, pillows, potholders, baked goods, balloon animals and popcorn.

Each year's event has been dedicated to a different cause and held in Donna Gieser's front yard -- with help from her mom, Ann.

In 2011, the girls raised $800 for the American Cancer Society and in 2012 they raised more than $1,300 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Last year, the girls raised $2,200, with a portion of the money going to the Autism Society of Illinois in Lombard, which sent a speaker to Jay Stream to talk about autism.

The rest of the money went to support "wish-list items for the resource teachers and staff that support the students on the autism spectrum," Ann Gieser said.

"We again were choosing something close to our heart," Donna Gieser said. "All of us knew someone with autism, whether it was a family member, a friend, or someone like that."

For Emily Giovingo, one of the original members of the group, thinking of others is not a new concept.

"I was raised in a family where I was always taught to think of other people before I thought of myself," she said.

Lydia Sullivan said she also grew up with the idea of helping others.

"I've always grown up around the kind of thing where it's like you should help others when you can and donate things to them," she said. "My parents have never sheltered me from the fact there are people who don't have anything at all."

Abigail Sopiarz said she wants to give more than she takes and can't stand to see people suffering.

"I decided when I joined the group I really wanted to stop that suffering," she said.

Donna Gieser says others can get involved, too.

"Get a group of friends and do it," Donna said. "Think of something you can sell or something you're good at. If you're good at painting or drawing, do that and sell it. If you're good at making food, sell food. Just find something you and your friends like to do and do it."

Tam Ta says the most important lesson may be to never give up.

"Don't give up because even though you might get two cents, it's still something and if you keep going ... you'll eventually amount to a lot more."

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