Isabella Esposito and D’Ana Smith wanted to celebrate their 12th birthdays in an unusual way. The sixth-graders at Grayhawk Elementary School in Scottsdale didn’t mind the usual food and cake. And they invited all 90 of their classmates for one big bash on Friday.
They didn’t want presents, at least for themselves. In lieu of gifts, D’Ana and Isabella asked classmates to bring donations for the Tumbleweed Youth Center of Phoenix. They wound up with a truckload of clothing, toys, toiletries and other needs for people who need them most.
“We decided that we should give back to people who are in need,” said D’Ana, who will turn 12 on June 30. “We had a lot of fun and we know we are helping others. I felt we made a difference. If every child can do something like this, it will make a big difference.”
Isabella, who was 12 on April 30, said she and D’Ana came up with the idea of collecting presents for others while sitting at an ice cream parlor. Isabella agreed that the presents they gathered — and other donations that keep coming in — left a better feeling than the usual gifts the girls might have received.
“It was 10 times better than a regular birthday party,” Isabella said. “We had a good time and, because of it, so will others. We saw gifts pouring in. The boxes we had set up were overflowing. It was more than we expected.”
Dania Smith, D’Ana’s mother, and Isabella’s mom, Laura Esposito, expressed pride as they talked about the good that came from their daughters’ gesture.
“The majority of things were planned by D’Ana and Isabella,” Esposito said. “It turned out to be something wonderful.”
Smith, who said she was raised doing community service, added, “D’Ana and her friend wanted to do this and they kind of took it from there. They are always dreaming and scheming.”
Part of that included DVD invitations, rather than the usual paper kind.
D’Ana’s grandmother, Lana Turner, who has done charity work for 30 years, said she instilled the idea of giving to her daughter. Having her granddaughter and a friend pick up the gauntlet is an even better feeling.
“We’d take Dania to a soup kitchen to talk to the homeless and give them sandwiches and see how they lived,” Turner said. “It’s wonderful to see D’Ana pick it up. There’s all kinds of things (donations) here; everything but a house.”
As he surveyed the loot picked up Monday, Abraham Sousa, Tumbleweed Youth Center facility manager, said he and the organization were touched by the girls’ efforts.
“It’s amazing for girls to give up their presents so others less fortunate can have things,” he said.
According to its Web site Tumbleweed, established in 1973, touches the lives of more than 3,000 youth ages 9 to 22 annually with various services. The group will hold its “Where Hope Meets Reality” dinner at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort & Villas, 6333 N. Scottsdale Road. Details: www.tumbleweed.org.