For the past two years, Lily-Anne Heywood, now a 7-year-old first grader at Matthew Thornton Elementary School, has asked those she invites to her birthday party not to bring presents, but rather, to bring donations. The donations go to a charity of her choosing.
"She is just such a strong-willed kid," said her mother, Jessica Heywood. "She really is something special." Jessica's birthday is Oct. 11, and this year, for her Oct. 9 party, she donated without hesitation to the Bella Tucker Fund.
Bella Tucker is a 9-year-old girl who attends South School. She became ill on Easter with a near fatal infection and after five days in a coma, survived Streptococcus Pneumonia Sepsis with DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). The infection caused extensive tissue damage, and" required quadruple amputation surgery.
Bella is currently undergoing rehabilitation in Boston and is expected to return home in- November. Community volunteers are making extensive modifications to the family home to accommodate Bella's needs.
"She jumped on it immediately," said Jessica Heywood of her daughter's decision to donate her birthday gift to the Bella Tucker Fund. "She knew Bella was a gymnast at the gym right down the street from us, and she wanted to do what she could." Lily-Anne is a gymnast at Gym-Ken Gymnastics in Windham.
Last year, Lily-Anne donated her birthday money, nearly $500, to The Patriots Foundation, a charity run by the New England Patriots that helps families in need.
Lily-Anne, who according to her mother never asks for anything in return for her good deeds, is aware of how lucky she is. "I think she portrays that to everyone, every day," she said.
This year, the Heywoods were able to raise $1,027 at Lily-Anne's party, all of which will go to the Bella Tucker Fund. "That's the last tally I have, but the donations are still coming in," said Jessica Heywood.
Lily-Anne, an only child, is waiting to hear how the Bella Tucker Fund would like to receive the donation. "She has been concerned with Bella's story from the start, as a fellow gymnast and being from the same town," her mother said. "I believe even at 7, she feels a connection."
According to Jessica Heywood, Lily-Anne's friends and fellow gymnasts are starting to adopt the trend of donations instead of gifts at birthday parties. "They are starting to accept and adopt her philosophy too", said Heywood.