200130ind BusyBuddies

Wakefield’s Busy Buddies Foundation members Veronica Wright, Rachel Clough and Jessica Gurnon are pictured in 1920s-style outfits which fit the team of the foundation’s upcoming fundraiser Saturday.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — As charitable foundations go, Wakefield’s Busy Buddies Foundation is small. Its contributions, however, have made big differences in the lives of local children wanting that special lesson or activity their families cannot afford.

And a community of businesses — more than 80 throughout South County — help Busy Buddies make kids’ dreams possible and parents’ or guardians’ worries a little less troubling.

“What’s important is that children…find what they love and pursue it. This is all about finding your passion and being able to stay with it,” said Rachel Clough, president of this small foundation that gives that extra something to fulfill that passion.

For instance, one child received long-wanted horseback riding lessons. Another, putting in early hours before school for practice could not afford the rental for a large upright bass, which the foundation later bought him.

There also was prestigious leadership camp at Brown University last summer, but almost missed because of $1,800 more was needed by single parent Diane Hepburn of Narragansett for her son, Shea Hazard, 16.

Other children benefited through payment for ice hockey rink time, sports and music lessons and donations to elementary, middle and high school programs.

This is how one South Kingstown woman used her initiative six years ago to fill a gap in community support for children needing money for lessons, activities and other programs important to them, but beyond reach when household budgets are maxed out.  

This Saturday the organization will hold its annual fundraising event, called “The Roaring ‘20s Gala,” at The Towers in Narragansett. Businesses throughout South County have chipped in prizes, gift certificates, food donations and other items to help support Busy Buddies Foundation.

As Clough puts it, “Part of what makes Busy Buddies is our commitment to community and with that is also the business community’s commitment to us.”

The event began in 2015 with the Roaring ’20s theme and carries into this year with directions to dress up in the century-old look of the 1920s with Flappers and looser clothing that revealed more of the arms and legs in women and less formal daily attire and more athletic clothing or “sportswear”  on men.

But 2020 fashion of today is also acceptable, she said, to mark the hundred-year anniversary of that era’s beginnings. More than 200 people are expected to attend the fundraiser with admission tickets at $35 per-person.   

Among the prizes is a full $2,000 Forever Young BBL Treatment from Inspire Medical Spa in Narragansett and an annual “wine cellar” prize. Each attendee is required to bring a bottle of wine and the total number is divided among four or five raffle winners, usually netting the first-place person about 40 or so bottles of wine, she said.

Fundraising started in 2014 with only the wine cellar raffle and the next year included also the Roaring ‘20s event. These have helped to fund more than $20,000 in contributions to children’s activities since the organization started, said Clough.

The desire to help began in her former dance studio, called Busy Bodies and after which the foundation name was modeled. She owned it for 11 years and had some students who could not afford lessons, she said.

“I offered personal help with dance studio, but couldn’t help those siblings who wanted to participate in other activities,” she said. “I also saw, as a small business owner, the strain it took to allow people to continuously not pay, but it was important” that children had opportunities, she added.

It was clear, Clough said, that the South County and Washington County communities needed to fill this niche as happens with other community needs by other organizations.  

The foundation has a seven-member board comprised of South Kingstown residents Clough, Tim Arbige, Tory Kavanagh, Kate Macinanti, Natalie Kimmerlein, Jessica Gurnon, ​and Veronica Wright, Vice President​.

Applications are made to the board and the circumstances are explained. Referrals to the foundation come a variety of ways, including its website, the South County YMCA, the Johnnycake Center, parents, friends, school counselors and others, said Clough.

Requests not just based on financial need, but also divorce when kids are torn by parents fighting over who will pay and when a parent dies and money is tight, she said.

“Regardless of your situation, when a child has a loss of a parent, the community has an obligation to rally around that child and show him or her a little love and that’s what we try to do. We try to pay for whatever they’re interested in,” Clough said.

Few applications have been rejected so far, she said, but those that have included requests for people over 18 years old, people who are not residents of Washington County and funds sought for birthday, Christmas or other holidays.

Veronica Wright, foundation vice president, pointed to a situation once in her own life as a single mother with one daughter and a tight budget.

“I was lucky to have a community, and friends and family to help with that, but some people don’t and that’s what we want to be here for.  Just helping children find that thing they love, that thing they feel confident in, and that thing in which they develop their own personal confidence. We want every kid to find that special something,” she said.

For Diane Hepburn of Narragansett, son Shea’s week-long leadership program at Brown — a prestigious Ivy League school — meant so much to them both. She has two other teenage sons and money is scarce for the extra-curricular programs, which are also important for admission to a college or university.

“It was such a sign of relief. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said the mother who will tell her story at Saturday’s fundraiser. “I needed to do whatever I could to find a way to help him because it was so important to him.”

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