Michelle Richling is the Director of Kids & Fitness at The Sports and Fitness EDGE in Williston. She is pictured here with her three children (and the family dog).

Michelle Richling is the Director of Kids & Fitness at The Sports and Fitness EDGE in Williston. She is pictured here with her three children (and the family dog).

At the time of year when people are making New Year’s resolutions to sleep more, I am about to get the least sleep of my entire year – and I can’t wait. Why?

It all started seven years ago when my children and I signed up to be “change bandits” for The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital’s Big Change Roundup fundraising campaign. I had just become director of Kids & Fitness at The EDGE and I wanted our organization to be more involved in community outreach. I also wanted my kids to learn from the experience.

Seven years later, I find myself – and my children – profoundly changed. What started by simply wearing bandanas and collecting extra change turned into a website to collect donations, a raffle, a family-hosted carnival, then a public carnival. We started off with a $500 fundraising goal; last year, we made it $5,000. Every year we had new ideas for raising money – the kids loved it – we also had new energy, and more and more new people helping and donating. Each year, I was amazed by how many families attend events, how many local businesses donate, and how many volunteers support the effort. Everyone comes together for one common goal: to help children and families.

Last year, The EDGE in Williston was asked to host the “kickoff event” for the Big Change Roundup. What an honor! And, this year, we are pleased to host it again on Sunday, January 11 at 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Our “carnival” will feature games, a bouncy house, kids activities, food, raffles, and more. Our media partner WOKO will be broadcasting live. Join us! You can have fun and sign up to be a change bandit at the event.

When you sign on as a “change bandit,” you sign up to help children and parents….

  • Like me… I have some personal experiences with my own children being in the hospital, and I’m grateful for the amazing care we received as well as the compassion, resources, understanding, and support. It was an extremely traumatizing time, I can vividly recall the fear, the unknown, being terrified of what might be. I am thankful all of my stories ended happily.
  • Like my dear friend Danielle… The experience that left the deepest impression on me was when Danielle, my eldest daughter’s godmother, had to do the unimaginable: say goodbye to her two daughters. Jadyn (age 27 months) got her wings on November 27, 2007, and Havyn (22 months) joined her on March 23, 2011. I can remember both days like they were yesterday. Danielle had been her daughters’ biggest advocate their entire lives and had given them such amazing experiences and unconditional love, and here she was playing lullabies, wrapping her arms around them, surrounding them with love, peace, and tranquility, and telling them that it was ok to go – when I knew every fiber of her being wanted her daughters to stay. I kept asking myself: How could she find the strength to do the unimaginable? When I looked around the room I saw doctors and nurses, therapists and child life specialists weeping. One-by-one I put names to faces and remembered stories Danielle had told me about the nurses who would sit with her all night and talk, or doctors who made house visits so she didn’t have to take her sick children out of the house, therapists who sang to her daughters. There was SO much love in the room and so much of it was from hospital staff who but gave SO much. They gave her love, strength, hope, support, comfort, and I know that made ALL the difference.

When your child or children sign on as a “change bandits,” you help them realize the power of giving back. I am proud to say my daughter Emma, a fifth grader, was assigned an independent project with wide open possibilities. Without hesitation, she chose to do a series of bake sales to raise money for The UVM Children’s Hospital. The awareness that my children have been exposed to throughout their lives through participating in the Big Change Round Up is heartwarming. I could not be more proud!

Additionally, there is awareness in our center: This past fall when a child at Kids & Fitness missed Halloween because she was in the hospital, her classmates, teachers, and families all pulled together to recreate Halloween for her. The children were concerned about their classmate while she was in the hospital and keenly aware that it was Halloween and what do you do when you are in the hospital for Halloween? When she returned the following week, everyone brought in their costumes and they dressed up, trick or treated throughout the center, and had a party!

The Big Change Roundup has become a part of who I am it has helped me grow personally and professionally. It has helped us as a center in so many ways, we are teaching, raising awareness, building community, giving children and families perspective, learning to be grateful and giving back. I encourage each and every one of you to sign up to be a “change bandit.” The rewards are amazing for everyone!

Michelle Richling is the Director of Kids & Fitness at The Sports and Fitness EDGE in Williston, an early childhood program that services more than 100 families every year. She is mother to Emma, 10, Ava, 8, and Luca, 4, who have all attended the program since they were born. Michelle is a graduate of the University of Vermont, where she has a degree in Early Childhood Education.

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