Senior gives back, one birthday at a time

Some people were born to give back. At least that’s what Anoka High School senior Allie Kanyetzny thinks.

Allie Kanyetzny

Allie KanyetznySubmitted photo

As a 10-year-old, she founded her charitable organization, “Allie’s Wish.” Its mission is simple: give back to those in need. As a high school student, Kanyetzny founded the AHS Dress Drive, which, with non-profit Operation Glass Slipper, provides prom dresses to high school girls who can’t afford one.

“When you say it all like that …” Kanyetzny said with a modest smile. “I mean — I just have this willingness and motivation to help others. I really think my place on this earth is to help people.”

The soon-to-be college freshman is heading to the College of St. Benedict to study nursing and peace studies. Nursing because it can allow her to travel the world setting up free clinics for those in need. Peace studies because it will give her the education to make Allie’s Wish a full-blown non-profit.

“Over the years, I’ve received messages from people all over the world who have seen the work Allie’s Wish has done,” Kanyetzny said. “It’s inspiring, the things they say. So I want to travel the world making a difference.”

That mix of ambition and philanthropy recently led to some pretty serious recognition. Kanyetzny has been named a 2014 distinguished finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Only 234 students from around the nation earned such recognition.

“When I was told I was a finalist — I’m still shocked. I’m so honored,” she said. “I mean, thousands apply. I didn’t really think I would be recognized — I thought it would be fun to apply.”

Kanyetzny says the recognition, much less her success with Allie’s Wish, wouldn’t be possible without the staff and her education at AHS, which she says has prepared her for life.

“I would not be where I am today without Anoka High School,” she said. “I view the world differently than I did when I got here. The school has helped broaden my horizons and make me a better person.”

As for the desire to give back, Kanyetzny credits her family for instilling philanthropy in her. “There’s so much love in my family. I want to give the love that I’ve been given — celebrate that gift,” she said. That idea is now the motto for Allie’s Wish: Celebrate the gift of giving.

Allie’s Wish started simply enough. For her 10th birthday, she decided she didn’t need anything — no presents or cards filled with cash.

“Instead, we asked for new and used clothing that we could donate to the Sharing and Caring Hands homeless shelter in Minneapolis,” she said. “That and bath items, too. You know, the necessities.”

Some 27 full boxes of donations later, a 10-year-old Kanyetzny found herself standing in a room full of kids, receiving a standing ovation from the very children who would be using the items she was donating.

“That moment was everything. I just stood there, totally baffled, crying humble tears of happiness. It just really changed my outlook on life and I knew I wanted to keep (Allie’s Wish) going,” she said.

Since then, every year has been different for Allie’s Wish. Kanyetzny and her organization has donated supplies, time or money to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Feed My Starving Children, the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, and others.

Right now, Kanyetzny and Allie’s Wish are thinking more locally. They’re currently raising money for Alex Loehlein, the 7-year-old brother of Kanyetzny’s friend and fellow AHS student, Jennifer Loehlein. Alex has muscular dystrophy, and Allie’s Wish is raising money for him and his family to help pay for his therapy and getting his home more equipped for him, Kanyetzny said.

“The school is even getting involved and coming together to help,” she said. Already, there have been coffee shop concerts and fundraisers, and AHS held a dodge ball tournament with proceeds going to the cause. The efforts allowed Kanyetzny to give Alex and his family the first donation check, which totaled $1,700.

“I visited with Alex when we gave the check. It’s taking a toll on him, the muscular dystrophy, but we still had a light sabre fight and watched Star Wars — his favorite movie,” Kanyetzny said.

With college around the corner, Kanyetzny said she’s getting excited for the next chapter in her life, but one thing is weighing on her mind. “Someone needs to take the reigns on the AHS Dress Drive,” she said. “If there’s a junior or sophomore at AHS that wants to take it on … we need someone. I wont be here.”

For more information about Allie’s Wish, visit www.allieswish.org.

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