Bookmark Buddies Helps Honor the Memory of Chappaqua Resident and Empowers Kids to Make a Difference
Regardless of our age, we have the power to make a difference. Six-year-old Lanie Feig proves just that. A kind little girl with a gentle disposition, Lanie began a charity called Bookmark Buddies with the help of her family and members of our community. The premise of Bookmark Buddies is simple: blank bookmarks are provided for children to decorate and then sold for charity. Although Lanie loves to read, her inspiration for starting this organization was not merely her love for books–it was her love for a friend.
A Mutual Love of Books
Last year, when Lanie was in Kindergarten, she met a 3rd grader in school named Scarlett. Feeling an instant connection with Scarlett, Lanie asked her teacher if they could be reading buddies for the year and was granted her request. Their friendship grew over books, and a deep bond quickly formed between the girls. However, Lanie didn’t know that Scarlett was battling cancer. Even as Scarlett’s condition worsened, she continued reading to Lanie, with both girls treasuring their time together. “The most remarkable thing about all of it–besides Lanie’s love for Scarlett–is that Lanie never knew Scarlett was different or sick. To know that Scarlett was looked at as special, but not different, was incredible, and it just shows the power of kindness and inclusion that should be an example for all,” said Robin Chwatko, Scarlett’s mom.
Heartbreakingly this Marc, Scarlett passed away. In an effort to help Lanie cope with this devastating loss, her mother, Heather went to Scattered Books to find a book that could help Lanie through this emotional time. While there, Heather came up with the concept for Bookmark Buddies, thinking that Lanie could make and sell bookmarks with her friends and use charity work as a means of processing Scarlett’s passing.
A Charity is Born
“Lanie was saying to me, ‘Mommy, I’m just so sad. Have you ever seen me so sad? I don’t understand how something like this can happen’” said Heather. “And she just asked tons of questions about how a child could die, so I decided I wasn’t waiting to bring up the bookmark idea.” The next day, with the help of Laura from Scattered Books, Bookmark Buddies had its inaugural event, with members of the community coming together to decorate bookmarks, raising $300 in the process. But the event was deemed to be a success for more reasons than just the money it raised, as it also provided Scarlett’s friends and members of the community with an opportunity to channel their energy into something positive in honor of Scarlett.
Although Lanie is only six-years-old, she has a profound sense of empathy, a deep passion for helping others, and a maturity beyond her years. “The goal of Bookmark Buddies is to empower children,” stated Lanie. “We want kids to know that they can make a difference in the world. Kids think that they can’t do some things that adults do, but anybody can do this, even little kids like me. All you have to do is color a bookmark and it helps others.” After that first event, Bookmark Buddies started getting more and more requests, hosting events at Scarlett’s Bunny Garden, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester’s Mitzvah Day, and the Sleepy Hollow Literature Fair, among many others. Although the money raised by Bookmark Buddies is going to three different charities (Make-A-Wish, the Ronald McDonald House, and the SPCA in honor of Scarlett’s charity, Draw for Paws – see story on page 30), Lanie has a particular goal in mind. After hearing about how Scarlett’s wish to swim with the dolphins at Disney was granted, Lanie hopes to raise $10,000 for Make-A-Wish so that she can grant a wish for another child and give them hope.
Robin Chwatko is blown away by Lanie’s dedication to Bookmark Buddies. “The fact that she is honoring Scarlett’s memory over something they bonded so closely over– it leaves me speechless,” stated Robin.
A Growing Non-Profit
But what started as a singular event is growing rapidly into a national organization. Lanie has even been selected to send in the inaugural video to Wonderama’s new online series, Helping Hands, which aims to inspire kids to volunteer in their own communities. ”With Bookmark Buddies we hope to raise awareness and spread kindness,” said Heather. “This whole thing happened so organically– the response we have gotten from people has made me feel like I want to do more to inspire others to do good on their own, at any age.”
Seeing how powerful Bookmark Buddies has been in helping Lanie process Scarlett’s passing and put her emotions toward positivity, Heather has decided that the organization can help kids anywhere. “Any kid who wants to raise money for a cause they are passionate about can now become a Bookmark Buddy. There is a list of things they can do to become a Bookmark Buddy, and then they can use our concept to raise money for their own charity and be featured on our website.” For anyone who wants more to make a donation or learn more about Bookmark Buddies, visit bookmarkbuddies.org.
When I first began chatting with Lanie, she spoke of her love for reading. But she qualified that she only likes happy stories, commenting: “Why are there even sad stories? Every story should have a happy ending.” And through Bookmark Buddies, Lanie is taking a sad story and making it a bit happier; indeed, in Lanie’s eyes, anyone who buys, or makes and donates, a bookmark is spreading happiness. “We are turning sadness into happiness, and happiness is contagious,” said Lanie. By creating and growing Bookmark Buddies, Lanie is proving that spreading happiness and kindness, that making a difference, is something that we are all capable of. And best of all, she is doing it all in honor of a friend.