RUSH TWP. — Central Elementary fifth-grader Brayden Williams may only be 10, but he’s a seasoned pro at fundraising for good causes.
It started two years ago, when Brayden — then in third grade — collected coats, blankets, and cash and gift cards totaling $250 for the charities Homeless Angels and Angel’s Hands.
The following year, Brayden ran a lemonade stand in his subdivision over several weekends, donating the hundreds of dollars he made to juvenile arthritis research.
This is his biggest fundraising year yet. Brayden has already collected 5,000 cans and bottles worth $500 on behalf of juvenile diabetes research. He’s aiming for 10,000 ($1,000) by September.
“When I started out, I just wanted to help out the community,” Brayden said Tuesday. “I wasn’t thinking about fundraising but I heard about Homeless Angels and I thought, why don’t I go out and raise some money and give it to a charity?”
Brayden credits Megan Friend, his third-grade teacher at Central, for inspiring him with her Kindness Project, in which her students are encouraged to plan and do something nice for others.
“Brayden is the type of kid who has a heart of gold and was always concerned about everyone else in class,” Friend said. “As a teacher, the ultimate goal is that what your students learn doesn’t just stick with them for the year, but that they are learning skills that stick with them for a lifetime.”
She continued: “Brayden has showed that the Kindness Project he started with me in third grade was so powerful that he felt inspired to continue it each year and impact even more people. I am so proud of him.”
Brayden called Friend “one of the greater influences in my life.”
He had personal reasons for choosing two of the charities he’s supported. At a party last year, the birthday boy announced he had juvenile arthritis and Brayden was moved to help.
He picked the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund this year not only because his brother Tristan has the disease, but because a couple who live in his neighborhood have it, too.
“It makes me feel good that I’m helping the community in a way that helps people in the world,” he said.
“Brayden has always seen past himself,” Kristen Williams, Brayden’s mother, said. “I’ve encouraged my kids not to be self-centered. He took those lessons and ran with them further than I ever would have thought.”
“Toys — we have enough of them,” the boy said.
His first fundraiser was on behalf of Homeless Angels, Shiawassee County’s first permanent homeless shelter, and Angel’s Hands, a free store for people in need. Brayden collected money and enough coats and blankets to fill 10 large plastic bags, mostly from his friends and their moms.
When he and his father, David Williams, presented them in person to the leaders of the organizations, splitting everything evenly between the two, they were delighted by the earnest 8-year-old’s efforts.
“Brayden is an upstanding young man setting a great example of how our young people can give back and care for our people in the most need,” Homeless Angels Executive Director Shelly Ochodnicky said. “We appreciate his support and all he is doing for our community. He is a true leader.”
“It felt really good,” Brayden remembered. “I thought, hey, why don’t I just keep doing it?”
The second time around, Brayden broadened his fundraising base, setting up a lemonade stand at the edge of his subdivision in order to catch maximum traffic. He cleared $120 the first weekend, with some customers giving a few extra dollars for the cause.
He sold lemonade for five or six weekends, raising about $300 for the Michigan chapter of The Juvenile Arthritis Research Project.
For this year’s fundraising strategy for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Brayden took the COVID-19 pandemic into account. A lot of people, he figured, were not taking their cans and bottles to stores to be redeemed because of the pandemic.
“They probably have rooms full of them,” Brayden speculated.
Starting in September 2020, he got the word out about his campaign through social media, posting live and written invitations to the public to donate cans, and plastic and glass bottles.
“Doing ‘lives and posts’ I can get more people’s attention and they’ll donate more,” Brayden discovered. “It’s been working really good.”
He’s received contributions from his parents’ friends and in some cases from friendly strangers, including a “Miss Amanda” from Owosso. Brayden’s parents drive him around to pick up donations. On a single day last week, they collected dozens of garbage bags filled with bottles and cans.
Brayden is determined to keep his annual fundraisers going — with ongoing help from his three brothers and two sisters — for at least several more years.
“I’m going to do it up until I have a job,” he said.
Brayden’s career goal is to become a surgeon, “kind of” following in the footsteps of his mother. She is contracted out by employer Sparrow Hospital to work as a licensed athletic trainer for East Lansing High School, treating everything from ankle sprains to cardiac emergencies.
Brayden is an A student at Central who also likes to have fun. For one thing, he’s big into sports, playing football, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling and cross country. He also plays videogames whenever he gets a chance.
Every summer he goes to the camp offered by his church, Owosso Free Methodist Church. One the camp counselors, Jason, has had a significant influence.
“He’s taught me to care about other people and not myself,” Brayden said. “So, I’ve had a lot of really big role models in my life.”
True enough, but much of what Brayden does seems to flow from his inborn personality.
“He’s very wise beyond his years,” Kristen Williams said. “He is very driven and expects a lot from himself. He always wants to put in his best effort.”
His advice to his peers: “I would say to all the other kids, always try your hardest and don’t ever give up.”
To kids who are teased or bullied: “Don’t listen to the kids who are mean to you,” Brayden said. “Just listen to your heart and the role models in your life.”
Those who would like to donate cans or bottles to Brayden’s fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, which will continue until late summer or fall, can call Kristen Williams at (517) 899-9838 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.