Vol. 38, No. 18
Grad student's 'Gifts' has helped rural poor
With the holiday season fast approaching, service organizations and thoughts of helping the less fortunate are sure to become more visible. But for Emily Douglas, a graduate administrative assistant in the Office of Minority Affairs, giving back happens year-round.
For 13 years, Douglas has run her self-started organization called Grandma’s Gifts, which works to provide food, clothes, toys, books and education experiences to less- fortunate children and families living in Appalachian Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Her organization is now up for a Volvo for Life Award for its service work.
Grandma’s Gifts (grandmasgifts.org) was founded in memory of Douglas’ grandma, Norma, who grew up poor in the south Appalachian area.
“She always taught me that it was my duty to give back to those less fortunate than me,” Douglas said.
Douglas’ grandma passed away at the age of only 60 in 1991, and two years later, at the age of 11 when most little girls are still playing with Barbie dolls, Douglas founded the organization, which to date she says has raised more than $2 million in goods and services and provided more than 650,000 books.
She said she remembers vividly the day that she decided to start making a difference.
“We were visiting my grandfather and were at the store, and there was a family buying bread and baloney for their Thanksgiving dinner,” Douglas said, noting the image of an impoverished little girl that was about her age at the time. “It totally disturbed me and confronted me with what reality was.”
Douglas said that image is one that has stuck with her and, along with the lessons taught to her by her grandma, drove her to launch the service organization.
“On that ride home from the store, I decided I would change the world,” she said.
Since then, her work has not gone unnoticed. In 1996, Douglas won the Prudential Award for her service and in 1999 she received the President’s Award for Service — the highest honor a United States citizen can achieve. She also made an appearance on “Oprah” in 1998.
This year, Douglas is up for the Volvo for Life Award, which if she wins in her category of “Quality of Life,” could bring $50,000 to Grandma’s Gifts.
“The Volvo for Life Awards is Volvo’s annual search for real-life heroes across America,” said Soren Johansson, manager of public affairs for Volvo Cars of North America.
Johansson said the program was designed to bring attention to the outstanding contributions individuals make in their communities in the categories of safety, quality of life and environment and to inspire others to do the same.
Voting is open to the public at volvoforlifeawards.com now through Feb. 4, and category winners will be determined in March. Douglas said she encourages students, faculty and staff to take the time to vote.
“(A lot of people) can’t donate $50,000 in cash, but they can donate 20 seconds of their time with that being the result,” she said.
And whether Douglas wins the award or not, she said she will continue her work with the memory of her grandma and her principles helping her along the way.
“I think she would be proud of me for all that I’ve been able to do,” she said. “She always taught me that if you have the ability to help someone, you should do it. You never know when you’ll need someone to help you. People should be this way.”