Twelve-year-old Mariah Bailey will not be opening gifts from her parents Christmas morning. Instead, shell be making sure 600 homeless men and women around the Grand Strand know they are not forgotten.
Mariah had seen what her father, Joe, has done with his nonprofit Sidewalk Angels, an organization that helps feed the areas homeless anonymously. But she wanted to start something herself. Her former church in Tennessee raised money for the last three years to benefit a variety of charities, but she thought the homeless were underserved in her new home in Myrtle Beach.
It was all awesome, she said, but I really started getting into helping the homeless people. I told my dad, I really like what youre doing, but I want to start my own charity. And hes like, Well, thats awesome. Then I said, If I give up my Christmas, will you let me do this? And hes like yes.
So the Forestbrook Middle School student took to the Internet and, with her dads help, launched TrendingChange.com, a subsidiary of Sidewalk Angels. She started a campaign online to raise $1,000 for blessings bags, or bags Mariah and her family fill with necessities like toothpaste, socks and umbrellas.
Just seeing them get something on Christmas, and them smiling makes me happy, Mariah said. I really dont need anything else than to see the expression on their face. Like when they get something, it doesnt just make you feel good, it makes them feel good in a different way and it lets them know that someone cares about them and that they are not forgotten.
But it doesnt stop there. Mariah filled the bags with Christmas cookies, candy and a Christmas card from her.
I was just raised around great family members that taught me that growing up, she said. They taught me, dont think about yourself, think about other people. I was just raised around a lot of people that gave a lot to a lot of different charities to help people. Especially my mom and my dad. They had a great influence on that.
Both Joe and Mariahs mother, Heather, are employees of Bluegreen Corp. Heather Bailey said she is proud of her daughter, who takes giving to the homeless to another level.
Her goal is to go talk to them, Heather Bailey said. Nobody else goes and talks to them and (is) more personal with them. Weve learned a lot from her. You cant just say Hi and give them things, they want to be talked to. A lot of people dont talk to them because they are afraid of them. And shes not afraid at all. She feels that if they dont want to be talked to, theyll let her know.
But she feels that they all have been forgotten. Every single time that we are out and she sees anybody, we have to stop and let her talk to them. She thinks about it when she wakes up. She thinks about it when she goes to bed. Its a big passion of hers, so we feel that we dont want her to lose that. Trending Change is her thing and we just support her with it, her mother said.
Heather Bailey said Mariah does not fear for her safety among those she doesnt know, and prefers to call them her friends instead of homeless people. One of her parents accompanies her when she makes her rounds.
Going public as opposed to providing help anonymously as Sidewalk Angels does was a concern for her parents at first, but Mariah assured them it was merely a way to get more people involved.
Shes hoping that other kids will get involved with it with her because a lot of kids dont even think about it, Heather Bailey said. Shes hoping that more people at Christmas can see it and get involved, and she can continue after Christmas.
Mariahs father, Joe, insisted on understanding his daughters motivation about going public with her efforts.
Her thing was, when we do it anonymously, were only one helping one, he said. She said, The thing is, if we do this anonymously, nobody will ever know. How are we ever going to get the word out?
And word has gotten out. The website solicits feedback from people who have been moved by Mariahs message to start their own campaign. She used the popular fundraising site Indiegogo.com to collect funds and launch her campaign, featuring videos of the 12-year-old.
She made it very clear to me that her generation is the future and we need to start educating them on what they can do to help, Joe Bailey said. Her argument was very strong.
And so is her pitch to raise money, he said.
I dont know what it is, but theres something about the way she explains it that hits home with people that I havent been able to do, Joe Bailey said. So Im standing in the background helping her as best I can.
Joe Bailey said theres only so much credit he and his wife can take for Mariahs efforts.
I would love to claim responsibility for that, but I think its just a part of who Mariah is, he said. I think weve always done the best we could to help her realize what was right and what was wrong, and to do the right thing it has just kind of taken its own course with her. What I can get across in a message, she can get across in a sentence.
As for giving up Christmas dinner and spending the day on the streets along the Grand Strand, Heather Bailey isnt concerned.
We can have a Christmas meal any day, she said. You can tell your kids that, and a lot of times they dont really look at it that way. She does. She looks at it like these people dont have any Christmas, so lets do it that day and we can do whatever any day. Were very blessed that she feels that way.
So the plan on Christmas Day is not to open gifts all day, but rather to pay it forward with 200 blessing bags for the homeless at an area church, and an additional 400 bags to random homeless men and women along the Grand Strand.
She plans to continue her efforts long after this Christmas has passed.
As long as there are people in need, Im going to be there to help them, Mariah said Im going to be continuing this each year.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.