ThisWeekinWorcester.com’s Person of the Week
WORCESTER – When you’re in the midst of the first weeks of your freshman year in high school, trying to learn Mandarin, and jamming out as the lead guitarist in a rock band, there’s probably not much time left in the day to run a nonprofit organization.
But, somehow, 14-year-old Simon Eber manages to find the time to help Worcester elementary students in need get their backpacks and school supplies before they enter middle school.
Simon, a freshman at St. John’s high school in Shrewsbury, is the founder and president of Simon Says Give – Worcester — a kid-founded and kid-led nonprofit based out of Minnesota.
In order to launch the Worcester branch of Simon Says Give, Simon raised nearly $7,000 to kickstart his efforts for his first initiative: High Five for Supplies – an annual school supply drive with the goal of providing as many graduating elementary school students as possible in Worcester with backpacks and supplies before entering middle school.
With that funding, Simon has been able to provide more than 160 backpacks filled with school supplies to students in need at six of Worcester’s elementary schools and middle schools.
Additionally, Simon’s work has provided in-classroom birthday parties for two at-need students and Simon Says Give has recently partnered with C.C. Lowell Art Supply Co. and The Learning Hub to host a birthday party once a month beginning in October.
In a statement released to ThisWeekinWorcester.com, Giselle Rivera-Flores, owner of The Learning Hub, said, “One Birthday a month will be donated to a child who would otherwise not have a birthday due to family financial hardships.”
“We want to make sure that we provide quality birthdays and ensure a great experience without cutting corners and making it feel like a donation. Every kid deserves a birthday, even if it’s only once,” Rivera-Flores added.
Simon lives with his mother, Amy Richter — an associate professor in the history department at Clark University — and father Jim Eber, a professional writer and local contributor to MassFoodies.com — in the Newton Square area of Worcester with their two rescue dogs, Daisy and Milly.
Jim — who serves as the Adult Leader for Simon Says Give – Worcester — said that more than just being proud of his son, he’s touched by how much Simon cares about those less fortunate than himself.
“Proud doesn’t really encompass it. I’m touched by what he’s done and been able to accomplish. I’m very proud of him, but I never really knew just how much he cared about things that it’s tough care about. You have to be completely selfless and you have to care about your community and the work that you put into it,” Jim said in an interview on Monday, Sept. 11.
His parents aren’t the only one noticing his hardwork. On Saturday, Sept. 30, Simon will be one of 10 recipients of the Children’s Smile Coalition Young Hero Award for his work with Simon Says Give.
So how does a 14-year-old start a local chapter of a national non-profit organization?
Simon said, “My bar mitzvah was coming up and a lot of bar mitzvahs have a charitable aspect to them. I knew my family would be really generous no matter what charity I decided to give the money to.”
Jim approached Simon with the idea of starting a Worcester chapter of Simon Says Give when Jim returned home from a June 2015 conference that featured Dina Simon as the guest speaker.
Dina Simon – is the president and chairman of the board for Simon Says Give® in Minnesota — and is the mother of Mandi Simon — who founded Simon Says Give® at the age of seven.
“The first time I brought this back to Simon, he wasn’t interested,” Jim said. “He didn’t understand it. At that age, it’s hard to understand what it is and what you can do. It wasn’t until a year later, that he told me he was thinking about giving back and doing something good and asked ‘Do you think we can still do the Simon Says Give thing?’”
“You can be the change you want to see, or wait for someone else to do it. I decided not to wait. I decided I really want to do this and see the kids I’m affecting. I don’t just want to donate by clicking a button on the screen. And I knew I was ready to start this kind of work,” Simon said.
“We called up [the Minnesota Simon Says Give chapter] and they explained it to him and he just latched right on,” Jim added.
At Simon’s bar mitzvah earlier this year he officially announced he would be launching the Worcester chapter of the nonprofit.
The work began right away for the Eber’s and they were surprised how quickly things developed and came together.
“We thought that the first year would be filling out boring forms, getting the lay of the community, putting our name out there and start to fundraise,” Simon said. “But right away, things started happening.”
According to the Ebers, they ran into Columbus Park Preparatory School principal Siohban Dennis at a pizza parlor in Worcester. Dennis — a family friend of the Ebers — said that at Columbus Park there’s a large refugee population and are nearly all considered “in need” by the public school system.
Dennis went on to tell the Ebers that teachers at Columbus Park had to take money out of their own salaries to throw birthday parties for the kids in their classroom.
“We said, ‘We have an answer for that,’” Simon said. “Within a few months, we got our act together and we threw a birthday party for a girl named Eunice — a refugee from the Congo. Since then, we’ve been coasting.”
When he’s not throwing birthday parties or gathering school supplies for kids in need, Simon spends his time playing the guitar, trying his hand at cooking, and playing soccer.
Simon has been playing the guitar since he was eight-years-old. He currently attends School of Rock in Watertown where he has joined a rock band. Although the five-man band is currently unnamed, he has played in bands great band names like Feedback, and – his personal favorite – Symptoms of a Wet Guitar.
In his first year at St. John’s, as if he wasn’t busy enough, Simon is taking a course in Mandarin — what he calls “a fun, but tough class.” All in all, he’s enjoying his first few weeks of high school.
“The food is really good. There’s a great cafeteria. It’s a beautiful campus and everyone seems really nice so far,” Simon said.
Next year, Simon hopes to add two more schools to the High Five for Supplies program and hopes to throw at least one birthday party a month.
“We’re also working on a new project called the Backpack Bank. It’s a kind of play on words from a food bank. The project allows any student in middle school or higher to reach out to us and we will provide a backpack with all the supplies they need. The project will let us meet individual needs right away,” Simon said, who’s currently writing a grant to get the project funded.
Five years from now, when Simon is attending college, he sees Simon Says Give with a new kid president, kids doing as much of the work as possible, having partnerships with local colleges and businesses, and have every student in every sixth grade class in Worcester prepared with backpacks and school supplies before they enter middle school.
“In five years, what’s going to matter is the commitment and how fast we are able get those three or four birthday parties going right now and how fast the rest of the small steps we make at the beginning move,” Simon said.
Eventually, Simon believes the chapter will become Simon Says Give – Massachusetts, but for now the Ebers are focusing strictly on Worcester.
If you would like to donate a backpack and supplies to Simon Says Give please click here. A $50 donation will provide one student with a backpack and supplies.
To donate a birthday party, click here. A $150 donation provides one birthday party for a Worcester elementary school student.