By Lisa Anderson
Daniela Olt, 13, of Colts Neck, remembers the day her life changed.
She explains, “I was seven years old, and I was watching TV and a commercial came on showing the damage from the earthquake in Haiti. There was a little boy standing in the rubble crying, and it made me very sad. I decided I wanted to help the children who had lost everything. ”
It was the beginning of Daniela’s Wish, although Daniela herself didn’t realize it at the time. Daniela began asking her neighbors, friends and family for donations, and before long, she’d collected over one-thousand boxes of Girl Scout cookies and more than three hundred stuffed animals. She sent them all to Haiti hoping the children would be “less scared.”
Two years later, Superstorm Sandy hit home, and again Daniela sprang into action. “It made me sad to know that the kids from my own state and surrounding towns had lost everything..their homes, clothing, toys, books, they had nothing. I wanted to help them in any way I could.” This time, she began a crusade on social media and held fundraisers which helped her collect more than three thousand books, hundreds of brand new toys and many other supplies that were donated to surrounding schools and families.
Shortly after, Daniela began a mission to not only help children who had been affected by natural disasters, but to begin helping children who were sick in the hospital, or battling an illness at home.
“My wish was to help them forget about how they’re feeling, even for a short while, and most importantly, to feel like a kid again. I want them to have something to hold onto, or to have during their times of sadness and struggles. To know that just because they are facing adult problems, they’re still kids!” said Daniela.
Word began to spread, and Mom Shelia Reiman Olt realized they were suddenly expanding. Thus began the official “Daniela’s Wish,” a 501c3 all volunteer non- profit organization.
Daniela is immensely thankful to her seven board members, made up of area parents and professionals, who along with a team of volunteers, help tremendously. “Without all of our volunteers, we couldn’t fulfill all of our wishes. They all work so hard”
Her mom Shelia calls Daniela “an old soul” who learned about overcoming adversity on her own. I think her early life struggles planted the seed within Daniela.” While other kids are hanging out at the mall during the holidays, or at the beach in the summer, Daniela is often found at her storage unit, going through the many toys and games , picking out special “wish list” items.
I asked Daniela if it ever became overwhelming at times.
“Honestly, maybe around Christmas. There’s a lot to do, but I feel hospital runs, which we do about nine or 10 times a year, are really important. I can always hang out with my friends later!”
Barnes and Noble donated more than three thousand toys last year, as do other companies. They are sorted through by Daniela, her sister Briyonna, and Sheila. Dad Brian helps out as well. Gifts are then sent out not only to sick children, but various organizations such as United Way, Making Strides for Breast Cancer, autism awareness, and families who may have lost everything due to a fire, flood, or other tragedy.
I asked Daniela what her most challenging wish was so far.
“I organized a trip for a family of five to spend a weekend at Hershey Park!” Daniela laughs.
When Daniela isn’t busy helping grant wishes for children, she’s busy with school and playing shortstop for her softball team. Not surprisingly, she’s also a member of the Make A Difference Club at the Cedar Drive Middle School, a club which meets once a month to discuss ideas to help communities and schools.
Once Daniela’s Wish meets the children and families, Daniela stays in touch with the children she’s met, stating “That’s the best part..that and seeing the children get better.” I asked Daniela two last questions. I was curious to see if Daniela had a wish of her own. “Well..my own personal wish would be to go to a Giants game and get to meet some of the players!”
The second question was where she saw herself in 10 years.
This Angel on Earth just smiled and simply said “I’ll still be trying to help everyone I can.” Somehow, I believe she will be.
For more information about Daniela’s Wish and how to help this amazing organization, please visit danielaswish.org.
Lisa Anderson is a Greater Media radio personality and an occasional columnist for Greater Media Newspapers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.