When WBRZ co-anchor Sylvia Weatherspoon first dreamt up the idea for Sylvia’s Toys for Christmas in July Community Service Scholarships for Kids, her new summertime program rewarding local children for giving back to Baton Rouge, she planned to present 10 children with cash awards to support their endeavors. But 26 children answered her call, submitting two-paragraph responses to a prompt asking how children can make a difference in their community. Reading through their messages, Weatherspoon knew that each one deserved a leg up, and decided that her original plans would need to expand.
“I had more than $1,000 that came from two donations from people who heard about the idea and wanted to help, plus from Sylvia’s Toys for Christmas last year,” says Weatherspoon, referencing her popular holiday fundraiser—now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit—founded in 2015. “In the end I decided to split it up between all of the children: $25 for ages 5 to 6, $40 for ages 7 to 9, and $50 for ages 10 to 12.”
Weatherspoon compiled an array of age-appropriate community service projects that the recipients could take on with their scholarship money—activities like donating dog food to animal shelters or delivering smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to fire departments. But the good deeds wouldn’t be done in secrecy. Quite the contrary: Since late July, Weatherspoon has hosted a special news segment on WBRZ each Friday highlighting one or more of the recipients’ service projects, complete with photos or video footage of the kids completing their tasks.
The inspiration bolstering these acts of service began long before the kids wrote to Weatherspoon, as demonstrated at a July 16 awards ceremony she hosted at the Main Library, where the kids received their funds and chose their projects. “All of these kids came in with not just their moms and dads, but their siblings, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles—we had to bring in more chairs to fit everyone in the room,” Weatherspoon says. “I was crying! I was just so overwhelmed to see so much support behind them.”
Weatherspoon can relate, recalling how her mother instilled the spirit of generosity into her childhood in Baton Rouge, particularly when it came to helping neighbors dealing with grief or misfortune. “It seems like so many of the stories I cover on the news focus on kids in trouble, and I don’t want kids to hear that and think that the world is all bad,” says Weatherspoon. “I hope that this is an opportunity for more people to get inspired, and to show other kids that they really can do great things for our community.”