Inside the
Summer Issue:

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For Bruce Springsteen,
"Do Something" Means
Many Things.

The Beat of a
Different Drummer:
An Interview
with Jim Chapin

Students Use
Pocket Change
to Make a
Big Difference

Cancer Patient
Cites Harry's
Message as Key
to Survival

The Power
of Design(ers)

Harry Chapin
Freedom of Choice

Goat Tales

The Cat's
in the Cradle...

Letter to
the Editor


Long Island
Songwriters Plan
"Sequel" Benefit
Tribute Concert

Howard Fields and
Al Stewart in
Concert to
Benefit KIDS Can
Make a Difference

Readers Share Thoughts
in Second Annual
Circle! Survey

Circle Calendar

Students Use Pocket Change to Make a Big Difference

by Linda Swanson

Farrell Robinson and Sam Robinson

At first glance, Sam Robinson and Farrell Robinson (no relation) look like typical seventh grade students. They have brothers, sisters, dogs and cats. Sam enjoys baseball, basketball and golf. Farrell is accomplished at ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance. They attend a private Catholic school, come from solid families and live hurly-burly lives like so many kids.

But Sam and Farrell are far from average. Sam, 12, and Farrell, 13, are the President and Vice President of "Pocket Change for Peds," an association dedicated to raising awareness of, and funding for, The Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children, a local pediatric health care institution, in Huntsville, Alabama.

Both Sam and Farrell, who have been friends since the first grade, have also been patients at the hospital. "When I was at the hospital to get my tonsils out, I noticed a lot of the toys were broken. I had been donating my old Play Stations to the hospital since I was six, but I saw that more was needed," Sam explained.

Sam called Farrell, whom he described as a "hard worker," and she was eager to help. "I have also been in the hospital with asthma attacks," Farrell said, "and I wanted to give back to the community." So in the fall of 2003, they founded the organization whose motto is "Kids helping Kids!"

Sam and Farrell formulated a plan to raise money to purchase new toys for the recently renovated hospital. "We asked our principal if we could put a donation jar in each classroom so kids could put their spare change in it," Sam said.

The principal agreed, and the students placed jars in 18 classrooms. "We spoke to each class and encouraged the students to contribute," he explained. Hence the name, "Pocket Change for Peds."

During one school year, they raised $2,500 for toys and presented the money to Candy Burnett, President of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation. That accomplishment might have been enough for most youngsters, but for Sam and Farrell, it was just the spark that ignited a flame.

Their success spiraled into a new concept. They decided the hospital needed a play garden on the roof so the children could go outdoors during their hospital stay, citing the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and lessening the emotional stress of being a patient.

"We get our ideas from taking virtual tours on our computers of other pediatric hospitals," Sam noted. They also have been perusing catalogs on children's playground equipment and using their own vivid imaginations.

They envision a garden with tables and chairs, a waterfall, a fun house, trees, grass, plants, interactive play stations and perhaps a tree house. "We want to promote learning while providing fun," Farrell added. It will be a place for the patients and their parents to go to escape illness, needles, medicines and x-rays for a while.

The two entrepreneurs acknowledged this was a huge endeavor, and that they would need the assistance and cooperation of countless others. So they inspired 30 more students from schools all over North Alabama to meet with them each month to brainstorm and transform the dream into reality.

"This is a great example of good kids," said Burnett. "Start them young and get them excited."

The youths have met with pediatricians, architects, bankers, construction engineers, and administrators of the hospital. As a result, Sam and Farrell have honed their public speaking skills and converse with corporate presidents, entrepreneurs and the press with ease.

Sam and Farrell say the easy part is sharing their enthusiasm and recruiting help from others. Generating much-needed donations to reach their $75,000 goal, on the other hand, requires a lot of hard work.

Through a combination of car washes, fundraising banquets, sponsored tournaments, private donations, corporate donations, and foundation support, among other sources, they have accrued more than $45,000 since last August, and their efforts are still going strong.

"Penny the Pig," a piggy bank figure, is their mascot, and sponsors earn the honor of being "Pig's Feet," "Pork Rinds," "Sausages," "Pork Chops," "Hams" or "Bacon," depending on their level of contribution.

Other challenges have arisen but the young activists remain undeterred.

For example, there are construction obstacles that delayed opening the garden, but those are being worked on diligently. The youths have the full support of the administration of Huntsville Hospital and as an added plus, one of the students they recruited for their work team is the daughter of the vice president in charge of new construction at the hospital.

Sam and Farrell have volunteered for many causes over many years. Recently, they assisted in relief efforts for the Tsunami victims, raised money for a parish in Haiti, collected blankets for the homeless, helped with landscaping at their school and church grounds, generated donations for cancer research and helped special needs children in their community.

All of that volunteer time on all of those projects doesn't come without significant sacrifice. Frequently, they have to decline invitations to parties and other festivities because of their obligations, but both are quick to point out the benefits of their efforts far outweigh the sacrifices. "I have no regrets. I enjoy what I am doing and have learned so much," assured Sam.

He was recently honored in Washington D.C. as one of the nation's top 10 youth volunteers in a ceremony sponsored by the Prudential Spirit of Community Initiative and the National Secondary Schools Principals. Sam said he particularly enjoyed meeting and conversing with the keynote speaker, Colin Powell.

Sam Robinson (right) joins fellow honoree Victor Cross (center) to receive Spirit of Community Award from former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

So, who inspires these youths? Sam said his heroes are "President Bush, because he is the leader of our country, Martin Luther King, because he led people and made a difference, and Nelson Mandela."

Farrell found it hard to pick just one. "So many people, mostly family members, have made a difference in my life and I want to make a difference in theirs," she said. "One person I do admire is Rosa Parks, because she stood up for what she believed."

She also cited another influence for her activism. "We were inspired by our religion classes to give back to the community," Farrell added. "A lot of kids think, ‘I am just one kid in the world and I can't do anything,’ but they realize they can do a lot when they start volunteering."

Both students already have ideas on how they'd like to make a difference in their adult lives. Farrell said she plans to attend The College of William and Mary, major in math and science and teach the same in a university one day. She also plans to teach dance.

Sam said he aspires to go to Boston College then on to Harvard or Yale for law school. After that he'd like to be President of the United States, he said.

You can write to Sam and Farrell at or

Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on September 7