Earlier this year, Sutton Shanahan stood onstage with a big smile at the Southwest Florida Event Center in Bonita Springs. In her hands was a check about her size. It was made out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and represented months of planning and fundraising. The amount was $15,000—no small accomplishment for a 10-year-old girl.
The concert, which featured rock legends like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, was the first in what Sutton hopes will be many to benefit her Kidz 4 a Cause nonprofit.
The idea for the organization started a few years ago when Sutton, a Naples native, overheard her parents talk about donating to St. Jude, the internationally known hospital that focuses on treating childhood cancer and other diseases. Sutton’s aunt was diagnosed with cancer and the family decided to dedicate their charitable donations to fight the disease. “My mom was giving to St. Jude,” Sutton recalls. “I said, ‘It’s not fair, I want to give to St. Jude, too.’ But I just had what’s in my piggy bank and it was just a few dollars.”
A brainstorming session with her parents—Jennifer and Rich, who own the Southwest Florida Event Center—led to forming the official 501(c)(3) nonprofit Kidz 4 a Cause. The motto is “kidz helping kidz,” and that’s the point: Getting kids like Sutton to raise money to help other kids. She launched earlier this year on Valentine’s Day because, ultimately, love is about giving, she says.
In April, when the family hosted the concert, Sutton worked the event, standing on stage to help auction a guitar and going table to table to ask for donations. Plans are in the works for more concerts, in addition to a few other ongoing fundraisers. She’s selling signed album covers from her parents’ collection on the Kidz 4 a Cause website. She also started the Quarters for Kidz campaign that asks children to collect quarters to donate.
It’s not just about raising money, either. On a sunny morning at a Naples coffee shop, Sutton explains what she’s learning about running a nonprofit, such as maintaining a website and social media, coming up with a logo and creating merchandise. She shows off a new Kidz 4 a Cause T-shirt and stickers.
Sutton says she needs to be “working on brand … something.” She looks at her mom. “What’s the word? Starts with an ‘A.’”
“Awareness,” her mom says.
“Oh, that’s it. Brand awareness,” Sutton says.
All these concepts may be difficult for a fifth grader to grasp fully, but Sutton’s parents want to push her to think big picture about the nature of giving. On the website, there is a blog called Big Words 4 Little Kidz. Each post uses one word that helps describe the mission of the nonprofit. The first word was “purpose.”
What is purpose? For Sutton, it’s thinking about people other than yourself, a reflection of what Jennifer and Rich want for their children. “Kids need to be thinking about things bigger than themselves. We all do, really,” Jennifer says. “It’s not about the check. It’s about building character.”
Already they’ve seen Sutton’s impact. Some of her friends have taken on fundraisers for Kidz 4 a Cause—one held a yard sale, some have gone door to door in their neighborhoods to collect money and others have raided their piggy banks. And they’re just getting started. Sutton’s post about purpose ends with this line: “As a 10-year-old, I am unstoppable, I am strong, I am smart, I am kind, I am determined.”