"To protect and restore the Florida coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems
through education, research and community stewardship."

Fifth-Grader Makes $2,500 Donation To Marine Discovery Center

Jun 20th, 2015 | Category: Announcements, MDC News

By Lisa D. Mickey

Sisters Reily (left) and Ainsley (right) Johnson spend time with their grandparents, Roy and Karen Johnson

Sisters Reily (left) and Ainsley (right) Johnson spend time with their grandparents, Roy and Karen Johnson.

Nonprofits depend on charitable giving, and contributors to the Marine Discovery Center have enabled the center to continue its mission of protecting and restoring Florida’s coastal ecosystems over the years.

But while MDC Executive Director, Chad Truxall, is used to meeting with individuals who wish to support the center, he was especially impressed by a young giver who recently walked in with a big check.

Ten-year-old Ainsley Johnson was given a very special gift from her grandparents in honor of her birthday. Both Ainsley and her sister, Reily, 12, were each given $5,000 from their grandparents.

But the monetary gift to the girls wasn’t for them to spend at the mall or blow on amusements. Instead, their grandparents gave the sisters the money from their private foundation in Texas to contribute to local charities of their choice.

They encouraged the girls to research local nonprofit organizations and to give the money to entities they wanted to support.

“We try to teach our children that if you have something and you can help other people, you should,” said Bev Johnson, mother of the girls. “My in-laws are incredibly generous and they want their grandchildren to get involved locally. They donated the money, but choosing the charities was the girls’ decision.”

The sisters were each given $200 last year by their grandparents to be contributed to a local charity. Ainsley loves manatees and fish and had attended MDC’s summer camp, so she met with Truxall in 2014 as a 9-year-old philanthropist and donated her $200 to help feed the fish in the center’s tanks.

Reily gave her $200 to Hope Reins, Inc., a New Smyrna Beach therapeutic equestrian riding program for children with disabilities.

“We sat down with the girls and researched various charities and what each did,” added their mother. “Chad also met with Ainsley and talked to her about the opportunities at the center where her donation could help. I think the girls appreciated seeing the diversity of where they each contributed.”

When their grandparents saw how the sisters had handled their respective $200 donations in 2014, they raised this year’s charitable donation to $5,000 each. Reily gave her $5,000 donation to Hope Reins, while Ainsley divided her $5,000 gift between the Marine Discovery Center and St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church in New Smyrna Beach.

“What’s impressive is Ainsley is very young, but very interested in giving back to her community and specifically, in helping educate local citizens about our native creatures,” said Truxall.

Ainsley and her father, Merrick Johnson, who teaches environmental science, met with Truxall this spring to discuss charitable giving options at the center. The director told the youngster about the center’s “wish list” of needs, which gave her some ideas of how she could help. Ainsley also came into the meeting wanting to get involved in the Adopt-A-Manatee Program.

“I told her that we don’t do that here at the center, but we know a great group that does at the Save The Manatee Club,” said Truxall.

So, the youngster contributed $2,500 to the Marine Discovery Center and the center gave $500 to the Save The Manatee Club on behalf of Ainsley. She was sent a Manatee Adoption Certificate and her donation will be used to help fund manatee rescue, rehabilitation and support of manatee education and public awareness projects.

“One of our current projects is an educational outreach project to school classes using live video feed and setting up interpretive locations that tie into pre-recorded or linked materials from our already existing Manatv.org programs,” said Tonya Higgins, development coordinator of the Save the Manatee Club. “Ainsley’s generosity will go far in making this project a huge success.”

Ainsley’s recent donation to the Marine Discovery Center will be used to help create the center’s new aquarium exhibit, a wall-length fish tank that will connect the center’s gift shop to the newly expanded exhibit area.

“All donations help us serve our mission,” said Truxall.

Granted, the two girls are young, but in the last two years, their donations have helped them take greater note of ways they can support their local community.

“They don’t fathom how much the money is or what it can do, but they do understand it can make an impact and they’re excited about the opportunity to help others,” said their mom. “It also warms the hearts of their grandparents to see the kids make their own choices about supporting organizations that are important to them.”

Ainsley will enter the fifth grade this fall, while her sister Reily is a rising seventh-grader. Both are students at St. Barnabas Episcopal School.

And both girls have already learned what their mother calls “the beauty of giving.”

“It doesn’t matter how much they give,” Johnson added. “If we can raise a generation of people who know how to give back, then we’re on the right track.”