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Salem Teen Works to Help Russian Orphans

Teenager works quietly to improve the lives of Russian orphans.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally posted on Salem Patch on Feb. 19. It was chosen for Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day feature on Feb. 23.

Bridget Ayers is an unassuming 13-year-old who loves the Beatles and classic rock and, like many others her age, she still has the occasional off-day with her younger brother.

“In my day-to-day life, I'm really just an artsy 13-year-old,” Bridget said. “I go to school, go to rehearsal for The Sound of Music…When rehearsal isn't going, and when it's finished, I go home, do my homework, go to the park with friends, walk my dog. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.”

But underneath these traits she may share with many her age is a selfless passion to help others. Bridget has been working to help children in a Siberian orphanage, even saving enough money to travel to Siberia in 2011. She works with , a school acquaintance of Bridget’s mother, Kim.

“Keri had adopted a 12-year-old from Russia, and began to blog about her experiences,” Bridget said. “She told the story of how she continuously goes back to help. I saw photos she had posted and wanted to help these kids. The looks on their faces, the state of their clothing, it scared me to see what was happening. I knew what I needed to do and made it my mission to bring these kids hope.”

Collecting stray socks and creatively making them into puppet “orphans,” Bridget sold enough to pay for most of her trip, which gave her insight into a world most American children will never see.

“I jokingly said that if she could raise her fare she could go,” said Kim. “I never in a million years thought she’d raise $1,500 selling socks.”

With an additional $500 in donations, Bridget and her mother went to Siberia for a couple weeks in May 2011. They met children who were malnourished, living in poor conditions and suffering from intestinal parasites. Bridget and her mother even contracted giardia themselves, which results in severe diarrhea.

Through her work and the trip, Bridget “realized there was more to her life than Salem and her friends,” Kim said. “She came to understand how privileged she is, even though we’re not a wealthy family.”

Kim’s parenting approach gives Bridget the freedom to explore her passion. “I feel it is important that my children pursue their interests, at least for a brief time, to determine if it is something they enjoy and/or have talent or skill with. One of the most powerful words a child can hear is ‘yes’.”

Kim is in the process of adopting a child from Siberia, and said it's tough going due to poor record keeping, recent controversy and other barriers.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has asked the government to halt all adoptions of Russian children by Americans in the wake of alleged incidents of violents. In 2010, a Pennsylvania woman sent her adopted son back to Russia on a plane — without adult supervision.

Just last week, the Foreign Ministry said adoptions should continue only if Russian monitors are allowed to visit the children’s new potential homes.

“Politics is getting in the way of children’s lives,” Kim said.

If all this isn’t enough, Kim and Bridget have started a nonprofit organization called Spark540, which helps kids find their passion and put it to use for the greater good.

Bridget said “it will help youth such as me begin to be leaders and do global service. This will help the orphans (and others) by bringing them the joy of knowing that so many other people care about them and are advocating for them.”

“We want to catch kids before they get bogged down in the day-to-day world,” Kim said. “There [are] too many adults doing what they do and they’re not passionate about it. We shouldn’t be waiting for Friday; we should be loving Thursday.”

Bridget wants to be a photojournalist when she grows up. She said her theme song for her life right now is "Amazing Journey" by The Who.

You can read more about Bridget and her work at www.tomarchtoadifferentdrummer.blogspot.com and www.spark540.org.   

Debra Crosby February 19, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Bridget is an awesome kid and an inspiration to all of us
Erin Cyr February 19, 2012 at 02:49 PM
This is such a wonderful story. There is so much hope and love instilled in this little girl, she must have excellent parents who have taught her to share that love.
Shawna Erps February 19, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Bridget and her mom are amazing. I was Bridget's kindergarten teacher and can say she has had a kind soul since she was five. It's so nice to see that she didn't lose that desire to help others like so many do. I look forward to following their journey.
Francis Vigeant February 21, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Nice job Bridget; keep thinking big!

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