Elizabeth (Liz) Atkins was a joy to everyone she touched during the all-too-brief 23 years of her life. Her family and friends deeply loved her intellectual curiosity, her beautiful voice, and most of all her gentle spirit. Referred to playfully as Mother Teresa Liz, she was a fierce supporter of the less fortunate and those who had to deal with the hardships of being excluded. Liz herself had to deal with the most profound hardship, though she never complained and her focus was always on others, not on her own condition. She was diagnosed and treated for a brain tumor at age 2, but overcame her deficits to become an honor student and went on to graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, despite developing a new cancer in her junior year.
To continue to honor Liz’s life and her desire to help those in need, we are establishing The Elizabeth Atkins Presents Fund in partnership with Aaron's Presents, an innovative grants program designed specifically to empower children in 8th grade or below to dream up and carry out a positive project that benefits others. In the process, children learn that they have something unique and valuable to give to the world at every age and every stage of life, and that giving of themselves for the benefit of others brings happiness, healing and purpose. Liz’s legacy will live on through these children and the numerous people positively impacted by their creative and thoughtful acts.
Children apply for an Aaron’s Presents grant with an idea for a project that will help others, and the organization provides up to $500 worth of materials and services as well as the mentoring and guidance needed to maximize successful completion of the their project.
For example, one sixth grade grant recipient started a chess program at the Youth Development Organization, an after-school enrichment program in Lawrence, MA, and taught 6 elementary-aged kids how to play and enjoy chess. Those kids have taught other kids, and the chess sets are used every afternoon at that program.
A third grade student partnered with a homeless shelter to provide Halloween costumes for children living in transitional housing.
100% of this fund will go to purchasing materials and services to support the children and their projects. Aaron's Presents organization will post links to each project funded by The Elizabeth Atkins Presents Fund so that you can learn more about the kids who are being touched by Liz’s life and how their projects are making a positive difference in the world. The fund will have no time limit – you can contribute at any time. An average project costs $250, so we have an opportunity to touch many people through this honorary fund. Contributions of any amount are appreciated.
Thank you for your support,
Rick and Gerri Atkins
April 2020 Updates April 12, 2020
Dear Friends and Family of Elizabeth “Liz” Atkins,
I’m writing to reach out and say that I am thinking of all of you during this difficult time. It’s hard to wrap my head around a crisis of this enormity that has so many unknowns and affects the entire world, let alone our country and individual communities. I am very concerned about what the next weeks will bring.
On top of the Covid-19 crisis, the Atkins family and larger “family” of friends have experienced so much loss this year with the passing of Elizabeth Atkins and Skip Atkins. I had the honor of meeting both of them and feeling their kindness and love of family firsthand. They were always so kind in their support of our work, frequently telling me that Liz would have loved seeing all the good that the kids’ were spreading around their communities, and how creative they were in coming up with their ideas to help and serve others. I think of you all often.
I regret that I haven’t been able to put together an update for you all sooner than this. However, I wanted to finally send you a list of the beautiful moments of caring and kindness that kids have created with your support. I have posted a complete listing of all contributors to date here, as well as some pictures from the funded projects this past year in the Gallery (Jan 2019 – Present are the last 13 pictures).
o 4th grade girls from Andover putting together care baskets for cancer patients (one of their moms is actively fighting cancer),
o A group of 4th graders from Andover designing a poster for a fundraiser for the Lowell Humane Society and bringing donations to the shelter,
o 8th grade boys from Lowell taking foster children to Altitudes trampoline park for an afternoon of fun,
o Alumni from Lowell, Lawrence and Andover spending an afternoon playing with foster children living at a group home,
o Several groups of kids from Lawrence and Lowell volunteering at the MSPCA—Nevins Farm animal shelter—most for the first time,
o A high school Alum buying tickets for several peers to support a fundraiser for a couple who are helping abandoned children in Liberia,
o A group of 8th graders from Lawrence making rainbow loom bracelets to sell at a craft fair in Pelham, NH to benefit Lazarus House,
o A family shelter in Lawrence, 2 7th graders from Lowell helping people who lost everything in a house fire,
o 5 8th graders from Lawrence going to a foster home and making Halloween crafts, painting and playing with the kids,
o An 8th grader from Lowell running a contest to give out Yhumi water bottles (carbon negative) to spread awareness about climate change and the environment,
o A 10th grade Alum from Lawrence helping her cousins who recently lost their father, and
o 2 4th graders from Lawrence giving out food and warm clothes to the homeless living outside in the winter.
A few organizational updates for you that I will also be sending out to the larger community soon as well:
1) For now, we have put our regular program on hold during this time of social distancing, and have turned our focus toward our AP Community Relief Efforts, supporting any of the 1,300+ kids and families, especially in the low-income areas of Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn where about 80% of our participants live, in any way that we can. We are reaching out to as many of our Alumni and parents as possible, and hope to be able to help in small ways as needs come to our attention, such as with groceries, supplies, small bills, and educational/creative/enrichment materials that can help our kids cope and stay productive.
2) Our youth are so eager to get back to doing projects with us around the community, and we are continuing to allow them to initiate simple projects that can be done from afar, such as bringing groceries to someone, having a meal delivered to a hospital, sending art supplies to a foster home, etc. One thing I know for sure is that after this has passed, there will be no shortage of ways to give and help their communities heal and recover from this experience and loss. When that time comes, we look forward to being able to help them channel their emotions and energy into these efforts and realize what an important role they have to play in bringing us all back to full health. They will need that more than ever.
3) A few of our grantors have given us General Operating grants, rather than program-specific grants, to help sustain us through this time, which we are very grateful for!
4) Our Board has approved a Covid-19 Compensation Policy continuing to pay all of our Mentors through June (they typically do not work much in the summers) and our part-time administrative staff continuously. I know that everyone has appreciated this policy, as most of our Mentors are college students or working in lower-wage nonprofit organizations and have depended on this work to pay their bills.
Please feel free to get in touch with me for any reason, and if there is a way for us help or support you at any time, please don’t hesitate to call!
We love you all, and can imagine all the ways that Liz, and Skip and Elizabeth, would be wanting to help right now--in medicine, creativity, entertaining children, and much more. We feel all of their passion and compassion powering us all the more through this time.
Thank you for all your love and generosity, and please stay healthy and be careful!
Sending you love always,
Leah Okimoto, Executive Director