Photography by Evelyn Robles
Residents of Parkland and Coral Springs are known for their charitable efforts, a benevolent streak that seems to start earlier with each passing generation. Not only are middle school and high school students joining their peers to raise awareness—from school-related fundraisers to taking the ice bucket challenge for ALS—some are venturing out on their own.
Students like 14-year-old Gwyneth Bishara, whose desire to give back led her to start perhaps the sweetest nonprofit in town: Cupcakes4Charity.
“When I was in fifth grade, I really wanted to help out the community, and my parents were always going to different charity events,” Gwyneth, says, adding that her love for cupcakes and helping kids ultimately established the charity’s name. At its inception, Gwyneth and a handful of friends baked the cupcakes at a local kitchen. Once the organization grew, and since each cupcake requires a nutritional content label, Gwyneth turned to local bakeries and larger retailers like Publix to donate the cupcakes to sell at fundraising events.
Now an eighth-grader at Westglades Middle School, Gwyneth heads a group of 65 student volunteers who help spread the word about the organization, which has raised money to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and, its newest affiliate, SOS Children’s Village, a foster care neighborhood in Coconut Creek where Gwyneth’s dad, Jason, sits on the board of directors.
“I have a lot of friends that play different sports, so they help me by telling their friends and posting on their sports pages on Facebook,” Gwyneth says, adding, “The whole community is on board.”
Many local businesses sponsor Cupcakes4Charity events, including Rob’s Family BBQ, Pure Energy Entertainment, Island Water Sports, Pasquale’s Pizza Co., Pizazz, Apricot Lane, World of Beer, Prosperity Brewers, Starbucks and more.
The organization raised around $5,000 at its last gala in 2013. After taking a break from large events to focus on academics and lacrosse, Gwyneth, with the help of her 12-year-old sister, Ella, came back even stronger this year with the Cupcakes4Charity Block Party in May. They set a goal to raise $25,000 for SOS Children’s Village.
“We talked about what she raised last time, how she did it, and the difference of it being a local community cause,” Jason says. “Her whole mantra is to get the other kids in the community engaged.”
Jason was confident that if each volunteer could raise $1,000 through donations and ticket sales, they could easily reach their ultimate goal. Attendees were also able to participate in raffles and an auction that consisted of luxury items such as a $1,200 paddleboard.
“Now that they are older, they are thinking bigger,” Gwyneth’s mother, Laurie, says. “Because this is a local charity, they are so excited not only to raise money to help the village, but to create a special day for the children who live there.”
“Ella is a major part of it,” Jason adds. “I would call it a CEO-CFO relationship. Gwyneth moves at 100 miles an hour, and her little sister is a bit more detail-oriented. She’s a real push-and-driver.”
“My parents are really proud of me, and they help out with anything too big,” Gwyneth says. “They help me send emails and make sure everything is running smoothly. Sometimes they have to speak to an adult who might need more information that I can’t give them.”
While her parents communicate with the older crowd, Gwyneth focuses on keeping her peers engaged. A believer that kids are less likely to help at charity events “unless there’s something in it for them,” she devised a plan to heighten participation. In addition to receiving community service hours toward graduation, student volunteers can also earn rewards for reaching a certain amount of hours. Up for grabs this year was a hoverboard and an Apple Watch.
As for the proud parents, Laurie feels it’s important for children to get involved with helping others at a young age. “Children involved in Cupcakes4Charity have learned compassion and to be appreciative for their health, their families and the fortunate environment they are growing up in,” she says.
Jason admits that it was Gwyneth’s drive that motivated him to take a seat in a director’s chair at SOS Children’s Village in October 2015. “With the chain of events, it really transpired,” he says. “My daughter inspired me to start getting more actively involved in the community and give back.”