Source: The Independent

Ariana DeMattei: Ahead Of The Pack

by Kitty Merrill

February 06, 2013

Lots of kids undertake “Mitzvah projects” in the months leading up to their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. Few, however, are taking on anything as large scale as Ariana DeMattei is.

A student at Westhampton Beach Middle School, she’s creating an entire program that she hopes to some day bring to neighboring schools. Called “Backpacks For Fellow Students,” the program’s goal is to help elementary school children who are unable to purchase basic school essentials to start the 2013/2014 school year with the same supplies as other children. Ariana hopes to assemble 50 packs filled with the required supplies for kids in grades Kindergarten through fifth by the start of school next September.

Already, the seventh grader said, she’s been “shocked and amazed,” by the willingness of others to help out. From local merchants to big chains like Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot to a family friend who helped craft a professional press release, “They put me at the top of their list and jumped at the chance to help me. I love their enthusiasm. At a time when so many people are effected by the economy . . . it’s making me overjoyed,” Ariana enthused.

The Westhampton Beach school district already provides assistance to children of struggling families, through such programs as a lowered school lunch cost. Though “you can’t really tell” which students receive the benefits, the 12-year-old noted “I know so many people in my own backyard and my community who need help.” BFFS, she believes, will remove one burden from the WHB district and “give the school the chance to take care of what they need to.”

A Bat Mitzvah is a coming of age ritual for young Jewish girls. The process often calls upon children to do good deeds. “We’re encouraged to do projects to help our community, like a random act of kindness for a person or a group of people that are close to you, or for an issue that’s meaningful for you,” Ariana explained. The BFFS project combines Ariana’s interest in education and children, along with the Jewish mitzvah of tikkun olam, which focuses on repairing the world.

To help achieve her goal, Ariana created a “wish list” on Amazon.com. Supporters can find the BFFS registry on the site, and contribute that way. They could also bring donations, or checks, to the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton, which has agreed to act as an intermediary and a collection site.

A seventh grader at Westhampton Beach Middle School, Ariana’s no stranger to community service. She’s volunteered with Maureen’s Haven, the East End homeless outreach agency, and “done small things to help other organizations.” But she’s never taken on a mission of such magnitude. “Starting my own program is way out of my comfort zone,” she said. Still, she’s got a mind for business, and plans to hold several fundraisers between now and next September – a polar plunge, sports clinic for kids, movie night, and raffles among them.

“I hope I can help,” Ariana said in a voice filled with enthusiasm. “Children and education are important to me. They’re both such a big part of our future.”

kmerrill@indyeastend.com