When you’re truly passionate about something, you won’t let anything hold you back from accomplishing your goals and achieving your dreams. This certainly can be said about 14-year-old Avery Sontheimer from Northwestern Pennsylvania. She absolutely adores animals and has made it her mission to help as many as possible.
“She’s always been an animal lover,” says Avery’s mom, Kim. “She wants to save them all.”
That’s especially obvious by the fact that she has welcomed six rescue cats into her home, and enjoys spending time with all of them. The cute cats are named Snuggles, Handsome, Bully, TJ, Tee, and Poodah. Avery’s passion for helping animals is what inspired her to raise money for animal shelters. She started locally, by collecting and recycling aluminum cans, then donating the proceeds to nearby animal rescues. She even placed collection jars in 20 local businesses, calling it “making change with change.”
But now she’s taken her efforts nationwide with her newest fundraiser “Avery’s Pawsitive Change,” where she is raising money to send $5 gift cards to animal shelters in all 50 states. The idea to send gift cards to shelters first came to her in March of 2020 when she won a baking contest and received a $20 gift card to Walmart. But instead of buying something for herself, she spent her prize money on more gift cards. She purchased four $5 gift cards, sending each one with a handwritten card and a heartfelt note to a different local animal shelter.
After that, her friends and family started to donate to her cause. Before long, she decided to tell as many people as possible about her idea, so she could help even more animals. Together with her mother, she created a Facebook page that described her mission and a GoFundMe page to support it.
She searches online for organizations, then surprises them with her touching gift. Avery explains that $5 may not seem like much, but every penny counts, and a little can go a long way. It’s important to Avery to show shelters just how much she cares and appreciates the work they do to help animals.
“It’s amazing to watch her be so motivated about something. You want your child to find a passion in life and this is hers,” says Avery’s mother.
Then in July of 2020, Avery received life-altering news. She was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive cancer that presents in the bones and surrounding soft tissues. Treatment will require frequent hospital visits and many rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. But despite her diagnosis, Avery has remained dedicated to helping animals. She finds strength to battle cancer from her mission, and she has continued to write messages and sends gift cards amidst her medical treatments.
“It keeps me motivated to just keep going,” she said. “When I get older, I also want to own my own animal shelter. That’s my passion. I see they need second chances, and they’re just so cute.”
Avery and her mother post pictures and videos on her Facebook page detailing how many gift cards she was able to send each week, and keeping followers informed on her medical updates. So far, Avery has sent a total of 3,295 gift cards, which adds up to nearly $25,000.
Avery says she would like the focus to be on the animals in need instead of her, but it’s hard not to be captivated by her infectious smile, and huge heart. She hasn’t let her young age, nor a complicated medical diagnosis, hold her back from making a significant positive impact on the world. If you would like more updates on “Avery’s Pawsitive Change” be sure to follow her Facebook page.