By Kristen Mascia and Lorenzo Benet
Gene and Michele Rice (center) with Lenora Thompson (equestrian), Mateo Sanders (in karate gear) and Shanaya Chavis (with microphone) Courtesy of Andrew Brusso
When a child has a dream – to be an actor, or a singer, or a basketball star – there is one couple in Upper Makefield, Pa., doing all they can to make it a reality.
While running a basketball camp for kids, Gene and Michele Rice were shocked when a boy participating explained he’d had to take a 10-mile bus ride from his trailer home, had gotten off on the wrong stop and had to walk the remaining half mile. Despite the difficulty he’d had getting to camp, he was still excited to be there.
Thinking of their own kids’ acting classes and sports camps, “we realized we took for granted they could do these things,” says Gene, 56, a recruiting executive. “Other parents love their kids, but the resources aren’t there.”
Out of that moment grew the Plant a Seed Inspire a Dream Foundation plantaseedfoundation.org, a nonprofit that gives low-income kids ages 8 to 21 the kinds of camps and lessons other children enjoy.
Starting with $10,000 of their own money and through fund-raising, the Rices have awarded $200,000 in grants and services to 254 kids in the Northeast. Interviewing children and screening mentors, they’ve helped kids stretch their talents.
“We have kids in karate, dance, gymnastics, sports, art, music and horseback riding,” says Michele, 56, a former speech pathologist. “Helping these kids to explore their passions has been life changing – creating relationships with adult mentors and other children who share their interests.”
Shanaya Chavis, 20, knows all about that. Not sure if she’d attend college, Shanaya wanted to sing, yet her mother, a retired nurse’s aide, couldn’t afford lessons. Now, two years after training at a private studio, she’s hoping “to make it big” and is working with a producer on an album while she takes classes at a community college.
“I have more confidence; I want my degree,” she says. “The Rices have helped me so much.”
Since the Rices’ four children – Shannon, 27, Mackenzie, 25, Courtney, 22, and Owen, 18 – are grown, the couple continues to expand their organization’s efforts, helping children to pursue their passions for multiple years and recruiting volunteers to drive kids to their activities.
“We don’t expect them to be stars,” says Michele.