Matt Millstein is a perfect example of how a simple fundraiser and a little passion can go a long way. At first glance, Matt, of Silver Spring, Md., looks like your average 14-year-old. This presumption is far from the truth, though. At age 9, Matt took a deep interest in Haiti. His love for the country has transformed him into a local social entrepreneur. His greeting card company, Cards of Joy, has already raised more than $15,000 for Beyond Borders since its inception five years ago.
Matt often hosts small fundraisers in his various social circles, including his church, Forcey Bible Church, and his associated school, Forcey Christian Middle School. With several years of fundraising already under his belt, his most recent event last Wednesday night was a piece of cake, or, more appropriately, chicken.
Far before the event’s official start time of 5 p.m., Matt’s peers, congregation and friends were lined outside the door of a local fast food establishment, eager to eat for a good cause. The line didn’t dwindle until minutes before the event ended three hours later.
In between greeting his guests and working the milkshake machine, Matt stopped for a few moments of reflection, tracing his affinity for Haiti back to the start. He was first introduced when his mother, Cris, was assigned to the Haiti Twinning Committee at Resurrection Catholic Church in Burtonsville, Md. Although she herself had no prior connection to the country, she began teacher her older of two sons, who was only 4 at the time, about the lives of children his age in Haiti.
As Matt heads off to high school next year, though, he feels the need to move on to a bigger project, namely a duct tape company that will sell everything from duct tape wallets to duct tape laptop cases—with all proceeds, of course, going to Beyond Borders.
Matt’s interest in Haiti really took off when Beyond Borders hosted a Read-a-Thon at his school, and David Diggs made a brief presentation at the culmination of the fundraiser. Matt found Diggs’ words so inspirational that he not only asked for his autograph, but insisted that Diggs help him start a fundraiser with a bit more longevity than the one he had just completed. Soon thereafter, Cards of Joy was born, and orders for the greeting cards poured in much faster than Matt could draw them.
Luckily, Matt had a group of friends that helped him bear the load, and they would come together to draw and color whenever timed allowed. After the earthquake, his friends–who called him The Haiti Kid–were more supportive than ever.
Because the children in Haiti have always been Matt’s driving force, he felt completely devastated when the earthquake struck.
“The country already had so many problems,” he said. “I thought ‘and now this? Why, God?’”
He wished he could speak to the kids and let them know he cared.
“I would tell them, ‘I love you and Jesus loves you and I will help you,’” he said, which is not too far off from the message he’d give them today, some three years later.
“Persevere,” Matt advises. “Stay strong in God.”
One day, Matt, along with his parents and brother, intend to visit the children they have been supporting. Matt is most excited about simply seeing the kids and getting to play games like tag with them.
Of course, he’s also looking forward to learning more about Haitian culture than he already has through his parents, books he’s checked out of his local library, and exposure to some Haitian staples such as the famous red beans and rice.
Until the day, however, his biggest priority is inspiring kids younger than him here in Washington, D.C. to do as he has done.
“I am going to try to motivate kids like I was motivated,” he said.