Amid the many booths of handmade and commercial jewelry and accessories, 13-year-old Ali Pfleger's booth, My Passion, blends in well.
With her handcrafted beaded and wire necklaces, bracelets and rings, photo notecards and small key chains and ornaments bought at Vietnamese markets, Ali's wares are not out of the ordinary. What makes them special is what they represent.
"It feels good, but at the same time, I don't do this to feel good," Ali said. "I do this so they could feel good."
Ali — with her mother, Honey Pfleger — manned her yearly booth Saturday at an annual Christmas boutique for Mothers of Preschool Students, or MOPS, at Mariners Church in Irvine to raise money for Giving it Back to Kids, a Huntington Beach-based nonprofit that helps families in Vietnam through education, nutrition, housing and medical care.
Ali has been selling her jewelry at the boutique since she was 9 and giving all of the money she makes to Giving it Back to Kids. Her parents donate all the materials.
"She always had a very, very generous heart," said Honey Pfleger, adding later "I am so proud of her."
Ali's passion for helping others started in kindergarten through a teacher's aid who did outreach for children in Africa. By collecting pennies from the children and then showing them that their small contributions added up, she inspired Ali to start giving back.
"I was always inspired by her because she always said one person can really change someone's life," Ali said.
She started with cookie and lemonade stands to help kids in Africa and Vietnam, and by second grade her mother started teaching her how to make jewelry.
Ali spends all year building up her inventory for the Christmas boutique, making jewelry mainly on the weekends while maintaining high grades at the Orange County School of Performing Arts, where she is in the commercial dance conservatory.
With Giving It Back to Kids, Ali has visited orphanages in Vietnam three times since 2009. The trips inspire the designs for her jewelry, but seeing the orphanage's poor conditions isn't easy.
"When I first went there, I really realized how much I take for granted," she said. "There isn't words to describe how I felt."
During her last visit this summer, Ali met two girls who were able to have heart surgery thanks to her work.
Always humble, accepting their gratitude wasn't easy for her.
"They always say 'thank you so much for saving my life,' and I feel awkward," Ali said.
Ali plans to grow her jewelry business by getting her friends involved and wants to inspire them by showing them what life is like in a Vietnamese orphanage.
How To Help
Interested to learn more or get involved? Email Ali Pfleger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about Giving it Back to Kids at http://www.givingitbacktokids.org.