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Amherst 7-year-old asks on birthday not for gifts but for donations to nature center

Korinna Spirko gave a check for $523 to Colleen Kelley of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Korinna asked guests at her 7th birthday party to make donations to the center in lieu of gifts to her.
SUBMITTED PHOTO

Korinna Spirko gave a check for $523 to Colleen Kelley of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Korinna asked guests at her 7th birthday party to make donations to the center in lieu of gifts to her. SUBMITTED PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

When Korinna Spirko had a party celebrating her 7th birthday, she asked that her guests bring not gifts but donations to the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.

She raised $523, and on Dec. 12 she and her mother and sister surprised the Hitchcock Center with the donation. She gave the envelope to educator Colleen Kelley, who had been her teacher in a preschool nature class.

“She walked into the building with a big smile on her face and said she just turned 7,” Kelley recalled. “She handed me a card, and I said, ‘It’s your birthday, not mine.’ She said, “That’s for you to open.’ When I saw what was inside, I was so touched I started crying, and gave her a big hug.”

Kelley said she wrote Korinna a thank-you note saying that the Hitchcock Center would use the money to feed animals and buy new books for its library.

“I was so overwhelmed that a child would have in her heart that it was an important thing to do,” she said. “To a child that age, presents are everything, and it meant a lot that she saw this as an important thing.”

Korinna’s family has participated in many Hitchcock Center programs, and has a special connection to Kelley. Many years ago, she was a baby sitter in Simsbury, Conn., and one of the children she took care of was Korinna’s father, Blake Spirko.

Korinna started attending Hitchcock Center programs at the age of 2, said her mother, Michele Spirko.

“It’s this magical place for young children,” she said. “They emphasize being outside and connecting to the world in a way that’s not always so easy for kids to do, and they nurture families there.”

Korinna’s birthday was in November, but the family scheduled a skating party at the Mullins Center for Dec. 8. Mother and daughter sat down to plan the event, and they agreed that the emphasis should be on friendship and celebration instead of acquiring things, said Michele Spirko. Korinna had been invited to birthday parties where guests were asked not to bring gifts, and they jointly came up with the idea of asking for donations to the Hitchcock Center, she said.

About 50 people came to the party. Korinna is in first grade at Fort River School, and last year attended the Montessori School of Northampton, and she invited friends from both schools, along with their families. She sent out email invitations asking guests not to bring gifts but, if so inclined, to make donations to the Hitchcock Center, Michele Spirko said.

“She learned what an amazing feeling it is to give,” Michele Spirko said. “She is really happy that this was the choice she made. We talked about how exceedingly generous our friends were, and she asked what she would have done with that much money’s worth of toys.”

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