Yardley-based foundation offers opportunities ‘of a lifetime’
Organization ‘Plants a Seed’ to ‘Inspire a Dream’
YARDLEY - It’s not the name that’s important, it’s the story. This story stars a 16-year-old boy from Newtown, name unknown to most, who just wanted to play ball. Sometimes, though, life is not that easy. The boy’s father had died. His mom lost her job. There was no money for him to play. And at this point, nobody knew his story.
But Plant a Seed, a Yardley-based foundation, heard it. Its founders, Gene and Michele Rice, didn’t want a starring role in the story, but wanted to tell it nonetheless. Plant a Seed’s motto is “Inspire a Dream” and its mission is to provide children from low-income families the opportunity to pursue their passions while interacting with positive role models. It was that mission that provided the next chapter in the story.
The teenager wasn’t good enough to make his high school team. His town’s Little League didn’t offer a team at his age. He didn’t harbor realistic big league dreams. He just wanted to play. The Rices were able to finG D OHDguH wKR GLG RIIHU D team for 16-year-olds of all abilities. More importantly, the league was willing and able to match the boy with a coach who would not only teach him to keep his eye on the ball, but to teach him life lessons as well. The coach became a mentor, of sorts. The boy ended up playing on that team for not just one year, but two. Plant a Seed picked up the tab for a glove, two bats, cleats – all the baseball trimmings.
The boy’s story was a good one and one of many Plan a Seed could tell, as they’ve seen their number of cases jump from 21 in the organization’s rookie year, 2009, to more than 150 in 2012.
“We just look to take a kid’s interest and use it to connect him with likeminded kids,” Michele said. “We also connect him with a person from their passion, a possible role model. It presents a life-changing opportunity.”
Referring to the 16-yearold boy, Michele said, “We helped get him through a bumpy road in his life.”
The Rices hear these stories from various sources. 7KHy’YH FuOOHG WKHLU EHnHficiaries from social agencies such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, school personnel, family members and the court system. The organization was featured in People Magazine as one of the publication’s “Heroes Among Us” in December, 2011. The Rice’s only problem, if they can all it a problem, is that they want to help even more children between the ages of 10-18.
“We have so many requests coming in,” Gene said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
The Rice’s have four children, ranging in age from 19 – 27. They understand that sometimes, things over which a parent has no control get in the way of a kid’s life.
“With these economic conditions, with more parents splitting up, you have to be careful that kids don’t slip through the cracks,” Gene said. Both Rices stress that most of the families they deal with are wellintentioned. Almost 90 percent of the families are single-parent, though, which brings with it inherent roadblocks. For one, it’s more GLIfiFuOW WR SDy IRU WKLngs with only one income. For another, time and transportation become issues with one parent.
“Parents want to help their kids so much,” Michele said. “But they’re struggling to make ends meet.” Plant a Seed offers just enough rope to, if not connect the ends, connect a child with something he or she wants to do. The foundation refers WR WKH sSHFLfiF KHOS WKHy RIfer a child as scholarships, which provide for anything from league fees to lessons to equipment.
They were inspired in part by Gene’s extensive background working with nonSURfiW DgHnFLHs, LnFOuGLng Make a Wish and Habitat for Humanity. Plant a Seed doesn’t offer scholarships with the goal of the recipi- ents going on to fame and fortune in their chosen activity. Then again, most of those activity’s participants don’t, either.
“We don’t expect them to become ballerinas or concert pianists,” Gene said. “We just want them to explore what they want to do. You never know where it’s going to lead. Without opportunities and exposure, some kids don’t experience things outside their daily lives.”
Most of the kids Plant a Seed help stay in the program for one year. Occasionally, they stay for a second year. Their growth has made it necessary to hire Michael Tucker, Plant a Seed’s initial full-time employee. Michele was basically working 40-plus hours a week while trying to run a household.
Tucker brings an extensLYH nRn-SURfiW EDFNgURunG and is looking to help the Rices take Plant a Seed to bigger and better places. Plant a Seed’s board of directors voted to donate Tucker’s salary, ensuring that every dime brought in by the foundation goes directly to scholarships.
The Rices readily admit that Plant a Seed is far from D finLsKHG SURGuFW. 7KHy struggle with decisions that plague similar organizations, such as providing rides to and from the activities.
As Tucker admitted, “7KHUH’s D ORW RI nRn-SURfiWs who don’t like the liability that comes with transportation. In an ideal world, there would be no frivolous lawsuits or liability, but …” His voice trailed off with the knowledge that this is not an ideal world, even if Plant a Seed provides ideal experiences for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the things they love in their world.
Michele also worries about the children she helps. hnowing some of the neighborhoods in which the kids live, she doesn’t want them walking to and from the activities, which brings them back to the transportation issue.
Plant a Seed is appreciated. Consider the following testimonial from a recent scholarship recipient, whose name was removed from the letter she wrote to the Rice’s following her experienceW
“You guys have just opened up a new door for me. I have always wanted to have dance lessons ever since I was little … I want to let you know that I am highly grateful for your service. I think it is very generous that you guys are giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
One girl’s regular dance lesson is another’s “opportunity of a lifetime.”
For more information or to refer a child, teen or young adult, call 215-8608403 or visit www.plantaseedfoundation.org.
From left, Plant A Seed Foundation Director Michael Tucker and founders Michele and Gene Rice.