A Euharlee Elementary fourth-grader spent her summer proving that kids aren't too young to make a difference in their community.
Nine-year-old Samantha Gough raised $650 for three local charities by making and selling stress balls, a project she decided to do after earning a little money from selling her "homemade stuff like squishies, bookmarks and bracelets" last spring as a third-grader.
Someone asked her what she was going to spend her money on, and she said she "didn't really know."
"I went home, and I thought that I didn’t need all of this money so I decided that I should give it to someone that really needs it, like homeless people and the poor," she said. "I wanted to give it to less-fortunate people because I already have a lot of toys and a house so I decided to give it to people that actually needed the money."
The daughter of Terry and Erin Gough of White resolved to raise more money by creating stress balls out of balloons and flour, which she learned how to do from watching JillianTubeHD on YouTube, and selling them to people who needed a little stress relief in their lives.
"Some people have a lot of work to do, and maybe while they are working, they would like to squish something to help them concentrate," she said.
Samantha said her dad built her a workstation so she could make five stress balls at a time.
"It takes me about 56 seconds to make one but a few minutes to write out my card and tie it on," she said.
Her soccer coach, Alex Laldin, made the first substantial donation.
"I was telling him about my project at the soccer banquet," she said. "He asked me how much I was selling them for to kids at school, and I said $2. He told me he would give me $100 for 50 stress balls. I think it was pretty neat, and he handed me $100."
Laldin, who's coached Samantha since she was 4, said he told her to "pitch" her product to him, and he asked her what she was going to do with her profits.
"At the time, she really wanted a teacup pig, but instead, she told me that she was raising money for the homeless and that she knew I was always stressed," he said. "I ended up with the first 50 and a lot less stress in my life."
The coach said a few of the balls "sit in my car for those stressful days on [Interstate] 285," but most of them went to his clients as gifts.
Samantha attached a handwritten note about her project to each one, "and sure enough, money has poured in from all around the country and locally to support her cause," he said, and she added she received $100 from his clients.
One client, Brandon Thompson of Thompson Plumbing, "loved the idea and decided he wanted to help," Laldin said.
Thompson gave Samantha $150 for her next batch of 100 balls and decided to put them inside some of the runners' bags at the Aug. 25 Downtown Cartersville 5K, which he helped sponsor, to benefit Backpack Buddies, she said.
Samantha said she went to the race to pass out her last 25 stress balls along with Thompson's water bottles.
"I went out to thank Thompson Plumbing and try to share my goal with others by passing out my last 25 stress balls," she said. "I was so excited to receive another $75 in donations."
By the end of the project, Samantha said she had raised $650, significantly surpassing her goal of $500 and making her very happy.
"Well, my goal was $500, and I raised $650 so I think the amount of money I raised was great," she said.
The young philanthropist said she plans to give $300 to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at her church, St. Francis of Assisi in Cartersville, Sunday and $175 to MUST Ministries next week.
With the remaining $175, Samantha bought ramen noodles, Goldfish, granola bars and other items for the Backpack Buddy students at her school on Aug. 28, according to EES counselor Crystal Heim.
"The $175 she raised will go a long ways in supporting the Backpack Buddy students," she said, noting Samantha's donation was "a complete surprise to me." "The first week of school, I had students ask me if they could have a bag of food to take home over the weekend. The Backpack Buddy program is doing good for the kids and the community."
Samantha knew she wanted to help the poor and homeless, particularly through her church, so she discussed other options for distributing the money with her parents, according to her mom.
"My husband and I talked with her about different organizations and let her choose," Gough said. "It's important to us that she can see the joy and impact she is having for those people she is helping. She went to the grocery store and did the shopping for the Euharlee Backpack Buddies. We want her to visit with the food pantry/location of St. Vincent de Paul as well as MUST Ministries when giving them their donations."
The adults in Samantha's life think she's pretty special to care about others the way she does at such a young age.
"I think it's a testament to her character and work ethic, which her parents, Terry and Erin, have instilled in all of their children," Laldin said. "I think we've got a 9-year-old little girl with the maturity and empathy to put others' needs before her own wants and desires. I think the world could use more Samantha Goughs, and I could not be any more proud to call her my buddy."
"When my husband and I found out what she was doing, we were so humbled and proud at the same time," Gough said. "Samantha is a self-starter and loves to do things for everyone around her."
Heim said she is "so proud of Samantha."
"She is a very compassionate and thoughtful young lady," she said. "She worked hard to contribute her time and effort to the community."
Helping less-fortunate people won't be a one-time occurrence for Samantha, who wants to do other projects in the future.
"It was a pretty neat thing, and I would like to try and raise more money for people in need," she said.