Visitation’s Mandi Simon honored at ‘Star of the North’ ceremony

Mandi Simon, founder of the nonprofit Simon Says Give. (submitted photo)
Mandi Simon, founder of the nonprofit Simon Says Give. (submitted photo)
Ben blows out candles on his birthday cake at the first party ever hosted by Simon Says Give, on April 14, 2012. Mandi and Dina Simon have stayed in touch with Ben and his family. His birthday now marks the nonprofit’s anniversary. (submitted photo)
Ben blows out candles on his birthday cake at the first party ever hosted by Simon Says Give, on April 14, 2012. Mandi and Dina Simon have stayed in touch with Ben and his family. His birthday now marks the nonprofit’s anniversary. (submitted photo)

Sixth-grader’s nonprofit brings birthday parties, school supplies to community

Mandi Simon began leveraging her birthday-girl status to help others when she was only 5 years old. It started out with a request for her friends and family to make donations for her birthday in lieu of gifts.

This annual tradition, however, didn’t satisfy her desire to help others in need.

So she started her own nonprofit, Simon Says Give, to help host birthday parties for children whose families don’t have the means to host a celebration on their own.

Now an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Convent of the Visitation, Simon has facilitated more than 500 birthday celebrations and provided school supplies for more than 11,000 students through her nonprofit.

The scale of her impact recently caught the attention of U.S. Congressman John Kline, who recognized Simon’s acts of generosity at his ninth annual “Star of the North” ceremony with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition.

“I continue to be amazed by the countless Minnesotans who selflessly go above and beyond in their service to their communities,” the Republican congressman said of all recipients. “These ‘Star of the North’ honorees graciously give their time and talents to make life better for someone beyond themselves in their neighborhoods and around the world.”

Cakes, gifts and backpacks

When contacted to help facilitate a birthday celebration, Mandi Simon, her mother, Dina, and other Simon Says Give volunteers book a venue for the party and pull together all the basic supplies: a cake, decorations, games, craft activities and gifts.

Mandi remembers the very first birthday party they hosted on April 14, 2012. They celebrated Ben’s 7th birthday at a community center in North St. Paul with his friends and family.

“April 14th is now our Simon Says Give birthday and that means a lot to us and to Ben,” Simon said. “We stayed connected. It’s just really important that we stay connected with all our families.”
In honor of her own birthday, Simon holds a school supply drive called “High Five for Supplies” in the summer, to outfit students in need for the upcoming school year.  

The third function of Simon Says Give is to provide other kids with the resources and mentorship needed to create and plan their own service projects.

How it all started

“I just knew I wanted to help people and it just hit me,” Simon said. “I was like, ‘Oh, birthday parties! I want to do birthday parties for kids who can’t afford it.’”

At age 7, Simon shared her vision with her mother, who sat down with her to first explain it would have to be a nonprofit, then filed for 501(c)(3) status.  

“She literally presented a business plan on how she wanted to start an organization to help kids in need,” Dina Simon said.

Both mother and daughter attribute their inclination for charity work to the fact that they’re both adopted.

“We come from a lense where we know we’re lucky to have the lives and the families that we have,” Dina said.

Growing impact

Kline’s “Star of the North” recognition isn’t the first time Simon has entered the public spotlight. As a Jefferson Awards GlobeChanger, she has represented her nonprofit at events in D.C. and has made a committment to expand Simon Says Give’s footprint to other states and countries.   

In 2015, Dina said they are striving to supply 10,000 kids with school supplies and 500 with birthday parties this year alone. By Simon’s sophomore year of college, they hope to be impacting two million lives a year.

It’s an ambitious trajectory, but Simon seems to have the right mentality.   

“As a kid, you don’t really have a filter, so pretty much anything is a possibility,” Simon said. “So we come up with these great and fun and sometimes crazy ideas, but we don’t have a filter to say, ‘No, that won’t work.’”

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.
 

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