Sep 27, 2013
Anna Murphy of Stafford Springs: Future Soccer Star, Philanthropist at 11
At age 11, Stafford Springs 6th-grader Anna Murphy is an aspiring soccer star, hoping—maybe determined is a more accurate description—to follow in the cleat marks of her favorite player, the goal-scoring sensation of the U.S. national women’s team, Alex Morgan.
Anna balances her studies at Stafford Middle School with playing on multiple teams, sometimes in as many as five games a week. She’s a forward, too, a goal-scoring threat whose forte is skillfully dribbling past a persistent tide of defenders before artfully netting the ball.
It’s not, perhaps, a coincidence that Anna’s offensive signature is the Atlas-like approach of putting scoring opportunities on her own shoulders—in a sport in which players can become international stars not for hard work but for talent and instincts that put them in the right place to score easily.
For Anna, the hard work is part of the reward, part of the satisfaction. At least that’s how it seems in hearing her describe another priority in her life in which she’s determined to stand out, and to make a difference, for families in her community that feel the bite of need over the course of long, cold winters.
Anna created and leads an effort called the Warming Families Makes Cents penny drive, which, through school-based and other activities involves collecting and pooling enough pennies—larger denominations are obviously also accepted—to fuel a fund that provides home heating oil for those who can’t afford the necessity and don’t deserve to be left in the cold.
Her efforts and success, which involve an ongoing effort that has raised more than $4,000 to date and helped nearly 10 families, netted Anna two major honors this year; one from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program and a second, announced this past summer, from the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program. Each came with $1,000, which Anna and her mom, Becky, said is going into a college fund—with that college likely to be the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where both the men’s and women’s soccer programs have long been top-notch.
News of the Prudential award, for which Becky nominated her daughter without Anna knowing, arrived one day last February. “It came in the mail and my mom surprised me and told me,” Anna said via a Skype chat earlier this week.
While it was mentioned that the award came with a trip to Washington, D.C., and a silver medallion presented at Anna’s school, what the mom and daughter—who were squeezing in the interview before soccer—didn’t recount is that the honor was followed by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney reading into the official Congressional Record a speech honoring the achievements of Anna and Hanna De Bruyn of Old Lyme, a student at Lyme-Old Lyme High School who raised more than $25,000 for children with rare brain cancers by hosting yearly races beginning in 2010. (Both are in his district.)
Formal recognition from a Congressman is nice, but for Anna and Connecticut’s other Prudential award winner, Alison Forger, 17, of Monroe—honored for promoting a love of reading and writing in young students through a club that has high school students work with elementary school classrooms—received personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey and four-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix (200 meters) at a ceremony and gala dinner reception at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
News of the Kohl’s Cares scholarship came in July, and for that award Anna was nominated by an employee at Festi Oil Service, the hometown company owned by Tillie Champagne and Ed Festi that Anna works with in providing heating oil to those in need. “Anna has quite a relationship with her,” Becky Murphy said of Champagne.
The Kohl’s Cares program honors nearly 200 deserving volunteers with $1,000 scholarships toward higher education, and out of 35,000 nominees nationwide, three students from Connecticut were chosen as winners. (See our story on Ryan Bell of Wallingford and stay tuned for a story on Charles Proctor of Durham, who founded the Honduras Children’s Project, dedicated to improving the lives of 43 children who live at the Copprome Orphanage in El Progeso, Honduras, and raised $30,000 for that effort. A fourth winner, Vlad Romano of Bethel, started the Teddy Bear Fund, providing Teddy bears to the local fire department to hand out to kids during emergencies.)
The Kohl’s effort is meant to encourage promising youth to further their education at a time when college costs continue to rise and parents are relying more heavily on federal and private student loans to fund higher education. Since the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program began in 2001, Kohl’s has recognized more than 19,000 kids, including the 2013 winners, with more than $3.9 million in scholarships and prizes.
Winners are chosen based on initiative, leadership, generosity and project benefits and outcome—so it’s easy to see why Anna was honored. Her parents, Becky said, always challenge her to do more, and Anna—who turns 12 in January—has responded with the same goal-oriented tenacity she displays on the soccer field.
Prudential’s announcement offered a nice summary of how the effort evolved:
For many years, Anna’s family has collected pennies, which her mother would count just before Christmas and then donate to a family in need of heating oil. “I remember wondering why we did that, when we also didn’t have a lot of money and had a tough time paying for oil, too,” said Anna. “My mom would always tell me ‘it is better to give than receive.’”
Anna took that message to heart. She wrote a letter to her fourth-grade teacher, asking if her entire class could collect pennies for her cause, which she called “Warming Families Makes Cents.” The teacher and class were excited to help. But Anna didn’t stop there. Again, she got out her paper and began writing to local businesses. Several of the businesses offered to match whatever her class collected, and a furnace company agreed to throw in free furnace cleanings for the recipient families. That Christmas, two families in Anna’s town had full oil tanks, thanks to the efforts of Anna and her team. “I will never forget the feeling I got when my mom and I called the families to let them know they would be receiving a gift of oil,” said Anna. “The happiness in their voices made me feel so warm inside.” This year, she publicized her project through Facebook and a webpage she created, and put collection jars all over town. Another school in her district also agreed to collect pennies for her cause. Anna Initially set out to collect enough pennies to help three families stay warm, but now she is on her way to helping six families.
The total of six families cited in the Prudential announcement in the early part of this year has become nearly 10 families at this point. The penny drive, meanwhile, continues year-round, and Anna has brought other schools into the effort. She also works with businesses to add to the fund-raising and has even consulted the municipal social services department as part of her efforts.
“Pretty soon she’s going to start knocking on doors” for contributions, Becky Murphy said this week, noting how much of a help the local Rotary Club has been with the initiative.
“I don’t think she realized how big it was going to get,” Becky said, explaining that there’s an outreach now to Safe Net Ministries. “We’re trying to work in cooperation with them.”
As a result of all of this, Anna said her friends and classmates “look up to me.” And, Becky added, “Someone showed up at our door with a Teddy bear,” as a way of saying thank you for the help.
“The best part,” Anna said, “is probably calling the families and telling them they’re going to be warm this winter.”
Anna Murphy of Stafford Springs: Future Soccer Star, Philanthropist at 11