Organizations: Lil’ Ol’ Me Foundation

In this corporate culture, those who play well with others enjoy sweet, long-term rewards. “lil’ ol’ me” is a line of colorful kiddie clothing and accessories – call it tot couture – that helps provide therapy, education and a more understanding environment for children with autism.

“It’s a statement, an attitude, a child’s right to be heard,” says founder Lesley Kelly. “It’s all about lil’ ol’ me.”

Kelly was operating a day-care service from her home in Atlanta when she noticed an increase in autism among her charges, whose families often could not afford specialized treatment. Early diagnosis and intervention are critical in dealing with the developmental disorder, which affects an estimated one in 110 children, with about 10,000 cases in Georgia.

“If they get the help they need, they can become highly function-ing,” Kelley says. “But if parents can’t afford help, the child suffers.”

Head of the Class: One girl in particular motivated Kelly to launch a homespun fund raiser.

“She would act out, and some of the other children weren’t tolerant – would actually hit her – and a few of them left because of her,” says Kelly, who recognized the symptoms and discussed treatment with her parents. “The kids who stayed, once they understood that she was a little bit different, loved her. This girl is now a leader in her class as she prepares to go into first grade.”

To assist financially strapped families, Kelly began crafting beaded bracelets, enlisting help from tiny hands in the Girl Scouts, and selling them for $15 apiece, with all profits going directly to the cause. Soon this enterprise, named Lollipop Lane, found its way into little-shaver boutiques and retailers, including Learning Express, Pigtails & Crewcuts, and Bloomingdale’s.

“I want children involved because 75 percent who volunteer as kids do so as adults,” she says. “It helps their self-esteem and teaches them to be not just tolerant, but accepting, of people who are different.”

A Little Goes a Long Way: Lollipop Lane led to “lil’ ol’ me,” a growing line of sturdy, organic clothing – specializing in onesies, with plans for edgier teen products called “LOM” – incorporated last June. A percentage of earnings go to the foundation “lil’ ol’ me making a BIG difference,” which still receives all of the profits from bracelet sales, as well as money from fund raisers.

“It started as a small idea to help a child,” Kelly says, “but we’re taking it to another level.”

Categories: Organizations