Raising Money to Find a Cure, One Ribbon Barrette at a Time


How many times a day do we tell our kids that we’re proud of them? Probably not nearly enough. As a daughter of Chinese parents, it’s not in our culture’s nature to celebrate incredible accomplishments by proclaiming them to the world, but I’m going to break the mold and announce that I’m so very proud of my 10-year-old daughter and all that she’s done to raise money to support research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

“Mommy,” said Emily as we scurried around the house packing our gear for another day at the pool last summer. “I’m going to bring my ribbons and barrettes to sell during adult swim.”

In my haste to get out the door, I probably nodded or said “umm hmmmm” as approval without knowing that one sentence was the making of a passionate tween fundraiser and avocation for cystic fibrosis research.

When the whistle blew for the first adult swim of the day, Emily and her best friend scrambled out of the pool, ran by our table to grab a stash of supplies, and parked themselves near the snack bar for the 15 minutes of adult swim. When the whistle blew again, they’d run back by and dump their supplies on the table before jumping back in. Every 45 minutes the scenario would repeat itself, although sometimes they’d run back, ecstatic about receiving $3 for a sale.

Emily’s best friend is one of the estimated 30,000 children and adults living in the United States with cystic fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. In the 1950s, very few children with CF lived to attend elementary school. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), the leading organization for cystic fibrosis research, “tremendous progress in understanding and treating CF has led to dramatic improvements in the length and quality of life for those with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.” But there still isn’t a cure.

Last spring, Emily donated $140 in proceeds to the CFF’s Great Strides Walk in honor of her best friend. She was proud of her efforts (and we were too!) because to a 10-year-old, $140 is a lot of money! She had no idea what the summer would bring for her CFF ribbon barrette fundraiser when school ended for the year.

When the pool reopened for the season, her ribbon barrette efforts ramped up. Different colored spools of ribbon accompanied us to every dive practice, were brought on each car ride, and were scattered about our house. The girls sold at the pool and through lemonade-type stand in the neighborhood hoping for sales from drive by traffic!

As Emily made barrettes, she attached them to a ribbon to prevent them from getting tangled. One day the collection of ribbon barrettes came to the pool with a sign sharing why she was making and selling ribbon barrettes and a bit about CF. The ribbon barrettes, with their ribbons swaying in the summer breeze, caught my eye. I took them down, laid them on our table and snapped a photo. That Instagrammable moment was the beginning of a summer of ribbon barrettes.


Every time I shared a photo on Instagram of Emily’s ribbon barrettes and pushed it to Facebook, we received orders. Friends would post on my Facebook feed, comment on Instagram, or privately message me or email me with requests for barrettes in favorite colors.

Three weeks into the summer, Emily had raised $297 and I was spending a lot of time running her to the craft store to restock her supplies for a very good cause while my husband was packing and shipping orders all over the country. Her younger brother was put in charge of ribbon inventory and we continued to document her ribbon barrette fundraiser on social media.

My social media accounts have served as the most powerful tool for Emily to spread the word. I share. Friends share. People notice. They care and want to help the girls who are raising money to help find a cure, one ribbon barrette at a time.

We may not have gone viral in the way that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did towards the end of the summer, but people notice kids doing great things. Giving Tuesday wrote about Emily in their Creative Giving We’ve Noticed: For Kids, By Kids. The girls’ efforts were featured in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Chapter newsletter. Awareness was spread through the blogging community thanks to award winning social media agency, Clever Girls Collective, who also served as an early ribbon barrette benefactor whose leftover ribbon and barrette supplies from an event gave Emily the initial supplies and the know-how to create ribbon barrettes. TotSpot, a free iOS app for parents to use to buy and sell clothes, reached out about a partnership. They agreed to donate 100 percent of sales of barrettes through their platform to CFF and then interviewed her.

Emily and her best friend have named their ribbon barrette fundraising enterprise Ribbon Barrettes for Research. Their logo is a blend of their two favorite colors — Emily’s is purple while her best friend’s is green. They have business cards and a brand new shiny website developed on a free platform, to show that any kid can do what she’s been doing.


In between sports practice, music lessons, and homework, my dedicated girl has learned how powerful one voice can be when advocating for something important.

To my almost 11-year-old daughter, each sale is a victory. Each order that goes out is an opportunity to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis. The handwritten thank you note (some are neater than others!) enclosed with each order reinforces the importance of teaching kids and parents how much their purchase supports important research that we hope will one day find a cure for CF.


As a parent, I love that Emily has found the power in her own voice and she’s inspired others to advocate for causes they care about. I love that she’s teaching others why it’s important to raise money for cystic fibrosis research that will one day benefit her best friend. I love that I’ve probably learned as many lessons from this as she has.


To date, Emily and Ribbon Barrettes for Research has raised over $1000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This small thoughtful effort has turned into something incredibly meaningful that makes my heart burst with joy every time I think about it. I love my daughter and am so very proud of her! And as soon as I pick her up from school, I’ll tell her again.

To order custom ribbon barrettes, visit Emily’s website: RibbonBarrettes.com where 100% of the proceeds benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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