Prairie Elementary sixth grader Libby Marsh, founder of Kids4Vets, receives two awards in less than a week

Libby Marsh, a sixth grader at Prairie Elementary who started an organization to help homeless veterans, received Fox4 News’s Pay-It-Forward Award from reporter Kathy Quinn on Wednesday morning.

Prairie Elementary sixth grader Libby Marsh got a surprise visit yesterday — she received $400 from Fox4 News to support an organization she founded to help homeless veterans.

Marsh was at a loss for words at first (who wouldn’t be when your mom, brother, principal, a disaster response team, a camera crew and reporter with a recorder show up in force at your classroom?) but she was flushed with excitement as Fox4 News reporter Kathy Quinn handed her four crisp $100 bills.

Principal Kristen Jones (left) congratulates sixth grader Libby Marsh for receiving recognition on her volunteer work for veterans.

“This is awesome,” was the first thing Marsh could say. She said she plans to use the money to buy hygiene kits and further her organization’s mission.

Marsh was the recipient of the local broadcast station’s Pay-It-Forward Award. Heart to Heart International, a Lenexa-based disaster response organization, nominated her for the award after learning about her volunteer efforts to supply homeless veterans with basic needs and personal hygiene kits.

“We will go out into the community several times a year to distribute, and we kept encountering Libby and got to know her and started to ask her questions; that’s when we found out that she started the Kids4Vets organization four years ago,” said Brian Sink, vice president of Heart to Heart International. “It’s incredible for somebody that young to acknowledge the contributions of others. We were impressed by that.”

Libby Marsh and her fellow classmates volunteering at the Heart of America Stand Down. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Marsh

After volunteering for the Heart of America Stand Down, a local organization supporting veterans, four years ago, 7-year-old Marsh had felt compelled to continue helping this vulnerable part of the community, so she founded Kids4Vets to continue collections efforts and advocacy work. She also keeps up a blog to provide education for children to understand the issues impacting veterans.

“I just want to use it to help give back to the veterans who gave so much to us and get them stuff that they need for the Stand Down and other events to help support homeless veterans,” Marsh said of the award cash.

Every year since, she has been helping lead a fall school function during which she and her fellow students collect supplies that provide basic needs for homeless veterans in the Kansas City metro area.

“It’s just been growing every year,” said Kathryn Marsh, her mother, adding that her brother, Jack has also been a big help as well as all of the Prairie Elementary students who volunteer each year. “She’s not a 501(c)3 yet; she wants to be, but at this point in time, she calls it an organization, and she partners with nonprofits to figure out ways for children to become educated about the issues that are affecting veterans in our community.”

Libby Marsh disappears from view as her classmates at Prairie Elementary give her a group hug to congratulate her.

Marsh’s work has clearly been noticed. Just last Friday, she received the Guardian Award from St. Michael’s Veterans Center, which coordinates the Heart of America Stand Down each spring. Marsh received the award at the St. Michael’s Celebration of Heroes event Nov. 15 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

To celebrate the Pay-It-Forward Award on Wednesday morning, Quinn presented her the cash and Marsh’s classmates celebrated too, enveloping her in a group hug.

“We get hundreds of emails nominating people, but some of them just really touch you,” Quinn said. “Fox4 is about giving back to the community. A lot of people say that, but we really are. We’re just very fortunate that our station likes to do so much with the community.”

Within minutes of receiving the award, Marsh got to thinking: What happens next year, when she goes to middle school and leaves Prairie Elementary? How can she start student participation in the Heart of America Stand Down when she goes to Indian Hills Middle?

Principal Kristen Jones reassured her she can talk with the principal and help get it started there.

“The first time I heard Libby’s name was over the summer before I started working at Prairie, and her family and everyone was just so supportive of her efforts,” Jones said. “She was this little, a little teeny tiny thing, and she started speaking at assemblies, and more and more kids started helping. Before we knew it, it’s become one of the biggest tables at the Stand Down for toiletries. An amazing heart.”