They were two 13-year-olds with busy sports schedules who had hearts to join a teen charity organization — but limited time to fit a big commitment into their lineup of practices and games.
So Kiara McNulty and Sophia Le Rose, now freshmen at Torrey Pines High, decided to start their own teen service organization, Female Athlete Volunteers, targeting fellow busy and charity-minded young athletes.
In three years, the organization has grown to more than 70 members, giving back to a variety of community groups. Together, Kiara and Sophia pour in more than 100 hours of community service a year.
“I didn’t expect it to get this big at all,” Kiara said.
“It’s kind of like a job, in a way. It’s a lot of work,” Sophia said.
“People will come up to me: ‘You’re the girl that started FAV, it’s so cool that you started a whole charity!’” Sophia continued. “It feels good.”
The organization recently held its biggest event of the year, the second Queen of the Beach beach volleyball tournament at Del Mar’s Dog Beach on Dec. 6.
A total of 64 girls participated, doubling last year’s attendance, and FAV was able to get sponsorships from local businesses like WAVE beach volleyball, Bay Shore Mortgage, SPY, ROX, Jersey Mike’s Solana Beach and Kauai Bikini, who donated a pair of bathing suit bottoms to every girl.
Queen of the Beach is part of FAV’s fundraising efforts for Make-A-Wish. The group is sponsoring a teenager named Kaylee with cystic fibrosis whose wish is to travel to Paris and London. FAV is aiming to raise $8,000 for the trip and has a corporate match if they raise $4,000.
After the tournament, with entry fees, T-shirt sales, newspaper subscription sales and straight donations, they hope to be very close to that goal. Last year, they raised $8,000 to send a teenager to Walt Disney World.
Both Kiara and Sophia have twin brothers, and the four of them all grew up together.
Their brothers were involved with Teen Volunteers in Action (TVIA), a service organization just for teen boys. The girls couldn’t find a similar organization for girls that had the flexibility to allow participation for those with packed athletic calendars.
“We wanted it to be focused on kids,” Kiara said, noting that other groups placed a lot of commitments on the parents as well.
Just seventh-graders at Carmel Valley Middle School, they launched FAV in 2011, reaching out to every school sports team and league they knew.
“We started with 20 girls and it was a big success,” said Sophia. “The second year we had 43 girls, and this year we have over 70.”
Each FAV girl is required to do five events a year, and Sophia and Kiara are strict about holding people to that commitment. The first year FAV had 13 service events,
while this year there are 80 events. So the schedule is more flexible, with plenty of opportunities to get those five events in.
Service events that FAV girls have completed include time given to Miracle League, Belmont Village Retirement Home, Feeding America San Diego, Touissaint Academy for at-risk teens, packing food to support the hungry at Friends and Family Community Connection, and beach clean-ups.
“Working with underprivileged children are some of our favorite events,” said Kiara, noting how much they love helping with the babies at the Family Recovery Center in Oceanside.
They also partner with Destination4Good, which was founded by Sophia’s mother, Marie. Destination4Good connects people to fundraising and volunteer opportunities to pair with their travels around the world.
As an example, FAV helped collect items to fill 120 bags for a Destination4Good family’s trip to Africa to share with children in an orphanage there. For a trip to Peru, they packed 80 bags of supplies for children.
Now drawing from high school freshman and sophomore classes, every year they plan to add one grade level up from themselves, so next year they will have juniors in the mix.
“We hope to pass it on to someone when we go to college, because we think it’s a nice thing and we’d like to keep it going,” Kiara said.
While before they used to follow the Kids Korps calendar of events, it’s been a little harder to organize after Kids Korps was absorbed by the Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito.
They have leaders for their seventh- and eighth-grade groups as well as leaders for the ninth- and 10th-grade groups. Those nine teen leaders work hard to organize service events and opportunities.
They have also gotten a lot of help this year from Torrey Pines sophomore Ali Dermer, who serves as a FAV vice president, and freshman Jocelyn Sayin, the leader of philanthropy events who keeps all the leaders on track.
In addition to school and their nearly full-time gig running FAV, Sophia plays lacrosse, field hockey and soccer, while Kiara plays volleyball, both beach and indoor. While they played on sports teams together growing up, they’ve picked their favorites and split focuses as they have gotten older.
The pair have been friends since pre-school, and they have an easy, sweet connection, like sisters.
“She’s outgoing … she’s not afraid to approach people and make the contacts, which helps us get things done and helps us expand,” said Kiara of Sophia.
“I’m the wild one,” Sophia admits. “Kiara’s the one who keeps things under control. She’s hard-working. I don’t know how she juggles everything.”
The girls would love to see FAV continue to grow — maybe even take it national.
“I’d like to hit the 100-member mark, but we’ll see how this year goes,” said Kiara. “I think we’ll make it.”