When Kirsten Leonardi’s mother asked the nine-year-old what she wanted to do for the summer, the young girl said she wanted to help out a family friend.
U.S. Army Cpl. Josh Sommers was stationed in Afghanistan in 2010 as part of the 101st Airborne Division when he was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The soldier — who now lives in Athens, Ohio — was in a coma for eight months and had multiple surgeries. Today, Sommers is paralyzed on one side with partial hearing and vision lost.
Leonardi met the American hero two years after he returned to the states.
She decided she wanted to spend her summer break helping Sommers and people like him.
“I don’t like that he and the other soldiers got hurt,” the Westwood Elementary third-grader said.
Leonardi set a goal to raise $500 to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that serves veterans and service members who suffer physical or mental injuries, illness, or wounds during their service since Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the WWP, 6,830 soldiers have died during the war in the Middle East. Another 52,153 have been wounded and it’s estimated 320,000 have traumatic brain injuries and 400,000 suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
Leonardi has gone door-to-door in her Wellington neighborhood, hitting up her mom’s Facebook friends and dad’s bowling buddies, and talks to anyone she meets in hopes of bringing in more money for the fund.
“She is not shy about asking for donations to help Josh and she will tell his story to anyone who will listen. Every time she makes a dollar you would have thought that she won the lottery,” Kathy Leonardi says of her daughter.
The two message each other frequently and the nine-year-old is eager to tell Sommers how much she’s brought in and keep him updated on her progress.
Leonardi has already exceeded her goal by $55 but hopes to keep bringing in more money for wounded warriors.
Leonardi will turn her funds in on Aug. 24, when she will walk with Sommers in the Fox 8 Fox Trot, a one-mile walk at Voinvoich Park in Cleveland to benefit the WWP.
To donate, email KirstenWWProjects@gmail.com.
Caitlyn Wasmundt may be reached at 440-647-3171 or on Twitter @LC_CaitW.