Sharon Loper’s mantra is “Today I am going to make THE DIFFERENCE in someone’s life.”  This past Mother’s day, Sharon made a difference in 25 young mothers’ lives, through her Mother’s Day Basket donation to Youth On Their Own.

Loper, or “The Toy Lady,” as she is sometimes known, is a Educational Leader for Discovery Toys.  Discovery Toys specializes in educational toys. Every year the company challenges its team members to give back to the community through the Easter Basket Fundraising Campaign. “I was going to do Easter Baskets, but I’m Jewish, so…” jokes Loper.  Eventually, the idea of Mother’s Day baskets for young moms came to her.

The baskets

Each Mother’s Day “basket” contained toys chosen specifically for the age of each YOTO moms’ children.  “Discovery Toys have many levels of learning,” says Loper. “There are too many ‘one and done’ toys; Discovery Toys have the ability to grow with the child.”   Instead of actual baskets, Loper used donated tote bags from Unscrewed Theater and Trader Joe’s.  “Young moms can use bags way more than they can use baskets!” she explains.

In addition to toys for the kids, Loper purchased things and solicited donations to include gifts in each bag for all the YOTO mothers.

Finding YOTO

Loper was aware of YOTO but she didn’t think of it for this fundraiser initially.  She approached a few other charities who didn’t seem interested or to need the assistance, which was frustrating.  “When somebody finally said YOTO, it was like, ‘absolutely!’” she exclaims.  Loper is a Montessori teacher, single mom, and passionate Discovery Toys consultant, so she was excited by an organization that helped homeless mothers graduate from high school.  “It just all came together,” she enthuses.

But the campaign itself wasn’t easy for Loper.   “I’m an introvert,” she notes. “You have no idea how scary it was for me to walk into YOTO and pitch the idea for this campaign.  But I was thrilled with the reception I got.”

Loper was even more enthusiastic with the reception she got from the Tucson community for her project.  “You would be surprised by how many people in the community have a connection to YOTO,” she remarks. Often, Loper says, when she mentioned the donations were for YOTO, people were willing to give more. At the same time, Loper herself felt inspired by the project.  “It was exciting going around, getting donations, figuring this all out and putting the baskets together,” she says. “I’m proud of me!” 

A lifelong learner

Education is Loper’s passion, so she bubbles over with enthusiasm when discussing the topic.  But she grows thoughtful when giving advice to YOTO students who might be struggling to stay engaged in school.  “It gets better,” she says quietly. Then, she encourages, “What you do now affects your entire life, so be a lifelong learner.”  

Loper notes that Maria Montessori of Montessori education and Lane Nemeth, founder of Discovery Toys, both subscribed to the ideas of cognitive theorist Jean Piaget.  “You know, Piaget had the right idea when he said, ‘Play is the work of childhood.’” For Loper, work seems to be the play of adulthood. And by bringing education, toys, and lifelong learning to the many people she encounters every day, Loper accomplishes her mission. Every day she makes the difference in someone’s life.  


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