Second-grade philanthropist becomes agent of ‘change’

Second-grade philanthropist becomes agent of ‘change’

Moved by homeless man, seven-year-old creates ‘charity bags’

Lee Brewster, center, counts the money he collected for the poor, helped by his brothers, Ryan, left, and William, at the Central federation.
Lee Brewster, center, counts the money he collected for the poor, helped by his brothers, Ryan, left, and William, at the Central federation.

Seven-year-old Lee Rosenthal of Cranford is determined to become a comedian. But like all the best funny guys, he has a serious side.

During a family visit to Boston in the summer, Lee saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with a sign asking for help. Lee was very disturbed. His mom, Pam Brewster, answered his questions and got talking with her three boys — Lee; his twin, Ryan; and their five-year-old brother William — about poverty and charity.

The homeless man “looked really sad,” Lee said, eager and articulate in a phone interview last week with NJ Jewish News. “We talked about being hungry and homeless, and my mom told me charity is really important. I came up with the idea of making a charity bag.”

Visiting with their cousins that night, Lee had a good time creating and decorating a paper bag — he loves art almost as much as comedy — but he kept its purpose uppermost: It was to be a receptacle for collecting funds to help feed and clothe the poor.

Lee related how he and Ryan, second-graders at the Sundance School in North Plainfield, gave up half their accumulated pocket money, and their little brother gave a chunk of his, too, and then so did their cousins and aunt and great-uncle, and a few family friends.

Last week, he, his mom, and his brothers delivered his first donation to the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains. The amount was a little under $100.

Lee said, “It felt really good. I think that money can help a lot.”

Debbie Rosenwein, the federation’s director of planning and allocations, gladly accepted the gift, in coins and bills. She said, “It was wonderful to see a child this young who already understands the importance of giving.”

Brewster told NJJN how she explained to her boys how she and her husband, Stu Rosenthal, respond to people in need, what they do with the federation — helping out with its Super Sunday telethon (on Dec. 12 this year), and other charities, like UNICEF. The family recently joined Temple Emanu-El in Westfield and hope to become active in community service there, too.

Brewster comes from a family with a long record of community involvement and philanthropy. It includes her grandfather Harry Lebau, who headed up the YM-YWHA in Union for four decades and also played a major role in other organizations, including the Elizabeth chapter of UJA and the United Way, and her mother, Elizabeth Realtor Ruth Brewster, who was president of the Y.

“I think people do learn by example,” Pam Brewster said. She is determined to set for her children the kind of example of community service her mother and father set for her, and she was delighted by Lee’s concern for those less fortunate than himself.

As for Lee’s comedy dreams, she is proud of those, too, and how — already — he is eager to step up to the plate. When she took him to a comic convention for teenagers in May, when they had an open mike session, her seven-year-old wowed the crowd by stepping up and telling a joke he had made up himself.

Asked about his plans for the future, Lee said he hopes to keep up both good activities — helping the poor and making people laugh.

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