INTERLOCHEN — Briana Harrier’s parents couldn’t afford to buy Christmas presents when she was seven years old, but Lake Ann Elementary School staff and others made sure the family had gifts.
“I’ve never forgotten that moment,” said the Grand Traverse Academy ninth-grader. “I wasn’t really old enough then to understand what was going on, but I remember how happy my parents were and how happy I was.”
Briana also has not forgotten other families and children facing similar challenges this holiday season. Briana, 15, has turned into something of a young philanthropist.
In 2012, she donated $50 — half of the money her parents would have spent on her Christmas gifts — to a couple whose daughter was struggling with brittle bone disease.
In 2013, she asked her parents, Deb and Dave Harrier, if they would give the $100 they planned to spend on her to buy gifts for two foster children involved in the Child & Family Services “Paper Angels” wish list program.
And a few days before Thanksgiving, she donated $201 to Charity Hill Therapeutic Ranch Riding Center near Rapid City in Kalkaska County.
Briana earned the money by selling 80 pop tab bracelets she made last summer. She sold them for $2.50 to $3 at school, church, area farm markets and Marvin’s Garden Spot near Interlochen. The Garden Spot is owned by her grandparents, Marv and Marsha Blackford, who also own a farm near Lake Ann.
Members from Briana’s church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Traverse City, helped her collect the pop tabs from used soda cans.
It takes 26 tabs to make one bracelet for an average wrist, Briana said. She spends up to 90 minutes painting, adding glitter or preparing the tabs and between 10 and 12 minutes putting each bracelet together.
Briana said she decided to give the $201 to Charity Hill Ranch because she had heard good things about it from her cousin, who has autism and her younger sister Kirsten, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Briana, her sister and their mother visited the ranch in late November. Ranch owner Christine O’Connell gave them a tour and both girls rode horses.
At the end of the tour, Briana gave the $201 to a surprised and impressed O’Connell.
“It was not so much the money,” O’Connell said. “It’s the heart behind it. It’s her sincerity, her kindness and the gesture. It’s the way people should be.”
Charity Hill offers horse therapy for a long list of ailments ranging from autism spectrum disorders to injuries sustained by soldiers during combat.
“I decided that Charity Hill Ranch was doing great things with the horses and people,” Briana said. “That’s why I chose them.”
The riding center and its 19 horses served more than 200 people during the past year, said O’Connell, who founded the farm in 2001 after her daughter, Katie, suffered brain injuries in a car crash that killed her grandmother.
Deb Harrier said her daughter has long been an inspiration to her.
“She has always been like an old soul,” she said. “She’s mature for her age and always has wanted to help everyone.”