Good Works!: Amazing Gracie, a teen making the world better one month at a time
While most local families are just beginning to navigate “remote learning” and seeking extra opportunities to help others in this coronavirus pandemic, one La Cañada teen has been thriving for years through online education while making her world a better place, one month at a time.
To describe Gracie Dundee as “amazing” does not begin to describe this freshman at the Academy at Laurel Springs School, an accredited online private school. She is an accomplished vocalist and performer who made her Carnegie Hall solo debut last December and will soon attend Julliard School’s prestigious summer program.
She serves as a president of National Junior Honor Society (NJHS). She is also the spirited founder of Small Acts Big Change, a nonprofit charity that began as a school project in 2012 when she was just 7 years old (yes, you read that right — age 7).
“I noticed a lot students at my [previous elementary] school did not have opportunities to volunteer and it really bothered me as a child,” Gracie recounted in a recent phone interview. “I started a campaign called 9 Small Acts of Kindness, and we did a project every month during the nine months of the school year.”
One of her first initiatives involved getting permission from a teacher to work on a charity project with interested friends during 10 minutes of recess time. They created uplifting cards for local seniors, a yearly project she continues today.
“Each project was focused on people, animals or the environment,” she said. “We started noticing that all grade levels wanted to get involved, and it ended up expanding to my entire school!”
The then-second grader’s enthusiasm soon grew her club into a community effort that reached beyond school hours. Small Acts Big Change became a 501c3 in 2013, thanks to support from her older sister Lauren and parents Carolyn and Dr. Mark Dundee.
“It’s really important to me for my children, especially through flexibility we’ve found at Laurel Springs, that both of my girls understand how fortunate they are to have opportunities to become compassionate leaders and inspire others to do the same,” mom Carolyn Dundee said.
Gracie started volunteering as a toddler as part of a household ritual.
“Every year in December, we’d have a family meeting,” Carolyn explained, “Everybody would get to vote on what they wanted to focus on the following year.” The family would then commit to education and opportunities that related to the chosen cause — whether it was learning about rescuing whales in Vancouver, helping homeless cats or one particular year’s unconventional decision to follow the plight of rabid wild dogs in Africa.
With Gracie leading a community charity group and intensely training for a professional career in musical theater, individualized learning via accredited online education was an ideal solution for the start of her sixth-grade year. Gracie describes her “homeschool life” as chock full of in-person socials, clubs, field trips as well as rare and valuable networking opportunities.
“My classmates are literally ‘international’ and many of my volunteers come from school and NJHS, which now makes Small Acts Big Change international,” she said. “It’s exciting!”
SABC hosts monthly, standalone charitable opportunities and also partners with larger organizations to contribute to a variety of community needs across the country. The organization has a strong and supportive following in La Cañada and across Southern California, with projects ranging from five volunteers cleaning up trash in Marina del Rey’s waters to enlisting hundreds of people to create greeting cards for local retirement homes.
“I’ve always loved animals and helping people. Being exposed [to volunteering] at such a young age is what made me start and want to expand, it’s always been a part of my life,” Gracie describes. “I’m just happy I can help others to get involved.”
In February, SABC collected more than 750 Valentines locally and from around the world (U.K., Australia and Ireland) and delivered them to residents at Montrose Health Care Center and Mountview Senior Living. For April, SABC aims to raise money for arts in education via two partnerships: “Tunes in Times Square” (a yearly fundraiser that provides music to children with disabilities, based in New York City, for which Gracie has performed in years past) and Gracie’s performance school Professional Arts Education Center (to provide merit art scholarships for Southern California families). Happening now, until March 31, “No More Homeless Pets” is taking priority with a goal to raise $1,250 to save 50 pets from death row at local shelters, to collect pet toys and/or motivate families to temporarily foster a pet. (As of this interview, SABC reached the halfway mark for meeting March’s monetary goal.) Visit facebook.com/smallactsbigchangeus to learn more about Small Acts Big Change’s monthly projects, get involved and contribute.