By Casey Watson
NASHVILLE — Nine-year-old Austin Billingsley wanted to “be the difference.” So, he had the slogan printed on more than 200 T-shirts, which he then sold to help people in need.
In early August, Austin and his mother, Rachel Billingsley, knocked on the door of Baptist Global Response (BGR) headquarters in Nashville and presented the organization with a check for more than $2,000. He raised the entire amount through the sale of T-shirts.
Austin, a member of Bear Cove Baptist Church in Sparta, said he liked giving that check to the BGR staff.
“I felt really good … I guess because I was helping other people,” he remembered later in a phone interview.
Austin first got the idea for a T-shirt fundraiser when he discovered a copy of the BGR gift catalog at his church. BGR is a Southern Baptist disaster relief and community development organization that prints two gift catalogs per year. Each publication features items — like wells, cows, new homes, blankets and food packets — that donors can “purchase” for friends and family in place of gifts.
Austin saw all the items available to donate — and he “thought it was pretty cool.”
“You could give money to people so they could build wells and have fresh water to drink and have houses and have food to eat,” he explained.
But, he had to raise money. He said he thought about mowing lawns, but it would take him too long to collect any real profit. So, Rachel suggested he sell T-shirts instead. She said Austin created the simple design himself — it featured the phrase “Be the difference” in black lettering on gray fabric. He placed Hebrews 13:6 across the back, which says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Rachel said Halo Screen Printing and Embroidery, a local shop, made the shirts for a discount price so Austin could raise more. And then, Facebook friends and Bear Cove church members alike snatched them up, eager to help her son meet his goal.
“We put it on Facebook and the response was immediate,” she said. “Everybody loved the idea of what he was doing.”
Customers bought the shirts for $15 each, and after six weeks, Austin had sold roughly 240. His mother loved watching the story unfold.
“He is a very kind-hearted little boy who likes to think of other people first,” she said. “It made me very proud that he wanted to help others — on a global basis and not just here.”
After raising all he could, Austin opened up the BGR gift catalog and decided to donate a well and a new home, along with pigs, rabbits, fish, and seeds. And, Rachel said, the boy added a milk cow to the list because it reminded him of the time he had spent on his grandfathers’ farms.
His generosity inspired and encouraged the BGR staff.
“We were just so impressed that somebody his age would have the initiative to even think of something like making T-shirts to raise money,” said Mary Frances Satterwhite, BGR office director. “It’s just really exciting to see how he was able to pull in so many other people into being part of a donation to BGR.”
And now that Austin has completed his fundraiser, the 9-year-old said he is looking forward to next year. When he sees the 2018 BGR gift catalog, he plans to pick out more items for people in need.
He simply needs to think of a new design for fundraising T-shirts.