COPPERAS COVE — He may be mighty young, but already Jr. Mr. Rabbit Fest Keli’i Natividad, 7, has a big heart.
Since his father is a veteran, Keli’i decided he wanted to do something to help out veterans and asked to do a drive on behalf of Operation Stand Down-Central Texas to raise much-needed items and money to help homeless veterans. And with the help of his Rabbit Fest royalty family, the young man set up shop in front of Wal-Mart on Feb. 18 to do just that.
Operation Stand Down-Central Texas is a Copperas Cove nonprofit that aims to give homeless veterans the tools they need to survive and become productive members of society again.
Keli’i’s father, Franco Natividad, a former Army staff sergeant and a Purple Heart Medal recipient, said he couldn’t be more proud of his son.
“My son is usually the type to just have fun, be a kid, do kid stuff,” Natividad said. “So when he told my wife and my mom that he wanted to do this for Operation Stand Down, to help homeless veterans, it put a knot in my throat. I mean, I don’t tell him to do things like this — I don’t even tell him I got hurt down range. His actions speak louder than any words I could ever say, and I’m grateful for that.”
While the normally outgoing Keli’i became a little shy when talking about why he was holding the drive, he did manage to get out some very enthusiastic “yes” answers.
Your dad’s a veteran, isn’t he? “Yes.” Are you doing this because of him? “Yes!” Is helping out homeless veterans a good thing? “Yes.” Is that why you’re wanting to help out the homeless? “Yes!” Anything other than just yes? “Um, yes?”
Joann Courtland, the nonprofit’s director, said it was wonderful to see someone so young become involved in making a difference in the lives of those who need it the most.
“I think it’s awesome — I think it really shows the community that whether you’re young or old, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “If you have thoughts of helping other people, which we all should, you can get out and make a difference. Even if you’re 7.”
Part of Keli’i’s Rabbit Fest royalty family is his grandmother — Franco’s mother — Edith Natividad, who is serving as the Rabbit Fest Ambassador.
“I’m very proud of my grandson. As young as he is, he wanted to help out the veterans because his dad is a veteran and grandfather is a veteran,” she said. “We’re hoping that the people will turn out and help out for a good cause.”
For more information on Operation Stand Down-Central Texas, or for how to donate, go to www.osdct.org.