In just one year, 12-year-old Nicky Christopher has gained unprecedented notoriety in his Lower Makefield community and beyond.
Belovedly known as the “Birthday Lawn Bandit,” the Pennwood middle schooler sneakily “raids” the lawns of locals, intricately decorating the space with balloons, massive cardboard cupcakes and more to help them enjoy their big day. Each person receives a loot bag that’s personalized based on their interests.
Nicky, who was diagnosed on the spectrum in first grade, launched the initiative in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many of his friends’ birthday parties canceled, Nicky wanted to do something special for them.
“It started with a raid for a friend, putting up signs,” Nicky told The Times in a recent Zoom interview. “And then it became more public to cheer up people.”
Since in-person learning has resumed, Nicky’s raids are limited to weekends for the most part. To date, the young entrepreneur has raided the lawns of over 300 people, including classmates, graduating high school seniors and a woman celebrating her 100th birthday. He was featured on Action News, and was honored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick on the U.S. House floor. Neither he nor his mom/secretary Sara Christopher envisioned the project becoming so popular.
“We were doing it for $10, just putting balloons out. We were looking to just cheer up the community. A lot of people were really depressed. They couldn’t celebrate birthdays, they couldn’t go out,” said Sara. “This was a neat way to bring some cheer to the neighborhood. And everything that he was using was donated by the community or recycled.”
Currently, a lawn raid costs $50. Nicky donates half of the proceeds to his favorite charity – Alpha Bravo Canine. The local nonprofit provides service dogs to area veterans suffering from PTSD at no charge. Nicky was introduced to the organization through his best friend, fellow Pennwood student Ben Ruepp, whose mother Tracy Ruepp serves as a puppy raising coordinator.
On Saturday, April 17, which happens to be Nicky’s own 13th birthday, he is hosting a fundraiser for Alpha Bravo Canine at the Lower Makefield Township pool parking lot, located at 1100 Edgewood Road in Yardley, from noon to 3 p.m.
Residents can stop by at any time. A slew of area businesses donated raffle baskets, which feature everything from a Glo Derma spa service and Kate Spade goodies, to a free 6-week class at Tail Waggers Academy. For a small fee, guests can receive a puppy kiss from an Alpha Bravo puppy in training. Nicky and Ben will also be making balloon animals.
“What I like about this event is, we’ve been able to recruit other Pennsbury students,” said Sara. “Because Alpha Bravo Canine is a 501(c)(3), they can use these volunteer hours for the National Honor Society.”
The fundraising goal is $10,000. According to Tracy, this would help Alpha Bravo Canine open its own ADA-compliant facility (it utilizes a shared share at the moment). Funds would also help it train more puppies, a process that costs at least $30,000.
“That’s a huge help for us because, as a small nonprofit, we’ve been hit hard by COVID. Over the last year, we haven’t been able to hold our annual fundraiser,” said Tracy.
Alpha Bravo Canine was established in 2015 with the mission of saving veteran lives. Statistics show that 20 veterans commit suicide every day due to PTSD-related issues.
“The dog is trained to pick up on their movements and their breathing. We train the dogs to monitor breathing patterns for anxiety. It goes a long way to getting the veterans their life back. Some of them can’t leave the house because of their anxiety and PTSD, and they’re able to once they get a dog,” Tracy said, adding that many no longer need medication once they acquire a furry friend. “It gives the veterans another purpose with the dog.”
All Alpha Bravo animals begin training with a volunteer puppy raiser at around 8 weeks old. Puppy raisers take training classes at a Newtown facility and bring their tiny trainee everywhere with them – the grocery store, doctor’s office and even the Philadelphia Zoo.
“They have to have every exposure. Anywhere they’d go with the veteran, they have to be able to work through all the distractions,” said Tracy.
Veterans are supplied with a year’s worth of food, toys and treats. All they have to worry about is bonding with their puppy, who is typically 15 to 18 months old. Every puppy is named after a veteran who either took his own life or died in service. Tracy was nearly brought to tears while talking about Tristan, named after a puppy-raising family’s son who was killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq.
For anyone who would like to donate but is unable to attend the April 17 fundraiser, they can do so from Alpha Bravo Canine’s Amazon wish list at amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1IQJO47CEJU6A or via Venmo @birthdaylawnbandit. Visit alphabravocanine.org for more information. The nonprofit will be accepting applications that day for veterans interested in a puppy, and locals interested in becoming a puppy raiser.
To book a birthday lawn raid from Nicky, text 732-991-1490 or message facebook.com/birthdaylawnbandit.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org