It's hard to measure the impact that the first few days of life have on someone's personality, but in the case of Bliss Sidell, there's a good chance they helped create her unique awareness of charitable living.
"She was born way premature," the girl's mother, Cathe Sidell, said of the young Westport resident, now 11. "She was expected Nov. 1 and she came Aug. 8, so she was born as early as you can be and still have stories to tell."
"When I was a baby, I was born 2 pounds, 2 ounces," Bliss said, "so I was really small."
"I sometimes think about it and I think about how kind of funny and amazing it is, how much pain I was going through, and you don't remember a single thing about it," she said. "And how much my parents remember and how they feel so grateful that I'm here, and I don't remember anything."
But if her earliest days are forgotten, a consciousness of gratitude and care continue to grow in Bliss, as evidenced by her commitment to raising money for charities even at such a young age.
For the past two years, the girl's creativity with painting rocks has lent itself to a nonprofit business venture called Westport Rox. This past summer, she raised more than $300 for Yale-New Haven Hospital's neonatal intensive-care unit, where she was once a patient, by selling hand-painted rocks bearing messages of "hope," "peace" and "love."
"We go to Rhode Island a lot and I love collecting rocks and pebbles and shells and stuff," she said.
Several of the rocks reminded her of objects -- a ladybug, a teardrop, etc. -- and so she decided to paint the rocks to look like them.
"I put them in my room and my friends liked them, so I decided to sell them," she said, setting up a display table near her house on Old Mill Beach. Bliss sold rocks, including special orders, and also gave people the chance to buy rocks to be sent to kids in the hospital with special messages.
"I think it's so smart and so sweet," said neighbor Regan Preston, who bought a special-order "smile" rock that was given to a child.
Neighbor Scott Soodek, meanwhile, bought one with his dog Reggie's name on it. "We display it in our house proudly," he said, calling Bliss' work "a fabulous
"I can't believe that she's so into it at her age," said Cathe Sidell, who attributes her charitable efforts to the fact that Bliss was never kept in the dark about her early experiences.
"That might have led to
her feeling that she wanted to give back in some way," she said.
"It makes me feel good," Bliss said. "I feel like these kids go through so much, and I feel like it just might make them feel good for a little bit of time."
For more information about Westport Rox or to place a special order, contact Bliss Sidell at firstname.lastname@example.org.