2020 SEEN Young Changemaker: Isla Fenster

August 1, 2020

7-year-old Isla Fenster trades toys for donations to Black Lives Matter

By Nicole Frehsee Mazur

Photography by Bryan Fenster

Like lots of kids her age, Isla Fenster has a lot of toys. But unlike most 7-year-olds, the Huntington Woods resident doesn’t mind parting with them. “I really like doing stuff for people,” she says. “I like to give stuff away.”

So one day in June, Isla sorted through her dolls, books and other possessions she’d outgrown and decided to set up a stand — she called it her “Baby Store” — at the end of her driveway. The idea was for people to grab what they wanted, but instead of accepting the goods free of charge, everyone who walked, cycled or drove by insisted on paying. By the end of the day, Isla had raised around $60.

Isla Fenster

That night, Isla’s parents, Bryan and Cara Fenster, sat her down for a talk. They told her, “‘We have a roof over our heads, we have jobs, we have family — but a lot of people don’t have those things,” recalls Bryan. “‘And we have a responsibility to help those who don’t.’” The conversation veered into the protests over systemic racism and injustice happening around Detroit and the country, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. “My wife is a psychologist so she can tread on these issues,” says Bryan. (He and Cara also have a 4-year-old son.) “We have conversations in a way where they can digest it.”

Isla, who says she’d “read books about [well-known] Black people”  like Civil Rights icons, was inspired to donate the funds to a cause that supports racial equality. She decided to hold another “sale” the next day, this time at the corner of her street, where she’d be more visible. (An aspiring artist, she created a sign saying “Black Lives Matter” and hung it on the table she’d set up.) 

Isla Fenster

Before Isla opened for business on the second day, Bryan posted about her efforts on Facebook — a move that inspired donations to start rolling in. Between family, friends, neighbors and even people Bryan and his wife hadn’t spoken to in years, Isla ended up amassing about $600. “I got a lot of virtual money,” says Isla. “I was like, ‘wow.’”

The family plans to donate the funds to BLM and the Detroit Justice Center, which works to transform the justice system and build equitable cities. “We wanted to do something locally as well,” says Bryan.

Isla, who’s going into second grade, says her experience makes her want to do more to help people. To that end, she wants to be a doctor (and psychologist and artist) when she grows up.

No matter her career path, Bryan is confident that she’ll change the world for the better. “You try to instill these values and lessons [in your kids],” he says.  “To see them do something amazing is incredible.”

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