AUBURN — Nine-year-old Finn Bell was unimpressed when he saw the star on the Christmas tree outside of Auburn's Memorial City Hall last year during the city's holiday parade. So he set out to raise enough money to help the city purchase an even bigger and better star for the Christmas tree this year.
"I didn't like how the star looked last year," Finn said during an interview at the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District office Thursday afternoon.
Finn was at the office to see the star BID Director Stephanie DeVito bought with his donation.
"I was excited to see it," Finn said after DeVito opened the large cardboard box and revealed the sparkly gold star to fourth-grade student.
He was able to raise almost $200 to purchase the star. He said he spent a year saving up his birthday money, collecting bottles and cans and selling hugs to some of the ladies down at the Auburn American Legion.
"We are very grateful and honored that he wanted to do something for our community and do something that thousands of people are going to see over the holiday times," DeVito said. "We are grateful for his generosity and his kindness and we think he's a great kid. We're glad to have him in our community."
Finn is no stranger to helping others. Last year, he donated goody bags of small toys and stuffed animals to the Auburn Police Department so officers would have something in their cars to comfort children in traumatic situations. Finn, unfortunately, was one of those children facing a traumatic situation when his mother, Bridget Bell, was murdered by his father in 2011.
Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler, while still a detective with the department, was the lead investigator on Bridget's murder case when he first met Finn.
"Finn remembered the experience he had in my office back in 2011 when he was real small," Butler said during the Nov. 2 Auburn City Council meeting. "Unfortunately, I didn't have any stuffed animals or any toys for him, so he got to play on my computer while, unfortunately, we dealt with some very unfortunate circumstances with his grandmother."
Since then, Butler said, Finn and his grandma Kelly Bell have kept in touch with Butler. The police chief said he "likes to think that I have become a mentor to Finn."
As a token of appreciation, Finn is leading this year's holiday parade, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25. He will ride in the chief's police car and then help Mayor Michael Quill light the Christmas tree, which will be adorned with the star Finn donated.
"Kudos to Finn," Butler said. "He's got a big heart and he's been through more than some of us will ever go through in our life. He's a special little friend not only to me, but also to the city."
Kelly, who is raising Finn, said she is working hard to instill a giving spirit in her young grandson.
"He knows that when he was a little baby and everything went wrong, this community was here for us," she said. "That's why we support Auburn all the way through. We're just trying to give back to the community what they gave to us."
"We're not doing this for publicity," Kelly added. "We're doing this from our hearts."