Mitzvah Projects from the Heart

Sophie Dube and Ryland Davidson thought long and hard about what they wanted to do for their respective bat/bar mitzvah projects. While both 13-year-olds chose opposite age groups to devote their time, they both had very personal stories behind their passionate choices.

Sophie: a memory project

For Sophie, daughter of Arizona real estate developer Steve Hilton and his wife, Suzi, it was Alzheimer’s disease.

Suzi’s mom died almost three years ago from the disease and the family is extremely involved in the fight to find a cure. Steve and Suzi are both on the board of Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation. So, Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation was a natural fit for Sophie’s choice.

“A lot of the bat/bar mitzvahs I’ve been too I’ve watched as the focus was put on what presents the honoree was receiving,” says Sophie. “It became more about those gifts than the ceremony and the meaning behind it.”

Sophie says that she really has everything she needs, so she decided to ask the people “who were going to join my family and me in celebrating my bat mitzvah … to donate to the Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation.”

Sophie feels Alzheimer’s stole her chance to have a relationship with her grandmother.

“I didn’t get to know my grandma because by the time I was old enough to have a relationship with her she was in the later stages of the disease,” says Sophie. “I don’t want this disease to rob other people of a good life, a relationship with their parents and grandparents – I want this solved. I want a cure to be found. I keep thinking that someday I’ll have kids, and I want them to enjoy my parents as they are now and not remember them as having no memory of their time together from visit to visit.”
So instead of gifts, Sophie requested donations.

“I also wanted to set an example for my younger brother and other kids to do the same,” she adds.

The Hiltons belong to Congregation Beth Israel, where Sophie became a bat mitzvah earlier this year. Suzi Hilton says that she’s very proud of Sophie’s work. The entire family has a passion to help eradicate Alzheimer’s disease.

To learn more on Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation, visit

Ryland: create happy memories

Ryland Davidson has actually been working on his mitzvah project for three years. He chose the Ryan House, which embraces all children and their families as they navigate life-limiting or end-of-life journeys. His father, Craig, says Ryland initially created a fundraiser for the facility. During this endeavor, he contacted the main doctor and interviewed him. The videotaped interview was posted on YouTube. He also Tweeted about the interview and included a link to the presentation. He raised more than $1,200. The presentation can be seen online at:

After Ryland donated this money, Ryan House relaxed their normal age requirements to enable Ryland to be involved with fundraising in capacities normally done by older volunteers. Ryland works with the children at many events. Sometimes when the kids are enjoying a fun activity, Ryland will use the opportunity for more fundraising. For instance when Ryan House took a group of kids to a Coyotes game, Ryland wandered around the stadium asking for donations.

“My favorite moment with the Ryan House was when I did the 50/50 raffle at the Coyotes game,” says Ryland. “I sold tickets and couldn’t believe how much money and awareness was raised for the Ryan House.

“I started to work with the Ryan House because I felt that children with life shortening diseases deserved to live a happy life,” says Ryland. “Also, I believed that the families who care for these children deserve a break from the everyday stresses of being a parent, sibling or relative of one of these children.”

Some of his other volunteer efforts include helping with pumpkin decorating at the fall festival and wheel chair painting at the art fair. He aligned trash cans at their annual run at DC Ranch and helped kids enjoy a video game night. During Ryan House’s annual breakfast at the Biltmore, he asked for donations and didn’t hesitate to ask some very famous people in attendance. In his spare time, he organized the house’s pantry.

“It just makes me feel good when I know I’ve done something great for these kids and their families,” says Ryland. “The Ryan House is an amazing charity. I never thought that they would mean so much to me as they do now.”

Ryland will become a bar mitzvah this month at Temple Kol Ami, but his involvement with the Ryan House is sure to continue.

For more information on Ryan House, visit

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