While most 10-year-old girls would be anticipating new dolls and toys for their birthdays, Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School student Natalie Stevens collected donations instead.

Benefiting Friends for Life Animal Rescue in the East Valley, Stevens collected bags of dog food, cat food, cat litter, toys, and treats with friends and family to celebrate her birthday last month.

“She’s such a huge animal lover, and was very excited to bring her friends along,” said Stevens’ mom, Heather.

The Ahwatukee Foothills family also rescued a cat from Friends for Life in the late-1990s, and Heather inspired her daughter to choose the nonprofit shelter after hearing about all it does for the local community.

Friends for Life Animal Rescue, located in downtown Gilbert, has served the East Valley since 1993 when it began operations as Citizens for Tempe Strays. Volunteers at the rescue gave Stevens and her friends a tour of the facility when they dropped off the donations, taught the kids about overpopulation, and let them play with the animals.

In addition to the food, toys and treats, Stevens gave Friends for Life nearly $150 in cash and check donations.

“It was a really good experience for them,” Heather said.

With a dream to become a zookeeper one day and to volunteer at shelters once she turns 14, Stevens said collecting money and items for the local animal rescue seemed like a good idea since she “had everything I wanted already.”

“We’re very proud, and it’s totally how she is; compassionate and giving,” Heather said.

For more information about Friends for Life Animal Rescue, visit www.azfriends.org.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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