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Byron teen’s Coats for Hope charity expands

Dec. 13 will be a busy day for 15-year-old Victoria “Tori” Kuzlik.

After attending classes at Byron High School and getting in a good post-school workout, she’ll get busy preparing for the next day’s annual Coats for Hope sorting day – a chore that, thankfully, has grown in magnitude over the last 4 years.

“It is really stressful, but the stress kind of is thrown away when I have people coming up to me ... while my dad and I are shopping, give me a hug and say, ‘Thank you for Coats for Hope,’” Tori said.

This year’s drive already is underway, with collection boxes in Byron, Oregon and Dixon.

Tori and her father, Robert Kuzlik, have collected 39,000 winter items and raised $25,000 since 2015, when the then-11-year-old Byron sixth-grader started her charity to help those impacted by domestic and sexual violence.

“It started out as three little boxes in our middle school and exploded to, right now, northern Illinois, and we’re trying to expand into southern Illinois,” Robert said.

The goal has grown each year, with Tori’s aim this year to raise $15,000 and collect at least 3,000 winter wear items.

Both the Kuzliks are victims of domestic violence. It occurred before Tori was 8, but she didn’t allow the traumatic experience to remain a negative in her life, her dad said.

Instead, she found a way to gain the confidence she needs to do speaking engagements and to run Coats for Hope, an operation she wants to continue at whatever college she attends.

Her ambition doesn’t stop there.

Tori recently met with Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Rob Young, a founding member of 100 Men who Give A Damn, to plan a few benefits for Family Peace Center, a one-stop service for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault that’s being planned for Rockford. The center also will become a permanent base for Tori’s operation.

“All profits that we raise, 50% will go to the shelter of the YWCA of Sterling and 50% to the Family Peace Center,” she said.

It’s not simply a once-a-year commitment for the teen. She’s also been tapped to be a counselor next summer at Camp Hope, a retreat for children impacted by domestic and sexual violence, she said.

“I just love the fact that I’m helping people all around Illinois, and I’m helping to spread awareness that, yes this an issue, yes there are people who’ve been through the same thing and there are people here to help you.”