MONROE — The first gift that Marissa Vosberg opened on her third birthday was a box of dog biscuits. They weren’t for her, of course, nor even her pets. Instead, the toddler had asked her guests to come prepared with gifts “for the puppies and kitties at the humane society.”
Since then, Marissa, now 17, has known exactly what it was she wanted for her birthday each year: donations for the humane society. For 15 years, her “gifts” have consisted of dog biscuits, cat litter, pet toys and the like — and she has no plans to stop.
Oddly, the Monroe High School junior’s tradition of donating her birthday presents to the humane society came to be at a booth inside of Monroe’s Stateline Ice and Community Expo (SLICE).
The family had attended a Home and Business Show at the arena and came across a booth where the Green County Humane Society had brought some dogs and cats that were available for adoption.
Marissa fell in love with one dog in particular, her mother Laura said. Only 2 at the time, Marissa circled back around multiple times to see Jethro, the big dog who had stolen her heart.
After that, the family visited the pup at the Humane Society a few times before coming in one day to find the location Jethro-less: he had found his forever home. Instead of being upset that her four-legged friend would no longer be waiting for her at the Humane Society, Marissa was thrilled to find out that he had found a home to love him forever.
After seeing Marissa’s passion and love for the animals there, her parents asked if she’d like to ask for gifts for the humane society for her birthday, instead of for herself. The toddler was quick to jump on board.
“Those animals can’t go out and get gifts for themselves,” Marissa said. “They don’t really have the fortune that a lot of us do. [Donating] can go a lot farther than just getting regular gifts.”
Each year, her parents ask to make sure that she wants her gifts to go to the animals again and each year, she says yes. Even though it’s what she’s done for as long as she can remember, Marissa said that she doesn’t donate her gifts because she feels like she has to.
“I think it’s important to give back just because it tells you a lot about yourself,” she said. “I think oftentimes we get a lot of gifts that we don’t end up using right away or don’t necessarily love and this way, you know they’ll get used right away and they’re going to a good cause.”
On top of her generous donations each year, Marissa has remained active in the community throughout her years here. In summer, she was named the 2020/21 Green County Dairy Queen, a position that opens many additional volunteer opportunities for the teen.
Marissa’s years of giving back have helped countless animals, but the family hopes that the impact spreads even further than just that.
“I really do hope that it inspires other kids to do it,” Laura said.
Matt Mullen, executive director at the Green County Humane Society, said that donations like Marissa’s are what keep the animal shelter going.
“Ultimately, donations and volunteers are the life of our organization,” he said. “Those are the things that help us keep moving forward.”
Mullen said that the community support that he has seen at the humane society since he began in June has included “some of the most amazing donors and volunteers” that he has seen during his more than decade long career in nonprofit.
What makes Marissa’s story so unique, he said, is that she “knew the value of giving at a young age.”
Thanks to Marissa and the countless other volunteers and donors like her, the humane society is able to focus funds more directly on the animals, rather than on recurring costs like litter or food.
Others looking to support the Green County Humane Society can do so directly at greencountyhumane.org, or by dropping off purchased donations. A complete list of accepted items, as well as what items cannot be accepted, can be found at greencountyhumane.org/wishlist.