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Byron teen runs charity to provide warmth to domestic violence survivors

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Coats for Hope 3

BYRON (WREX) — Motivation can come from anywhere.

By seeing someone do something you want to emulate or being inspired by what someone says.

The latter is what caused Victoria Kuzlik to try and make a difference.

Six years ago, the then 11-year-old Kuzlik and her dad were cleaning out their house of old ski equipment.

Kuzlik didn't know what to do with the old coats and clothes she had, so her dad provided a suggestion.

"My dad just told me throw them in a corner and we'll find someone who needs them," Kuzlik said.

This may seem like a simple thing to say, but Kuzlik took it to heart.

She started donating her used clothes to domestic violence shelters in the stateline area.

It started with just one shelter, Hope of Ogle County.

The place that helped Kuzlik and her family during their own battle with domestic violence.

"My dad and I were victims from my mother and we both understand how hard it is with domestic violence," Kuzlik said.

"When you have to leave the house, you leave with whatever is on your back."

One personal donation turned into drive to get others involved.

Kuzlik, at this point still a preteen, set up boxes at the three schools in the Byron School District, encouraging people to donate their gently used coats to the shelter.

"I wanted to give back to the shelter that helped us. Also, being in Illinois, it gets really cold so that's how the coat drive idea came up.

Fast forward six years to today.

Kuzlik has grown into an active and involved 16-year-old.

Whether it's speech team at school or volunteer firefighting, the Byron High School student never seems to slow down.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to that is Coats for Hope, the organization grown from her first coat drive years ago.

Three donation boxes in the local schools has now expanded to nearly two dozen across the stateline.

As far into Illinois as Sterling and Dixon all the way up across the border into Janesville, Wisconsin.

Over the last six years as Coats for Hope has grown, the organization has raised over 35,000 coats and $25,000 for five domestic violence shelters.

"If I were to look back at my 11-year-old self and realize this would happen in six years, I wouldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe I'd be able to meet the people I have met or have the opportunities I have," Kuzlik said.

"The fact that I can help so many people with this is just mind blowing."

The thing Kuzlik appreciates most is the bonds she has built with other survivors.

Hearing their stories of what they went through continues to light her fire to help others out of the darkness she herself has faced.

"However much you may go through in your life, you can always turn it out positive and you can always find away to bring your life around with it," Kuzlik said.

If you want to learn more about Coats for Hope or donate to their cause, you can go to the organization's website or its Facebook page.

While she did get help along the way, Victoria Kuzlik took one idea, a small gesture really, and turned it into a fully functioning charitable organization.

She is just one great example of so many people making a difference in the 815.

If you know anyone changing our lives for the better here at home, fill out a nomination form here or reach out to

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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