She's an industrious young girl who has a passion for the Merrimack River and a desire to help keep it clean.

A fifth-grader at Newbury Elementary School, 10-year-old Ava Valianti wanted to do some good for the world she lives in.

So she created a nonprofit that is now raising money to help the Methuen-based Clean River Project continue its work removing all sorts of junk from the river, including floating debris that would otherwise accumulate along the banks in Haverhill and end up on the beaches of Salisbury and Newburyport.

In support of the nonprofit Clean River organization, Ava sold $710 in greeting cards and framed and matted photos she took of the river and donated half of the money from her sales to that organization. Her goal is to continue making sales until she raises $1,000 for Clean River.

"I recently visited their headquarters where they had piles of junk they'd removed from the river, including an old car, a gas meter, a bicycle and two street name signs," Ava said. "Who would dump those things in the river? It's not fair to the fish." 

Rocky Morrison, president of Clean River, said he was astounded at Ava's efforts to help his nonprofit.

"I was blown away to learn that a 10-year-old girl was inspired by one of our members and is now raising money to help us continue our efforts," Morrison said. "We've never had this happen before. She's making a difference, she's doing it on her own and I'm amazed at how passionate she is about her mission."

Ava said she created her nonprofit,, when she was just 7 years old, with the intention of traveling to to Haiti to deliver bottled water.

"We couldn't go at the time and my idea faded. Then last spring, members of Clean River visited our school, which got me interested in restarting my nonprofit efforts," she said.

Ava notes on her website that, "You might be wondering why this is called 'A Domino of Good Deeds.' Well, it’s because if you do something good, someone is most likely to pass it on. It’s like a chain of dominoes, and that’s what this is all about. We can change the world for the better, one little deed at a time."

Ava said she was deeply affected by photos of debris that Clean River board member and educator Dennis Houlihan — a retired high school teacher who visits schools and other organizations — discussed during a visit to her school in the spring. Houlihan brought along his wife, Elaine.

"They showed us a photograph of 997 tires they pulled out of the river in just one day, along with hypodermic needles," Ava said. "People shouldn't just throw things into the river as though it's a free trash can."

Ava rapidly became one of Clean River's biggest fans and is now one of its most avid supporters. She talks extensively about Clean River on her website.

Dennis Houlihan said he regularly visits classrooms throughout the area to present talks on ecology and efforts to clean and preserve the Merrimack River, which he said is a source of drinking water for 650,000 people.

"We ask for a small fee, which is often provided by PTOs," he said. "I usually present a slide show, I bring my guitar for a sing-a-long and my talk is aligned with state curriculum standards in science."

Ava said she has always enjoyed taking nature photos, using her mom's cell phone. Her hobby took off once her mother bought her a Nikon digital camera for her birthday in July.

She shot river scenes in the Newburyport area — of boats and of trees along the river, and ducks and blue heron feeding.

"I decided to create greeting cards as well as framed and matted photos and sell them," she said. "I was chosen to have a booth to sell my products at Yankee Homecoming, through Newburyport Youth Services, and I sold about $500 worth.

"People said I had a good eye and that they loved my greeting cards for various uses, including as thank-you notes, birthdays and get-well cards," she said. "Half of my sales are going to Clean River, and the rest into buying new card stock and other materials."

She also sold her greeting cards and matted photos after a theater program in Newburyport.

In all, she made $710 in sales and recently presented Clean River with a check for $355. 

Teachers interested in a visit by Clean River project educator Dennis Houlihan can call him at 978-973-7255. 

Visit online at


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