Growing up poor in rural Pennsylvania, Debra K. Brede recalls a Thanksgiving when holiday groceries were left on her doorstep. “I remember how much it hit me, ‘Wow! Somebody cares.’ I didn't know who it was,” she says.

Today Brede, 54, puts considerable effort into providing these kinds of moments for children in other parts of the world. The president of D.K. Brede Investment Management Co. in Needham, Mass., which is affiliated with Commonwealth Financial Network, Brede is planning her fourth trip to India this June with family members to assist an orphanage run by Agape International. About 250 children, many infected with HIV, call it home. Her husband, a dentist, provides dental care, while Brede herself does carpentry and other building chores — no easy task on afternoons when temperatures easily reach 100 degrees. She says she prefers to be on the ground rather than write a check so she can evaluate the children's needs herself. One year she set up workstations for 12 computers she brought to the orphanage; another year she bought a bus when she saw that children were waiting an hour for a wagon ride into town to attend classes at the local school.

Brede has other philanthropic interests closer to home. She serves on the advisory council of the Boston Rescue Mission and on the Institutional Review Board of Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Her investment firm contributes 10 percent of gross revenue to charity. “To me, it's a commanded blessing. You need to give back,” Brede says. “It keeps my heart right.” But her work with children overseas seems to generate a special passion in her life.

Those who escape the trap of poverty return to where they grew up and draw other children out as well, she says. The sheer poverty of the children's lives has made a lasting impression on her. She once watched three children play for hours with a bottle cap. When she provided them with a small rubber ball for a toy, they were beside themselves with delight. It sparked memories of her own childhood — “It was like me looking at those groceries.”

Firm: D.K. Brede Investment Management/Commonwealth Financial Network

City: Needham, Mass.

Age: 54

Years as a rep: 29

Years with current firm: 21

Production: $1.7 million

AUM: $410 million

Product mix: insurance, 2%; bonds, 6%; stocks, 6%; cash, 7%; mutual funds, 25%; managed accounts, 5%.

Specialty: financial, employee benefits and risk management planning, investment services.

Designations, licenses: Series 4, 7, 24, 53, 63.