MaryMargaret and I presented Kids Are Heroes to a group of business people last week and after watching three videos and hearing the entire presentation, one man stood up and said, “I still don’t get what you do.”
I get that our mission is not as simple as feeding the hungry, or curing cancer, or drilling water wells in third world countries even though many of our kids are working to solve these issues. But many people do connect with what we do instantly in a visceral manner just by visiting our website and that’s because of the kids. By showcasing more than 300 children who give back to their communities in their own personal way we have created an atmosphere where volunteering at a very young age is normal, accepted, and that every one can do it. Besides having a great impact on others, these children are developing skills that they would never learn in schools and becoming compassionate leaders.
Another thing that many don’t understand is the significance of Kids Are Heroes Day. Tomorrow will mark our fifth event and the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick, Maryland. Even though we have kids coming from 11 states and even Canada, the regional media outlets have never paid any mind to it. But to be a witness on this day is nothing short of magical. All these children (50 are scheduled to be here this year) have giving hearts and do not want any recognition. All they want is to share their stories and get other kids involved. For six hours this gathering provides a warm and comfortable cocoon of hope and wonder to all who attend. This is the best way I can describe it because that’s exactly how it has felt to me the last four years. My only frustration is that I can’t share this feeling with everyone.
The third event in our history was held in Gettysburg, PA in the summer of 2010. Since people were traveling from all over to be there, we held a private reception for the heroes and their families that evening. It was only scheduled to go between 6 and 8PM. There happened to be an indoor swimming pool next to the reception area which was all the kids needed. Even though the reception ended at 8, everyone stayed until the pool closed at 10. At that time the kids hatched a plan to go back to the rooms, change clothes, and meet in the lobby simply because they did not want the night to end. Most of these kids had never met each other before the day began. So this is why we hold our receptions at a nearby hotel with a pool near the reception area. I cannot tell you how much this means to the children. They energize each other for the next year to keep up their philanthropic efforts. Again, it is nothing short of magical.
At this time I would like to again publicly thank all of our sponsors and volunteers who are making this event better than ever. Our keynote speaker, Allisyn Ashley Arm, is flying in from California. Leify Green will be debuting his new Kids Are Heroes song around noon, and will also be entertaining us at the reception. Mary Kate McKenna, John Waire, David Spence and Bob Carney are all professional photographers taking turns at capturing both events. A Touch of Class Limousines has donated limo service to and from the airport for our keynote. And DJ Patrick will be spinning tunes and hosting karaoke at the latter half of our reception.
But let’s not forget our official sponsor, Kibooku, a company all the way from Arbroath, Scotland that donated $3000 to cover our expenses for the reception. This will be our biggest turnout ever and we certainly could not have done it without them. So I urge parents to check out their safer social media site for kids aged 6-13. A lot of research and passion went in to the design and creation of this site as the owner has twin daughters in that age range.
So if you are going to be in the area, we hope you come by. This is truly something you will never forget.
Sometimes things happen that just make you feel warm all over. About a year ago I recall hearing from a parent that her son wanted to do something to give back and was a bit frustrated because he didn’t know what to do. Honestly I don’t recall if we suggested a hockey equipment drive or if it was they who did, but I do remember discussing it and giving them a few ideas.
Well recently I heard back from the mom via a message on our Facebook page.
I am not sure if you remember me, I wrote on behalf of my son about a year ago. He wanted to do a sports equipment donation drive…well it is happening. Rory (14) named his effort (thestickexchange.com) and created a website. He found two organizations in the Boston and New York areas that desperately need equipment. He got local youth hockey organizations to announce it amongst the membership and I got some press in local papers. He’ll be collecting equipment from 2-7pm this Saturday and Sunday at our local Hockey Rink. I just wanted to let you know that it has all come together with some really positive adult role models and some effort. It is all good…thanks for the inspiration.
And, congratulations on the Ricki Lake Show!
All my best, Taylor Tait
At that point I suggested that they nominate their children after the donation drive. The follow-up message was received just today:
Hi again. The hockey equipment donation drive was an amazing success. Way beyond our wildest dreams. The boys sat from 2-7 pm both Saturday and Sunday at our local ice rink and collected an entire garage full of equipment. Not only did the community donate, but the NY Rangers sent two boxes of Ranger gear, and a local hockey store gave gobs of things too. Loads and loads of stuff. We will now sort it and then donate it to three different organizations for kids in need. I am not sure how to nominate the boys on your site, but I’d love to. I only have a photo of Charlie and Rory, tho’ all three of my boys contributed to the effort. I just want to let you know that your facebook page helped inspire their effort. Best, Taylor
This type of validation just adds more fuel to our passion of spreading our message. I just LOVE hearing stories like this.
We recommend you discuss this story with your children. What ideas will they come up with?
As moderator of the Kids Are Heroes website I read every shout-out and response given so that the kids can be protected from spammers and other scoundrels. Most of them are congratulatory remarks from family members and friends. One touched my heart when I read it last night.
It was addressed to our hero Jessica Wu from Boston, Mass. Here is part of Jessica’s story from our website:
“In the summer of 2011, Jessica started the chamber group “On A High Note” with her younger brother Joey. The violin duo focuses on introducing classical music to disadvantaged, disabled, and long-term ill kids throughout Massachusetts but performs at general venues as well. In the summer, the violin duo plays at festivals, where they also hold lemonade stands to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation that supports pediatric cancer research. During the school year, Jessica regularly performs at special care facilities and homeless shelters, where she offers the children music lessons, using instruments collected through instrument drives.”
Obviously Jessica has made an impression on one of her colleagues. Here is the shout-out:
“Hi Jessica!! I hope you remember me from orchestra at NEC. I just read all about your work, and it is so inspiring! Never before have I thought about doing something with my music other than practicing and performing in recitals, and you have inspired me to bring my music into the community for the better good. Hope to see you soon, and all the best in the continued success of your wonderful work. Sincerely, Amanda”
I honestly got chills when I read that. For those who do not understand what our mission is, that is why we showcase these amazing children, this is it right here. Stay tuned. We hope to see Amanda on our site one day so she can influence a whole new group of kids.
A couple of months ago I was contacted by the dean of the Montessori School in Lutherville, MD. One of the teachers had brought our organization to her attention. The school is generous enough to host an annual fundraiser for a deserving charity and this year we were lucky enough to be selected. I was thrilled to hear about this as it demonstrates that our social media efforts are indeed paying off. Lutherville is just north of Baltimore, 51 miles away from us and we personally knew no one who was related to this school.
MaryMargaret was invited to speak there and she did just that about a month ago. The Montessori school is a very small school but the room was full of kids ranging from first to eighth graders. She was very well received and the kids were extremely attentive. MaryMargaret and I both are looking forward to meeting with the children again.
The fundraiser will be in the form of an art show. All the kids from the school have created their art in support of Kids Are Heroes® for display. Attending adults will be charged an entrance fee of $8.00, 100% of which will go to our charity. Entrance for kids is free!! MaryMargaret and I will also be there to greet the attendees and hand out our information. This event is open to the public. So if you are in the area, please come out and support us and the kids of the Montessori School!!
Saturday, April 21st, from 10AM-2PM
The Montessori School
10807 Tony Drive
Lutherville, MD 21093
I was just told a story by someone close to me who would like to remain anonymous. The identity of the person doesn’t really matter, because the story itself is what is important. We will call our hero Mischa.
The weather has been bitterly cold around these parts the last few weeks. About a week ago, Mischa spied a homeless woman outside, legs exposed, who appeared to be suffering from the cold. Mischa thought, “I wish there was something I could give her!” Not wanting to be faced with that circumstance again, Mischa went off to the thrift store and bought some sleeping bags and blankets to carry around in the car with her, in case she became faced with that same situation in the future.
Today was Mischa’s day to go to the library. As she was leaving she discovered three homeless people keeping warm inside. She has noticed them in the past as they come in to use the facilities and get out of the cold for a couple of hours. Mischa asked “Does anyone need an extra blanket or a sleeping bag?” All three said yes. So Mischa went out to the car and brought two blankets and a sleeping bag back to these people who were very grateful.
When Mischa relayed the story to me she told me that she didn’t know if it was right to feel this way but she felt really good after having done it. I told her that she had every right to feel good. Why wouldn’t you get a sense of warmth inside if you knew that you had just really helped someone? I’ve always felt that people should revel in that feeling because it will make them want to do it again.
So here is such a simple idea that can have a great impact on someone else’s life. Mischa pays $2.00 for “gently used” sleeping bags and blankets at the local thrift store. Keep them in your car and you never know when your day will be brightened by helping someone else.
When I first started blogging in July of ’08, Kids Are Heroes was in its infancy and I was still heavily involved with Wags for Hope, a local pet therapy organization. I wrote a blog post titled “Volunteer for Selfish Reasons“. It didn’t get much play since I wasn’t even on Twitter yet, but the sentiments behind the post still ring true. It may sound politically incorrect, but if people don’t get something in return for their volunteer time or for their financial donation, then they probably won’t keep doing it. As I write this I just saw a “tweet” coming through on my Twitter stream that read: “Volunteering is not a choice. It’s a responsibility.” Ashley E. Hyder was given the credit for that quote. Well I’m sorry Ashley, I couldn’t disagree with you more. As a matter of fact let me rephrase your quote to my liking: “Volunteering is not a choice. It’s a privilege.“ In my experience, if people feel they must volunteer, it will become a burden for them and they will stop doing it. I have always felt that if a person feels like they volunteer out of a sense of obligation then they are doing it for the wrong reasons and they won’t last. I am in my fifties now, and outside of a few years as a big brother I did nothing in the way of volunteering. Am I ashamed of it? Absolutely not. Do I feel guilty for the “selfish” life I led? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s other peoples’ duty to volunteer? Absolutely not.
So why the change for me? Why do I do it? The answer is because it changed my life for the much better. I remember the first time I brought my dog Charlie to a nursing home and he brought an ear-to-ear grin to a woman who had been paralyzed in an auto accident since 1984. The warmth that immediately surged through my body was indescribable. The pride I took in my best friend Charlie was unmatched. Do I get something out of volunteering? The answer is “every time I do it“.
So what about Kids Are Heroes? You might be asking “what can Kids Are Heroes offer my children? The stories are nice and heartwarming, but what do my kids gain from joining in?”
The answer is a better life. A much richer life experience, regardless of socio-economic status comes to those who volunteer. I came to realize this gradually as I heard back from featured children’s parents, and as I watch my own daughter develop. J.T. Robertson is one of our heroes from New York. His mom won’t mind (I hope) that I repeat the gist of a conversation we had recently by phone. She related to me that she lives in one of the poorest counties in New York. Kids in her neighborhood are overlooked because the general feeling is there is no hope for them. For a number of years now, J.T. has been raising funds so that disadvantaged children can enjoy something he treasures — a train ride on the Arcade and Attica Railroad. This event takes he and his mom all year to plan. That is not all thirteen-year-old J.T is involved with. He brings toys to the hospital and plays with the children, among other things. (See J.T.’s profile on the Kids Are Heroes site.) He speaks at events and one of his speaking points is the Kids Are Heroes web site. It’s not “look at the recognition I got” — it’s more ”look at what you can do and how it can affect others.” His mom flat out told me that Kids Are Heroes is a great opportunity for kids in this situation to rise above the statistics that plague them. His efforts got him on Good Morning America. As a child when you see the results that you are really helping others, it gives you the same feeling as if you were an adult — it’s a really good feeling that boosts self-confidence and develops leadership skills.
Want another selfish reason for your kids to become involved in KAH? So they can participate in events like this!
When my daughter MaryMargaret started our web site she was just nine years old. She is now twelve. She has been involved in many volunteering efforts in those three years, and she would join us at the nursing homes before that. She has learned to think outside of herself which is hard to do for many kids. She has gained respect and empathy for older people, and kids who are very sick. Her confidence has risen immeasurably due to the speeches she is asked to give about what she does. She has completed a year-long effort to raise money to buy MP3 players for kids at the Children’s Hospital in D.C. When she was just six, she spent a harrowing ten days there and thought that the gift of music will help that time go easier for these unfortunate kids. She purchased 250 MP3 players and delivered them to two area youth hospitals. What a sense of accomplishment she felt as it took her over a year to raise the money! Her latest project is called “Black to Blue”. She and two friends plan to raise $5000 to help clean the animals affected by the Gulf oil spill. The kids have planning meetings where tasks get delegated. This is encouraging teamwork. They plan to visit radio stations to enlist help. This will also boost their self confidence. There is a lot of research that needs to be done for this project. To be effective all three of the kids will have to know the facts. All three are very passionate about doing this which will also show in their presentations. There are just so many life lessons they will learn because of this project. Through her efforts she is becoming a true leader, as are many of the other children featured on our website.
So what does this all mean? Am I in this for the “wrong” reasons? Am I only passionate about Kids Are Heroes because of the benefit to my daughter? I would be lying if I said that part didn’t matter to me. Of course I am happy that her efforts will help her develop into a well rounded, socially responsible citizen. But I can’t ignore the other perks. One of them I just mentioned — it’s very heartening to know something we created has touched a boy like J.T. in such a way that he wants to tell others about it. I enjoy every opportunity we get in meeting the other wonderful kids and their families who are involved with KAH. I get that same warmth I described earlier when my daughter brings smiles to cancer-stricken children by bringing them Webkinz she paid for from the donations she collected. I get warm feelings every day when people encourage what we are doing. I get so much energy when I listen to the children explain what they are doing and why they are so passionate about it. I get a sense of hope dreaming about the global effect we will have some day.
So shouldn’t volunteering be a thankless activity? Shouldn’t we just do it without wanting anything in return? Maybe that works for some people, but not for me. As I have said before, I’m not that nice of a person.
So you say you’d like for your kids to be involved? We recommend that you sit down with them at the Kids Are Heroes web site and “Meet the Heroes“. Read their stories. You and your child will learn about children as they are changing the world. Suddenly your child will realize that they can do it too. It is generally not long after that when they discover their own passion to help. They will choose a project, selecting certain elements of other projects they have just read about, and with your guidance execute their plan. When they do, please let us know about them so we can feature them too.
This morning when I checked my Twitter feed I came across a particularly interesting question from my friend Eri. She asked me “What is your exciting plan for next year?”
Wow. What a great question. It’s not as if I haven’t thought about it, it’s just that noone has ever asked me that question before. I know that when you write things down more ideas come flowing out, so I decided to write a blog post about it.
Kids Are Heroes began in March of 2008, so we are just finishing up our second year. During that time we have featured close to 100 kids, had two Kids Are Heroes Days and been on Virgin Atlantic planes for one month, thanks to Sir Richard Branson. We have also created our first major project where we plan to involve kids from all over. I am happy with our progress, especially since we have become involved with social media. But at the moment we are still very small with big plans.
It is hard to develop exact timetables, especially when I know that there are so many unknowns. A lot of what we do will depend on what kind of financial help we can get. We are lucky to have a few business partners who support us but I would sure love to get a bunch more. :) Having said that plans are meant to be flexible, so let me at least speak to what we would like to do.
Drill our first well with the help of kids out there who don’t have their own project. We still want to encourage kids to follow their own passions, but also want to offer an alternative. This will be done through Project KAH2O
Develop other projects so kids can select among them.
Secure our 501c3 status.
Finish our business plan (will it ever be finished?).
Provide funding for more kids to attend Kids Are Heroes Day in October.
Feature at least 150 more kids.
Start to provide web site development to help jump-start kids’ projects.
Develop materials that can be sent to schools. This will include a video (already produced) explaining what we do at Kids Are Heroes along with added resources.
Achieve mentions in several national media outlets.
Start to travel the country to spead the word.
We have felt from the beginning that Kids Are Heroes is something that works in every community and hope it will eventually become a household word. Just the other night my 11-year-old daughter MaryMargaret received an email from a 12-year-old girl named Lily. She is just getting started in her project to “help the world in its desperate struggle to stop the pollution and clean up our mess.” She noted that MaryMargaret “had some experience” and could she “give me some advice”. This is another role we really hope to develop — to help nurture kids’ ideas and help them maintain their focus so they can follow through with their projects. You bet we are following up with Lily and watching her progress.
So, I welcome the next year and hope we can indeed accomplish many of those things. One thing I am sure of, we will certainly be writing about it along the way!
Greg w/ Kids from Mityana
I am going to deviate a bit from my normal type of post. My usual fare is dedicated to Kids Are Heroes, Twitter or something to do with our dogs and family. This time I am going to discuss my brother Greg and one of the organizations he is associated with which is SCAW (Sleeping Children Around the World).
Quite a few years ago my brother had a life changing event which affected his entire outlook. He had always been associated with social work as a vocation, but in the end that did not prove fulfilling to him. He discovered his true passion, and that is traveling around the world to serve others. For years beyond my count he has helped build homes for indigent people with Habitat for Humanity in every corner of the globe. His latest venture is just coming to an end – in fact as I write this he is in the midst of a 15 hour flight home. He visited Uganda where he helped SCAW deliver 6000 bedkits to needy children.
From the website of SCAW.org:
“Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) donations provide bedkits to children of any race and/or religion who will benefit the most; typically being located in underdeveloped and developing countries. No portion of a bedkit donation is spent on administration — 100% reaches a needy child. Each *$35 donation (Canadian funds) provides a bedkit that consists of a mat or mattress, pillow, sheet, blanket, mosquito net (if applicable), clothes outfit, towel and school supplies. Bedkit contents vary from country to country depending upon local needs. Since its founding by Murray and Margaret Dryden in 1970, SCAW has raised over $20 million to provide bedkits for over 900,000 children in 33 countries. In 2009 we will reach our millionth child.”
One of the keys here bears repeating: “No portion of a bedkit donation is spent on administration — 100% reaches a needy child.” This is critical (and highly unusual) because people who donate to this organization can be assured that all their money is going to the desired purpose.
When Greg is at home he helps cancer patients by driving them to their treatments and connects with hospice patients in a way that can only be seen to be believed. Due to his somewhat shy and introverted nature he would more than likely be mortified that this is being written about him, but I will just ask him to “get over it” because at the same time he is getting more exposure for his organizations. He and I often discuss reasons for doing things such as this. For him it is food that provides spiritual sustenance for him every time he does it. He is not independently wealthy and must fund these trips himself. As a matter of fact I don’t know how he manages. He did tell me that if he had a sponsor he would make several more trips per year. If this post touches you and you know of someone who is in the position to help fund some of his trips, please contact me here.
Many people have said very nice things to me about our efforts with Kids Are Heroes. What makes Greg different is that he puts himself at risk each time he does this, traveling to places where diseases are more prevalent and where kidnappings are not uncommon. This is something I do not believe I could ever do. Most everything I do is from the relatively luxurious comfort of my own home. I would love nothing more than to be able to be the catalyst that helps him do more of what he is passionate about. Greg is indeed a real hero.
UPDATE: 06/12/09 Well now Greg has returned home and has written a report of his experiences. A very powerful read:
SCAW UGANDA DISTRIBUTION JUNE 2009
by Greg O’Neill
“While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about”. – Angela Schwindt
Imagine the joy and exhilaration of being greeted so enthusiastically by a sea of 500 smiling children dressed in brightly colored tee shirts of red, green, yellow and orange all cheering, chanting and clapping as the SCAW team approached them for 12 times over 10 consecutive days! Each day we had a distribution was a true adrenalin rush for each of the SCAW traveling volunteers.
On one of the early distribution days, I approached an open truck loaded with children, parents and bed kits as they were preparing to return to their villages. One boy wanted to share his feelings with me while at the same time representing all the other children on the truck when he said with a broad smile “we are very happy.” He then went on to ask me if it were possible for him to go to Canada. I told him that he certainly could provided he stayed in school and worked very hard. He then asked me “are there any dark people in Canada?” He seemed quite satisfied when I told him there were many Ugandan people living in Canada as well as people from almost all of the countries of Africa. His next question was “what kind of food do you have in Canada?” When I answered we had beef, chicken, goat, rice, potatoes and cassava as well as pineapple, watermelon and bananas he seemed quite overjoyed. As the truck pulled away amid cheery good-byes and high fives, I couldn’t help but feel that in addition to providing a good night’s sleep to the 6,015 children who received bed kits, we may also have provided those same children with a beacon of hope for a bright future.
Another highlight of the trip for me was spending two weeks with the members of the Inner Wheel Club of Kampala. They are clearly an amazing collection of ‘angels’ who worked tirelessly and seamlessly not only on behalf of the children, but also making sure that the experience of the SCAW team was as enjoyable as it was comfortable. To them I extend my deep thanks and gratitude for their warm, gracious and generous hospitality and especially for their friendship.
Last but not least, I would like to express my thanks to each and every donor who contributed bed kits for this distribution. It was a joy and a privilege to represent you and present your gifts to these children and their very appreciative families. Endless expressions of their gratitude were conveyed to us every day through their smiles, their gestures and their “thank yous”.
As we leave Uganda having completed the distribution, the faces of the children and the gestures of gratitude from the children, their families and members of the community at large are indelibly etched in my mind and my heart. I will return to Canada with humility, a profound respect for the people whose lives have touched ours and a deep appreciation for all that we have waiting for us back home.
(Extremely well put. Now I know where the lion’s share of the brains ended up in my family…) I spoke to Greg on the phone today and the conversation was very inspiring. It had me dreaming of joining him on one of these missions someday…