Kids Helping Kids
Lisa Leslie Henderson writer
Five thousand pounds of clothes, 100 laptops, and 3,548 bicycles: What do these items have in common? Give up? Read on.
Five Thousand Pounds of Clothes
Luke Picher and his relatives are one of dozens of families that regularly volunteer their time at Cradles to Crayons (C2C), a non-profit organization that provides new and gently-used children’s items to low-income and homeless children in the Boston area.
When nine-year old Luke visits the Giving Factory, the Quincy-based warehouse of C2C, he sorts through donated clothes, inspects toys to see if they work, and puts together care packages for children. Last fall he and his family organized a clothing drive in Wellesley, with the help of several other families and individuals, which raised over 5,000 pounds of clothing for C2C.
“Through our work with Cradles, we have experienced, first-hand, a way that even young children can make a difference in the lives of some of the 500,000 children that live in poor or low-income households in Massachusetts,” explains Luke’s mom, Suzanne Picher.
On a recent visit, while Luke picked out seven outfits, a few toys, and some books, he realized that there were not any winter boots for a seven-year old named Amelia, the child for whom he was preparing an emergency care package. After combing C2C’s shelves he realized that Amelia was going to have to go without winter boots.
“That realization had a profound impact on Luke,” recalls his mother. “It made him more aware of what he has and what others may not.”
Building an awareness of the range of people’s circumstances is a primary reason that families are volunteering in record numbers. Although kids can be exposed to contemporary social issues through books, television, and the Internet, coming face-to-face with these realities provides what C2C’s President, Jim Stephens, describes as an “enduring understanding.”
This exposure is the fodder that often motivates kids, and adults, to action. It can be a challenge, however, to find meaningful and safe opportunities for kids to offer their talent, energy, enthusiasm, and, often, unique perspectives.
“We got involved with C2C because they really ‘get’ volunteering,” Suzanne Picher says.
“Families are looking for ways to spend more time together,” observes Lynn Margherio, the founder of C2C. “They volunteer together and can see the results.”
“While our primary purpose is to help kids that need it—right away—we also see our mission as helping kids understand the power of giving,” explains Stephens. “Not only does volunteering help kids nurture their non-academic strengths and talents, but it makes them aware of the community around them, and what’s more, they feel a part of, and a responsibility for, that community.”
Stephen’s real dream is that C2C will be a “hotbed” for future social entrepreneurs and that the training and experience kids receive at C2C will nurture their enthusiasm and vision for ways to make change.
Thousands of kids volunteer their time every year at C2C, which describes itself as “the glue between communities that have and communities that need.” Volunteers undergo an age-appropriate orientation where they learn the nuts and bolts of C2C’s operations and are given a context for local poverty. They discover that children comprise the majority of homeless people in the United States.
By volunteering at C2C, people also learn that philanthropy is not just for the affluent. “We call what we do tangible philanthropy,” Stephens explains. “You don’t have to have money to give at C2C.” On any given day you are likely to find a CEO of a Boston-based company working along side a volunteer who lives in a homeless shelter.
“Through donating their own “treasures” in the form of clothes, toys, books, birthday gifts, or time, kids learn that their stuff has value, and that they can improve another person’s life,” describes Stephens.
Julia and Hanna Weber’s “enduring understanding” of third-world poverty began while on a school-sponsored trip to South Africa in 2006. Kliptown, one of the oldest and poorest settements in the Johannesburg area, was among their destinations. The Township is home to over 40,000 people, who live on approximately one square mile without electricity, running water, or a public school.
“When we left Kliptown, we knew that we wanted to be able to do something for the children who live there,” explains Hannah, a junior at Noble and Greenough School. “They are so kind, enthusiastic, and full of life”—and devastatingly poor by any economic measure.
It was over dinner one evening when the Weber family discussed MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s vision for the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) that Hannah and Julia became excited about what the laptops could do for Kliptown children.
Fourteen-year old Julia explains it this way: “We thought that OLPC’s laptop—the XO—would be great for the kids in Kliptown because it could provide them with an education that they would not otherwise have.”
“The XO offers a different kind of education,” says Hannah. Although several textbooks are loaded on the computer, the real learning is imbedded in the XO’s capabilities. “They can create games, make music, take pictures, and participate in a local network where they are in instant communication with all the other kids in their community who have an XO.”
“We hope that the laptop will help break the cycle of poverty in places like Kliptown,” Julia adds. The expectation is that the connection the XO provides to the local community and the World Wide Web will translate into curious minds, an awareness of the world and its opportunities, and a chance to participate in the global information-based economy.
Hannah and Julia had to convince OLPC management that Kliptown would be a good setting for the XO as the administrator’s initial impression was that there were other communities in the world where the need for the XO was greater.
“But when we told them about the kind of people that live there and their circumstances, they agreed,” recalls Hannah. “They told us the next step was to contact the South African Ministry of Education and to get them on board, which we did.”
Their initial contacts were, quite fittingly, made through the Internet. The South African government was interested and Hannah and Julia personally delivered 100 laptops and a server to the Kliptown community.
It felt so good to be able to do this for the kids in Kliptown this past March, Julia says.
“It was a little challenging along the way to get people to take us seriously because of our age,” admits Hannah. “You just have to be willing to keep pushing when there are roadblocks.”
Hannah and Julia Packman have been riding in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) Kids Ride ever since Hannah was diagnosed with leukemia at age three.
“We felt so helpless at the time,” says their mother, Karen Packman, who is co-chair of this year’s Wellesley/Weston PMC Kids Ride. “Riding in the PMC made us feel as if we were able to do something at a time when we felt like so much was beyond our control. The girls knew that the money we were
raising was going to a place where the doctors were helping people get better.”
The PMC Kids Ride grew out of the PMC, the original fundraising bike-a-thon in the United States. Since its inception in 1980, the PMC, whose rides traverse the state of Massachusetts, has raised more than $200 million to support cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Institute and its pediatric unit, the Jimmy Fund. The only drawback: riders have to be 15 to participate.
“The PMC Kids Ride was started in 1998 by an eight-year old boy who wanted to ride in the PMC, but was too young,” explains Karen Dee, who along with Packman, was instrumental in establishing the first Kids Ride in Wellesley last year.
The young boy enlisted the help of 11 friends and his six-year old sister to bicycle 26 times around their neighborhood; they raised $1,600. The idea took off: last year 3,548 children participated in 23 official PMC Kids Rides in Massachusetts—223 in the Wellesley/Weston ride.
“We are hoping to have 400 kids on bicycles, tricycles, or big wheels [at the Wellesley/Weston ride] this year,” says Packman.
The Wellesley/Weston PMC Kids Ride will take place on Sunday, June 1, on the Babson College campus. An obstacle course in the “Tot Lot” provides fun for ages three to five; the “Adventure Route” provides a fairly flat route for six-to-eight-year olds or anyone without hand brakes; and the “Challenge” route provides exactly that, a more hilly ride for kids ages nine to thirteen. Kids cycle alongside adult Ride Marshals, while parents and other volunteers line the route. There are lemonade stops along the course, a medical tent for any cuts or bruises, a DJ and dancing, and food and face painting at the end of the ride.
“Like the PMC, there are specific fundraising goals for each age group,” explains Packman. “First and foremost the Ride is a fundraiser—our goal is to raise money to promote cancer research and treatment. But we also want kids to have the opportunity to know that they can accomplish something, and that they can have fun at the same time.”
The suggested fundraising goals are: $50 for tots, $75 for Adventure Riders, and $100 for Challengers. Ride organizers provide suggestions for tangible ways kids can raise money from bake sales, to yard work, to selling drinks to spectators at the Boston Marathon. To raise his contribution, Karen Dee’s eight-year old son, Spencer, has requested that donations be made to the PMC Kids Ride in lieu of birthday presents he would have received this year.
“The ride is also a great way to get kids out and exercising,” Dee says, “and to train future PMC riders.” Both the Packman and Dee parents will be riding in the adult ride in August.
“The PMC will change your life,” says Packman. “It has ours. There is something very powerful about participating.”
Nine-year old Hannah Packman is looking forward to taking part in this year’s ride not only because it’s fun and a family tradition, but mostly because she hopes, “We can raise a lot of money so we can get everyone better and there would be no cancer—forever.”