Guest Post: Project Becoming Our Best by Teri Schmidt

By , May 26, 2017

This month, we have a piece from longtime LHH supporter and volunteer, Teri Schmidt, about her family’s experience organizing a ten month long campaign called Project Becoming Our Best. The campaign leveraged the family’s participation in IRONMAN Texas to raise money for Little Helping Hands and Doing Good Together and encourage family volunteerism. Teri’s campaign ended up raising $890 for LHH!


What do Little Helping Hands and training for a triathlon have to do with each other? That’s probably what many of my friends were wondering last July when our family shared the idea for Project Becoming our Best, which I introduced as “ten months focused on family volunteering and triathlon, chasing challenges that spread kindness and courage, as we train for IRONMAN Texas”.

Teri and her husband show off the inspiration their kids wrote on them prior to the race (left). Teri poses with her medal after completing IRONMAN Texas (right).

The fact is that when I signed up (yes, voluntarily) to spend 10 to 20 hours a week training to race IRONMAN Texas (which included a 2 mile swim, a 112 mile bike race and a 26 mile run), it wasn’t because it was a lifelong dream of mine or because I excelled in any of the three sports. I was new to all of them and none of the sports were particularly fun for me. When I made the decision to train, it was because I wanted a challenge. But I knew I wanted it to be more than a personal physical challenge; I wanted it to be a family experience in “becoming our best.” Combining our commitment to honing our physical strength with a renewed focus on family volunteering and philanthropy was a perfect mix!

Teri’s husband and children running during IRONMAN Texas

That’s where Little Helping Hands came in. When we moved to Texas five years ago, I was thrilled to learn that there was an organization in Austin focused on family volunteering. You see, I was blessed as a child to have parents who taught me about the worth of each human being. In a world with so much fear, anger and division, I believe that providing our children with opportunities to connect with those who are different from them is one of our greatest tools. However, the busy life of a family with two working parents and kids involved in multiple extracurriculars caught up with us, and our focus on family volunteering had slipped. Following the work, stories and growth of Little Helping Hands kept me inspired and motivated throughout the years, even though we weren’t able to participate directly in LHH because we live over two hours away. I love how LHH supports the growth of empathy and community-building from a very young age through adulthood and incorporated those values into our family life.

The Schmidt family poses in their kitchen with their Project Becoming Our Best race outfits

It turns out that the inspiration that LHH provided by volunteering actually had a lot of parallels to our race training! Both taught us how taking small steps outside of our comfort zones could add up to something big. For instance, when we visited Regent Care Senior Center for the first time, we were all nervous about what to say to the seniors. However, once we got started and the kids saw how easily they were able to bring joy, my reluctant visitors didn’t want to leave. We took another risk volunteering at a community garden called Veggie Village, even though I have a bit of a brown thumb. My daughter loved working with the plants, though, and we had a great time. Similarly, even though I was nervous each time I got into the pool, each practice brought me closer to feeling more comfortable and more skilled.

Teri’s daughter and son volunteering at Operation Pets Alive

We also discovered new interests through both volunteering and training! One of the kids’ favorite projects was helping out Operation Pets Alive by spreading love to the animals who were up for adoption. They’re very eager to volunteer with them next time. Likewise, I actually began to enjoy running as I spent more and more time on long runs outside, and especially when the kids came along as our “support crew.”

The Schmidt family sorts hangers at Society of Samaritans thrift store

Finally, through both, we learned that monotonous (and boring and sometimes even painful) activities done for the right purpose can be enjoyable. The kids didn’t necessarily enjoy sorting hangers for Society of Samaritans’ thrift store, but they did find joy in talking to other volunteers and seeing the impact their efforts made. In the same way, the LONG miles on our bikes every Saturday were not exactly fun, but they did help us be successful on a difficult ride on race day.

Thank you, Little Helping Hands, for inspiring us to become our best!

Guest Post: A Year of Sponsorship and Service

By , April 28, 2017

This month, we have a guest post from Lauren Davis, whose daughters have used what they learned from Little Helping Hands to incorporate community service into other aspects of their lives.

If you’d like to write a blog post about your family’s experience with Little Helping Hands, contact Arielle Scherr at arielle@littlehelpinghands.org.


My favorite thing about Little Helping Hands is how it’s changed my entire family’s outlook this year. After becoming family sponsors last spring and trying out a new activity every single month since then, my girls (age 9 and 6 now) don’t just look forward to our activities – they have service on the brain!

Case in point – for the first time since they were 4 and 1 (and let’s face it, my 1-year-old didn’t have a whole lotta say back then), Annabelle and Clementine agreed to have a shared birthday party. What was their request? A celebration at Austin Animal Center (one of their favorite LHH locations to date) where they could invite their closest friends to help them make cat toys and dog beds that they could deliver straight to the animals (along with lots of petting and treats) that day. I was especially proud when they asked friends to bring donations for the animals instead of gifts!

Annabelle (right) makes a dog bed at Austin Animal Center with a friend during her joint birthday party.

Clementine (left) makes a dog bed with a friend at Austin Animal Center during her joint birthday party.

Even better, my daughters and I have learned to create our own volunteer activities. I was pretty shocked when I asked them if we could adopt a family in need this past Christmas instead of exchanging presents with each other – and they actually went for it! But my real pride came from our following discussions – they knew that there weren’t just fictional “children in need” in our community; there are many families at their own neighborhood elementary school (who they anonymously helped at an “Operation School Bell” project) that don’t have money for clothes and shoes, let alone toys.

Our discussions about kids in their school led us to hatch a plan – what if more of the “lucky” families at their school adopted more of the families that didn’t have much? We spoke to the school’s parent support specialist and she had quite a list. It was already almost Thanksgiving so we acted quickly recruiting families to give while the parent support specialist got wish lists from those in need. Within only a few weeks, were able to help more than 100 children from around 35 families! We even found donors to contribute gift cards to parents of these families for HEB, Target and Walmart so they could do some shopping themselves and put together a celebratory holiday meal.

A pile of donated gifts that Annabelle and Clementine collected as part of the ‘Operation Thunderjoy’ program they created.

Because the Thunderbird is our school mascot, Annabelle and Clementine decided to call the program “Operation Thunderjoy” – Annabelle even made a logo, and Clem colored it in. Being the children of a marketer, they knew the importance of branding – especially because we hope to grow the program every year from here on out! Our goal is to help every family that needs it in the future – more than 100 families and hundreds of deserving kids!

Annabelle (left), Clementine (center) and Lauren (right) stand triumphantly in front of the wall they painted to rid it of graffiti during an LHH activity.

I’ve always wanted to get my kids focused more on helping the community around them, but as a busy working mom I’ve never seemed to have the time or energy to make it work in a way that would have a lasting impact on my kids as well as whomever we’d be helping. I love that it’s my kids who are insisting that we become family sponsors again this year and can’t wait to continue to grow our involvement!

Learning About Animals Through Service

By , March 31, 2017

This month, we asked the kids participating in our Helping Animals Pilot Program to share stories about their experience and what they learned. Aidan was up for the challenge and wrote the following post about the animals he got to meet, the organizations he visited and the service projects he did to help local rescued animals. Aidan is 10 years old.


Have you ever really wanted to help animals, but just don’t really know how to start? I joined the Little Helping Hands Animals Pilot Program because I love animals and want to help them in any way I can. I got to learn about three different organizations that help animals: Austin Zoo, Austin Humane Society and Austin Wildlife Rescue.

During our first workshop at Little Helping Hands, our group got to know each other and then researched one animal and shared the facts we discovered. My group chose rabbits and learned lots of interesting things about them. The leaders started talking about which organizations we would volunteer with and how they help animals right here in Austin. Then, we made blankets for the monkeys at the zoo. I felt great since I was helping the monkeys stay warm at night!

Aidan making blankets for rescued monkeys (left) and meeting a goat at Austin Zoo (right).

When we got to Austin Zoo, a tour guide took us around and told us about each animal and how they came to the zoo. I was very surprised about how badly owners could treat their animals. I learned that most animals came from zoos that didn’t have a permit to keep that type of animal or zoos that couldn’t take care of the animal. The most memorable story was that a monkey decided that it would be fun to turn on all the faucets in the house! The house flooded and the owners sent the monkey to the Austin Zoo. Our visit to the zoo was one of my favorite trips.

At Austin Humane Society, we started out by making sock warmers and cat dens for rescued pets at AHS. The tour guide took us to the cat area, where we could see cat dens that had been made by other volunteers. Megan, the dog trainer at AHS, took us to the dog area and showed us how to do a training exercise with the dogs to help them stay quiet. My favorite dog, Gabe, had only 3 legs and had cataracts. It was very sad, but he didn’t seem to mind. Finally, we went on a tour around AHS, and Megan went through an agility course with a dog to show us some of the tricks the dog could do. I loved this trip because I love dogs so much!

An employee from Austin Wildlife Rescue came to the Little Helping Hands office with a tortoise named Tito to tell us about AWR and how they help. She taught us about the different types of animals they rescue, like raccoons, baby squirrels and baby birds. Another employee was keeping 22 baby squirrels at her house and 9 baby rabbits that had to be fed around the clock every 3 hours!

Aidan feeding a rescued puppy at Austin Humane Society (left) and meeting Tito the tortoise (right).

We started to come up with our extension project topics on the last day. It could be anything to do with animals, from donating to an organization that helps animals, to actually getting out in the wild and helping animals directly. I’m making tons of dog toys to donate to different animal shelters in Austin. I feel like I learned things that will help me make a difference and help animals. Helping animals is very important and I encourage you to try the program out, too. Have fun!

Guest Post: The Giving Tour by Paige Cortes of Peacin’ Out

By , February 24, 2017

This month, we have a guest post from Paige Cortes of the blog Peacin’ Out, in which she describes her family’s adventures traveling across the country volunteering together along the way. You can find the original post from October 26th, 2016 here.

 


While in Austin we decided we needed something more. I’m sure it sounds silly to most. We felt like our children weren’t being grateful and neither were we. We’d been too wrapped up in the hardships of homeschool and getting acclimated. We needed to spend time being grateful, really consciously thinking about it.

We both know that we are truly lucky to be able to make this big adventure happen. We’ve explained it countless times to the kids, too. It just isn’t sinking in: for us or them. We are still way too focused on the hardships. Edson and I both agreed that we needed to do something about it. We want to be sure we all get the most out of this adventure. We started talking about volunteering. It might just be what we all need to get a new sense of life and appreciation. We also know that everywhere we go we will be learning and taking so much from that place. But what about the local community? How can we give back? We will be getting a lot out of each place we go so it’s only fair that we do something for the community in return.

Here’s the idea: The Giving Tour. Every place we spend more than a week we do at least one thing to help the community. Our first stay for more than a week was our visit to Austin. We were able to get this idea started there and it was a great experience for all of us. We found an organization that I absolutely adore. It’s called Little Helping Hands, based in Austin, TX. The premise behind it is promoting family volunteerism, allowing little ones to get involved and start their love of helping others from a very young age. Their vision is to develop children into community-minded leaders and citizens. We signed up to help at Caritas, a homeless shelter in downtown Austin. There were 4 families there and each family made a large tray of macaroni and cheese, cut up a ton of fruit for a big salad and cookies for dessert. The organizer made sure to let us know that each tray would feed about 25 people. She also let us know that hundreds of people come through those doors Monday-Friday for meals, That meant that what we made would only be a portion of one of the meals they serve to those in need. WOW! – they need a lot of help. Big bonus: we got to rock some kick ass hair nets.

 

Dad, Edson, at Caritas with son Niko and daughter Cayenne.

The Cortes family poses with the pan of Mac & Cheese they made at Caritas.

Daughter, Cayenne, helps clean up at Caritas.

 

We are on a road towards a greater appreciation for the things we’ve been fortunate enough to do in this life. The Giving Tour means so much to me and I really hope it turns into something. I have always wanted to instill compassion and a strong desire to help and care for others in my children. I’m pretty sure we all want that. We all want to teach our children to be grateful for what they have. I mean who wants a spoiled brat? Ummm… No one I know.

Little Helping Hands was an incredible organization and I would love to replicate it everywhere across the country. I’ve always looked for ways for our family to get involved. Believe it or not it’s not always easy with a family with young kids. Organizations, in my experience at least, prefer to have older kids and adults to help and not deal with the little ones running rampant. I can’t say I blame them. Even when looking for a place to volunteer in Austin I emailed and called at least 10 places. Little Helping Hands was the only place to even get back to me and honestly gave us a ton of things we could do with our young family. They’ve really got things down to a science.

I have big dreams for what we lovingly call The Giving Tour. Honestly, I always have big dreams and ideas for everything– its whether or not I figure out how to make it work is another thing. The goal is for my family to really make a difference in the communities we spend a significant amount of time in. Considering we are slowing down that will hopefully happen more often now (although I’m having a hard time grasping the idea of ‘slowing down’). It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The community takes us in for some time, we learn new things, see new places and then we help by giving back– it’s simple really.

The larger idea comes when I think this could turn into something incredible for high school kids. I think 10th-12th graders would be ideal. We could start The Giving Tour with those kids and we would travel around the country, they give back, and see new places (all in an RV). And no, I’m not talking about our family of 5 traveling with the these high school kids but an educator or someone in a leadership role. Obviously, a year trip would be a bit out of the question, but a few weeks to a month would be do-able doing a region at a time. We could work with local organizations and really get something amazing things to happen. This country has so much for kids to experience and so many ways to get involved. I am confident it would be life changing. I remember going to South Africa when I was in high school and the experiences I had helped shaped who I am today. That is, a traveling blogger with hopes to create something big for my family and others; instilling a sense of appreciation, adventure and compassion. Big goals. Must. Take. One. Step. At A Time.

Have ideas on how we can get The Giving Tour started with high school kids in your area? Know of a few great organizations we could work with? We are staying in Santa Fe for a month and it’s our first lengthy stay so we are busy looking for volunteer opportunities. We will be sure to post more and we will be adding a new menu option in the coming weeks so we can feature some of the organizations we work with while on this journey.

Cheers to living a grateful life!

(Update: Be sure to visit HERE to find more pictures, information and links to all the organizations we’ve been helping. There are A LOT of hair nets involved. Thought that might entice you. :))