Growing into a Leader through Little Helping Hands

By , July 28, 2017

This month, we asked our Teen Leaders to share their experiences so far in our Summer Youth Leadership Program and Ramya was eager to share her story! Ramya is 13 years old and she’s been volunteering with LHH since March 2016. Her personal mission statement is, “To make the world a better, safer, healthier place and spread the love and happiness.” Ramya also volunteers her time as the Cedar Park Library Teen Council secretary, the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District Teen Council secretary and a Moolah U Camp apprentice.

On April 29th, 2017, I interviewed to get into Little Helping Hands’ Youth Leadership Program — and I was accepted! Looking back, I feel very confident in my decision to walk into the group interview. The atmosphere was very calming and, honestly, all I had to do was answer a few questions; there was nothing to be nervous about. In the Teen Leadership program, I’ve had countless opportunities to grow and learn. For example, my fellow Teen Leads and I raised $3,500 in just one month by emailing out requests for donations online, going door-to-door fundraising, creating a raffle with two prize packages and organizing an event called Parent Night Out.

Ramya (bottom left), the Teen Leads and kid attendees at Parent Night Out, a fundraiser for Foundation Communities.

An essential part of being a Teen Lead is Orientation Week, when the Teen Leads learn everything they need to know to lead an activity for Little Helping Hands. At the beginning of the week, leads learned the mission statement of Little Helping Hands and we created our own, personal mission statements to guide us throughout our experience. After that, we learned how to be a great activity lead. We learned how to use the roster, stamp cards and supplies and how to always be engaging and fun. Teen Leads also did a lot of team building and we became friends. We learned about what being a nonprofit means and we got started on our very own fundraiser — trust me, it’s very fun!

Ramya (bottom right) and three other Teen Leads clean up classrooms at Foundation Communities’ Sierra Ridge facility as part of their leadership training.

We also had Team Huddles scattered throughout summer to help plan and work on the fundraiser or to learn something new (for example, getting CPR and First Aid certified). In addition to Team Huddles, we volunteered throughout the summer. Our goal was to complete four Co-lead shifts (co-leads shadow the leads and take on some additional responsibilities) and three Teen Lead shifts successfully. Even though the Teen Leads lead some volunteer opportunities, it doesn’t mean that we don’t volunteer as regular volunteers at other locations. I mean, volunteering — for me personally, at least — is one of the best things you can do. Helping people has always been one of my favorite hobbies; a warmth just blossoms in your heart every time you think of the person’s life you just made a huge difference in!

Ramya (left) and a youth volunteer tend to the gardens at Mayfield Park & Preserve.

Being a part of Little Helping Hands feels great because I know that we — that I am making a difference in the world. Like I mentioned before, our summer cohort and my team raised $3,500 in four weeks. The funds we raised were used to buy back-to-school supplies for kids at Foundation Communities. Just thinking about raising that much money in such a short amount of time blows my mind. I’m still waiting for the moment when I freak out and realize I helped raise $3,500 even though I’m a thirteen year old! I have absolutely loved learning, making new friends, and helping the world become a better place at Little Helping Hands — and I plan to continue doing so. And one day, if you haven’t already, I really hope you join the family!

Save the Cats

By , June 30, 2017

We asked the kids in our Helping Animals Service Learning Program for 3rd – 5th graders to share stories about their experience and what they learned. Sadie was thrilled to get the opportunity to write about an issue she’s very passionate about: helping cats. Sadie is 11 years old.

Hello, I’m Sadie Claunch. I like helping animals, so that’s why I started volunteering for Little Helping Hands’ Helping Animals Pilot Program. We went on field trips to the Austin Zoo, Austin Humane Society and Austin Wildlife Rescue. My favorite was the Austin Humane Society because they help cats.

I learned that animals can be in as much danger as humans, and that’s why I want to thank Little Helping Hands. If you join Little Helping Hands’ Helping Animals Program you get the opportunity to learn how important it is to be aware of your surroundings. So help out!

Sadie and her aunt making cat shelters at Austin Humane Society.

So, you may wonder how you can help cats. Well I encourage you to go out and pick up trash, because picking up trash will save more cats from getting strangled by a soda can holder or plastic wrap. If you want to help even more go to the Austin Humane Society and ask how they need help. A few options are volunteering to feed and train cats, visiting their website and buying items on their needs list or adopting a cat or kitten to give them the comfort they can have in a home.

This is important to me because think of all the cats out there in a big world with only pouring rain and starvation to look forward to, similar to people. If you take the time to visit Austin Humane Society, you could make lots of cats happy. I love cats and I think they should be fed and given water. Please adopt a cat from the Austin Humane Society.

Sadie and her aunt making rice sock warmers for kittens at Austin Humane Society (left) and Sadie making a blanket for monkeys at Austin Zoo (right).

Cats have a big role in lots of human’s lives. Just think of a world where there were no cats or puppies. There are some pests that cats eat, like snakes, rats, mice, roaches and more. Petting a cat can help people feel happier. We could lose those benefits if you litter or don’t do anything when you see a hurt cat lying on the lawn with no collar.

I decided to write this blog because I have a cat myself, but I think cats should only pass away when their time has come and not because they got hurt by us because of neglect. Cats are just as important as people (they are just lucky because they don’t have to pay taxes). So, if you love cats I recommend helping through Little Helping Hands’ Helping Animals Program or the Austin Humane Society.

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

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!