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. :))

Let’s Get to Work

By , January 17, 2017

After a very difficult election season despite political affiliation, we are more affirmed than ever about the importance of the work we are doing at Little Helping Hands. There is no doubt that we need to be working diligently at developing future generations of citizens and leaders who understand social issues and community needs, and who are motivated to bring about positive change.

Just simply looking at low voter turnout in the recent election demonstrates the need for our electorate to better understand the responsibility they hold in their hands. Many of our youth leadership program participants will be of voting age during the next election, and we feel strongly that they will have a good understanding of many of the issues facing our city, state, and country and will feel compelled to make their voices heard.

Our Teen and Junior Leaders getting to work at the start of 2017 for United Way’s MLK Day of Service

It’s important to be able to discuss issues that face our community in a productive way and work together to come up with solutions. That is what our volunteers are learning to do from a young age and throughout their development in our programs.

We are focused each day on opening kids’ eyes and minds to circumstances different from their own and helping them to work side by side with peers from all over the city. We want them to include more people, animals, and outdoor spaces in their definition of their community. We want them to understand at an instinctual level that, as citizens of this world, we are responsible for each other and we must take care of each other every day.

Our goal for these kids is that whatever career they end up in and whatever city they live in, they will have a “community service” perspective when making their daily decisions and understand the impact they personally can have on the world around them.

These kids are our future and that can give us all hope. It is our job to supplement the education they receive at school and the love they get from others in their lives, to help them become the best citizens and leaders they can be.

“Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.” – Barack Obama