by Sundari Johansen & Molly Yuska
Sometimes it’s great to be reminded of how dedicated and caring kids and teens can be, and how rewarding it is to give kids the opportunity to participate in volunteer service from a young age. Taking families on that journey is really what Project Giving Kids is all about.
We recently sat down for a video chat with Aidan Disney, a 14-year-old basketball lover and active community volunteer in Los Angeles, and his mom, Sheri. What’s remarkable about Aidan isn’t that his great-grandfather, Roy O. Disney, was Walt Disney’s brother. It’s that at such a young age, he’s already made a pretty big impact.
“I got it from her,” Aidan says about his mom, Sheri, when asked why he has such a heart for helping others. Sheri felt it was crucial to get Aidan actively involved in volunteering and philanthropy from a young age. She wanted to be intentional about creating a culture of giving in their family. That’s why before Aidan even hit elementary school, he had already delivered his birthday presents to pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. From there, it grew to annual participation with PGK partner Big Sunday and their annual big weekend of giving — something they still do! And when it came time for his bar mitzvah, Aidan dedicated this milestone event to Stand Up to Cancer, a charity that helped his family when his big sister, Charlee, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 20, raising an astounding $12,000!
As a fourth grader passionate about both basketball and charitable work, Aidan was chosen by a friend to take over RePlayce With Love, a community service project at his school in North Hollywood that collects new and used sports equipment and gives it to children in need. With his mom’s active support, the program has thrived under his leadership.
“My favorite part is the feeling you get that you know you’ve helped someone. The warm feeling that you have inside of you, knowing that somebody has a better life now because you helped them,” says Aidan.
Now he’s starting high school, passing the reins of RePlayce With Love on to another student, but he has no intention of slowing down his efforts for others. In fact, as he gets older, it is clear Aidan is developing a deeper understanding of just how impactful his efforts – and those of others – can be. He has become passionate about making positive change, actively supporting the work of the Human Rights Campaign, the I Have a Dream Foundation, Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation’s Dribble For a Cure, Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND), and other organizations working toward racial and economic justice. “One thing that I do really believe in is equality, and I want to see that in the world, [but] I don’t… I can do something, I want to keep being part of it.”
Aidan has seen first hand the impact that even one dedicated person, and one dedicated family, can have by simply showing up. And he wants other teens to know that’s all you have to do.
“A lot of teens each have their own passions and hobbies, and see the wrongs they want to right in the world. If you want to see a change in the world, you have to be the change… They can make a difference, no matter what.”
Having recently joined the Mid Valley Chapter of National League of Young Men, a leadership and service organization for young men and their mothers during the high school years, there is no doubt this Disney will do a lot more good in the years ahead and leave quite a legacy of his own.
“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
– John F. Kennedy
They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. That it takes a lot of hard work to see a small change. And that tiny steps are worth celebrating just as much as big ones.
All these things are true. But sometimes, we can see a big, tangible change unfold in real time, right in front of our eyes.
Since 2016, hundreds of volunteers, including kids, parents and other community members, gather each fall in Project Giving Kids’ three home cities to spend a day making a difference. As PGK gears up for its third annual Create the Change Day, we’re reflecting on where we’ve been – and what we can still accomplish.
Create the Change events combine service opportunities for many local organizations under one roof, along with fun activities, inspirational speakers and the chance to see an immediate impact.
Interested in joining our events in Boston, San Francisco or Los Angeles (new this year)? Learn more about each
event on our website.
Last year, we:
- Created 200 thank-you cards for veterans.
- Assembled 520 toiletry kits for low-income and homeless individuals and families.
- Crafted 200 pet toys for local animal shelters.
- Collected 200 books for a library in Africa.
- Prepped 1,000 silverware packets for St. Francis House’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
- Made 100 welcome-home keytags for people moving into homes for the first time.
- Wrote 40 letters to city council members advocating for affordable housing.
- Put together 150 shower bags for homeless women in the Boston area.
And if you don’t live in a PGK city, don’t worry; there are still plenty of ways you and your family can get involved this fall. Check out our redesigned activity finder to pick a cause and start making a difference today, wherever you are.
We all want our kids to succeed, and we want to give them the skills they need to do it. But are you putting volunteer service on your child’s list of crucial extra-curriculars?
If you aren’t, here’s why you should.
Did you know that emotional intelligence is a bigger predictor of long term success than good grades?
The biggest thing that is going to help your kid through their life and future career isn’t IQ, test scores, or academic skill – it’s emotional intelligence. Decades of research shows that kids who develop skills like empathy, resilience, and how to differentiate and name emotions are much more successful as adults, and much less likely to self-harm and engage in risky behavior as teens.
It’s been proven that volunteer service is strongly associated with more positive outcomes such as higher grades, better mental health, and better follow-through with commitments.
Learning emotional intelligence through service to others is important at every age.
Volunteer service helps kids seek out and listen to what others need, connect with them, and create meaningful emotional connections. We can help them name all those feelings and get comfortable talking about them, help them better understand how their actions impact others, and help them process how service affects their own lives.
Teens lose half their brains in puberty, and what they do in their teen years matters.
With teens, it’s especially important to reinforce lessons of empathy and giving. The pre-teen and teenage brain goes through several (literally!) mind-blowing biological transformations, and things like regular volunteer service can help teens establish and feed life-long habits rooted in personal responsibility, empathy, and compassion.
Showing kids and teens in real, concrete terms how their actions affect others can be challenging, but it’s also vital. Service helps make those lessons easy and positive.
We’ve created a simple challenge for kids and teens of all ages to help you get started.
A Little #GivingChallenge is designed to help young people of all ages reflect on these things simply and easily, so the lessons stick, reinforcing pathways in the brain that support empathy and kindness.
With A Little #GivingChallenge, we’ve taken out all the guesswork to help you get started. Three days for kids and teens to give back in three different ways, with three concrete actions.
A Little #GivingChallenge
- Day 1: Help your family
- Day 2: Do something kind for a teacher, friend, or neighbor
- Day 3: Give back to your community
With our downloadable quick guide, you’ll get ideas for each day of the challenge and a place where kids can reflect on why they chose a particular activity. This moment of reflection is super important, as it’s what builds those pathways in the brain that help kids process and retain these lessons of empathy, service, and kindness.