When then-almost-12-year-old Taylor Yi announced her birthday plans, she didn’t realize she was starting a movement. Instead of giving her presents, her friends were invited to donate to the charity of their choice. According to her mother, Helen Yi, there was an overwhelming response and the kids “had such joy in giving.”
Based on that reaction the two Yi women hatched an unlikely plan. Helen says they decided to “launch a website, TouchingHeart.com, giving other kids an opportunity to experience that kind of joy.” Copying Taylor’s idea, kids would propose charity donations for their birthday gifts. Touching Heart held a workshop to raise awareness of problems both within and outside the United States, again offering the charity donation approach to birthday celebrations. The kids’ response was “Why do we have to wait for a birthday? Let’s do something now. We can make a difference.”
Touching Heart started Kids on a Mission, a program to facilitate kid-inspired fundraising projects. With each effort they became a little more organized, a little better at explaining and at educating the kids. The projects are pushed by the children themselves, who may be 3-18 years old. Working with a coach, kids select, plan, and host their own events.
First they decide on the organization they want to support, then find out what it needs. The need can come from Fairfax or Loudoun counties or as far away as Kenya or Zambia. Next they determine how to raise the money and that can really range;
It might be a soccer or video gaming tournament or a fashion show. Recently a McLean art event developed by four girls in eighth grade raised a record $4500.
The kids will go to merchants for sponsorships and donations.. They learn marketing, public speaking, and budgeting.
It’s about children giving to children and every one is different, like the Prince and Princess Tea Party collecting pajamas for an orphanage. Hundreds of programs have been presented impacting thousands of children around the world.
Herndon-based Touching Heart has been inspiring kids to help other kids for five years. In order to meet the needs of the young organization she founded, Helen quit her IT job and operated Touching Heart out of her dining room. She found that the work was “most satisfying to my soul and on track with life’s calling. Whatever I was supposed to do, I’m satisfied that I have answered the call. When you are at this point, nothing seems to bother you. This work helps me to be a better person and to grow, and I am filled with gratitude. Also I could bond with my kids (plus keep them busy). I have always told my children, ‘If God smiles, that’s all that matters.’ This has been a faith-walking experience.”
Elizabeth Reinhardt was recently appointed as the new executive director to share the work, focus on fund-raising and help spread the word for the group. She is supported by a “great, working board of directors” and adds “Touching Heart allows kids to experience the joy of giving back. After that McLean art event was held, the kids went out to buy duffel bags for Fairfax foster care children. Even though the foster children are shuttled from one place to another they typically have to use trash bags to carry their belongings. The girls had seen a need and proceeded to answer it. Because of the success of the event they were also able to fill the duffel bags with much-needed supplies. For Kids on a Mission, kids can select any need but we have a particular focus on helping foster kids and homeless kids , and also supporting international orphanages and schools.”
Helen Yi’s own inspiration came from her Korean grandmother who witnessed first-hand the plight of thousands of orphans following the Korean conflict. Helen says, “She reached a breaking point when she saw a child pick up cow dung to eat it. When you’re that hungry, you’ll put anything in your mouth. She started building orphanages and schools. She believed strongly in education and built 4 schools, 2 for middle school and 2 for high school, one of each for boys and one of each for girls as was required at that time.”
Today Touching Heart is also working with schools. Parents had suggested that they offer a program through a school. At Floris Elementary they implemented a six-week before-school program for grades 4-6 to help students understand the challenges facing other kids their age and how they might help. At the program’s completion they are encouraged to start their own project.
Facing the Future
Helen notes, “One of Touching Heart’s biggest challenges is not having enough coaches. It is volunteer work and it takes some time so they are always looking for more people to get involved. We are also instituting an Ambassador (previous project leaders) Program and a Train the Trainers program to build continuity for the projects. We are also hoping to grow and imagine Touching Heart chapters across the country.
Taylor, who sparked this crusade, also reflects on the progress of the organization, “I held and organized one of the first Kids on a Mission events. It was a simple 1 mile run but we were able to raise money to help bring clean water to Kenyan communities and that was very gratifying. Today Mom and I talk a lot about ways to do more for Kids on a Mission and other projects. After high school, I want to have a Touching Heart chapter at my college to continue making things happen and also would like to partner with Touching Heart in my career.”
Others like Taylor who see the value in cultivating this philanthropic drive in children can help in a number of ways – donating to help fund Kids on a Mission, volunteering time and talents, attending events, social sharing, and supporting the golf tournament annual fundraiser. More information is available at www.touchingheart.com.
Touching Heart Joy of Giving Golf Tournament
Join Darrell Green, Ken Harvey and other celebrities for a day of golf to support Touching Heart. The tourney takes place on Monday, June 1 at the Creighton Farms Country Club in Aldie, VA. You can sponsor, register and volunteer for the tournament at www.touchingheart.com.