I have found that people come into my life just when I need them. When I need to be challenged, when I need to be supported and especially when I need to be inspired.
Like a month or so ago, when I was feeling like there is more bad in the world than good, and I checked my email to find a bright light of hope.
When Carolyn Pennington (Reston-Va based real estate agent, mom and head of education for Touching Heart), contacted me for pictures, we discovered we had a lot in common, most significantly a desire to make a difference
in the lives of children.
We decided to get together for coffee and Carolyn invited her friend, Helen Yi, to join us.
As we chatted, I learned that Helen had been influenced greatly by her grandmother, her mother and her Pastor
father. All were people who did not let anyone go unnoticed; not the sullen girl at the grocery check-out who responded to a smile, the single mom who needed help to feed her kids or the boy being battered by an abusive father.
As a pastor’s daughter, sadness and despair weren’t things she just heard about, Helen saw their impact first-hand and saw the difference a kind word and tangible support could make.
She told me that meeting real people and hearing their difficulties helped her to develop the empathy that she carries with her today.
As she started her own family, Helen wanted to instill in her kids the same values that she had been raised with. With her oldest, she fed the hungry, brought coats to the cold and raised money as a hedge against abuse and neglect.
Taylor, had so much compassion for others that Helen wanted to do more to embrace that giving spirit, while expanding the amount of difference that she herself was able to make in the world.
So she set a goal: By the time she was 40, she must be focused on doing something that was going to make a bigger difference in the world, something that she could do together with Taylor and her younger kids, as they got older.
But 40 was fast approaching and she was no closer. Then, as she worked with Taylor to plan her 12th birthday party. Taylor had an idea, what if instead of getting gifts, she
asked attendees to make a donation to a charity. After that party they began brainstorming how they might expand on that idea.
At first, Helen thought she could start a non-profit and continue work full-time as a successful telecommunications product manager, but quickly realized she needed to make a choice. Helen quit her job in order to get her 501C3 registered and she and Taylor co-founded Touching Heart in 2010.
The Touching Heart concept is simple: If you teach children at a young age what it means to be kind to another person, you instill in them an empathy that will last a lifetime.
Touching Heart trains “ambassadors” (aged 13-18) who then run seminars for 6 – 12 year olds. Those seminars include role-play and other activities to help the children to think outside of themselves. The workshops have taken place at elementary schools as well as for girl scout troops. Even if the kids don’t participate in Touching Heart after the workshop, the hope is that a seed is planted that will take root.
Both Taylor and one of the Ambassadors I met, Madeline, talked about the connection
they felt to the kids at an orphanage in Kenya, when they were introduced through essays, letters, pictures and the beautiful bracelets made by the Kenya kids as gifts for the US kids. And they loved making bracelets to send back to the kids in Kenya.
Kids are able to register their birthday parties on the website, so that party goers can made a donation to a charity of the birthday child’s choice: One of the several orphanages the group sponsors or a project to help local-VA children in foster care.
What the kids say, “”At first I didn’t know what an orphan [was]. But when I did the workshop I understood what it means to grow up without parents and not have lots of clothes and toys. I think I will help some of the poor kids who are also orphans. I am thankful to have parents who love me and give me whatever I want.” Diya, age 7
What the parents say: “My daughter and I found both letters to be very touching and moving. What a wonderful experience for her. Thank you!! By the way her face lit up with a big smile and red cheeks, I could see that she felt that she had made a difference as well as a connection to a girl her own age though many miles away.” Marina (mom)
When I asked Helen if she felt that her previous career has helped her to be successful as a non-profit entrepreneur – and she told me that learning to get along with all different kinds of people in all different scenarios was key. She also told me that the network she created while working in telecommunications has helped her significantly in making Touching Heart a success.
This April, Touching Heart, chaired by Carolyn Pennington, will hold its first fundraiser. A golf tournament complete with auction and some great celebrity guests including Washington Redskin legends: Darrell Green, Ken Harvey and Brian Mitchell, Virginia State Senator: Mark Herring and NBC Sports Anchor: Dan Hellie.
If hearing about Helen has touched your heart, click here to get more information on how you can get involved.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Aesop