The Floris Elementary School Touching Heart young philanthropists pose with the posters they made to describe their experiences in the workshop where they made contact with orphans in Kenya, made sandwiches for the homeless and scarves for kids in foster care in Fairfax County. Coach Meg Chow [back row] tried, but things get a bit hectic at the end and the spell-out of “Kids on a Mission” just a bit jumbled - but still good-hearted.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
At 8:15 a.m. on a drizzly Thursday morning, fifteen youngsters from the fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Floris Elementary School in Herndon gathered in the school’s “Little Theater” to receive certificates for the successful completion of their 8-week Touching Heart (TH) young philanthropists workshop. Before that ceremony, however, they made a presentation to a proud audience of parents, siblings, school officials and even the co-founder of their program and staff and board members of Touching Heart.
The program is the educational arm of Kids on a Mission and was started by Helen Yi and her daughter Taylor. The news may be filled with stories of bullying and in-school violence, but Yi believes that children are basically “good at heart when they are taught just how impactful their thoughts and actions are. They are especially generous when they get a glimpse of other children less fortunate and are given opportunities to help and see the end result of their kind actions.”
During the before-school class the children are gently guided to experience a view of the world around them beyond their own daily lives. “I didn’t know that so many kids lived without the good things that I have,” was the comment of one young TH participant. With their dedicated coaches, the young leaders are introduced to the situations of other, less fortunate children, both locally and around the world. Working as a group, they choose their projects and learn to fundraise, create a budget, plan and do the work hands-on, and then “experience the joy of giving,” said Yi.
AT THE EVENT, the Floris gang showcased their projects by each sharing a poster collage that he or she had made to illustrate what they had done and learned, taking a few minutes to describe their projects. Each child also shared what their favorite project was, the word that most describes Touching Heart for them, and what charitable activity they would choose to do next if they could. There was a pretty even split vote among the projects. Making 195 sandwiches for the Embry Rucker Homeless Shelter in Reston was the favorite of some. Making scarves for Fairfax County children in foster care was named “best project” by quite a few others, while some said their favorite activity was supporting an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya and actually having a Skype call with some of those children.
Some of the words that the graduates chose to describe their Touching Heart experience included “empathy,” “kindness,” and “amazing.” Some of the projects they would like to organize in the future ranged from a carnival to benefit the homeless to a fun run for the orphanage with which they had connected. One young gentleman kept his next plans simple: “We helped a lot of people in this class. Tomorrow I would like to fundraise to help thousands of people.”
Before the certificates were handed out, Helen Yi and a few other adult guests addressed the gathering, agreeing that “empathy” was a very important word and pleased that it made the list of words to describe Touching Heart. “All the information in the world is almost overwhelmingly available to us. What we need now is perspective and to view the people in that world with empathy.”
Floris ES PTA president David Whiting also spoke about empathy and the need to help children become more well-rounded. Whiting noted that sometimes parents become “singly focused on the aspects of education that lead to a financially rewarding future. It can become all about STEM classes, electronic devices, etc.” Whiting and others referred to studies and examples of employers lamenting the lack of empathy and more global perspectives in many of today’s young workforce. Touching Heart, in the eyes of Whiting, is just as important a part of their children’s upbringing “as any traditional subject matter.”
FLORIS ES served as the pilot program for Touching Heart, being the first school to offer a supported program. Retired Floris teacher Meg Chow (who actually taught Touching Heart co-founder Taylor) re-entered the world of education to become the curriculum advisor to bring consistency and transferability to the effort. She coached this second round of Touching Heart at Floris. Flint Hill Elementary and Dranesville Elementary are gearing up to offer the philanthropic workshops. “It’s great to see this grow and spread,” said Touching Heart board member Marina Amat, who was present at the ceremony.
Visit the website www.touchingheart.com to learn more about this effort to grow compassion and empathy, where Chow says “the required community service in later school years is given a wonderful foundation based on real meaning.” On the website, children can find out how they can get involved through the companion program Kids on a Mission, in groups or as individuals. We are looking forward to following these Floris kids as they continue of their mission of compassion.