Organizers, staff and associates of Touching Heart show their signature move at the 2016 Minecraft for a Mission event to raise funds for local foster care programs and children.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
They say that charity begins at home. Helen Yi and Taylor, the mother and daughter co-founders of Touching Heart, a nonprofit aimed at educating and inspiring children to empathize with the needs of others and to take action to assist them, have no argument with that statement. But they have taken that idea out of the home’s front door, down the steps and out into the streets beyond. Since 2010, they have grown a dedicated group that has produced “Kids on a Mission” (KOAM) – children who are taught how to host their own fundraising events from selection of a cause, logistically preparing the event, developing budgets and seeing the plan through to fruition.
POSTPONED from last month’s Snowzilla Day, Touching Heart held its second annual Minecraft for a Mission event on Feb. 6 at the Art and Design Building on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax, hosted by the Mason Game and Technology Academy. The event was a group playing of the Minecraft video game, with two computer labs filled with teams sharing their ideas and resources as they built their Minecraft worlds and filled them with tools and treasures. Current and former students of the Academy volunteered their time and computer wizardry to build the enclosed network for the gamers and even staffed the event to keep things running smoothly, provide additional instruction, and a helping hand when needed. With the registrants numbering better than 50 youngsters aged 8 - 12 and a registration fee of $45 per participant, these Kids on a Mission raised a significant amount of money for foster care programs and residents in Fairfax and Loudoun County and Alexandria.
“The kids choose a variety of people and organizations to assist,” said Helen Yi, but the primary focus was on aiding other children less fortunate. The local foster care programs are a top priority for many of the fundraisers, but under the KOAM flag, youngsters have made meals for the homeless, raised funds to buy mattresses for an orphanage in Kenya and help them build a wall, and invested in projects like chicken farming and solar energy panels around the globe, helping struggling communities to become more self-sufficient. “It’s amazing and humbling what these young people can do once you show them the needs,” said Yi.
“It’s amazing and humbling what these young people can do once you show them the needs.”
— Touching Heart co-founder Helen Yi
Minecraft for a Mission could have daunted even the most skilled event organizer, but the three primary organizers, who handled everything from recruiting sponsors to the logistics on the day, and even the opening ceremony instructions and remarks, seemed to take it all in stride were middle-school students Devin Host, Alex Lee and Lottie Dubert from the Nysmith School in Herndon.
Devin, who had participated in other KOAM activities, brought his friend Alex into the fold. Mutual friend Lottie heard them discussing their plans and knew she, too, had to join in.
“Getting the sponsors, that was probably the most difficult thing to do because we had never done cold-calling before,” said Devin. On one occasion the trio walked the entire Fair Lakes Mall, making their pitch at each retailer. “Really,” added Devin, as Alex and Lottie nodded their agreement, “that experience was one of the best things we got out of this. You really learn to be confident and state your case.” Apparently their dedication and growing sales skills did the trick, garnering the event a number of sponsors, including one for whom Alex, with his graphic design skills, was able to develop a logo.
TOUCHING HEART offers an eight-week after school “Art of Giving Workshop” at several local schools. “And hopefully beyond fairly soon,” said co-founder Helen Yi. The circle widens on its own, with one child who has participated in a workshop or in a KOAM project telling another child who either joins in or contacts Touching Heart for help in organizing their own project. Those two young philanthropists then spread the word, and the good works and development of compassionate young leaders keeps moving forward. This growth was on display at the Minecraft event, with several youngsters participating remotely from as far away as Sweden, children attending from way beyond Touching Heart’s home-base of Herndon, and another gamer who had played last year, then moved to Florida, but whose parents were willing to bring him back just for this charitable gathering.
“It’s heartening to see that their interest in helping others doesn’t end after one project,” said Touching Heart Outreach Manager Susan Tseng.
Touching Heart has a number of events, activities and opportunities on their calendar this year. Learn more about their story, check out upcoming events like a “Movie Day” to support that Kenyan orphanage or the annual Touching Heart Golf Tournament fundraiser, get involved or become one of the Kids on a Mission, by checking out its website at www.touchingheart.com.