Little Hands Can started with two moms who love their kids and want them to help others. Not finding many organizations that accepted toddler-age volunteers, they decide to create an organization that would seek out service opportunities that young children could do and make them accessible to as many families as possible. Little Hands Can's first community event was held July 2015 at Skinner's Butte Park putting together mini first aid kits for the Eugene Mission. Since then we've expanded to include many more community events as well as other programs ranging from an afterschool program to playdates to summer camps to school/church visits and more. We also keep the website stocked with easy service ideas for families to do on their own time as well as great examples of kids doing service so that any child anywhere can feel like they can do something to help others.
Stories from Our Founders, Miriam and Mandi:
In November 2017 we scheduled a Community Event to help prep Thanksgiving dinner at the Eugene Mission. As soon as I put it on the calendar a few months earlier, sign-ups started pouring in. It seemed that everyone was excited about the chance to help those in need at a time when they were celebrating the plenty they’d been blessed with. By early October we had 40 families (over 80 people) signed up to attend the event and the Eugene Mission asked that we cap it off. Immediately names were filling our wait list. The week of the event, some families got sick, but others from the wait list stepped right in. When the event day came, we filled the kitchen with volunteers. Around 80 people came to help chop, sort, dice, crack, and clean. As I looked at all the faces of families with kids of all ages smiling at each other, I felt a sense of pride in the work we do. I realized that’s what Little Hands Can is all about. It’s about bringing families together, creating a sense of community, and giving back to the community we love.
During one of our first Community Events (during the summer of 2015), we were putting together kits for the Eugene Mission at Skinner’s Butte park. Kids who were at the park playing that day stopped by our booth and put them together. One of the little girls stopped at our table told me how she used to live at the Eugene Mission. She smiled as she made the kits for the place she once called home. Though it broke my heart to hear her story, it’s then that I realized that our Little Hands Can events should be accessible to kids from all backgrounds. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep Community Events and Happy Helpers free to anyone who wants to come. I’m also so grateful for the grant funding which has made it possible for us to offer a free After School program to kids at low income schools.
In March of 2017 we had a Community Event at the Northwest Dog Project. While there, we took a tour of the facility, planted some beautiful flowers, played with puppies and made drawings to decorate the walls of the dog kennels. The kids had a blast as they learned about all the good done for these dogs in need. Though I knew the kids had fun, I wondered how much of a difference they’d made for the Northwest Dog Project. It was not until nearly a year later when I learned the impact we’d had on them. I was told that one of the dogs that we’d made cards and signs for died shortly after we’d left. The death of the beloved dog was extremely sad for everyone at the Northwest Dog Project, but especially the director. The employees gathered the cards we’d made and placed them in the director’s office. She was moved to tears as she read the notes that these little kids had made for that beloved dog.
Leading up to Christmas each year, we invite schools, daycares, clubs, and families to make Christmas cards for the Eugene Mission. The cards always roll in and we often have 2 for every bed that we deliver on Christmas Eve! In December 2017, as Christmas approached, my husband asked our 6 year old daughter over the dinner table what her favorite part of Christmas was. I assumed she’d respond with “presents” or perhaps the lights and cookies. The response she gave was perhaps the last thing I expected her to say. “It’s when we deliver the Christmas cards to the Eugene Mission.” Not only does my daughter love it, it makes an impact for the receivers as well. The Community Engagement Manager at the Mission has told us about the impact it makes for the residents, including the normally gruff men who on Christmas morning sit around the breakfast table discussing the cards they received the night before.
I have loved seeing the smiles on young and old at Happy Helpers. Because of the regularity of the program, we often get regulars who we know by name and we get to see cute relationships form. One resident in particular, by the name of Richard, was particularly fond of kids and was not shy about stepping right in to give a baby's tummy a tickle or help a preschooler out with a project. When we first came to Waterford Grand, my Ellie was only a baby and I was mostly concerned about her not crying during Happy Helpers to disrupt the activity. But, I quickly learned that she could be a great helper there too. This wonderful resident would move his wheelchair right up to whoever was holding her and captivate her with his funny facial expressions and kind spirit. It made Ellie's day and I would bet that it made Richard's too.
When Anna and Ivory were 2, we were at the Eugene Mission helping to prepare for their Thanksgiving dinner. The three of us ended up at a table making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I gave both girls knives with the intent that maybe they could help scoop jelly out or "help" spread a bit to keep them occupied while I made sandwiches; however, they quickly showed me that they were capable of much more. These 2 year olds aptly made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dozens of people that day, doing it almost entirely without my assistance. The hardest part was keeping them stocked with stacks of bread fast enough! Their ability to help shouldn't have been a surprise, after all I was running an organization whose mission is to create service opportunities for kids because we know that kids can make a difference. But that day I came to believe it at an entirely new level. I hope I never underestimate the good that kids, even (and especially) very young kids, can do in this world.
Stories from Community Members and Events:
From HAPPY HELPERS: In the winter of 2018, a few of the Directors of Little Hands Can were chatting with the staff at Waterford Grand, one of our partner organizations, after a particularly inspiring Happy Helpers service activity. One of the residents was a former host for an American children’s television series. An aide who knows her commented that this was the most delighted and animated he had seen her since she arrived at Waterford Grand 9 months prior. Through tear-filled eyes, he said she is on hospice now and has not been very lively, but on this particular day, interacting with the children and seeing them dance to music, she displayed a joyful side of herself that he had not seen before. We all agreed that this was a beautiful and powerful reminder that little hands really can make positive and powerful change.
In 2018, our After School Grow and CARE program teachers are loving the kids and are thrilled to be reaching a population of children that don't typically access our programs and curriculum in any of our other settings. Maria is proud of the awesome projects these kids have done and the thoughtful conversations they have had with each other on a wide range of really important issues. Over the last few years, she is most proud of the way they have practiced their powers of observation, creativity and self-advocacy to think about what problems exist in the world around them and what actions they themselves can take to work on them.
From one of our COMMUNITY EVENTS: In 2018, with the help of countless school groups, church groups, friends of Little Hands Can, and other community members, we completed close to 700 holiday cards for those utilizing the services at the Eugene Mission and Shelter Care. As we were promoting this project on social media, we had two people reach out to us about it:
1. Tracy: "I was homeless 3 years ago for about 3 or 4 months, and I stayed at the Mission. These beautiful little touches realy mean a lot when you are homeless and leaving abusive situations. It renews your faith that things will be ok and people do care about you. It is wonderful!"
2. Jeff: "Having been homeless as well, I can also say it's little things like that that mean so much and that so many take for granted."
From one of our Partnership/In-Program opportunities with Ridgeline Montessori:
1. “Thank you so much for coming to Ridgeline Montessori tonight. My son said it was the best day ever! It was such a pleasure to work with you and I hope we can again soon.” -Heather, Ridgeline Montessori
2. “This [service project and partnership with LHC] was seriously so fun. Thank you so much for coming to our school. Everyone had a great time!” -Amanda, Ridgeline Montessori