National Program Works with Non-Profits to Turn the Next Generation into Generous, Empathetic Leaders
Learning Experience with the Family, Voice-Assisted Technology and Menu of Charities Makes Helpen a Unique Method to Instill Compassion, Community and Giving into Kids
In such an extreme time, when messages about community, hope and compassion are lost to news about disease, politics and social unrest, how can parents instill the values in their kids they are not seeing in the media? A new program called Helpen is looking to fill that void. It’s a revolutionary method that bridges families to worthy non-profits through family activity, voice assisted learning and life skills designed to shape kids into the next generation of leaders. Realizing children are in their most crucial development period between ages 2-9, Helpen uses that time frame to expose kids to examples of charity, community and selflessness. The result, says creator Craig Sanders, is that kids will learn empathy, accountability, decision making and how compassion and giving benefits the world.
“Helpen is a program designed to empower kids to learn, give and understand the positive consequences of actions rooted in kindness,” said Sanders. “In such a formative time in their lives, showing kids the power of generosity is an important part of them developing into responsible, aware and selfless individuals. Helpen is about providing an experience that will help shape the next generation into the empathetic and generous leaders of tomorrow.”
The concept is simple: every week, Helpen sends postcards to parents listing pre-screened, kid appropriate nonprofits. Kids pick a charity they want to learn about and support with a $1 donation. Parents enter donations using a special QR code on the cards and then activate Amazon’s Alexa to share a customized message about their chosen cause and how far their $1 contribution can go. Included in the voice experience are real-life examples of what their donation can help accomplish, whether it’s feeding a horse, giving PPE, providing life-saving medications or delivering colorful bedsheets to kids undergoing cancer treatment in the hospitals.
Parents are already impressed with the new program.
“We did our first Helpen session last night and it was a hit,” said Hillary, a mother of two whose family recently subscribed to Helpen. “My 7-year-old’s eyes lit up when he realized he was helping provide coloring books for sick kids. This is going to be a fabulous journey of teaching empathy and giving.
“Letting children see how their decision benefitted and impacted a cause or life is a valuable lesson they might not otherwise receive,” says Sanders. “This kind of activity builds character, empathy and a desire to contribute. Consequences has become a negative word; Helpen shows how it can be a positive.”
Helpen also shows kids the immediacy of their decision making: how even $1 donations, when combined with others, can lead to big change.
“Helpen lets kids make decisions and then see the consequences right away. It’s about short feedback loops to help cement the idea that your kids can help others. It’s about driving home ownership and accountability of their actions. Right from your dinner table.”
Sanders has already enlisted a collection of nonprofits to participate in Helpen, like VisionSpring, which donates eyeglasses to kids around the world so they can see in school; RxART, which installs art and gives coloring books to children’s hospitals across the US; Sheets from Home, which provides colorful bedsheets to kids undergoing cancer treatment in the hospital; Wild Tomorrow Fund, which feeds orphaned rhinos; One Tree Planted, which plants a tree for every dollar donation; Girlstart, providing girls with STEM education; and Afya Foundation, giving PPE to those on the frontlines of the pandemic, among others. Every organization is pre-screened, including verification of its nonprofit status and its ability to provide content suitable for children.
Helpen has impressed the non-profit community.
“Girlstart is an organization that seeks to inspire girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through innovative learning methods, and any chance we get to share our story, mission and benefits is a great opportunity,” Chelsey Pippin, Engagement Officer Annual Fund, Marketing, Special Events, Girlstart. “Helpen is a way non-profits can reach young audiences at an important time in their development, and teaches them the values and benefits of supporting efforts like ours. This is a terrific service to kids and the non-profit community, and we are very pleased to participate.”
Helpen is a wonderful platform for introducing the impact of supporting charitable causes to kids and making it a part of family conversations,” said Megan Skidmore, Director of Development for RxART. “RxART’s projects are designed by celebrated artists to brighten and bring inspiration to children’s hospital settings, making them more uplifting experiences for young patients. Whether a child who learns about RxART has been in the hospital or not, the way Helpen presents RxART’s role in donating coloring books and making hospital visits a bit less frightening seems like something they’ll connect with. One of our biggest challenges is reaching new audiences and donors to keep our projects expanding throughout North America. We are honored to be an early charitable partner to be featured on HELPEN, helping RxART’s name and mission be something more and more families learn about and support.”
Sanders came up with the idea for Helpen while applying to Harvard Business School. Though he didn’t get in, the process led him to examine his own life story and how experiences from his upbringing helped determine his life path. In particular, how much his journey was pre-determined in his formative years. What if, he thought, we could get to kids in that crucial part of their lives and show how generosity and kindness can not only shape their lives, but others too. He chose the name Helpen as a nod to his time playing pro hockey in Amsterdam. The name means “help out” in Dutch.
The more he developed the concept behind Helpen, he began to see new benefits beyond its core mission. Among them: bringing families together for a group experience; incorporating technology into learning; providing non-profits an avenue to reach audiences at an early formative stage; and showing kids how their actions can influence current day conditions, including COVID and the economy.
Sanders is especially focused on giving parents tools that are lacking in public education, where values like kindness are empathy are rarely incorporated.
“So much of what we strive for is based on an outdated education system and catering to metrics that will get us into the right schools or obtain the right jobs,” says Sanders. “We’ve been ignoring the characteristics that truly open doors later in life: generosity, empathy, intellectual humility. These are the traits that will determine success going forward.”
“There’s an irony that teaching what will matter in the future doesn’t take hours looking at a screen,” he says, “but just a couple minutes a week, through conversation, right at the dinner table.”
Sanders, a Kansas native, attended Boston University, where he walked-on to the men’s hockey team, and eventually played overseas in Amsterdam and Australia. He later pursued a career in bond trading, which he credits with teaching him risk management and decision-making skills. It was during that time he began fundraising for non-profits like the Travis Roy Foundation and the Mark Bavis Leadership Foundation, all Boston based organizations with strong ties to the New England hockey communities. “Those years gave me the insight and confidence to leave finance and take a shot with Helpen,” he says. “It’s been a fascinating ride, meeting some incredible people along the way and I’m extremely excited to make an impact for families, nonprofits, and our communities alike.”