Kind-Hearted Kids

Kind-Hearted Kids

Young people see problems, solve them


Volunteerism is often the engine that keeps nonprofit organizations chugging along as they help support our community’s most vulnerable neighbors. Parents of kids and teenagers that get involved in volunteerism at an early age know what research has shown: Civic involvement can boost self-esteem, school performance and empathy levels in youthful volunteers. But how can parents get their kids involved in helping others in the community?

“I would say from a parent’s standpoint, always consider authenticity,” says Shanda Sloan, mother of Gable Sloan, who started selling baked goods and donating the proceeds to nonprofit organizations when she was just 9. “Is it something your child is naturally drawn to? For Gable, she was baking, and it was something she loved to do, so it was natural for her to parlay this into something where she could make a contribution to her community.”

And, say parents, these kid-sized efforts are often remarkably effective.

“Being a kid is a kind of superpower,” says Martin Miller, parent of Alexander and Nikolai Margulis, founders of the 7hills Youth Council. “If it’s me trying to get your attention at the Farmers’ Market, you’ll politely slip past. But try ignoring an earnest 11-year-old who’s talking excitedly about ‘functional zero’. If you walk away without handing over $5, you’re a stronger person than me.”

Our Town talked to Alexander, Nikolai, Gable and seven other Northwest Arkansas kids who are making a real difference in their communities.

Little Free Pantry

Girl Scout Troop 5343 is no stranger to helping out its community: This tight-knit group of five girls, all 11-year-olds about to enter sixth grade, have been working together for four years now and have undertaken several projects to help others. A year or two ago, for example, they made and sold glass ornaments to raise money to purchase cat and dog oxygen masks for the Johnson Fire Department. Troop co-leader Kelly Barnett says that particular project was suggested by Dr. Emily Warman, the troop’s other leader and a veterinarian.

“Dr. Emily really wanted to show these girls what a little work could do for the community,” notes Barnett.

When it came time to choose their Bronze Award project so they could earn the highest honor available to Junior Girl Scouts, the scouts considered several different options before deciding to create a Little Free Pantry out of an old newspaper machine. The girls had already seen a food pantry in action at their elementary school, so they knew how beneficial it could be.

“At [Walker Elementary] this year, they started a food pantry,” says Caroline Barnett. “We did ‘Birthday in a Bag’ — we had a lot of birthday cake items, so they could take a bag home, and that way they could actually celebrate birthdays without having to pay money. We noticed that the bags were gone really quick, and it made us really happy, so when our [troop leaders] brought this idea [of a food pantry] to us, we were really happy because we were going to help the community.”

The girls all pitched in to paint the lively, brightly colored pantry, which they hope will ultimately be placed at Westwood Elementary School in Springdale.

Taking on this project, and the research that went into it, has been a real eye-opener, agree these Girl Scouts.

“Before I started working on [this project], I never even noticed how many homeless people there are, but now, almost every day, I see them,” says Macy Cook. “You know that bridge on Elm Springs Road? Almost every day, I’m seeing someone over there holding signs. This is important, because it will give people who don’t have food or shelter something to eat.”

“Our community leaders do lots of stuff for our community, and we also need to give back,” says Emma Riggs.

“I think a lot of people should do this, because the community needs people to work together so we can make our community a better place,” agrees Adalyn Hanning.

The girls link this project — and the community projects they plan on doing in the future — with something they’ve heard frequently since joining the Girl Scouts.

“‘Leave the place better than you found it,’” recites Sadie McClain. “It’s something we’re always told.”

“But we’re not following it just because it’s a rule — we’re choosing to follow it,” says Caroline.

7hills Youth Council

When Alexander and Nikolai Margulis started noticing people standing at the intersection of South School Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Fayetteville holding signs, asking for help, the brothers had a simple and straightforward reaction.

“We noticed that it was a problem in Fayetteville, our home, and we thought we could fix it,” says Nikolai, who is 11 (and “about to turn 12,” he says). For his birthday party the year prior, Nikolai had asked his guests to donate to 7hills Homeless Center instead of bringing presents, so the organization was already on the brothers’ radar. “We asked them if we could start a youth council there, and [7hills COO] Steven Mills helped us to do it.”

“It’s hard not to think, ‘That’s naive — how can a group of kids help with a complex social problem that so many of us feel helpless about?’” says Miller. “But then you see them get to work, and you realize, ‘We can all do something.’”

Compassionate and formidable — on a phone interview, the duo speak so eloquently and maturely about their project that they sound more like 40-year-old CEOs than the preteen and teenager they are — Alexander and Nikolai managed to recruit dozens of friends and schoolmates to form the 7Hills Youth Council. This youth-led organization developed a mission statement, handed out agendas at every meeting and collaborated with area businesses for the benefit of 7Hills.

The brothers are emphatic in sharing credit for their success with their fellow council members.

“Parents did help, but it was really a kid-led event,” says Alexander. “There’s no way we could have done it without the other kids. We were the instigators, but the other kids on the council are amazing.”

The council organized multiple events to raise money for 7hills.

“Our first event was in the summer,” says Nikolai. “We decided that every other week, we would meet at the Farmers’ Market, and we would set up a booth. We would walk up to people and give our spiel.”

“We explained how big a problem homelessness was,” says Alexander. “It’s grown, and it’s possible to stop homelessness. It’s a battle we can fight and win.”

The kids’ enthusiasm, optimism and hard work would net them a whopping $5,000 in donations from their efforts at the Farmers’ Market. Later that fall, they set their sights on hosting an event that would help raise money for sleeping bags. They secured a donation of 150 sleeping bags from Coleman, a company that specializes in outdoor equipment, and more than 20 area businesses donated gift cards to be raffled off. Food was donated by Woodstone, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Rick’s Bakery and Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcakes. J.B. Hunt and Walmart both made contributions. The event was packed, and the evening was an undeniable success.

The brothers enthusiastically encourage others their age to get involved with helping their community.

“It’s a lot of work, but the reward is just so good,” says Alexander. “You really feel like you’re doing something for people. It’s so gratifying, passing someone on the street and knowing you helped them out. And pretty much anyone can do this. You just have to have the energy to see something wrong and try to fix it, no matter how big or how small the scale.”

Gable’s Bakery

Gable Sloan was 9 years old when she turned her love of baking into a way to help her community. It wasn’t long before what started out as a small, curb-side bake sale patronized by friends, family and neighbors turned into a booming catering service, and “Gable’s Bakery” was born. The American Heart Association, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Malala Fund, 7hills Homeless Center and Susan G. Komen Ozark were just a few of the organizations that benefited from Gable’s Bakery. Gable says she chose the organizations based on the needs she saw in the community.

“The first six weeks after my brother was born, he was in the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and so that was close to my heart,” she says. “The American Heart Association was special to me because we have a friend and neighbor who has gotten a lot of help from them — he had to have a heart surgery that saved his life.”

Later, Gable would also create a $1,000 scholarship award for a Fayetteville High School graduate who had shown a level of commitment to community volunteerism. When she was 11, she was awarded a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her efforts, and, when she was 13, she made a $25,000 gift to the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation to be used to “level the academic playing field for our most vulnerable students,” according to a news release. Prior to that, she had partnered with the FPEF to raise awareness of the students who struggle with housing and food insecurity.

“I organized a sock drive during the 2017-2018 school year in partnership with the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation — I collected 395 pairs of socks, which represented the number of students in our community who are living in transition or poverty or homelessness,” she says. The socks were displayed as a Christmas tree at various sites around Fayetteville, spreading the word about children in need.

It was a lot of work for a young person to pull off while simultaneously maintaining good grades: Gable says much of her free time was spent on her efforts to raise money and awareness, but “knowing that money you raised goes to causes that are important to you and that will help others makes anything worthwhile,” she says.

Gable’s mom, Shanda Sloan, says that, as much as Gable has given to the community, her activism has benefited her, as well.

“The community has reached out to her in a way that is unfathomable,” says Sloan. “She’s had experiences and interactions with adults and children that we wouldn’t be able to offer her in any other way. She’s been able to speak to groups and exercise some of that muscle. She’s learned, sometimes in hard ways, how to manage the responsibilities she’s taken on. … She’s learned that she has to put her own feelings aside for feelings of others, and she’s had to turn down things she wanted to do because she had made commitments.”

As she enters high school, Gable is focusing on the future and says she is “moving on to different projects as I transition on to high school. I’m excited about all of the volunteer opportunities FHS has to offer.”

She says she would recommend getting involved in the community to any kids out there who might be interested.

“When you’re young, getting to see that you’re making an impact on your community — it’s a special experience,” says Gable. “And the impact is real, whether you’re volunteering at a food drive or if you start a nationwide campaign. It teaches you that the smallest things can make the biggest impact.”

Birthday Giving

Last year at the Humane Society of the Ozarks annual Dogwood Walk — a pet parade that acts as one of the organization’s largest fundraisers — a tiny 6-year-old stood in front of the large crowd and gave a speech as the event’s grand marshal.

“It’s so good to see so many people here to support animals,” said Marley Patrick, addressing the crowd like a pro. “It’s easy to make a difference — it starts with one person, and you can do it, too, just like me.”

Marley’s mother, Chrystal Patrick, says Marley wrote her Dogwood speech all by herself.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Marley declares. “I just said, ‘I’m going to get up here and do this.’ And I said my motto — ‘Adopt, don’t shop; and spay and neuter.’”

Now 7, Marley Patrick has been raising money for the Northwest Arkansas area’s pet shelters since she was 2, when she opened up her first lemonade-and-doughnut-stand at her grandparents’ garage sale. Since then, she created a donation box that sits in her grandparents’ Prairie Grove flea market, the Rustic Rooster, that benefits the Prairie Grove pound. Most impressively, she’s forgone birthday presents every year, instead asking her guests to bring cat and dog food and other pet supplies so she can donate them to a local animal shelter.

“When she was 3, she came up with this grand idea where she would build all of these little houses and have this whole community where she would foster dogs, and she would be the vet,” says Marley’s mom.

Chrystal Patrick says both Marley and her sister Cortlyn — who is 4 — are given the option of choosing to receive either gifts for themselves or donations for nonprofit organizations and, so far, both girls have opted for donations. Both girls say they plan on continuing the tradition.

“I think the general motto for our house is to spread kindness and love,” explains Patrick. “No matter what anybody looks like, or what race, religion or color they are, no matter who they love or don’t love — it’s all about spreading kindness.”


How to Find Opportunities to Help

Family-to-Family Inc. will connect you with a family in need so you can help provide food, personal hygeine products and other basic life essentials.

Volunteer Match will help you and your family find volunteer opportunities in your own community.

Generation On offers resources and ideas for kids who are interested in contributing to their community.

Youth Service America was founded in 1986 and seeks to support children and youth who are “committed to a lifetime of meaningful service, learning and leadership.”

Categories: Maker Space