Something was missing, though, in their busy lives.
“There was just this piece that wasn’t there,” explains Mann. “We really weren’t involved in any service type projects in the community and I felt the need to show my kids the importance of giving back and how to help others that are less fortunate.”
The Woodinville mom wanted to see if other parents would be interested in finding activities that their kids could do to develop this type of awareness.
She had a sense that the Wellington Elementary community would be supportive of her idea and soon got approval through the PTA to offer a service-oriented club.
The program, Helping Hands, is now in its second year and going strong with an average of 150 to 175 kids, who meet monthly to work on specific projects.
“Our mission,” explains Mann, “is to provide opportunities for Wellington students to become more conscious of the needs of others and to serve our community in positive ways. Simply put, we hope to care for and share with those in need in our local community.”
The club is open to all Wellington students, and their parents are also invited to come and assist Mann.
“It’s a great opportunity for families to participate together,” she adds. “We also get several older kids from the junior high and high school to help us and in return they get credit for service hours.”
In October, the club kicked off the year by making hundreds of cards and masks for patients at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, who had to spend Halloween in a hospital room instead of at parties or out trick-or-treating.
For November, the club’s theme was “Service for Soldiers” and the group created cards and collected Halloween candy for the servicemen and women involved in Operation Iraq-Afghanistan.
This month’s theme was “Winter Warmth” and the club partnered with Friends of Youth to make Christmas decorations and ornaments, and assemble care packages for various youth and family shelters in the area.
“We identify populations that are in need of assistance, such as the homeless, elderly and ill children, and then reach out to different organizations that serve these populations,” says Mann.
“I want to educate kids and their families about these organizations, to bring awareness of what’s being done locally, and then if they want to help these places on their own, at least they’ll know where to start.”
The local woman has a committee of eight women who help her gather and prepare the materials for the projects.
Wellington’s P.T.A. helps with some of the funding and last year the Northshore Schools Foundation gave the club a $900 grant to buy basic supplies.
Mann adds that parents have also been very generous with donations, as well as some local businesses including Red Robin, Rite Aid and Home Depot.
“Helping Hands allows kids to do something positive for others,” says Caroline Ahlstrom, volunteer coordinator for the club. “Sometimes it’s hard to find things to do on your own with your kids, but with the club, it’s easy and convenient, and the projects are always a lot of fun for everyone.”
Mann notes that choosing the appropriate activities for the various developmental levels can be challenging.
She explains that it’s important to select projects that the children can do and that can also be appreciated by the target populations.
She and her committee set up stations for the kids to rotate through and identify specific tables that are geared toward the individual grade levels.
At each meeting, Mann reports back to the children about the responses she receives from the recipients. She reads letters of thanks and shares the comments of gratitude with the group.
“They love hearing from the organizations,” she says. “They realize that although they are children, they still have the ability to make a difference in the lives of those in need.”
Fifth grader Lily Pell was involved in the club last year and was eager to join again this year.
“I love arts and crafts and it’s lots of fun to make the different projects,” she comments.
“It makes me feel good to help others and I like hearing that the people are happy to get the stuff we make for them.”
Lily’s favorite activity was making Christmas wreaths last year for House of Hope.
Nathan Ahlstrom, 10, is also in his second year with the club and looks forward to the monthly meetings and projects. He says, “I like helping people who don’t have enough food and shelter. I think it’s important for every kid to help out once in a while and do a good thing for a good cause.”
At December’s meeting, representatives from Friends of Youth spoke to the members of Helping Hands to explain their work and the populations they serve.
Outreach coordinator Melissa King told the group that the organization relies on outside groups like Helping Hands for support and donations. She told the kids that clubs like theirs are an integral part of the agency’s ability to continue to serve homeless youth. “Youth helping youth,” she adds. “That’s really special.”