Helen Yi is on a Mission (To Inspire Kids)

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Inspiring kids through the joy of giving is the goal of Helen Yi’s work with Touching Heart, the Northern Virginia organization she co-founded five years ago with her daughter, Taylor Yi. In that time, they’ve proven the tremendous capacity that children have for service and aid to others.

Touching Heart, through local workshops and school clubs, trains youth to design their own charitable giving campaigns. Touching Heart coaches then works with children on the execution of those campaigns, offering guidance on budget planning, public speaking and team leadership. Touching Heart has assisted children in hosting everything from a fashion show to a fun walk to a bingo night, all of which raised funds for the children’s charity of choice.

Helen Yi answers questions about the history of Touching Heart and its impact on her family, on area youth and on the larger world.

JS: Tell me about the founding of Touching Heart.

HY: When my first-born daughter, Taylor, turned 13, she told her friends that she wanted them to donate to a local charity of their choice instead of giving her a birthday present. To her surprise, her friends took part wholeheartedly. Some gave to an animal shelter, some to a homeless shelter and some simply did something kind. Taylor noticed that each of them really enjoyed helping people in need. That was when the idea struck us, and Touching Heart actually began.

JS: How has the legacy of your grandmother’s altruism influenced your own charity work?

HY: My grandmother had a strong belief in the power of education, and she wanted children to achieve the highest level of education that their abilities would allow. She started an orphanage in South Korea and built four schools. I wanted to be just like my grandmother, and she has been a lifelong role model for me.

JS: How can Touching Heart help expand the worldview of program participants?

HY: Through hands-on learning and service projects, our programs inspire the next generation of compassionate leaders, empowering them to make a difference in the world. Children actually see the results of their efforts through photographs, conference calls and Skype conversations. So many times, children donate their time or money but rarely see the actual impact they make. Touching Heart believes this evidence is critical to inspiring children to continue to give.

JS: What impact has the success of Touching Heart had on your own daughter, Taylor?

HY: Touching Heart allowed Taylor, young as she was, to feel the satisfaction and goodwill that comes after taking an idea from genesis to fruition, while tackling adversity and challenges along the way. Taylor’s work with Touching Heart has helped her gain an appreciation for all nonprofit organizations and see the importance of funding social causes.

JS: How can parents best help their children incorporate acts of charity into their busy routines?

HY: Time is limited for many families, and it can be difficult to devote hours to service once school is back in session. Small acts of kindness can mean a lot. Talk to your children daily about what you’ve done to show kindness to someone else, and ask them to tell you how they’ve shown kindness.

JS: How can schools become involved with Touching Heart’s mission?

HY: Touching Heart offers a before- or after-school, eight-week program for elementary school students in grades four through six. We also have a middle school club and hope to launch a high school club soon. In addition to these classes, we offer one-time workshops called The Art of Giving, which teaches kids about the importance of giving and the impact they can have [on] others. Our Kids on a Mission program teaches kids the steps of fundraising to help people in need. This is a leadership program where children work with Touching Heart coaches and executives to run an event on behalf of a charitable cause.

JS: How many schools does Touching Heart currently serve with its educational programs and after school clubs? Are there plans to expand in the region?

HY: After launching the first school program just a year ago, Touching Heart has now held more than 10 school sessions. We’re in four schools in Fairfax County and in discussion with three schools in Loudoun County for the fall.

JS: It’s back-to-school time! What backto- school advice have you shared with your daughter as she heads to college for the first time?

HY: I’ve asked my Taylor to be open to trying new things and to venture out and discover who she is and who she wants to be. Grades are important, but finding your passion and making lifetime true friends are just as important. My hope is that she seizes this opportunity and experiences all that life has to offer. I want her to know that she can change the world.

If you would like to see a Touching Heart program come to your school, please contact Helen Yi at Helen. [email protected] or Allison Gallagher, Program Manager, at [email protected].