Crafting Kind Kids was founded by a mom who wanted to create more opportunities—kid-appropriate opportunities—for her own children. Victoria Hannley believed (still does) that it’s important for kids to start volunteering within the community at a young age, in order to develop empathy and an awareness of those less fortunate than themselves. So she created what she felt her kids needed—what she felt every child needs: a way to be kind to others.
Kids are our future. Teaching them to get involved with local organizations is critical as our children will take over from us as stewards of the community. For these reasons, and because kindness is an important value we want all children to learn, we were happy to give a small grant to this child and family-oriented nonprofit. We put some questions to Crafting Kind Kids Founder Victoria Hannley to learn more:
Kars4Kids: Tell us how you came to found Crafting Kind Kids. What was it that told you such an organization was needed?
Victoria Hannley: Several years ago, we were headed to a family event to benefit a local hospital. In the midst of gathering the family to get into the car and attend this function, I noticed that the focus was not on helping sick children in the hospital but more so on which friends would be there and which t-shirts my kids should wear. When we finally arrived at the event and my kids all scattered to participate in the various event activities, I found myself wondering if any of the other parents there also had kids who did not fully realize why they were there and who they were helping.
It was at that moment that I realized my kids needed to get out into the community and experience its needs first-hand. Even though as a family we would talk about social issues and ways to help people in need, my kids weren’t making the connection.
So I began to seek out nonprofit organizations and opportunities where I could take my young kids (then ages 4, 7, and 9) to participate in hands-on volunteering activities. And I kept being told “no.” Frustrated that organizations told me children were too young to help, I began to develop kid-friendly projects with a handful of nonprofits who were open to the idea of a parent volunteering alongside their child(ren).
Over time, not only did my kids love the various experiences we would have volunteering together, but I began to notice a change in their perspective. They were meeting people they would not typically meet, driving through neighborhoods that are not part of our home-school-activity loop and participating in projects that were new and different, such as sorting through hotel shampoo bottles in order to pack resource kits or bundling diapers for families in need.
As I saw these changes in my own children, friends began to ask to tag along because they too were looking for ways to get their children out into the community to give back. And so the idea for “Crafting Kind Kids” was born because you’re never too young to volunteer.
Kars4Kids: Generally, we ask grant recipients to tell us about their demographics: whom is it they serve? In your case, it seems there are two different groups you serve: the ones who are being kind, and those in great need of that kindness. Can you tell us a bit about both groups, please?
Victoria Hannley: We provide fun, meaningful, and intentional hands-on volunteering opportunities for families with young kids. Most of our projects are geared toward ages 5-13, which is an age often excluded from a nonprofit’s volunteering opportunities. While most projects are targeted to school-aged children, our youngest volunteer was age two!
Our projects attract families from all corners of Tucson, including the neighboring communities of Vail, Sahuarita and Oro Valley. Our Kid Volunteers come from five local area school districts including private, parochial, and Montessori schools. We work with families that span a wide range of socioeconomic status, all of whom believe in the importance of exposing young children to the benefits of giving back and service at a young age. Additionally, our volunteer projects have been used as positive, safe and healthy activities for foster families and social work agencies and the children they work with.
Crafting Kind Kids exposes children to the many needs within our community and empowers families to address systemic issues like food insecurity, homelessness and other societal inequalities. All of our hands-on family volunteer programs are designed to expose young children to the needs in our community, and we focus on these six areas: homelessness/food insecurity, environment/sustainability, community beautification, arts and culture, community health and wellbeing, and awareness and empathy. While we cannot always directly interact with those who will benefit from our volunteering, we work hard to ensure Kid Volunteers know whom they are serving and why. We do this by starting each in-person volunteer project with a kid-friendly presentation by the partnering nonprofit, where we invite their executive director or staff to speak with the Kid Volunteers about the problem they are working to solve and why this particular volunteer project matters. We work hard to humanize the “other” by planting the seeds of kindness, compassion and empathy via fun, hands-on, and age-appropriate give-back projects.
Kars4Kids: Taking a look at your upcoming events calendar, we see three events, and two of them are sold out. How many participants do you accept per event? What does “sold out” mean, exactly? Aren’t your volunteer projects free or at very low cost?
Victoria Hannley: We post new in-person and at-home projects on a monthly basis. Since most of our in-person projects are held at the benefiting nonprofit’s facility and/or at a community space, like a public library, we often have to work within these space limitations as well as the scope of the project. Most in-person projects include 3-5 families with an average attendance of 10-12 people (Kid Volunteers and their parent(s)).
Since our launch in August 2021, our in-person projects “sell out” within a few days of going live, which is a fancy way to say that once we have enough registrants for that particular project, registration closes. This is a good problem to have! Families with young kids are seeking opportunities to expose their kids to the needs within the community while simultaneously having positive, screen-free quality time together.
In order to ensure we have an ongoing supply of in-person family volunteer projects, we actively seek Parent Volunteers to help lead our in-person projects so that we can offer more opportunities to more families at more times. Creating an “army” of behind-the-scenes parent helpers to expand our volunteering offerings is our focus for 2023!
Many of our in-person projects are free whereas some have a low-cost family registration fee of $10. Not only do our collaborating nonprofits need our volunteer help, they also look to Crafting Kind Kids to provide project supplies. Our small family registration fee enables us to purchase supplies and snacks for our in-person projects. The average volunteer project costs approximately $200. As a 501(c)(3), Crafting Kind Kids has no paid staff and relies on the generous contributions of the community to fuel our family volunteer programming.
Kars4Kids: Crafting Kindness for Kids has an upcoming holiday break event. Can you tell us about this event?
Victoria Hannley: We have held many give-back projects over breaks from school. We had a busy summer vacation volunteering schedule from hosting park cleanups; assembling art kits for local Afghan refugees; to helping our local Junior Achievement chapter organize their school curriculum materials. Just because kids are off from school doesn’t mean volunteering should stop! (Plus parents are always looking for a get-out-of-the-house activity for kids.)
This holiday season, Kid Volunteers will be volunteering at our local diaper bank where they break down packages of diapers into smaller bundles for equitable distribution across Southern Arizona. Additionally, we often provide families with at-home projects that can also be done during off-time from school, such as creating birthday cards for sick children or peanut butter sandwich-making for a local soup kitchen.
Kars4Kids: What is Giving Back Gardening?
Victoria Hannley: “Give Back Gardening” is our holiday-themed environment and sustainability project in collaboration with a local nonprofit, Watershed Management Group. Their mission is to teach homes, schools, businesses and communities how to harvest water and live sustainably in the desert.
In this particular project, Kid Volunteers will participate in a variety of gardening give back service activities, including pruning, mulching, litter pickup and harvesting native edible plants. Additionally, families can set intentions for 2023 by discussing how to carry what they learn back to their homes, schools, and communities.
Kars4Kids: It looks as though an effort is made to ensure kids, while they are participating in volunteer work, also have fun. How do you make these events fun? Why is that a crucial element in the work of giving to the community?
Victoria Hannley: Planting the seeds of kindness, empathy and compassion as soon as possible is key to crafting the next generation of leaders, activists, philanthropists and overall kind, caring humans. And if we want to craft a generous generation, we need to both provide them with the opportunities to give back AND make it fun so that volunteering becomes something they want to do again and again. Ideally, we want volunteering to become part of a family’s culture with the kids leading the charge to volunteer.
In order for kids to get up early on a Saturday morning and give up cartoons, the projects need to be fun while at the same time impactful to the benefiting organization/population. We do this by putting forth a lot of time, effort, and consideration into what projects are suitable to the 5-13 age range that can be done within a 60-90 minute timeframe. Projects are often active with a variety of hands-on stations so that kids can move around, or can pick the one activity that speaks to their personality.
Because our in-person projects are done in conjunction with multiple families, kids naturally befriend another child and parents chit-chat making volunteering both functional and friendly.
Another way we work to make volunteering fun is to ensure our Kid Volunteers are prepared and not stepping into a new environment without context. In the days leading up to the volunteer project, families are sent conversation prompts so that they can prepare and discuss with their Kid Volunteers what the project is. Every in-person project starts off with a kid-friendly presentation and/or story so that Kid Volunteers know who they are helping and why their work matters. The effects of hearing from those doing the work, humanizing those who will benefit from the volunteer project and continuing the conversation at home creates a full circle, well-rounded service experience for young children.
And we always wrap up every project with a takeaway snack. (Our monthly park cleanups always include donuts!)
Kars4Kids: How do you find volunteer projects for your volunteers?
Victoria Hannley: There is a lot of behind-the-scenes time spent cultivating relationships with fellow nonprofits in order to create suitable family volunteer programs. We strive to offer families volunteer opportunities that are unique to Crafting Kind Kids, and not ones that anyone can do at any time on their own.
Kars4Kids: Are most events not just for the kids, but for the entire family? Why is that important?
Victoria Hannley: Given the young age of the volunteers, parents/grandparents/guardians are required to participate. Plus volunteering is an activity that a family can do together! It’s one of the best ways to check multiple feel-good boxes at the same time:
Additionally, kids learn from our example. If we model giving back, and are excited to do so, then we craft kids who will want to help, volunteer and make service a part of who they are.
Kars4Kids: How did the pandemic affect your operations?
Victoria Hannley: We launched during the pandemic! Families wore masks and adhered to an organization’s or facility’s COVID policies. Because we were all searching for ways to help and find purpose, families were thrilled to get back to in-person events, including volunteering with masks, social distancing or being outdoors.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Crafting Kind Kids?
Victoria Hannley: At this time, Crafting Kind Kids is run solely by its founder. We are seeking parents to help lead our in-person projects, become porch drop coordinators for our at-home projects, as well as parents who are interested in becoming ambassadors as we work to build our brand throughout Tucson.
In our first year, we had almost 600 Kid Volunteers participate in an in-person and/or at-home project; collected 25 bags of park trash; bundled over 17,000 diapers for babies in need; and created almost 2000 kindness projects for local organizations. In our first year, families contributed almost $12,000 in volunteer value to our community. Our goal in 2023 is to double that impact and get more Tucson-area kids and families engaged in volunteering so we can truly change the world. ♥