Gabe O’Neill’s daughter had an idea when she was nine to start her own website to help animals. When she and her dad started talking about what she wanted it to include, they ended up starting an organization geared to feature the work of other kids doing good in the world. The result has been an extraordinary snowball effect of kids inspiring kids around the world to take action and foster change. It has not only changed the lives of the kids by encouraging them to discover ther passions and to take action, but it has changed their families as well. And most importantly, Kids Are Heroes illustrates the incredible impact a simple gesture of kindness can make.
Love and Water- What was your inspiration to start Kids Are Heroes?
Gabe O’Neill- It was actually started by my daughter, MaryMargaret when she was nine years old. She came to me and said she wanted to build a website to help animals. I said that was a good idea, and suggested that she could help people too. I saw an interview with Sir Richard Branson on Charlie Rose and he was talking about social entrepreneurship, which was something I had never heard of. I thought it was such a good idea to give ideas instead of money in the name of solving problems. So I thought I could help my daughter build her website and help other kids to get their ideas out. We had business meetings at first to figure out what exactly she wanted to focus on, and that got the all rolling. We kept going with it, and it has now turned into a foundation that will no doubt be my daughter’s legacy. MaryMargaret has now spoken at schools and has developed leadership skills that will benefit her for the rest of her life. She is learning at such a young age how to create the life she wants for herself, which centers around helping others. This organization will be her legacy.
L&W- So how does the organization work?
GO- We teach kids about giving through showing them what other kids are doing to make a difference. We showcase kids from all over the U.S., and now internationally, who do things for other people without any consideration for their own benefit. They want to inspire others through their actions. When kids are given the freedom to explore what is meaningful to them, they end up discovering their passion. And once they discover that, they are ready to take action. There is one boy who on our site who, when he was seven, drilled his first well in Africa. He’s 18 now, and has an organization that has drilled over 500 wells in over 16 countries, helping over 600,000 people. This came from his idea that he wanted everyone to have clean water. He couldn’t believe that by running his spigot at home he could have clean water, while so many people in other countries couldn’t. There is another 14 year old boy who is trying to help the United Nations solve the issue of world poverty by the end of 2015. He found out about the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations had come up with to help solve poverty, so he came up with the Little Millennium Development Goals (LMDG) that he has presented to them. I spoke with his mother and the problem she is facing right now is whether or not to take her son out of school to go to Copenhagen to speak with some diplomats, because he just got back from Korea, having done the same thing. Both of these examples are of kids who are future world leaders, but we also have stories of kids who do simpler things. There is the story of a five year old whose mother came across our site and told her about it, and she immediately wanted to help her neighbor, Mr. Dove, who was older and couldn’t plant his flowers anymore. So she arranged to plant flowers in his yard. There is a 16 year old boy who has been fly fishing since he was three years old, and has discovered a way to teach disabled veterans how to fly fish, along with the benefits of relaxation that goes along with it. Each story illustrates the huge effects this kind of selfless giving has, and each one serves as an inspiration for the next child who reads our site. We paint them all with the same brush, because we know that each child is different and will be inspired by different stories.
L&W- What is the typical response you get when people first learn about your site?
GO- Often, when a child has an idea and begins to implement it, the whole family changes because they all get involved in the process. I’ve heard countless stories from parents who tell me how their lives have changed because of what they’re helping their kids to accomplish. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the progress we’re making. The visceral reactions of people who start working with their children to make their ideas come to life is just amazing. Once people find out about our site, they read our stories and usually what happens is that once the kids read the stories they immediately start coming up with their own ideas. When my daughter first launched her site to help animals, our neighbor down the street who was eight at the time said to his mother that he wanted to help premature babies. He was premature at his birth, and wanted to give something to other premature babies in the hospital. So he got people in a nursing home to knit premie hats and sweaters, he got a quilt company to donate some quilts and he got bears donated from a local company. He put together 36 gift baskets, and took them to the hospital. Normally they won’t let anyone in because of the delicate conditions of the babies, but the hospital gave him scrubs and let him go in to give the baskets to the families. He said to his mother at the end that it was the most important thing he had ever done. They now continue to give baskets to the troops and other groups in need of some help because they enjoy it so much.
L&W- Do you find that parents are ever resistant to allow their children to step up and take action?
GO- Yes, but it doesn’t last long once they see how other kids and parents are doing it and when they see how excited their kids get when they come up with an idea that has meaning to them. There are parents who believe that kids are kids and the adults are responsible for taking action. I challenge each of those parents to come to our website and see what these kids are doing. When parents read some of the stories on our site, it inspires them as well.
L&W- How has social media played a part in helping you get the word out?
GO- Twitter and Facebook have been completely amazing as far as helping to market our site while connecting us to so many stories that we’re able to feature. We now have a partnership with ex-NFL star Levar Fisher, who found us through social media. He travels around to schools across the country to talk to kids about how they can make a difference, and he is now going to talk to them about Kids Are Heroes as part of his lecture series. I try everyday to think outside the box to get the word out about our organization. We are now part of Disney’s Give a Day, Get a Day, where you can win a free ticket to a Disney park in exchange for community service. We are hosting these events now, so people learn about our site through the Disney site.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far with Kids Are Heroes?
GO- I think it was hearing about how our neighbor, John, immediately set out to help premature babies with such amazing results, and that he told his mom it was the most important thing he had ever done. I felt that my daughter and I played a part in inspiring him to do so. That’s the whole reason I’m doing this to begin with, and it means more to me than any dollar amount could give to me. I also know there are so many more stories that I haven’t head yet, which is also very moving to me. It’s what our site is supposed to do, and that makes me very happy.
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