Big hearts: Kids who choose kind

These days, when headlines and 24-hour news cycles seem to only bring bad news, we all need a little reminder that there is good all around us. We found six great un-Grinchy kids with big hearts who teach us all that kindness comes without ribbons, without tags, without packages, boxes or even bags! 

Aubrey Hennig

Most kids are happy to make a few dollars at a lemonade stand, but Aubrey Hennig and her friends have raised more than $130,000 through their Lemonade Brigade in the past few years.The idea started at a sleepover in 2014 when the friends decided to open a lemonade stand at the end of a busy street. They raised $800, money they donated to help an ill relative.

“It just kind of blossomed from there,” says Hennig, 14, of McHenry. “We were really motivated to keep helping people.”

Aubrey and about 10 friends formed The Lemonade Brigade to raise money for children, families and organizations in need. Money has gone to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a local domestic violence shelter, hospice, seriously ill classmates and even to help pay for surgery for a little girl in Nigeria.

A glass of lemonade costs $1, but with merchandise and donations, the group has been more successful than they ever could have imagined. Their most recent Spring Spectacular raised $28,000 in just one weekend.

“The fact that we’ve been able to help so many people has been the awesomest thing ever,” Aubrey says.

Once Aubrey and her friends go off to college, they hope to pass the Brigade down to their younger siblings to keep the mission alive.

Aubrey’s mom, Chrissy Christiansen, says she is amazed at how her daughter and friends turned a sleepover activity into a functioning nonprofit.

“I don’t know that I could be more proud of her. She makes me want to be a better person.”Morrison and Gigi Luban Kidlosophy was born when Oak Park mom Melonie Collmann was looking for a creative way to teach her daughters about kindness and values. 

The project, a series of videos on YouTube featuring Morrison, 8, and Gigi, 7, talking about topics like gratitude, empathy and giving, was originally just an exercise for their family.

It is now growing into a movement.

Using her background as a musician, Collmann started writing music for Morrison and Gigi, who turned their lessons into raps and songs about the Golden Rule and other kid-specific philosophy. They also will be featured in their mom’s upcoming single, “Do Unto Others.”

“The world needs to hear little kids talking about love and being kind to one another,” Collmann says. “It’s actually become even more of a necessity to put this goodness out into the world.”Morrison says she likes making the videos because she can share messages of kindness with others.

“I learned that being kind is the best thing in the world. You can help other people if they are sad and bring them joy,” she says. “And that will make the world happier.”

Collmann says she hopes that as the girls get older, they will focus on empowering other young girls to be themselves and making sure they know “that who they are is enough.”

In one of the episodes, the girls explain how your words are like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

“The words you say are important and if you say it, you can’t take it back,” Gigi says. “I’ve learned that being kind is stronger than being bad.”

Jahkil Jackson 

Jahkil Jackson couldn’t pass a homeless person on the street without trying to help, and before long, Project I Am was born.

The 9-year-old’s mission is to hand out Blessing Bags, filled with toiletries like wipes, deodorant, hand sanitizer, socks, bottled water and granola bars, to thousands of Chicago’s homeless.

“They say ‘Thank you so much,’ and ‘God Bless You,’” Jahkil remembers. “They tell me to stay in school.”

Last year Jahkil handed out more than 1,600 Blessing Bags and is well on his way to reaching his 2017 goal of 5,000 bags. He works with organizations like Heartland Alliance, where he is an official youth ambassador, to collect supplies and monetary donations for the bags.

“It makes me feel really happy to see others happy, especially when it’s a person who just needs help in their life,” he says.

The Hyde Park fifth-grader has been recognized for his philanthropy by a number of organizations, including the We International Youth Council and as a winner of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which recognizes 25 inspiring young people across the country each year. 

Jahkil says he hopes to inspire other kids around the country to give back in their communities, too.

Grady Hall

When it was time to take a class picture in Grady Hall’s kindergarten classroom, he noticed one of the students with special needs drifting out of the photo. He quickly reached over and calmed his classmate before the photographer snapped the picture, which shows the two holding hands.

Grady, 6, is used to spreading small acts of kindness to others because of his experience at home. Growing up with brother Keller, 9, who has autism, has taught Grady the importance of being kind to everyone.

“It’s important to be nice to everybody so everybody can have fun at school and everybody gets to learn,” Grady says.

Naperville mom Dana Hall says she is so proud of Grady’s early activism for students with special needs. It started when he was only 2 and he stopped a child yelling at Keller on the playground.

Now, he helps other students understand about special needs.

“He is a super wise old soul stuck in a 6-year-old’s body,” Dana says. “He was born into a situation he didn’t choose and he is already becoming a huge advocate for his brother and other special needs kids in the community.”

Evan Robinson

When it comes to helping others, Hyde Park 12-year-old Evan Robinson sticks to what he knows, cooking. Robinson was a contestant on Fox’s MasterChef Junior and is now putting his skills in the kitchen to good use, cooking to raise money for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

“We were hearing on the news what was happening in Puerto Rico and I wanted to help,” Evan says. “I didn’t have as much money to give as I would have liked, but one of the best things I can do is cooking.”

Evan launched Pies for Puerto Rico, a Facebook-based campaign where he would take online orders for homemade empanadas and donate the proceeds to hurricane relief.He wound up cooking around the clock, making more than 1,000 empanadas for people in Chicago.

“He has a big heart,” says mom Veronica Robinson. “He’s very sensitive when he watches the news and sees what’s going on. He’s always trying to figure out what he can do to help others.”Robinson attributes his love for cooking to watching his parents in the kitchen.

After spending a flurry of hours making empanadas on empanadas, Evan says cooking for a cause is something he would like to do again if it means his food can help someone else.

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