Let's Help Kids

Local Hero: Wish List

Rachel Harris and her mom, Jen Sterling, are making dreams come true one child at a time with Let’s Help Kids.

(Originally published in Family Circle magazine, Feb 2012 issue)

Article by Alison Goldman
Photo by Malek Naz Freidouni

Three years ago, Jen Sterling, 42, was driving her daughter, Rachel Harris, home from school in their northern Virginia community, South Riding. From the backseat of the car, Rachel announced, “Mommy, I want to be a big boss like you and Daddy when I grow up.” Jen asked her what it was that she hoped to do. “I’d like to help kids,” the then-6-year-old replied. Jen, the president of a brand marketing firm, felt this was an opportunity to do the right thing together—and they ran with it.

Mom and daughter founded Let’s Help Kids (LHK), a nonprofit that reaches out to children experiencing financial hardship. It’s an idea that stems from a book Rachel read in her kindergarten class, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. The book explains that everyone carries an invisible pail packed with good thoughts and feelings. If you do nice things for people, you stock their buckets. Rachel wanted to be in charge of some of that filling, and her mom was thrilled to help her make it happen.

Jen and Rachel’s first gift was to a second-grade boy—a Spider-Man Halloween costume—because his parents couldn’t afford one. (They heard about him through his teacher, who was also Jen and Rachel’s neighbor.) Since then, they’ve supplied 16 Halloween costumes, sent eight elementary school students to a six-week summer camp, and given 117 presents, including a bicycle, a soccer ball and cleats, and a classical bass instrument. “We look at it from the kids’ perspective of what’s a necessity,” Jen says. “They aren’t always thinking about serious, real-life needs, but they crave—and deserve—the things that others have that constitute childhood.”

LHK partnered with a local shelter that sends the organization a monthly e-mail with the birthdays of children who live there or are involved with the transitional housing program. If there isn’t a specific request, the list includes background information about the kids, such as whether they’re fans of a certain sports team or have a particular interest. Jen has also teamed up with five nonprofits, plus she approaches schools and churches to spread the word.

Jen used $6,000 she had in a retirement account to launch LHK. Financial support comes primarily from word-of-mouth donations, as well as grants and an annual fundraising gala. Jen and the other five volunteer board members are determined to put 100% of funds directly into LHK, so they cover operating expenses themselves.

Rachel is also involved in the daily operations of LHK. She selects gifts, speaks to local groups about the organization and assists with raising money. “As an entrepreneur, it’s great watching that spark grow in Rachel, especially because it was ignited out of kindness,” says Jen. For the mother daughter team, it all comes back to the simple concept of helping children and filling their buckets. “Kids,” says Jen, “should be able to feel like kids.”