If you want something done right, do it yourself—or so the saying goes. And it’s just what Ashley and Alex Seligson took to heart when they looked for opportunities for community service that they could enjoy with their young children and found there weren’t many out there. “We can’t be the only family that’s looking for something like this,” Ashley says she remembers thinking. And then her frustration turned into determination. As Alex tells it, “In typical fashion, my wife said, ‘We’ll just start our own.’”
So three years ago the Mountain Brook couple filled out the paperwork to form Little Hands Serving Hearts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that offers opportunities throughout the Birmingham area for even the youngest children to participate in service projects. Today they maintain the website—Alex laughs and says “this is a very grassroots organization”—where interested parents can go and sign up for projects and events specially designed with younger children in mind. Through it all, they want to encourage the community live out their family motto: The secret to living is giving.
So far Little Hands Serving Hearts has facilitated more than 75 events. Ashley emphasizes there is truly something for every interest and every level of ability, from feeding the homeless to making cards for veterans to preparing suet cakes for the Alabama Wildlife Center. They have seen just how many needs are close by, but more than that the importance of opening the eyes of impressionable young children to serving others and forming lifelong passion to do so, not just on occasion but as a regular part of family life.
The best advertisements for Little Hands Serving Hearts are its first two participants. Braxton and Brooklyn Seligson, both students at Mountain Brook Elementary, tell story after story about the fun times they’ve had with friends both old and new. Whether they’re delivering Christmas gifts, playing Bingo with residents of retirement homes, or packing and distributing food items, it’s clear the Seligson kids enjoy the projects immensely. But something more profound is happening in the fun, a benefit that a perceptive 10-year-old like Braxton can appreciate. He mentions how serving together with his buddies strengthens their friendships. “When you’re all together and having a good time serving with your friends,” he says. “It makes that bond even stronger.”
His favorite event so far, he says, is the Share the Warmth project with the homeless in downtown Birmingham. The kids sorted donated winter clothing and then passed it out in Linn Park and Railroad Park. They also got to share sandwiches, hot chocolate and coffee with the people they met. Both Braxton and Brooklyn mention the expressions of gratitude from the recipients, something that clearly makes an impression on them. Eight-year-old Brooklyn recalls delivering gifts to a family at the holidays. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ and they cried happy tears,” she says. These moments bring home to kids how, as Braxton says, “generosity turns into laughter.”
Ashley’s intuition proved correct too—there were a lot of parents looking for ways to get their young children involved in service to the community. “We jumped on the opportunity to expose our daughter to volunteer work early,” says Cami Myers, whose daughter Bianca is a veteran of many Little Hands Serving Hearts projects. For her ninth birthday recently, Bianca asked for donations to LHSH rather than birthday gifts. “At their next event,” Cami says, “she was able to experience firsthand the results of that giving and see how many people they were able to help.”
LHSH is always evolving with what’s on in the community, and the recent COVID-19 quarantine presented an opportunity to expand their mission. Inspired to help serve frontline workers at grocery stores and other essential businesses, the Seligsons grabbed some good old Mountain Brook staples, Ousler’s sandwiches, and the kids delivered them to the grateful workers. “It was a win-win situation,” Alex says. “We were able to show our appreciation to the workers while helping out a local business through a tough time.”
One of the organization’s partnerships that has blossomed is its relationship with Hayes K-8 School, a Birmingham City School just a few short miles away from Mountain Brook. “This organization is nothing short of amazing!” says Vernitra Lashay Dobbins, prevention specialist at the school. “Twice during the year, fall and spring, Little Hands Serving Hearts makes food bags for all of our 800 students. It’s just a pleasure to see the children of LHSH working so diligently with our students and staff.” Canterbury United Methodist Church also partnered with LHSH to fund these Little Brown Bag events.
Susannah Baker, whose three children have participated in many projects, agrees. “It’s wonderful to see them working together with the students from Hayes,” she says. “They have had so much fun working alongside friends to pack brown bags with snacks and then delivering them to the school.”
When the abrupt end of in-person classroom instruction in the COVID-19 crisis presented a few challenges for Hayes, LHSH stepped up to provide more food and school supplies during that time. They also worked with the school to provide phone tutors for the students as they transitioned to remote learning.
As Ashley and Alex reflect on what they’ve learned through Little Hands Serving Hearts, Alex mentions one important fact they’ve realized: the multiplication factor. “It really doesn’t take much,” he says. “We started small but soon saw how easy it was to multiply efforts and involvement. A few people can touch hundreds of families and thousands of people.”
This “more hands means more help” idea forms the basis for Little Hands Serving Hearts, and through participation even the youngest helpers can develop empathy and compassion, and realize the impact of serving their community. Having fun while doing it is a big bonus. “It doesn’t even really have to be something big or grandiose,” says Ashley. “It could just be spreading kindness like confetti.” Braxton nods his head in agreement and adds, “One person can make a difference, but together is how we bring about change.”
As the Little Hands Serving Hearts, the Seligsons hope to see participation expand to other communities beyond Mountain Brook. “We want to see as many kids involved in volunteering to be able to help as many people as possible,” Alex says. Their short-term goals include finding ways to give back in a safe way for all involved and cultivating small business partnerships, which will help further the multiplication factor.
To partner with Little Hands Serving Hearts or to sign kids up for volunteer opportunities, find them on social media or visit littlehandsservinghearts.org.