Teaching children to help others

Brett Ellen, Honoree, Mentoring Excellence Award

Oct 11, 2009 @ 12:01 am

By Charles Paikert

All sacrifices are relative, but giving up your Nintendo GameBoy DSi console and donating it to an orphanage is no small matter when you are a 7-year-old boy. But that is exactly what Keanu Ellen, a charter volunteer member of the non-profit organization Turn Kindness On Helping Hands, did several years ago. Keanu is the son of Brett Ellen, president of American Financial Network of Calabasas, Calif., founder of TKO Helping Hands and winner of this year's Community Leadership Awards Mentoring Excellence Award. “Don't get me wrong, Keanu loved his Nintendo DSi, but he also recognized how much joy it brought to the children, and he relished their joy,” Mr. Ellen said. Mr. Ellen started the organization eight years ago as a way to teach his own children and their friends “empathy and the rationale of why it is important to help others — in essence, to make thoughtfulness toward others a part of our everyday lives.”

Since then, TKO Helping Hands has engaged hundreds of children in activities such as distributing food to the homeless, assembling gifts for underprivileged children, and spending a day playing with children who have muscular dystrophy.

TKO volunteers have also helped with local beach cleanup projects and put on bake sales to raise funds for needy children around the world.

Although the hours he and his wife, Mandy, put in to create, coordinate and execute the events have been long, the rewards have been well worth it, Mr. Ellen said.

“Without a doubt, we know it makes our hearts bigger and want to do more,” he said. “It is important as parents to be good role models, and now our children and the friends of TKO Helping Hands have become role models, too.”

To make sure children know how to handle their own finances, Mr. Ellen has also created a website, kidsfinancecoach.com, to help them learn to invest, save, spend and donate their money.

His most recent project is Kindness on the Go, an initiative that encourages children to perform a random act of kindness and then tag someone else to do the same.

“You can do a lot with a little,” Mr. Ellen said. “Small things can have a big impact.”

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