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Nov. 26

Movies to Muffins, These Kids Take Charge

In honor of Family Volunteer Day, which was Nov. 23, Points of Light and Disney are recognizing families with the Daily Point of Light Award. Meet today's winning family, the Howards of Florida, and nomimate someone in your community.

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The Howard family, from left, Patty, Jonathan, Sydney and
Tim visit the Ronald McDonald House to volunteer.

Tim and Patty Howard wanted to introduce their children to community service, so six years ago they began participating in a Boys and Girls Clubs program that brings holiday gifts to local families in need. The kids enjoyed the experience so much that they began looking for new volunteer opportunities themselves.

“It was amazing,” says Patty, of Broward County, Fla. “The kids began doing their own research and found the HandsOn Broward website. … They dove right into several projects. It’s funny – six years ago, I was the one driving our family volunteer work. But now our kids are definitely the driving force.”

Over the past three years, Jonathan, 16, and Sydney, 13, have become regular volunteers through HandsOn Broward at the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Service Council and other organizations. They also participate with their parents annually at the Back To School Community Extravaganza – which provides backpacks and school supplies to kids from low-income households – and events such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. Since the siblings linked up with HandsOn Broward, Jonathan has logged more than 1,000 hours of community service, and Sydney has volunteered almost 600 hours.

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Sydney Howard, center, joins other HandsOn Broward
volunteers to make dog treats for an animal shelter.

The two find time to volunteer even while pursuing other interests. Jonathan is a football player and member of the school orchestra and choir, and Sydney studies dance, performs with a dance company and plays in the school band. Both teens play piano as well.

A favorite program of theirs is Movies, Muffins & Beyond at the Ronald McDonald House. Once a month, Jonathan and Sydney and about 10 other volunteers prepare muffins and cupcakes for families staying at the house, which provides temporary living quarters for families who have children receiving treatment at a nearby hospital. They watch a movie together and everyone joins in decorating, then eating, the cupcakes.

It started as a temporary project sponsored by AmeriCorps. When Jonathan learned it was scheduled to end, he offered to be trained as project leader and has kept it going. It was even his idea to add cupcake decorating to the event. Sydney enjoys it so much that she wants to take over as leader when Jonathan graduates from high school.

“I love to bake, and I love to meet the kids who come down to visit from the hospital,” says Sydney. “They’re really sweet, and I think the fun helps get their minds off all the hard things they’re going through.”

Sydney is a project leader in her own right at HandsOn Broward’s Kids Care Club. Once a month, she leads a group of about 30 young people in a service project. It’s always something new, such as making beds and treats for the animal shelter, packing first-aid kits for local nursing home residents, decorating and filling care packages for a family shelter, and preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a homeless shelter.

Jonathan’s personal favorite service project is the Back To School Community Extravaganza, which has been so successful that it’s moved to a local hockey arena for more space. This year it provided 4,000 kids with backpacks and school supplies.

“I’m able to play many roles in the project, from calling families in need to remind them that the event is coming up, to actually handing out the backpacks,” says Jonathan. “It’s a great feeling to hand someone something they probably couldn’t afford.”

Jonathan also loves volunteering at the International Game Fish Association, where he teaches kids how to fish responsibly and care for the wetland environment. He also supervises the touch tank at the association’s aquarium, where kids can play with sea creatures such as horseshoe crabs and turbo snails.

Mom Patty says she’s beyond proud: “Proud doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about my children. I’m proud, humbled and so fulfilled by what they’ve done. They never quit. They find a new project, and they just run with it.”

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