Starting a Legacy: Chicago Family Instills Volunteerism in Next Generation

Daily Point of Light # 7785 Apr 8, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree the Mehta/Madison Family. Read their story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

As The Honeycomb Project website says, “volunteering runs in the family.” Volunteering builds strong bonds and engaged citizens, and Kiran Mehta and her two children have done exactly that. Kiran, a lawyer for the State of Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services, is a lifelong volunteer who enjoys being active, cooking and reading.

Her daughter Lucy, a fourth grader, recently turned 10-years-old and has a passion for ice skating and sewing, the latter a talent that served her well stitching quilts for pediatric patients. Her son Cooper, 12, plays tennis and has established an interest in particle physics and computer science. He’s also an avid cat fan which undoubtedly made volunteering at an animal shelter a big draw.

Together, they’ve volunteered nearly once a month with The Honeycomb Project since 2016—45 projects for Cooper and 40 for Lucy. The Honeycomb Project provides service opportunities for kids and their parents around Chicago. At a young age, Lucy and Cooper built skills, learned about problems facing city residents and met people from all walks of life. It’s these experiences that Kiran has worked hard to see her children acquire and hopes continue with into adulthood.

Through The Honeycomb project, Lucy and Cooper help at an urban farm that provides fresh produce and job training to community residents with Heartland Alliance, a leading anti-poverty organization

What inspires you to volunteer?

Kiran: When Cooper was younger, I was looking for volunteer-related things that we could do as a family. I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager, and it’s something I wanted the kids to have in their lives.

Lucy: When we’re going shopping and we see people on the streets asking for things, it makes me feel sad. But then when I do Honeycomb, it makes me feel better knowing that I’m helping them.

What inspired you to get started with the Honeycomb Project?

Kiran: I found the Honeycomb Project on Google. A lot of organizations don’t have opportunities for really small kids. Honeycomb allows them to start volunteering when they’re five, so we started doing that when Cooper was six and Lucy was three.
I want this to be second nature for them. There are many different opportunities every month, you can see which kind of activity works best for your family. As they’ve gotten older, they seem to really enjoy the projects where they can actually see the people they’re helping.

What are some of your favorite projects?

Lucy: Probably Nourishing Hope. They started a new thing where they give me labels to write on. I can say things like “Enjoy your food!” or “Have a good day!” and stick it on the boxes of food. It makes me feel happy seeing the people that I’m delivering them to.

Kiran: For this particular project, we go to Nourishing Hope, and they give you a list of people. Then, you load up your car with boxes of groceries and deliver them to their homes. Lucy’s always writing inspiring notes on the boxes for people.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Kiran: Volunteering has always been important to me because it builds community. I think everybody in this world is connected to one another, and I see that on a deeper level when I see our impact on people who really need it. We all need help at some point in our lives in varying degrees.

It’s been really special for me to be able to see that in my kids. When they were five, they didn’t understand the impact they were making as much as they do now. It’s extra special as a parent to watch your kids grow up with this, learning from different people and really appreciating their own lives.

Cooper: I’ve learned that anyone can make a difference just by doing something right.

Kiran (middle) celebrates with Lucy and Cooper as they received their 40th and 45th project pins from Honeycomb. Their qualifying activity was at Nourishing Hope, a food pantry where all three delivered boxes of food to organization clients

Tell us about future programs or events that you’re excited about.

Lucy and Cooper: Brunch and Board Games!

Kiran: They’re doing Brunch and Board Games at the Illinois Medical District Guest House this month with their dad. My kids are both very into being in the kitchen and cooking, so they feel skilled and productive, and they get to have fun with the patients and their families.

Cooper: It’s really nice making food for people and watching their happiness. Other people being happy makes me happy.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start volunteering with young kids?

Kiran: I think it’s really important to make that time. You might not see those rewards and benefits to your kids in the beginning, but have patience and keep at it. Even if they’re older, they might not have that immediate concept of what they’re doing, but I’ve really seen how it’s affected them over the longer term. I truly believe that, at this stage, if I stopped signing them up for it, they would want to keep doing it. I think volunteer service will be a part of their lives forever.

It’s also something I see even when we’re not volunteering. There are a lot of people experiencing homelessness in our community. When we go to Trader Joe’s, my kids will say, Hey, let’s get some food for that family. Lucy had a $5 bill in her wallet, and she gave it to a family. I’ve seen both of my kids do that. It’s just it’s something they know is the right thing to do.

(Left to right) Cooper and Lucy serves breakfast and play board games with families for Guest House, an organization that provides temporarily housing to patients and families receiving medica treatment in Chicago

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Cooper: If they want to volunteer because they like helping people, they should volunteer. And anyone who’s reading this should get a cat.

Lucy: It’s important to be a part of a community and that we should always help others, no matter what situation they’re in.

Kiran: And for people in Chicago, I really can’t say enough about the Honeycomb Project. It’s a great organization for families. I know it can be hard to get started. The Honeycomb Project does all of that mental work of putting everything together. You just pick something that sounds like your family would enjoy and show up. It’s never too late to start volunteering.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like the Mehta/Madison Family? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park