Finding – and Spreading – Joy in 2016

Dec 12, 2016

This post is by Tracy Hoover, Points of Light’s CEO.

Children from the Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, create holiday cheer packages for soldiers stationed abroad.

It’s this time of the year when the promise of peace and goodwill seems especially precious to me. Maybe even more so this year, which has unfolded against a backdrop of divisiveness, community unrest, a negative election cycle, and growing disparity. The images and messages affect all of us, including the youngest members of our society. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that “teachers have noticed increased bullying, harassment and intimidation of students.” 

We know there is an antidote to this growing crisis. Volunteering gives young people the opportunity to practice putting themselves in others’ shoes, to develop empathy and compassion. According to, teens who volunteer develop an increased sense of social responsibility – a global view of society and a heart for giving back and helping others. In addition, Marilyn Price Mitchell, Ph.D., says that volunteer opportunities help “young people understand how they fit into society to how they can help solve societal problems. This developmental process grows empathy and fosters children’s identities as engaged citizens.”

generationOn Celebrity Youth Ambassadors join 9th Street Elementary School students in Los Angeles's Skid Row at a Joy Maker Challenge service project hosted by Xolo Mariduena.

Youth service drives compassion and inclusion and is key to creating change and uniting communities. Our goal is to support, celebrate and be led by kids and teens who are serving and solving real world problems through volunteerism, all while developing compassion for others.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Joy Maker Challenge, and so grateful to Hasbro, Inc. for sponsoring this effort, now in its seventh year. Powered by generationOn, the youth service division of Points of Light, the campaign gives kids and teens a way to give back and spread joy during the holiday season by engaging in volunteer service and acts of kindness. Since the Joy Maker Challenge campaign started in 2010, nearly 865,000 acts of service have been completed by youth worldwide, resulting in $6 million worth of toys and games being donated to Toys for Tots by Hasbro, Inc.

Xolo Mariduena is one of 100 Kindness Ambassadors for the Joy Maker Challenge. He recently led a joint service project in Los Angeles that brought young people together and connected them to the community. In this project, local youth from 9th Street Elementary, located in LA’s Skid Row, wrote letters and made cards for senior citizens in nursing homes to let them know someone is thinking about them during the holidays. The activity gave them the chance to see that they can make a difference. After the service project, attendees had the opportunity to pick out a toy or game, enjoy music and holiday activities.

This is just one of the many incredible examples of young people who are leading positive change every day. And this year, through the Joy Maker Challenge, our goal is to engage 100,000 kids in service. From making gift packages for patients in children’s hospitals, to making decorations for a local senior center – the Joy Maker Challenge encourages and celebrates young people’s involvement in meaningful, hands-on service in their community.

Students from Northbrook High School in Houston joined a Joy Maker event preparing and serving lunch to the 85 residents of Turning Point Center homeless mission. In addition, they created holiday cards and gave them out with donated toiletries.

As we look toward a New Year, I am so inspired by the young volunteers making a difference. I hope they inspire others to serve, and ultimately to see past differences and band together for a more unified, peaceful world. I challenge you to join us this year and be a Joy Maker!

Take the Joy Maker Challenge and find project guides and service ideas at As part of the Joy Maker Challenge, for every kid and teen who engage in service, Hasbro will donate a toy or game to Toys for Tots – up to $1 million worth!

Robert Montgomery