Little Hands, Big Hearts

A hard hat for a party hat
 
For John Ross Stockton’s fourth birthday party, he asked friends to bring food and bedding for kids who didn’t have any, instead of presents.
 
“We would pray together at night, and he learned that there were people who didn’t have homes and didn’t have food and didn’t have all the things that he had,” says mom Kristi.
 
He’s continued to ask for gifts for others each birthday, and for No. 7 this year, he decided he wanted to help someone have a home. “I gave him different charity choices, and he picked Habitat as his favorite,” says Kristi.
 
Their church planned a family fun day with games, food, a silent auction and proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity of Brevard County in honor of John Ross, who was actively involved. “He went to businesses and asked them to donate to the silent auction or write a check for Habitat,” Kristi says. “He tried to help however he could at the church, with set-up and at the planning meetings, coming up with ideas for the fundraiser.”
 
In total, John Ross’ birthday efforts raised $3,315.30. In return, Brevard Habitat president and CEO Joe Gassman gave John Ross his own personalized hard hat and a visit to the foundation for the home his money would help build.
 
“From the day John Ross’ mom called to tell me about his desire, he had my heart,” Gassman says. “I invited John Ross and his family to the house so that he could see the tangible results of his vision.”
 
Kristi says her son wears his hard hat “all the time” and loved seeing the construction sites. “He was really, really excited. He told all of his friends.”
 
 

Big birthday goals
 
“Me and my friend Jesus talked, and then we decided that I should get $10,000. I thought it would be funner to make a house for people and not let them live on the street,” says 8-year-old Tatum Rhyne.
 
For her, it’s as simple as that. She’s collected canned goods and clothing for past birthdays, but for birthday No. 8, she wanted to help make a house happen. Her mother, Jennifer, was a bit thrown by the amount, suggesting something like $500 might be more reasonable.
 
“And she said, real nonchalantly, ‘Whatever, mom, if that’s what you think, but me and Jesus talked about it, and we think $10,000 is good,’” Jennifer recalls. So Jennifer set up a Facebook page for Tatum and her wish to raise money for Habitat North Carolina Sandhills. “The second day she had her $500,” Jennifer says. “So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll be quiet and just sit back and watch what happens now.”
 
Tatum started her fundraiser in late May and continued until Aug. 31, her eighth birthday. Her generosity inspired family members to host “Tatum’s Tourney,” a softball tournament designed to help with fundraising. For one cousin’s first birthday, guests were asked to bring money for Habitat instead of gifts. Tatum celebrated her own birthday with a party, inviting people to come and donate, as one last push toward $10,000.
 
In the end, Tatum raised more than $13,000 and finally got excited, though she never doubted. A happy Tatum simply said, “I knew I would get it. I told you I would, Mama.”
 
“I felt very humbled to be honest,” Jennifer says. “When I was overjoyed at hitting her goal, she got excited with me — but not because she didn’t believe, because she wanted us to see what she has seen all along.”
 
Learning to give
 
A bright blue-and-green quilt hangs on the wall near the front of Habitat Bucks County’s ReStore. With a large, handmade Habitat logo in its center, each square contains a drawing of a house or a saying.
 
“We are all in this together. Lend a helping hand.”
 
“Just Build It!”
 
“Even the smallest person can change the world.”
 
The quilt was made by a team of seventh graders at Holicong Middle School. The students also collected a donation of $1,613.
 
“Each year, we try to get our students to do a service learning project,” says social studies teacher Andrew Kane. For the last few years, Habitat Bucks County executive director and former middle school teacher Debbie Lynch has kicked off the project with a visit to the school. She holds an assembly to talk about what Habitat does and why it’s needed.
 
She always enjoys the dramatic moment when she shows a photograph of a Habitat family of five who once shared a one-bedroom apartment. “I say, ‘Before I tell you about this family, how many of you have your own room?’ And in this demographic, pretty much 100 percent of them raise their hands.
 
“And then I tell them that story, quietly, and I let it sit there for a minute. And their faces change.”
 
Over the years, the project that has grown from collection jars in homerooms to a cupcake competition/bake sale, student-made informational posters, the creation of a video and, this year, the quilt.
 
“Our students have done an amazing job, they’ve raised over $1,000 each year for the last couple of years,” says Kane. “Our team theme is ‘Footprints on the Community,’ and we try to make positive footprints on the community. We hope that this is one of them.”
 
—  Megan Frank