The Surf Ballroom & Museum is a historic rock and roll landmark in Iowa that showcases history while also promoting the future of music.
In the summer of 2009, twelve-year-old Lexi Kelley was involved in a serious car accident that required facial reconstructive surgery and weeks of bed rest. The outpouring of support from her friends, neighbors, and classmates after was so incredible that Kelley was forever changed.
Moved by this kindness and generosity, she thought to herself: “If we can continue to have lots of kids do just a little, we can really make a difference for those in need!”
So Kelley and a small group of friends organized their first Kids Helping Kids (KHK) project in order to give other kids her age the opportunity to feel the same impact, joy, and reward of helping others.
Today, Kelley is in college, and KHK has grown into a group of diverse middle and high school students working together, all committed to doing the same thing: helping other kids while simultaneously developing their own leadership skills.
You started KHK after a car accident that led to many friends and family helping out. What made you want to turn it into an actual nonprofit?
After I came up with the name “Kids Helping Kids” and created our logo, we had our first event. I never really thought about turning KHK into an actual nonprofit, it just kind of happened. We continued to host more youth-led events and by word of mouth and advertising our events, more and more kids wanted to get involved, and that’s how KHK blossomed.
I think the idea of kids helping other kids who are underserved in the area is easy and inspiring, so it wasn’t difficult to attract a large crowd of kids who were interested!
The difficult part was making sure that we were creating events based on what the community needed and not what we thought the community needed — in order to create sustainable help and not create dependency within the community or create wasted resources, time, or money.
Did you talk to other nonprofits for guidance and help?
In the beginning stages of KHK, my friends and I were still young, so we depended on the support of adults to help facilitate and teach us how to best communicate with and enroll other businesses, nonprofits, and sponsors — while still letting the kids develop, manage, and lead events.
We believed that our mission was unlike any other nonprofit, which is why we developed our own model; however, we partnered with many nonprofits to create our projects and events. We collaborated with nonprofits that served low-income students and worked with them to reach out to as wide an audience as possible.
I think it’s extremely important to ask others for help and guidance, and we have learned many things over the years from other nonprofits, businesses, and partners that have helped shape who we are today.
Kelly had support from family and friends while building the organization, so she was able to focus on being a student while growing the organization. (Photo: Kids Helping Kids) (Photo: Kids Helping Kids)
How did you build the organization while also being a full-time kid and student?
Luckily, I had a lot of support from my family and friends and was able to focus on being a student at the same time as I was growing and developing KHK with the rest of the kids that were involved.
I never felt like KHK took away from my school work. It was just like another extracurricular activity for me, however; it proved to be much more important in my life than any sporting or art endeavor I partook in.
Can you tell me about the KHK Ambassadors?
KHK Ambassadors are kids who have expressed interest in being a little more involved in KHK. Over the years the Ambassador program has become more defined and outlines the expectations that we hope to see from our KHK volunteers.
The Leadership Executive Team works with the KHK Executive Director and Program Director to assess and improve our program. We created levels of involvement that are flexible so students can decide how they want to participate.
KHK organizes students into categories to ensure events are completed, with adults taking a facilitator role when needed but having the youth initiate, develop, and run the projects.
Each youth’s journey with KHK will be different. Our programs are designed so youth who want to remain volunteers can. And likewise, selected youth can increase their commitment and step up to an executive leadership position.
If it weren’t for our Ambassador program, we wouldn’t be able to have as many successful events as we currently do — and we certainly wouldn’t have been able to come up with so many awesome projects and touch the lives of so many kids in the local community.
What advice do you have for other young people that would like to give back?
To any young person who would like to give back, I would tell them to go out into their community and find a way to share their passion with those who may not have an opportunity to do so, and help make a difference in the lives of others.
The annual “Gift of Giving” project started in 2013 when a team of 5th grade kids, led by Ethan Lange, talked about their love of getting and giving gifts around the holidays. (Photo: Kids Helping Kids)
Many young people are told that they can’t make an impact because they’re young, but that’s not true! You can start making a difference at any age. Leadership is sometimes thought to be this untouchable phenomenon, but everyone has the potential to be a leader. I would advise any kid that wants to give back to figure out their ability and potential and find a way to get involved!
Whether that’s by finding a cause they really enjoy and raising money via a lemonade stand, or volunteering at a local organization, or a host of other available opportunities, just start somewhere.
I spoke to a group of middle school girls at the 4th Annual Girls Leadership Conference about leadership, KHK, and ways that young people can get involved in their local communities.
What are some of your favorite nonprofits out there?
In the past KHK has worked with Person to Person, the Food Bank, Den for Grieving Children, Clothes to Kids, and so many other organizations that are making a positive impact in the world — but I don’t know if I can pick a favorite!
Inspirica has been an amazing partner of KHK as well as the Boys & Girls Club, and I really love the events we host at these centers because participants are so grateful and continue to come again and again. Seeing how we have helped these people and continue to help them and create relationships with them is something that is priceless.
I really appreciate organizations that ask before doing and make sure they're filling a need identified by the community and not just giving help where they think help is needed — which can actually create more harm than help sometimes.
Do you hope to pursue a career in public service?
I’m not really sure what I want to do after graduation just yet. Right now I’m interning at a leadership coaching and consulting company in Shanghai, China called MindSpan. I wanted to stay over here after studying for the semester in Shanghai to continue practicing my Chinese and continue to immerse myself in the culture.
Regardless of what I end up doing after graduation, I definitely want to continue to make sure that public engagement and service is a part of my life, as it has played a major role in my life thus far.
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