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Kids who give back

TOC Kids talk to two inspiring Chicago-area kids who make it their mission to give back all year long
By Madeline Nusser |

Jack O’Neil, 9, founder of Little Hands Make a Big Difference, which raises money for stuffed animals for hospitalized children.

What made you start your own charity?
About three years ago, we were in the car driving someplace, and [someone was on] the radio talking about charity. I asked my mom “What is a charity?” She said, “A charity provides something to people who can’t afford it or they aren’t feeling their best.” And I thought, Wow, I’ve been through many of those times, and I know how I’ve felt.

So you decided to give stuffed animals to hospitalized kids?
When I was in the hospital [for a limb-lengthening surgery to correct a congenital deformity], I had a couple of Build-a-Bears and they distracted me. I know there are people in even more pain than [I was in], and I wanted to give to them, to help them by keeping them distracted and busy.

We sometimes do other toys, but only if hospitals ask or it’s a holiday toy drive—but it’s mostly Build-a-Bears.

How do you raise funds?
We have a 5K and a kids’ fun run [every October]. We made $10,000 this year—over 200 people showed up! That will fund our charity for about a year. We also do lots of lemonade stands in the summer.

When do you find time to bring toys to hospitals?
I put the bears together at home—my mom does most of it! I bring them along almost every time I have a doctor’s appointment. We keep a supply of about 35 Build-a-Bears in the front room of our house, and give those away about once a month.

Acey Longley, 9, founder of B.E.A.T.S. (Bringing Everyone a Tremendous Smile)

How did you get involved in charity work?
When I was about to turn seven, instead of presents, I wanted to get money to sponsor a boy from Haiti. They don’t have electricity or anything—no video games, no cell phones.

Then you started B.E.A.T.S., a charity in honor of your dad, Ty Longley of Great White [who died on stage in a fire at a Rhode Island nightclub before Acey was born].
I decided to give out drumsticks, iTunes cards and drum pads to sick kids because I like drums. [The charity only takes in-kind donations of these items, no monetary contributions.] I drop them off at Edward Hospital in Naperville—they let me go in there and see people face-to-face. I remember this kid from the hospital—I gave him drumsticks, and his parents told their whole neighborhood and church.

Why drumsticks?
I give out stuff to make sure people remember my dad. He played the guitar. I play the drums. My dad did want to play the drums, but his parents said no.

Have you ever received any cool donations?
I met Gene Simmons backstage at a Kiss concert. They give me $250 in iTunes gift cards. Dad’s fans send me stuff, too.

Does it help you stay connected with your dad?
Yeah. It makes me feel like a hero.

To find charitable organizations where your kids can give back, check out our list.

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