Teen Fights Global Hunger and Poverty With ‘Heart’
Most 4-year-olds don’t think about the well-being of the those less fortunate than themselves. In 2005, Joshua Williams was not your typical 4-year-old. When the South Florida pre-schooler discovered that people in his neighborhood went without food, he founded Joshua’s Heart Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the fight against global hunger and poverty through the community service of young people.
Now 16, Joshua has made it his mission to inspire kids to make a global change while stomping out hunger one step at a time. Over the past 12 years, the foundation has distributed 2,000,000 lbs of food, raised $580,000, impacted 450,000 individuals with aid and assistance in the U.S., Jamaica, Haiti, Mexico, Philippines, India, Costa Rica, and recruited over 12,500 volunteers.
1. What inspired you to fight global hunger and poverty at such a young age?
I first learned that people in my community were going hungry when I was four-and-a-half. At this age, it was hard for me to conceptualize the severity of these issues and the difficulty in tackling them, but there was one thing I knew I wanted to do: help others.
Like most businesses, it starts as a passion or as a hobby, and what I loved to do was help others, make a difference, and put a smile on others faces. Joshua’s Heart was the result of this passion. I started community service a couple weeks after I first learned that people were homeless in my community. Enlisting the help of my family (mom, 6 aunts, cousins, and grandma), I was able to start cooking food for members of the homeless community around my area. Every weekend, we would distribute home cooked meal in takeout containers to the homeless. This family-run program grew to helping over 200+ individuals every weekend. We had to stop this program because of a littering ordinance in Miami, but I wouldn’t let that stop me.
My aunt heard about 501(c)3s on the radio and told my mom and me about it. Together, we filled out the application and Joshua’s Heart was born. Since then Joshua’s Heart Foundation has kept growing, allowing us to help more people–something I continue to love to do and hope to be able to keep doing for a while
2. How do you decide on recipients and what are some of your programs?
One of Joshua’s Heart’s main programs is our distribution program. This is the main way we give food and in-kind aid to our recipients. These distributions are essentially mobile pantries. We partner with different locations for distributions. These partners include community centers, churches, and schools. Recipients are chosen from various places, but two of the most common are through referrals from our location host and from our database of recipients. We also spread the word about the distribution event to the local community through flyers, word of mouth, and community leaders/events. Depending on the amount of food we have available or other factors, we may have an open event or a private pre-registered event. Open events allow for a “first come first served” flow while pre-registered events require families to register online before the event.
Over time I’ve learned more about businesses, NGOs, and social issues at the same time Joshua’s Heart has grown in size and impact. We have started new programs and have served in different corners of the world. One of our other programs is the hope box event. This event is focused on helping the homeless population in Miami. We hand pack an emergency supply shoe box that contains a sandwich, toiletries, and hygiene products. A group of kids, adults, and myself walk around Downtown Miami and hand-deliver hundreds of boxes to any people who are currently homeless. This event is very powerful and impacts the volunteers and the recipients. These experiences are a big part of the Joshua’s Heart culture and give our volunteers a unique experience.
3. The focus of this week’s newsletter is “creating a new day.” How does Joshua’s Heart bring about a “new day” for its recipients?
The recipients who come for aid and assistance come from all different backgrounds. Some of them have been in an economic slump for a couple months and are struggling. Some have multiple jobs and even then, need assistance. I’ve even met former millionaires who’ve lost everything in a series of unfortunate events. Joshua’s Heart has taught me many lessons and given me many opportunities, but the one I’m most grateful for is the ability it gives me to help others. It allows me to help the people who need it the most. I can help people who need a little push into a new day. Joshua’s Heart’s aid allows families and recipients to get the assistance that will keep them above water for a couple weeks. This can be the boost that allows them to catch up on bills or take care of much-needed things, allowing them to have a new day. The aid can help people hovering under the poverty line push out into a better place and a new day.
Creating a new day is also about finding a new perspective and learning something new. One of my goals in Joshua’s Heart was to teach all my volunteers something new through a unique experience. All Joshua’s Heart events are focused around an intimate experience between volunteer and recipient, hard work, and learning about yourself, others, and the world. Meeting various people from recipients to CEO’s of fortune 500 companies have given me personally a unique blend of experiences and conversations. I’ve become truly grateful for everything that I have and have learned countless lessons from my business experiences at Joshua’s Heart. These are experiences that I want to give to other kids. Providing a distinctive experience that pushes a person to a new day is very important to me as well.
4. How do you recruit kids to volunteer and participate? Tell us about your board and its members.
Joshua’s Heart has always been a youth-focused and run organization and because of this focus on youth, its created a volunteer base that is largely under 18 years old. Many of the kids who first joined JHF were close friends of mine. Word of mouth was the first method of advertisement and it still is very prominent for us. As we expanded we realized we needed more volunteers to assist us. There was one place we knew we could find a lot of potential youth volunteers: schools. We were able to get schools to recommend JHF as an organization where their students could volunteer. Media attention through the years has also been a great aid in getting new volunteers, but we see more volunteers come from school referrals and word of mouth.
Our new adult board is small, but all the members are dedicated and passionate people who are willing to help bring Joshua’s Heart to a new level. Joshua’s Heart doesn’t have any full-time staff. We are an entirely volunteer-run organization. This can make it hard my mother and I as we are the ones who put the most time into preparing events and coordinating people. I’m a high school student and she runs a business and adding another business on top makes things very busy.
In addition, we have the Junior Advisory Board (JAB) which is a group of kids under 18 who are Joshua’s Hearts “elite volunteers.” These kids are kids who understand the power they have to change the world and are dedicated to helping others. The JAB is a training ground where the kids learn leadership, business, fundraising, public speaking, and interviewing skills. We have three chapters in Miami (FL), Boca Raton (FL), and Westport (CT). This is the eighth.year of the program and we have plans to keep expanding and develop the program.
5.) What are your future plans for yourself and for your foundation?
I’m a senior now and just finished turning in all my applications for college. I’m looking forward to starting a new journey at wherever I get accepted. I love computers and business, so I’m aiming to major in computer science and minor in some aspect of business or vice versa. I always see Joshua’s Heart continuing and growing to a truly international level. Someone once told me that to take care of others I must be able to take care of myself first. I plan to start my own businesses and always incorporate philanthropy in them. Being able to financially support and sponsor Joshua’s Heart is a dream of mine.
For more information about Joshua’s Heart Foundation, go to joshuasheart.org.