Team Kids is on a mission, empowering children to change the world. Founded in 2001, this nonprofit organization works alongside partners such as Irvine Unified, the Irvine Police Department and the Orange County Fire Authority to address a serious gap in services for our youngest citizens.
As a mother of five herself, Team Kids founder and CEO Julia Hudash understood the importance of teaching young minds the value of empathy, teamwork and a drive to help others. Frustrated with a lack of nonprofits that would allow her young children to volunteer, Hudash created her own. The program has been a success from day one — her flagship challenge galvanized 600 Vista Verde Elementary School students to raise more than $20,000 to help save the life of a local child.
“Children naturally want to change the world and help those in need, yet in our country there are few ways for them to serve,” explains Hudash.
“Due to liability issues, most charities don’t allow volunteers younger than 15 to volunteer. So when the window of compassion is wide open and kids want to send their sandwiches to Africa or save the panda bears, we send a message that they are too little [to help]. Sadly, they soon believe that message. Later in high school, teens are encouraged to volunteer to help get accepted to a good college, but all too often, the original drive to serve with compassion and empathy shifts to a self serving motivation,” furthers Hudash.
It was for these reasons that she committed to bridging the gap, giving young people the vital opportunity to engage in solutions for today’s issues.
Team Kids’ youth-led, school- and community- based service programs encourage participants to become the next generation of compassionate leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. The programs focus on building positive assets for youth while protecting against harmful behaviors.
“It is critical to connect children, when the window of compassion is wide open, to critical issues in the community and provide powerful experiences like the Team Kids Challenge Program, to build empathy and self-efficacy,” says Hudash.
The innovative and award-winning Team Kids Challenge is a five-week experience given to elementary school students, taught with the help of local police officers, firefighters, educators, parents and business partner volunteers. Throughout the program the children are challenged to “do great things through compassionate service to those in need.”
A simple program with complex results, the challenge is delivered during school hours, making it possible for every child to participate.
One the assets promoted by Team Kids is a positive relationship with community stakeholders, such as police and firefighters. By bringing kids and civic mentors together through participatory elementary school programming, students are provided with more than traditional, ineffective messages.
Less “don’t do this” and more “by working together you can accomplish anything,” Team Kids helps local youth to see adults in their schools and communities as supportive role models.
O.C. Fire Authority captain (ret.) and Founding Team Kids Board President Steve McHale states that working with the Team Kids “is the best part of my career. If I do nothing else, here on out, I’m OK with that. This is the best.”
“The feedback we receive from partners is always extremely positive as it unites the community to invest in kids,” agrees Hudash.
The success of Team Kids has enabled it to further its reach, providing support for children across the nation and reaffirming the positive impact role models can have on today’s children.
Team Kids’ founder is proud of how far they’ve come, sharing: “As a result of our recent Team Kids research publication in the American Psychological Association Journal of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, there is a growing national interest in how to align community partners to support youth. After our successful replication of the Team Kids Challenge alongside the New York Department of Education, NYPD and FDNY, it is clear that this community collaboration and investment in youth can be replicated in any city.”
“Our flagship Team Kids Challenge Program provides opportunities for multiple agencies to collaborate to protect and empower youth,” expounds Hudash. “Whether we are teaching in Los Angeles or New York City, we constantly receive feedback that Team Kids provides the vehicle for agencies to be mentors for kids. For example, in today’s climate around law enforcement, Team Kids mobilizes officers as compassionate mentors for elementary students and our outcomes are now empirically validated to build trusting relationships between youth and law enforcement.”
Children aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program.
“The feedback we receive from parents is gratitude that our program is delivered in school, during the day, so parents don’t have to add another activity to their busy schedule,” shares Hudash.
How does Team Kids impact the local communities in which it serves? By focusing their lessons around mutual respect and prevention.
“The Team Kids Challenge Program empowers students as advocates to address critical community issues, while also mobilizing public safety mentors into school campuses to invest in our youngest leaders,” furthers Hudash.
“Team Kids’ programs provide our young people with opportunities to learn about community, leadership, teamwork, compassion, and making healthy choices. This is prevention, as kids who feel connected to their community and are involved in positive social action are less likely to engage in destructive behavior. Team Kids’ programs build self-respect — and respect for others in need.”
The work they do is so impactful that graduates are coming back to teach the programs that helped shape them as students. Team Kids shares the story of one stand-out student that has made them proud:
“Keiko Arzouman participated in the Team Kids Challenge in elementary school and truly had a passion for helping others. Then as a high school and college student Keiko stepped up to mentor our youngest Team Kids leaders. Keiko joined our Team Kids staff after graduating from college and taught the very Team Kids program that inspired her as a young student. After attending graduate school Keiko decided she truly wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs. Today Keiko is working for Special Olympics and continues to inspire and empower thousands of deserving children. The mission of Team Kids is to help children identify issues they are truly passionate about, then providing the experiences for them to create a life of purpose.”
Keiko did just that.
With such great benefit to our youth and local community, what can Irvine do to help Team Kids?
“The greatest way to support our innovative mission is through making a tax-deductible donation,” supports Hudash.
“At Team Kids we don’t believe that leadership should come with a price tag. For this reason, we do not charge schools or students to participate in the Team Kids Challenge. To honor the philanthropic spirit of children, we also donate 100 percent of youth led proceeds to charities that they vote on themselves.”
Since it began in 2001, more than 100,000 students have completed the Team Kids Challenge. The program has been replicated in cities nationally, including Arlington, Virginia and Brooklyn, New York. The team is currently working to expand to new schools in their Southern California and East Coast communities. Committed to continued growth, they are also excited to be launching in Tempe, Arizona in early 2020.
Youth-driven and adult-supported, Team Kids is here to remind us all that at the end of the day, “It’s all about the kids!”