What a 12-year-old can teach us about empathy and kindness

Twelve-year-old Daisy Hampton’s mission is to forge friendships with peers who have disabilities and help close the digital access gap for kids who face income inequality. Episode 5 of the "People Making a Difference" podcast.

Daisy Hampton: Including You

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Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Daisy Hampton, founder of Including You, sits at home next to donated laptops and webcams on Dec. 5, 2020, in New York.

At age 11, when Daisy Hampton saw school friends with disabilities being bullied, she took action. Daisy and her mom, Jennifer, founded Including You, an organization set up for kids to mentor other kids who experience learning or physical disabilities. 

While Daisy’s project has grown to match dozens of mentors and mentees in six states, in 2020 her efforts took off in a new direction: closing the digital access gap for schoolchildren. Daisy has now given out more than 500 laptops or MiFi devices to kids who lack internet access. Her organization is built on kindness, and champions digital inclusion and educational equity.

“I believe that kindness is contagious,” Daisy says. “When I started Including You, I wasn’t sure any of my friends would want to help me … but they really did want to help and they were so excited to join me.”

You might have seen the Monitor story about Daisy Hampton on Jan. 20, 2021. We wanted to check in with her again, and take you a little deeper with an audio interview.

Episode transcript

[Music]

Daisy Hampton: It’s really hard for me to see someone suffering, experiencing unkindness. I want to do something about that. So if I know I have the power to help, I know I need to take the compassion I feel, and use that to try and assist.

Dave Scott: That’s Daisy Hampton. She’s 12 years old and founder of “Including You,” an organization founded to help kids with learning or developmental disabilities.

Welcome to People Making a Difference. A podcast about people who are, step-by-step, making a better world.

I’m Dave Scott.

Daisy Hampton and her mom, Jennifer, founded “Including You” about a year and a half ago, and they have two key programs. The first involves kids mentoring other kids who’ve experienced learning or physical disabilities. The second is helping to close the digital gap for school kids by providing laptops and tablets. They’ve created an organization, mostly with child volunteers, built on kindness, and that champions digital inclusion and educational equity.

Welcome, Daisy!

Daisy Hampton: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Dave Scott: Daisy, I understand that part of what motivated you to start your organization was having been involved in what’s known as ICT classes – from kindergarten through fifth grade. Right?

Daisy Hampton: Yes.

Dave Scott: So I.C.T. stands for Integrated Co-Teaching classes. And those are classes that are taught by a general education teacher and a special ed teacher, and they include students both with and without disabilities. So how did that influence you?

Daisy Hampton: I learned from a young age that I need to be compassionate about a classmate who might have behaviors that would be a little bit different and to be encouraging and supportive of them when they needed it. And as I got older, I started noticing that some of my classmates were no longer treating kids with disabilities with kindness, and it wasn’t fair. They would bully and say that they were gross. Just because they had a disability.

Dave Scott: That’s awful. So how did that make you feel.

Daisy Hampton: It was sad to see how some of my own friends, who I had known for a while, making fun of my classmate with the disability. Yeah, that really especially raised my awareness of the exclusion in school communities for kids with disabilities. And I really wanted to make others more aware of it.

Dave Scott: Initially, Daisy and her mom set up a program, during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, to match kids with other kids, to act as mentors. Daisy recruited her classmates and members of her Girl Scout troop, and Daisy started mentoring online an 11-year-old girl in Mississippi. She also mentors Laura, who lives near Daisy in New York City.

Daisy Hampton: One [of my] mentees, Laura, is a 17-year-old girl with Down Syndrome, who’s a senior in high school right now. We’re close friends and we hang out a lot.

Dave Scott: And how long have you been mentoring her? Tell me what’s a typical mentoring session?

Daisy Hampton: Our relationship with her, it’s not like our typical one – on Zoom. We’ll hang out in person [doing things] like baking. She’s also part of my Girl Scout troop. I have a few other mentees: We go on Zoom and we either do a homework assignment that she needs help with [or] go through a test, or we just talk about how school has been recently.

Dave Scott: That’s great. So I guess what strikes me as interesting, Daisy, is that Including You is unusual because it’s for kid and it’s by kids. Why does that appeal to you? Why do you think that it appeals to other kids?

Daisy Hampton: I think knowing that there’s kids your age running something might help you feel more connected, and sometimes even strengthen your bonds with other people, and makes you feel more empowered knowing that there’s other kids running bigger things. And [it] makes you think, “oh, if there’s a kid my age doing such a huge thing, working on a nonprofit organization, I can do that too. I can make that big of a difference.”

Dave Scott: While Daisy’s project has grown to matching dozens of mentors and mentees in six states, in the fall of 2020 her efforts took off in a new direction: Helping kids with remote learning challenges, closer to home. Daisy saw a news story about a nine-year-old girl in the Bronx who needed a laptop to attend classes online, and [who] was at risk of becoming truant. Daisy used a $200 award she earned from Girl Scouts to buy the girl a laptop. The publicity from that act of kindness drew thousands of dollars in donations. Daisy has now given out more than 500 laptops or tablets. I asked her how that’s making a difference in individual lives. And she told me this story.

Daisy Hampton: I think it was a few months ago, I learned a story about a girl who throughout the pandemic has been using her dad’s phone as a device to attend school. And she had to share it with her brother, so neither of them were able to fully attend their classes. So her dad would go to work every day without having any phone. And he was a truck driver. Since neither of the kids were able to complete their homework, they were falling behind. So I knew that they really needed computers. So I donated two computers, one to each sibling. And she cried when she received it because it was such an important thing to her. And it really reconnected her with her classmates and opened the door to her classroom.

Dave Scott: Of course, Daisy hasn’t done all of this on her own. Her mom, Jennifer, has been her partner. And I asked Jennifer about the division of labor between them.

Jennifer Hampton: She came up with this idea and of course I’ve supported her in any way that I can. And as she indicated, certainly I’ll handle emails and things of that nature. And so the way I’ll help is there’s [been] some high school volunteers and I have to facilitate that relationship with the high school. But then of course Daisy is the one who prepares icebreakers for people when they start their mentorship sessions. So, for example, the one [mentorship] she’s talking about for Mississippi, she will prepare a PowerPoint of icebreakers: Here’s what to ask your mentees in the beginning of a session so that you become friends before you start a session.

I might handle, say, the purchasing of devices with the monies raised, but Daisy is the one cleaning the computers, erasing them, getting them ready to donate to different places. So, you know, I provide her support, where needed. Daisy is really at the helm and really making a lot of decisions. You’d be surprised at [the decisions] a 12-year-old could make.

Dave Scott: It’s really impressive what you’ve accomplished, but Jennifer, how do you and Daisy handle the balance between school and Girl Scouts and running a nonprofit?

Jennifer Hampton: You know, prioritizing and balancing things: She’s somebody who’s always had a lot going on, so she’s able to just handle it and prioritize. And we would certainly never say, “you’ve got to be doing this till midnight,” or anything like that.

But sometimes there have been times, on a weekend, that we’re charging computers until late in the night. So that sometimes happens, but only if Daisy wants to help with that. If she doesn’t, if she’s tired, I’ll do it. I recognize the time issues for Daisy and school always comes first. So she’s had the opportunity where people have called and said, “Come and be on their national morning show,” and she’s declined. She has finals, and, if there’s any sort of work that she has to do involving the nonprofit, she has learned to balance her time. School will always come first.

Dave Scott: At this point, Daisy rejoins the conversation. Hey, Daisy I just have a few more questions. So when there’s a kid at your school that struggles to communicate with another kid who’s been labeled as having a disability, what advice would you give them?

Daisy Hampton: I really wouldn’t treat them like they’re any different than anybody else. Don’t make them seem like they’re super different and like an outcast. If they can’t speak well, it’s OK to ask them to like, repeat. But that’s really my advice because there isn’t too much of a need to speak to somebody super different. Just make sure if there’s something unclear, ask them to repeat something.

Dave Scott: Where does your sense of empathy and generosity come from? What motivates you to help others?

Daisy Hampton: Well, I think it comes a lot from my parents. They’ve instilled it in me – a sense of responsibility to our community. Part of that responsibility means not to sit out when we see others in need, whether it’s like empathy, friendship, [and] being an upstander or an ally, or whether it means figuring out how to help with material needs, like a device. And it’s really hard for me to see someone suffering, experiencing unkindness and being mistreated. I want to do something about that. So if I know I have the power to help and [I] know [that] I need to take the compassion I feel and use that to try and assist.

Dave Scott: OK Daisy, I have one more question for you. How has working on this nonprofit changed you? Think about Daisy before and Daisy now. What’s changed?

Daisy Hampton: I think having Including You has kind of implemented a constant reminder to have gratitude. And it really has also opened my eyes to all the inequities that need to be addressed, whether it’s in the area of disability rights, the digital divide, health disparities, or so many other issues. I want to help as much as I can and where I can, to motivate others to do so as well, because I believe that kindness is contagious. Because when I started Including You, I wasn’t sure any of my friends would want to help me. I thought I’d just have to recruit the mentors and others but they really did want to help and they were so excited to join me. And so did plenty of other kids and even adults throughout the country. So yeah, that really changed me.

Dave Scott: And Jennifer, what changes have you seen in your daughter.

Jennifer Hampton: Well, I’ve seen even greater leadership skills and an increased self-esteem because she has seen firsthand that she does have this ability to – if she sees something that needs to be changed or somebody that needs help – she has been able to actually have an impact and she’s seen that impact.

Dave Scott: At the end of each podcast, I’ve been issuing a challenge to listeners to take action. So I asked Daisy what challenge she would give the listeners of this podcast.

Daisy Hampton: Well, one, I think it’s really important to try to do an act of kindness as often as you can, like every day, because doing something kind doesn’t cost anything. Second, this is something that I’ve said before. I’d like to invite anyone no matter what your age is that sees a problem in the world to recognize the power within yourself, to help change it because you can’t really wait for someone else to do it. And you can’t assume that someone else has it covered. But you also can’t be afraid of failure because, [and] I know that I’ve been afraid of failure before, because your act of kindness is a spark that will ignite others as well. And [it] can be a big inspiration for others to do better and the change you seek, can happen.

[Music]

Dave Scott: And that’s this week’s challenge: An act of kindness. Call me and tell me how it went. Call me at (617) 450-2410 and leave me a voice message about it. That’s (617) 450-2410. 

What impressed me about Daisy was her willingness to tap into her desire to help others and  to use that to override her fears. At her age, I would have been paralyzed with anxiety. She stepped out of her comfort zone to talk to the media, to speak in front of her classmates and win support for her efforts. That takes a special kind of courage.

Daisy and her mom have recently been contacted by a girl’s school in Africa. So in the coming months, among other things, they plan to work together to launch a new mentorship program in Africa.

To learn more about Daisy’s efforts, go to IncludingYou.org.

You’ve been listening to “People Making a Difference,” a podcast about people who are, step-by-step, making a better world.

Copyright The Christian Science Monitor, 2021. 

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