I have known this dynamic duo since they were four years old. Eleven years later, I am proudly watching twins, Izzy and Kennedy, form their own community group to help our homeless neighbors in Seattle. For almost a decade, these young ladies watched their mom, Laney, serving the homeless in a program called Search & Rescue through Seattle's Union Gospel Mission (UGM). In little ways, their mom brought them into the fold to help serve -- preparing sandwiches, making blessing bags, doing coat drives. This inspired the twins to also share their passion for serving with their friends. As Izzy and Kennedy grew older, they were itching to go out on Search & Rescue but discovered that the minimum age requirement is 15. As you can imagine that's not something a 12-year old likes to hear. So Izzy and Kennedy took matters into their own hands and pitched to UGM their version of Search & Rescue called Younger's Night for kids between the ages of 12 - 15.
Youngers' Night is a shortened and earlier version of Search & Rescue. Whereas the adults go out every night from 7:30pm - 11:30pm, Youngers' Night happens once every few months and is from 6pm - 9pm. Read in the twins' own words how Youngers' Night took shape and the amazing things they are doing now. It really does show how big starts small and that you are never too young to spark the flame. Way to go Izzy and Kennedy!
Q. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of Youngers’ Night?
Answer: The idea of Youngers' Night started about 3 years ago when we were below the age of 15, which is the minimum age requirement for ‘adult’ Search & Rescue nights. Our mom, Laney, has always had a passion for serving the homeless and is also on the Board of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM). We created Youngers' Night for kids who are under the age of 15 and want to serve. We started our night to bridge the gap between the homeless population and children, as we are the next generation.
Q. I know you had to go through quite a bit with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to get the idea approved. It’s really inspiring how dedicated you were to get this started. Can you walk us through what you had to do and how long it took you from pitching your idea to leading your first Youngers’ Night?
Answer: We started Youngers' Night with a lot of help from our mom. At first, she ran the idea by Jeff Lilley, the former President of UGM, and he agreed to let us try it out. But we wanted to make it an official program. So we made a presentation and met with Jeff and also others who were highly associated with UGM including Richard McAdams, who was the supervisor of Search & Rescue and a big advocate for us; Bryan Chandler, the Director of Search & Rescue; and Terry Pilous, the Director of Programs. We organized a meeting and presented our idea to all of them. We worked through details with them and put a date on the books! All together with the trials and the meeting, it took around a year to make official.
Q. Why are you so passionate about helping our homeless neighbors?
Answer: We really fell in love with serving our brothers and sisters on the streets. We love making connections with the people. Every time we go out, we see someone we know, and it is fun to talk to them. We also have had a lot of fun with making connections with the people who go out with us that are currently in the recovery program. We have an amazing connection with some individuals, and we talk about life and have so much fun together. And this month, I (Izzy) went to a graduation where two of the people graduated, and I was able to meet their family.
Q. You’ve learned a lot about our homeless neighbors. What do you think is the biggest misconception about homelessness?
Answer: We find the biggest misconception about homelessness is that they are criminals and addicts who are too lazy to find a job. In some cases this may be true, but for most it is not. The biggest problem that has put people on the streets is that it’s a relationship problem. Jeff Lilley, the former President of UGM gave the best example of this. He would say, “My house burned down, and I have nowhere to go. So I look to my best friend Sally, and I know if I ask Sally if I could stay with her for a while, of course, she will say yes. But if I punched her in the face and then proceeded to steal her bike, my chances aren’t great when asking for a place to sleep.” Yes, there are addicts on the streets, and yes, there are cases that people may be criminals but you don’t see it from how they act. Almost all the people are super kind and appreciative of what they receive.
Q. What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself since starting Youngers’ Night?
Answer: One thing we have learned is that we take stuff for granted, and even though we have so much, we still want and want. The people have so little on the streets, yet they are content with it. They don’t take more than they need, and don’t let their things get them down. We need to appreciate what we have, because at the end of the day, we have so much.
Q. What do you love about working with each other on this special project?
Answer: Together we send out all the emails and set up the list for each Youngers’ Night. This takes a lot of organization and planning. However, what we love most is standing together in front of all the volunteers on Youngers’ Night and explaining what we do and why we do it.
Q. As a teenager, what do you think has been the biggest challenge with organizing Youngers’ Night and how did you overcome it?
Answer: The hardest problem isn’t filling up the van, but figuring out who to bring. We have so many people that would love to go out. But we have to have the right balance of new people and those who have gone out before. Early on, we also had to make it clear that this isn’t a social event, and if they are there to just hang out with friends they shouldn’t be. This took a lot of experience to figure out the best approach, but we have tried to get as many new people in as possible.
Q. What advice would you give to other teens if they wanted to start an on-going service project?
Answer: Get to know people in the same field. It really helps to have a support system backing you up. Also get to know the people in charge. We have developed amazing connections with the people who make decisions, and we know that we can go to them if we need something. And also don’t be afraid to get out there. It might not be for you, but at least you tried.
Q. Who has inspired you to serve others?
Answer: Our mom and Kristine Moreland have inspired us to serve others. Our mom has been serving along side Kristine for many years, and she was the one who really got us going. However, Kristine has made the spark that was planted inside us by our mom into a fire. We see Kristine’s foundation,The MoreLove Project, which she started to help the homeless. Kristine is so passionate about serving others and helping in any way possible, it really inspires us.
Q. How do you think that serving others has shaped your kindset?
Answer: We have seen compassion and kindness in both the volunteers and the homeless. In the volunteers, we see people taking their time and loving on others. And in the homeless, we really admire when they only take what they need and continue to have a positive attitude despite what they are going through. This has shaped our kindset to see the little moments as great acts of kindness and compassion.
Q. Now that you are 15 and old enough to participate in Search & Rescue on regular nights, what is your hope for Youngers’ Night and will you continue to keep it going?
Answer: We have some amazing youngers who will definitely help us in the future. However, we are still planning on running it as long as we can. This is something we worked on for a long time and we aren’t ready to let it go.