Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Children who make a difference are inspirational, showing us that no matter how bleak things get, there are kids who want make the world a better place.

Whether their goal is helping others, working on improving the environment or expanding their knowledge beyond what they learn in school, these Northwest Indiana kids use their hearts and minds.


Three years ago, Emma Hamstra came home and told her mother she felt sad because she didn’t have much money to donate to a young Zambian girl her GEMS Girls’ Club was sponsoring.

“She asked me what she could do to raise money to help out,” recalled Angie Hamstra, of DeMotte.

Remembering how her family and church had set up a free-will garage sale (one where you pay what you want for items) to help the Hamstras’ adopted son's journey from India to his new home in the U.S., Emma decided to do something similar.

“I had people donate items and asked my friends from school to help me run it,” said Emma, now a 15-year-old who attends Covenant Christian High School. “My goal was only $100 and we made $900.”

Success was inspirational for Emma.

“She wanted to be even more generous and she decided to give her up her 12th birthday by asking people to make donations to single mothers and their children instead of giving her gifts,” Angie Hamstra said.

Inviting single families from her school, Emma set up craft projects for the kids and after giving the mothers a gift card, provided two hours of free babysitting. Last Christmas she applied for and received a REMC Operation RoundUp grant, using the money to throw a Christmas party for one-parent families. Creating an interview list, Emma talked to the children, asking them their clothing and shoe sizes and what they liked.

“That way when I went shopping I could get exactly what they wanted like, for example, a Spider-Man pair of pajamas,” Emma said.

It took a lot of coordinating and hard work, but for Emma watching the kids unwrap their presents and finding a special gift just for them was truly worth it, she said.

“Emily said to me the other day, that she doesn’t understand why people who break the law do community service,” Hamstra said. “She thinks community service is a reward because it makes her feel so good.”

Bryce Graham 

“Bryce is a giving spirit and he loves to help and volunteer whenever possible,” Sean Graham said of his son's passion for volunteering.

He said Bryce cuts and maintains neighbors’ yards just because he wants to help them.

"It’s not for money, although he occasionally has someone give it to him anyway,” Sean Graham said.

Asked why he helps others, Bryce, a fifth-grader at Wadsworth Elementary in Griffith, offers a simple explanation.

“It’s fun,” he said.

What is particularly fun is when he helped demolish a garage and a shed for Griffith’s annual town clean-up day. 

“Also during clean-up day, we worked at Tot Park and Cheever Park weeding, picking up garbage, spreading mulch and planting some flowers,” Bryce said. “And we’ve helped people who couldn’t do it, clean out their garages.”

Over the last year or so, Bryce also helped at his brother’s high school soccer club’s car wash by working as the traffic director and solicitor. Besides that, Bryce volunteered to take money and maintain the lines at the dunk tank during Griffiths Annual Safety & Community Day, from which all the proceeds went to assist the Griffith Emergency Fund.

“He even took a turn in the dunk tank,” his dad said.

Lisette Allison

“Whenever someone seems upset in class or sad or feeling hurt, Lisette is always the first one to go to the person and try to comfort them,” Ben Shade said. “She helps out everyone, even people who aren’t her close friends.”

Ben, who lives in Miller Beach, is talking about Lisette Allison his eighth-grade classmate at Discovery Charter School in Chesterton. Lisette volunteers to connect the school’s kindergartners with their parents or older siblings at the end of the school day.

“Lisette has always been like a mother hen,” says her mother, Samantha Allison, a preschool teacher with the Chicago Public Schools. “Just the other day she was worried about her 11-year-old brother who went running in the woods, wondering if he was going to be OK. I told her he was fine, but she still was concerned.”

Allison said her daughter also spent a day with her, sorting out a big pile of school supplies for her preschool class.

“I remember a few years ago, Lisette said to me, ‘Mom, we need to help out St. Jude (Children's Research Hospital),’” Allison said. “I didn’t know how to even start with that so I suggested she talk to her 4-H leader. She ended up spearheading a car wash.”

Lisette, who is 13 years old and lives in Portage, said she became interested in raising money for St. Jude after seeing its commercials on TV.

“It took a lot of months to organize it,” she said, “but we ended up having the car wash at The Port in Chesterton and raised $200, which we sent to St. Jude.”

Active in 4H, Lisette, who wants to be an anthropologist when she grows up, likes projects that help the environment.

“We do conservation work for the Izaak Walton League — planting natives and going bird watching,” she said. She and Discovery Charter School's 4H Trackers participated in a conservation activity called Gnome's Day Out, which raised funds for Izaak Walton League of America Porter County Chapters' Youth Conservation Education and Land Stewardship programming.

For Lisette, being active, helping others and working on conservation projects isn’t work.

“It’s really fun,” she said.