South Vietnamese refugee Tran Bui Smith knows the value of hard work, sacrifice and freedom, and she believes that it creates both an obligation and an opportunity to help others.
In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, 3-year-old Tran, her parents and two sisters fled South Vietnam, escaping an overturned government and oppression, in search of a better life. That new life began when she and her family were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after a rigorous boat ride from her native country. They then lived in several refugee camps before settling in Arkansas.
“Because of my parents’ work ethic, sacrifices and sheer determination, we were able to succeed and enjoy the freedom they desperately wanted for us. With that freedom, comes an obligation to give back,” the Roswell resident said.
Mirroring the determination of her parents, Tran made the commitment to instill in her own children the importance of giving back. So, in 2010, and on her daughter Ava’s third birthday, she launched Little Helpers in Memphis, Tennessee, where she was living at the time.
Little Helpers is a volunteer-based program that teaches children of all ages to commit their time to helping others in need. Various monthly service or kindness projects are organized within the community.
“The program is designed to help young people understand the value of volunteering, recognize the blessings of their lives, broaden their community perspective and feel the sense of accomplishment received from lending a helping hand,” she said.
Tran’s desire to serve her community and show her kids the importance of serving others followed her wherever she relocated. When Tran and her family left Memphis and moved to Rochester, New York, she started a Little Helpers chapter there. Then in 2015, after moving to the Roswell area, Tran launched a metro Atlanta chapter. Since its inaugural chapter opened in Memphis, the organization has grown to 20 chapters throughout the world, including Las Vegas, Austin, Texas, Charlotte, North Carolina, Dublin, Ireland, Costa Rica and Tran’s birth country, Vietnam.
In a world where kindness is sometimes overlooked and face-to-face interaction is stifled by a social media-obsessed society, Little Helpers teaches the next generation to be compassionate toward others through its kindness and service projects. Projects include making sandwiches for the homeless, picking up trash in local parks, visiting nursing homes, collecting supplies for the needy, sending care packages to the military, delivering treats to local heroes and first responders in remembrance of 9/11, bathing shelter animals and completing yard work at domestic violence shelters.
Tran’s two children Jackson,14, and Ava, 11, have not missed a monthly service project since Little Helpers began.
“I wanted to expose my children to volunteer work,” she said. “In the process, I’d hoped that they would see what happens when you help others and how it could make a huge difference in so many lives.”
Every year, in honor of Trevor George, a Little Helper who passed away at the age of 6, the organization dedicates the entire month of October to perform random acts of kindness. Trevor’s Toes and Tushies is a local event that helps collect socks and undergarments for needy families. During the event, Little Helper volunteers dress in Trevor’s trademark attire — superhero costumes and mismatched socks — to deliver the donations to families in need.
Tran’s ultimate goal in 2010 was to show her children how giving back would not only impact the lives of those in need, but also impact their own lives. It was a way to build their confidence and reinforce the importance of showing kindness and gratitude as a lifestyle.
“We can’t just tell our children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you,’” she said. “We need to show them how to be considerate of others and grateful for what they have. For me, it’s a priority and a commitment.”
To learn more about Little Helpers, or if you are interested in volunteering for or donating to a service project, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Little-Helpers or email LittleHelpersKindKids@gmail.com.