Entrepreneur’s Corner

Craig Sanders, Founder of HELPEN

By Bailey Beckett

In such an extreme time, when messages about community, hope, and compassion are lost to news about disease, politics, and social unrest, how can parents instill the values in their kids they do not see in the media?

A new program called HELPEN, created by New York-based entrepreneur Craig Sanders, is looking to fill that void. His concept bridges families to worthy non-profits through a fun game, voice-assisted learning, and life skills designed to shape kids into the next generation of leaders. Realizing children are in their most crucial development period between ages 2 and 9, HELPEN uses that time frame to expose kids to examples of charity, community, and selflessness.

Sanders, a Kansas native, attended Boston University, where he walked on to the men’s hockey team and eventually played overseas in Amsterdam and Australia. He later pursued a career in bond trading, which he credits with teaching him risk management and decision-making skills. During that time, he began fundraising for non-profits like the Travis Roy Foundation and the Mark Bavis Leadership Foundation, all Boston-based organizations with strong ties to the New England hockey communities. That was the beginning.

Sanders came up with the idea for HELPEN while applying to Harvard Business School. Although he wasn’t accepted, the process led him to examine his own life story and how experiences from his upbringing helped determine his life path.

“HELPEN is a program designed to empower kids to learn, give and understand the positive consequences of actions rooted in kindness,” explains Sanders. “In such a formative time in their lives, showing kids the power of generosity is an important part of them developing into responsible, aware, and selfless individuals. HELPEN is about providing an experience that will help shape the next generation into the empathetic and generous leaders of tomorrow.”

The concept is simple: Every week, HELPEN sends postcards to parents listing pre-screened, kid-appropriate non-profits. Kids pick a charity they want to learn about and support with a $1 donation. Parents enter donations using a unique QR code on the cards and then activate Amazon’s Alexa to share a customized message about their chosen cause and how far their $1 contribution can go. Included in the voice experience are real-life examples of what their donation can help accomplish, whether it’s feeding a horse, providing life-saving medications, or delivering colorful bedsheets to kids undergoing cancer treatment in the hospitals.

What if, he thought, we could get to kids in that crucial part of their lives and show how generosity and kindness can not only shape their lives but others too. He chose the name HELPEN as a nod to his time playing pro hockey in Amsterdam. The name means “help out” in Dutch. “Letting children see how their decision benefitted and impacted a cause or life is a valuable lesson they might not otherwise receive,” says Sanders. “This kind of activity builds character, empathy, and a desire to contribute. Consequences have become a negative word; HELPEN shows how it can be a positive.”

HELPEN also shows kids the immediacy of their decision-making: how even $1 donations, when combined with others, can lead to significant change. Sanders’ collection of non-profits include VisionSpring, which donates eyeglasses to kids around the world so they can see in school, RxART, which installs art and gives coloring books to children’s hospitals across the U.S., and Sheets from Home, which provides colorful bedsheets to kids undergoing cancer treatment in the hospital. He’s also enrolled Wild Tomorrow Fund, which feeds orphaned rhinos, as well as One Tree Planted, which plants a tree for every dollar donated, and many more.

Every organization is pre-screened, including verifying its non-profit status and its ability to provide content suitable for children. One such non-profit is Girlstart, an organization that seeks to inspire girls’ interest in science, engineering, and mathematics through innovative learning methods. “Any chance we get to share our story, mission, and benefits is a great opportunity,” explained Chelsey Pippin, Engagement Officer Annual Fund, Marketing at Girlstart. “HELPEN is a terrific service to kids and the non-profit community, and we are pleased to participate.”

Sanders is pleased with this fascinating ride. As he told us, “I’m extremely excited to make an impact for families, non-profits, and our communities alike.”

For more information on HELPEN, visit: helpen.com.