Raising Kids Who Care


Phil and Anne Holland-McCowan
John, 16; Harrison, 13
Atherton, California

John Holland-McCowan was sitting on a beach in Hawaii with his parents and his baby brother, Harrison, happily playing with coconuts and driftwood. “I’m so lucky,” the almost-five-year-old suddenly announced. “I have all these toys to play with and all my toys at home.”

His startled parents replied that he was indeed lucky, since a lot of kids didn’t have any toys at all. “That’s when he started to cry,” recalls his mother, Anne.

Raising Kids Who CarePhotograhped by Vern EvansJohn Holland-McCowan (center with brother Harrison and parents Anne and Phil) wanted to share his toys and his time before he was five.

“How can that be?” John asked. “We have to get toys for those children.”

His parents naturally wondered if it was just some kind of phase, but as soon as they returned home, John began hoarding his small allowance to buy toys for other kids and urging his friends to do the same. His parents responded by organizing pizza suppers for other families interested in helping underprivileged children. “We just want to cheer kids up,” John explained.

“It was so great and so simple,” says Anne, who set out to find a place that would allow children as young as six and seven to volunteer. “It took a lot of phone calls,” admits the longtime volunteer. “We finally got Scribbles and Giggles [scribblesandgiggles.com], a day-care center for medically fragile children, to let John and his friend Jane visit. They went and just played with these kids, zipping around the room as if they belonged there. And these were children with tubes in their throats and all kinds of medical problems.”

John and his friends named their enterprise Kids Cheering Kids (kidscheeringkids.com), and today there are 19 chapters in the greater San Jose/South Bay area; another in Metairie, Louisiana; and still another in Portland, Oregon. John is 16 now, a six-one sophomore and a water polo star at Menlo High School. He still visits kids at the San Jose Family Center, helping out with a carnival they’re putting on. He’s also working with Angels on Stage (angelsonstage.org) in the South Bay to prepare a performance of The Wizard of Oz starring children with disabilities.

The spirit of helping is as fresh as it was that day in Hawaii. “The whole purpose,” he says, “is to make the kids feel better.”

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