It was Brandy Jemczura’s two young children who initially inspired her idea to create Seeds of Caring back in 2016.
As she thought about what she wanted her children to grow up and be like, she kept coming back to the same notion—the kind of people who, if they see something in their community they aren’t okay with, will do something.
What started as a few families joining together to put on a music program at a senior center has blossomed into a thriving and agile nonprofit organization focused on creating opportunities to educate, engage, and involve young people about how they, even as children, can make a difference in our community.
“Kids bring a certain joy, dedication, and energy to service and volunteering that is just unmatched. I think we have to harness that energy and grow that part of who kids are,” Jemczura said.
Even with a background in social work and education, Jemczura found it very difficult to find volunteer opportunities for kids in the central Ohio community. Seeing the response from the first effort with the senior center, she set out to create more of these types of opportunities for young people ages 2–12 and their families.
“Everything we know about child development shows us that kindness and empathy are skills that must be modeled and practiced and we can do that starting as young as age two, but it takes intentionality."
BRANDY JEMCZURA, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SEEDS OF CARING
“I felt like we were missing a huge opportunity to shape future civic-minded leaders by helping an entire generation think about their community—and their role in it—in a different way,” Jemczura said.
News of the programs spread quickly, and by month three, Jemczura said they were flooded with families who wanted to be involved. That’s when she realized there was, in fact, a considerable need in the community for this type of connection, and she formalized Seeds of Caring, creating a 501(c)(3) in 2017.
To Jemczura, Seeds of Caring is more than just volunteering and helping out. It’s educating young people about pressing needs in the community and inspiring them to respond through service, social action, and community-building.
“We look at our impact in two ways,” she explained. “We want to make sure we’re meeting critical needs in our community and work with more than 40 nonprofit partners all across Columbus to do that. Once we know what those needs are, we build programming around it.”
Jemczura also believes that “empathetic reflection” is critical to kids growing from the experience. The model she and her team have created pairs educational components with action.
“We’ve built our curriculum around tough topics—everything from homelessness and racism to supporting LGBTQ youth. How do we start talking to kids about these things from a young age, so they grow up with a compassionate, empathetic lens on their community?”
The Columbus Foundation has awarded numerous grants to Seeds of Caring since its inception. In addition, the organization has received support from the Margaret and Robert Walter Foundation, a Supporting Foundation of The Columbus Foundation, for its work promoting and instilling kindness. As a way to engage students on World Kindness Day in 2021, The Columbus Foundation’s Center for HumanKindness awarded a grant to provide educators in 13 local school districts with a World Kindness Day Teacher Toolkit and funds students could help direct to nonprofits of their choice.
“Support from The Columbus Foundation and the Center for HumanKindness has been absolutely instrumental in our growth,” Jemczura said. “It elevated our mission, expanded our programs, and bolstered our partnerships across the community. We grew faster than we ever would have without that support. It also provided key dollars at a time when we were forced to significantly shift our program delivery.”
Photos courtesy of Seeds of Caring
Jemczura recognized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that the kids they serve were suddenly very disconnected from their community in a way that was harmful to their mental health. With The Columbus Foundation’s support, they were able to quickly provide meaningful ways to connect. Within two and a half weeks of the initial shutdown, Seeds of Caring released its first at-home project for groups and families. They had so many new families engaging that now, while it has brought back in-person opportunities, Seeds of Caring will continue to offer at-home opportunities because they are so supported.
“Seeds of Caring is bringing forward the next generation of philanthropists—educating about pressing needs through a lens of empathy and equity, all while activating hands and hearts,” said Dan Sharpe, Vice President for Community Research and Grants Management at The Columbus Foundation. “Leadership is passionate, strategic, thoughtful, and skilled—and the Seeds of Caring community is beyond generous and deeply engaged. The organization’s future is bright, and through their work, our collective future is, too.”
Through its journey, Seeds of Caring has experienced tremendous growth, from 285 child participants in 2016 to 14,507 in 2021. And Jemczura is excited about what’s to come.
“My hope for the future is that we continue to grow our impact here in central Ohio and beyond, building bridges across our community and collectively raising generations of caring, courageous, community-minded leaders. I think in doing this we will achieve our vision which is a kinder, more connected world—led by our youngest generation.”