Will Sears, who just finished seventh grade at Kyrene Altadena Middle School, admits he wasn’t sure what “altruistic” meant, but now he not only knows what it is – he lives it.
Will is one of 90 seventh- to 12th-grade boys in Boys Team Charity Ahwatukee, a group started just a year ago by parents who wanted their sons to have an opportunity to learn about giving back to their community.
The Ahwatukee chapter of the nonprofit national organization got its start in March 2017, when some parents were casually conversing about how they would like their sons to be part of a group much like the National Charity League – which is aimed at girls.
“The conversation we had that Friday afternoon culminated with us agreeing to reach out to other parents to get their input on starting an Ahwatukee chapter of the BTC,” recalled Todd Heaton, BTC Ahwatukee president and father of 13-year-old twins Sam and Sophie, the latter active in the National Charity League.
Heaton said the response to the invitation for boys and their parents to join Boys Team Charity Ahwatukee was initially strong – and continues to grow as more families become aware of the opportunity to serve their community while building self-esteem and commitment.
“By May 2017 – just two months after we had the idea of forming – Boys Team Charity of Ahwatukee grew from 17 to 50 boys,” said Heaton. “We now have 90 boys and 130 member families. It’s been massively successful.”
There is an annual minimum for “Philanthropy Service Hours,” and it applies to parents and their sons. For middle-schoolers, it is 15 hours, while 10 hours of minimum service is required for high school sophomores through seniors.
In addition, BTC Ahwatukee – which is eligible to boys and parents living in 85044, 85045 and 85048 – has three mandatory general membership meetings and three grade-level meetings that “TeamMates” and occasionally their parents must attend.
The last general meeting, which was kicked off the group’s second year, featured former NFL wide receiver-turned-motivational speaker JJ Birden giving the keynote address.
“These boys are high-energy, as I am, so as president, I’m very cognizant of that when leading the meetings. Our last meeting was two hours long, and we got them up a couple times to shake it out,” smiled Heaton. “And these are boys and they love to eat, so of course we always have food for them and bottled water.”
But it is the philanthropic work that is the focus of Boys Team Charity of Ahwatukee.
This Easter, baskets were delivered to Y OPAS seniors. Each month, the boys sign and send birthday cards to Y OPAS members. BTC boys and their parents also make visits to UMOM New Day Center in Phoenix and volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank, Feed My Starving Children and Mesa’s Paz de Cristo of Mesa.
“What’s cool is we’re all busy, the parents are busy, the kids have school and extracurricular activities and the weekends can be even crazier,” said Heaton.
“The 15 hours annually of participating in philanthropic events, and another six hours annually in general meetings is very manageable with everything our kids already have going on. It’s a great opportunity to show our kids the value of giving back, and for family to spend quality time together.”
For TeamMate Donovan Morales, a heart connection resulted from several visits to UMOM, where he spent time reading books to a 5-year-old boy who was there with his mother.
“The first time we went, the kids lined up and partnered with us. I asked him if he wanted to be my partner,” said the Altadena seventh-grader.
“From then on, every time we came, he’d run up to me. I read to him and had him read to me. One time we showed up and he was gone. It was kinda sad, but also cool to know they were able to get back on their feet.”
Boys Team Charity of Ahwatukee is well worth the time invested, Donovan, 13, added.
“I think it’s a great experience because when we volunteer, we make other people happy but it gives you happiness as well,” he said.
Jorden Morales, a Desert Vista High School junior and Donovan’s brother, is also active in BTC Ahwatukee.
“I’d say it’s been a learning experience. It opened my eyes to the struggles much of the rest of the world goes through,” said Jorden.
“I’m a big fan of all the charitable work we’ve done but especially the one where we packed and sent care packages to the military, and we all wrote letters to put in the boxes.”
Jorden, 16, said he encourages other teens to become involved.
The boys’ mother, Pam Morales, said she’s seen a difference in both her sons since they joined a year ago.
“My boys were very involved in sports and school, but not volunteering in the community. In Ahwatukee, you don’t really see examples of people who are really struggling; they may be but you don’t see them,” she said, adding:
“You don’t really understand. But we’ve gone from, ‘Do I have to go tonight (to a charity organization)?’ to ‘We get to go tonight!’ It’s good to have well-rounded boys.”
She and her husband, Albert, work alongside their boys at local nonprofit agencies.
Will Sears is the son of Jill and Mike Sears who, like other parents in BTC Ahwatukee, work alongside their boys. Will said his favorite charity thus far is Feed My Starving Children at its Mesa food-packing facility.
“I liked working for Feed My Starving Children the most because the work is set up in a way that makes it a fun challenge, and you work with a lot of people which helps a lot of children in a short amount of time,” the 13-year-old said.
“I think I’ll continue to do this (philanthropy) in the future because helping others in your community makes them feel good, as well as yourself.”
And then there’s the social aspect.
“BTC Ahwatukee is also extremely fun because I get to do good things with tons of my friends,” said Will.
Growth for Boys Team Charity continues, according to Laura Turner, former Camelback BTC president now serving as vice-president of expansion for BTC Inc.
The mother of two sons who’ve now graduated from the program said there are now “six fully-functioning leagues in the greater Phoenix area, with two more in development.”
She credits the parents who volunteer and keep the programs running.
“Boys Team Charity is completely managed by parent volunteers; and since our inception we have logged over 328,000 volunteer hours in support of more than 450 nonprofit organizations; and nearly 154,000 “league”(or chapter) development hours,” she said.
She said the greatest growth of late has been in California. “We have had over 13,000 total members and currently have about 7,450 members including parents and boys.”
BTC has a $150 annual fee that helps cover insurance and other operating expenses and covers a boy and one or two of his coaches (parents). An additional TeamMate is $50.
BTC Ahwatukee membership opens each March.