Wilson ('16) founds non-profit, connects college students with neighbors in need
What started off two years ago as helping his grandfather with a few odd projects around the house has boomed into a biweekly service project in Louisville to help less mobile, aging citizens with household projects.
Now, 19-year-old McConnell Scholar Travis Wilson ('16) is the founder and president of Helping Hands Serving Hearts, Inc., a non-profit organization that connects university students with opportunities to assist less mobile individuals with household projects–free of charge. With the help of more than 75 University of Louisville students, the organization has served over 40 clients and logged more than 600 service hours in one semester. Projects typically include helping with yard work, window washing, deck stripping and decorating homes for the holidays.
“These jobs provide a valuable service to the elderly and also help cultivate meaningful relationships between volunteers and those being served,” Wilson said. “As people grow older and less mobile, their home becomes their entire world. They might have a simple project like changing a lightbulb–something that I can switch out in 30 seconds–but they can’t climb a ladder to reach the bulb.”
As a high school student, Wilson successfully piloted the program to more than 30 clients through the senior citizens’ club at his hometown church, First Church of Christ in Burlington. After acclimating to college life, he soon saw the opportunity to bring the program to his adopted home of Louisville.
“I spent last summer organizing volunteers through my associations with the McConnell Center and my fraternity, Sigma Chi, and recruiting clients through existing Louisville programs that provide services to the elderly,” Wilson said. His organization has partnered with the Downtown Louisville YMCA, Meals on Wheels Program and ElderServe Inc. to identity prospective clients.
“Travis has shown exactly the entrepreneurial leadership that we hope for McConnell Scholars,” said Gary Gregg, director of the McConnell Center. “To have organized such a worthy project as a sophomore in college is truly exciting. We can’t wait to see where this project leads and how many people it serves.”
Philip Moore, a sophomore McConnell Scholar ('16) from Louisville, Ky., serves as the organization’s director of partnerships. “After meeting with various non-profits and businesses that specialize in services for the elderly, I was confident that HHSH would have a special purpose here,” Moore said. “We have established partnerships with nine other UofL student organizations and are on pace to create six more by the end of the fall semester.”
“Unfortunately, so many people have taken advantage of elderly people, but connecting with these agencies has helped legitimize us in the community,” Wilson said.
Moore said the group is looking to develop a business model that can be transported to other universities. “We’re the first community of many who could use this service,” Moore said. “We address a legitimate need in our community while also connecting two diverse generations,” he said.
Big challenges, according to Wilson, include balancing the number of clients with volunteers and navigating the administrative responsibilities of running a non-profit organization.
“I’ve learned to delegate responsibilities to my friends and classmates. I’m fortunate to have 60 guys in my fraternity eager to help, as well as my friends in the McConnell Center,” Wilson said.
More than 50 volunteers helped clean 10 homes in the most recent HHSH “serve day.” “We’re thrilled the idea and our mission is catching on and we’re making connections on campus and in the community,” he said.
“We might have to scale back as we move closer to the holidays and finals here at UofL, but we’ve been fortunate to be in such high demand,” he added.