By Moira E. McLaughlin January 3, 2014
Performing for smiles
“I really like to make people happy and see them smile,” said Alyssa Feinbaum, a fifth-grader at Greenwood Elementary School in Brookeville. For almost two years, she has performed with 15 other kids in a group called the Teen Angel Project Jr., or TAPjr. They sing and dance for sick kids, wounded veterans and nursing home residents. The audition process includes writing an essay about why you want to be in the group. (There’s also a TAP for high school students.)
“They have to have the heart for it,” said Francesca Winch, who founded the group a couple of years ago and whose daughter is a member. “They have to want to bring joy to people.” Recently, residents at a retirement community in McLean smiled, tapped their feet and nodded their heads to holiday songs as TAP performed.
Hannah Marill, a sixth-grader at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Rockville, has been in the group since it began.
“It helps my community by giving people smiles on their faces when it’s not really a happy time,” she said.
Hannah recalled performing at the National Institutes of Health’s Children’s Inn, where sick kids stay while they’re being treated. A little girl from the inn got up and started dancing with them.
TAP “taught me to not always look at the outside, but the inside,” Hannah said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like: Everyone can enjoy music.”
Proud to help
Jennifer Taylor, 10, and her sister Kimberly, 9, both students at Beacon Heights Elementary School in Riverdale Park, are working to help people far away. Their mom is from the Philippines, and they have visited relatives there. When a typhoon — that’s another word for a hurricane — badly damaged the Southeast Asian country in November, the girls knew they had to act.
“I just wanted to do this because I felt I had to do something,” Kimberly said. “I know [the Philippines] is one of the happiest places you could ever imagine, and I felt how affected they were and I felt that I had to help.”
“I feel very proud and I feel very great affecting people’s lives and making it better,” Jennifer said. “I feel proud of not only myself but of my sister and my friends for helping. It helped me realize how fortunate we are in America. . . . We’re really fortunate, but you can only realize it when some tragedy like this occurs.”
For Jeremiah Mussmon, a sixth-grader at Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, shoes taught him something about the world.
“I didn’t even realize that people didn’t have shoes,” he said. “I thought everyone has a pair of shoes, but then I got to realize that some people are less fortunate, and I just wanted to help.”
Last year Jeremiah’s dad, Chad Mussmon, started collecting shoes at his business, the Little Gym, for a group called Soles4Souls, which helps needy kids around the world get shoes. Jeremiah was the president of the student council at Emerick Elementary School and decided to get the school involved.
“Everyone thought it was a great idea, so we put a couple signs up,” he said. Students donated 2,000 pairs of shoes, enough to line the halls of the entire school. “I just thought that it was amazing that my classmates could help out, too, and it was going to make a lot of kids happy, and it just made me happy,” he said.
Last month, Jeremiah and his family traveled to Haiti with Soles4Souls to deliver the shoes to kids. Each day, they drove to distribution sites to measure kids, wash their feet and then give them shoes.
“At the first distribution site, it was early in the morning. It was a small space. . . . The one thing that was kind of sad was all the kids had cuts on their feet,” Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah’s brother, Graham, 9, was nervous at first about visiting the Caribbean nation. Now he wants to go back and help build houses.
“They were really nice, and even though they didn’t have a lot, they were happy,” Graham said. “It was really fun to help the kids out, and I was glad that I could help them.”
Graham is hoping to get his school to donate backpacks to Haitian kids. When he grows up, he would like to work for Soles4Souls and “go around the world and help people,” he said.