Sharing Love and Hope
A shorter version of this interview was published in "Hope for Humanity," the January/February 2017 issue of Brilliant Star.
Have you ever learned about a problem in the world and wished you could do something about it? Fourth-grader Tiernan C. did, and he turned his wish into a service project. Tiernan, a Bahá’í who lives in Connecticut, U.S., started Hartford Bags of Love to provide homeless people with needed items. With positive goals and a nine-year-old founder, the project attracted attention. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote to Tiernan, “You are not only providing those in need with clothing and toiletries, but you are also giving them hope for a better tomorrow.”
Brilliant Star interviewed Tiernan to learn more about his service project. His experience shows how one inspired person can make a difference with service.
Q: What inspired you to launch Hartford Bags of Love?
A: Well, [on Christmas], my parents were taking me to Bushnell Park in Hartford where every Sunday at 3:00, [a local group] would have a picnic . . . [for] serving food for the homeless. So we were there, and there’s this one homeless man I was talking to. He was talking about what his life is like, and it was kind of emotional for me, so I talked to my parents, and we started Hartford Bags of Love.
Q: How did you decide what to include in the bags?
A: We thought that [we] could try to make their life better by at least starting [with] some stuff that they might want to eat, like granola bars or bottles of water . . . We gave out bags full of stuff . . . like [a] toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash . . . And then we started getting donations from . . . the town . . .
Q: What kinds of things do you write on the notes that you put in the bags?
A: Inspirational messages, like “never give up” — just stuff that might make them feel a little bit better about their lives.
Q: Who helps you put the bags together, and how often do you do it?
A: Well, I do it like one or two times every month, and my mom helps me, my dad, my little five-year-old brother, our neighbors, my best friend, and the whole town — including the mayor.
Q: How do you decide where to hand out the Bags of Love?
A: Sometimes we’ll go back to Bushnell Park, but sometimes we'll . . . see people on the road and we'll want to give [the bags] out . . . We’re trying to ask the Hartford police . . . to have some bags in their cars so . . . they could give one to anybody they see.
Q: When you go out, about how many people are you able to help?
A: We made about 350 bags recently, so we went to the Hartford City Hall where they had [an] event . . . And we also had some stuffed animals that we give [people] for comfort and stuff.
Q: Will you continue the project all throughout the year, or is it mainly for the colder months?
A: We’re going to keep it going all year, because we can change up the stuff [in the bags]. Like we can do lighter socks for the summer and stuff, but we do warmer for the winter . . . so . . . depending on what the weather is, we’ll help them out.
Q: What is one of your favorite memories from the service you’ve done so far?
A: One time, we went to Bushnell Park, and I had taken my two best friends, Kyle and Dylan . . . there [were] some people that were so happy, they were shaking my hand, and we saw them walk away and they were very happy looking inside [the Bags of Love] and seeing what . . . was there to help them.
Q: What virtues are important to have when you’re doing a service project?
A: Kindness, because [you] can be kind to [people] when you’re talking to them, and also love because Hartford Bags of Love is about helping [people] and sharing their love.
Q: How did you feel when you got a letter from Senator Blumenthal that praised you for starting Hartford Bags of Love?
A: We were very excited. I brought a copy to school . . . and the principal was very supportive about it. He like wanted us to have [a bag assembling] event at the school. So we had it in the cafeteria . . . (see photo at top of page).
Q: At that event, you were interviewed by a local TV news station. How did that feel?
A: I was very nervous, but at the same time, I was hoping that people watching the news could try and go to the website (www.hartfordbagsoflove.com), donate as much as they can, and like help us out.
Q: How has your project has grown or changed since you first thought of it?
A: At first, I was wanting to [help homeless people] build their houses, but then we realized that that wasn't really possible. So we all decided to make bags instead, with like basic essentials that they might need . . . It started out as a small thing. Then people started getting interested and . . . then we got on the news, so it’s grown a lot.
Q: What advice do you have for somebody your age or older who is thinking of starting a service project?
A: Try to think about what would be the most helpful . . . [If you] want to do something that might not be possible, try something smaller at the beginning, then . . . work up to that.
For a printable version, download a PDF of this article.Discover336 Bahá’í Faith334 Service183 Poverty25 Elimination of Poverty20 Generosity39 Love62 Hope31