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Volunteers, National Honors Help Hill Serve People in Need
Sean Flynt

Ethan Hill entered The Altamont School’s seventh grade this fall already in perfect alignment with the school’s emphasis on service leadership. For six years, he has distributed supplies to people in Birmingham, Alabama, who have no homes and little defense against weather, thirst and hunger.

What began as the simple, compassionate reaction of buying supplies with money he got for Christmas has grown to become Ethan’s Heart, a non-profit organization that serves much of Birmingham with the help of volunteers and donors.

Already celebrated in local and national media, Hill was in the spotlight again in September when he earned a Barron Prize, which honors outstanding young leaders nationwide who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities and the environment. A profile of Hill broadcast on The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration in November further increased awareness of his work.

The $10,000 Barron Prize allowed Hill to outfit a trailer as a mobile store that carries individual items, duffels packed with standard supplies, and the cots and tents he says are increasingly in demand. The mobile store completes an important goal for Hill, allowing him to improve existing service and opening possibilities for increasing service. “It’s really just an extension of the people we help, but also going deeper into our community to find new people,” he said.

Hill wants to serve more of Birmingham before he sets goals beyond the city, but geography class at Altamont inspired him to think about where Ethan’s Heart might grow next. Participating in the school’s extensive leadership programs is also giving him new perspectives about how service organizations operate and thrive. “From being here I see that there’s a whole lot more community I can tap into to get some more of these big projects done,” he said.

Hands Make the Work Go Faster

One of the exceptional aspects of Hill’s story is that it isn’t only about one young person’s service. He is inspiring whole communities to become involved. Ethan’s Heart needs funding and all the supplies on its wish list, but it also needs people. His family, volunteers from his church, other Altamont students and supportive strangers now join him for his packing parties. “That’s the biggest thing we need—hands,” he said. “Hands make the work go faster.” Almost 100 volunteers at his December packing event completed the work in 2 hours. “We ate, fellowshipped and had a good time,” Hill said. “I think people would enjoy that, but getting them there to work is the first part.”

That Hill considers two hours of packing a lightened burden suggests his degree of dedication. His typical investment of time is three hours per day, seven days per week, all year. There is no season without need. His work includes packing and preparation work on weeknights after homework, packing events, weekend rounds with his mobile store and, increasingly, media interviews to raise awareness of his cause. Since the Disney profile, he spends most nights opening the packages that fill the porch at his home, sorting and storing the supplies sent by supporters throughout the U.S.

In return for all that work, Hill says, he gets to see the reactions of those he helps, and he gets to introduce others to that experience. Part of the joy, he said, is “opening the doors and unlocking opportunities for me and my peers around me to do bigger and greater things in the community.”

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