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Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Jonah Larson of Jonah’s Hands Is Helping To Change Our…

Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Jonah Larson of Jonah’s Hands Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

So many people have helped me and continue to help. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, my Dad reminds me of an Isaac Newton quote about standing on the shoulders of giants. I know that I stand on the shoulders of my parents. My Mom, who doubles as my manager has always encouraged me to do my best whether I’m crocheting or doing homework. Like most kids I have my moments that can still be a challenge but so many people are on my side that it’s hard to imagine not having them. I have had great teachers and have met new friends in the fiber arts community who encourage me to reach for more.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonah Larson.

Jonah Larson is a 12 year old crochet prodigy from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. His story has been featured in the New York Times, The Times of London, Forbes, Oprah Magazine, People, USA Today, the Today Show, Little Big Shots with Melissa McCarthy, The Kelly Clarkson Show and news broadcasts around the globe. Jonah is most proud of his philanthropic work and has funded his first Jonah’s Hands Library in Ethiopia in the rural village where he was born.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I am 13 years old and live in beautiful LaCrosse, Wisconsin. My parents are Jennifer and Christopher Larson. I have an older brother Leif who is a Senior in high school and a younger sister Mercy who is in the 7th grade. I’m a freshman in high school and enjoy my pre- calculus class most. My parents adopted me from Ethiopia when I was an infant. At age 5, I taught myself to crochet using YouTube videos. Since then, I guess you could say I was “hooked”! I use crochet as a form of relaxation. The repetitive motion of the yarn gliding through the hook helps calm my busy mind. Teaching others to crochet is important to me so they can also enjoy the benefits of the textile arts.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

When I was 11 years old, I started my business which I call Jonah’s Hands. It is named this because every piece of crochet work I sell is made by my hands only. My business has grown steadily over the years and my mom helps manage my social media and many aspects of the business. I am an author of two books and have many crochet kits on the market. I am also a news correspondent for The Drew Barrymore Show and have met many celebrities throughout my crochet journey. These celebrities and thousands of crochet friends throughout the world have helped me raise money for my mission in Ethiopia. With these funds I have been able to build the kids in the rural area of Ethiopia where I was born a library and science lab that benefits over 2,000 children. Currently I am raising money to build the kids safe and adequate bathrooms to replace the one outhouse that they all use. I know first-hand you don’t have to be an adult to help others in your neighborhood, country or even other parts of the world. I want to help kids realize their potential and accomplish great things that are rooted in their interests. Some kids have ambitions, ideas and inventions for the greater good that could benefit from outside funding so I’m so happy the Allowance Grants sponsored by Hillshire Farm® SNACKED! brand exists to help kids kick-start their ideas.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

From a young age, it’s been important to me to give back through doing what I love — crocheting. Hillshire Farm® SNACKED! brand took notice of what I was up to, and how sales of my creations have helped provide students in my birth country of Ethiopia with books, learning tools, scholarships and even libraries and science labs. From there, the brand reached out to see if I would be interested in helping get the word out about the Allowance Grants, sponsored by Hillshire Farm® SNACKED! brand, so even more kids can bring about the change they want to see.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I don’t think there was one “aha” moment. My parents made me aware that I had opportunities here that my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia did not. I wanted to do something about that and my Mom helped me find a way through wonderful organizations like Roots Ethiopia. I soon learned there were generous people all over the world willing to help.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I used social media and GoFundMe to spread the word about how people could help me fulfill my dream of helping kids, who would have been my peers, in the rural area of Ethiopia where I was born. There are so many options to get started. For example, now through January 2, kids, with the help of a parent, mentor or caretaker 18+ years of age or older, can submit their idea to AllowanceGrants.com in order to be eligible for an Allowance Grant. Overall, thirty-eight (38) $500 grants and three (3) $2,000 grants will be awarded to 4th-6th graders across the United States with the best ideas to create the change they want to see in the world. As an added bonus, parents or caregivers of selected grant recipients will also receive Hillshire Farm® SNACKED! products for a year to share with their family and friends to help fuel their greatness. I know my parents would be pretty happy to get snacks for a year!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Meeting Drew Barrymore and being a regular on her show has been amazing. She has been so generous and supportive; I can’t say enough about how kind she has been to me. I couldn’t have built my library and science lab without her. Seeing all the children in front of a library with my name on it is the best feeling in the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

When I was 8 years old, I entered some crocheted items in a local fair. When we went to see my items, they weren’t in with the other children’s items. We had accidentally entered my items in the open category, so I was up against the veteran “grannies”. Turns out I came away with several blue ribbons and that’s when I knew maybe I was pretty good at this crochet stuff!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

So many people have helped me and continue to help. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, my Dad reminds me of an Isaac Newton quote about standing on the shoulders of giants. I know that I stand on the shoulders of my parents. My Mom, who doubles as my manager has always encouraged me to do my best whether I’m crocheting or doing homework. Like most kids I have my moments that can still be a challenge but so many people are on my side that it’s hard to imagine not having them. I have had great teachers and have met new friends in the fiber arts community who encourage me to reach for more.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I hear from people almost daily who share a story about how my crochet has touched their lives. Often it is simply rekindling memories of a loved one who crocheted or knitted. Others have said that my enthusiasm for crochet helped them with depression or PTSD, much like crochet helped me get through my “rascal” years (and still does to this day).

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The community has been really supportive of my initiative and I’m so appreciative of all they’ve done.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. There are so many kind, generous and truly wonderful people on social media.
  2. There are some really mean people on social media.
  3. Lots of people will want something for nothing.
  4. Staying relevant is really hard work.
  5. Even a 15 second video spot can take a day or two of work!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Making the world a better place begins at home. Any time I’m feeling a little down I hear the voices of the children in Ethiopia saying, “thank you Jonah” and “we love you Jonah”. How can that not make anyone feel good? I like to think that one day one of those children may change the world and I will have been a small part of their success. It’s fun to think about! You never know how even a small act of kindness might change the course of someone’s life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Giannis Antetokoumpo. I actually already met him, I made a blanket for his first baby, and he gave me his jersey but I never got to really talk to him, probably because I was crying after he gave me his jersey. Everyone knows he’s a great basketball player, but he also came from humble beginnings like me and always talks about his family and helping his community. I think we’d have a lot to talk about, but I won’t challenge him to a one on one in basketball! But it would be fun to see if his massive hands could manage a crochet hook!

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram: @jonahhands
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jonahhands

Website: www.jonahhands.com

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/c/JonahsHands11

Twitter: @JonahHands

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Jonah Larson of Jonah’s Hands Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.