Alabama Sixth Grader Takes on Fifth Year of Helping Those Experiencing Homelessness

“I never think of it as changing someone’s life. I am just doing what I was called to do.”

At the age of 11, Ethan Hill has done more to help his community than many will in a lifetime. The sixth grader is the founder of Ethan's Heart, a Birmingham nonprofit that provides direct care to address the needs of the city's homeless population. Through the program, Ethan and his supporters have provided hundreds of care packages for individuals experiencing homeless, but it all started when Ethan met Mr. Marcus at the age of 6.

Ethan's Heart
Courtesy of Ethan's Heart

"Five years ago, I met a nice man who lives under a freeway near my school," Ethan told Southern Living. "I didn't understand why he was there, and I wanted to know what he would do when it got cold or snowed. I asked my mom and dad if I could use my Christmas money that year to buy him things that he would need. I ended up making five or six survival buckets for him and the other people under the freeway. That touched me and I have been figuring out ways to help ever since."

Ethan's Heart
Ethan with Mr. Marcus, who inspired him to start Ethan's Heart. Courtesy of Ethan's Heart

Through community donations and partnerships with companies like Go-Kot, a veteran-owned Ashville, Alabama-based company that makes cots, Ethan was able to distribute 200 duffel bags packed with supplies this year. The bags included essential survival items like sleeping bags, toiletries, food, water, blankets, clothing, and even hand-knitted hats donated by a community member.

Ethan's Heart also partners with local police departments who store his survival bags in their patrol cars and distribute them to community members as needed.

Ethan's Heart
Courtesy of Ethan's Heart

Ethan said though homelessness is a big problem, it's something that he hopes to chip away at one bag at a time. He said though he feels blessed to be in a position to help others, it's also a little bittersweet.

"It is a good and bad feeling," he said. "It's good because I can help others and make life for them a little better, but it's bad because so much help is actually needed. I wish I didn't have to do what I do, but the more things happen in the world, the more we all will have to help. I think that I am doing something that's normal. I never think of it as changing someone's life, I am just doing what I was called to do.

Ethan's mom Ebony Hill said Ethan's heart for serving others was developed by "the village" that influenced his upbringing, including his maternal great grandmother who inspired her to become a social worker and still volunteers with Ethan at the age of 94.

"It moves us to tears to see him being a servant leader in the community," she said. "Our 4-year-old son is watching him and following in his footsteps. Ethan has influenced so many students across the country … [who are now] making a difference because of what they see in him."

Though his organization has come a long way in the past five years, Ethan's dreams for what he can accomplish are as ambitious as ever.

"I would like to see tiny homes, tent camps, accessible restrooms, and a place where the homeless can freely access water," he said. "Homeless people are just without a home, but are people, too. The more resources and influence I get, the more I plan to change."

To help Ethan's cause, donate directly here. You can also follow him on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with his progress.

We're always proud to be Southerners, but Ethan is making us absolutely beam today!

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