Helen Yi says she knows nothing about football, yet she just made former Washington Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey the face of her charity.
She says she know nothing about golf, yet she has run a successful charity golf event for the past seven years.
The one thing Yi does know about is hearts – what they feel and, most importantly, if they are real. It was Harvey’s heart, not his athleticism or fame, that convinced Yi to put Harvey in charge of her Touching Heart programs as chief development officer.
“I am not picking him because his is a football player,” Yi said. “I’m picking him because he is a nice guy and he genuinely has a good heart. We have known him for several years, and we believe he is the person we need to take us to the next level.
Touching Heart is a nonprofit organization on a mission to spread the joy of giving among youth.
“We challenge and inspire kids from first through 12th grade to think beyond themselves and make a difference,” Yi said.
Harvey first learned about Touching Heart when his friend and former Redskins teammate, Darrell Green, invited him to play in the charity’s golf tournament.
“What I see in Helen is a person whose heart is totally into it,” Harvey said. “She is trying to build the next generation and she is giving and sacrificing her time and effort, and that is the original thing that drew me in. She didn’t look at me as a superstar. She was just so appreciative that I was helping out. That struck a chord with me.”
Harvey played linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons after being drafted in the first round out of the University of California-Berkeley. After six seasons with the Phoenix Cardinals, he finished his career by playing five years with the Washington Redskins. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was included on the list of the 70 Greatest Redskins compiled for the team’s 70th anniversary in 2002.
While Harvey’s football career is impressive, his innate ability to inspire all walks of life, leadership skills and his ability to get things done is what resonated with Yi.
“Ken is a man of action.” she said.
Yi said her desire to help teach empathy and charity to the next generation started with her grandmother, Kang Jung-Sook, back in South Korea.
“My grandmother was always giving,” Yi said. “She told me about how after the Korean War, she saw kids in the streets that were so hungry that they would put anything they found in their mouths. She told me that when she saw that, she just couldn’t turn her back.
“My grandparents were well off compared to the other people in that they had land and my grandmother ran a silk business. She opened an orphanage, and they ended up building four schools – two for boys and two for girls. I really looked up to her. She is my hero.”
Yi’s father came to the United States to attend a seminary and she moved here when she was 10 and her father became a Methodist pastor in Maryland. She went on to study business and started a family of her own with three children – Taylor, Isabel and Jason.
She said the seed that became Touching Heart was planted by one of her children.
“When Taylor was 13 we were going to have a birthday party,” Yi said. “She has always heard me talking about her grandmother, I guess, so she asked if instead of her friends bringing presents, they donate to the charity of their choice. I thought that was an amazing idea.”
Yi and her daughter started looking for ways to build on the success of that party, and that process would lead to Touching Heart.
“Eight years ago, there were not that many non-profits doing this,” Yi said. “I was searching online and I didn’t really find anything. Taylor said, ‘Why don’t we start an organization?’ She knew of my grandmother, and she said ‘We can carry her on her legacy and dedicate this organization to grandmother.”
Touching Heart grew and now offers four programs to help children develop giving attitudes and even run their own charity events.
- Kids on a Mission pairs groups of children with a coach to plan and host a fundraising events to help kids in need.
- Our Schools on a Mission after-school programs teach the importance of helping others and raise awareness of poverty and hunger around the world.
- Art of Giving Workshops are hand-on workshops where children can get involved in projects that actually help people around the world or in their own community.
- Summer Service Camp, where children spend five days learning and creating ways to give back.
“The whole idea is for them to see the impact they are making,” Yi said. “That really resonates with them. For example, we did a Santa’s Workshop last year in Ashburn, where we provided the wrapping paper and people brought presents to help the homeless shelter.”
Touching Heart also sponsored a Family Gala in Ashburn, at which Harvey was the keynote speaker. As he was getting more involved with Touching Heart, Harvey was also looking to focus his charitable work into one main outlet.
“I was doing a lot of charity work with a lot of different organizations,” Harvey said. “I have always believed that I was responsible to give back to people who have not been as blessed, but at the same time if your heart is not in it, it can just become a lot of work. I wanted to find something that touches my heart. I have always believed in what they were doing, so I talked to Helen about being more involved.”
For Yi, the timing was perfect.
“If he had called me a year ago, I probably would have said no,” she said. “I think if I had asked him a year ago, he would have said no.
“Ken and I have been working very closely together on events. People love Ken, and I just think he is the perfect fit.”
Harvey said he agreed to join forces with Touching Heart because he is passionate about the group’s mission.“Giving is something that has to be taught,” Harvey said.
“Kids have to learn about empathy and about what the rest of the world looks like. We are trying to empower kids to giving and learning how to give back. If you can build a heart, you can build a person.”