It was after a day spent out shopping at a mall in Salt Lake City when 4-year-old Chase Hansen first asked his dad about the people he saw living on the street. His father John recalling the conversation recently telling the Washington Post “Chase looked at me and said, ‘Dad, who are these people? Why don’t they have a place to stay?’ After I explained that they had run into hard times and were homeless, I knew that we were looking at an educational opportunity. My son wanted to help them.”
Newly divorced, John wanted to make his weekends with Chase special and decided that this would be their cause to champion. The pair reached out to a local Jamba Juice, convincing the franchise to donate over 100 smoothies that the two could hand out the homeless community members as a way to “break the ice”. That idea eventually led Chase to another. “I wanted a way to get to know people better,” he said. “So me and my dad decided to start taking some of the homeless people we’d met out to lunch.”
So a few times a week, the two would sit across the table, sharing a meal and a conversation with one of the people they’d met around town. Chase, now a fifth-grader, was eager to know more about the one-time strangers. “I would ask them where they were from, what their hobbies were, stuff like that,” Chase says, adding “And sometimes they’d share the story of how they became homeless.”
The 10-year-old showing incredible compassion for someone his age, telling the Post “A lot of people walk right past homeless people and don’t see the person,” he said. “I know now that they’re people just like us. They want to make a connection and not feel so alone in the world.”
Over 150 lunches later, John and Chase have formed a self-funded non-profit called Project Empathy. Its goal is to inspire others to make the same connections they have, sharing meals and creating friendships along the way.
53-year-old Mike Campbell has been living on the street and struggling with mental illness for many years, so he admits it’s not very often someone goes out of tier way to even say hello. But Mike says John and Chase have done much more than that. “We made a real connection, and soon he (John) was inviting me to bring my sons to go bike-riding or fishing with him and Chase,” Mike shared, adding “Just to know that somebody cared made a huge difference.”
What began as a simple activity is now a movement with hopes of spreading across the country. The proud dad reminding us all of an important takeaway, saying of his son “He proves that you’re never too young to make a positive impact.”