Skip to main content


Southgate Elementary student starts nonprofit
Posted 12/15/17

HAYWARD — Something didn’t sit quite right with Ashley Sinn during a routine morning trip to the grocery store two years ago.

Ashley, then 6 years old, felt sad after seeing a lot of homeless people on the street and asked her father, Jeff Sinn Jr., if she could sell hot chocolate to buy food for local homeless people. It was November and the temperatures were dropping, so the pair and Ashley’s mother, Michelle Sinn, decided to raise money for care packages instead, filled with essentials like beanies and socks.

It was a decision that got Ashley hooked on helping others and eventually led her family to build the foundation for Small Hands with Helping Hearts, a budding nonprofit that mobilizes young children for volunteer projects.

“We always try to be really supportive, and I think that, at the very beginning, was really crucial because there’s nothing that she thinks, ‘Well, I probably can’t do that,’ ” Michelle Sinn said in an interview.

“She doesn’t have that mindset at all; she knows that, if her idea is really big, we’ll figure out how to take little pieces and move forward,” she said.

In 2015, Ashley sold $264 worth of hot chocolate from a stand in front of her South Hayward home, with a sign that read, “Hot Choklit $1.” The money was enough to make 18 care packages filled with toiletries and snacks that the girl distributed to homeless or low-income families at a Hayward church’s holiday dinner.

Her volunteering efforts continued into the new year, when she helped clean beaches, sorted clothes for low-income toddlers and bought school supplies and toys for two annual donation drives carried out by Family Giving Tree, of Milpitas. Ashley sold hot chocolate in her front yard for a second year in a row, but this time her parents set up an online donation page that helped raise more money.

The hot chocolate sales and the online donations last year generated $515, which was used to assemble about 80 care packages for homeless people that were donated to South Hayward Parish.

The seeds for Small Hands with Helping Hearts were planted earlier this year after Ashley discovered she was not old enough to volunteer at events held by Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose and Humane Society Silicon Valley in Milpitas.

Ashley, now 8, said she didn’t think that was fair. So she asked her parents what she had to do to create volunteer opportunities for children like her who don’t want to wait until they’re 14 years old to take part.

That group, Small Hands with Helping Hearts, is now on its way to becoming a nonprofit and includes eight children, ages 7 to 11, Michelle Sinn said. The children, with the help of their parents, have cleaned out storage facilities at Banyan House, a Family Emergency Shelter Coalition house in Cherryland, and spruced up Crab Cove Beach in Alameda.

Small Hands with Helping Hearts even collected a truck load of blankets, snacks and clothes that were donated to communities in Texas devastated by Hurricane Harvey in August.

The group’s current project is maintaining a long-planned community garden at South Hayward Parish, named after late executive director Betty DeForest, who died in March. The garden has been in the works for at least three years but only took off after Small Hands with Helping Hearts built 18 raised planter boxes, filled with vegetable plants and installed on a once-vacant portion of South Hayward Parish’s property, parish interim executive director Ralph Morales said.

“She has a good balance in her life, and I think she’s already a role model for people who want to see somebody who’s young, wants to do something to help the community, still has their life to do things and has the energy to enjoy it all,” Morales said in an interview.

Ashley’s annual hot chocolate fundraiser, now a Small Hands with Helping Hearts program, has also grown significantly over the past year. Small Hands with Helping Hearts set an initial $2,000 goal last month on GoFundMe to make 100 care packages for homeless people and hold a spaghetti dinner for them this weekend at South Hayward Parish, but decided to revise those goals once the amount of donations reached $1,300.

The group blew past its $3,000 goal to make the care packages and open up the spaghetti dinner to the entire community. They also collected an additional $2,000 to donate food and supplies to the Hayward Animal Shelter this month.

With donations at $6,706 as of Monday, Small Hands with Helping Hearts has even bigger goals. Once the group receives $7,000, it will adopt Chiplay Avenue by Southgate Elementary School, cleaning it regularly as part of its volunteer efforts. If donations reach $10,000, Small Hands with Helping hearts will install seats and other upgrades for the South Hayward Parish community garden, as well as contribute to South Hayward Parish’s water bill next year.


What: Small Hands with Helping Hearts spaghetti dinner

Where: South Hayward Parish, 27287 Patrick Ave., Hayward

When: Noon-3 p.m. Dec. 17

Cost: Free