MaryMargaret O’Neill Talks About Why ‘Kids are Heroes’

SFPC: Where are you from? Tell us a little bit about the town in which you grew up.

MARYMARGARET: I am from a small city in Maryland, called Frederick, which is in the United States. I lived in a nice neighborhood and grew up with my neighbors and I have a lot of friends from living there. Everyone was very nice and I liked all the schools I attended, and I worked at a pizza place for about a year when I lived there. There really isn’t anything exciting to do in Frederick other than go downtown to go shopping or eat out, go to the mall, or go to the movies. But it will always be a special city in my heart.

SFPC: It’s clear that you and your father make a fantastic team. What is so special about your father-daughter relationship?

MARYMARGARET: I think by working on Kids are Heroes together, it has definitely brought me closer with him. We have bonded over the project together and plan everything out, always coming up with new ideas on how to expand our work. We talk about the heroes on the site and the impact we are making, and make friends together along the way. I enjoy spending time with my dad, both when we are working on Kids are Heroes, and outside of the organization.

SFPC: You founded Kids are Heroes nearly a decade ago, at the age of nine. How has your perception of the power of children evolved over these years? Are you able to identify a specific moment or circumstance through which felt particularly proud of the difference you’re making?

MARYMARGARET: When I first started Kids are Heroes, I was only in 5th grade. That was before I started middle school! Since then, I have grown as a person and as the founder of the organization. I take things much more seriously and am starting to really understand the impact that the organization is making. I have made a lot of friends through it over the years and have gotten to see kids grow through it and watched some of the heroes inspire others and it’s an incredible feeling. Whenever a kid tells me that I’m the reason why they are helping the world or want to help the world, it makes my entire day. It’s so wonderful to see these kids make an impact in the world and their community.

SFPC: Through our venture, we are aiming to empower today’s youth to
become the next generation of changemakers. What is it about harnessing the entrepreneurial desire in kids that you find so intriguing?

MARYMARGARET: When kids are younger, they think that they can do anything or become anything. They haven’t come across anyone who told them ‘no’ and they think they can solve world peace. It’s a beautiful thing at that age to witness these kids who want to help out in any way they possibly can and come up with their own creative ideas on how to do that. They are full of amazing ideas that can really change the world and it’s so unique. Most kids just want to play video games or buy barbies, but these kids actually want to do something for others, so they use their own creative ways on how to do so.

Global Citizen Crush!?

MARYMARGARET: My Global Citizen Crush would have to be my dad (that feels weird saying that because it sounds like I have a crush on my dad, LOL!). He never lets anything bring him down and is always looking on the bright side of things and figures out ways to make things better. He doesn’t listen to people who say negative things and always focuses on the positive and I think that’s an amazing quality to have. No matter what happens, he’s always looking for the best solution! 

Dylan Palladino takes his fundraiser to Mt. Kilimanjaro

SFGC: We understand you’ve spent time living in a few different places – where would you consider “Home?” Why?

Dylan: I consider Singapore my home because even though I was born and raised in New York, every time I go back to the US to visit I get homesick and start missing Singapore.

SFGC: Who or what was your initial inspiration for getting so involved with helping others? Are you able to pinpoint them/it?

Dylan: For as long as I can remember, service has been a part of my life, and I have to thank my mother for that. My mom traveled with me all around the world and made me realize how interconnected we all are, which in turn has lead me to mobilize others to become change makers. Although I grew up in NYC my world included the slums of Nairobi, HIV clinics in Soweto, and evacuation camps in Haiti. My life has been made up of a series of amazing adventures and none of them would have ever been possible without my mom.

SGFC: Recently, you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for Caring for Cambodia. Tell us a little bit about your motivation for embarking on this incredible adventure. Was it more difficult than you anticipated? Why?

Dylan: The challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro for charity is a promise that my mom and I made when working on a service project at the base of Kilimanjaro when I was nine. When the time came to decide which charity we would be climbing for, CFC was where my heart was. With 60 percent of climbers unable to reach Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit due to altitude sickness, I worked hard to ensure I didn’t meet the same fate. Although I trained constantly prior to the climb, you can never prepare yourself for the sheer difficulty you face when climbing a 19,341 foot mountain. So yes the climb was 1,000 times colder and more difficult than I ever imagined.

SFGC: Pandoo Foundation is extremely excited to have you involved in its work, particularly with our Pandoo School Clubs project. How do you see this project being impactful and meaningful to the overarching Pandoo mission?

Dylan: I think that the Pandoo School Clubs Project is such an interdisciplinary way to connect kids from the game to the real world. Pandoo Nation’s mission is to inspire youth to make the world a better place in whatever way they feel they can best contribute. The School Clubs
Project is taking those inspired youth and giving them the tools they need to create
real change.

SFGC: Who is your favorite Pandoo Nation game character!? Why?

Dylan: My favorite Pandoo Nation character is Code because I find a lot of myself in her. I think that we both are very analytical and like to examine a situation and study it before we take affirmative action. 

Ally Benitez – Eradicating Poverty Through Literacy

SFPC: Where are you from? Tell us about the town in which you grew up.

ALLY: I’m from Makati, which is a part of metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines. We were lucky to grow up near family. We lived very close to our grandparents. Our grandmother, or Lola, would often make us weekly dinners. My siblings and I have very fond memories of that.

SFPC: You have two siblings, Alfonso and Andie. Do you usually get along with them? How often do you, “fight?”

ALLY: I think anyone might be lying if they said they got along with their siblings 100% of the time. I’m not doubting peoples’ ability to that, but it takes a lot of patience (laughing). My siblings and I jive pretty well most of the time. There are the minor fights over trivial stuff – “Oh you took my shirt. Why did you use that without my permission?” It’s just part of life. But we love each other. Every time we fight we always find ways to get back together. We definitely have to apologize, but usually we get over it really quickly. Five seconds later we’re just like, “Hey what’s up?”

SFPC: What’s your favorite book and why?

ALLY: Ah man, I have so many favorite books. But I think I’d say the first Harry Potter. When I was eight, I picked that book up and I think that’s a reason why I really started getting into reading. It just pulled me in. That’s also what comes to mind when I think about how books can change lives. I think the knowledge I gained from all the subsequent books started from that one.

SFPC: What sports do you play?

ALLY: I play fencing. I did many other sports when I was younger but I stuck with fencing over the years. My brother usually trains with me and I will admit that he sticks it to me sometimes.

SFPC: What’s been the best part about starting the Librery Organization?

ALLY: Probably the feeling that you get from helping. “Libre” means “free” in Filipino, so we want to provide children with free, easy access to books. Whenever we go back and we get to see the kids using the library and getting to read the books and how much they enjoy them... that’s the best.

SFPC: A few weeks ago, you experienced Pandoo Nation’s Rescue Camp game during the #GametoGive competition at the Global Issues Network Conference. What was your favorite part about that?

ALLY: I think the best part was that the game is a very accessible way to be able to help. I remember when I was younger, before Librery, my siblings and I wanted to do something to make a difference, but struggled to develop a solid idea. With Pandoo, kids all around the world can login and help. I think it’s a really great concept.

SFPC: Who is your favorite Pandoo Nation character?

ALLY: I’d say the male Ox. He looks sagely and wise, and I bet he gives great advice.