Nine-year-old Madeline Hoskins-Cumbey stood in shock at the local food pantry. She had never known that chicken came in cans or mashed potatoes in a box. Where were the apples and green beans?
How could so many people be in need?
“I just remember thinking that these were people my family might know,” says the Butler University first-year student. “It was a wake-up call: ‘Hey, people need your help. You can’t just sit back and not do anything.’”
So, during a museum trip in seventh grade, Hoskins-Cumbey found herself at a booth for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. She applied to join the organization, which works to make sure children have the resources they need to develop healthy habits, and she became the youngest member of the nonprofit Alliance’s youth advisory board. In this role, she has worked with schools, businesses, and communities to ensure that the places where children learn and play promote good health.
“The Alliance challenged us by asking, ‘What’s a problem in your community, and what can you do about it?’” Hoskins-Cumbey says. “I started with our elementary school and created a community garden. Then things really just grew from there.”
She recruited her brother for help, and they soon found themselves busy starting community gardens, volunteering at food pantries, and coordinating walks to bring water to remote villages. They even taught others how to help. Before Hoskins-Cumbey was even in eighth grade, a friend of her parents asked her to teach an eight-week summer class for younger kids.
“Of course, I said yes,” she laughed. “After a while, it just became easier to combine everything into one organization.”
That organization is SMART2bfit, formally launched by Madeline and Carter Hoskins-Cumbey at ages 9 and 6, respectively. The service-learning nonprofit is still going strong a decade later. SMART stands for Service, Multipurpose, Activity, Real hope, and Teaching.
Though they began with three main activities—camps, community gardens, and walks for water—they now focus on Walk4Water events, in which school, church, and community groups carry gallons of water on walks to raise funds for building wells in remote areas around the world.
Now in its 10th year, SMART2bfit has just completed its 10th well. In all, SMART2bfit has given 929 people access to water they never had before.
“It’s a very big milestone for me and my brother,” Hoskins-Cumbey says. “Our first project was for a tank extension in Kenya, and now we’re drilling actual wells. It’s so inspiring how water can completely change a community.”
She hasn’t been to visit any of the wells, but not for lack of desire.
“Because they’re in such remote locations,” she says, “we’d be able to drill three more wells for the cost of us to visit one, and we just can’t bring ourselves to spend the money like that.”
But if her educational and career plans work out, perhaps she’ll get closer to a well. Hoskins-Cumbey is starting this semester with a major in international business, and with a wish to enter the Peace Corps.
“I applied to 11 colleges,” she says. “Butler was the school I visited the most. The campus feels community-esque, the dorms are near each other so people can enjoy time with friends, and there are a lot of ways to get plugged in. I am looking forward to connecting with others who have similar interests, who know you can be business-minded and still be service-oriented.”
Hoskins-Cumbey believes that young people today are highly aware of social issues like climate change and the suffering of others, and they want to know how to help.
“It’s not so much that you do it because you need service hours,” she says. “I think people today are good at heart.”
And to make a difference, she says, you just need to start small.
“With time and effort and hard work—that’s how we got to where we are now,” she says.
Hoskins-Cumbey believes in a lifelong commitment to helping others.
“Sometimes as you get older,” she explains, “it becomes, ‘This isn’t my problem. I’ve done my part. The next generation will have to figure it out.’ But as a global community, we’re all in the same boat. One person’s impact cannot completely change patterns. A combined effort is where the most change will be seen.”