Sometimes I wonder to myself just how the world’s greatest innovators got their start. And then I hear about brilliant kids like 10-year-old Oliver Edwards and I think, “Ah … that’s how.”
Edwards, who lives with his family in Hobart, Australia, has been grabbing international media attention for his recent homework assignment from The Hutchins School in Tasmania, which attempts to solve a serious problem for the local homeless population. His tactic is pretty simple: Oliver places free coats on trees around town, along with a small sticker card that reads “Free on a Tree.” Those in need of a warm coat need only take one, no questions asked.
Seems pretty simple (and awesome), right?
As Oliver’s mom, Cathy Edwards, tells Babble:
“The initiative is part of Oliver’s ‘This Matters Challenge’ homework unit. Hutchins has developed a great home study program that replaces traditional homework with the opportunity to direct their own learning in areas of giving, service in school and community, physical activity and the outdoors, academic excellence, and excellence in the arts.”
After massive floods, dangerous weather conditions, economic hardships, and other factors all recently collided in Hobart, the Edwards family realized that they had a golden opportunity to use Oliver’s schooling as a way to problem solve at the community level.
“Together we have been designing posters, approaching local businesses, setting up donation points, researching areas of need and of course, hanging lots of coats on trees!” Cathy shares. “So far, we have hung around 55-60 coats on trees and have collected close to 150 coats.”
The family has turned the Free on a Tree project in a growing opportunity for volunteerism. They are also now encouraging people to send for stickers with a stamped self-addressed envelope. This way, they can put their donations of clean coats on trees in their own communities, along with a special sticker that explains the project to the public.
If you’re as impressed by this kiddo as I am, then you won’t be surprised to know that Oliver’s community is pretty proud of him, too. Not only has the public response to his project been exceedingly positive, but it’s also inspiring others to get involved.
“People have been really interested in participating as a point of action by setting up donation points, collecting coats, and spreading the word by sharing our idea,” Cathy tells Babble. “We’ve been only going for two and a half weeks but already we have around 10 donation points and another 5-6 people interested. The beauty of this idea is that no money needs to exchange hands, although we have had one anonymous donor expressing a wish to financially contribute. If this eventuates, we’ll get some more stickers and posters printed!”
So, what’s the biggest lesson that Oliver got out of this impressive homework assignment? His mom tells Babble that her son has definitely been learning a lot about kindness these days.
“He knows that people are so incredibly generous, with many of there coats very good quality and in near new condition,” she shares. “For this reason, we are carefully considering where and how the coats are hung and we often drive back past them, later on, to make sure they still look dry and neat … But he’s also getting a sense of people’s admiration for him and how a simple idea can really have potential to shift people’s thinking and start to make a real difference.”
Cathy adds that the chilly morning weather usually means the coats are gone soon after they’re put on a tree — which goes to show you just how many people in Hobart are in need of a warm extra layer.
Anyone who wants to help spread awareness of the project can send away for a free sticker of their own, and get started on their own amazing acts of kindness. As Oliver proves, a little kindness can go a long way.
Learn more about Oliver’s sweet project on the Free on a Tree Facebook page.More On