Local father-son duo fighting homelessness with empathy
Jul 23, 2018 03:13PM
● By Jana Klopsch
Chase Hansen and his dad, John. (Photo by J. Photography, courtesy John Hansen)
By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]
In the movie “Justice League,” the Flash hesitates before setting out to rescue some hostages. “I don’t know what to do,” he confesses to Batman. Batman replies, “Go save one and then you’ll know what to do.”
This is a favorite quote for John Hansen and his 9-year-old son Chase as it captures the spirit of their “empathy project,” a “social experiment” devised to actively help homeless and at-risk individuals. Over the past two years, father and son have sat down with over 120 homeless individuals, often over a meal, to learn about the problems and issues they struggle with.
Sometimes these conversations have resulted in John and Chase helping individuals move out of shelters and into housing or stepping in when someone faces difficulty in maintaining family relationships. “They (John and Chase) helped me out for six months picking up my boys for me,” said Mike Campbell, a recipient of their aid. “John also gave me a very nice bike that helps me be more mobile and active.”
In other instances, Chase and John have simply listened and gathered information. “Empathy is the practice of feeling with someone,” said John. The goal is to offer validation and ultimately give people a voice.
In aiming to find out what the homeless individuals need, they have worked with the Department of Workforce Services to devise questions and will share the data they collect with them.
“When you talk to the homeless, you can see patterns in their experiences,” said Chase. John added, “We think that the needs and ideas of the homeless population deserve to be part of the discussion from the beginning and that the data gathered will be of interest to the citizens of Utah.”
Homelessness is a hot-button issue in Utah, and Chase and his dad have met with Governor Gary Herbert and other officials to discuss strategies to address it. They believe that a key to changing public perceptions about the homeless is to involve a lot of people in conversation and build a sense of belonging. To that end, they have been experimenting with ways to build community that transcend social barriers.
Chase and John have been working on fostering community in various ways since founding their social impact nonprofit, Kid Labs, in 2013. “Kid Labs is all the good things we’re doing,” said Chase. Kid Labs’ overarching mission is to be a force for good in the world and to empower kids to reach out to others.
By actively assisting those in the community who need help, Chase and John are living Chase’s dream of being real superheroes. When Chase was 4, John decided to create a “superhero lab” where kids could be empowered to be effective heroes in society. The project started in a garage and later expanded into a renovated industrial warehouse in Salt Lake City.
John has referred to that location as a “living social experiment” in which at-risk kids and families came together to create, connect and contribute to the community. Classes in yoga, robotics and art were offered. Through community partnerships, Kid Labs was able to offer special events such as makeovers for single moms with stylists from Paul Mitchell.
Sadly, the Kid Labs space closed less than a year after it opened. While John and Chase would like to find another physical base for Kid Labs, they are continuing their mission to make the world a better place through bringing people together. John spoke of a “giant disconnect between what needs to happen and the will to accomplish it” when it comes to solving homelessness. He envisions a grassroots effort to build advocacy groups.
Most recently, Chase and John have been working with the family shelter in Midvale in their community-building experiments. One recent experiment, “Pizza with Purpose,” involved connecting shelter families with community members who are interested in reaching out to the disadvantaged over pizza. Kid Labs found sponsors to help cover the costs and 30 to 40 people attended.
Two months ago, Kid Labs organized a hike and picnic in the mountains for three families from the shelter and two families from Cottonwood Heights. One experiment at a time, Chase and John continue to bridge social divides between individuals. When people ask Chase about how to interact with the homeless he simply says, “Be their friends.”
Chase will start fourth grade at Draper Elementary next month and both he and his father would like Draper residents to step up and get involved in addressing the problem of homelessness. “We need resources and funding for staff. Even more than the money, we need people who want to get involved,” said John.
To learn about volunteering with Kid Labs, John and Chase Hansen may be contacted via their website at kidlabs.org.