Each holiday season, Madeline McMillen’s big heart for helping others grows even larger.
“I want children to have good Christmases and make sure they’re still loved,” the Prairie High School sophomore said.
Having a passion for people is what Madeline is all about.
Five years ago, Madeline’s love for helping others turned into Madeline’s Helpful Heart, which supplies hundreds of children a brighter Christmas by providing donated gifts.
Madeline’s year-round volunteer work at food banks and shelters paved the way for self-organized toy drives to benefit Toys for Tots, Children’s Home Society, Portland’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and now, the faith-based charity St. Vincent de Paul.
Last week, St. Vincent de Paul held its annual holiday gift distribution at Seton Catholic High School’s gymnasium and cafeteria, welcoming hundreds of families.
It’s this time of year that brings a wider smile to Madeline’s face, especially in a pandemic-riddled 2020 knowing how many families are in need this holiday season.
“Christmas, to me, is a time where you can show your love for people and make people feel special,” she said. “I also feel loved and feel special. I want people to also have that same feeling.”
This year, Madeline’s efforts led to 728 toys donated by friends, family and local businesses. She makes gifts available for kids up to age 17 that range from earbuds to skateboards — and everything in-between. To date, she’s collected more than 2,500 toys in five years.
Not only does it warm Madeline’s heart to give back, but it also helps the teenager in other ways.
At 5, Madeline was diagnosed with two severe anxiety disorders, including social anxiety. Wendy McMillen, Madeline’s mother, said she and her husband have taught her daughter not to let anxiety disorders define her, but rather, embrace them. Through volunteering, Wendy McMillen continues to watch her daughter blossom and shine.
“There’s something about volunteering that almost makes the anxiety disappear,” she said. “It’s almost like anxiety isn’t there for those moments.”
Now 15, Madeline McMillen hopes to continue making a difference in the future. As an animal lover, she eventually wants to combine her love of helping others with another love that’s helped her: horses.
All, of course, with children in mind.
“I love horses a lot, and maybe somehow having a barn that kids who have special needs can come up and ride,” the teen said. “Horses, especially for me, are therapy animals. I’ve been thinking that might be something nice to do and mix both of the things I love.”