Six year old Will was riding in the car with his mom one day when he noticed a man holding a sign by the side of the road. Although Will was just learning to sound out words, he could make out, “Hungry. Need money.”

“Why is that man asking for money, Mom?” he asked. Nicole explained that not everyone has enough food to eat. “Can I give him some of my money?” Will had his own allowance money, which he had been taught to divide into three categories: spend, save, share. He was considering using his ‘share’ money.

Nicole answered that she thought it was better to give to an organization that would know who needs help and how to best take care of their needs.

Weeks later, Will felt sad when he again noticed someone who needed food. “What is our family doing to help?” he asked. Will’s persistence paid off. His mom suggested that they look for an organization where they could volunteer.

Reporter friends’ of Nicole and her husband had done a story in the past about SAME Café (So All May Eat), a local “pay-as-you-can” restaurant in a transitional neighborhood of Denver. “It had stuck in our mind because it was ongoing and not just seasonal,” recalls Nicole

Although SAME Café owners Brad and Libby were used to having volunteers who supported their concept of providing healthy food in a dignified way to those in need, they’d never had such a young volunteer. But after meeting Will, they agreed to let him, along with his mom, give it a try.

Thus began Will’s volunteer experience which has been an ongoing commitment for the next two plus years. Every Friday Will and Nicole go to SAME Café when Will gets out of school. He loves it and has gotten to meet many of the other volunteers and sometimes the customers as they are finishing their meals.

“I fill the salt and pepper shakers and sometimes help with the kitchen prep work. I also wash tables, sweep the floors, put the chairs up, and take out the garbage and recycling with my mom,” Will states proudly. “It feels good.” One of his favorite things is helping to count the change from the donation box at the end of the day.

When Nicole, who also has a 4 ½ year old son and her own interior design business, reached a point that she wasn’t sure if they would continue, she asked Will what he would like to do. He was quite clear: “I want to continue every week. I really like Brad and Libby and the volunteers.” He especially liked helping in the kitchen because “it helps other people.” And so Nicole and her son spend an hour and a half every Friday doing what they love.

Nicole recalls that even as a toddler Will wanted to be in the kitchen helping her. “It’s just a part of who he is. That’s why this is such a good fit for him.” She is understandably proud of her son, “Will is a sweet soul, who is kind, sensitive, gentle, and is worried about things being right and fair.” She believes that these qualities are more innate than learned. “Boys are usually competitive, but Will is more driven by helping people and fairness with others. He’s a “with you” kind of kid that is into collaborating.”

Nicole believes that this has been a great opportunity to expose Will to reality. “Most of the families around us have a lot and it would bother me if he lived solely in that bubble. I want to expose him to giving back and to experiencing another demographic. Not everyone has warm clothes, enough food to eat, and a place to sleep.” Their volunteer work at SAME Café has provided a sense of community with people from all walks of life. “It’s a unique environment to participate for myself and for my son,” she says.

Understanding that volunteering often doesn’t get on most people’s list because of “our crazy busy lives,” Nicole is convinced that “the experience is invaluable in helping children to develop character, to be respectful, to be a good friend, and to be a part of a community, especially in a world that expects instant gratification.”

Will, who is now eight, embodies these qualities and more. He continues his practice of saving part of his allowance to share and last week he proudly put his $25 that he had been saving for a long time into SAME Café’s donation box.