Tyler Stallings was only 4-years-old when he first set out on a mission to help veterans experiencing homelessness. Since then, he’s raised an estimated $100,000 and thousands of supplies for veterans and military families in his community, according to his family.
And Maryland officials have awarded him for his efforts.
Stallings, now 8, recently received the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for Baltimore County. The award, presented by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, recognizes someone in each county of Maryland who helps improve the lives of those in their community, according to the comptroller’s website.
When Stallings was about 4, his mom, Andrea Blackstone, showed him a few YouTube videos about veterans and military service. Most of the videos were basic information to inform her young son about the military, Blackstone said, since they have several family members who are veterans. Blackstone then saw a few recommended videos about veterans experiencing homelessness, which at first she was hesitant to show her son. She decided to show him a video, which included imagery of those veterans with signs asking for help.
“He lit up, and he was upset,” Blackstone said. “He kept telling me it wasn’t right.”
Stallings asked his mom to take him to buy building supplies, insisting that if no one else would help veterans experiencing homelessness, he would. Blackstone said she was taken aback by her son’s passion to help veterans in need, but she had to explain to him that she simply did not have the financial resources to build them houses. Stallings and Blackstone set out to find another way to honor and help veterans.
They began by sending questions about what was being done for those veterans in their home state of Maryland to the governor’s office. Blackstone submitted her son’s idea to start “Give Back to Veterans Day” to a nonprofit, which granted him a $100 to begin making care packages for veterans that included toiletries and ‘thank you’ cards.
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“It was always very important to me from the very beginning for anyone to understand this was not my idea, this was a little kid who’s barely 4-years-old, his idea,” Blackstone said. “I think sometimes people assume, because someone is so young, that it would be impossible to come up with something like this.”
Blackstone said she was sure to ask her son if she could begin posting on social media about his efforts to help veterans experiencing homelessness. The single mother and her son, who turns 9 next month, began posting short videos about Stallings’s fundraising efforts. They traveled to pick up small donations from people they already knew so Stallings could make more care packages, delivering them to the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., and Patriot House in Maryland.
After their first few donations, Stallings expressed to his mother that he wanted to continue making care baskets and helping veterans in his community. He has consistently been fundraising and donating since beginning this endeavor at age 4, earning recognition such as being named a GoFundMe Kid Hero and winning the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for Baltimore County.
“I think the resounding message has been if a kid this young can care and put so much effort into the cause, then other people can get involved and figure out how we can support our veterans on the community level, too,” Blackstone said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stallings and Blackstone have been delivering essential supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer, to shelters and individual veterans. Stallings also made private donations to individual veterans and their families who may need help paying bills or buying food, according to Blackstone.
In addition to supplying monetary donations, Stallings also gave larger donations to shelters, such as sending two air conditioners to Patriot House and partnering with Leesa mattress to donate 250 mattresses to the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET). Blackstone said she shares receipts and photos on social media to show donors how their money is making an impact.
Blackstone said she has always been a single mother to Stallings, who is homeschooled, so his philanthropic success has become slightly difficult to balance with her work as a journalist and her role in helping Stallings. The mother and son receive help from Blackstone’s brother, an Army veteran who they currently live with. Eventually, Blackstone said she hopes to establish a nonprofit for her and Stallings to continue doing this work, but until then they will keep working to support local veterans and encourage people to make donations.
“It’s just a lot of different things I didn’t anticipate but the goal is to keep it going because we see the value of the help,” Blackstone said. “It’s been a lot but the reward is just seeing people get help.”