Shirley Temple appeared in her first film at the age of three. Mozart started composing music when he was four years old. Florida’s Joshua Williams was a comparatively elderly “four and three quarters” years old, in his words, when he decided to start a foundation to fight hunger.
“One day I was at church and earlier that day my grandmother gave me $20 dollars to do whatever I wanted with… and that was a lot of money,” Williams recalls. “My mom was driving and I was sitting in the back in my car seat and I was looking out the window and I see a man with a sign: ‘need money, need food.’ I didn’t know that people needed help so I asked my mom why he had the sign and she explained. It was very surprising to me. I couldn’t comprehend why people had to live in such conditions and the sign said he needed money, so why not give him the $20 dollars that I had?”
The moment was a real life version of a superhero’s origin story. “That’s when I saw that I could really make a difference and that I had to do something and that I had to change the world,” Williams asserts.
Today, the charity child prodigy is a 13 year old whose organization, Joshua’s Heart, has over 1200 youth volunteers. “Our main program is called the Distribution Program where we distribute food to those who are in need. We’ve given over 650,000 pounds of food through that project over nine years,” William explains. He eventually realized that not everyone who received his food knew how to prepare it, so he decided to educate them. “The next project was one we started about two or three years ago… We have a chef come out and teach the people we are helping with the food that they are receiving how to cook a healthy meal.” Williams thinks the high cost of nutritious food is one reason why many people don’t know how to cook. “It’s crazy that it’s cheaper to buy McDonalds than a salad. In fact, that’s why a lot of people do not buy healthy food.”
It may seem improbable that a kid could create his own successful charity, but, in addition to being wise beyond his years, Williams possesses as much self-confidence and optimism as a room full of motivational speakers. “There’s a saying: No matter what you want to do, if you put your mind to it, you can do it, which is gravely understated in my opinion.” He credits his family for teaching him that he could achieve all of his goals. “It’s crazy how everything has developed within my foundation so far and how my passion in life really has become a reality... and now that it’s a reality, I want more and I want to feed more people.”
His friends also support his endeavor. “If one of my friends who is helping out tells one of their friends about what we’re doing, that’s a ripple effect and that can easily grow into a thousand people coming out to help. That’s basically what happened in the beginning.”
Williams sounds like a CEO as he describes how he balances running a large organization with typical teenage responsibilities. “I’ve become very good at time management. I’m in ninth grade now so school is more aggressive. It’s a lot more difficult. It’s a lot more stressful... Once I finish my homework, if I have extra time, I will do Joshua’s Heart. I do a lot more of it on the weekends now.” Joshua’s Heart will be a part of Williams’s life into adulthood. “I plan on continuing the foundation for a long, long time and I have a plan to make this into a family [foundation],” he says.
In fact, the ninth grader, who hopes to attend MIT and become a scientist, has planned out his entire life, and beyond. “When I pass away, which I will, I’m going to leave my foundation to my kids. Even earlier than that, I’m going to give it to them to continue the legacy. My foundation will continue with my family.”
Williams has been recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change. He has met business leaders and even recently shot a video with actor Josh Duhamel to promote Unilever’s anti-hunger initiative Project Sunlight. Yet he’s most impressed by the other activists that he’s met. “It’s always the really, really interesting people that you meet that do the same work… Seeing how they do it, their twist to it, just their story.”
This issue of hunger resonates so strongly for Williams because it impacts many of his peers. One in five children in the United States experiences hunger or food insecurity. Williams thinks that shining a light on the problem is the first step to solving it. “We’re doing great things overseas yet we’re blinded to the fact that people in our own nation are hungry, people in our own nation need help and there are a lot of people in our communities that don’t know that... One of the things I’m trying to bring awareness to is that hunger can be next door to you.”
Williams idealistically believes that if enough people become involved, hunger will be eradicated. "There’s so many ways that we can help change the world for the better. One thing is communication between people. If you communicate, you brainstorm together, work together to make bigger ideas," he says.
Volunteering at soup kitchens and donating food are traditional Thanksgiving activities. According to Williams, people need to think of community service as more than just something to do for the holidays. "One of my messages is simply don’t just give back during Thanksgiving. Give back throughout the year… It should be a daily thing, something that you do every day," Williams states. "Be thankful for what you have and try to something nice for somebody else, whether it’s a small act of kindness. Help somebody out. Help make their day brighter and make a small change for a brighter future."