Haig "Hike" Mkhoian
By Marie Hoffmann Jones
To say Haig Mkhoian loves to run would be an understatement. Haig (a.k.a. Hike) is a self-professed running fanatic (he regularly runs upwards of 60 miles a week) and has completed five marathons. While keeping up with his rigorous training schedule, Hike also teaches his preschool class, as he's done for 15 years.
Hike's home in Southern California allows him to pursue his passions, from great running resources to a tight-knit school community. So it's no wonder that the worsening problems of homelessness and litter in his neighborhood troubled him.
With state budget cuts and limited programs, people weren't getting the help they needed. Without any support system in place, Hike felt motivated to help his community.
Hike knew he wanted to volunteer his time for those less fortunate; the only question was how he could best benefit people in need. "[Seeing the community] made me want to understand more of where this sadness came from and the struggles of people," recalls Hike. "I decided to do whatever I can to help individuals on the streets and clients in shelters."
And so began Hike It Up, the do-it-all organization to help better and beautify neighborhoods in Southern California. Hike started by using his network of runners and hikers, accepting food and clothing donations in exchange for hiking trips.
As with any lofty goal, Hike's was not without its challenges. And his, like so many, was a challenge to recruit helping hands. Hiking was a good place to start, but didn't intrigue everyone in his network.
Hike tried to recruit people by spreading the word to friends, his students and their parents. In spite of interest, he was unable to yield significant tangible support. Although he was accumulating members, they weren't showing up or donating goods. He realizes now that he may have been a little too idealistic in recruiting, "My idea of getting all members to participate was just fantasy," he says.
Things started turning around for Hike It Up when Hike decided to combine his passions, hiking and teaching, in a way that would be inclusive of both his networks. The members of Hike It Up began hosting events that brought together families and hikers to support the larger community with donations like food and backpacks for children.
Hike successfully brought his teaching world and his fellow hikers together through outdoor picnics and parties where non-hikers and young children could participate. The impact Hike had envisioned was becoming a reality.
One year later, Hike It Up is now a certified 501(c)(3) organization and is still dedicated to bringing people together to benefit the community. From donating backpacks to students in shelters to cleaning up the Los Angeles River, Hike It Up is committed to improving people's lives.
Hike is ecstatic with the progress Hike It Up has made and he thrives on the passion of his volunteers and the people they help. The impact his organization has when cooking for and connecting with people in local shelters continues to resonate with Hike. "I no longer want to see people sleeping on the streets and having no one to talk to. I do what little I possibly can – making food and delivering [it], going into shelters and meeting people."
The people his organization benefits are Hike's call to help and inspiration to keep doing good work. "Hike It Up is the change I see within myself and within the community," says Hike. "It takes the communities' effort to make the changes necessary and that's when I feel more passionate: when people care!"
As Hike It Up continues to grow, Hike is grateful to have VolunteerMatch to recruit dedicated volunteers who are passionate to improve communities in Southern California. Hike It Up is a completely volunteer-run organization, and VolunteerMatch has made it possible for the group to continue to play an extremely important role in the community.
For many, it would be difficult not to revel in the success of such a young organization, but for Hike, it's all about continuing to look ahead. "My mission is to have bigger events and help hundreds of shelters and individuals," he says. "From helping shelters and schools to the environment, Hike It Up is here to better the community."
Marie Hoffmann Jones is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at email@example.com.