Taylorsville couple first to participate in Project Empathy meal provided by Applebee’s and ‘Good Morning America’
Apr 13, 2020 02:43PM
By Carl Fauver
Taylorsville residents Suzanne and Mike Hansen (R) dine with William Wright as a part of their son and grandson’s service effort for the homeless, Project Empathy. (courtesy John Hansen)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
It’s not every father and son who get an all-expense paid trip, to fly to New York City, stay in a Times Square hotel and make an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
But John Hansen and his 10-year-old son Chase aren’t just any father and son. They are the founders of a two-person movement to help serve Utah’s homeless population, called “Project Empathy.”
“When I was 4 years old, I saw a homeless man on the street and asked my dad why he was there,” Chase recently told the Taylorsville City Council. “When he explained a little bit about homelessness, I told him, ‘We need to help them out.’ It’s been pretty fun serving the community.”
Chase has Taylorsville roots, as John Hansen’s parents, Suzanne and Mike Hansen, live in the city, and he has spent a lot of time here. More importantly, he and his father plan to spend more time here in the future, thanks to “Good Morning America” and the Applebee’s restaurant chain.
“When I appeared on ‘Good Morning America,’ I explained how Project Empathy encourages people to sit down and have a meal with a homeless person to learn more about them,” Chase said. “Then, Applebee’s surprised us by donating 100 meals for the homeless. That is great because I love Applebee’s, and there is one in Taylorsville.”
About a month after the GMA appearance, John Hansen recruited his Taylorsville parents to be the first to dine and chat with a homeless man at the city’s Applebee’s restaurant (5678 South Redwood Road). It was a busy day for William Wright.
“William has a job now but is still homeless,” Hansen said. “He slept the night before his Applebee’s lunch in a laundromat. I picked him up and, before lunch, I took him to get a haircut at The Barber School in Midvale. William said it was the best haircut he had ever received. He was there nearly two hours.”
After receiving his shave, haircut and wash, Wright rode with Hansen to Applebee’s to enjoy lunch with his (Hansen’s) parents.
“He sat with my folks and almost immediately it was like they were old friends,” Hansen said. “They talked a lot about genealogy and family history. The lunch was a success, and we can’t wait to arrange more meals at the Taylorsville Applebee’s. Sharing a meal is such a great way for people to better understand what homeless people are going through.”
That was the same message Chase shared with Taylorsville City Council members a couple of weeks earlier.
“What an amazing young man you are,” Councilman Dan Armstrong told Chase, as he stood before the body, barely tall enough to see over the podium. “You have such a good grasp on reality and are doing some wonderful things.”
Normally, Chase’s father would have been with him at the council meeting, just as he has been for Project Empathy, everywhere from the Salt Lake Valley to Times Square. But since he was under the weather that night, Chase’s mother Torrie took him to Taylorsville City Hall.
“John has made a lot of sacrifices to do this with Chase, and it has been such a good father and son activity,” Torrie said. “It is great to see Chase learn about the world and about compassion. And I have learned so much from this also.”
The father-and-son Project Empathy effort has drawn lots of media coverage as well. The duo has been featured in Utah newspaper and television stories. An article in The Washington Post is what put their campaign on GMA’s radar.
“It was very beautiful,” Chase said of their trip to New York. “We stayed in a Times Square hotel right next to the GMA studios. After the show, we walked all around Central Park.”
In the months ahead, Chase and his father hope to line up more volunteers to share a meal with homeless people at the Taylorsville Applebee’s. Anyone interested in volunteering their time can learn more about Project Empathy at medium.com/kid-labs or facebook.com/ProjectEmpathyL3C.