Spreading kindness throughout Franklin Square with Howie's Heart


“Let love be your legacy.” That’s the motto of Howie’s Heart, a newly established Franklin Square nonprofit led by Jennifer Camacho, whose mission is to spread kindness throughout the community.

Neighbors throughout town may have noticed artifacts of kindness — whether it’s a kindness keychain left on their windshield or a rock bearing a message of kindness atop an ATM — that are the calling card of Howie’s Heart.

It all started when Camacho held a toy drive last December for children in need at the Riverview School, for students with special needs, in Queens, where she is a school counselor. She posted on Facebook about it, and recalled being “immediately inundated by people’s generosity.”

“It became bigger than what I thought it would be,” Camacho said. In the end, she was able to help 13 students in the school who needed assistance around the holidays.

Kindness is something that Camacho grew up well acquainted with, alongside her siblings, Melissa Cox and James Conklin. Their father, Howie Conklin — the organization’s namesake — was no stranger to spreading a smile or lending a hand to those in need.

“He was always good to people, and he always kind of fought for the underdog,” Camacho said. “His whole thing that he always used to say was, ‘You just have to do the right thing. You always have to do the right thing.’ So he raised us to be that way.”

The list of Howie’s altruistic endeavors is long — from extending a Thanksgiving dinner invitation to a homeless veteran, to searching for gifts for children in need in the middle of the night, to rescuing ill senior golden retrievers so they could live their final years in a safe home. By all accounts, Conklin was a special person who has been dearly missed by his family and friends since his death in December 2021.

“He just had a big heart, and he just always did the right thing,” Camacho said.

While wrapping the presents she collected for students in need with her family last December, Camacho said she felt her father’s presence, and thought the effort was a perfect way to continue the tradition he started. When community members reached out to her to thank her for organizing the toy drive, Camacho knew that it was just the right thing to do.

“If you’re down on your luck, people should try to help out,” Camacho reminded herself at the time. The more she thought about it, the clearer it became to her that people could use a place to facilitate kindness throughout the community.

Through the creation of Howie’s Heart with her family, Camacho has felt connected to her dad again.

“I’ve never been happier in my life than I am right now,” she said. “And it’s funny to say, because my dad’s not here with me. But the experience of giving to others and helping others, and showing people how they can help others, has made me so happy.”

Neighbors may have noticed Camacho at local libraries, like the Franklin Square Public Library and the Elmont Memorial Library, hosting events for the nonprofit. All are invited to take part in these events, which include a variety of activities, like making kindness rocks and key chains, staffing fundraising lemonade stands for other regional nonprofits and more.

“We’ve been thrilled to partner with them and get them off the ground,” Aviva Kane, director of the Franklin Square library, said. “It’s been a win-win situation, because we provided them a platform for them to spread their kindness, but it also helps with the programs we’re doing here as well.”

At each event, a community member is recognized for his or her acts of kindness, and is presented with a red Mylar heart balloon to pass along Howie’s torch of altruism.

“We wanted to acknowledge people, and let them know that they’re doing great stuff,” Camacho said.

The heart balloon is something that loved ones remember fondly of Howie, who used to bring a bouquet of them to greet his granddaughter — Camacho’s daughter, Talia — after school on Valentine’s Day.

“It’s helped me to see that when you give to others, kindness returns to you,” Camacho said.

To learn about the organization’s upcoming events and how to get involved, visit HowiesHeart.org.