A 12-year-old boy from Wisconsin, who took a hobby he was passionate about and turned it into a way to help others, is now leaving his mark across the world.
Two years ago, Jonah Larson started his own crocheting business called Jonah’s Hands, where he would craft goods and then sell or donate them, with a large portion of the proceeds going toward an Ethiopian orphanage, where he was adopted from.
Over the course of those two years, his mom Jennifer Larson tells PEOPLE that Jonah’s business quickly took off, reaching a point that the La Crosse pre-teen was receiving over 4,500 orders in one month.
For fear that Jonah might become overwhelmed with the business and subsequently lose his passion for the craft, Jennifer says she and her son put an end to his selling.
“Jonah stopped selling his items because of the high demand,” she says. “It was important that Jonah continued to enjoy his craft … [so] that it didn’t turn into work and there was no pressure if he didn’t feel like crocheting. The demand of taking orders and the pressures of filling them would have been overwhelming and stressful.”
However, that didn’t mean Jonah couldn’t still make an impact. Instead of selling his goods, the 12-year-old started putting his efforts into charity work, speaking engagements, teaching classes and book authoring, where he has made major strides.
After halting his sales, Jonah started designing items and gifting them or donating them to charity, his mom says. One of those charities includes Roots Ethiopia, an organization that improves education standards and enables livelihoods for people living in Ethiopia.
Through a GoFundMe page he launched last year and auction sales from a crochet auction held in honor of the Ethiopian orphanage, Jonah has raised thousands of dollars for the impoverished community, which he used to build a library and a new science lab in the rural Ethiopian school.
“It is a poor area and children and families don’t have access to books and microscopes,” she explains. “Many have never seen a book. Now, he is building them a science lab. He feels all kids should have an education. These children would have been his peers had he lived there. … This has made him the most happy.”
The proud mom also notes that her son plans on returning to Ethiopia this summer — the first time he has ever returned — to see the fruits of his labor and meet the children he has impacted.
Beyond his charity work, Jonah transformed his online business to sell merchandise he designed now, with proceeds going toward helping him with Jonah’s Hands ventures and savings for medical school. (He hopes to be a surgeon one day, his mom tells PEOPLE.)
In addition, the pre-teen has already authored his autobiography titled Hello, Crochet Friends!: Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy, is currently writing a pattern tutorial book (expected to hit bookshelves in July 2020) and holding speaking engagements and crocheting classes around the country.
“He gives presentations to kids on ‘do what makes you happy’ even if it’s not what everyone else is doing,” Jennifer explains. “He also presents at schools to help kids and teachers learn ways to focus — such as crochet — if a child is distracted at school.”
This year looks to be even more promising for Jonah, who attended a VogueKnitting event in New York as a guest of South African designer Laduma in January.
While there, he learned to knit for the first time — a skill Jennifer believes will “open new doors for him.”
And next month, Jonah is scheduled to appear on NBC talent show Little Big Shots beside Melissa McCarthy, whom he has “made a special bond with” from his business, Jennifer says.
Much of his whirlwind journey has been documented on his Instagram, where he now boasts over 233,000 followers. But if you ask Jennifer and Jonah, they’ll say his success was completely unexpected.
“We never imagined it would balloon into such a big business but we are so happy it did,” says Jennifer, who quit her job as a director in a hospital to support her son’s endeavors. “We have met so many new friends, and they have been so supportive.”
And while there’s so much for the 12-year-old to be proud of, Jennifer says it’s the joy of creating homemade goods that bring joy and unity that really makes this worthwhile for Jonah.
“He simply likes to make beautiful items,” she explains. “He enjoys the smiles on people’s faces when he gifts them an item he designed himself. … As Jonah says, crochet brings the world together one stitch at a time.”