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Kids embrace the spirit of giving

Some start their own charities, tapping the Web to fund worthy causes.

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 24, 2008

Making a difference: Katie Simon (left) founder of Minga, has raised $40,000 to stop child sex trafficking. ‘I’ve discovered my own power to change the world,’ she says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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The very rich and the very famous capture the headlines for their charitable giving. But another group of avid philanthropists is also leaving its mark. Young people from grade school on are engaged as never before in making a direct difference in the world. They are donating via the Internet to favorite projects overseas, creating their own nonprofits to pursue social causes, and becoming grantmakers on foundation boards to foster change in their home communities.

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"It has become a value for young people to be personally involved," says Claire Gaudiani of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University. "Many have seen first-hand where the needs are and what a difference individual citizens can make."

Some youths have gained that awareness from volunteer activities. Many have seen celebrities take up worthy causes. Others have traveled with their families and encountered the challenges many children face in other countries.

Katie Simon, a teenager from Newton, Mass., says a lengthy family trip in the developing world when she was in second grade first opened her eyes. Then, when she heard two years ago about the child sex trade in some of those places, she knew she needed to do something.

"I learned about a rehabilitation center for children in the Philippines and talked with friends about raising $5,000 in a yard sale," says the 16-year-old. "People thought that was impossible, but we raised $6,500!"

Thrilled with their success, Katie founded an organization, Minga (mingagroup.org), to educate others about the scourge of child sex trafficking and to raise funds to fight it. (Minga is a word in Quechua, a native language of South America, which means "the coming together of a community to work for a common good.")

So far, Minga has raised $40,000, the rehab center has been completed, and the group is working with other partners in Guatemala, Thailand, and Boston.

Katie spends between 20 and 30 hours a week in the work, and says it's well worth it: "I've discovered my own power to change the world, and have connected to some awesome people. I've seen the good side of everybody – it's amazing."

Last month, Katie won a Global Action Award given to young leaders by the international relief group Mercy Corps.

Technology, too, has helped breed this new generation of givers and social entrepreneurs. The Web facilitates global communication and network-building as well as ease in donating.

Talia Leman, an Iowa teen, got her feet wet in philanthropy after hurricane Katrina. At age 10, she started a project called TLC – trick or treat for the levee catastrophe. She wrote a news release on lined paper and sent it to TV stations, urging kids to ask for loose change on Halloween as well as candy. With the help of an adult friend who set up a website, she connected with children in 4,000 school districts across the United States. They raised $10 million, what ABC News said was equal to the giving power of the top five US corporations.

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