Kids embrace the spirit of giving
Some start their own charities, tapping the Web to fund worthy causes.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.")
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.
That experience led Talia to create RandomKid, which supports children in the US and elsewhere in carrying out their own project ideas. "When I speak at schools, kids often come up and say, 'I have this great idea. How can I make it happen?' " says Talia, the nonprofit's CEO. RandomKid has worked with children in 50 states and 20 countries.