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Kids embrace the spirit of giving

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

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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.

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Last week, they held an Internet video conference involving schools in five states with the South African entrepreneur who developed the "playpump" system to provide safe water to rural communities. The students had raised enough funds for their second pump. Hearing that, "entrepreneur Trevor Field said he knew of a community in Malawi that desperately needed one, and he'd get moving on it right away," says Anne Ginther, RandomKid's president.

On Nov. 13, Talia was recognized for her efforts with an award from World of Children (WOC), which sponsors what some call the Nobel prize for children.

"Talia is being recognized as a changemaker because she has put together a new cohort of philanthropists – some 600 kids across the US and the world," says Harry Leibowitz, WOC founder. "What she's doing has sustainability."

Mr. Leibowitz has been giving out awards for eight years and has witnessed the growth in child activists.

"We get nominations from around the world for children who are doing extraordinary work. It's amazing, but there are thousands," he says. "It takes a child that not only has the vision and the fortitude, but something else – either a supportive family or an epiphany."

Young people are also active in bringing change to their own communities. Thanks to many community foundations across the country, youths are gaining knowledge and leadership skills in philanthropy by serving on youth advisory committees.

Rose Community Foundation (RCF) in Denver took an additional step eight years ago by creating Rose Youth Foundation, to give Jewish high school students the responsibility for becoming positive change agents in the metro area.

"We give them $50,000 each year and expose them to strategic philanthropy and learning about Jewish values of giving," says Lisa Farber Miller, RCF's program coordinator.

Twenty-three teenagers are selected from a seven-county area, elect their officers, spend six months in needs assessment, and decide on a grantmaking approach and on which projects to fund. Stephen Lurie, a senior at Cherry Creek High School, has been involved now for three years. "You learn a lot about the philanthropy process and about cooperation. We use the consensus [decisionmaking] model, and it's made me a stronger leader and a more patient person," he says.

Stephen's favorite funding priority last year was a program that enables refugees from torture who've come to this country to learn English. "People can only connect to society and get jobs when they have the language," he explains. "By the time we've finished this year, I'll have helped donate $150,000 to programs in metro Denver. To see the impact is amazing."

Young people are learning the value of giving at earlier ages. In a 2007 national study of 2,000 kids from ages 6 to 14, Just Kids Inc. found that 30 percent of the children surveyed were involved in volunteer activities on a monthly basis.

While an overproliferation of nonprofits poses some problems in the US (reaching 2 million by the end of 2008), Dr. Gaudiani says, entrepreneurial young people are making valuable contributions to the greater good.

"I think we have another 'greatest generation' in hatchery," she says.