Eight years ago in Nashville, Tenn, nine-year-old Melissa Poe created Kids F.A.C.E, a club for kids who cared about the environment that currently has over 300,000 members worldwide. In October she steps down its leader; at 17, she's feels she's too old to lead the organization.
"There's lots of clubs out there that say they're run by kids but that's not exactly true," explains Melissa, "I just want Kids F.A.C.E. to be a club where it is."
Melissa began Kids F.A.C.E (Kids for a Clean Environment) after watching a summer rerun of "Highway to Heaven" showing how pollution hurts the earth.
Disturbed, Melissa wrote a letter to the president urging his help. After spending 12 weeks waiting for an answer, Melissa got the idea that a blown-up version of her letter would get then-President George Bush's attention. "I started making signs. And I got about two done and I asked my mom if we could go around and put up these signs so people could see my letter."
Her mom suggested putting up one big sign, maybe on a billboard. Melissa did more than that. With the help of Larmar Advertising, she eventually posted her letter on more than 250 billboards across the United States - all free of charge.
When the president's reply finally came, it was a form letter. "I knew then," says Melissa, "that the government wouldn't help me. If I wanted something done, I'd have to do it myself. I started off by calling other organizations like Greenpeace and Sierra Club and they all told me I needed to wait until I was older to do anything, but I didn't want to wait until I was older."
In 1989, Melissa started Kids F.A.C.E. as an after-school club at her elementary school. The six-member group met each Monday to write letters and plan cleanup activities. "We never thought it was anything more than a group of kids coming together so they could talk about the environment," says Trish Poe, her mother.
But then a letter from Melissa to the "Today" show got her club on television in 1990. When other kids heard about the club, they wrote asking how they could get involved.
So Melissa, with the help of her mother, who today manages the Kids F.A.C.E. office as executive director, developed a membership book that instructed kids on environmental projects and how to start a club of their own. "I felt like I had to write them all back at once because I didn't like what the president did to me. Because I didn't like being ignored.... I didn't want the kids to have the same feeling," says Melissa.
Requests for information came from all over the nation. At first, Melissa's parents paid the postage and supply bills for the club, but soon expenses became too high. So the club found a sponsor, Wal-Mart Inc., which began underwriting the bimonthly newsletter, Kids F.A.C.E. Illustrated, which currently provides environmental updates, suggestions, and ideas to more than 2 million people worldwide.
Each club, guided by information in the newsletter, works on individual projects. Most club activities are environmental: encouraging recycling or writing letters. The club's current major campaign seeks to have 1 million trees planted by 1 million children by 2000.
Melissa, herself, has become an environmental representative for kids, speaking at schools, companies, and conferences usually twice a month. She recently spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and has met with President Clinton.
After spending 20 some hours a week throughout her high school years supporting Kids F.A.C.E., Melissa relinquishes her CEO (a.k.a. child executive officer) title, as she applies to college where she hopes to study politics or broadcast journalism at either Brown, Stanford, or the University of Colorado. She still plans on continuing working with the club but more as a mentor to the younger kids and the two new CEOs: 15-year-olds Ashley Craw and Rachel Jones.
"To give up something you've done can be hard, but there's more stuff I'm excited to try," says Melissa. "I think I might want to be president one day, but I'm very fickle. I just do things as they come...."
How You Can Get Involved
A five-part checklist from Melissa Poe
1. Start at home. Recycle whatever you can. Return bottles to the stores, begin a backyard compost pile, make bird houses from old milk cartons. Do whatever you can do to use resources wisely.
2. Start small. Whether it's picking up trash in your neighborhood or writing a letter to your congressman or mayor.
3. Do it consistently. Make it part of your daily life.
4. Set your own example. One person can make a difference. Don't wait for others. Identify a problem and start solving it yourself. For instance, get your class at school to adopt an acre of rain forest or start a school recycling program.
5. If a Kids F.A.C.E. Club isn't available in your town, you can start your own chapter. Free membership packets that provide detailed information on how to form a club, suggestions for future projects, and a subscription to the organization's bimonthly newsletter are available by writing: Kids F.A.C.E., P.O. Box 158254, Nashville, TN 37215. (615) 331-7381.