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Philanthro-teens delving into nonprofit world

Monday, February 07, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: jennifer punch
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Kids raise the bar on giving with Facebook fundraisers, even their own foundations.

By Miriam Kreinin Souccar


When Shannon McNamara was 13, her parents took her and her siblings to Peru during summer vacation to volunteer in an orphanage.

"At the beginning of the trip, I was thinking, 'Why can't I be on a cruise ship instead?' ” said Ms. McNamara, now 17 and a senior in high school in Basking Ridge, N.J. But the experience was "worth more than any cruise or trip to Disneyland could give you,” she said.

The family took a similar trip to Africa three years ago, and Ms. McNamara started her own nonprofit, Share (Shannon's After-School Reading Exchange), shortly after to help educate African girls. She has since volunteered in Tanzania every summer, and has collected 23,000 books and shipped them to schools there. She has also begun raising money for scholarships.

Meet the teen philanthropists. Armed with new technology and an awareness of global issues, post-Millennials are engaging in social entrepreneurship in previously unimaginable ways. Though still materialistic, these teens and even preteens want to do something more significant than acquire the latest i-Pod Touch or Wii. Looking for a purpose

Borrowing from trends in celebrity charity, kids are mobilizing their peers to address everything from infant mortality in developing nations to neighborhood concerns. They're donating presents to charity, and they're establishing their own nonprofits.

"The number of kids creating their own organizations and taking action for causes they care about is skyrocketing,” said Nancy Lublin, chief executive of, a New York-based nonprofit that helps young people to engage in philanthropy.

"Kids today just saw their parents go through a recession, get laid off and struggle,” Ms. Lublin said. "They look around and say: 'What's the point? I don't just want a second car in my driveway. I want a life of purpose.' ”

In the past year, 79% of girls in the United States have contributed food or clothing, 53% have given their own money, and 66% have asked family or friends to give or volunteer, according to research commissioned by the United Nations Foundation.

Today's teens also plan to be generous when they get older. More than 75% say they will regularly give to charity, versus 63% in 1989, according to a nationwide survey by the Girl Scout Research Institute of 3,263 students in grades three through 12.

New nonprofits and campaigns are forming to generate teenage service and keep the movement growing. GenerationOn, a New York group promoting volunteerism, launched in October and has received more than 120,000 pledges to serve. It is working with 27 city schools to incorporate a "youth action” focus into the curriculum.

Last fall, the UN Foundation launched Girl Up, a national campaign to energize young women to raise money for their counterparts in developing nations. Girl Up stages rallies around the U.S. to educate teens about the hardships faced by children in poor countries, and its website is a portal for community action groups founded by teens. Thousands of enlistees are using Facebook and other networking tools to organize support for the program.

Girl Up's board of teen advisers includes Ms. McNamara, who has promoted the effort on BBC Radio and MTV.

The results have been impressive, according to Aaron Sherinian, the UN Foundation's executive director of communications and public affairs. "We have been astounded by the reaction—girls who told us they were already doing something or that they have a community of friends who wanted to do something but didn't know where to channel it.”

This generation is digital and global, Mr. Sherinian added. "A 12-year-old has a smartphone and knows where Malawi is.”

Like young people in the 1960s, teens now are coming of age during a time when serious global problems strike close to home. And they are dealing with things the previous generation didn't have to: terrorism, environmental disasters and worldwide recession.

Such concerns inspired Alex Epstein, 20, to start his own nonprofit three years ago. After making a post-Katrina visit to New Orleans and seeing the lack of support for residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, the Manhattan high school student couldn't just stand by.

"The thoughts and emotions this trip provoked made me realize this was what I would be dedicating the rest of my life to,” said Mr. Epstein, now a student at Temple University.

He co-founded the New York 2 New Orleans Coalition to create a network of young people interested in helping disadvantaged residents in both cities. NY2NO has since organized 41 trips to New Orleans for 1,000 high school and college students nationwide.

The recession is what spurred Angelica Salem, a 17-year-old from Stamford, Conn. Because her Sweet 16 celebration fell during the downturn, she decided to turn her birthday party into a charity event for low-income residents in the area. Her nonprofit, Voice of an Angel, raised $10,000 at the 150-person bash and has since held a number of galas. In early January, she organized a benefit that raised $50,000 for the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital. Parents have a role

"I knew I was going to eventually start my own charity, so I thought now is the perfect time,” Ms. Salem said.

Observers said it's clear that young people have the confidence to take action on their own. "This generation's icon isn't an actor or an athlete; it's Mark Zuckerberg,” Ms. Lublin said. "They don't want to just go get a job, they are builders.”

As in the McNamara family, though, kids' interest in philanthropy is often fostered—and facilitated—by parents.

Jillian and Sydney Medina, 10-year-old twins in Princeton Junction, N.J., said the need to give back is something their parents ingrained in them early on. In second grade, Jillian formed a group to clean up the playground at recess every day of the school year. The youngest members of the Girl Up teen advisory board, the girls raised $3,100 for the UN Foundation by asking for donations in lieu of gifts on their last birthday.

"Parents in our society tend to put their children in the center of the family and cater to their needs,” said Rhonda Medina. "After a while, you have to look at who you're raising—someone centered in the community or centered on themselves.”

In Chappaqua, Deena Bouchier persuaded twins Max and Mia to request gifts to the Westchester SPCA for their eighth birthday recently. They raised more than $700 in cash, along with piles of pet food and accessories.

"Kids these days have so much, they don't even appreciate their toys,” Ms. Bouchier said. "We wanted our kids to start to learn what it feels like, that it's a good feeling to be able to give and help others.”

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