My love for civic duty began when I was eight years old. My school was having a coat drive, and I was very excited to get home to tell my mom all about it. Within a few minutes, we were on our way to the mall to select and purchase 30 warm winter coats.
It was a typically cold and windy November day in Chicago, when my mom drove me to school with all those coats. She made it clear that I was responsible for getting the coats into school, and it took seven or eight trips up and down the stairs to get them into the school office. Once the work was done, I felt good inside, knowing that 30 kids would be warmer that winter. I could see how proud my mom was of me too!
We moved to Georgia when I was ten years old, and I wanted to continue volunteering. However, when I reached out to organizations seeking volunteers, I was told things like “you're too young” and “you will be a liability.” I was even warned that “soup cans might fall on your head!”
Frustrated, I asked my mom if I could start my own program. She told me it would be “a lot of work,” but that if I was willing to put in the time and effort, she would help.
As always, student work should be educationally meaningful, helping them achieve their standards and meet their learning goals. Authentic writing adds motivation by demonstrating to students that their efforts are worthwhile. Students are encouraged when they see that their effort is meaningful and that their work can have value to someone outside the classroom.
I founded Change 4 Georgia (C4G) with an IDEA in mind:
C4G addresses a wide variety of community needs. We collect food for needy military families. We send comfort food, like oatmeal, to troops overseas. Last year, we provided Christmas dinners, toys, and gifts to 16 individuals from military families. C4G volunteers read to preschool children for Read Across Forsyth, then help the children make cards or flags to send to soldiers overseas.
There are now over 50 members of my non-profit, all of whom are dedicated to supporting our service men and women and their families. C4G members have donated over 2,000 volunteer hours in the past three years and raised one million dollars in cash and in-kind donations!
The distance between dreams and reality is action. By acting, we can help others, learn skills along the way, and have fun doing it.
I have learned that kids can combine compassion, effective leadership, perseverance, and hard work, to make a positive difference in our community. Are you wondering how you can get started?
I chose to focus on the military because of one word: FREEDOM! My great-grandfather served as a Marine stationed on a battleship in the Pacific; I believe it's our civic duty to take care of those who take care of us.
Where do you want your work to make a difference? Find a cause you are passionate about and make everything you do an adventure. Your life is your story...make sure it is one worth reading!
You don't have to start your own non-profit to make a difference. I asked guests to my 13th birthday party to bring cash donations and books for Change 4 Georgia. My friends gifted $1,450 in cash and 221 books!
You can't help everybody, but everybody can help somebody. We support several senior centers by washing cars to raise money for things like Alzheimer's research, as well as making smoothies, helping with crafts, and playing Bingo with residents. Make good things happen everywhere you can!
This past Veterans Day, we partnered with Red Cross to recognize the men and women who serve our country and to help prepare and serve a meal to veterans and their families. C4G volunteers also made and sold root beer floats, hot dogs, and ice-cream sundaes as part of a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) fundraiser. Both of these opportunities fit with our IDEA (mission), and were a great way to volunteer without having to plan, organize, or lead our own event.
The more volunteer opportunities you participate in, the more experience you gain. This year, we secured a very generous donation of 100,000 books from Indiana! While this was almost beyond our wildest dreams, we didn't have existing storage or a way to transport the books to Georgia. I learned how to reach out to local businesses to partner and secure both funding to move the books as well as space in a local business's warehouse to store them.
We also staff our new IDEAS with student Project Directors. For example, this year we began Cookies 4 Courage, to deliver home-baked cookies as a thank you to police and fire personnel, and Flower Power, which delivers colorful bouquets to brighten the day for residents of senior centers. Giving each project a student director helps our volunteers develop their skills, helping them grow from volunteering time to organizing entire programs and managing many other volunteers.
Stick with your dreams and don't let anyone tell you you're too young to make a difference. Community service takes hard work, but the rewards are endless. The distance between dreams and reality is action. By acting, we can help others, learn skills along the way, and have fun doing it.
Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Well, I have that little thing. If each of us does a little, then together we can make a big impact!
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