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Self-starters - Young volunteers creating their own charities

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Already part of a generation known for its commitment to volunteerism, a growing number of young people are not only helping good causes but starting their own charities, say adults who track philanthropy.

For Dan and Betsy Nally, it's about turkey. The siblings from suburban Boston, now ages 15 and 12, collected 36 birds from neighbors back in 1996, after hearing that the local food bank was running short at Thanksgiving.

Last year, their steadily expanding group -- Turkeys R Us -- collected 86,000 pounds of turkey. That's enough to feed more than 150,000 people.

Elsewhere, a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina, Nicholas Mantini, is helping young Nicaraguans escape poverty with education and job training. And 22-year-old Dana Hork is using pocket change to make a difference.

Solidified on Sept. 11

Three years ago, she founded an organization called Change for Change while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Now with chapters on two college campuses, the organization asks students to donate their spare change for worthy causes. In three years, students have given about $40,000 -- $25,000 of which went to the Red Cross after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"There's a resurgence of interest in giving back. And much of that solidified on Sept. 11," said Hork, who now works on Wall Street but continues to oversee the charity.

Youth Venture, a national nonprofit that provides seed money to young people starting their own charities, has seen a "tremendous increase" in applications over the last year, says Theresa Donovan, a senior adviser to the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

She agrees that the terrorist attacks have been a big motivator, but says there are other factors, too.

"Some young people have become disillusioned with politics," Donovan said. "So more and more are seeing the solution as getting involved in community service. It's a more direct route to getting that sense of fulfillment."

Claire Schmidt -- a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who has volunteered for everything from housing to environmental organizations -- echoes that feeling.

"I'm not happy with the world my generation inherited," the 22-year-old senior said. "And if I want to change it, it's my responsibility. Nobody's going to do it for me."

The Higher Education Research Institute found that, in 2001, nearly 83 percent of incoming college freshman said they had volunteered, up from about two-thirds in 1989.

For some, the urge to help a good cause is hitting even younger.

Two years ago, 10-year-old Kayla Reisman -- unprompted by her parents -- began asking guests invited to her birthday party to skip buying a gift and instead bring donations for the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.

"I have a lot of toys and clothes. I don't really need a lot," said Kayla, a fifth-grader in Columbia, Md.

On the Net

Youth Venture: www.youthventure.org

Turkeys R Us: www.turkeysrus.com

Change for Change: changeforchange.com

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