Kids Making Good
"We Raise Our Voices for Those Who Can't."
--Tess K., 17
While many high school students try out for the cheerleading squad or work on the yearbook, Tess K. writes letters. Dozens of letters, on behalf of political prisoners around the world. She is the president of her school's Amnesty International Club, and coordinates similar clubs in 26 schools scattered through the western Chicago suburbs.
"I thought it was honorable to help people around the world, and to put your efforts together," Tess believes. "Teamwork. That's what Amnesty is."
For three years, Tess has been involved in Amnesty's efforts to help secure the release of Amnesty's "prisoners of conscience," held for political reasons in jails throughout the world. Last year, five of the eight prisoners she and friends wrote letters for were released.
"You took part in helping someone get his life back," she says, recalling how she felt when she learned of those who had been freed. Though her letter-writing efforts have proven fruitful, Tess has also made sure her club does more than put pen to paper. Students have held bake sales for Kosovar refugees, and worked at a Chicago shelter for Guatemalan torture victims.
"We want to help any way we can," she says. "It's a good way to give people hope, to have us there."
"Parents Can Learn From Kids."
--Chris S., 11
Chris S. was just hanging out one day with a bunch of friends in his neighborhood in Queens, New York, when all of a sudden, someone driving by threw a soda can out the window. It hit him in the head.
"When that can hit me, an idea popped into my head," Chris remembers. "If they keep doing this, it will make it impossible to play in our street!"
Inspired by "The Big Help" public service campaign run by Nickelodeon, the children's television network, Chris organized a group of 12 friends to start cleaning up his block and promote recycling. It became a club, of sorts, with a mission and a name: Team Richmond Hill.
"We might as well start doing good things now, rather than do them later," he believes. "We kids are the largest group of activists in the world but not that many grownups believe in kid power."
Along with picking up bottles and cans, Chris and his friends have also tried to educate neighborhood residents about the benefits of recycling.
"We wrote a letter to the mayor of New York to let him know that people are still throwing cans on the road. We'd like him to do an ad campaign about recycling."
Much of Chris's concern about the environment comes from what he has learned about rain forest destruction in school or observed on television news. He takes exception to the suggestion that perhaps news isn't meant for kids.
"So what if kids want to watch the news!" he challenges a reporter. "The news is for everyone. So is our world!"
Animal Shelter Volunteer
"My Life Wouldn't Be Complete."
--Lisa B., 17
It's not a glamourous job, to be sure. Every Sunday, while friends do their nails or shop at the local mall, Lisa B. cleans cages at an animal shelter in Brockton, Massachusetts. She has been doing it since she was 15.
"I really love animals," she laughs. "I just met a staff person one day who said they needed volunteers and I started coming here."
She helps rehabilitate animals who have been exposed to all sorts of abuse and neglect.
"When I first started, there was a 2-year-old cocker spaniel who was brought in because she wasn't housebroken," she recalls. "She'd just sit in her cage and cower in the corner. During my free time I would take her out and brush her and give her special attention and tell her how great she was. About two weeks later, she was adopted!"
That kind of experience, which has happened repeatedly over the past few years, makes Lisa feel she is making a difference. To her delight, she'll soon increase her hours at the shelter to fulfill a community service requirement for graduation. Still, she says, "It doesn't feel like community service because I love it so much!"
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