Young philanthropists not only work for charities, they start them


Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 12:35 a.m.

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.

Facts

On the Net:

Youth Venture: www.youthventure.org

Turkeys R Us: www.turkeysrus.com

Change for Change: www.changeforchange.com

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.

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," says 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.

"I think some young people have become disillusioned with politics," Donovan says. "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 says. "And if I want to change it, it's my responsibility. Nobody's going to do it for me."

At least one national survey has found that volunteerism among young people has been building over the last decade.

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.

Mantini, the college student in North Carolina, remembers exactly what inspired him to found a U.S. fund-raising arm for a Nicaraguan group called Dos Generaciones, which helps children who are living in and around dumps in Managua.

It happened when he and other students on a school-sponsored trip visited a dump in the Central American country and watched as children -- some of them with no clothes -- sifted through garbage, looking for food and anything of value.

"We knew this was something we would carry for the rest of our lives," Mantini says. "I just reevaluated everything I did."

He came home and, along with other students, started writing grants, selling hot chocolate and working with elementary students to raise money. In less than two years, he says the Dos Generaciones Alliance has raised more than $20,000 in aid.

For others, 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," says Kayla, a fifth-grader in Columbia, Md.

Others are motivated by tragedy in their own lives.

After Taylor Sevin's father died of a rare form of cancer in 1999, she told her mom she wanted to help find a cure for the disease. So she started writing letters to family friends, asking for donations. Now each year on her father's birthday, Feb. 10, she delivers her donation to researchers at Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University in Washington. So far, the 11-year-old, who lives in a Washington suburb, has raised more than $26,000.

Says Taylor: "I didn't want other children to be as sad as I was."

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