Teens in action

By Theresa Foy DiGeronimo
From A Student's Guide to Volunteering, Career Press, 1995

Let's take a look at a group of teens who had an idea and made it work. Teri Nguyen wanted to raise environmental awareness in her community. Knowing she'd need the help of other students to do it, Teri asked her friends at school to join her. Next she found that they could meet only as a school group if they had a faculty sponsor. Easily convinced by Teri's enthusiasm, Mr. Samtak became their sponsor. Then she discovered that to be on the school's list of approved activities, they'd need a constitution and bylaws. Not knowing where to begin, Teri asked existing school groups for help. Using other constitutions as examples, Teri's group soon drafted their own simple constitution that stated their purpose, minimum number of meetings and the function and length of term for each officer.

Now they were an official club and ready to roll. Teri set a meeting date, and when the time came, she and her friends gathered in the school cafeteria. They decided to begin with small projects like selling T-shirts to raise money and to let people know they existed. They also agreed to join a national affiliation and to contribute some of their money to international environmental groups like Greenpeace. At later meetings, they developed plans to bring awareness projects into the elementary schools in their district.

Over the next four years, the club grew in size and in ambition. They decided they were ready to direct some attention toward environmental problems in their town. "There were barrels dumped into our lake about 50 years ago because the owners didn't know what else to do with them," says Teri's younger sister, Ann, a former club president. "We wanted to remove them." Ann took that idea and ran with it.

The cost of removing the barrels was several thousand dollars, but that didn't stop these volunteers. They organized more T-shirt sales, held a rock concert at the high school and sponsored a 1OK local run. Then Ann applied for a grant from the area conservancy that was approved and matched the funds the volunteers had raised. Ann, now in college, is proud of her efforts. "It is great," she says, "that I can come back and find that I left something behind for the town and the club."

This is just one of many instances where no organization exists to address the needs of a town or school, and so teens step in and take care of it. What about money? Is your idea bigger than your budget? Are your members immediately discouraged because they say, "We could never afford that?" Fear not! There are plenty of ways to get money.

One way is to simply ask for the money. One group of volunteers wanted to bring a theater company to school to do a dramatic presentation and discussion about date rape. The volunteers raised more than $1,000 in three weeks by sending letters to area merchants and organizations and then following up with well-researched and well-rehearsed telephone and personal contacts. Sometimes organizations need charitable ways to spend some money; you never know when you may hit the right button at the right time. Another group discovered the art of grant writing. The government has grant money for all kinds of programs. All you need is the perseverance to work through the application. Get your advisor or another adult to help you. For more information about grants, contact your local Municipal Alliance Committee or your high school principal.

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