Youth Encouraged to get Involved in Community Service

By Kellie Singleton Staff Writer- Times Daily

Katie SmithKatie Smith stood under a tent at the annual Phil Campbell Hoedown Festival, selling lemonade to raise funds, but unlike most children and teens, the money wasn’t going into her pocket at the end of the day — it was going to her hometown.

For the fifth straight year, Smith, 13, sold lemonade to raise money for a community service project in the Phil Campbell area. This year’s proceeds will go toward beautification projects at Phil Campbell High School.

In years past, she has raised money for playground improvements at Phil Campbell Elementary, for all members of her class to take an educational field trip, and for new books at the PCES library.

Smith first started her charitable lemonade stand in 2011 after the devastating tornado outbreak. She was 9 years old. Two of her classmates were killed and her school, Phil Campbell Elementary, sustained extensive damage at the playground.

Smith said she knew there wasn’t a lot she could do on her own at her age, but she knew how to make lemonade.

“That was my school and those were my friends and I just wanted to be able to help in some way and selling lemonade seemed like a good idea,” she said.

Smith said she felt like she made a difference that first year, so she decided to continue selling lemonade each summer.

“I’m plan to do this every summer until I graduate,” Smith said. “I think it’s great to give back and do things for others. And I think it would be great for other kids to get involved in community service projects. It improves the community, but it also makes you aware of needs and gives you a heart for helping others.”

Youth Service America (YSA) is encouraging community-minded young people like Smith to look for creative ways to make a difference this summer. YSA, through support from Disney/ABC Television Group, is awarding Summer of Creativity Grants for ideas and projects that positively impact the community.

“I have seen firsthand the power of service at an early age,” said Michael Coursey, YSA senior manager of communications. “Service and volunteering allow young people a chance to know they matter and to take part in building their own future. Children don’t like to sit on the sidelines, they want to be in the game. Service and volunteering create a lasting connection to the community and allow young people of all ages to shape their futures in creative ways.”

Sarah Barrie, YSA manager of grants and recognition, said service and volunteerism are learning tools.“Service has the ability to provide young people with an education outside of their classrooms,” Barrie said. “It teaches you about compassion, organization, hard work and teamwork in a way that a classroom can’t. These young people are learning skills that will be important to them for the rest of their lives, both in the work place and in their home lives and that is invaluable.”

Youth ages 5-18 in the U.S. are eligible to apply for Summer of Creativity Grants by submitting service project ideas that will make a difference in their local communities. Grants of $500 each will be awarded to 125 individuals to implement their projects.

YSA team members said grant-awarded projects in 2014 included a program run by a 14-year-old to collect coats, hats and gloves left at ski resorts to help keep the homeless warm; a foundation founded by a 10-year-old to provide healthy meals to kids in need; and a campaign organized by a 14-year-old to raise funds for research to help find cures for pediatric cancer.

“With half the world’s population under the age of 25, our future depends on helping young people to find their voice, take action, and make a positive impact in their communities,” YSA President and CEO Steven A. Culbertson said. “We know that young people are uniquely suited to help solve problems, if given the opportunity. We need youth to be leaders and problem solvers today, not just the leaders of a distant tomorrow.”

Smith said she knew there were probably other children and teens in the area who could make a difference in their hometowns and communities if they would just take that first step.

“For anyone who has ever had an idea or a project in mind they would like to do, my advice would just be to get out there and do it,” she said. “Ignore people who tell you that you can’t do something just because of your age. Just set a goal and find a way to make it happen. If more kids did that, there’s no telling what all could be accomplished.”

Summer of Creativity Grant applications will be accepted through Aug. 10. For information and to apply, go to YSA.org/BeInspired.

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