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Canned Food Donations This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     WhenI was nine years old, I saw a TV commercial about children who did not haveenough to eat and were starving. I wanted to do something to help, so I got outmy wagon and went up and down the street asking neighbors for canned fooddonations. Then I wanted to do more, so I started collecting food before andafter school. I made flyers and passed them out to the students, and even offereda homemade thank-you ribbon to those who brought in canned goods. Wearing one ofthe Helpful Hands handmade ribbons became "the thing" in my school, andeveryone wanted one. I decided that each week I would make the ribbons adifferent color so people would keep bringing in food. Hundreds of cans werecollected, and I gave them to our local food bank. That is when my organization,Helpful Hands, was born.

Now, at 17, I have coordinated many food drivesand projects. Some of my projects have included collecting clothing and toys,filling spring baskets with nutritional snacks, and even school supplies forchildren in need. I have also organized many raffles, yard sales and bake salesover the years to raise money for items like milk and diabetic supplies. Irecruit kids, teens and adults to help out with projects. I sit outside stores,craft shows and special events to collect donations, and speak at organizationsabout the need for community service. I try to be an example of the way everyonecan make a difference in their neighborhoods by volunteering.

Over theyears, I have expanded my organization by helping what I consider the emotionallystarved as well as the physically starved. For the past four years I have givenChristmas parties for elderly patients at nursing homes that include talentshows, refreshments, cards made by local schoolchildren, and a present for eachof the more than 100 patients. I also have collected suitcases and filled themwith toiletries and notes to give to foster children, with the hope that thesethings will make their transition from home to home more pleasant.

Last spring I conducted a project to help teenage mothers with supplies for theirbabies. I asked some of my volunteers to make bibs and blankets for theseexpectant mothers, and collected baby food and diapers. The project was asuccess: Not only did the mothers-to-be get much-needed supplies, but a lot of myvolunteers learned how to sew.

Recently I participated in a workshop ata local college which taught middle- and high-school children how to start theirown organizations. I had the pleasure of coordinating one of the classes. Witheight years experience in community service and directing my own organization, Ihave learned a lot about the business world, including how to advertise, promote,create moneymaking ideas and carry out what needs to be done to make a project asuccess.

Two years ago I wanted Helpful Hands to grow even larger, so Icreated my own web site that I advertise in newspapers (www.helpfulhands.cjb.net). Seventeen and National Geographic World have been kind enough to help mespread the word. Kids and teens are always writing me wanting to start a HelpfulHands in their communities. My organization is now nationwide with 28 directors,and international with directors in Canada and Germany. I have even startedreceiving letters from people in China inquiring about starting one there.Because so many have asked me how to start a community project, I have created astartup pack that can be downloaded from my web site. I am available to answerall questions and concerns, and even post volunteers' success stories on my site.If you want to help but aren't sure how, the site provides examples of projectsto do.

Last year I was elected student representative to the Board ofEducation. I accepted the job in hopes of promoting volunteerism and unity inschools. With appreciation and incentives, I have learned to inspire enthusiasmand energy in volunteers, as well as those who donate. I hand out personalthank-you cards to all who help, and have volunteer parties. I have alwaysbelieved that volunteers will come back to help again when they feel their workis appreciated.

I want to continue my work by becoming a teacher. Thatway, I'll be able to continue helping those I feel need me most - the children. Ibelieve that richness is not found in the material things we buy, but what wehave in our hearts.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the September 2002 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.





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