Community leaders of tomorrow
February 23, 2010
By Chantelle Lusebrink
Youth activism can lead to a better world
Teens today are changing the world one day and one life at a time and Issaquah youths are joining the movement.
Volunteering by 16- to 19-year-olds has more than doubled since 1989, from 13.4 percent to 28.4 percent, according to a 2007 report from The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that oversees service programs in the U.S. Volunteering by that age group is also 36 percent higher than it was in 1974, when it was 20.9 percent. Today, 8.2 million people ages 16-24 volunteer their time.
Mitchell Byron, a Liberty High School alumni who volunteered for Athletes for Kids and is deaf, is one of them.
“I want to give back to a community that has given so much to me,” he said.
Students are learning philanthropy at home; through community organizations, like Kiwanis and Rotary clubs; in children’s leadership groups; and in school, according to the agency’s reports.
Locally, there is an Issaquah School Board policy dedicated to ensuring students learn philanthropy before they graduate, said Superintendent Steve Rasmussen.
“Globally, we want kids to know that we’re in a world that they can impact, personally and in larger groups,” he said. “I want them to know what they do impacts the rest of the world, and it is incumbent upon them to be much wiser than my generation.”
Students in Issaquah have taken that message to heart, not just for their grades, but also in hopes of leaving their world better.
“We have to take action to see the outcome that we want,” said Lindsay Baringer, a senior at Issaquah High School who volunteers with the Issaquah Schools Foundation. “If you help out, the world will be a nicer place to live.”
Planting seeds (Volunteers of Issaquah Changing Education Mentor program)
Children and students in Issaquah can get involved at an early age by volunteering their time as a mentor for other students.
The Volunteers of Issaquah Changing Education program, funded by the foundation, helps 173 students in elementary, middle and high school each year by matching them with older students and adults.
Baringer, is one of 145 mentors, and works with a second-grader named Levi at Clark Elementary School.
The mentors help students during or after the school day as a one-on-one tutor and mentor for at least one hour per week.
“It’s been fun to work with him, and to help him learn and encourage him,” Baringer said of Levi, whom she’s mentored for two years.
“She gets to help me with math, and it gets better and better,” Levi said. “We also play games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four.”
Foundation officials carefully match students with their mentors based on a student’s strengths, desires or needs. Mentors come from many walks of life, cultures and backgrounds, and they foster social skills and motivate students to become lifelong learners, said Susan Gierke, the program’s director.
“Our volunteers feel that their time is highly valued when they see that for one hour a week they can see that they make a huge impact in the life of a student,” Gierke said.
Part of the program also requires the mentor to work with school staff members to provide appropriate tutoring and enrichment activities.
“We make sure everything is going well at home, they’re happy and learning the things they need to know, and we also contact the teacher to make sure they are on track,” Baringer said.
“Our students not only develop a relationship with their mentor, but their academics are improved with the one-on-one tutor mentoring they receive on a weekly basis,” Gierke said. “What we found is that both mentor and mentee come away with wonderful, worthwhile, valuable experience shared between the two of them.”
Helping them grow (Athletes for Kids)
Byron, a Liberty alumni and now freshman at the University of Oregon, has been deaf most of his life. But he hasn’t let that stop him from helping others.
He learned the importance of volunteering early, and chose to volunteer with Athletes for Kids, an organization that pairs special-needs students and children with high school athletes in their community as mentors.
Right now, the program has 65 trained mentors from five high schools matched with students, but 50 additional students are on the waiting list for mentors, which the organization would like to fill, said Executive Director Teresa Bretl.
“Being deaf, I’ve had a lot of help from my grandma, my neighbors, my classmates and my school,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to give back.”
For Byron and his friend Liam Dammann, a sixth-grader at Maywood Middle School, their time together makes a difference in both of their lives.
Liam’s mother, Andrea Johnson, signed him up for the program to help him learn how to be a good athlete and friend with someone closer to his age. When he interviewed Mitchell to be his mentor, they hit it off right away and have been playing catch and Wii and going to movies and sports events since.
“We spend a lot of time playing games, making up our own games and talking a lot about things,” Mitchell said, adding that Liam dreams of playing professional football after college.
“I had a bit of social issues and was being a bit aggressive, so I signed up and I met Mitchell,” Liam said. “I saw the way he acted toward people and it’s gotten better and better.
“I also saw he has a hearing disability, so he’s kinda like me,” he added. “We both have some issues, so we’re a good match.”
Even after Mitchell graduated from high school, the two boys stay in touch when Mitchell is home for breaks and through his brother Dean, a Liberty High School senior, who took over mentoring Liam.
“When I would go over to Mitchell’s house, Dean would be at the house, so I knew him,” Liam said. “Me and Dean are working out really well. He’s a soccer player, so I’ve learned how to kick a lot further like him and we have a lot of fun.”
“AFK impacted my life by allowing me the experience to be a part of someone’s life and be a positive influence to my buddy,” Mitchell wrote in an e-mail. “I got the chance to make an impact on someone else’s life, which is always good, and I hope he remembers what I taught him, which was to open up to people and believe in himself, that he can accomplish anything and be whomever he wants.”
Affecting change (Generation Joy)
At Beaver Lake Middle School, change for others is something students have specialized in for nine years as part of Generation Joy and the Beaver Lake Humanitarian Project.
“It makes me feel good to do stuff with my friends and help people around the world,” said Jordan Rabold, now a ninth-grader at the Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus.
The program started with Curtis Betzler, a science teacher, who took a trip to Ghana in 2001 and returned with an idea to help his students help other children around the world.
Each spring, Betzler and his students raise items, like clothes and school supplies, for a humanitarian drive for children in South Africa. The items are collected in March and shipped to Africa in April.
“It’s the little things that we take for granted that are their big treasures,” said Harper Guard, now a ninth-grader at Pacific Cascade.
“If I give a pencil and a piece of paper, they can learn to write. They can build a career and an education,” said Andrew Smith, another former Beaver Lake student.
After the shipment arrives, educators from the school, students and their parents pick it up and travel to villages, schools and orphanages to distribute the goods during summer vacation. To date, more than $100,000 worth of items has been donated to South Africa through Generation Joy. More than 6,200 students in 32 schools throughout South Africa were given items donated by 2,500 local students by summer 2008.
To better manage their growing efforts, Betzler and several others turned the project into a nonprofit organization last year, so they could expand their capacity to accept donations and coordinate travels to South Africa.
In 2009, 10,000 books, 20,000 pens and pencils, 1,200 pairs of shoes, 2,500 soft toys, 2,500 notebooks and packages of paper, 1,000 clothing items, 280 sports balls and 95 bicycles were collected.
Collections are now being accepted for this year’s drive.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Betzler said. “This is the power of kids helping kids.”
The event has had such a large impact that many students who participated in middle school have continued to contribute in high school and college.
“I have kept in pretty good touch with Mr. Betzler over the years,” Patrick Horton, a Washington State University student, wrote in an e-mail. “As of now, the work with Generation Joy at the WSU campus is still in the planning stages. The Greek system at Washington State University has always been largely focused on service. Knowing this, I am really optimistic about the kinds of supplies that we will be able to raise this spring.”
“I have continued to support GenJoy by organizing the Pencils Fight Poverty Drive at Interlake, a two-week collection of pencils to help the students of South Africa through GenJoy,” Kevin Vu, a student at Interlake High School, wrote in an e-mail. “In doing this, I support both the actions and ideals that GenJoy exemplifies: how one ordinary human can do the extraordinary with the power of love.”
“When our students leave school and go into world, when someday they are all at the end of the line, we want them to look back and say ‘I made a difference. I left this place a better place than I found it.’ That is something we instill in all of our students as they become leaders of a future generation,” Rasmussen said.
Building for the future (1in2)
Leaving the world a better place is something former Issaquah students are already doing.
When both of his parents were diagnosed with different types of cancer, Mark Horoszowski was devastated.
But instead of wallowing in sorrow, he formed a plan to help others fight the fight his parents were battling. He helped organize some of the first Relay for Life events at Issaquah High School in the early 2000s.
“Both my parents were big on giving back. It was never a chore or mandatory, but always encouraged,” said Horoszowski, who is 26, living in Seattle and launching a new company called Symbol Interactive. “I felt like cancer sucks and this I can do. It is actually something I can do that directly affects my parents.”
Both of his parents survived their battle with cancer, but the experience led him to keep fighting for others, as a Relay for Life student coordinator at the University of Washington and as a volunteer ambassador with the American Cancer Society.
“I’ll get jazzed up and spend 30 minutes on a project that is big and exciting for a good cause,” he said. “What a cool break from the working world.”
His experiences have led him to new friends across the world and to found his own nonprofit organization, 1in2, with his friend Jesse Durrance, from Colorado.
The name 1in2 stands for the number of men diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, he said.
“I’m a guy. I don’t really like the odds,” he said. “My first question was, ‘What do I have to do to not be one in two?’ Then, we realized that everybody needed to know this information.”
In 2007, Horoszowski and Durrance climbed up and skied down Mount Adams, Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens, and in 2008, they climbed up and skied down Mount Rainier to promote awareness.
However, after two years, the pair realized the organization had to take on a larger role.
Today, they strive to coordinate volunteer efforts, educational tools, advocacy programs and health screening opportunities between research and health facilities and nonprofit organizations, like the American Cancer Society or the American Diabetes Association.
The bottom line is to get people living healthier lifestyles through education, so there are fewer people battling diseases that are preventable, making room for research and funding for cures.
“A big part of what we do is educating people that one-third of all cancer is attributed to not living a healthy lifestyle, like wearing sunscreen, eating vegetables and fruit, and staying away from chemicals,” he said.
“I wish my parents never had cancer and I wish, in a way, I was never involved with this,” he added. “But it is what has happened and it’s this way. It’s a cool way to give back, and its motivating, encouraging and fun.”