“Young people today!” I heard that in my own youth 70 years ago, heard it when my children were young, and we still hear it today. And sure, some young people do make you shake your head and wonder where their brain is hiding, but on the flip side, there are an awful lot of young people out there working selflessly to make a difference in the lives of others, to be ‘good people.’ Every now and then I like to focus on those good young people, for they are our future and seeing the good works they are doing gives us hope for that future.
As the youngest volunteer with GlamourGals, a nonprofit aimed at building intergenerational relationships between teens and seniors in care facilities to end elder isolation, Spencer Murray at the ripe age of 9 years, was determined to show that even the youngest person can make an impact. When visitors were not allowed to visit nursing homes and care facilities at the height of the pandemic, Spencer thought how lonely older people were because they couldn’t be around their loved ones and couldn’t give others hugs or even high fives without being at risk. Although he couldn’t give someone a high five in person, Spencer could give them a high five in another way.
Spencer realized that he and his friends could make cards for those living in care facilities while ensuring the safety of seniors and volunteers. Each card features a note, pictures, and a “high five”: a colorful paint handprint. To help build a sense of community within the volunteers, especially those who lived in different states, Spencer would set up monthly Zoom calls with his peers to make cards and catch up with one another. Spencer didn’t stop at just asking his friends to volunteer; he’s also had support from area Girl Scout troops, dance studios, and students from all grades at his school.
Since starting this project, over 3,000 seniors across the country have received a high five card from Spencer and his friends! As he continues his work, Spencer hopes that people never underestimate the power of a child, but more importantly, that each person who receives a card has a smile, a laugh, and hopefully one day, maybe even a hug from him!
For Laiba Yusuf, age 10, serving one’s community is a family affair. After volunteering with her sister and mother, Laiba found that she was most passionate about supporting people impacted by hunger, poverty, homelessness, and mental health, especially seeing how interrelated these issues were. Wanting to ensure that people of all backgrounds had access to essential services and resources they may not have otherwise, Laiba created the Kindness for Buddies Campaign in the summer of 2019.
To best provide for her community, Laiba’s first step in her campaign was to create partnerships with organizations that work directly with large numbers of people in need. Through conversations with groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association, 360°Kids, and Inn from the Cold, Laiba was able to learn about items and services that were most needed by those she wanted to help. With this knowledge, Laiba began organizing fundraisers—selling flowers, fruit baskets, and holiday-themed gifts—and collection drives, including one of the only back-to-school drives in the region!
Over the last three-and-a-half years, Laiba has raised over $35,000 to support organizations as they provide essential services in areas of hunger, poverty, homelessness, and mental health, and her back-to-school drives provided over 1100 backpacks filled with school supplies for youth across Ontario! Kindness for Buddies has also given Laiba the opportunity to establish peer tutoring sessions in math and reading, host pet therapy mental health events, and donate hundreds of pounds of fresh produce through pop-up farmers markets!
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, 17-year-old Aditya Sirohi has seen the firsthand impact of hunger and homelessness. As someone who is easily able to empathize with others around him, Aditya began to think about ways he could be of service to those most in need, especially those—like many in Philadelphia—experiencing poverty, hunger, and homelessness. In 2020, he joined a TEDxYouth group where he and other area youth discussed issues they were most passionate about. Wanting to turn conversation into action, Aditya founded Hand4Hand.
Hand4Hand works to activate youth to bring positive change to the communities around them. Because the nonprofit was founded during the early days of the pandemic, food insecurity was rampant and nonprofits struggled with increasing costs, much of Aditya and his team’s initial focus was on making and distributing hot meals. Throughout the year, Hand4Hand serves hot meals in downtown Philadelphia on a bi-weekly basis, increasing their events to every week during the summer. They’ve also expanded their programming to making cards for people living in assisted care facilities, collecting at and school supplies for youth in foster care, and donating seasonal clothing in partnership with area shelters and nonprofits.
Since 2020, Aditya and the Hand4Hand team have supported over 10,000 people! Through Hand4Hand Aditya hopes to serve as a place where youth can volunteer, especially first-time volunteers, as well as to act as an inspiration for others who may want to launch their own initiatives. He believes volunteering not only makes communities more aware, empathetic, and inclusive, but that every act of service, no matter the size, creates a ripple effect and provides youth with the ability to make change in the area directly around them and support wider sustainable change.
These are just three examples of young people with a heart and a conscience. With kids like this in charge, perhaps we really can build a better world!