By Tim Johnson
Christmas morning was a lot different last year for Jack Grebenc. Instead of waking up early and finding a pile of presents under the tree, Jack, 11, followed a trail of envelopes—each filled with play money labelled with a name and an amount—that ended in front of a large water well that his grandfather had built waiting in the family room. “The well marked the success of Jack’s fundraising efforts,” says Judi, Jack’s mom, explaining that each envelope represented a donation that Jack had raised from friends, family, classmates, hockey teammates and even members of the general public.
Instead of opening up boxes filled with video games and other gifts, video games and other gifts, this year Jack had decided to donate everything to the cause of providing fresh water to a village in Kenya. But it wasn’t always easy. “Originally I thought, ‘Well, it’s going to a good cause,’ but as we got closer to Christmas, I thought, ‘Oh, man!,’” Jack remembers. But he never wavered, and he worked hard, speaking to all the classes in his school, creating a website, posting an article in the local newspaper and challenging others to give up just one gift and donate its value to his cause. As of Christmas morning he’d raised a total of $8,300, an amount that’s since grown to more than $10,000. “I realized that I was giving the gift of clean water to the people of Kenya, so it didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything,” says Jack.
While impressive, Jack is just one of thousands of Canadian kids doing extraordinary things for their communities, the environment and the developing world. But taking those first steps toward getting involved can be intimidating—especially if young kids are involved. For the Grebencs, who live in Oakville, Ont., the spark came from a parent conference Judi attended, hosted by Me to We, a group dedicated to motivating young people into action and that is associated with the national nonprofit Free the Children.
“Time and again, we see that these students have such an innate sense of compassion, justice and fairness,” says Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, director of youth programming for Free the Children. “And they are shameless idealists, unfettered by the cynicism experienced by adults, so oftentimes, once they’ve learned about something, if they see that there’s an avenue for meaningful participation, they will jump on board quickly and make a profound difference.” Profound indeed—since 2007, youth who have visited We Day (the signature event of Free the Children, which was founded by Craig Kielburger) have logged more than two million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $10 million, resulting in the building of hundreds of schools, clean water and sanitation works and other projects that together have benefited thousands of people globally.
For more information on how to take the first steps toward volunteering, check out these books and websites.
• The World Needs Your Kid: How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute, by Craig and Marc Kielburger and Shelley Page (Greystone Books)
And make sure you’re getting involved with a reputable charity by consulting cra-arc.gc.ca/charities.
Pick up a copy of Winter 2012 issue of Canadian Family to learn more about some of Canada’s most amazing kids under the age of 15. They’re kids who have big hearts and vision beyond their years!