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NEW WEBSITE UNITES KIDS WITH COMMUNITY

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by Ben Spencer

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When you're genuinely interested in doing something, turning up a good resource is just about as exciting as finding money. Young people with a predilection for doing volunteer work now have a resource to go to that's about as hard to locate as their computer. Kids for Community (www.kidsforcommunity.org) is a veritable Sierra Madre for unearthing volunteer opportunities for kids. It's a site where opportunities just keep turning up. And up. And up. "New York City is the most diverse city in the world, but the kids who grow up here grow up in a narrow world, a world that usually isn't much bigger than the few blocks from where they live," says Silda Wall, president and executive director of the Children for Children Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to encourage a sense of social responsibility and philanthropy in kids. "We tried to find a way to help them find a broader world." The website, which originally went live last August, was officially launched with an event at the Chelsea Market this past January 20 — on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to be specific — under the banner of King's words, "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve." The site is about as easy to navigate as a website can get. Opportunities can be located via location — all five boroughs are represented, with Manhattan itself divided up by various regions — or by areas of interest, from animals and arts to housing and human rights. A section on "Getting Started" provides basic information on community service (what it is and why it's important) for young kids and teens, and also for their parents. Kids can select from one-time volunteer stints, to ongoing assignments with organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Books for Kids Foundation, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Central Park Conservancy, and the city's own Partnership for Parks, among many others. No fees are charged for organizations to register with the site, although Children for Children reviews all organizations for legitimacy before the listing goes out live. Although many of the organizations included on the site are extremely familiar, some are less than household names. As Wall points out, these smaller grassroots organizations, which often can't afford to create their own websites, gain vital exposure on kidsforcommunity.org. So far, the exposure is paying off; from 500 hits per day in its pre-launch period, the site is now getting as many as 1,200. The site's strength is its ability to offer variety. There are multiple opportunities offered within each organization. Volunteers for the Books for Kids Foundation can choose to coordinate read-a-thons or do book collection; Lighthouse International volunteers are needed for clerical and sales assistance, along with work in other areas; animal lovers who hook up with the Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals can become dog walkers, perform community outreach, or assist on the organization's "Care-A-Van". Temperaments are also taken into account. Some positions are more social in nature than others. Extroverts can find a hundred things to do in any one borough, from being a tutor or mentor to coordinating various events; while more introverted types can blend into the background a little more by participating in coat or food drives. "Starting kids early in different kinds of projects gets them into a pattern, helps them create a template," Wall says. "The earlier they start, the more they'll continue to be involved as they get older. But finding volunteer opportunities for them is a very haphazard business, especially for very young children. Usually they only get exposure to volunteerism through religious organizations, or through some independent schools. But in many schools, especially the public schools, there isn't much in the way of community service projects left — you end up hearing things like, 'We don't have the energy for that, we have to focus on our testing.' What we want is to give them the experience of doing something out-of-the-norm that broadens their thinking skills."


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