In these days of “I, me, mine” and “gimme, gimme, gimme,” a child who truly cares about others can be a rare gem. Minnesota Parent found five great kids who give to others in their communities, and we asked their parents to tell us how they're raising great kids and to give us some insights into what makes these youngsters special. Our goal: find out what it's like to be a kid who'd rather raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims or re ad to a lonely senior citizen than hang out in a mall.
Caring kids often have parents who model that behavior by volunteering in their community. Those families come in all shapes and forms: from a single mom and her daughter, who was adopted from China; to married parents with three sons and one daughter (all born to them). But these families know what's important: Along with volunteer work, they also live the old axiom that charity begins at home. They have loving families who enjoy spending time together and make it a priority to do so.
Audrey Feltz & Rachel Floeder
New friends Audrey Feltz and Rachel Floeder, both 12, were disappointed this past September that they weren't in any classes together at the Convent of the Visitation School. Each girl is busy with a variety of activities - Audrey is a dedicated dancer who plays piano and basketball and is on a traveling softball team; Rachel plays piano and viola along with soccer, volleyball, swimming, and tennis; and both girls are excellent students - so their mothers thought that working together on some kind of project might help keep them connected.
Mothers and daughters got together over Labor Day weekend to talk about it. Hurricane Katrina was fresh in their minds, and the girls started thinking about asking their classmates to donate to a fund to help kids affected by it.
“Then we thought maybe we'd ask the whole school,” says Rachel. “Then we said, maybe the whole state” Before long, they'd decided to research the number of kids in the U.S. in grades K-12. The simplicity of their idea was its beauty: They decided to ask each of the 54 million kids to donate $1 apiece “to help those who lost everything.” The Kids to the Rescue fund (KTTR) (www.kidstotherescue.org) was born. A family friend designed the web site.
The girls have been speaking to groups of school children ever since. “I was really nervous at first,” admits Audrey. Both girls get nervous before a speaking engagement. KTTR has formed a partnerships with the Salvation Army and with Fritzie Fresh candy, been on local TV, and even met with former President Bill Clinton. “He wants to help us,” Audrey reports. “I think he really likes kids. He made us feel so comfortable.”
Deb Floeder, Rachel's mom, says her daughter is “surprised at her own feelings when she speaks to groups of kids. Her eyes tear up when she talks about it. She gets immediate satisfaction from their reactions.” KTTR is not Rachel's first venture into volunteering; she has given up her birthday parties in favor of taking her class to package food, has donated stuffed animals to blind children, and has been a junior lifeguard.
Audrey's mom, Janelle Feltz, describes her daughter as “kind of a peacemaker a very fair child with tremendous empathy. Audrey will pick up a bug and take it outside rather than squash it. She says she doesn't have a ‘best friend' because that would hurt her other friends' feelings. We try to live by the golden rule, and we teach respect but also that our children's feelings count.”
So far, the girls have raised about $10,000, and they are full of energy and plans for the future. Both are quick to credit their moms with helping them - and to remember why they're doing this. “Imagine when it's time to go back to school if there's no school to go to,” they say.
Audrey lives in Woodbury with her mother, father, and sister, Andrea, 8. Rachel lives in Highland Park with her mother, father, and brothers Andrew, 8, and David, 5.
It's hard to remember that you're talking to an 11-year-old when you speak with Libby Jacobson. Her poise, verbal skills, and knowledge seem like that of an older teenager or young adult.
“Libby is a child who speaks her mind. She's independent, articulate, and very confident. At the same time, she has amazing sensitivity,” says her mother, Carol Jacobson.
Libby has served on the editorial board of New Moon magazine since the age of 9.
“I like reading and writing and editing,” she says. “I thought it would be a good thing to get involved with, to meet other girls. At first, I was quiet and did a lot of people watching,” she admits. “For a year, I was the youngest, and the closest in age to me was 12.” Today, she is the longest-serving member on the New Moon editorial board, and younger members are listening to her.
Libby says that when she gets older, she'd like to mentor younger girls. She plays piano and flute, dances, acts in plays, and is an excellent student. One of her favorite activities is participating in the Asian Lion Dance, a group of about 20 kids who not only perform traditional Asian dance but also ring bells for the Salvation Army and hold car washes to raise money for a variety of charities. Libby is also passionate about serving on the board of directors of Mind on the Media, a watchdog group that is concerned about the way the media portrays women and girl. She is currently involved with the group's Turn Beauty Inside Out (TBIO) campaign, which focuses on training. “I'm learning about working with the money and how important TBIO is. The way the media portrays people isn't always real. Even the way models look in magazines isn't real, and it isn't healthy.
“You don't have to look like a model to be beautiful.”
Libby Jacobson lives in Duluth with her mother, Carol.
If you're a kid in Martin County who's been in trouble, you probably know Grady Lenort from court. The 17-year-old high school senior is a volunteer with Teen Court, Martin County's juvenile diversion program. He finds the work rewarding enough that he's been volunteering his time for five years. The defendants, first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders, are judged and sentenced by a jury of their peers (shoplifting and curfew violations are common offenses).
Grady's first role on the Teen Court was as a juror; currently, he is in a leadership role as a bailiff, escorting the defendants in and out, occasionally prompting the jurors to ask more questions. He says he's learned that troubled kids come from “healthy families and not-so-well families,” and finds it rewarding that most Teen Court defendants do not repeat their offenses. “I think [Teen Court] changes them. They learn, ‘hey, I don't need to do this to have fun, to be cool.' It teaches them they can find other ways to get what they need.”
Though Grady is a good student, he's had some rough patches in school, says his mom, Sue Lenort. “He's really found his way,” she says. “He likes Math Link [a math competition] a lot.” On a personal level, she says, “Grady's always been close to his family; he's always been a caring kid.” He especially enjoys discussing his Teen Court cases with his mom, who works in the court system, and his sisters. Grady says he “really likes calculus” and also enjoys track and soccer.
His caring attitude, desire to help troubled kids, and past struggles with schoolwork may be put to good use when Grady enters college next fall. He's thinking about becoming a teacher.
Grady lives on a farm in Fairmont, located in south central Minnesota, with his mother, father, and sister Stacy, 16. His older sisters Heidi, 20, and Betsy, 21, are college students.
Rona Vaselaar first tagged along with her mother, who was volunteering at a nursing home, when she was in the first grade. “I started reading to [residents] and I loved it and they did, too,” Rona says. “I've kind of grown up going there.” Rona and older brother Eldon, now 17, have been going to the nursing home to read and talk with residents on a regular basis for more than two years.
She made - and lost - a special friend at the nursing home. “There was a lady there who only spoke French. I read to her a lot, she was a lot of fun,” Rona recalls. “One day Eldon came in with the newspaper and said, ‘Oh, Georgette died.' He repeated it again and I had a hard time understanding. I kind of went blank. I thought about her a lot, and it helped after my mom talked to me about it.”
But neither losing her friend nor the teasing she sometimes gets from classmates has deterred her from continuing to volunteer at the nursing home. Along with reading and entertaining residents, Rona enjoys playing games with them. “There's a lady there that I always help with Bingo,” she says.
Rona also helps out the seniors in her grandma's neighborhood. “I like raking leaves, or just visiting with them,” she says. She's also volunteered at local food drives, (“That's really fun!”), and keeps busy with community theatre, school (she's an A student and is “wild about science,” Meredith says), playing the piano, basketball, and running cross-country.
As for her classmates, Rona thinks they're the ones who are missing out. “It's more fun than they think,” she says. “I feel really good doing it. It's just awesome going over there. [My classmates] think [seniors] are different than other people. But you know, they're really not.”
Rona lives on a farm outside Adrian, Minnesota (in the far southwest corner of the state) with her mother, father, brother Eldon and sister, Samantha, 16.