Today, instead of interpreting statistics on how culture is disabling teens from growing up, I’ve chosen to remind you of a handful of students who “get it” and are already using their time and talent for redemptive purposes. They’ve added value to the world around them. They’re contributors, not mere consumers. Be encouraged.
Paving the Way for Others
Here’s a story you may not know. It’s about a teen who advanced civil rights before civil rights was in vogue. As you know, Rosa Parks is credited with starting the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. But a 15-year-old African-American girl named Claudette Colvin had refused to relinquish her seat nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. Arrested in 1955, Claudette was a student at Booker T. Washington High School who often took the bus to school. Ultimately, she challenged this law in court in Browder v. Gayle, where “a federal court suit involving Colvin eventually led to a Supreme Court order that outlawed segregated buses.” Today, Colvin is a retiree who lives in the Bronx, New York.
It might be easy to assume that kind of initiative only happened in kids decades ago. We could presume teenagers today are really “screenagers” glued to a computer or phone, unable to get beyond themselves. While that’s often true, let me encourage you with the following accounts of “Generation iY” kids doing good in our day.
In 2008, 9-year-old Katie Stagliano brought a tiny cabbage seedling home from school as part of the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. As she cared for her cabbage, it grew to 40 pounds. Katie donated her cabbage to a soup kitchen where it helped to feed more than 275 people. Moved by the experience of seeing how many people could benefit from the donation of fresh produce to soup kitchens, Katie decided to start vegetable gardens and donate the harvest to help feed people in need. Today, Katie’s Krops donates thousands of pounds of fresh produce from numerous gardens to organizations that help people in need. Katie is now a 12-year-old student at the Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville, South Carolina.
Ryan’s Well Foundation
In 1998, 6-year-old Ryan Hreljac was shocked to learn that children in Africa had to walk many kilometers every day just to fetch water. Ryan decided he needed to build a well for a village in Africa. By doing household chores and public speaking on clean water issues, Ryan’s first well was built in 1999 at the Angolo Primary School in a northern Ugandan village. Ryan’s determination led to Ryan’s Well Foundation, which has completed 667 projects in 16 countries, bringing access to clean water and sanitation to more than 714,000 people. Currently, Ryan is a 20-year-old college student at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Alex’s Lemonade Stand
Alexandra “Alex” Scott was born in Connecticut in 1996, and less than one year later, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. When she turned 4, she informed her mother she wanted to start a lemonade stand to raise money for doctors to “help other kids, like they helped me.” Her first lemonade stand raised $2,000 and led to the creation of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Alex continued her lemonade stands throughout her life, ultimately raising over $1 million toward cancer research. She passed away in August 2004 at the age of 8. Today, Alex’s Lemonade Stand sponsors a national fundraising weekend every June called Lemonade Days. Each year, as many as 10,000 volunteers at more than 2,000 Alex’s Lemonade Stands around the nation make a difference for children with cancer.
These are the kinds of stories we need to share with our students. I believe they will live up to (or down to) our expectations. They will follow the stories we tell and often emulate the life we’ve lived in front of them. They need to be inspired beyond the self-absorbed peers they bump into in the hallway at school. “Generation iY” has developed a much more superficial set of life goals than earlier Millennials. A 2006 national survey of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds found that their number-one goal was to get rich (81 percent) and their number-two goal was to get famous (51 percent). Unfortunately, media has had a more substantial influence on students than their parents, coaches, youth workers or teachers.
Here is the principle I want you to remember today as you interact with students:
Inspiration leads to aspiration.
When we share great acts, we inspire them and begin to kindle aspirations in our own students. This is your assignment today.
Looking to develop leadership skills in today’s youth? Check out