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MLK Day 2012
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Thumbnail image for martin_luther_king_jr.jpgIf you live in the U.S., right now you're enjoying a day off from school. Woo-hoo! Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Actually, we have a lot to thank MLK for. Hopefully you're familiar with this man and his legacy, and why we celebrate both. In honor of Dr. King, we hope you'll spend some time today on these IML You Said It pages and share your thoughts:

Volunteering
Everyone's talking about service. Serve! Serve! Serve! But what does it mean? If you're just 8 or 9 years old, can you really do that? Take a look at how other IML'ers have found ways to reach out and give something back to their communities.

What Freedom Really Means
Freedom doesn't always have to be about the big stuff. Freedom comes in small packages, too. Like being able to choose what music to listen to, or what stores to shop in, or what to wear to school. Check out other people's definition of the word.

I've Experienced Racism
Although we've come a long way since Dr. King's day, and we are so much closer to making his "dream" a reality, racism is still very real. Get a first hand look at how tweens deal with this.

We also hope you'll visit PBS KIDS GO!'s African American World for Kids, where you can match other African American heroes with the events that made them famous, send e-cards, and read comments from other young people.



Meet teen activist and author Zach Hunter
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ZachHunter Headshot.jpgNineteen-year-old Zach Hunter has spent his teen years trying to solve a problem. That would be the problem -- a global problem -- of modern slavery. Slavery? Yes, slavery. Not a thing of the past! In fact, today there are an estimated 27 million people around the world living as slaves...and half of them are children.

Since he was 12, Zach has been working hard to spark a movement that encourages young people like him to stand up and fight for a cause they believe in. He started the platform "Loose Change to Loosen Chains" to help end global slavery, and wrote three books -- "Be the Change," "Lose Your Cool," and "Generation Change" -- to inspire young people to find a cause they're passionate about and get involved.

We found Zach's books to be well-written and really motivating, with easy-to-follow ideas and practical tips. Books like these definitely mean more as one young person speaking to another. Recently, Zach shared some of his experiences and advice for tweens.

IML: You were 12 when you first became aware of the issue of modern slavery. How did that happen? Was it something you saw or read?

Zach: It was February during African American History Month. I had been learning about some of my greatest heroes -- people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who won their own freedom and then worked to free others. I had wished I had been alive to work on the Underground Railroad. For me, the most embarrassing issue in American history was the fact that people of my skin color thought it was OK to own people of another race. Slavery made me so angry and I wished I could have done something about it.  Of course, I was only 12 -- what could I have done? It was at that time that I learned that many children my age were still enslaved today and there WAS something I could do.

IML: Once you knew you wanted to "be the change" when it comes to slavery, what was your first step? I mean, that's a huge problem. Most kids wouldn't know where to start!

be the change.jpgZach: I didn't really know where to start. I was really angry, but I knew feeling mad wasn't enough. I knew my feelings were meant to bring about change.  I did some research and found out that many of the groups that work to free slaves needed money for their work. I also learned that most people were surprised to hear that slavery was still going on. So, I decided I
could use my voice and make people aware -- just like people did during the abolitionist movement 200 years ago. I also learned that there's about $10.5 billion in loose change in American households and many people just throw it away. I thought - what if we, as kids collected change and helped to loosen the chains of oppression. It's nothing novel or new -- just a simple change and awareness drive.

IML: How has your activism helped you in other areas of your life, like family, friendships, and school?

Zach: I used to suffer from a terrible anxiety disorder. I was really nervous to go outside, go to school, etc.  But, when I began speaking up for people who are oppressed, my courage grew.  It hasn't really made school or friendships easier; in fact sometimes, they are harder. It can be kind of hard for people my age to relate to me when they find out I've written books and
speak around the world...but I'm just a really normal guy.

IML: What would you like pre-teens to know about the issue of slavery, and what we can all do about it?

generation change.jpgZach: Our generation can use our freedom and our resources to help others. 27 million people are enslaved today. Half of them are kids. They may work making bricks all day, or weaving rugs. They may be beaten and abused or kept from their families. They work long hours and have no access to school or healthcare. By speaking up, raising funds, writing school papers, posting on Facebook, and telling your friends, you can be part of the solution. You can also be smart about how you spend your money and let the companies you like know that it's really important to you that they get rid of slavery in their manufacturing.

IML: How can we educate ourselves more about this issue?

Zach: I have a lot of information on my website www.ZachHunter.me and also, you can check out the website for the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Office. In my book "Be the Change," I give a lot of background information about slavery, the people who inspire me and what kids can do to help end the sale of humans.

IML: Your faith plays a big role in your work. Do you think your books will be useful to young readers who are not Christian? When it comes to fighting for something you believe in, what do you think we all share, regardless of our religion or level of spirituality?

lose your cool.jpgZach: Anyone who believes people should be free is welcome to join the effort to end slavery. My faith is important to me and I talk about it in my books -- but anyone, regardless of what they believe or how we might disagree on that issue will find a common point of agreement: our neighbors around the world deserve to be free. Working together, we can accomplish more than we can alone.

IML: You have a lot of great ideas in your books. Any particular favorites?

Zach: I am really glad I got to write about helping people find their own passion to change the world. I talk about this a lot in "Lose Your Cool." I also think the chapter on Kindness in "Generation Change" is something really practical and something we all could do better at.

IML: Thanks, Zach! Keep up the incredible work and we hope your words inspire some IML'ers!

Zach: Thank you!

Tell us: What type of volunteer work have you done or are doing now?





Summer: The golden opportunity season!
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Last week on the blog, we talked about the sometimes-hidden challenges of summer, the stuff that can dash your expectations and stress you out when you should be having fun. On the flip side, we also want to mention the really cool opportunities that summer can bring you:

Cashola. This is a great time to find creative ways to earn your own, when you're hopefully not as busy with school, activities, and homework. Maybe you can seize the day and put your energy into a business. It's vacation season, so why not do some petsitting or housesitting? Little kids are out of school too, and parents might need more babysitting or mother's helper hours. If you're crafty or good at baking, there will probably plenty of outdoor events in your community where you can sell your wares. Or you can set up "shop" with a yard sale on a weekend morning. Then there's the old classic: everyone likes a lemonade stand on a hot day. For more ideas, check out IML's section on Making Money. With a little planning and effort, you could have a tidy sum saved up by September...and perhaps an established biz too!

Giving and getting. Maybe you want to earn community service hours for school. Maybe you want to explore something new, or maybe you just want to avoid the very real possibility of death by boredom. Whatever the reason, this could be a great time to get involved with a volunteer opportunity. You'll meet people, learn stuff, and feel extremely good about yourself and how you're making a difference. We have some good suggestions on what to do and how to do it in our Volunteering section.

Move it! If you've been meaning to get more active, this could be the summer you discover a new sport you really love. Team sports are big during fall, winter, and spring, but summer is when the solo athlete in all of us can really break through. Swim, walk, bike, hike. Karate kick, kayak paddle, or strike a yoga pose. If something costs money that you or your family may not have to spend, check out the free or low-cost programs at your local rec center, youth center, or library. The folks who plan stuff like this know that young people are out and about during the summer, looking to keep busy. Visit our Solo Sports section or talk to an adult -- like a parent, youth leader, or doctor -- for ideas.

We know none of this is exactly news to you. But we want to offer a reminder that in general, summer is the best possible time to explore fresh ventures, try something unfamiliar, and break out of the rut you may feel stuck in during the school year. If you're feeling like you want to make a change in your life for the better, pick one thing to focus on between now and September -- your health, a new hobby, making friends, whatever -- and think about how to do it. As always, IML is here to help, so feel free to post questions on our You Said It pages or Advice section.

Here's to a golden season of golden opportunities!


Celeb Scoop: Hannah Teter
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HannahTeter.jpgYou may know Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter for her head-spinning half-pipe moves, but what you may not be aware of is that Hannah spends a good deal of her time and energy helping to shred child poverty across the globe.

Last year, Hannah teamed up with two friends -- snowboarder Gabi Viteri and surfer Monyca Byrne-Wickey -- to form a clothing line called Sweet Cheeks. Forty percent of the proceeds go to Children International, a humanitarian organization that helps poor children throughout the world. We recently spoke to Hannah about her dedication to the cause, as well as what health and sports participation has meant to her.

IML: How did you first get interested in the issue of child poverty?

Hannah: My family sponsored a child when I was growing up, so that's how I first got involved. I was really young and saw what a child my own age in another country was going through, and how we were helping them and their families. That gave me an awareness right off the bat, that 20 dollars a month can change some kid's life forever.

IML: Last fall, you traveled to Mexico to see the issue firsthand. Can you tell us about that?

Hannah: I went with Gaby and Monyca to see how our donations from Sweet Cheeks were making a difference with Children International, and to see their Game On program in action. The Game On program is where they set up a whole building where the kids will come in and they have a doctor, a dentist, medicine if they need it, nutrition classes for the parents, schooling for the kids, sports...all in one place. They show up and they get this whole slew of things they wouldn't get anywhere else. It's set up in a community of 20,000 to 30,000 people so they're big centers and there are a lot of kids that come through. It was amazing to go into these villages and meet these families, hear their stories and what they're going through, and how we're making a difference. They were mostly families that have recently been picked up by Children International, and we really got to see how it works and hear first hand from them. It was just incredible.

IML: What strikes you most about the kids you meet?

Hannah: You go in and these kids are just so beautiful and so smart, and aware of their situation but they're just the most happy, smiling kids. They have nothing but they're just shining so bright. It definitely makes you aware that material things don't make you happy, it's all about the connection with your family and friends and community, because that's all they have. That's what they live off of.

IML: That definitely gives you perspective. Why else is it important for young people to make themselves aware of the issue of child poverty?

Hannah: So they can be the changemakers. If they're aware of what's going on, then they can be the ones to make changes, because they're the future. They're going to be running our country in the coming years, and be our voices for change. If they don't know what's going on, we can't make any changes. So it's really important for kids to have that perspective and know the issues that we're facing so they can think about that kind of stuff. It also helps you appreciate what you have in life.

IML: If someone wants to help but they don't have their own money to sponsor a child or send a donation, what else can they do? If you're 10 years old and don't have a lot of resources, what can you do to help out?

Hannah: I think it just starts with your surrounding friends and family. To be positive. The simple things, like sharing and caring and recycling. Just showing their surrounding situations, the positiveness. That will just spread. It starts with a small thing and usually makes way more impact than you even think. I've witnessed many things that kids have done, from having a dinner fundraiser to a bottle drive to selling lemonade, simple things like that. A little goes a long way. Even if you raise $50, that's feeding a kid for a couple of months in another country!

IML: Good to keep in mind! So on IML, we talk a lot about different kinds of health. What does that word "health" mean to you, and how do we get good health in our lives?

Hannah: Health to me is a combination of things, from physical health to mental health to just overall well-being. There are so many avenues to walk down to be healthy. Definitely a huge thing is diet and what you're putting in your body, being conscious of it. What's in what you're eating? It's hard to know sometimes, especially in our culture. They makes labels so that you don't understand what you're looking at. Then, mental health is huge as well. They say stress can affect your overall health almost as much as what you eat. So keeping your mind positive and thinking helpful thoughts to yourself -- that's hard to do -- but definitely possible and it makes a huge difference in being healthy. And exercise, of course. Getting yourself out and moving!

IML: It's hard for us to remember that all that stuff is relatively easy, they just need to make it a priority. You've been snowboarding since you were 9 years old. What did being involved in sports mean to you as a kid?

Hannah: It was definitely an outlet to let out all the energy I had built up from sitting at a desk all day. I'd done a lot of team sports and I was lucky because we had mellow coaches who helped make it fun. It should always be about the fun when you're young. With snowboarding, I was lucky because it was a program my school offered. Every Friday, they'd take us up to the mountain and we'd be in groups. I'd be with friends and we'd just have the time of our lives. I remember starting, I was the worst one in my group. They'd all have to wait for me at the bottom of the hill. But over time I ended up becoming the best. It was just for fun, and my friends never cared who was the best. It was all about progression.

IML: Was there a moment for you when you were like, I really want to do this at a higher level?

Hannah: I kind of felt like that when I had done a few amateur competitions and did well. Then I was talking to my brother and I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to do the U.S. Open and get on the podium." He was like, "Yeah, right. You can't do that." That just fueled my fire. And I didn't do it the next year, which I'd originally planned, but the year after I ended up getting on the podium twice and winning a car. When somebody tells you that you can't do something, it makes you want to do it way more!

IML: You've been able to turn your success as an athlete into an opportunity to do some real good in the world. Do you remember what first motivated you there?

Hannah: When I was about 13, there was this one super special place that I would always walk to. It was a rock out in the middle of this meadow. This was before I started traveling for snowboarding. I had this feeling that if I were to ever make it big, that I would want to use my success to help out in the most ways I could. I'd go to this rock a couple times a week until I moved away from Vermont at age 18. I always had that feeling, then I ended up going to the Olympics in Torino and after winning there, I knew that it was the hugest platform to start something big. I just always carried that feeling.

IML: Lucky for all those kids and families, then! Thanks for talking with us, Hannah, and good luck with everything.

Hannah: Thanks!

Here's a video of Hannah, Gabi, and Monyca talking more about their experiences in Mexico:



For more information on Children International, or how to sponsor a child, visit www.children.org.




Book Review: "Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists"
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Here's the funny thing about "changing the world": it sounds like a really big, almost impossible job...but it's actually very easy. For instance, you hear that your local animal shelter is overcrowded and having trouble feeding all the dogs and cats. You donate $10 of your allowance money to help them, and that $10 covers the cost of chow for one dog for a week. There. You just changed the world! Okay, it's not like you ended the problem of homeless animals forever, but for that one dog, for that one week, the world was a better place. Thanks to you.

On IML we talk a lot about volunteering and taking action, and that's because we know it's important to so many of you. Getting involved with a cause you care about is a great way to learn new things, make new friends, understand yourself better, feel a little less powerless in life, and generally feel rewarded. Sometimes, though, it's hard to find that thing...the problem or situation that you want to help fix. Or if you already have your thing (lucky you!), sometimes it's tough figuring out where to start.

dosomething_book_cover.jpgThat's why we were really excited when DoSomething.org sent us their new book, called (appropriately) "Do Something!: A Handbook for Young Activists" (by DoSomething.org's CEO and "Chief Old Person" Nancy Lublin, with Vanessa Martir and Julia Steers). It's written especially for tweens who may have trouble finding volunteer opportunities since they don't drive or are limited in what they can do without parental supervision. This spiralbound, easy-to-thumb-through volume has sections called "See It!" (how to figure out what you care most about), "Believe It!" (how to understand the problem better), "Build It!" (mapping out what you want to do), "Do It! (that's kind of self-explanatory), and "Reflect It!" (different ways to look at what you've done and learn from it).

The book is filled with fun quizzes, cool fill-ins, and helpfully specific examples organized by the type of cause. For instance, do you feel most passionate about hunger and homelessness issues? You can get detailed guidelines on how to help by running a fundraising watermelon-eating contest, holding a food drive, or hosting a hunger banquet. We love the way this book is designed and written; it's the kind of thing you could bring to a sleepover and browse through with your friends, or look through with a parent if you want to start a family effort.

IML's Rating: A+

For more ideas, check out our section on Volunteering and other IML'ers comments on the Volunteering You Said It page!

 
Soles4Souls
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We're always on the lookout for ways tweens can make a difference. Let's face it -- it's not always easy to volunteer or help others when you can't drive, don't make much (or any) of your own money, are busy with school and activities, and need a parent or guardian's permission to do pretty much anything. But based on what IML'ers have been posting on our Volunteering and Helping My Community pages, you guys have so much heart and motivation and commitment when it comes to those who are less fortunate.

barefeet.jpgHere's a great outlet: Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you. They give away these shoes to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or whatever. So far, Soles4Souls has given away over 5.5 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes in over 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States.

How many shoes are just sitting in your closet, possibly too small or out of style or simply forgotten? Send them to some needy feet! When we did this recently, during a shoe drive to help earthquake victims in Haiti, it felt fantastic to know that those sneakers that never-quite-fit-but-we-could-never-admit-it would actually get worn by someone who had lost everything.

Find stores near you that collect shoes for Soles4Souls, get information on how to organize a shoe drive in your school or community, and more at www.giveshoes.org.

 
MLK Day 2010
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martin_luther_king_jr.jpgIf you live in the U.S., right now you're enjoying a day off from school. Woo-hoo! Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Actually, we have a lot to thank MLK for. Hopefully you're familiar with this man and his legacy, and why we celebrate both. In honor of Dr. King, we hope you'll spend some time today on these IML You Said It pages and share your thoughts:

Volunteering
Everyone's talking about service. Serve! Serve! Serve! But what does it mean? If you're just 8 or 9 years old, can you really do that? Take a look at how other IML'ers have found ways to reach out and give something back to their communities.

What Freedom Really Means
Freedom doesn't always have to be about the big stuff. Freedom comes in small packages, too. Like being able to choose what music to listen to, or what stores to shop in, or what to wear to school. Check out other people's definition of the word.

I've Experienced Racism
Although we've come a long way since Dr. King's day, and we are so much closer to making his "dream" a reality, racism is still very real. Get a first hand look at how tweens deal with this.

We also hope you'll visit PBS KIDS GO!'s African American World for Kids, where you can match other African American heroes with the events that made them famous, send e-cards, and read comments from other young people.


From Here To Haiti
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earthquake.jpgMore bad news in the headlines, Very, very, very bad news. As you know, on Tuesday a massive 7.0 earthquake hit Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Tens of thousands are dead, and an estimated 3 million people have been affected by the disaster. Add those numbers into the fact that children under 18 make up 50% of Haiti's population of 10 million people. OMG!

How can we help? At the very least, we can stay aware of what's happening on websites like www.unicef.org. Share your knowledge with friends and family. Beyond that, the word from relief agencies is that they need money. Lots of it! So if you and your family haven't already, please consider making a donation; it's a tough economic time but everyone can give a little.

First, you could donate your own money. Look at what you have saved up. Can you spare $10? Then encourage family members to follow your example and collect "pledges" to create a lump donation to relief efforts (even if it's a small one, more like a glob). Websites like www.unicef.org, www.redcross.org, and www.greatergood.org all accept donations for disaster relief efforts.

You can also make it a group effort by doing something fun with friends that will raise a little money. A lemonade stand, a garage sale, things like that. Make a Saturday out of it and you'll be surprised at what a good time you'll have. Read more of IML's tips for fundraising.

Another thing to think about is this: disasters don't just strike far away. Fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes are common in the U.S. That can make us feel a little freaked out when we read about it happening somewhere else. It's actually a great opportunity to come up with or review a disaster plan for your family -- a "to do" list for what needs to happen in case of an emergency. Here are some tips:

  • Contact your local American Red Cross chapter and find out what disasters are most likely to happen in your community. Ask how you would be warned and find out how to prepare for different types of disasters. Start by logging on to www.redcross.org for more information.

  • Hold a family meeting to discuss the kinds of disasters that could occur. Explain how to prepare and respond. Practice what you discussed.

  • Plan how your family will stay in contact if separated by disaster. Pick two meeting places:
    1) A location a safe distance from your home in case of fire.
    2) A place outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home.

  • Choose an out-of-state friend as a "check-in contact" for everyone to call.

  • Post emergency telephone numbers (police, fire department, ambulance, etc.) by every phone.

  • Make sure your parents know how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity at main switches. If they don't, make sure they learn!

  • Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Test monthly and change the batteries two times each year.

  • Contact your local fire department to learn about home fire hazards.

  • Learn first aid and CPR. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for information and training.

  • Meet with your neighbors. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster. Consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as elderly or disabled persons. Adults should come up with a childcare plan in case parents can't get home.
For more tips, check out www.fema.gov/kids/dzplan.htm.





How Big Is Your Heart?
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Do you know someone affected by cancer? Or do you know someone who knows someone? Probably. Cancer is one of those things that's just there. Even if you're lucky enough not to have been touched by it, just the thought of it...the possibility...always hangs above us like a dark cloud. It can make you feel pretty helpless.

But imagine a world without cancer. That's what the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, would like us to do; it's one of the oldest and largest cancer centers in the U.S. and where many young people find the treatment and support they need to cope and hopefully, survive. Roswell Park has created a new campaign called YRoswell to encourage kids, tweens, and teens to not just envision a cure, but start working towards one through any way they can, like volunteering, fundraising, planning for a career in medicine or science, or even just being there for someone who's dealing with cancer in some way. The YRoswell campaign has been joined by Kris Allen, Sean Kingston, Jason Derulo, and members of Hey Monday and Cobra Starship -- all celebs who care passionately about this cause and want to lend a hand.

The YRoswell folks made this fun, inspiring video called "How Big Is Your Heart." It features real cancer patients and nurses performing alongside professional dancers. Check it out -- it's catchy!

In Honor of Veterans' Day
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Hey, here's something we didn't know: Veterans' Day, which is observed every year in the U.S. on November 11, was originally called Armistice Day in honor of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918. In 1954, it was renamed and given the added significance of honoring veterans of the armed services. We like how this holiday, coming up on Wednesday, is not so much about war or peace but rather, simply about people...People who have risked everything and made incredible sacrifices to answer the call of duty. Even if you don't fully understand or agree with why U.S. military troops are present somewhere, you can still support the troops themselves. And, of course, their families.

We asked IML'ers to share their thoughts and experiences about having family in the Armed Forces; your stories get us a little choked up!

This Wednesday, November 11, you can also catch a really cool film on PBS' POV series called "The Way We Get By," which tells the story of three senior citizens in Bangor, Maine who volunteer to greet troops as they come home from overseas. It's the kind of show you can watch together with your family, and might lead to some juicy conversations about a range of subjects.

We also encourage you to get involved as a troop greeter yourself! Not everyone's able to head to an airport and greet troops in person (but if you can, how awesome would that be?; check out websites like www.WelcomeTroops.com). You (and friends, or family, or your youth group) can become a "virtual" troop greeter by participating in "The Way We Get By"'s Troop Greeting Poster Activity where you can create your own sign, color one, or order a pre-made banner.

And to those of you who have someone close to you who's a veteran or current member of the Armed Forces, especially those on active duty right now: at IML our hearts are with you, and we thank you!

thankyoutroops.jpg