Fri, 20 Sep 2019

Maryland Teen Among America's 2019 Top 10 Volunteers

Voice of America
17 Aug 2019, 04:05 GMT+10

CROFTON, MARYLAND - Reading the biography of a philanthropist was a life-changing experience for Caleb Oh. The book was so inspiring that he wanted to volunteer with a local charity, but there was a problem. Caleb was only 6 years old.

"What I found out was almost all organizations had age restrictions," recalls Caleb, who is now 14. "You have to be at least 8 years old to volunteer. This frustrated me."

Caleb's parents were saddened to see their young child frustrated.

"For me and my husband, it was a time to kind of think and brainstorm with him on how he might be able to help," his mother, Margaret Oh, said.

The parents told the 6-year-old he could start a nonprofit organization and that's what Caleb decided to do.

Kid power

Caleb called his nonprofit Kid Changemakers.

"It collaborates with schools, businesses and other organizations to set up numerous food and clothes drives throughout the year to benefit the homeless, foster care youth, food security and other causes," says the teen, who attends high school in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Kid Changemakers not only collects and distributes donations, its founder also inspires others to start community service projects.

Chrissy Rey, a local business owner who runs a robotics club, is supporting Caleb's Kid Changemakers.

"I know Caleb from school," Rey said. "He went to school with my daughter. We are hosting his events and presentations about volunteerism. A few weeks ago, he had school supply drive. Today, Caleb is doing a public service project with kids in our summer camp."

The camp project is helping children 4 to 12 years old create colorful postcards for veterans and donation boxes for local charities.

The projects help kids think beyond themselves, Rey says.

"I think when they start earlier, it becomes sort of normal for them to help others and give back to the community," she explained.

Transformative experience

While helping the community, Margaret Oh says her son gets benefits in return. The experience, she said, has been a journey that has helped Caleb grow and mature.

"At the beginning, he was a little shy about talking to people, about volunteering and the importance of sharing and being generous to each other. But as he's grown up and really seen the difference he's made. He got more confident about speaking in front of people, about brainstorming new ideas, about how to help people not just in one way, but often 20 ways," she said.

The projects also draw the interest of Caleb's friends and classmates.

"Some of them approach me just ask when the next program, the next project is," Caleb said.

A good example

That is good news to William Myers, principal of South River High School where Caleb is going to be a freshman this school year.

"He is a perfect example of what we encourage students to do here, to really take service as a serious part of being a good citizen and having sound academics," Myers said. "Being involved in doing something beyond yourself that is the key to having a strong society, one that perpetuates itself and does the right thing."

Eight years after starting his organization, Caleb has been recognized as one of the nation's top volunteers. This year he received the 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, the largest youth awards program in America.

Caleb says everyone can be a force of change. His motto is, "No matter how old you are or who, you can make a difference." He says that's what he believed when he started his organization, and that's what keeps him volunteering.

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