How do you get tweens to care about community service? Easy: Let them lead.
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One day in 2016, the kids of the Ridgefield Boys & Girls Club in Connecticut met to discuss some hard truths.

"We had a guest speaker come in," says Boys & Girls Club supervisor Jeff Goncalves, who organized the talk for a leadership program within the group called Torch Club.

"It was to benefit the Friends of Karen organization, which helps families of children who unfortunately are suffering from a terminal illness."


Among the topics discussed was the idea that many sick kids miss out on key experiences in their childhood because of how their illness interferes with daily life.

All photos courtesy of Torch Club/Boys & Girls Clubs of America, used with permission.

The Club's leaders asked the kids how they would feel if someone they knew, someone their age, had to skip their birthday because their medical bills were too high for them to afford to celebrate, Goncalves recalls. "That really hit home with our members."

Lots of people have a notion of "tweens" and young teens as being self-absorbed. But the Club’s reaction to the Friends of Karen organization proves that’s not so.

"Our executive board members decided to come up with a project idea," Goncalves says. But any uncreative fundraising ideas were out of the question — as Goncalves explains, "They know that I hate regular bake sales" — so they had to think out of the box.

Their answer? "A bakeless bake sale."

The kids reached out to everyone on their Club’s contact list and asked for cake ingredients, along with all of the rest of the things one might need to throw a birthday party. Instead of baking cakes to raise money, they gave kids the opportunity to have one for their birthday by providing all the tools in a "birthday bag."

"Cake mix, candles, frosting, napkins, plates — pretty much anything that could go into having a birthday party," Goncalves says.

The project was a success.

By the end, they’d provided birthday bags for almost 20 kids who would otherwise have gone without. It was so successful that they even decided to enter their project in the annual Torch Club Awards, which recognize Boys & Girls Clubs around the country for community volunteerism and service. They won first place and received a grant from Old Navy's ONward! program, which helps support many of Torch Club's activities.

What was even more surprising, though, was that this group of middle schoolers responded to a pretty heavy topic — terminal illness in their peers — in a well-adjusted and actionable way.

"That age is tough to work with in general," Goncalves says. "But when you find something, you know, a cause or a passion or something that really hits home, it brings everyone together in a way where we can focus their attention to helping, more than scaring them or making it awkward."

Torch Club has figured out the key to inspiring middle schoolers is to act. Just hand them the reins.

"The key is truly to let them lead," says Teresa Welch, vice president of program, training, and youth development services for the national headquarters of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

"A lot of times as adults we sort of forget that. We assume that they need us to lead them," she says. "But when it’s led by youth, that’s when they’re absolutely the most successful."

The Boys & Girls Clubs' mission, through programs like Torch Club is to teach leadership and life skills to young kids, in order to prepare them for the challenges of adult life. But those leadership opportunities have advantages in the present, too.

Leadership gets younger kids engaged because it allows them to decide which issues to address, Welch says, and they can pick issues that impact their own community. She gives an example where kids who liked to skateboard got in trouble for graffiti that went up on buildings near where they skate.

"The kids will start talking about, well, we’re in trouble all the time for having our skateboards because they think we’re the ones doing the graffiti. But that wasn’t us," Welch recalls.

But instead of allowing the kids to grow resentful of the authority with which they had their conflict, Boys & Girls Clubs youth development staff encouraged them to come up with a creative solution.

"So they did a project where they actually painted over the graffiti with these beautiful murals," Welch says. In doing so, the Club both helped beautify the neighborhood and learned how to solve a problem in their community.

The Torch Club program at Boys & Girls Clubs is showing all of us that getting kids engaged young is possible — and it has nothing but positive results.

Young people who volunteer improve their community, their relationships with other kids, and themselves. Civic engagement shows kids how to take their energy and emotions and channel them into something good.

"All research shows that when young people volunteer, feel part of their community, and are engaged, that overall they will be more successful," Welch says.

"That’s a big part of the job. It's why I love working in the field that I work," Goncalves says. "To change the mindset of caring about themselves and being that self-absorbed tween to thinking outside the bubble, outside their community."

"It's remarkable, and we see it all the time," he adds. "It's why a lot of people in our field stick with it for life."

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

When the COVID-19 pandemic socially distanced the world and pushed off the 2020 Olympics, we knew the games weren't going to be the same. The fact that they're even happening this year is a miracle, but without spectators and the usual hustle and bustle surrounding the events, it definitely feels different.

But it's not just the games themselves that have changed. The coverage of the Olympics has changed as well, including the unexpected addition of un-expert, uncensored commentary from comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg on NBC's Peacock.

In the topsy-turvy world we're currently living in, it's both a refreshing and hilarious addition to the Olympic lineup.

Just watch this clip of them narrating an equestrian event. (Language warning if you've got kiddos nearby. The first video is bleeped, but the others aren't.)

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