Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
"I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody." Lily Tomlin's quote is the inspiration for these mid-west siblings. When high school students, Simone and Jake Bernstein discovered that it was challenging for youth ages 16 and under to find volunteer opportunities. They took action. The sister and brother team took the initiative to create a regional; and are currently working on a national website to engage youth in volunteer service and service learning opportunities.
As military dependents, Simone and Jake appreciated the outpouring of support the St.Louis community bestowed on their family when their dad was deployed. These siblings wanted to pay it forward, but were frustrated with the lack of information and volunteer resources available for youth under 16. There was no local website or resource specifically geared towards youth and family volunteerism. Their goal was to create stlouisvolunteen.com: a simple, green, paperless and user friendly resource for area youth, nonprofits and schools. Never having created a webpage before StLouisvolunteen.com, they truly dived in blindly.
With the success of the website and social media and tools like Twitter and Facebook, Simone organized and created the first St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair. When Simone left for college her brother Jake took over to help organize The Annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair with support from a group of area youth. The Fair is now an annual event hosted at the St. Louis Magic House with over 35 family-friendly non-profit organizations recruiting students and families to volunteer.
Over 3,500 youth and families have found volunteer opportunities through the website, text messages, Twitter and Facebook postings, local volunteer events and the Annual Volunteer Fair. Their Twitter site @stlvolunteen provides a valuable resource for youth posting and promoting both long and short term volunteer oppportunities, scholarship and grant information. The success of their efforts to engage youth in service learning has inspired youth in other communities to create similar regional community websites. Currently Simone and Jake are working with a professional website design company to create a national website www.volunTEENnation.com to be released in October 2011.
Jake organized flexible volunteer projects for his peers. He coordinated a September 11th tenth anniversary volunteer service project to engage youth and families "Serve to Remember."
As a youth advisory member of GenerationOn, he was motivated to organize local youth volunteer projects. This summer he recruited 25 youth volunteers to instruct tennis at "Aces for All" a weekly tennis clinic for youth on the autism spectrum and their siblings. Each week over 20 St. Louis area families brought their children for individualized one-on-one tennis lessons. Simone also continues to actively volunteer on her college campus and community.
Youth are inspired by their peers, Simone and Jake truly spread the spirit of community.
Barbara Rozen nominated Simone and Jake Bernstein to be Champions of Change. Simone and Jake are the creators of StLouisVolunteen.com, an online resource for organizing youth community service.