Social media often gets a bad rap, for providing a platform for cyber-bullying, for wreaking body-issue havoc on girls and women who obsessively follow their favorite, uber-thin celebs, and for generally being an overall time suck.
But there are plenty of people who are putting social media and the Internet to good use, and some aren’t even old enough to vote yet. Take a look at these three socially minded youngsters who are tweeting, posting and sharing for a good cause.
Geena Ciambelli, age 17
Since drug and alcohol use continue to plague teens and young adults across the country, and Nancy Reagan’s admonishment to “Just Say No” is a thing of the past, The Partnership at Drugfree.org decided to develop a national commercial campaign created by teens, for teens, with the hope that peer pressure could also work for the positive. As part of the Above the Influence campaign, the 2013 “Made By Me” contest challenged teens to create a public service announcement (PSA) and share it through social media channels, with the video scoring the most votes being declared the winner.
For Ciambelli, the contest was the perfect chance to both explore her interests in film and communications and address an important issue. “Having the opportunity to help create a nationally televised commercial seemed unreal to me, so I took a shot and entered,” Ciambelli explains. “I was also familiar with the Above the Influence campaign and their relatable PSAs focused on drug awareness and peer pressure. Being a teen in the modern world was my main inspiration for my PSA. Connecting to my peers through common situations and recognizing those pressures as avoidable was the idea I wanted to portray.”
Ciambelli notes that she reminded her friends and followers daily to help with voting, and her efforts certainly paid off. “Thankfully, they were all very supportive and aided me in spreading the word,” she says. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten a quarter of the votes without it.”
Ciambelli’s winning video has since been aired through major outlets including TeenNick, TeenNick.com and MTV.com. And when it comes to encouraging others to use social media to reach others on behalf of a cause they’re passionate about, she doesn’t hesitate: “Don’t be afraid to reach out,” she says. “The availability to have anyone in the world hear your message is at your finger tips, so take advantage of that.”
Hannah Alper, age 11
While many tween girls are busying themselves with Barbie dolls and ballet classes, Hannah Alper is posting weekly to her growing, 2-year-old blog and making numerous appearances across Canada as an advocate for eco-friendly living.
“I attended a Digital Family Summit where families with teens and tweens can learn about videos, gaming and blogging, then I went to a 3-hour WordPress workshop where I created my blog, callmehannah.ca,” says Alper. “I didn’t know what I was going to blog about, but I have always loved animals. I began to realize that animals rely on the environment, and they rely on us to help the environment. I decided I was going to blog about the environment, and I was going to learn, model and inspire others to be more eco-friendly in their homes, schools and communities.”
Alper’s blog has garnered more than 100,000 views in less than a year, and she’s used her digital platform to propel her burgeoning career as a public speaker and community organizer. Alper was the youngest World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Earth Hour Team Captain in 2013, she spoke at the WWF Earth Hour event in Toronto, and she was the official “on the ground eco-blogger” for the JUNO Awards for the past two years. She organized a shoreline cleanup in her community and also spoke at two local schools, motivating her peers to collect 97,500 pennies for Free The Children’s clean water projects, which led her to be a featured speaker on Free The Children’s We Day across North America.
It’s obvious that Alper has found a passion and talent in rallying others around noble causes, and now she has turned her efforts to helping others find their spark – including kids. Her TEDx talk on the topic received a standing ovation and has almost 7,000 views since being posted in January.
“You’re never too young to make a difference, and every little thing adds up to make a big difference,” says Alper. “It’s moving from the ‘me’ to the ‘we.’ Blog or speak about something that you love; then you will find out what you are passionate about. If you love animals, then speak out for the environment or animal rights. Speak out against bullying, or the fact that millions of girls around the world don’t have access to an education. Use your voice; your voice is one of the most powerful things you have.”
Makenzie Lawrey, age 9
Cape Coral, FL
If it is the unspoken responsibility of big sisters to protect their brothers against all danger and calamity—including devastating illness—Makenzie Lawrey is taking her role quite literally. When her younger brother Gavin, now age 6, was diagnosed with life-threatening Mitochondrial Disease (Mito) in January 2012, she initially had a difficult time understanding what he was going though. It became her mission, then, to leverage the Internet and social media to educate others about the disease while also raising money towards a cure. Through sales from her book, Mighty Mito Superhero, self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, and direct donations, Lawrey has since raised more than $43,000 for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.
“I decided I wanted to write this book because I realized there was still a lot about Mito that I didn’t understand, and I thought if there was still so much about Mito that I didn’t understand, there were probably a lot of other people out there who felt the same way,” explains Lawrey. “It makes me sad to see my brother getting sicker and sicker every day; all I want is for him to get better. I realize the only way he is going to get better is if they can find a cure, so I asked my mom if we could figure out a way to publish the book on our own and sell it to make money for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.”
In addition to helping her write and publish her book, Lawrey’s mother also helped her create a website to collect funds, www.hope4mito.com, and they also post links to the book’s sales page on Gavin’s Facebook page, where more than 3,000 people follow his medical journey. It’s a lot for a not-yet-middle schooler to handle, but Lawrey has an ambitious goal that makes the effort necessary.
“I knew right away I wanted to set a goal to raise $1 million because I know if there is any chance to find a cure it’s going to cost a lot of money,” she says. “I’m not sure how long it will take, but I really hope to raise $1 million within a year.
“Sometimes it’s challenging because I want to be able to reach even more people. And I really want to be able to do something like [go on the talk show] Ellen, because people love Ellen, and if she liked my book, I think a lot of people would buy it. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to keep trying and never give up on something that is important to you. Making a difference and helping people feels really good.”
From the mouths of babes.
Do you know of an inspiring kid who’s making a difference? Email us at [email protected].