Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Brooke and Gracelyn Leath
Your teenage years are such a transitional time. Even without the typical teenage drama, the fact is you’re stuck between wanting to be a kid, but also wanting to have the freedom of an adult. While we can’t change the realities that face our generation, we can choose how we mold ourselves and the different seasons of our life.
We know what it’s like to be a teenager in 2018, because we are teenagers. As part of the Gen Z crowd, we know how they think and feel because we’re thinking and feeling it, too. So, what do teens want? And who are our biggest influencers?
We want to be part of something, to be accepted, to have freedom to make our own choices and get involved in movements bigger than ourselves. Essentially, we all have a big case of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). Each time my sister and I step back to evaluate how to address our deepest desires and what we don’t want to miss out on, we always come back to our passion for philanthropy.
With a nudge from our mom, we knew we had to spread the joy we get from volunteering to our peers. And what better influencers than two young girls who can understand exactly what these kids want and need? It’s great to have adult mentors, but it’s even more special and relatable to have peer-to-peer mentors who help shape you.
At the time, we were both in middle school, but embarking on the biggest adventure of our lives. Following this epiphany six years ago, TeenHOP was born. The mission of our nonprofit organization is to empower and aid youth to volunteer in their communities, train others, develop leadership skills, promote healthy habits and create mentoring/mentee relationships, which will lead to productive and positive citizens.
Our generation has been raised with a greater sense of international awareness than ever before. We’ve been exposed to diverse issues, new technologies and social media channels that cater to our need for instant gratification. Terrorism, economic uncertainty and various humanitarian challenges around the world have been in the forefront of news throughout our childhoods. This hyper-awareness has driven many Gen Z youth (like us) to yearning for change, underlining our urgency to make a difference in this world, with 50 percent of us pursuing jobs in volunteering. 1
Through TeenHOP, we encourage our peers to find their voice and bring their own personality and skills to causes they’re most passionate about. For example, our programs help teens find volunteer opportunities in their community no matter the cause: building homes for those in financial distress, spending time with residents at elderly communities, volunteering at run/walk events and animal shelters, and more! In addition to acting as a resource to get involved, we provide members with an online system to track certified volunteer hours. Furthermore, we offer teens professional training opportunities such as presentation skill development workshops on a bi-weekly basis.
We’re in the business of building people up – volunteers and recipients of service alike – and want everyone to know that there’s no wrong way to volunteer. You’re not limited by your abilities – just bring yourself and your willingness to help! This perspective has become a game-changer in the collaborative community we’re building. We’ve seen kids who normally isolate themselves or who are glued to their phone become leaders within volunteer groups. Through TeenHOP, they have realized they don’t have to wait until they grow up, earn a degree and are hired to step into a leadership role or evoke change.
The cornerstone of our business model is our authentic mission to invest in kids’ lives by teaching them the transformational power of giving back and we want to spread it far and wide. We have done this through the creation of local chapters. While the first began in Georgia, we now members and chapters across the world, including Spain, with a lingering presence in Australia, too. In 2017, our volunteers in Georgia alone impacted nearly 4,000 people through TeenHOP’s volunteering, training and self-development offerings.
The growth of TeenHOP keeps us on our toes. We’re now constantly traveling from chapter to chapter to present to new members, help new chapters become initiated and encourage other youth to become leaders in these communities.
Thanks to online school programs like K12, we can live our life’s calling. We are fortunate to carry out our personal mission through the creation and expansion of TeenHOP, and our untraditional schooling has given us the opportunity to succeed at both our academic and entrepreneurial initiatives. Virtual learning through Georgia Cyber Academy, powered by K12, has allowed us to further grow TeenHOP by traveling to chapters’ cities and events. We even tapped into our online K12 community by inviting our classmates to get involved!
We’re proud to have brought TeenHOP to where it is today, and are excited to see it – and its members – continue to grow, taking a moment to look up from our screens at the appreciative faces of those we’ve impacted.
If you’d like to submit your organization for consideration, feel free to email your nonprofit or cause to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about online education opportunities through K12, visit www.k12.com.
1 “Gen Z: The Next Generation of Donors.” Best Practices, Tips and Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits, www.classy.org/blog/gen-z-next-generation-donors/.
Teen sisters Brooke and Gracelyn Leath co-founded TeenHOP in September 2012 when they were in sixth and seventh grade. From here, they have grown and matured the nonprofit, bringing hundreds of youth volunteers and thousands of people in need along for the journey. Both are recent graduates of Georgia Cyber Academy, powered by K12, where they have felt empowered to succeed in both school and entrepreneurship. The Leath sisters’ overarching message to teens is that there is no wrong way to help someone and no one personality type designed to help others – everyone is equipped and called. The mission of TeenHOP is to empower and aid youth to volunteer in their communities, train others, develop leadership skills, promote healthy habits and create mentoring/mentee relationships, which will lead to productive and positive citizens.