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Kids take time out to show they care

While adults clawed their way to buy a $500 video game system this month and hung on to the details of celebrity divorces and their opulent weddings, a couple of kids in Clearwater worked to help the homeless.

What's remarkable about their service isn't that they are helping by giving out daily bus passes to adults who need a way to a job or the doctor's office.

And although their combination of youth and passion is to be admired, it isn't unheard of.

What's special about the members of Kids Who Care is that their drive to help the homeless, for most of them, comes from life experience. Almost all of the nine members have been homeless at some point.

Their reasoning for forming a group under the Homeless Emergency Project (HEP) is beautiful in its simplicity.

"I like helping people," said Cierra Wyatt, 9. "It's really nice."

It started this summer when some employees at HEP plucked seven of their younger clients and young volunteers and put them through a national youth philanthropy course called Learning to Give.

"We saw a way to get young people involved in giving back," said Libby Stone, development director.

They learned that kids can be philanthropists, especially if they work together.

They learned to use their "time, talent and treasure," and when the program was over, they decided to continue as a club for youths ages 8 to 17, meeting once a week.

They formed a board, appointed each other to various positions and came up with a mission statement, which they had printed on T-shirts they helped design.

The statement reads:

"Using our time talent and treasure in cooperation with others to help meet the needs of low-income and homeless people in our community."

The kids decided on annual dues of $20 per member. They presented their vision before the HEP board of directors. The board decided the shelter would sponsor or find a donor for kids who couldn't afford the fee.

The kids were challenged to build their membership. They are speaking to their classes, trying to recruit kids, rich or poor, to their group.

One of their monthly guest speakers told the kids that transportation was a huge hurdle for homeless or low-income families.

So the kids used some of their dues to buy 20 daily bus passes for HEP caseworkers to hand out. They required that the person in need use the pass only to travel to a job or doctor's appointment.

Now, they're planning a hip-hop dance for Jan. 5 at HEP's community center. They want to raise $300 to $500.

The latest cause? The HEP's free dental clinic. Because, they explained, some people have never been to the dentist and are ashamed to smile.

"Just like other people thought about our needs we should do the same back," said Aquilah Scott, 11, vice president of the group.

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