Young People Try to Contribute During War
Sarah Abedi, a teen from southern California, is helping raise money for Iraqi families.
Doug Mercurio, a law student in Rhode Island, is taking time to assemble care packages _ filled with everything from toilet paper to sun block to Starbucks coffee _ for his cousin’s Army unit in the Persian Gulf region.
Young people across the country are taking action in response to the war in Iraq beyond protests or rallies. Helping, they say, makes them feel better than merely watching the conflict unfold.
``I cannot describe the feeling I experienced when I realized that the efforts of a small law school in Rhode Island are having a definite impact on the lives and morale of troops thousands of miles away,″ Mercurio, a third-year law student at Roger Williams University, said after receiving a thank-you letter from a soldier he’s never met.
In the past month _ and with funding from students and professors _ he’s sent about 250 pounds worth of goods to his cousin’s unit.
For Abedi, motivation to help has come partly from stories about war and political upheaval told by her parents, who fled Iran during the revolution there in the 1970s. Now she worries that young people in Iraq are feeling scared and alone.
``I feel that the children of Iraq are, in a sense, the children here _ us,″ said Abedi, a 15-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., who helped found a UNICEF chapter at her high school. Since the war started, she and her classmates have raised about $300 with bake sales at track meets and other events.
Experts say such efforts are one of the best ways young people _ or adults, for that matter _ can soothe anxiousness or fatigue over the war that many are feeling.
``Whenever we help somebody, it makes us feel good. We feel better about ourselves; we feel we’re part of the solution,″ said C.T. O’Donnell II, a psychologist who is president and CEO of KidsPeace, a nonprofit organization that aids children in emotional crisis.
O’Donnell says more teens are voicing concerns about the war on one of the organization’s Web sites. At the same time, a number of other young people who visit the site are stepping forward as peer counselors to offer advice _ yet another way of reaching out, he says.
Other organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army and a Web site for teens called YouthNOISE.com, also are assisting young people who want to get involved, most often by helping them to get letters to troops, Iraqi families and world leaders.
Corporate America has stepped up its efforts, too.
America Online has created several war-related chat rooms and message boards for its members. Already, its ``Military Pen Pals″ message board has received more than 100,000 postings _ many of them from young people, company officials say.
Telecom company SBC Communications, with help from Veterans of Foreign Wars, is providing school children with phone cards to send with the letters they’re writing to American soldiers.
``Thank you with all my heart _ and know that you are a hero in my book,″ Vincent Hutcherson, a 14-year-old student at Pacers Academy in Indianapolis, wrote in a letter that accompanied one of the phone cards.
Meanwhile, several students at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, _ who have varying views about the war _ are going without evening meals and gathering nightly for a candlelight vigil at the center of campus.
Itonde Kakoma, a religion major and organizer, says the students plan to donate money they would’ve spent on meals _ as much as $9,000 _ to Lutheran World Relief to help feed Iraqi refugee families.
``Our focus is not necessarily on the charity. It is on solidarity,″ said Kakoma who began fasting from sunset to sunrise on March 21. ``At sunset, I realize that I am connected to the greater world.″
On the Net:
VFW’s ``Operation Uplink″: http://www.operationuplink.com
KidsPeace sites: http://teencentral.net and http://www.kidspeace.org
Martha Irvine can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org