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A Catalyst for Community Caring

Teens create a new Web site to inspire peers to be better citizens

The message is, "Get involved." The medium is the Internet.

A group of teens recently gathered in Bedford, Va., to create an "interactive online journey" designed to encourage community service among youths. The site kicks off e-teen ( - a diverse network for young people around the globe.

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It's an arena for teens to chat, download music, talk about topics ranging from entertainment to the environment, find resources, design Web pages, and consider community service. Young people around the globe will be invited to share their experiences and their visions of "community" for the year 2020.

The cornerstone of the project is getting teens to think about certain values - honesty, open-mindedness, responsibility, and compassion - and acting on them.

"This isn't only about promoting ethics and values, it's about promoting ethics and values on the Internet," says Avery Fisher, one of the site developers from Dearborn, Mich., "because it's doomed if it continues the way it is now." Given the proliferation of junk on the Web, e-teen hopes to help raise the quality of sites across the Internet.

Avery is one of four teens who won a six-week scholarship to develop the site at Global Youth Village (a multicultural leadership program offered every summer by the nonprofit Legacy International). More than 150 youths competed in the online competition held in June by Yahoo!

The site, which is still evolving, will eventually be available internationally through servers and school networks, with help from corporations and foundations.

Part of the teen developers' creative energy has gone into introducing characters who will guide users, much the way helpful comic-book or cartoon personalities do. One named Muneera, for example, introduces teens to ways they can volunteer and help those in need.

Links to the world

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Abdur-Rahman Morgan from Albany, N.Y., coordinates the "Get Involved" section of the site that includes links to Youth Service America, YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Amnesty International, and more. ServeNet has been imported so kids can find out how to get involved at their local level, by just plugging in their zip code.

"Kids are really thirsty for big ideas. They need something they can latch on to that deals with issues in their community," says David Eads, of Kennewick, Wash. He sees e-teen restoring a better sense of community on the Internet.

Plans for the entertainment section include music from international artists and socially responsible musicians. Games aren't blood and gore. No violence. No sex. Chat rooms will be moderated.

Will values lead to activism?

"One of the difficult things is how to promote ethics and values and activism [to teens]... What we're trying to do is get people there, steer them, so if they see a picture of homelessness it might get them thinking, and they might end up at a different part of the site, " says Or Bernstein, from Albany, N.Y.

Adds Avery: "Teens - a lot of them - are really lazy. They go to school because they have to go. They are passive, hanging out with friends, watching TV. We want to introduce them to a whole new world and get them thinking."

From the view of project director Ira Kaufman, e-teen is designed to "harness the vast computer knowledge and enthusiasm for community service latent in many teenagers." Another component to the program is keeping in mind the widest possible audience.

Making the site accessible to not only an international audience, but to the other side of what's referred to as the technological divide is important, say these teens. Given the haves and have-nots in technology, they want the site to be visually appealing to young people, but not too whiz-bang so that an older computer can't download it fast enough. (For example, a 486 PC with Netscape 3.0 can easily access the site.)

"We had to make the site exciting ... but with not too many complicated plug-ins," explains Or.

"Utilizing the natural interests of youth toward justice, equality and equity, personal decisionmaking and a vision of the future, e-teen will encourage young people to experience the thrill and the meaning of community service, community problem-solving, and the deeper spiritual dimensions of life," says J.E. Rash, president and founder of Legacy International. That includes "caring about the well-being of others, striving to live by example, and serving the needs of the greater community." Corporate sponsors include Netopia, Rand Corp., Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and Earth Link.

"If 1,000 people come to the site and if 5 percent get involved, it's 50 people..." Or muses. Abdur-Rahman adds, "Three to five years from now we're going to say we made a dent, we made an impact."

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