The International Youth Hall of Fame works with cities and towns to celebrate the often-overlooked good deeds, creativity and open hearts of younger citizens by honoring them publicly. Larry Sagen, who founded the organization in 1990, plans to travel the country in a camper next year, stopping to honor at least 2,000 children in cities that have expressed interest in recognizing their youth.
'A lot of people are either afraid of kids or afraid for kids,' said Sagen, who has dubbed his cross-country venture 'Two Thousand in 2000 -- On the Road with Kids.' 'When fear is the driving motivation you can't love, nurture and support them. How do you change that? You help to shift people's perceptions by bringing forth positive news of young people,' said Sagen, who started the Seattle-based project out of frustration with news coverage that he thought focused on negative actions by youth.
Inspired by the late journalist Charles Kuralt's dispatches from small towns around the country, Sagen hopes his own road trip will draw media attention to the children he plans to celebrate. His camper will be equipped with a video studio and web broadcasting capabilities to document the journey.
About 2,000 youngsters in Washington, Idaho, Texas and Ohio have already been inducted as local honorees. Nominated by friends, community groups and neighbors, hall-of-famers receive a letter from their local mayor and a tile with their name and words of their choice on a permanent public display called a 'Wall of Fame.'
Honorees are also asked to take a pledge to encourage another youngster in his or her dreams or goals. Creating a ripple effect of empowerment is part of the mission of the project that was inspired in part by the Search Institute in Minneapolis. A children's research and advocacy organization, the institute helps communities identify those assets considered essential for the healthy development of children.
Karel Cipra, 12, was inducted into the Youth Hall of Fame in Seattle when he was in fifth grade. He had made it a point of helping a retarded classmate with his assignments and offered the often-isolated child his friendship.
'I felt it would be my job to help this kid because no one would show him much respect,' said Cipra. The seventh-grader said his empathy for others comes in part from having gone through tough times himself. As a young child, he weathered brain surgery. But he also understood that his actions could leverage the good behavior of his peers.
'I was kind of popular, so if I showed respect more kids would start showing (him) the respect he deserved,' Cipra said.
Sagen is quick to point out that recognition of good deeds is not the single solution to youth isolation. Giving young people skills and the opportunities to use those skills are also essential to building self-esteem. But while he found there were lots of training programs and work opportunities across the country, there was a distinct lack of celebration of the contributions of young people.
The ultimate goal of the Hall of Fame is to instill in adults the understanding that it is their responsibility to support children, he said. 'What the kids win is the opportunity to have a legacy in the community.'
Contacts: Larry Sagen, executive director, International Youth Hall of Fame, Seattle, Wash., 206-623-6770; web site: www.youthhall.org. Karel Cipra, student, through Larry Sagen, 206-623-6770.
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