By ROB W. ANDERSON
Cindy Clark wanted to make a difference in people’s lives when she started Tahlequah Pay It Forward.
The mission of the local non-profit organization is to help those in need and helping the next generation become leaders has become a part of that calling.
Sign-ups for the Cherokee County Teens Making A Difference Program, or Teens MAD, are currently taking place, and Clark hopes to have to the teen group active by January 2013. Fee for the one-year membership is $10, which will provide the participant needed supplies and a T-shirt. The group is open to any teenager in the Cherokee County area between the ages of 12 and 18.
“It’s a chance to make new friends and socialize. We’ve got some church youth groups that want to sign up. We’ve got about seven people who have already signed up,” she said. “We just started everything [with forming the group and getting people interested], but we hope by Jan. 1 it really gets rolling. We’re going to be in the Christmas parade, so we’re asking anyone who wants to join us to come on out.”
Clark and Pay It Forward, which is also known as the Cherokee County Pay It Forward Foundation, has helped hundreds of people with clothing, food, furniture, household appliances, children’s items and has also held numerous fundraisers from Indian taco sales to bag sales. Clark wants the Teens MAD group to become an extension of Pay It Forward in giving back to the community while getting involved through projects and fundraisers, but wants the teen group to be its own organization run by teens who care about the future of their community.
“Basically, it’s going to be the same thing as Pay It Forward, but in a different way. They’re going to learn how to become leaders in our society. They’ll talk with local representatives, historians, we will visit the VA hospital – all the hospitals, nursing homes and we’ll also send care packages overseas,” she said. “I want to teach them how helping others is what it’s all about, and that it’s not all about them. And also teach them a skill they can take with them as they grow. In the Teens MAD organization, they’re going to have voted in seats. They’ll have a president, vice president, secretary – everything like Pay It Forward. They will learn to do a budget. They will do their own fundraising and will plan projects, and they will help get others involved.”
As described in the welcome letter new members will receive, the Teens MAD group will pledge to serve the community with respect, honor, loyalty and obedience to become leaders that members of their peer group will look up to.
“I’ve seen what my mom does. She has helped a lot of people, and I want to follow in her footsteps. I saw the big thing that happens to people whenever you help someone,” said 14-year-old Tia Ramirez. “So seeing her help other people – I kind of want to be just like her.”
Ramirez said it’s common for guys and girls in her age range to focus on individual interests and avoid getting involved with civic-oriented activities like visiting community elders living in a nursing home, but believes there are people her age who care and want to make a difference.
“A lot of teenagers now just don’t really care about anything. They think ‘oh, I’m so cool. I’m not going to do anything to help.’ I don’t think they think about this as much as you should. I think they would have a lot of fun,” she said. “They think it’s going to be a lot of work. I thought it was going to be a lot of work, and then I started reading more about it and I was like ‘this sounds like so much fun that I actually want to do this’.”
Clark said she anticipates the group will meet once a month for meetings, while the group will also plan “at least one good activity a month.” The first meeting will be held at a local bowling alley to provide for a fun ice-breaker setting.
“We’re going to pay for a game of bowling for them so we can just kind of do a meet-and-greet. We’re not sure of the date because we have to talk to the bowling alley and set up the day, but we will do it in January,” she said.
“We’re hoping the first week in January we’ll have that done because we’ll also be doing our [Tahlequah Pay It Forward location] grand opening.”
Tahlequah Pay It Forward is located at 1315 W. Choctaw, and receives or provides needed items for needy families or an individual. Ernie Briggs is a volunteer, believes the Teens MAD group will teach needed and valuable life lessons.
“I think it’s important they learn that life’s not about taking, but giving, and I think that’s part of what this group will be doing,” he said.
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