Kids Who Care

updated 11/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Spencer Whale, 13

Invented IV cars for sick kids

Raised by a single mother with a history of heart ailments, Spencer Whale had spent enough time around hospitals to know he wanted to help make patients—particularly kids—feel better. On a visit to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, he noticed a boy pedaling down the ward in a toy car while his mother, holding his IV pole, panted as she jogged after him. "I wondered," says Whale, "why hasn't anyone thought to attach an IV pole to the pedal cars?"

Whale solicited donations of pedal cars and IV poles and enlisted volunteers to do the welding. The result: The KidKare Ride Toy is already a hit with doctors and patients alike at Mineola, N.Y.'s Winthrop-University Hospital, where dozens are already in use. Next year Little Tikes toy company plans to make them available nationally. "It makes the whole hospital environment less threatening," says Dr. Mark Weinblatt, director of Winthrop's Cancer Center for Kids. "They forget they are getting treatments." That's gratifying to Whale, who got help and direction from big brother and fellow inventor Brandon, 16, who created among other things a device called the Needle Beetle, which helps make IVs a less painful experience. "We can't help that they're sick," says Brandon. "But at least we can help them have more fun."

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William Dunckelman, 15

Enriches the lives of the elderly

At age 9, Dunckelman visited a nursing home and was struck by how much an elderly resident appreciated having a chance to chat. Born with an autoimmune disorder that causes stomach, vision and skin problems, Dunckelman, 15, understood the isolation felt by the aged. "Physical pains aren't the only ones," says the Houma, La., high school sophomore. "There are emotional needs."

With help from parents William Sr., 50, and Geralyn, 47, he runs Project FAME (Fine Arts Motivating the Elderly), which distributes books, DVDs, CDs and art supplies to nursing homes. Starting with a few local facilities, Dunckelman has sent $200,000 worth of donated goods to seniors in 40 states. And he still finds time to volunteer after school at several Houma nursing homes. "He could be doing a lot of other things," says one resident he visits, Virgie Rogers, 77. "But he's showing us he cares." That didn't stop during Hurricane Katrina, when Dunckelman helped provide food and water to evacuees and comforted those in distress. "You can touch someone's life," he says, "with just a kind word."

For information: www.geocities.comw_dunckelman

Geneva Johnson, 17

Runs a group that gives hope and guidance to inner-city youth

Geneva Johnson was 14 when she and her two siblings watched in horror as a stranger shot a man waiting for a parking space outside their Bronx apartment. "We were so scared," she says. "We just hit the floor." Living in a neighborhood so dangerous her parents forbade her to use the local playground, Johnson was determined to give other kids options—and hope.

In July 2004 Johnson founded Bring It On!, a youth group that strives to fire up the dreams and ambitions of underprivileged kids. Although she solicits donations from corporations and local businesses, Johnson also kicks in money from her own pocket; with siblings Jermiah, 18, and Christina, 14, she runs a neighborhood art gallery. For the 50 or so members of the group—most are from her Eastchester Heights neighborhood—Johnson leads seminars on entrepreneurship at her former middle school and hosts monthly panels called You Go GirlGo!!, where women who have overcome obstacles tell their stories to girls. Bring It On! also enlists kids in environmental cleanup projects and sponsors Youth Jam events to raise awareness of after-school programs and health issues. "Other girls see her," says Shikeya Hopkins, 20, who directs You Go GirlGo!!, "and they think, 'Wow, maybe I shouldn't be so concentrated on myself. I should concentrate on others.' " Johnson says those insights make her work worth the effort. "I love doing it," she says. "People don't realize how rewarding giving back can be."

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The Yurcek Kids

Give backpacks laden with school supplies to needy kids

Growing up partly as foster children, Delonzo Yurcek and his brothers and sisters by birth experienced the embarrassment of arriving for school each fall without the fresh supply of pencils and paper the other kids brought. Bounced from home to home and often needy, many foster kids simply can't afford school supplies. "We didn't want anyone else to feel like that," says Delonzo, who was adopted at 8 in 1998 along with four siblings by Ann, 47, and James, 49, of Kalamazoo, Mich., who also have six biological kids.

In 2002 Delonzo and his family collaborated to launch Backpacks for Kids. Inspired in part by a Detroit program that gives empty backpacks to foster kids, they decided to go a bit further and load their backpacks with all manner of school supplies. Although they now receive donations of money and supplies—some at community drop-off sites—they raised their first money by collecting bottles and cans and running a garage sale and Kool-Aid stands. "We went door to door, asking, 'Could you help us?' " says Delonzo, 16. That first year they distributed more than 300 packs stuffed with school essentials. "It felt good," says brother Deangelo, 17, "knowing someone would have a good first day of school because of us." It warmed their mother's heart too. "So many of us take for granted how lucky we are," says Ann. "We don't take the risk to make a difference." Delonzo says he's grateful that he and his siblings did. "To see the smiles on the kids' faces," he says, "makes it all worthwhile."

For information:

Thomas Fields-Meyer. Diane Herbst and Lisa Ingrassia in New York City, Ruth Laney in Houma and Amy Mindell in Chicago

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