Kids with Heart
05/22/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT
ABDUL HAFIZ, 14
HOW HE HELPS: Lobbied for a bill, now before the New York State Assembly, that would mandate fire-escape-window safety gates for multifamily homes with children under 10
A PERSONAL TRAGEDY: On May 18, 2000, Hafiz's 16-month-old brother, Ibrahim, crawled out a bedroom window in their Staten Island apartment and fell to his death from a fifth-floor fire escape. "When my parents were at the hospital, I was saying, 'He'll come back,'" recalls Hafiz (above, holding a window gate), an eighth-grade honor student. "Then they came home without him."
IMPACT: Teaming with a teacher, Patricia Lockhart, and classmates, Hafiz mail-blitzed New York's 1,400 public schools and collected tens of thousands of signatures. Already his efforts have made life safer for little kids. In 2003 two housing developments in his neighborhood received a government grant of almost $400,000, part of which was used to install fire-department-approved child safety guards in fire-escape windows. "What strikes me is his determination," says Richmond County Clerk Stephen J. Fiala, who introduced the original bill Hafiz championed in 2000, "to make sure his little brother didn't die in vain."
YASMIN ASSAR, 16
HOW SHE HELPS: Collects used eyeglasses to be sent to developing countries
A CHILDHOOD MEMORY: Assar's late grandfather was blind in one eye—the result of minor surgery gone horribly wrong when he was a young man in Bangladesh. "It was always a challenge for him," says Assar, who has worn glasses for nearsightedness since she was 7. "There will always be people to donate money for clothing or food," she says, "but sight is something so basic. A lot of people don't think about it." Two years ago, starting with her own eye doctor's office, Assar began setting up drop boxes around her hometown of Stone Mountain, Ga., after first approaching the nonprofit Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation for help with distribution.
THE RESULT: 2,600 pairs of specs given to aid workers, who've taken them to Romania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Honduras. "I tell Yasmin's story to people," says Christina Lennon, executive director of the Lighthouse Foundation. "I say, if she's 16 and can do this, then what can you do?"
DANIEL KENT, 17
HOW HE HELPS: Started nonprofit Senior Connects, which supplies used computers and free lessons to seniors.
MOMENT OF TRUTH: Three years ago, Kent (above with some of his 150 youth volunteers) was teaching computer skills at a library near his Carmel, Ind., home, when a student told him of a senior friend in a wheelchair "who wanted to learn but couldn't come," he recalls. With $4,000 of his own savings, Kent bought some equipment and formed a nonprofit.
A GROWING MISSION: Kent now has an umbrella group, Net Literacy, with three new initiatives to serve kids and the disadvantaged. Meanwhile, he has set up computer labs and classes in 70 retirement homes. "He's an angel," says Helen Lenke, 86, who now e-mails her family daily. "You could eat him up."
SUZIE TIPTON, 12
HOW SHE HELPS: Collects and loans out used wheelchairs and other medical supplies.
SEEING A PROBLEM: Born with cerebral palsy and other problems, Tipton (center left, with family at home in Hendersonville, N.C.) uses a wheelchair, as does her sister Katie, who also has CP, and father, Greg, born with spina bifida. "My family has struggled to get equipment," says Tipton. "Sometimes it can take a year or two." When her mother, Angela, who home schools her, suggested she come up with a community service project, Suzie's Closet was born.
FILLING A NEED: Tipton has a warehouse full of donated wheelchairs, specialized car seats and other supplies—all available to borrow. Her only rule: Return it. The honor student, who writes her own grant proposals, also raised several thousand dollars to build home wheelchair ramps, one of them for Doris Curtin, 76. "I guess because of all she's been through," Curtin says, "Suzie always thinks about everybody else."
BECCA ROBISON, 15
HOW SHE HELPS: Runs science camps for girls.
INSPIRATION: When she was 10, Robison (above, at one of her camps) shared her ambition to be an astronaut with a neighbor—a 4-year-old girl. "You can't do that," the girl said. "That's a boy's job." So Robison, who grew to love science when her brother Jason, 24, taught her about constellations, set out to prove that science is for everyone. Starting with 12 girls in the backyard of her Layton, Utah, home, Robison held her first "AstroTots Science Camp for Little Dippers," a day-long workshop: "We made planets out of styrofoam balls and launched Alka-Seltzer rockets—they're way cool."
IMPACT: With a handful of teen volunteers, Robison also holds free camps on insects and chemistry in parks and community centers. She was honored for her efforts last year by President Bush. "Becca teaches you stuff you never knew before and inspires you," says camper Nicole VanDeGraff, 8. "I love it because you get to eat upside down and watch rockets go off."
WHAT ALEX DID: UPDATE
When Alex Scott, diagnosed with an aggressive pediatric cancer as an infant, decided at the ripe old age of 4 to raise money for cancer research by starting a sidewalk lemonade stand, her mother, Liz, thought it was "cute." As it turned out, it was much more than that. By the time Alex, then 8, died in '04, she had raised more than $900,000 [PEOPLE, Aug. 23, 2004]. Since then, some 4,000 lemonade stands around the world, started in her memory, have raised $5 million. Last year her parents, Liz and Jay Scott of Wynnewood, Pa., formed the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation with one goal: "To grow until we're out of business," says Jay, "so other parents and kids don't go through what we did."