The ‘Next Great Generation’ Shows What It’s Made Of

January 12, 2005 | | By Michele M. Melendez

Children and teens scooping into their allowances and paychecks, selling cookies, washing cars and sacrificing their own wants to donate to tsunami relief are meeting expectations that they will be America’s next great generation.

“Across the country, youth are rejecting the notion that kids should be passive participants in life and embracing the idea of youth initiative and social entrepreneurship,” said Scott Beale, co-author of “Millennial Manifesto,” a book exploring the attitudes of the generation that follows X.

Their upbeat determination links them to like-minded Americans born in the first quarter of the 20th century the G.I. Generation, or World War II Generation, or “The Greatest Generation” trend-trackers say.

Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. in New Orleans, said it’s a clear example of historical repetition. Both generations are civic-minded, confident and optimistic.

The Millennials, Generation Next, Generation Y or echo boomers, as they are variously called, number more than 80 million by some estimates. The oldest were born in the early 1980s. Generation watchers say their parents who generally waited longer to have children treat them as treasures, supporting and encouraging their ideas.

Sherri Reilly, 45, of Bay Village, Ohio, is one such parent. When her daughter, Kelsey, said she wanted to help children touched by the tsunami, Reilly backed the 9-year-old all the way. Together, they decided on a hot chocolate stand to raise money.

“We felt bad for the kids who had to be orphans,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey designed a flyer for publicity, drawing a picture of a wave approaching stick-figure people. She and her mom baked vanilla cupcakes with white icing and yellow sprinkles. A neighbor donated chocolate-covered pretzels. In two hours on New Year’s Eve, with the help of some friends, Kelsey raised $540.54.

Her good deed led to a mention in the local paper, an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, an invitation to set up her stand at the House of Blues in Cleveland and more than $10,000 in total donations. The money went to UNICEF.

That spirit is typical of youth who feel closer than any previous generation to peers overseas, through rapid-fire news, e-mail and instant messaging.

“The kids are more media aware,” said Robert Wendover, managing director of the Center for Generational Studies in Aurora, Colo. “They feel a lot more connected.”

Joy Portella, spokeswoman for New York-based NetAid, which encourages youth to help eradicate poverty, said teens have been trading experiences about fund raising for tsunami relief on a NetAid Web log.

“They’re taking their own initiative,” Portella said. “This is really something that has inspired them to start things up very quickly and very creatively.”

That same technology and information exchange has helped them appreciate prosperity.

“Millennials are as aware of the money differences among peoples and cultures and nations as prior generations were aware of racial, ethnic and gender differences,” said William Strauss, co-founder of LifeCourse Associates, a generational consulting firm in Great Falls, Va., and co-author of several generational books, including “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation.”

Muthama Nzioka, 17, can identify. He noted the instant destitution the tsunami caused, and felt moved.

As junior class president at Garrett Morgan Academy in Paterson, N.J., he sparked discussion with classmates. They decided to hold a car wash to raise money, handing out flyers and urging their parents to come.

“We wanted to do this, because if we were in the same situation, we wouldn’t want people not to help us,” Muthama said of the benefit, set for Saturday.

Nancy Lublin, chief executive officer of Do Something, a New York-based organization that encourages community involvement among young people, said children from all over the country, from all income levels, have come forward with ideas and money. Within two weeks of the Dec. 26 disaster, young people had raised more than $100,000 for Do Something’s Kids Tsunami Relief Fund.

It’s impossible to know how much young Americans overall have contributed to the cause, but charitable organizations including the American Red Cross and UNICEF report hearing from youth eager to offer their services.

“This generation has seen more than any other,” Lublin said. “Those pictures. It’s so vivid.”

As she watched the TV images of decimation in southern Asia, Caroline Grueskin, 12, of New York, couldn’t help but remember her own city in peril.

“Everything’s just been taken from them,” she said of the tsunami survivors. After Sept. 11, 2001, “I felt our city had been taken from us.”

So Caroline and her sister, Julia, 15, baked cookies, cupcakes and brownies to sell in the lobby of their Manhattan apartment building. They raised about $550 in three hours on Jan. 8 and gave it to Do Something’s tsunami fund.

Other youthful efforts have been unconventional.

Carole Lehan, performing arts director at Glenelg Country School in Howard County, Md., at first didn’t understand when her drama students wanted to raise money with a scheduled showing of “The Laramie Project,” which chronicles how the 1998 murder of a young gay man named Matthew Shepard affected the Wyoming town where he was beaten and left tied to a fence.

Lehan thought: What does a hate crime have to do with tsunami victims?

Anna Prokop, 17, a senior and co-director of the play, which raised $700 on Jan. 7, explained it this way: “This is a show about people and treating each other with respect and caring for one another. It’s about human compassion.”

For Lehan, that sentiment reflected the significance of Anna’s generation.

“They’re very interested in making these intricate connections,” Lehan said. “They get it, that kind of global awareness that I didn’t get at their age.”