Victoria Baynes Lopez isn't your average 10-year-old. While her peers might spend their free time watching TV or riding bikes, she's busy with a nonprofit that she created with her mom to help people in need through volunteer work.
"Volunteering is important to me because it makes other people happy," said Victoria, founder of Itz 4 Kidz By Kidz. "I want other kids to know they can volunteer at any age and make a difference."
Victoria is on the cusp of a growing trend that has young people increasingly interested in volunteer work. According to a 2012 survey by DoSomething.org, more than 54 percent of young adults, ages 13 to 22 years old, volunteered in 2011.
"The trend that separates this generation of volunteers from previous generations is that a higher value is placed on volunteering by the kids themselves, their school and society," said Peter Levine, director of the Massachusetts-based Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. "Now there is more support for volunteering in schools with a person responsible for the service program where that wasn't present 30 years ago."
Victoria started volunteering when she was 4 years old at a dog shelter near her home in Queens, N.Y. The family moved to Houston in 2009, after Victoria's grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
A change in locale didn't interfere with Victoria's philanthropic efforts.
The Mark Twain Elementary fifth-grader keeps busy by organizing two events a month, tennis lessons and singing in the choir at her church, where she is also an altar server.
"Victoria was on a mission to help the homeless and the hungry during the holidays," 43-year-old Baynes said.
"When you have this kid, who's like, 'Mom, we have to go out and fight junior diabetes or go to the Light the Night walk for lymphoma,' if that's what they want, you just let them pursue it," Baynes said. "She'll start speaking to anyone about what she wants to have happen."
Itz 4 Kidz By Kidz partners with DoSomething.org and Generation On because both organizations focus on promoting youth service.
"What Victoria and I are trying to do is show that young people are making positive changes around the country and it costs nothing to help these causes," Baynes said. "It's fun for everyone involved and they're helping people at the same time."
Volunteerism is even being worked into the curriculum as early as preschool. The Learning Experience, for example, introduced a new philanthropy curriculum in January in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, where it's based. The early education center has locations in Humble, Katy and Spring.
Philanthropy for tots
Meghan Kelly, the director of curriculum for the Learning Experience, said the new program will focus on teaching children from 3 to 6 years old one philanthropy theme a month with an event that reinforces the theme.
"Being in the field of early childhood, it becomes our job as educators and caregivers to take on that role, to not only teach children about numbers and letters, but how to be a good citizen," Kelly said. "It's important to show them how to give back to people in their community and give them a sense of social awareness about what's happening around them too."
Children ages 3 and up are capable of handling the complex philanthropy vocabulary, if properly introduced, she said.
"We focus on the theme of the month and teach them through song and characters so they can really identify with the lessons," Kelly said. "It's not just introducing them to the vocabulary and what philanthropy means, but how they can apply these concepts to real life situations and actually become a philanthropist."