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Starting Small Counting on Kids to Change the World


L A  U  R  I  E     K  E  N  N  E  Y 


Counting on Kids to Change the World

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

THE UNITED STATES OF COMMUNITY SERVICE MAKE A DIFFERENCE DAY ALMOST-SLEEPOVER From seven grade-school girls with an idea in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2010, to a national award–winning community service movement with more than 1,200 kids in 58 communities in 32 states (that we know of!) helping 100+ nonprofits At its root, the word "magazine" refers to a nationwide in 2011, the success of our collection or storage location. In the case United ofitCommunity of written States publication, is a collection of Service Make a Difference Day written articles. (This explains why Almost-Sleepover exceeded our wildest dreams.

magazine publications share the word root with gunpowder magazines, artillery magazines, firearms magazines, and (in From soup to nuts, this experience was hands-on learning at various languages although not English) very best.such Watch our amazing year-long journey in less than retail stores as department stores).

its four minutes at We Can Change the World (

FROM MAKING S'MORES TO MAKING A DIFFERENCE In 2010, my daughters, 9-year-old Delaney and 8-year-old Addie, began planning their annual “almost-sleepover”— a friend-filled party featuring all the fun of a sleepover without the sleeping over. When we noticed the date we had selected corresponded with Make a Difference Day—our country’s largest national day of community service—we chose to refocus the event as a community service project. Instead of s'mores and sprinklers, the girls and their friends would party in their PJs while making a difference for our community.

IN THE BEGINNING: 7 COMMUNITY-MINDED KIDS While the girls originally planned to hold the celebration at our house, a growing guest list meant a trickier time squeezing everyone in. After the Guilford Parks and Recreation Department generously donated the use of the Guilford Community Center for the event, I asked Delaney, Addie, and their friends, Willow and Rosalie Coleman, Marlah Hohlfelder, Isabel Kessler, and Sophie Marnin, to brainstorm additional ways they could get the community involved in their quest. And that’s when the fun began.

GET READY TO PARTY IN YOUR PJS! First, the girls decided the price of admission to the event: one pair of new winter pajamas for the kids at Life Haven, a temporary shelter for pregnant women and women with young children in New Haven. To make even more of a difference, the girls would also accept gently used coats for area shelters, food for the Guilford Food Bank, and small monetary donations for an Audubon nature initiative. Next, the girls chose three projects they would complete that night: cookies-in-ajar mixes for local seniors, ornaments to brighten hospital rooms during the holiday season, and cheerful cards to hand-deliver to retirement home residents. Third on their list of things to do: securing supplies. The girls made “Make a Difference Day” posters and spread their message throughout the community —where they received an enthusiastic response: Big Y donated cases of bottled water and party supplies; Walmart, pajamas for kids in need; Ashley’s, ice cream; Pasta Avest, pizza; and Sachem Card & Party donated balloons for the event.

IT WAS A MAGICAL EVENING. But they didn’t stop there. Instead, the girls reached out to their New Haven Ballet, United Girls Choir, and Full of Joy yoga teachers, all of whom jumped at the chance to be involved in the feel-good community-building event.  On October 23, 2010, 38 pajama-clad friends came together to make a real difference for our community and spread the word about the importance of kid-powered community service during our 2010 Make a Difference Day Almost-Sleepover. An added bonus: The event showed kids and grown-ups alike that you can make a difference while having fun at the same time.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR THE LITTLE-PROJECT-THAT-COULD In February 2011, our almost-sleepover project bested more than 2,000 entries nationwide to be honored as one of ten National Make a Difference Day Award winners by Newman's Own, USA WEEKEND magazine, and the Points of Light Institute's HandsOn Network. As national winners, the girls also received $10,000 from Newman's Own to donate to the charity of their choice. To celebrate, the girls visited each organization that had helped make their event a success to personally thank them for their contributions.

YOU SAY YOU WANT A (KID-POWERED) REVOLUTION Witnessing how our community came together to make our little-project-that-could a huge success was life-changing for the girls and their friends. And long before they received the unexpected national recognition, they had already decided to reach for the stars for Make a Difference Day 2011. With firsthand experience at community organizing under their belts, and after helping friends in New York plan their own almost-sleepover event, the girls wondered whether kids in other states might be interested, too.

ROLLING UP OUR SLEEVES & GETTING TO WORK During February and March of 2011, as we waited for the award announcement to go public, we brainstormed ideas and put together a yearlong integrated marketing plan and calendar that included creating a logo and slogan; designing and providing all content for our website, blog, and social media accounts; creating an e-newsletter template and building a DIY Almost-Sleepover kit; planning projects and press conferences; researching media outlets and putting together  press kits; working with local businesses to design USCS collateral, including  t-shirts, stationery, banners, stickers, envelopes, and note cards; and establishing local and national partnerships.


Magazines are publications, usually periodical publications, that are printed or published electronically. (The online versions are called online magazines.) At an April 2011 press conference announcing their national They are generally published on a regular award, the girls surprised Life Haven with the $10,000 donation schedule and contain a variety of content. They are generally by from Newman's Ownfinanced and launched a community service quest advertising, by a purchase price, by to unite kids across the country with simultaneous almostprepaid subscriptions, or a combination of the three. celebrations on October 22, 2011. sleepover

Our goal: To empower kids from coast to coast to perform community service, shine the spotlight on local charities, and make a difference in their own communities as part of our United States of Community Service Make a Difference Day Almost-Sleepover. Watch the press conference here (

SPREADING THE GOOD WORD Over the next six months, the girls spread the word about their event and their mission. From reaching out to local and national organizations and leaders (including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and the Obama family) to giving media interviews, learning more about participants nationwide with our USCS Flat Stanley project, and collaborating with two talented local teens to write a theme song for our kid-powered community service movement.

WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD by Colleen Burkle and Kara Welch (c) The United States of Community Service, Inc. They always tell us we're too young Just stay out of our way. You're too small so just give up 'Cause you can't make a change. [PRE-CHORUS] But when we help each other It's a simple choice. And when we stand together We can raise our voice. [CHORUS] Together we can be the change No matter what the people may say. Just stand up, take our hand Step by step, we'll make a difference. We can change the world. Give us the chance and we'll show you Just how strong we are. Nothing can stop us And we'll go far. [PRE-CHORUS] [CHORUS] Together we can use our mind. Together we can touch the sky. Just stand up, take our hand Step by step, we'll make a difference. We can change the world.

CREATE A FLAVOR, CHANGE THE WORLD How do you get the attention of a bunch of kids? Two words: Ice cream. Hands down the sweetest idea the girls dreamed up to spread the word about their mission: creating an official ice cream flavor for the nationwide event. During July (National Ice Cream Month), the girls worked with Ashley’s Ice Cream to spread their community service message with a national “Create a Flavor, Change the World” ice cream contest. Thanks to the generosity of Ashley's and its customers, the project raised more than $6,000 for five child-centered Connecticut nonprofits: the Guilford Free Library, The Children's Place at Connecticut Hospice, Life Haven, The Children's Center of Hamden, and Ucan2's LifeStraw project.  Nutella Chip is still one of Ashley's best-selling flavors.

The USCS girls receiving the 2012 American Red Cross Community Impact Award.

REACHING FOR THE STARS: WHY NOT? --Laurie Kenney, blog, 6/30/11 What would happen if we taught our kids to ask “why not"? Encouraged our kids to think outside the box? Empowered our kids to take their ideas…and run with them? Sure, some of their ideas are pretty far out (they've yet to perfect their flying machine), but some are pretty darn right-on-the-mark! I want my girls and their friends to believe that they can reach for the stars. Yes, it might require a bit more (and in a case like this, a lot more!) time and effort, but what an amazing payoff in the long run. Think about it: If we teach our kids at a young age that they can reach for the stars (and that the only failure is the failure to try) and that helping others is their responsibility (not just something you do for school credit or because it looks good on a resume), they will make a difference in the lives of many. They will change the world for the better. We’re reaching for the stars with our nationwide kid-powered USCS Make a Difference Day Almost-Sleepover. You can ask us why we’re aiming so high, but I think you already know what we’ll say: Why not? That’s what The United States of Community Service is all about.

GUILFORD BY THE NUMBERS On October 22, 2011, 83 girls made 100 ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree at The Children’s Place at Connecticut Hospice;  240 cupcakes for the men and women at Columbus House; 84 cookies-in-a-jar mixes distributed to local seniors during the holidays; and  80 cards of gratitude for children of those serving overseas at our flagship almostsleepover in Guilford, Connecticut. And we collected $2,000 for the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, raised through pledges from both a dance-a-thon and cut-a-thon held during the event; 148 new pairs of pajamas for children at Life Haven and the St. Francis Home for Children; 19 men’s and women’s coats for Columbus House; 40 children’s coats for Christian Community Action; 100 stuffed animals, 40 coloring books, and 47 boxes of crayons for Project Smile to distribute to police departments to use to comfort kids in crisis; and 190 pounds of food for the Guilford Food Bank.

COUNTING ON KIDS TO CHANGE THE WORLD In the end, we hand-counted more than 1,200 kids in 58 communities in 32 states (that we know of!) making a difference for 100+ charities as part of our USCS Make a Difference Day Almost-Sleepover on that beautiful, servicefilled October evening.  Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I couldn't agree more.

In loving memory of Ciara O'Driscoll. For more about Dravet Syndrome, visit


Starting Small: Counting on Kids to Change the World, by Laurie Kenney  

From seven grade-school girls with an idea in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2010, to a national award–winning community service movement with mo...

Starting Small: Counting on Kids to Change the World, by Laurie Kenney  

From seven grade-school girls with an idea in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2010, to a national award–winning community service movement with mo...