‘Kids for Community’ showing spirit of outreach
What began as an idea to engage children ages 8 to 14 in volunteerism has evolved into a nonprofit run by young adults who inspire their younger peers to make a difference in the community.
Kids for Community, an organization sprouting before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, took root in October 2006, said its founder Lolita Burrell.
“I know that the concept for Kids for Community was inspired by God,” Burrell said. “And then, the idea to invite Missy (her sister-in-law) and Kayla Allain (her niece) to join me on the founding board of the organization was equally inspired.”
The group’s original approach was three-pronged: inspire children to have a sense of concern for community; train them in leadership skills; and have them use their passion and skills to help others.
“What if we raised a culture of children who had that (volunteerism) as part of their framework?” Burrell surmised.
The adult board was led by Burrell and Missy Allain and had a children’s board counterpart, headed by then 11-year-old Kayla, an Academy of the Sacred Heart student, and her friends.
In the first year, its 15 members performed neighborhood clean-ups, planted trees in Lakeview and worked with the elderly on various projects such as helping them wade through the FEMA process.
“When we started volunteering, it was humbling,” said Annie Shao, a Ben Franklin senior and pianist. Shao said she witnessed extreme poverty while traveling to China, and felt she “had to do something. I thought it would be nice to be more active.”
Kayla, who was born without arms, had a kidney transplant at age 6 at Children’s Hospital and back surgery for scoliosis, was eager to get involved with Kids for Community.
“I know that I am an inspiration to people,” she said. “I make them realize whatever problems they may be having, they can get over them and move forward. I have never let my disability burden me. I let it inspire me.”
She and Ryan Mixon, now a Loyola University student, and others designed the Kids for Community logo depicting a world globe surrounded by people of all abilities and races to show diversity.
In 2008, when Kayla was awarded $2,000 by the ChangeMaker Gulf South Youth Action Fund, she donated it to the group to create a public service video to encourage voting in the 2008 presidential election. It aired on WWL-TV and can be seen at www.kids4community (click events to find video).
“We saw how big of an impact the presidential election would have,” Kayla said, “and we couldn’t vote. So we came up with the slogan, ‘Your vote is our vote.’”
The group had become inactive, but this year Kayla, Annie, Lee Lee Barahona, Ryan Mixon and others who were involved as children wanted to revive it as the leaders. Even though some of the group has service hour requirements at their Catholic schools, they enjoy their Kids for Community work.
“You don’t have adults telling you what to do,” Kayla said. “We talk about what we see and want to do to help the community.”
The group hopes to organize monthly activities. On Oct. 14, Kids for Community held a baby shower for young, expectant mothers at Covenant House. They sent fliers to friends and fellow students and collected baby wipes, clothes, towels diapers and monetary donations.
“Anything that you would need for a baby up to age 5,” Kayla said. “We wanted to make it fun for women who don’t have a support system. We were excited to do this and hopefully brighten their day.”
Other ideas being tossed around include helping animals, doing something to save Le Petit Theatre, having student musicians play at retirement residences, promoting arts to young people and nurturing Kids for Community at their respective schools and creating a Facebook page.
Kayla said she never saw herself as being different and wants to encourage others.
“When you don’t have something, you just compensate, you make do with what you have,” Kayla said.
She takes the same approach in the community.
“You see what other people don’t have,” Kayla said. “Seeing how you can help them only makes me want to do more. No matter what age or ability, you can help the community.”
Burrell and Missy Allain are proud to pass the torch to the next generation.
“The idea of the founding child members in the organization running it gives me chills,” Burrell said. “I didn’t envision them taking it over. It’s just God. To actually own it; they feel confident; they have ideas.”
“If all kids felt valued and part of the community, there wouldn’t be crime,” Missy Allain said. “That’s why I try to encourage Kayla and other kids to feel positive about themselves and their abilities.”
Kayla will be honored for her work in November by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.