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Laurell: Teenagers Possess Spirit of Caring

“What’s with young people these days?”

While that question is most often uttered by baby boomers depending on one’s beliefs, the same thing had to have been questioned about the offspring of the first lungfish to crawl out on land some 420 million years ago, with every cave-dwelling parent of the Paleolithic Era.

Now parents are asking that same age-old question about those of Generation Alpha.

While the zoomers of Gen Z were the first to use cell phones, screens and tablets, it is the Alphas — the mini millennials — who are far more tech-savvy than any previous generation. They have been called “screenagers,” “generation glass” and “iGeners,” due to the fact that electronic devices have played a prominent role in their lives from the time they were babies.

There is an ever-emerging downside to this. Studies have suggested that obesity, and various mental and physical health problems are becoming more prevalent among young people due to their screen time.

If you are among those who worry about the young people of today, you should be. But you should also be equally aware that while many teenagers and prepubescents are becoming oblivious to the physical world due to the cyber one they are increasingly operating in, there are also many who are true beacons of hope for the future.

This past week, local teens who are members of the Youths for Youths Foundation and the ChangeWorks! Foundation gathered at two separate events to give evidential proof that young people today possess a spirit of caring, concern, love and empathy that is just as strong as any generation that came before them.

At the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and the Greater East Valley local athletic coaching legend Mike Graceffo imparted some of his 45-plus years of knowledge as he conducted a basketball clinic for club members.

Along with getting to meet and work with Graceffo, every kid in attendance was given a new basketball that had been donated by the Youths for Youths Foundation which was established by teenager Andrew Abikzer.

Joined by his friends and fellow foundation members, Jake Tidik and Max Procanik, the trio of teens handed out the balls and then joined in with Graceffo to run drills with the kids and share the story of the positive work they are doing.

“I wanted to do something to empower young people to unplug from their devices and build real life connections,” Abikzer said. “We created this foundation to raise funds to buy and donate balls to nonprofit groups who serve youth.”

According to Abikzer, Tidik and Procanik, the foundation identifies needs and then provides kids with resources to ensure that, through sports, they can learn teamwork, fundamental skills, how to build human connections, and grow into confident, capable, and compassionate leaders of tomorrow.

“When they sent us the information about what they do I thought it was cool and said we wanted to be in on it,” Graceffo said. “Their desire is the same as mine, to get kids off their phones, go outside, and get involved in physical activities and sports.”

Calling it “an awesome gesture by a group of super motivated young people who want to give back to their community,” Graceffo said he was blown away to see the look of excitement on the kids’ faces when they got their new basketballs and to learn that the foundation has already donated balls to more than 5,000 local kids.

For more information on the foundation, visit youthsforyouths.org.

On the same evening, less than a mile away, members of the ChangeWorks! Foundation held their annual board selection meeting at the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.

The genesis of the foundation came about in 2014 when, just 74 days after he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, 12-year-old Christopher Wilke of Burbank lost his battle with the disease.

Having touched so many lives during his short time on Earth, the Burbank and Glendale communities were devastated by Christopher’s loss and came out to help en masse.

“The outpouring of support and help for Christopher’s family, who were close to losing their home due to the cost of his treatments, was tremendous,” said James Coomes, a program manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, who serves as the ChangeWorks! CEO.

Explaining that four students from Luther Burbank Middle School coordinated a fundraising effort with the goal of raising $750 to help the family, Coomes said the students were shocked when Christopher’s grandmother informed them that, because of their campaign, more than $15,000 was raised. That sparked further fundraisers by other schools along with faith and community-based organizations.

Today, with a board of directors who are all under the age of 18, the foundation is focused on raising funds to help other families who are dealing with childhood cancer.

Chairperson Emma Audette said she became involved in the foundation because she has two autoimmune diseases.

“I wanted to give back, and so I created a fundraising chapter at Burbank High School,” Audette said. “It’s my way of being involved in my community, by helping families who have a child who has been diagnosed with cancer and are struggling financially.”

Explaining that the foundation is about raising awareness as much as it is about providing financial help, Audette said since the inception of the organization they have helped seven families by awarding grants of more than $43,000.

“When you make that call to a family, letting them know they will be receiving a grant, it is so emotional and rewarding,” Audette said.

Along with Audette, the foundation’s board is composed of Sophia Gani, Alexandra Slek, Lilia Matirosian, Toros Kehribarian, Melanie Indzheyan, Isabel Song, Brianna Kobramashihi and Mane Asilbekyan.

Among the special guests in attendance at last week’s meeting were members of Christopher’s family including his parents Joe and Lisa Wilke, younger brother Daniel Wilke, and grandparents Joe and Monica Wilke.

For more information on the work of the foundation, you can make contact with them via email at sponsors@changeworksfoundation.org.

James Coomes and Emma Audette of the ChangeWorks! Foundation attended last week’s board selection meeting.
Youths for Youths Foundation volunteers Alexis Luvin and Allie Medwed helped make last week’s basketball clinic a success.
Holding basketballs from the clinic are Jay Jackson and Mike Graceffo of the Boys & Girls Club with Andrew Abikzer, Jake Tidik and Max Procanik of the Youths for Youths Foundation.
Toros Kehribarian, Alexandra Slek and Brianna Kobramashihi are three of the nine-member ChangeWorks! Board. All members of the board are under 18.
Members of the late Christopher Wilke’s family, including his grandparents Joe and Monica Wilke with parents Joe and Lisa Wilke attended last week’s ChangeWorks! meeting.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the November 18 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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