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Teen spirit: Age proves no barrier to community activists

TeenSpiritLois Goldrich - Cover Story
New Jersey Jewish Standard
Published: 22 October 2010

Seventeen-year-old David Engle has helped plan carnivals since he was 8.

David Engle and fellow volunteers — and Clifford — at an event held for the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson.

“We started out doing (Temple Israel of Ridgewood’s) carnival together,” said his father, Howard. “But David started doing more and more things, and in the past two or three years he has been running it on his own.”

Also for the past three years, the Glen Rock High School student has taken his carnival know-how on the road.

While in ninth grade, David founded Carnivals for Children on Wheels, organizing free events for thousands of disadvantaged and disabled children in the New York and New Jersey area.

In recognition of these efforts, the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City presented him with its Youth Community Service Award as part of its Hometown Heroes program.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” said his father, pointing out that David’s commitment to social action began when he decided to do something to honor the memory of his grandmother.

“When I was six months old, I lost my grandmother to cancer,” said David. “Although I never knew her, I have dedicated much of my volunteer life to helping eradicate this disease.”

When he was 10, he raised $500 for The Valley Hospital’s cancer research department. And when he entered 10th grade, “I began my three-year commitment to Relay for Life as chair of my grade’s fund-raising committee.”

The run — a project of the American Cancer Society — “brings together more than 3.5 million people to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, remember loves ones lost, and empower individuals and communities to fight back against the disease,” according to the organization’s website.

David Engle

David’s involvement grew in his junior year, when the Glen Rock contingent raised more than $50,000. This year he is co-chairing the project for the second time.

Perhaps most impressive is David’s Carnivals For Children On Wheels project, “born out of a desire to bring movable carnivals to children who could not otherwise enjoy them.” “Some family members had serious doubts; they thought the hurdles I would have to overcome were too great,” he recalls. “But their skepticism just fueled my drive to prove them wrong, and I did.”

His organization — whose work is showcased at www.CFCOW.org — has run dozens of carnivals “for all kinds of children: poor, homeless, disabled, abused, and even pediatric cancer patients.”

David wants to reach even more youngsters and is studying sign language at Bergen Community College at night so that he can also serve deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

“Getting my business off the ground required an enormous effort,” said the young volunteer. “I had to manage budgets, solicit volunteers, customers, and corporate sponsors, engage in ongoing fund-raising and publicity, build and transport game booths, purchase inflatables and prizes, as well as hire clowns, magicians, and face-painters.”

“To get more ‘bang for my buck,’” he bought plush toys direct from a Pennsylvania factory, worked with a company to recruit corporate sponsors to donate giveaways, and negotiated with a distributor of prizes to reduce their rates in exchange for placing their logo on the carnival’s website.

“Since my company could not buy new carnival games, I built them from scratch using scrap wood from a lumber yard,” said David. “Running each carnival has required a lot of planning — fitting together all the pieces of the puzzle — and I have loved every minute of it.”

The teenage businessman said that, at first, “Many did not take me, a 14-year-old ninth- grader, very seriously.” Only the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson was willing to accept his offer, allowing him to run a carnival in its social hall for 350 inner-city children.

“My 25 high school friends were the carnival volunteers,” he said, adding that “although the volunteers had never been exposed to children of poverty before, the experience had a profound impact on them [and] many have eagerly volunteered to work at my carnivals again and again.”

Once other organizations saw what his group had accomplished, “they jumped on board,” said David, who has also been nominated as a community hero as part of a campaign launched by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“In many ways, all of us associated with the carnivals have grown,” he added. “I knew all my hard work was worth it when a little girl, who just experienced a carnival, exclaimed, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ Then, when I saw children share the toys they had just won at my carnival with their brothers and sisters, I was touched. It made me proud.”

David is looking beyond the community as well, “thinking a lot about how I should make a more meaningful contribution to the world.”

Deeply moved by last year’s tragedy in Haiti, he has been thinking specifically about “how to create sturdy, lightweight, easy-to-assemble, hurricane-proof housing to serve the needy around the world in times of natural disasters.”

“Perhaps that will be my lasting contribution,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

David said that in reaching out to help others, “age doesn’t matter. You can always help someone in need,” he said. “Even a small thing can have a major impact, even if it only affects a few people.”

If everyone did that, he said, “the whole world would change.”

Source: http://www.jstandard.com/content/item/teen_spirit_age_proves_no_barrier_to_community_activists/15382#


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