Students start caring about others early

A group of Thurston Middle School girls is learning the value of spending time together in the pursuit of helping others.

The seventh-graders are volunteering for Lion's Heart, a nonprofit that Laguna Beach resident Terry Corwin established in 2004 as a way for kids in grades 6 through 12 to participate in community-service projects.

Thurston parent Jacqueline Schaefgen serves as coordinator but lets the girls suggest and develop their own service ideas.

Members have played with greyhounds at an animal rescue facility, made lunches for the homeless at the Friendship Shelter and sent candy to U.S. troops stationed overseas.

The group formed a year ago, when Schaefgen's daughter, Chloe, 12, wanted a way to help others. Lion's Heart, which has more than 3,000 teen members in 33 chapters in nine states, seemed like a good fit.

"Giving back to the community makes me feel like I'm a leader," said Chloe, chapter vice president. "I realize I can do bigger things than I could ever imagine."

Lion's Heart members do not do fundraising, but they must log at least 30 service hours between May and April 30.

Groups, which are age- and gender-specific, meet eight times per year, and volunteers pay a $130 annual fee, which covers website costs, insurance, members' T-shirts, trophies and awards, promotional materials and other organizational and administrative expenses, according to the Lion's Heart website.

Ninth-grade girls from Laguna Beach High School are also involved in the program.

Each group elects a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, Schaefgen said.

"[The meetings] provide structure and make it easier [for the girls] to stick to their commitment," Schaefgen said. "It requires them to take the initiative, to start asking questions and figure out how to give back with time and effort."

Participants are expected to bring ideas to discuss at every meeting, and a coordinator attends every gathering to help facilitate discussion.

Piper Warner, 13, likes the brainstorming sessions.

"It's great to hear what is in our hearts," Piper said.

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