Reaching out to others can change your life, and is the timeless and universal philosophy of Free The Children (FTC), a Toronto-based non-profit organization that empowers and inspires children to become socially and responsibly engaged — locally and globally.
Charismatic spokesperson Spencer West was the guest of honor at an assembly at on Saturday May 7, challenging the audience to "Be The Change" and make a difference in the world.
West, now 30, was born with a rare genetic disorder that resulted in the complete amputation of his legs at the age of 5. He said his family raised him to think he was no different from anyone else, and that what you believe you can achieve.
"I found if I could get people to laugh, they could see through my legs and in here," West said pointing to his heart.
In his dynamic presentation — he even performed a hand-stand on stage — West moved parents and kids to tears, cheers and a standing ovation.
"This world is empathetic — not apathetic," he said.
Last summer, Jack Kelley, Jacki Kelley and Ashley Kelley, a third grader, helped build a school in a Kenyan village and their lives were changed.
The Kelley family started FTC clubs at South School, andNew Canaan High School where is co-sponsor, and its program director Nicki Jezairian and Jack Kelley serve as advisors.
Eleventh graders Jackie Trager, Elizabeth Kilbride and Lauren Campbell are co-presidents of the club where members spend 50% of their time volunteering in the community and 50% fund-raising to build a school or dig a well in one of eight countries affiliated with FTC.
"We're really excited to be starting this and have Spencer who is such an influential person come to our town," Trager said.
Kilbride said she's looking forward to finishing out the year, and coming back "better than ever" next year.
West said CT is famous around the office because the first Free The Children club in the U.S. was started fifteen years ago in Willimantic.
"This town has unbelieveably embraced volunteerism," Selectman Rob Mallozzi said. "We don't start with a clean slate here — New Canaan has a culture that has already been been nurtured to care."
, , , , the and Pease Septic Company all helped sponsor the event.
Planning has already begun for We Day at Madison Square Garden in April 2013, a rock concert for social change with an incredible line-up of celebrity activists.
Jacki Kelley, a media industry executive and organizer of the event said, "Kids have to earn their way in by forming a club."
"Our goal is to have hundreds of 'shameless idealists,' first in New Canaan and then in the rest of the Tri-State area, volunteering on both the local and international levels," Jack Kelley said.
"We want them to change the world and know, as a result, their lives will be changed too."
YMCA board member Scott Fuller has worked with many global humanitarian causes and his daughter Haley, a fifth grader at , said it best, "Dad, I MUST get my school involved with this!"
The power of we is not the future but the right now.