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Shameless Idealists

Free The Children clubs cropping up in New Canaan are inspiring our kids to "Be The Change" and make a difference in the world.

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. 


margo findlay May 17, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Spencer's positive energy and spirit of living life to the fullest is contagious. After attending the Free The Children event, on Saturday, my 9yr old daughter is so inspired to help out those in need. I thank FTC and Spencer for sharing his story with our community, and shedding light on such an important cause. -MF
Kim Plewes May 17, 2011 at 06:11 PM
This was a fantastic evening - full of positive energy, a great sense of community and a perfect message that we all have an important role to play in creating a world that we can be proud of. I hope that we can bring more of these events to the community in the future! Thanks to those who helped to organize the night.
Eugenie Diserio May 17, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Thanks to everyone who posted comments and sent me emails about this story. Yes, Spencer West was truly an amazing speaker and the energy he generated was real. I hope everyone checked out the 2 YouTube videos that are posted -- in one Spencer tells his inspirational story and the other shows the We Day performers.
Amanda Marks May 17, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Spencer West was inspirational and moved everyone in the audience, including myself. His personality and charisma lit up the room however the real amazement came from his determination to spread, express and make us realize what FTC stands for. Spencer wasn't just advocating for FTC he helped reveal the necessity that this new generation needs to take action. I could go on and on about how outstanding Spencer was and honored I am to be a part of Free the Children. It's Kids helping Kids. An individual can just join Free the Children but Spencer awakens a new light, a new power, a passion that really does touch one in a different way. I think everyone in the audience or who has heard Spencer will agree with me. Although most people were strangers to one another, everyone came together under Spencer's wing as a community. It was so much fun! --Amanda Marks
chris May 20, 2011 at 03:28 PM
What a great night. We lefty inspired and amazed by what the human spirit can achieve! I was so proud to see so many young children there, with their wide eyes, open hearts, and un-relentless energy. We are looking forward to more events and to hearing about all the successes which will undoubtedly happen due to this new organization taking hold in New Canaan!

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