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Down-to-Earth Kids : Students get enthused about preserving the environment as members of an organization begun by a terminally ill child.

January 07, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times

All Maren Steiner, 11, wanted when she joined Kids for Saving Earth a few years ago was to help protect the environment. But in the process of forming a Northridge chapter of the Minnesota- based organization, she and other members say they have learned a lot about what it takes to make a difference.

The national club, an independent, nonprofit organization that now boasts more than 700,000 members worldwide, was founded in 1989 by fifth-grader Clinton Hill before he died of a brain tumor. The organization's stated mission is to educate and empower children of all ages to work with friends to take positive, peaceful action to help protect the planet.

Maren's chapter has 12 members, all gathered, she says, by just walking up to children at Nobel Middle School and asking them if they were interested in joining. At meetings, the children plot projects they will undertake, from planting trees with Beverly Hills-based TreePeople to helping with Heal the Bay's beach cleanup, or organizing a Whales on Wheels assembly for nearby Beckford Avenue School.

Before the city of Los Angeles provided curbside recycling, Maren's club started the Can Crushing Kids Crew project, with members going door to door twice a month collecting recyclables. In April, Maren attended the Nickelodeon-sponsored Kids Earth Summit in Orlando, Fla., and talked with Vice President Al Gore about the environment.

"It's really fun working with other kids to accomplish something," Maren said. "It's hard sometimes to organize a project, but it's rewarding."

Member Kate Levin, 10, also of Northridge, likes attending the biweekly meetings and participating in the group's projects because it gives her a way to help others.

"I like the feel of doing something for the community and to help out," she said. Other club chapters are springing up locally, each with its own purpose and character.

At Leichman High School in Reseda, which specializes in community-based instruction for the developmentally disabled, teacher Judy Scheuer started a chapter with her 17-year-old students. One student saw a club newsletter and suggested that they start recycling cans to earn petty cash for the class. Now the students make a habit of collecting cans from their families, taking the bus together to the Fallbrook Mall and using the recycling machines there.

"For these students, something like the rain forest is beyond their understanding," Scheuer said. "What they do has to be concrete. But now these kids are recyclers for life, and I'm hoping they're going to teach their parents recycling, too."

The no-dues organization gives members certificates and colorful quarterly newsletters featuring stories on current issues and close-ups of kids and clubs doing interesting ecological activities. It also offers adults a leader's guide.

Dave Rosene, a Minnesota member who was Clinton Hill's sixth-grade teacher, says he thinks the organization appeals to children because it was started by a kid.

"It took the emotional impact of an 11-year-old dying of cancer to get the movement going," Rosene said. "Clinton felt grown-ups weren't doing their job, so kids should take it on."

Scheuer says the organization has given her students a jumping-off point, with tools like the newsletter to trigger discussions of ecology, trees and nature.

"When kids see other kids doing something for the environment, it's contagious," she says.

Where and When

What: Kids for Saving Earth, a national nonprofit organization with local chapters.

Write: P.O. Box 47247, Plymouth, Minn. 55447.

Call: (612) 525-0002 for information on contacting or setting up a local chapter.

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