Real People: Mother, son start North Fulton chapter of teen volunteer group

While looking around for ways to volunteer in her Johns Creek community last year, Mariela Carrasquillo hit on a way to make giving back a family affair.

“I was trying to decide what group to join when my seventh grader said he wanted to volunteer, too,” said Carrasquillo. “My sister lives in California, and we knew her kids were part of a group there called Lion’s Heart. So instead of joining an adult group, I decided to start a Lion’s Heart chapter here.”

The California-based Lion’s Heart is a nonprofit geared toward giving teens ways to volunteer in their communities. It currently has 55 chapters across the country and is looking to add more. When Carrasquillo realized there was no chapter in Georgia, she took on the challenge of starting one.

“We needed a minimum of four [youngsters] to start, so my son asked his friends,” said Carrasquillo. “We now have six guys who are very passionate about helping the community. They say no to nothing; every time they’ve been approached with an opportunity, they say, ‘Sign me up!’ “

Adrian Carrasquillo, 13, was intrigued by some of the service projects his California cousins were doing.

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“I thought it was very interesting how they helped out, and I thought maybe we should be doing something like that too,” said the seventh grader at Taylor Road Middle school. “We’ve done a lot - picked up litter, helped out at festivals, handed out water a 5K race and fed the homeless in a downtown Atlanta shelter. We also worked at an animal shelter, cleaning out the van they use to transport the animals, and we wrapped Christmas gifts for the Children’s Restoration network in Marietta. That one was really great; I felt like somebody’s Santa, choosing and wrapping gifts they’d get.”

The organization has specific guidelines for the teens to follow. At least eight one-hour meetings must be held each year. Volunteer hours must be logged onto the website, and members are required to perform at least 30 hours of service a year - though most of the Johns Creek crew have already doubled that number.

The members research different volunteer opportunities across the metro area and, as a group, select the ones they want to pursue. When they’re working in the community, they sport dark blue T-shirts that identify them as Lion’s Heart volunteers. Noah Berman, 12, got the group to help set up for the Johns Creek holiday parade in December and has enjoyed pitching in on a range of projects.

“I was really excited when Adrian told me about this group because I thought it would be pretty fun,” said Berman. “I do Boy Scouts and Junior Beta Club at school, but I still like Lion’s Heart a lot. Helping other people really helps me feel better.”

But helping out has a fun side, too, said Adrian. “I like the feeling that I’m helping someone in a small way in such a big community, but I also like having fun and socializing and meeting new friends.”

Carrasquillo recently launched a Lion’s Heart chapter for girls. Membership in both groups is open through Aug. 1, the beginning of the group’s calendar year for the purposes of tracking hours.

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, e-mail hm_cauley@yahoo.com.

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