Girl Power: Transforming the Nation, a Community at a Time

06/26/2010 10:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"What do you want to do when you grow up?" It's a timeless question every youngster gets asked repeatedly. Innocent enough, but the inquiry seems to assume that as a youth, you can't do very much at all, other than wait for adulthood to reveal your potential.

However, today's youth are quickly turning those assumptions on end in the important areas of civic action. In fact, the percentage of youth volunteering has more than doubled in the last 20 years, with eight million youths volunteering annually. Leading the way in this revolution are young girls.

Carly and Molly Houlahan are two of them. They lost their grandfather to esophageal cancer before either one of them reached their 12th birthday. The sisters channeled their grief and loss into an idea. Together they created Hives for Lives, a honey business to raise funds for
cancer research. They, and the 50 other youth volunteers they recruited and manage, tend the
bees, harvest the honey, and bottle, label and market their products. These dynamic sisters
developed a relationship with Whole Foods Markets and several other companies, and have
raised $160,000 for cancer research.

Their example is inspiring. But what's truly amazing about Carly and Molly's story is that it's not an anomaly. All across the nation young girls, not waiting for instruction on how to go about helping others, are just deciding to make change happen.

14-year-old Brianna Cart formed a group of young volunteers called "Angels Over Iraq and Afghanistan" that has shipped more than 300 boxes of snacks, toiletries, and other items, worth more than $25,000, to 345 American soldiers. 13-year-old Neha Gupta started "Empower
Orphans," to raise funds for underprivileged and orphaned children. 16-year-old Nicole Muller
created "Neighbors-4-Neighbors" and collected nine tons of food for food pantries across the
nation. There are countless other similar stories of girls taking the reins and making change

They have created a new hybrid of entrepreneurism, mixing the energy of young girls with sound business practices and a healthy amount of social consciousness. The results of this combination are astounding, and it's a movement that may shape the future of our country.

Girls who participate in volunteering have significantly higher levels of community, school and civic connectedness and responsibility. They are also less likely to get pregnant or abuse alcohol or drugs and more likely to do well academically.

These are young girls who will grow up understanding their own ability, and responsibility, to
change the world for the better. They are answering the calls to service from President and Michelle Obama, and possess a social consciousness we want to encourage, celebrate and support.

They exemplify what Michelle Obama said recently to students at George Washington University, "You don't know the meaning of the word can't. And every time someone's tried to
tell you that, you've replied What? Oh yes, we can," a refrain that the President used during his
election campaign.

The power of girls as change agents will be highlighted during the 2010 National Conference
on Volunteering and Service in New York City this month. The "Girls. Power. CHANGE: Girls
Summit on Civic Engagement" will be featured during the world's largest gathering of volunteer
and service leaders from the nonprofit, government and corporate sectors. The summit will
be held on June 28, with special guests such as WE tv President and GM, Kim Martin, and
civic entrepreneur Lauren Bush, who started the FEED Foundation, an organization which has
provided more than 50 million school meals to children in the developing world. Three girls
will be awarded $1,000 grants from WE tv for their change-making ideas during the summit
celebrating and empowering girls' abilities to create change in their communities.

Women change agents have shaped our nation's history, - from Clara Barton who founded the American Red Cross, to Ethel Andrus who founded AARP, to Harriet Tubman, who guided scores of slaves to freedom and then became active in the women's suffrage movement. With
examples such as Carly and Molly Houlahan, and a civic movement helmed by fully empowered
girls, imagine what might be possible! What will these young girls do when they grow up?
They've made the answer loud and clear. They're not interested in waiting. They are interested
in changing the world - beginning now.