03/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Youth Poised for Action

Sometimes we forget.

Those of us in the national service field and nonprofit sector spend a lot of time preparing for big events. As an MLK Day grantee from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the staff at Youth Service America and I have been working with schools and organizations across the United States to launch a Semester of Service, problem solving of both intensity and duration, starting on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

We offered grants and training and technical assistance and promotional materials. We busted our guts, shouting the message that youth have a desire to be engaged in their communities; that they have innovative ideas about creating positive change; that they can be the leaders of today not tomorrow; and that there's no reason that children and youth have to wait until they grow up before they contribute in a meaningful way.

Sometimes we forget, amidst our planning, and marketing, and partnership building to honor the legacy of one our nation's most important leaders, reminded that life does not follow planned events and federal holidays.

Barely a week before MLK Day, the Haitian earthquake reminded everyone, including children and youth, of the many needs faced by millions -- food, water, clothes, medical aid, and shelter. And do you know what? Our nation's young people didn't need any urging to serve.

Students in schools and universities immediately planned fundraisers in order to send money and supplies to charities providing aid to the earthquake victims. They became a wealth of knowledge, helping to spread the word about ways to provide support through social networking sites. They helped set a new record for money raised by mobile phones.

The devastation was brought even closer to home as American kids learned that 50 percent of the Haitian population is under the age of 18.

Always Ready Kids, a youth-run nonprofit started by teen Konstantine Buhler, offers training and resources to young people about disaster preparedness. The organization posted tips on how young people can support the relief efforts.

Understanding that support will be needed many months down the road, YSA has grants that support youth-led service projects, including awareness campaigns and fundraising efforts. The Disney Friends for Change Grants (due January 29) and Get Ur Good On Grants (due February 22) will support youth volunteer and support efforts.

We sometimes forget when planning our professional lives around engaging and supporting youth in service that, when the moment comes, children and youth are already poised for action. Thank you to all of the amazing youth out there, around the world, who continue to answer the call to serve.

Dr. King would be most pleased.