Children's charity opens in Bay Area

January 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A non-profit organization called Free the Children is expanding into the United States and its first chapter in the U.S. is now right here in the Bay Area. The remarkable young man who founded it is charging forward with its powerful mission.

On Friday night there was plenty of celebration in Palo Alto as the city welcomed a new non-profit into the community.

"This is the first office in all of the United States," said Kim Plewis, a California youth program manager.

Free the Children, which has roots in Canada and reaches into dozens of underdeveloped countries, opened a home office in Palo Alto. According to the group's founder, it makes sense, considering so much support and financial donations come from 15 Bay Area schools.

"We wanted to set up a base, especially on the West Coast to capture a lot of that energy and enthusiasm," said Craig Kielburger, found of Free the Children.

This is a movement that is growing and in 14 years, Free the Children has 500 schools overseas and helped over one million underprivileged children. But because of the donor base, the profit is still succeeding in these very tumultuous, economic times.

"In a time when stock markets have gone down and profits have decreased and therefore percentages of giving from companies has decreased, the ones who have stepped up to the table are children," said Kielburger.

Children make up 65 percent of donors. Megha Malpami, a 12-year-old 7th grader, is one of them.

"I used the money to build a well in Kenya so that girls could get an education and they could bring back clean water for their families," said Malpami.

It took Malpami nine months to raise $5,000 and she has inspired others to follow in her footsteps.

"We don't need to wait until we've graduated high school, have a college degree, have a mortgage and a family to make a difference, but it can happen now," said Plewis.

That's exactly what Free the Children's funder did. Kielburger started the organization at the age of 12.

While most of the donations are for $10 and under, this strategy is working. The charity's 2009 goal is $20 million -- the same as in years past.