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Posted by on February 9, 2012.

Pebble Tossers gets kids involved as volunteers

Michael Rich, second from left, scoops rice into a funnel as Olin Broadway, center, captures it in a bag during the Stop Hunger Now service project at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic School on Feb. 2. The kids volunteered through the Pebble Tossers program.

The idea grew from planning a child’s birthday party.

Jen Guynn’s friend Jeni Stephens wanted her young son’s party to offer something different from the ones he and friends usually attended.

“Jeni and I were having a conversation about how hard it is for kids to get involved,” Guynn recalled. “She said, ‘I’ve got this idea for a birthday party with a purpose.’”

Stephens envisioned a party that would offer young children a chance to do good in the world. Her son had just attended a birthday party where children were encouraged to bring gifts from the Ronald McDonald House’s wish list, not just ones for the birthday child. That seemed like a good start, the two women thought, but Stephens and Guynn wanted to go further.

Jen Guynn, Pebble Tossers Co-founder

Jen Guynn, Pebble Tossers Co-founder

They considered starting a business that would put on birthday events offering partygoers a chance to have fun doing volunteer work for various charities. The more they talked about it, the better they liked idea of getting kids involved as volunteers. Soon, they had set aside the notion of staging birthday parties and decided just to encourage kids and their families to volunteer at any time.

After “a lot of coffee and a lot of Diet Cokes” their idea evolved into creating a website where parents could find metro Atlanta volunteer jobs for their children or for the whole family.

Volunteers Gabriela Gonzalez, left, presses down on the vacuum sealer as Grace Lennon readies the packaging for rice and dehydrated vitamins, during the Stop Hunger Now service project. The organization ships food to countries in crisis.

The two set to work. They met in coffee shops or worked from their homes in Dunwoody, where Guynn lives, and Roswell, where Stephens lives. The two women compiled a database of local agencies that needed volunteers and had jobs that would be appropriate for children.

They set up their own nonprofit and called it Pebble Tossers because they thought their effort would spread volunteer work like ripples created by tossing a pebble into a pond. “We wanted to watch the ripples expand,” Guynn said. “The ripple effect — it starts with one little kid finding the right project.”

Now, three years later, close to 7,000 people are registered with Pebble Tossers’ website and 97 organizations, such as the Dunwoody Nature Center and the Community Action Center in Sandy Springs, have found a new source of young helpers, Guynn said.

“I’m a big fan of Pebble Tossers,” said Alan Mothner, executive director of the Dunwoody Nature Center. “They do a really good job of getting youth involved in the community.”

Volunteers from Pebble Tossers recently cleared 5,000 square feet of the DNC’s property of privet, an invasive, non-native plant, he said. “They do a lot of good work for us,” he said. “Our mission and their mission are similar in getting kids involved.”

Amy Kilgore, volunteer services coordinator for the Community Action Center, which provides assistance to families in need in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, said she can turn to Pebble Tossers when she needs to find young volunteers. “They’re filling a need that nobody else is,” she said. “It’s service projects for kids.”

Next month, Guynn said, Pebble Tossers is scheduled to relaunch their website, which is being upgraded and expanded so it can offer users more options on ways to find volunteer jobs they may be interested in.

Planned changes, Guynn said, include adding a calendar listing available volunteer projects by date, highlighting seasonal projects and setting up a way to “donate your stuff” as well as time to charities. The new site also may include the first request for a membership fee for use of the site, Guynn said. The fee is expected to be $25 a family.

“We want to make it easy for kids and families,” Guynn said, “and engaging enough for kids so they’ll want to do it, and if your kids want to do something, you’re going make that happen as a parent.”

One thing they haven’t done yet is come up with a plan to hold volunteer-themed birthday parties. “We’ve yet to capture the birthday party thing,” Guynn said. “Maybe that’s phase two.”

 

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