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April 28, 2012

A Word of Advice: Teens can make a difference

I am going to stray from my normal format and do something different. It's come to my attention that some teenagers don't really seem to grasp why so many of us love our country. In no way is our country perfect. However, as we all know, many people immigrate to America for the freedoms it offers.

With some of the bad (the war, gas prices, unemployment) getting the media focus, it may be hard to remember why the United States is a great country. If you look at it from some other countries' points of view, America has great appeal. Freedom in America deals with a plethora of things, including the freedom of religion, press, speech and much more.

As it stands, the United States continues to make immigration easier than many other countries. Legal immigration has brought us some of the world's brightest individuals and has helped people come to realize what freedom really is. Let's not forget that America still remains the humanitarian helper of the world, and many count on our support.

The really great thing about the U.S. is that if you're not happy with the way things are, you have the option to make it a better place. That said, you can start in your own town, and volunteering is a good place to begin.

One of the best ways to get the ball rolling with change is getting yourself involved in the political scene. First, are you most like Democrats? Republicans? Middle-of-the-Roaders? Of course you don't have to associate yourself with a specific side if you don't want to. Ask around about local political organizations that support your ideals. You might be surprised how quickly you fall into the "making-a-difference" category.

Services such as the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Oneonta need volunteers to work with youth, and provide case management, home visits and assisting office work. Another program to volunteer at is the Violence Intervention Program. This program looks for people to staff the crisis hot line and safe shelter.

The Salvation Army is always in need of help. Whether you donate clothes or volunteer and assist with the food pantry, you are giving back to the community.

If you assist with the food pantry, it would consist of keeping the pantry stocked and packing food baskets for families.

Also you could help with the youth activities with after-school recreation, craft programs and serving snacks.

Saturday's Bread is an organization in Oneonta that is always looking for volunteers to help set up, prepare food and clean up. Sign up on a schedule through the the Center for Social Responsibility and Community office if you would like to volunteer.

Volunteering can help make your community a better place and inspire others to take part as well. It also reflects on what type of person you are on your resume or college application. If you are willing to take the time and effort to give back, then colleges will know that you are determined and responsible.

If you don't look at the United States in a positive way, ask yourself "Why?" Where do you feel America falls short? Then, instead of sitting back and complaining about it, get up and make an effort to change it.

I know how teenagers think _ we all tend to make the excuse that one person will make no difference.

However, you have to think small before you go bigger. Start in your community and work your way upward.

In many countries, you do not have the freedom to make changes or stand up for what you believe in. You have the right here so, take advantage of it!

One person can make a difference _ and it starts with YOU.

Melissa Flathmann, a 2011 graduate of Oneonta High School, is a freshman at the State University College at Plattsburgh. Would you like A Word of Advice from her? Send her an email at or send her a letter to "Teen Talk: A Word of Advice," C/O The Daily Star, P.O. Box 250, Oneonta, NY 13820. 'Teen Talk' columns can be found at

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