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People in your Neighborhood: Teens Ben Davis and Aiden Kleinman reflect on volunteering and inspiring others

La Jolla High students Ben Davis (left) and Aiden Kleinman are volunteers and ambassadors with the local organization Motiv.
La Jolla High School students Ben Davis (left) and Aiden Kleinman are volunteers and ambassadors with the local organization Motiv.
(Courtesy photos)

La Jolla High School students Ben Davis and Aiden Kleinman have been giving back to their community through volunteer work via Motiv, a local organization that seeks to connect teenagers with volunteer opportunities in their area.

“Teenagers have free time, we want to volunteer and we’re socially conscious of issues,” said Ben, a 17-year-old who just completed his junior year. “It’s hard to connect to opportunities ... there are limitations.”

Ben said Motiv “focuses on teens, connecting you to projects” searchable by service category or date and time. Its website also tracks and records service hours, which can be used toward community service requirements or college applications.

Ben and Aiden, a 15-year-old incoming sophomore, not only are volunteers but Motiv ambassadors, recruiting several classmates to a variety of volunteer programs throughout San Diego.

In recognition of their efforts, Motiv awarded Ben and Aiden $250 each to donate to the local organization of their choice through the ambassadorship program.

The two answered questions from the Light about their community involvement, their passions and the importance of giving back:

Q. How did you get involved through Motiv?

Ben: “I did their Summer of Service internship in 2018; I learned how nonprofits work, which was important. I’ve always volunteered my time, but at the end of the day, money’s also important, not just labor.”

Aiden: “I participated in Good Deeds Day, a national volunteering day in summer 2019. It was a beach cleanup, and I met Motiv reps who told me about other opportunities for teens to volunteer.

Q. What projects have you been volunteering for?

Ben: “I’ve done a river parks cleanup through the San Diego parks department, I did Kitchens for Good [which aims to break the cycle of hunger and poverty through workforce training]. It was a wide variety. I focused later … on the environment. I feel like the work I do actually helps.”

Aiden: “I worked with Serving Seniors feeding seniors downtown, a few beach cleanups and a program called ReSurf, which is where kids from the inner city come [to the beach] and we teach them how to surf.”

Q. Is it more important for people to volunteer time and hands-on effort vs. donations of money or materials?

Ben: “It’s a combination. I feel that where we live in La Jolla, people are generally more fortunate. But if they’re working very hard at a job, money can be a better option for them. If you have spare time, it’s awesome, it’s very rewarding in itself to volunteer. You can take more joy from [being hands-on] in some aspects, find more value for yourself.”

Aiden: “Both [time and money] can accomplish things the other can’t. You need both. You need money to keep something going. Money helps with transportation, in getting materials. But ... a lot of teens don’t have money to just give it away.”

Q. You were each awarded $250 to donate through the ambassadorship program. Which organizations did you choose, and why?

Ben: “I chose I Love a Clean San Diego. I love to surf, hike and camp; these activities all rely on a healthy climate and environment to participate in. I Love a Clean San Diego positively affects change for the climate.”

Aiden: I donated to Serving Seniors. It gives seniors hot meals, a place to stay, a place to socialize for a little while. [It] opened my eyes to how quickly and easily homelessness can strike and that no one should go hungry in a country with so many resources available.”

Q. You’ve both recruited friends and peers to volunteer opportunities. What are the challenges to getting teens to get involved?

Ben: “The logistics involved. I can drive and I have a car at my disposal, but it’s still hard to get the guys together. Coordinating three schedules is super-tough.”

Aiden: “I feel like sometimes you’ve got people who want to volunteer, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a soccer game.’ A lot of the time you have to make sure they’ve [committed]. For you, it’s really important; for them, it’s kind of a thing to do.”

Q. How do you convey to your friends and peers the importance of volunteerism?

Aiden: “It totally depends on your friend. Some people just ... feel volunteering is something they should do; we have this privilege, we should be able to make something of it and be able to help the less fortunate. But others, you have to say, ‘You need these hours and it’s a good thing to do.’ It depends on the person and how to ... reach them.”

Ben: “It depends on the friends. If it’s close boys, I’m like, ‘Get in, we’re going,’ because they’re my friend and I expect them to do that. If it’s someone I don’t know as well, it’s like a moral ... type of thing: ‘You should do it because it’s good, not because you need to but because you’re helping others.’

“The coolest thing about the ambassadorship program itself is it brings other teens in. By being a leader in that sense, getting kids from Point A to Point B and getting them involved, they can in turn do the same thing, or they’ll stay involved in the organization. You’re bridging the gap between people who are on the edge or might not get there. That’s the main goal, beyond volunteering: having that sense of passion about it, the importance for other kids, not just yourself.”

Aiden: “Exactly. I feel like my friends who did one event wanted to do another and another … you’re creating this trend.”

Q. Will you continue next school year as an ambassador with Motiv?

Aiden: “I’ll be an ambassador next year if that’s available. If not, I’ll continue doing service projects.”

Ben: “I won’t stop volunteering, but I might not commit to [being an ambassador] because of college applications and things like that.”

Aiden: “On top of volunteering, ambassadorship means more meetings, so for Ben, it’s more important to just go volunteer instead of dealing with logistics.”

Q. Where did you cultivate this passion for activism?

Aiden: “For me, [it’s] seeing on the news everything that’s going on around me and living in La Jolla and the stark contrast between the two. It’s just kind of absurd to me. Why can’t I help people? There are people who are getting tear-gassed and shot at for protesting, whereas at Windansea a few days ago, they were getting escorted [to a protest] by the police.”

Ben: “It’s the values I want to live by. It’s important to me. If I want to do good in the world, how can I achieve that? I’m 17; I don’t have a source of income. I have time I can donate to a good cause, so if I can do good, that’s what I care about. My parents instilled those values in me.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities for teens, visit motivsandiego.org. ◆