Leaders For Life

All photography courtesy of Kids Korps

Encouraging and supporting youth volunteerism, Kids Korps USA actively mobilizes children and teens within their communities through a variety of service oriented projects; their mission is to simply create ‘leaders for life.’ In a recent interview with Co-founder Joani Wafer, she notes that “volunteering encourages youth to care about the world around them, and thus has a positive influence on the shaping of their lives. Over the years, I have found that children who volunteer learn how to cooperate and connect with others, they have a greater perspective of the world around them and are inspired to make a difference.”

Fine: What originally inspired you to begin Kids Korps in 1995?
Joani Wafer: I wanted to teach my kids to care about others and provide them with opportunities to contribute to the positive welfare of their community. Talking about doing well is nice but getting them outside of their routine, outside of their comfort zone, outside of themselves into real life and caring and helpful activities was the best way to do this. However, community service opportunities for children were not readily available in 1995 so I was inspired to start Kids Korps with my sister and Co-founder Dawn Lehman. 

Fine: Kids Korps is modeled after the Peace Corps. Before beginning Kids Korps with Lehman, were you ever actively involved with the Peace Corps?
Wafer: No, Dawn or I were not involved with the Peace Corps but felt it was the perfect model for our vision of Kids Korps USA. We hoped young volunteers, like Peace Corps volunteers, would be inspired to serve their communities in very exciting ways.

Fine: What types of programs are you involved with?
Wafer: We offer 1,300 service projects annually from serving the homeless to beach clean-ups. Collaborating with more than 350 non-profit agencies in the San Diego area, our young volunteers assist at Special Olympic events, create literacy programs at Head Start preschools, build low-income housing with Habitat for Humanity, bowl with the blind through the Blind Community Center, mentor autistic kids at La Casa Center for Autism, maintain trails at San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and hundreds more meaningful programs.

Fine: Having impacted more than one million people already, did you have any idea that Kids Korps would grow so rapidly? What would you say has been the most beneficial result for you as a person?
Wafer: The most beneficial result for me has been watching my children and so many other Kids Korps members step outside of themselves and grow into compassionate adults who have a deep sense of character and awareness of their social and natural environments. I have learned a lot about what motivates kids, what inspires them, and how simple acts of caring and compassion can change their lives and their communities. I have proudly watched our Kids Korps’ mission “to develop Leader for Life through youth volunteerism” become a reality. My kids have graduated from college now and are still ever grateful for these early life-altering volunteer opportunities. These experiences have taught them lessons in cooperation, compassion, and empathy. They learned responsibility and how to be leaders, and they are inspired to continue helping others.

Fine: Do you have any upcoming events in the fall?
Wafer: This fall, Kids Korps will host several opportunities, including:
1)   Feed-A-Family program supports low-income families throughout San Diego during the Thanksgiving holiday season, in collaboration with Feeding America and Starbucks. Youth volunteers, families & Starbucks partners will have the opportunity to collect and assemble food items which will provide hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners for those in need.

2)   Also this fall, Kids Korps is launching “Hugs for Kids,” a new innovative character enrichment program dedicated to developing self-empowered leaders, in honor of Julien Hug.

3)   The Teen Leadership Council is a committee of teens who work collaboratively to address the needs of our community through a variety of projects with other nonprofit and corporate partners. One specific fall initiative is the Civic Vision & Leadership Initiative, which gives teens an opportunity to work with our partners from SDG&E, designing programs, outreach, and exhibits for an exciting new public venue, the Energy Innovation Center.

4)   Joining forces with The America's Cup World Series, taking place in San Diego between November 12th and 20th, we’re developing a series of community events that reinforce Kids Korps’ and the Cup’s commitment to a positive environmental footprint and clean waterways including; a morning run/walk, beach clean ups, volunteer village & concert, and an event engaging Kids Korps low-income youth in sailing lessons, competition and leadership training at the San Diego Yacht Club.  

FINE: How does one become involved with Kids Korps?
Wafer: To become a member, go to our website [for details]. We make volunteering easy for families. Once you sign up, you have 1,300 service projects available throughout the year. You just sign up online for your favorite projects whenever it fits your schedule. And, we track all service hours for members as well.

FINE Magazine Kids Korp


Kids Korps USA