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Whitestone teen urges kids to volunteer

Teenagers in Whitestone have a new opportunity to fix problems with their neighborhood and perhaps earn school credit for doing so, thanks to a new community program.

Devon O’Connor, the 19-year-old ingenue behind the Welcome to Whitestone business organization aimed at raising money to do good works around the northeast Queens neighborhood, started Volunteenz as a way to get local youths involved and engaged in their community.

“A lot of teenagers complain that this and that is messed up, there’s a lot of graffiti and everything, so if you see that, you should get involved and fix it yourself,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing kids sitting around and complaining. Instead of sitting around playing video games and texting and stuff, go out and do something good.”

The new group already has a number of interested youths and some senior citizens have even joined as Volunteenz is not limited to the youthful.

So far the group has dedicated its efforts to canvassing local businesses to get them to join Welcome to Whitestone and to raise funds for planned service projects. First on O’Connor’s agenda is to save up $4,000 in contributions to fix the dilapidated Welcome to Whitestone sign that greets visitors as they enter the neighborhood.

As the two groups build in strength and influence, O’Connor said they will focus more heavily on carrying out community work.

Through collaboration with City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), junior high and high school students have an added incentive to join Volunteenz beyond the implicit satisfaction of serving other human beings.

O’Connor approached Halloran to see if they could find a way to offer school credit to students, and Halloran said he is in the process of finding a way to do so.

“It’s something we’re talking about and something we’d love to do and its only a matter of figuring out how it would work,” Halloran said. “Anything that’s going to get people more active and involved is a good thing, and that’s what he’s been doing. He’s been trying to get young people more active and involved and engaged, and those are the things that if you get people to do early on, they’re more likely going to remain committed to later in their lives. I think it’s a really great thing and he’s doing a fantastic job.”

O’Connor, a self-starter who said he began his business career at 5 years old by manning a lemonade stand, joined with his 17-year-old brother in February to restart Dabby’s Party World, a business their father shuttered four years ago, and since 2007 Devon has run the successful 4Laughs Comedy Entertainment Co., which books and plans comedy shows in Queens. Earlier this year he started Welcome to Whitestone.

“I’m just trying to get teenagers more involved in doing things around the community,” O’Connor said. “It’s a community group so it would be showing that you’re doing community service and extra credit for your community.”

For more information about Volunteenz or Welcome to Whitestone, e-mail wtw11357@aol.com or call 718-673-5861.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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