Imagine a non-profit organization that has gained enough speed in only a few years that it has been able to touch — literally — hundreds of thousands of lives. Now imagine that same organization, far reaching across the country as it is, being a virtually “leaderless organization.”

How is that possible?

It’s all the more intriguing when the national organization’s president is the one making such an observation.

Sherri Lewis Wood, president and national coordinator of One Warm Coat, is making such a designation. As Sherri puts it in her blog, “EACH coat drive has a leader — someone who said ‘I can do that!’”

This kind of bottom-up structure is exactly what keeps One Warm Coat, through all its growth and hot media attention, a fundamentally local operation. Empowerment on such an individual level allows of a great degree of involvement, and makes leadership in community service more accessible to young people. So accessible, in fact, that in the last seven years, youth community service leaders have gathered a predicted 250,000 coats in their own local drives!

On the national level, growth has come organically for the San Francisco-based organization. A strong partnership between Burlington Coat Factory and Good Morning America for the nationally-run “Warm Coats & Warm Hearts” drive has certainly helped, keeping One Warm Coat in the public eye every winter while consistently breaking previous years’ records.

This year’s drive, which ran the course of the winter months, produced 219,762 new or gently worn coats—a 24% increase from last year—delivered directly to an individual in need.

Numbers generated by One Warm Coat researchers lead us to believe we truly are embarking on a new era of youth empowerment. Thousands of young people have taken it upon themselves in the last seven years to host coat drives—462 reported youth operated coat drives in 2009, adding to the running total of 2500 youth-led drives over the past seven years. Through the inspired “leaderless organization” scheme One Warm Coat employs, any child has the power to break down a visible problem in his or her local community and tackle it with tangible solutions and action.

An increase in the number of charitable donations to the folks at One Warm Coat reflects a national trend, where the Corporation for National and Community Service has spotted an increase in volunteer service.  According to a 2009 study, the number of volunteers in 2008 increased across the board by approximately one million. The role youth play in that number also boasts an increase: Numbers jumped from 7.8 million youth (ages 16-24) volunteers in 2007 to 8.2 million in 2008.

Here’s hoping this is a solid indicator of not only a growth in youth involvement, but in youth volunteer leadership. The KooDooZ Outstanding Youth Interview project though our sister blog, Cause4KDZ, has led us to some amazing teens with inspirational stories of generosity, determination and know-how.

KooDooZ recently interviewed Sherri Lewis Wood and Addison Graham, a member of the KooDooZ Youth Advisory Board.

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