What comes to mind when you hear the word "teenager"?

Is it late-night parties? Crazy fads? Rebellious streaks? Self-expression to the max? The truth is that every teen is different, and when I think back to my own teenage years, I can't really relate to much of the above, but I had my quirks. Though teens tend to get a lot of flack for it, I think we can all agree that the teenage years are essential and not to be underestimated. Why is that? Is it because teens possess unadulterated idealism that motivates them? Is it because they are more attracted to out-of-the-box thinking than adults? Is it because when their energy is properly harnessed, they can accomplish far more than seasoned professionals?

Only several weeks ago, we concluded the 4th Annual Convention of Friendship Circle Volunteers. Friendship Circles from all over the USA and Canada selected teens to represent their branch, and gain from the networking and workshops at the convention. Yes, they were teenagers, but it wasn't the bling or hi-tech atmosphere that attracted them. It wasn't even the weather (some might say that Detroit isn't one of their top 10 sites to visit mid-winter). This group of teens gathered together for one purpose: to celebrate children with special needs and learn to share the message with others.

With trips, training and time to compare notes and experiences, these teens were prepared for the highlight of the weekend. They elected a new Leadership Board to represent and guide the International Volunteer Network. The new board includes Adina Israel of Connecticut, Sarah Horvitz of Pennsylvania, Halyse Kole from Illinois and Sage Knapp of Arizona. With hundreds of miles between them, this group of teens needed little coaching to get to work. After our very first web conference, they had plans and lists of committees, email drafts, and lots of energy, ready to work the phones and social networking outlets to promote their new initiatives.

As adults, we understand the importance of being involved in something larger than ourselves. We know that to achieve happiness, we need to work in the service of others. We now have teens realizing this same ideal. They are working to spread this virtue amongst their peers and promote the popularity of dedicating oneself to public service.

So when you hear of a child with special needs on the invite list of a popular teen's party, or when a teen you know opts out of weekend plans to spend time with their special friend, and when you see that cool kid break away from a group to chat with the kid in a wheelchair, or answer back when degrading words are used to describe a kid who's different... don't be surprised! You'll know a Friendship Circle teen has been there... and in 77 other locations around the world!