When 10-year-old Andrea Copeland kept hearing her mother talk about the deficit and bad economy, she decided to do something about it.
She found a shoe box and walked door-to-door with a friend asking neighbors for donations to help pay off the nation's deficit. Within two or three days, they collected $77 and promptly put it in the bank to collect interest.
Then Andrea, her 15-year-old brother, Tim, and his friend, 16-year-old Chris Crouse, decided to create P.O.O.H. or Protect Our Own Heritage Inc. -- a non-profit organization made up of 6- to 17-year-olds who want to help the government pay off the deficit and balance the budget.
On May 8, Tim outlined P.O.O.H's ambitious agenda before a Columbia meeting of the Maryland chapter of United We Stand America, the national organization that grew from Texas billionaire Ross Perot's independent presidential campaign.
"We want to take this organization nationwide," says Tim, a sophomore at Howard High School. "We followed the [presidential] election pretty closely, listened to all the issues, see how hard our parents work and hear about their money problems.
"We know a lot of kids really care, so all we have to do is educate them about the government and organize them to help," Tim says.
The organization's goals are to pay off the deficit and balance the budget, teach young people that they must get involved now to save their future, make everybody buy American products to create more jobs and push for educational reform. So far, there are 80 to 90 members scattered throughout the Baltimore-Washington area and in South Carolina -- where the Copelands used to live.
"If we don't all start solving the deficit now, it'll keep rising until we get older," says Andrea, a fifth-grader at Deep Run Elementary School near Jessup. "If we don't, when we get older there won't be any jobs and we won't be able to support our families or even buy a car."
The group is divided into two groups called the National Deficit Council, with an age range of 13 to 17, and the Junior Deficit Council for those 12 and under. Each council is geared toward helping young people understand how the government works.
"We are thinking about school, our education and our futures," says Chris, a junior at Howard High. "The deficit is a problem for all of us. When I tell other kids about what we've done and they find out we're serious, they want to help too."
P.O.O.H. members attended congressional reform hearings in Washington on March 2 and met with Mr. Perot.
They also handed out pamphlets at the Truckers Inn on Route 175 asking truckers to spread the organization's message throughout the nation, and blow their horns for 30 seconds daily at noon until Congress addresses the deficit problem.
"I've always been really open with the kids," says Nancy Copeland, Andrea's mother, also a Perot supporter. "If you don't watch C-Span in our house, you're just lost. These kids are good and they really know what's going on. It never occurred to them that they couldn't do all this."
By using analogies, various visual images and games, members of P.O.O.H. plan to educate other students through school programs and attract more members to their organization. The sooner kids learn about the government and important issues, the better it will be for their futures, Tim says.
"We're trying to organize all the little groups that are interested and redirect them to run more efficiently," Tim says. "That way, we'll be united and working toward the same goals and we'll get more done.
"The initial reaction is that no one will listen to a bunch of kids," he adds. "But we're serious and even though we are kids, we're going to influence the government to make the right decisions for our future."
But how can children help if they don't understand? Isn't the deficit too heavy a topic for them?
"No way, once kids understand the government, there's a lot they can do to influence their parents' way of thinking," Andrea says.
Besides, it's as easy as pie to understand the deficit, she said. Well, maybe not pie. But cookies.
"Every country has a cookie factory that makes cookies," says Andrea. "One day, when we [the U.S.] ran out of cookies, we started borrowing from other cookie factories from other countries.
"We kept borrowing and borrowing until it was time to pay back," Andrea said. "But then we found out we couldn't pay back the cookies because we didn't have any more."
Her school friend Malinda Mathers agrees, saying, "It's going to take a long time to pay back those cookies."
For more information or questions, call P.O.O.H. headquarters at (301) 596-6605.