Youth Impact Report 2011: Power of Youth

How times have changed. Just a few generations ago, the thinking went, “Children should be seen, not heard.” Today, the power of youth increasingly holds sway, both economically and culturally, as evidenced by Variety’s annual next-gen charity event, taking place Saturday on the Paramount backlot.

Now in its fifth year, the high-impact Power of Youth bash has become a must-attend cause for young stars, mixing entertainment in the form of live performances, activity stations, free food and people watching with an inspirational message about the importance of giving back. The program has raised $2.5 million to date, supported once again by presenting sponsor the Hub, along with PlayStation 3, Nike, Hurley, Coca-Cola, Paul Frank, “Power Rangers Samurai” and Chipotle.

The Power of Youth initiative was created to “encourage the next great generation of our industry to support philanthropic and charitable causes,” says Variety publisher Brian Gott. “We don’t tell them which efforts to support. We tell them to pick something that touches their hearts and commit their energy to it. They are role models, and if they do that, the millions of people who look up to them will do the same.”

While the remainder of Variety’s Youth Impact Report acknowledges young stars responsible for making waves on the business front, the Power of Youth event is all about giving back — and teaching up-and-comers to make philanthropy a priority.

Past years have honored such cause-conscious celebs as Justin Bieber (supporting Pencils for Promise), Miranda Cosgrove (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) and Shailene Woodley, who founded the All It Takes org with her mother, Lori.

“The thing I most remember about the event last year was all the smiles,” recalls Woodley, now starring opposite George Clooney in “The Descendants.” “Everyone was so excited to be there, and all the sponsors were so giving.”

Woodley also singles out “all the little kids there, who took it all in and realized that it’s not just about having fun and going crazy, but about what we can all do to help the world and positively impact it.”

The afternoon gives the young performers a chance to mingle with representatives of the honorees’ various charities, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for seriously ill children and those in need to interact with their idols.

In the past, the teen stars have been inspired to contribute unique, impromptu performances for the audience: One year, Cosgrove and Selena Gomez competed in a virtual dance-off, and both Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens entertained with a spur-of-the-moment karaoke performance.

For Gott, the event is important because “it mobilizes our industry’s next generation to take action, to care. These are the personalities who are defining pop culture. They can make a real — and positive — difference.”

Looking ahead, Gott sees a bright future for the event: “As long as they care, and want to make a difference, Variety’s Power of Youth will be their partner and a platform for them to get involved and give back.”

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