March 7, 2001 4:30 PM PST

School shootings prompt teen's online advocacy

In the wake of recent school shootings, a former Columbine High School student is harnessing the Net by launching teen programs aimed at social responsibility.

During the massacre two years ago, Richard Castaldo was shot with nine bullets, which left him partially paralyzed. Now a college student with musical ambitions, he is working with PeaceJam Foundation and TheCommunity.com to set up a Web page focused on teen programs, which he hopes will inspire a new generation of peacemakers.

Wednesday's launch comes as students return to Santana High School in Southern California after a shooting Monday that left two dead and 13 wounded. Fifteen-year-old Charles Andrew Williams, who is accused of the shootings, could be tried as an adult for charges that include murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

"If you're a high school student, I think the correct response to these horrors is not to just get scared and go inside and lock your door," Castaldo said in a statement. "If you do this, they've won--they've taken something away from your life...the best answer is to get even more involved in constructive activity: building good things around you, helping other people, and in general, making the world a better place."

The new teen section at TheCommunity.com site will focus on letting teens interact and share projects, such as helping build homes in Mexico or raising money for school supplies for East Timor through PeaceJam. The international education program unites Nobel Peace Laureates with youths to discuss conflict resolution and nonviolence and to participate in community service.

TheCommunity.com, a Napa, Calif.-based company focused on humanitarian action and social responsibility, said the teen section will also provide a forum for teens to share concerns and discuss solutions.

"A lot of groups have made this kind of thing happen on a local level," said TheCommunity.com Chief Executive Mary Wald. "The Internet has the potential for kicking it up a notch--or two or three--and really adding a lot of power in numbers."

A survey released Wednesday said that nearly 17 percent of students in grades seven through 12 have carried a weapon to school in 1999. The study, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 47 percent of students surveyed said it was easy to gain access to handguns or other firearms.

The study also found that in 1999, 24 percent of students surveyed had been victims of a violent act that occurred in or around school, up slightly from 1993.

Castaldo hopes to change those numbers by getting teens involved with humanitarian activities.

"If we get enough momentum, who knows, maybe even the people who are screwed up and feel out of it at school might even lend a hand," Castaldo said in a statement. "It's hard to hate when you're helping someone."

 

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