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America's teenagers are up to something.

According to a 2005 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, an estimated 15.5 million U.S. teens—55 percent—participate in volunteer activities. The teen volunteering rate is nearly twice the adult rate of 29 percent. Youth volunteer more than 1.3 billion hours of community service each year.

Much of that service takes place in churches raising money for the needy. Youth group fundraising efforts (volleyball marathons, 30-hour fasts) are a staple feature of local newspapers. But once in a while, the efforts of Christian youth are so extraordinary, they make national news.

Christianity Today interviewed two such teens to put some flesh on this trend.

On most basketball teams, if you only hit half of your free throws, you'll be on the bench. Unless you are playing for Hoops of Hope.

Even the team captain—Austin Gutwein, the charity's 14-year-old founder—only hits about 50 percent of his free throws. But all he cares about is that for every free throw he shoots—regardless of how many he makes—another AIDS orphan in Africa is helped.

That's the premise of Hoops of Hope, which Austin founded at age nine after watching a World Vision video about AIDS in Africa. The story focused on a little Zambian girl who had lost her parents to AIDS.

"She was alone, living in a mud hut, huddling under a tarp in the rain," says Austin, who lives with his family—parents Dan and Denise and sister Brittany, 13—in Mesa, Arizona. "It was incredibly sad. I started thinking what life would be like if I lost my parents, and I couldn't imagine that.

"I felt like God was telling me to do something."

2,057 free throws

So Austin started what he calls a "shoot-a-thon." ...

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December 2008

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