Next week, people who support good causes in the Kansas City region will celebrate National Philanthropy Day. A few individuals and a small business will be honored by the Missouri, Mid-America Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for outstanding contributions and community service. And that includes recognition for Kansas City's top youth volunteer for 2011 -- this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.
At the Hillcrest Transitional Housing complex north of the river, it's time to get an apartment ready for another homeless family. And the Hillcrest staff loves it when Thomas Plackemeier comes in as a volunteer leader to spearhead the effort.
"I like what we do here," says Thomas. "We can see the effects of our work."
Thomas has helped out here a lot -- cleaning, stocking shelves, even playing with and mentoring some of the homeless kids. He's drawn by the direct impact he can make in the lives of people who really need a hand.
"If you actually see what you are doing and if you know how you are affecting a person's life or a family's life, then you can really value what you are doing for them, your community and your whole society," says Thomas.
Thomas has done community service for several other organizations besides Hillcrest. Volunteering is a real way of life for him. This Rockhurst High School senior started when he was in middle school - encouraged by his older brother to join him in Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City.
"It would be one thing if he was just coming in, showing up for projects and doing the bare minimum to get by but he's always a leader," says YVC program director Paul Marksbury.
Marksbury has known Thomas ever since Thomas's first days with agency -- and watched him earn YVC's top volunteer honors -- and now the Spirit of Philanthropy Youth Award for the entire metro area.
"He sets the example," says Marksbury. "When the team leaders have a task they need done, he's the first one to come up and volunteer.
But he'd never draw attention to the fact he's the hardest worker on most of the projects he's on."
Thomas has kept rough track of how much charity volunteer work he's done. Since 7th grade, he's invested nearly 1,000 hours in his community in a wide variety of projects.
"They truly have to be committed to get to that level," says Marksbury. "It is extremely rare for a youth. And it's not like he's got a lot of free time.
He's very involved in school and extra-curricular activities. But he makes volunteering a priority and that's really rare and that's why he's at that level. Raised and living in an economically struggling neighborhood in Kansas City, Thomas is particularly focused on helping people who have serious financial challenges -- the poor and the homeless.
"I just think those are the people that need the help the most and that they are the people I can help the most personally," says Thomas. That is the spirit of philanthropy -- and it is thriving in Thomas Plackemeier.
As Thomas finishes his senior year at Rockhurst High School, he has a vision for a dream volunteer project. He hopes to travel to Africa soon to help in the HIV/AIDS epidemic there and also join in drilling and maintaining wells for clean, safe water sources.
Thomas is one of nearly 1,000 young people who did 16,000 hours of community service work this past program year through Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City. If you or someone you know wants to get involved with YVC, go to http://www.yvckc.org.
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.