Paige Singh flew into action the moment she discovered The Young Men's Service League, a non-profit organization that initiates and encourages young men and their mothers to pursue philanthropic involvement in their community.
Less than six months have passed since Singh, whose son Sam attends Sequoia High School, envisioned the possibility of a YMSL Redwood Chapter, which includes San Carlos, Redwood City, Woodside, Menlo Park and Atherton.
The group, which spread through word of mouth, has already held three monthly meetings and has a membership of 114 sons and mothers, all of whom have volunteered to help one of 13 philanthropic organizations.
Singh, who also has three daughters, was involved in a mother-daughter national organization and had been on the lookout for something similar for moms and sons. She attended her first information meeting on June 1.
The national organization remains active in Texas, where it had its beginnings. There's only one other YMSL chapter in the state of California, and it's the Peninsula chapter, which covers Belmont, San Mateo, Hillsborough and Burlingame.
Singh, a San Carlos resident, hosted an informal meeting at La Corneta, a Mexican restaurant on San Carlos Ave. along with Caroline Baxter, Janet Hart and Karin Lubeck.
"I asked them if we could do this," Singh said. "We hit the ground running."
Those four mothers formed the first board of directors and began spreading the word. It wasn't very long before Dawn Voss, Ellen Eder, Nancy Kessler and other mothers jumped on board, turning it into an instant success.
The YMSL promotes education and leadership in addition to philanthropy. It also requires a four-year commitment. The Redwood chapter currently serves freshmen and sophomores only as it builds a foundation.
Each meeting has its own theme, with guest speakers. Mothers and sons attend separate meetings and work together. Everyone has some kind of leadership role, whether it is San Carlos resident Grant Wilson, the overall boys' president, or Menlo-Atherton sophomore Ryan Kessler, who is president of his group.
Kessler, who is responsible for organizing meetings and planning the agenda, learned about the organization from his mother.
"I thought it would be a cool thing to do," Ryan Kessler said. "It sounded interesting. We talk about goals, hear from a special visitor and then we get to eat."
Kessler's mother Nancy found out about the organization the day her younger son, Brett, won the Menlo Park City Little League Championship with Goetz Brothers.
"It was exactly what I was looking for," Nancy Kessler said. "Dawn told me she was going to a meeting and I asked about it."
Meetings are held wherever the group can find room: the San Carlos Library, a temple in Redwood City, Round Table Pizza in Menlo Park.
Speakers have included war veterans and judo masters, while themes can include elementary C.P.R.
Moms and sons have visited homeless shelters, senior citizen homes, repaired bicycles and develop a garden.
"I remember seeing people in wheelchairs who didn't look too happy," Ryan Kessler said. "I think we pepped them up a little bit."
"It was amazing what they said afterward," Nancy Kessler said of the boys. "It did affect them."
There's also the camaraderie. A group of St. Francis students attended a Sequoia football game during the fall, joining a group of Sequoia students. They rooted together.
The current core of the YMSL represent high schools like Menlo-Atherton, Menlo School, Sacred Heart Prep, Sequoia, Everest, King's Academy, Summit, St. Francis and Bellarmine.
The Singh's worked together for five hours of hard labor repairing bicycles one day.
"It was just he and I," said Singh. "It was the best bonding we've had in years."
Voss, whose son Andrew is in the program, joined initially because she thought it would look good on a college application.
"But after that bike experience I changed my position," she said.
The 13 philanthropies currently working with the Redwood Chapter are:
American Cancer Society
Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation
Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula
Lytton Gardens Senior Center
Operation: Care and Comfort
Ravenswood Education Foundation
Save the Bay
Shelter Network/Inn Vision
Veggielution Community Farm
More information on the Young Men's Service League Redwood Chapter can be found on their website.
Information on the Peninsula Chapter can be found by clicking here.
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