To the typical teenager, hunger signals a trip to McDonalds. But to 17-year-old Justin Thran of Wellington, Nev., (pop. 346) hunger means an opportunity to help those less fortunate than himself. In fact, Justin cares so much about the feeding of hungry people that in the past seven years hes donated more than $70,000 to northern Nevada charities.
Justin credits his close relationship with his father, Bob Thran, as one of the major influences on his humanitarianism. Remembering how his schoolteacher grandmother took extra sandwiches to school for needy kids every day, Bob says he was raised with a strong tradition of helping other people. He has obviously passed that legacy on.
Justin showed signs of being a chip off the old block at the ripe old age of 5, when he gathered up all his favorite toys and gave them to a family of small children whose father had just died. I knew the toys couldnt replace their father, he explains, but I hoped they would help.
His formal career in philanthropy was launched at age 10, when he made a wish that nobody would have to go hungry. He then used the $100 he received from his dad for Christmas to make his first donation to the Northern Nevada Food Bank. I just wanted other kids to have what I havea roof over their heads and food on their tables, he says. I knew I couldnt give them a house, but I could give them food.
Far from wealthy, Justin and his father have managed to make ends meet with minimal income over the years. A single parent who homeschools his son, Bob makes his living teaching basic construction skills to underprivileged youth whove had problems with the law. For seven years, the Thrans lived in a 30-foot camp trailer while saving money to buy land for a house. Since then, they have built their home, doing all the work themselves, except for laying the carpet.
But back to that $70,000. How does a young teenager come up with that kind of money? With no trust fund to draw on and no hefty weekly allowance, Justin practices philanthropy in his own special way, feeding hungry kids one birdhouse at a time.
Drawing on his fathers carpentry skills, Justin learned how to build wooden birdhouses about seven years ago. He then set up his own business called Justins Woodcrafts and, together with his father, travels around to area craft shows to sell the homemade goods. Over the last several years, hes sold more than 4,000 houses and donated all his profits to local charities.
Clean-cut and wholesome, Justin exudes a delightful charisma with his bright blue eyes and sunny smile. Even though he insists hes no different than any other kid (My room is a mess and I have to be told at least twice a week to take the garbage out.), many people believe that his unselfish dedication to others makes him unique.
Hes not a typical donor, explains Julie Jeffers, director of development for the Ronald McDonald House in Reno. People dont usually create their own business in order to give all their profits away.
Cherie Jamason, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, agrees. Most people give from their surplus, but he gives away everything, she says.
When asked why he works so hard just to give it all away, Justins answer is refreshingly simple: It feels good to help others, and its something I do because I can.
Justin acknowledges that when he leaves home soon, hell have less time to spend on charities because hell have to work to pay for his living expenses. He hopes to stay in his hometown of Wellington, a tiny rural community southeast of Reno that served as a stagecoach stop back in territorial days. As this remarkable young man looks to his future and approaching adulthood, hes already found new opportunities to help others. Recently, he began training to be an emergency medical technician for several volunteer fire departments.
Although Justin has been encouraged to expand his business and to even sell birdhouses on the Internet, hes decided that hes best suited to keeping his philanthropic efforts closer to home. He hopes, however, that people who read about his work will be inspired to help others in their own communities.