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5 Teens Who Are Helping Others Online

Sure, they're watching videos, playing games and hanging out online. But today's wired teens are also using social networks and the Internet to make a world of difference. Meet five kids who are logging in and giving back.
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Cameron Cohen, 14
Cameron illustration
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Illustration by Ian Keltie

Los Angeles, California

Cameron knows that distraction can be a good thing. Three years ago, right after turning 11, he was diagnosed with a bone tumor in his left leg. Although benign, the growth was painful, and extensive surgery would be required to remove it. "I remember sitting in the hospital room waiting for my operation," he says. "I knew there was no guarantee everything would turn out well, but at least I had my computer and iPod Touch so I could play games and watch movies, which helped keep my mind off how scared I was."

The procedure was successful, but Cameron had to finish the school year in a wheelchair and spend months in a cast and brace. "I couldn't do sports or hang out with friends, and I didn't want to waste all that time," he says. During the 10 days he spent at Mattel Children's Hospital-UCLA, he had searched high and low for inexpensive drawing apps, but came up empty-handed. So Cameron set out to create his own. He started out by Googling "how to make an iPhone app" and watching online tutorials. College lectures on iTunes U helped, as did virtual communities such as iphonedevsdk.com, where he got advice and tips from adult app developers, though he's pretty sure they had no idea how young he was. "I didn't disclose my age!" he says.

Cameron submitted his iSketch to Apple in November; a month later, it was on sale at iTunes. The software lets people paint with their fingers or brushes, upload to Twitter and Facebook, and save or e-mail their work. Cameron, who receives 70% of the profits, decided to donate a substantial part of his earnings to the hospital so it could purchase electronics, games and gadgets for young patients. "If they have to be there for whatever reason, I wanted to make things better for them," he says. Sales have been brisk, and last year Cameron wrote a check for $20,000 to Mattel. "I can't believe how popular it is," he says. Cameron's already created AnimalGrams, a new word game app, and plans to donate part of the proceeds to Mattel as well. In the meantime, he remains involved with the hospital by helping to set up new equipment and showing staffers, patients and parents how to use it. "Now when kids are waiting to go into the OR or recovering, they're playing on iPads," Cameron says. "Instead of worrying, they're flinging birds at pigs or whatever—and they're happy!"

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