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5 Teens Who Are Helping Others Online

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Mimi Ausland, 15
Mimi illustration
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Illustration by Ian Keltie

Bend, Oregon

One day in early 2008 Mimi, then 11, was playing on Freerice.com, where kids can fight world hunger by taking multiple-choice quizzes. Each time a correct answer is chosen, the site's sponsors donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. "I thought it would be cool if there was something like this that could help animals too," she recalls. As a volunteer at the Humane Society of Central Oregon, Mimi had seen up close how the shelter was struggling with fewer donations and more animals. "I figured I could help by starting a fun website for kids that would get stores to donate pet food," she says.

Accompanied by her parents, Mimi went door to door asking businesses to contribute. She raised enough money to cover the cost of setting up a website, which a local design firm did at a 20% discount, and found a local store, Pet Express, to donate dog food. Mimi wanted to focus on canines first, since they were more difficult for the shelter to care for and place. So she pored through books to come up with kid-friendly trivia questions. "The first one—'What's the fastest dog?'—was pretty simple," she says. "Now that I also use magazines, newspapers and the Internet, the questions have gotten more interesting, plus I like to mix it up with funny questions, educational ones and some inspirational stories as well."

Freekibble.com was launched in April 2008. For every answer, right or wrong, the site donates 10 pieces of dry food to the Humane Society. There wasn't much traffic at first, but word soon spread via e-mail, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. In May Mimi delivered her first load—240 pounds' worth. Mimi launched Freekibblekat.com a couple months later. After the sites were covered on the national news, Ellen DeGeneres invited Mimi to appear on her TV show and offered to make Halo, the pet food company she co-owns, the sole sponsor.

Freekibble now has some 100,000 followers worldwide and has donated nearly 7 million meals to more than 150 shelters and pet food banks across America. Mimi's even managed to ship food overseas, like the special one-time donation for rescued puppies in Afghanistan. The ninth-grader still helps research and write trivia questions every week. "They're getting harder to think of," she says. Fortunately, users send suggestions, and Mimi recently expanded their role on the site by adding a section where kids share stories and pictures of their own pet rescues; each month, the site picks a winner, who receives $250 from the Freekibble Foundation to give to their shelter of choice. "The most important thing I've learned is that if you put your mind to something, you can really make anything happen," says Mimi. "I want every kid to know that."