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We Day in Seattle fires up 15,000 students. What is it?

With a rock-concert atmosphere, We Day comes to the U.S. for the first time as thousands of Western Washington middle and high school students are motivated to contribute to the world around them. (AP photo from a Toronto We Day event)

Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll is used to facing huge crowds at Century Link, but today he’ll be coaching at Key Arena.

“This is a very extraordinary program that we are so proud to bring to the United States,” he says.

Coach Carroll, Quarterback Russell Wilson, Magic Johnson, Jennifer Hudson, the Kid President, and about 15,000 middle and high school students will be at the Key for a motivational event meant to show teens they can make a difference in the world.

“We Day” is inspired by Craig Kielburger.

“Kids are looking to get involved. They’re searching for it and in an era when adults are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives, kids also want to assert who they are not just by the video games they play or the peer groups they belong to, but by the contribution they make,” Kielburger says. “That’s part of a youth’s self-identity in the world and not only is that good for the child, but my God the world needs it.”

Kielburger, who grew up in Canada, was a child when he noticed the needs of others outside his little world.

When he was 12 years old he read about the murder of a boy his age in Pakistan.

The boy was a slave in a carpet factory who had escaped to lead a campaign to help other Pakistani children. Kielburger thought, if he can do that, so can I.

In an interview with Ed Bradley on “60 Minutes” the newsman asked a young Kielburger, “What made you think you could do something about it?”

“Originally I didn’t think I could really, but the only way you’re ever going to find out is try,” he said, well-spoken even as 12 year old. “After doing some research I went to my classmates and said, ‘Listen, I read this article. There’s a problem. This is what I know, which at that point was not very much, who wants to help?'”

It turned out 11 friends wanted to help.

With no money to start with, no wealthy parents or early backers, they met in his living room and started a charity called Free The Children.

In the 1990s his charity went overseas to bust child sweat shops. And he realized freeing children was more difficult than he imagined.

“Probably the lowest moment ever was the first time in Southeast Asia when we met children who we had freed before who were back in slavery,” he told CBS. “To see that some of those same kids would end up in the same grinding, backbreaking, desperate poverty. There is nothing that makes your heart fall more than that.”

He learned then that the sweat shops were a symptom of the real problem – a lack of education and poverty. So Free the Children then began to build schools.

Today, Free The Children is in 45 countries. A 30 million dollar a year charity building schools, providing clean water.

There are two million volunteers nearly all of them under the age of 18.

“Children helping children,” he says, “What that means in practice is we inspire kids, then we give them all the tools they need to learn about these issues. Speaking tours, summer leadership camps, curriculum every week. The bet we’re making is if you give kids the inspiration and the tools to change the world, it’ll change their own lives in the process and the ripple effect is incredible.”

Free the Children has yearly celebrations called “We Day.” They are having the first We Day event in the United States, in Seattle today.

Bus loads of students earned a ticket through volunteering in their communities.

“Kids who have done bake sales and car washes, and volunteered at retirement homes and local support lines and they’ve started their own charities and when they leave they bring that inspiration,” Kielburger says. “We day is just the beginning.”

Kielburger, and teachers, hope the 15,000 students will leave Key Arena and continue to be activists in their communities.

He compares the teenagers to pennies – easy to overlook, but they add up. The students’ efforts can add up and make a difference in the world.

People are often cynical about “kids today,” but the teens I know want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Often, they don’t know how.

When the Kony 2012 movement came along so many young people jumped in to get involved, because they are eager to believe they can change the world.

The Kony 2012 video played on emotions as Jason Russell, with the charity Invisible Children, described why the world needed to go after Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.

Almost immediately after the Kony video broke, another video came out. This was a camera phone video of Russell running naked through traffic in broad daylight, screaming obscenities and making sexual gestures.

That project failed, leaving many first-time activists disheartened.

I hope today’s event gets students fired up to act. Their energy doesn’t need to go toward one charity – although if they feel compelled to work for Free the Children, that’s their call – it just needs to go somewhere outside themselves.


CBS News contributed to this report

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