NEWBURGH, Ind.--At 13, Jason Crowe has a nine-page resume, $30,000 in scholarship money for college, and heads a nonprofit foundation. He also has a cartoon bedspread, a menagerie of stuffed animals, and a Pokemon obsession.
Jason with Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House"I'm a normal kid who does a few things that are kind of abnormal," says the zealous teen who commandeers comic-book stores and scholarly seminars with equal intensity. "I like being a nonconformist. I like to stand out in a crowd. But I don't like to be completely psycho so everyone in the world hates me." Life has been a unique expedition for Jason. He didn't fit socially in either regular or gifted classes, so he has been home-schooled since third grade by his parents, Cindy and Dennis Crowe, both former teachers with grown children from previous marriages. Cindy Crowe says her son, whose IQ is "past the genius mark," is the most difficult and disorganized student she's ever had. "He only wants to learn what he wants to learn," she says. "He is as stubborn as the day is long." Jason calls his parents the "Great Facilitators" and says they never say no when he comes up with a new project. He keeps them on the go, whether it's collecting cans at food drives he organizes or collecting awards. He racked up about a dozen laurels last year, including a United Nations Global Youth Peace and Tolerance Award, International Youth in Action Award, Young Heroes Award, $10,000 Good as Gold Award, and an invitation to the White House Conference on Philanthropy. He received the town's Outstanding Citizen Award and had a day proclaimed in his honor. United Way of Southwestern Indiana named him Volunteer of the Year. "He is accomplishing so much. It boggles the mind what he will be able to accomplish if he keeps going," says United Way spokeswoman Shari Sherman. This week, Jason is the keynote speaker at the agency's annual banquet. He is also conducting a food drive for his Governor's Youth Commission project and doing a book-signing for "Teens With the Courage to Give," which has a chapter about him. Later this month, he's giving a talk to the Lions Club. He likes making the lecture circuit. He calls it "empowering" people. Last summer, he spoke to a Dell computer convention in Texas. The video his mother shot shows the dapper man-child at the lectern telling a sea of faces how he uses his Dell PC as a tool for goodwill and to unite kids for multicultural harmony. There were more people there than I'd seen before in my whole life," says Jason. "The more the better." He says he gave 29 interviews last year. Most kids his age don't have, need, or want even a one-page resume.
"He has never been age-appropriate in doing what he was supposed to do," says his mother. She noticed something was different about Jason when at 6 months he grouped toys by color. She says he started reading on his own at 18 months. A year later, while his peers toddled to the story-hour room at the library, he sat at a table reading books with chapters. When kids his age were riding bikes with training wheels, he was doing research papers on whales. He was more interested in talking to professors about the "metaphysical reasons" behind Hitler's atrocities than in learning how to tie his shoes. Kids made fun of him. They picked on him. They didn't understand him. He didn't understand them. "I was kind of like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. My red nose was that I was interested in things different from my peers," he recalls. His grandmother was his best friend. He was 9 when she died of cancer, leaving him "a nervous wreck." To cope, he started publishing a newsletter, The Informer, in her honor. He sold it to neighbors and donated profits to the American Cancer Society. He says it now has subscribers in 29 states and 16 foreign countries. A recent eight-page edition had political analyses, current events, craft ideas, and a recipe for refrigerated dough slice-and-bake cookies. At 10, Jason read about a Sarajevo cellist who protested his nation's genocide by playing music at the site where innocent civilians had been killed. "He was one man making a difference. He was all alone fighting a war with his harmony. The symbolism of harmony as the answer to war created a powerful image in my mind," Jason says. Jason organized a cello concert at a local university with 21 cellists and an empty chair representing the Bosnian musician. He founded a nonprofit organization, The Cello Cries On, to build a statue of the cellist in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a way for youngsters "to work together for a common cause--lasting world peace." This from a kid gung-ho for G.I. Joe toy action figures. Other matters now compete for his time, such as hanging out with friends who accept him. "Twenty-five percent don't know what I'm doing, 25 percent don't care, and the other 50 percent help," he says. He plans to start college classes at age 15 but live at home until he is 18. He wants to be a computer programmer for Microsoft or start his own company. Jason's mother says the older he gets the more he seems to act his age. She recounts the tireless studious bents of his precocious youth.
"Now this same little boy is 13, and all he wants to do is watch Japanese [animation] or play Pokemon," she says with exasperation--and a bit of relief.