Jake and Max Klein were 4 years old when they first realized there was a world in need outside the front door of their home in Edgewater, New Jersey.
The twin brothers took all of the money out of their piggy banks and asked their parents, Mark Klein and Sandy Rubinstein, if they could buy Christmas gifts for kids who weren’t expecting any.
Then, at age 6, the boys announced that they wanted money usually spent on their birthday presents to go to charitable donations. They bought laptops for their local fire department and bulletproof vests for police officers, and they sold cookies to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
When they learned at age 8 that they were too young to volunteer at their town’s soup kitchen, “that’s when we decided we’d have to come up with a way to take things into our own hands,” Jake, now 15, tells PEOPLE. “We thought, ‘What can we do to show that kids are capable of making a difference and doing more than we’re given credit for?’ ”
Last year, he and Max, now going into the 10th grade at Leonia High School, launched Kids That Do Good, a nonprofit website that lists hundreds of ways for young people to get involved in charitable work, coast-to-coast.
With volunteer organizations updated regularly for almost 60 metropolitan areas and more to come, “there’s no reason why most kids can’t forget about TV and video games for a few hours and help make another person’s life better,” Max tells PEOPLE. “No matter how young or how old we are, it’s important for us to look out for one another.”
It’s a lesson that has caught on with many, including 9-year-old Sophia Somerstein, who lives near the Kleins in New Jersey.
“Max and Jake inspired me to help collect food last Thanksgiving and I really loved the feeling of making somebody’s holiday better,” she says. “Now this summer, I want to help people around me, and I hope I can teach other kids my age, too. It’s cool that kids just like me can do something to help others.”
Growing up in Edgewater with no other siblings, the Klein brothers learned early on “to be each other’s best friend and do what we could to put a smile on somebody else’s face,” says Jake. “Our parents taught us that when somebody is sick, you make them soup. They taught us about compassion and we decided to follow.”
The boys’ father, Mark, who works in real estate, says: “You always hope your children learn from you and grow into the people you know they can be. Jake and Max stand up to bullies and fight for the little guy. They make sure everyone is included and are always concerned about taking care of those around them. Kids That Do Good is just another example of how they want to share their goodness with others.”
Adds their mom, Sandy, a marketing executive: “I’m so proud of the men our children are becoming. Today, so many young people forget that compassion and kindness are more important than electronics and social media. Each person can make a difference and that’s what Max and Jake aim to show others.”
The brothers, who devote about 20 hours a week to researching new volunteer opportunities and improving their website, also continue to pitch in at least once a month at charities in their area.
“We’re always thrilled to work with Max and Jake and Kids That Do Good,” says Dana Porrazzo, co-leader of a Girl Scout Troop in Edgewater. “They’ve shown our Girl Scouts firsthand how every every kid has the power to make change happen.”
The Kleins recently kicked off a challenge for kids registered on their website (about 3,000 so far) to track their volunteer hours, with the goal of topping 100,000 by the end of 2017.
“Someday, we’d love to reach a million hours,” notes Max, who hopes to continue running Kids That Do Good with Jake when they both go off to college.
“We’ve learned since we were young that it doesn’t take much to make somebody’s life better,” he says. “Whether you walk somebody’s dog or help an elderly person cross the street, as long as you’re doing something, that’s all that matters.”