This blog post was submitted as an entry in the Teen Impact contest and awarded as a finalist.
Worlds apart, but far too close to ignore their struggles, I live nestled between unforgivingly-impoverished sections of Philadelphia and Trenton. So close yet so far, sheltered in my "oasis" where affluence wafts in the lazy breeze, I nonetheless couldn't help but see and feel the ongoing pain and anxiety of neighboring inner-city parents. They worked and worried, daily, to provide basic necessities for their children. Mere survival was their hope. Providing childhood fun and a promising future? Aspirations beyond their dreams.
Fortunate as I've been, I wanted to find a way to help the families not only conquer their challenges, but create a means to instill fun, and potentially carve a path out of poverty for the children. And I knew the change must be perpetual, through a process and a program.
I looked to bring a degree of comfort, fun, fitness, and education -- true hope -- to inner-city kids.
Growing up, I'd come to understand that for too many with too much, "old" is simply "last year's model," and "out-of-style" is a "curse." "Too much" can be a hassle. But I knew that these perspectives that accompanied good fortune presented an opportunity to help others. I resolved to transform wealth's "nuisance" -- the abundance of barely-used, often new-yet-dust-collecting clothes, school supplies, toys, and sports equipment -- into a stream of "life" support for those in dire need. And I would use my generation's unique understanding of integrating old and new social networks and media to enact positive change.
How to motivate participation from those well off? Clean closets and garages. I thought taking the "burden" of too many children's clothes, sports/toys, and school supplies off of people's hands would prove to be a motivator for some. For others, sheer altruism would be the impetus. Appealing to both instincts, I could create the "engine" for the program.
A small-town teen writer for local newspapers, I have a weekly column, published Thursdays and seen by Calkins Media's near-200,000 daily, metro-Philadelphia readers. The column, coupled with enlisting local sports leagues' involvement, would "fuel" the program.
In the spring of 2010, I launched the year-round program of 1) promoting collection events, 2) collecting goods, 3) donating the goods at optimal times/places for recipients, 4) thanking donors/communicating results, and 5) volunteer-staffing the event while gearing up future events.
That spring, I collected used baseball and soccer equipment, books, and summer clothes, having marketed the launch as "Moms Helping Moms," via Mother's Day collections at local youth baseball fields. Emails to sports league members, league website features, and a focus in my column, promoted the event in advance. A follow-up "Thank You" article and photo communicated results, appreciation, and composition of goods.
In July, at the area's youth baseball state championship, I instituted the collection of used fall sports equipment, school supplies, games, and clothes -- a "Back-to-School Clothing and Books Champions' Collection." Again, it was publicized via email, my column, and a corresponding post-collection acknowledgment.
Held on New Year's Eve morning, I created an "Out with the Old, Resolve to Help Others -- Used Clothes, Books/Toys and Equipment Collection" to provide a place to donate old goods after so much new had come in over the holidays, and as a way to attain a last-minute tax deduction. Pre- and post-event articles, and web and email promotion, reinforced the good being done by everyone.
Needing a streamlined channel that could get collected items quickly and efficiently into the hands of the needy, I built a relationship with and donated all baseball equipment to "Pitch in for Baseball," the leader in distributing equipment to inner-city and disaster-stricken children. I built a relationship with and gave all used children's clothes, school supplies, toys/games and other equipment to "Cradles to Crayons," the regional leader in helping impoverished urban families.
To perpetuate this cycle, I've integrated the program's collection steps and promotion into area youth sports leagues, newspapers and pro teams; distribution via the charitable organizations; and created a "staffing" stream via high school volunteer programs. The success in helping inner-city children will continue for years to come.
I'm taking the program regional shortly, having enlisted the commitment of the professional Trenton Titans hockey club, and have approached Trenton Thunder baseball to host events at their games. I'm in the process of creating a "Teen Drive" Facebook page, and sharing the "template" so that teens across the U.S. and around the world can use it to help others as well.
My big miracle? Just the start, I've collected over 1,500 items of baseball equipment -- enough to outfit over 125 teams, or virtually all below the age of 10 for Philadelphia -- and over 1,200 articles of clothing, toys/games, and school supplies. A high school junior, my goal is more than 10,000 items by the time I graduate.
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