What were you doing when you were 14 years old?
Most of us were entering high school, spending time with friends, arguing with our parents about curfew, and shopping for the newest trend. Jordyn Schara, a Wisconsin teen, probably did not have time to do any of these things when she was 14. Instead, she was creating her first community service project.
Jordyn founded Project READ (Reading Equipment for America’s Defenders) with her brother when she turned 14. The Schara siblings shipped over 1,800 pounds of books, candy and other reading materials to troops overseas. That same year, Jordyn educated herself on the prescription drug problem in the United States, discovering that over 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs. Her second community service project, WI P2D2 (Wisconsin Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal) worked to dispose drugs in an environmentally friendly and safe way. On top of these two projects, Jordyn started HOPE (Helping Our Peers Excel), encouraging other teens to start their own community service programs, and ultimately won over $20,000 in grants. It’s not a surprise that she was chosen by Coca-Cola to carry a torch at the London Olympics.
When I heard Jordyn’s story, I couldn’t help but compare her to other teenagers. It is rare for a 14 year old to give Christmas presents to charity instead of keeping them for herself. Was she born with this inherently selfless instinct? Or was her love for service something she taught herself over a period of time?
I called Jordyn to get the scoop on her passion for community service and her drive to always do more. Not only is she one of the most ambitious teenagers I’ve ever spoken to, but also one of the most down to earth.
It seems as though you are naturally inclined to think about others over yourself. I wish I had this mindset. What’s a good way for someone to become community service oriented?
Jordyn: (Laughing) I wouldn’t call myself inherently selfless. The first community service project I did was in 5th grade, and at first I thought it was dumb and really time consuming. But after watching how community service affected people, it clicked in my mind. I thought to myself, “this makes sense, this is what I want to do.” I come from a middle class family, and I have a good education. If I’m not using those gifts to help people, they aren’t worth anything. The best advice I could give would be to “treat others how you want to be treated.” I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. If I weren’t privileged, I would want others to help me too. If you can help people, why wouldn’t you?
Why is community service so important for teens?
Jordyn: All teenagers should be helping each other to make the world better. Although the government is very important in terms of helping the less fortunate, it lacks the personal touch of a grassroots organization. Teens need to take part in these organizations to help as many people as they can. More direct impact can be made with a smaller operation.
[Try volunteering abroad.]
Tell me about the Olympics…Was the experience completely unreal?
Jordyn: The Olympics were absolutely amazing. I can’t describe the feeling. Carrying the torch was the most incredible experience of my life. I met Summer Sanders and Michelle Kwan, who are also deeply connected to community service. They were so inspirational.
It’s been about four years since you founded your first community service organization. What are you up to now?
Jordyn: I’m a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. My hope is to study broadcast journalism, but I need to wait and apply to the journalism school at Madison. When I was 14, I was on the local news for one of my projects, and the anchor let me talk to people over the microphone. For the first time ever, I got to talk to talk to a huge audience. I’ve always been interested in people’s stories, which is why I want to be an anchor someday. Being involved in community service and non-profit organizations has really helped my public speaking skills, and I know that’s something I want to do as a career.
Do you have any new projects going on?
Jordyn: WI P2P is still at large. I received more grant money to open up more disposable drug programs in different parts of the state. It’s so exciting to help people in my local communities as well as all across the state. It has also been amazing watching the program grow, since so many people doubted me when I first started.
Anything else you want to share?
Jordyn: It is important to know that no matter who you are, you can make a difference.