President Obama and Young Americans

Treasuring the Extras

For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. Submit your story to appear in the For the Win guest blog series.

Charlotte Bilski is a senior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y. She is the co-president of her school’s community service club, SHARE and co-founder of her school’s AFYA club. She is also a co-chair of J-Teen Leadership, a Jewish, teen-led, community service and advocacy organization. Charlotte is a member of the 2011 PARADE All-America High School Service Team, an award recognizing outstanding young service leaders presented by Parade Magazine in partnership with generationOn, the global youth enterprise of Points of Light.

Do you want to know a secret? Every day, heaps of unused medical supplies in the United States are thrown away due to hospital regulations. Want to know another secret? Most of these supplies do not expire for another couple of years and many of them are still wrapped. Every year, the United States creates approximately 3.2 million tons of medical waste.

The AFYA Foundation attacks this issue head-on. AFYA, meaning good-health in Swahili, collects unused medical supplies from hospitals, and sends them to health clinics all over the world. Based out of Yonkers, N.Y., I stumbled upon AFYA during my sophomore year in high school when I attended a sorting event in their warehouse. Supplies that would have been thrown in landfills filled the warehouse, floor to ceiling. Among the sea of supplies in the warehouse, I could feel the exhilarating essence of AFYA, the potential to save innumerable lives. Needless to say, I was hooked!

Charlotte Bilski

Charlotte Bilski. (Photo Courtesy of Points of Light)

A typical AFYA sort involves going through mountains of supplies and sorting the donations to group all of the same types of supplies together. Like knitting, the physical act of sorting, in my eyes, is therapeutic. As I go through the supplies, I cannot help but wonder where the supplies came from and who they will reach. During my sophomore year in high school, my best friend and I decided that we had to bring AFYA and AFYA’s mission to school. Our club grew under our school’s community service hub, SHARE or Students Have a Responsibility Everywhere. In addition to organizing groups to go to the AFYA warehouse and sort supplies, our club has collected hundreds of crutches, walkers and blankets for health clinics in Haiti. Recently, during our school’s midterm week, we hosted a school-wide pen drive where we placed a shoebox in every classroom for students to donate pens after they finished exams. During that single week, we collected approximately 1,000 pens!

How can you help? We don’t all live near a place that already collects supplies, but don’t let that stop you. You know that incredible feeling you get during the last days of school when you’re cleaning out your locker and thinking about your stress-free summer? As most people subliminally throw out their pens and pencils without a care in their mind, you can bring in boxes to save these pens and then send them to an organization, like AFYA, that will send these supplies to doctors and nurses in other countries. Without pens, how can health professionals record any progress? Or how about all of those extra blankets you have lying around? You could set up a bin at school and send those blankets to cholera victims. You will be surprised how eager people will be to help you out. Most people want to get rid of the extra stuff lying around their house, but don’t know where to start. You can be that catalyst for change. The possibilities are endless!

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Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

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