Nathaniel Simmons, 18, of Phoenix, Arizona, a senior at Sunnyslope High School, is a founding board member of a nonprofit organization that has mobilized young people to collect hundreds of thousands of unwanted school supplies, toys and shoes for kids in need in Arizona and five other countries. While visiting a school in Africa in 2012, Nathaniel and his brother, Seamus, were struck by how little its students had in the way of tools to support their education. They were even more shocked after returning home and seeing how many decent school supplies were discarded by classmates at the end of the school year — “supplies that would be cherished in the African school,” he said. Seeing an obvious opportunity, Nathaniel and his brother began recruiting young volunteers and schools to collect surplus school supplies for African kids, and also for homeless shelters in Arizona.
At the end of each school year, this “Re-Pack Project” delivers empty boxes to participating schools to encourage students to donate supplies that would otherwise be thrown away. He and his fellow volunteers then gather, clean and sort the donations, package them in backpacks, and ship them off to local shelters and overseas schools. The initiative collected supplies through seven schools in three states last year, and is now partnering with schools and organizations in Arizona, Mexico, South Africa, Peru, Thailand and Fiji to distribute the donations. In addition to school supplies, the organization has collected toys and shoes for thousands of children in need. “Everything I have discovered through this five-year journey has given me faith in the world, in people, and in their ability to come together and support each other, ” Nathaniel said.