Amazing Teen Starts Non-Profit and Raises $100,000

Name: Lauren Sundstrom
Hometown: Newburyport, MA
Education: Bowdoin College, Class of 2017

Check out other Gamechangers on The Young Leader.

Interests and Passions: Was on a competitive cheerleading team but “can’t hit a ball to save her life”.
Loves poetry and went to every Poetry Team competition at her school.
Self-proclaimed shopaholic who holds a part-time job at a clothing boutique.

Transformational Experience: Children of Africa™, Ghana

Making an Impact: Founder and President of Clothes for Hope, Inc.

“It’s so important to explore your passions and use your interests to do good.”

Lauren Sundstrom

Planning to Make a Difference

Only two years ago, 16 year-old Lauren Sundstrom was a teenager without direction, spending much of her time distracted by a circle of friends that her parents worried was not a great influence on her. Lauren’s mother, Lisa, was especially concerned. “Lauren was in trouble. She just wasn’t being herself, and didn’t seem happy or confident.”

They knew that they wanted to help their daughter, so they encouraged her to find her passion. In addition, they agreed to fund her activities once she’d found it. “We were thrilled when Lauren told us that she wanted to see the world and volunteer in a new place,” says Lisa. “My husband and I were both raised abroad, and we know how important it is to have a global perspective and really understand how fortunate we are.”

After much research and careful consideration, Lauren found herself enrolled in the Global Leadership Adventures “Children of Africa” Program in Ghana. She chose this program because she loves working with children. In order to start making a difference before her program began, she began mentoring local girls at her old middle school.

“One of the huge factors that contributed to my wanting to travel and help children was my own self-esteem growing up. I really had difficulty feeling accepted and wanting to fit in.”

Lauren was on a roll, and by the time she got to Ghana she was more ready than ever to make an impact on the children there. She spent her days and nights immersed in Ghana’s culture and with its children, seeing families in unimaginable poverty and desperately wanting to help. While volunteering as a teacher at a school in the Woe-Keta School District, Lauren had life-changing realizations.

“The students at the school there really wanted to learn, but they had almost no materials, no teacher…nothing. They showed up every day and they knew they might not have a teacher, but they went to school anyway. I would never have done that in 6th grade, but for them education is a privilege. That really opened my eyes.”

Lauren also saw the harsh reality for children who weren’t afforded the opportunity to attend school.

“We played with the neighborhood kids near our Home Base- and I absolutely loved it. Those were the kids who couldn’t go to school. They couldn’t afford a uniform, so they weren’t allowed to go, but I couldn’t believe how much they thrived on interacting with us. It was amazing.

Lauren’s life had been transformed.  She returned home with a new outlook on her privileged life and with a sense of responsibility to help the children and families of Ghana in any way that she could.

“When I got back I had a job at a clothing boutique. I always loved fashion, and actually thought that was what I would major in in college. But my passion really lies with children. One day I was organizing my closet, and I had several bags of beautiful clothing- I wanted to donate them, take them to a bin or something. My mom and I had been talking about how I was going to be ok- to keep living my life, even though I felt so guilty that people in Ghana were barely surviving…And the idea just snowballed from there."

That summer, Lauren started Clothes for Hope. Clothes for Hope, Inc. is a non-profit organization that raises money for educational assistance and materials for children and families in need, both locally and globally.  Lauren collects donations of new and gently used clothing and hosts huge sales to sell the goods at discounted rates. Clothes for Hope has raised more than $90,000 to date, and has helped to purchase 280 school uniforms and hundreds of pounds of school supplies for children in Ghana. In addition, funds raised by Clothes for Hope have been used to construct a teacher’s meeting room, a library, and a middle school in the rural fishing town where Lauren volunteered during her GLA Program.

Talk about making an impact!

Lisa couldn’t believe the incredible change she saw in Lauren. “As a parent, there is nothing more gratifying than witnessing your child being truly happy and doing what they love. Lauren traveled with GLA to Ghana, and when she returned she was a different person. She carries the people of Ghana in her heart, and her involvement has been such a blessing to our whole family.”

Lisa even accompanied Lauren on her first return trip to Ghana, the summer following her GLA program.

“When my mom and I returned to Ghana last summer to drop off my donations and visit the site where the Clothes for Hope Middle School will be built, it was the students’ summer break. But there were 200+ kids waiting at the school for me and clapping…it was so moving. Without a doubt the best day of my life.”

Since her first trip to Ghana with GLA in Summer 2011, Lauren has already returned to Ghana twice. On her third trip, in August 2013, she once again delivered hundreds of pounds of school supplies. “I’m going to keep going, as often as I can. I fell in love with the people of Ghana on my GLA program, and 2 years later I am more passionate than ever about improving the lives of the children there.” Check out a video she made after her last visit here.

Lauren is currently attending Bowdoin College, where she is studying International Business and Law while continuing to run Clothes for Hope, Inc.