This Is Our Story: A letter from your founders
First and foremost: If you are on this page it means you are passionate about or at least interested in fighting for educational equity -- that is, the pursuit of equal opportunity and access to resources in schools across the nation. For this we thank you and are grateful you are here. This is the mission of our organization and the seed that has planted entire sunflower fields across our organization. It is the idea that started it all.
It would be unfair to say it was simply an idea, though. It really started with an offhand observation that turned out to be an observable trend.
In February of 2016, we were named Coca-Cola Scholars amongst 148 other bright young people in the U.S. In April of the same year, all 150 of us were flown out to Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta for a weekend. As part of that weekend, we worked on a service project at a local elementary school serving students from low-income backgrounds. Some of us worked on literacy kits while others helped paint curbs. After an afternoon of painting, Eamon did the natural thing and went to the bathroom to wash his hands, only to come to the following realization: there was no soap.
He didn’t think too much of it at first, but messaged the rest of the Coca-Cola Scholars about putting together a small GoFundMe campaign to purchase soap for the school. It was this comment that sparked an entire conversation that spiraled into a collective concern that there were dozens of schools across the country which also lacked similar basic necessities. Murmur about forming a nonprofit began to take shape. We noticed a nationwide need and from this need our organization was born. The name of the organization -- Starts with Soap (SWS) -- naturally followed.
We came together knowing we wanted to do more than a one-time GoFundMe campaign, fundraiser, or service weekend -- we decided we wanted our organization to exist for the purpose of developing ongoing and adaptive relationships with schools in underprivileged areas. We tapped into the network of Coca-Cola Scholars and connected with other passionate individuals from across the United States. Most of us hadn’t ever met in person, but we soon realized SWS was founded upon a cause strong enough to connect us from all over the country.
One of our first projects was done at a public school in Deland, Florida that belonged to a district which introduced a new policy requiring all students to wear uniforms. Many of these students came from lower-income backgrounds and were unable to support the new cost of the uniforms. Together, we fundraised and were able to donate a total of 143 uniforms and 631 new school supplies to the school. The teachers were ecstatic.
Since then, we’ve undertaken 14 large-scale service projects and countless smaller campaigns across our 12 chapters in the United States. We’ve raised over $20,000 and have grown to include over one hundred members. Our journey hasn’t been without a fair share of bumps in the road, though. Much to our surprise, many schools weren’t as open to receiving help as we’d initially hoped. This makes sense from an objective standpoint: what school district wants to admit it doesn’t have soap in its bathrooms? It’s a PR nightmare waiting to happen. It took a lot of navigating through red tape and bureaucracy, but eventually we broke through hard ice. It’s amazing what great things can happen when you put passionate people in a position to make change where change feels impossible. Of course, none of this would be possible without our members who run our projects, communicate with the schools, and help organize chapters.
At the end of the day, though, what it comes down to is this: the point of Starts with Soap is that it isn’t just about making a donation (be it money, time, energy, or a combination) to us. It’s about opening up and spreading the conversation about equitable education. The big picture isn’t about any one nonprofit out there. We want to see people get involved around us so that it is not only a movement, but a productive and effective movement.
To you, dear Reader, we just want to say one more time how grateful we are to have you here right now. Please do reach out. Our email addresses are vulnerable to spam and there for you on our website. Ultimately if you’re a kid with a big heart and are excited about education, there will always be something for you to do here. The time to start making waves toward equitable education is now. We want YOU to be a part of our SWS family.
Co-Founders and Executive Directors of Starts with Soap