When Sonali Ranaweera was 11 years old, her parents gave her a gift that came with one condition: she and her brother each received $100 but, as she explained, “I had to use it to make a difference in someone's life.” Over the past three years, the San Jose Mighty Girl has fulfilled this requirement many times over as she's turned that $100 into $46,000 in charitable donations by collecting and redeeming cans and bottles!
When Sonali first received the gift of $100, she decided that she wanted to help a child who needed cleft lip/palate surgery by donating it to Smile Train, a non-profit that provides free corrective surgeries to children in developing countries. After learning that their suggested donation to pay for a single surgery was $250, Sonali committed to raising the additional funds to make up the difference.
At the same time, she was learning about recycling in school; although she was familiar with curbside recycling, it was the first time she discovered that you could bring cans and bottles to recycling centers in exchange for cash. To raise the additional $150, she started collecting recyclables to bring in for redemption. Sonali quickly met her goal and, encouraged by her success, she decided to continue her effort and soon began involving others in her project.
As she expanded beyond her own family's recycling into that of her family and friends, and later her school, she formed her own non-profit organization, Recycling4Smiles, to manage the donations. With the help of friends and her older brother Mano, she now sorts through thousands of cans and bottles each week, a hard and often dirty task. In total, over three years, Sonali has redeemed over 46,500 pounds of recyclables which has allowed her to donate $46,000 to various charities helping children both in the US and around the world, including funding 44 cleft-lip surgeries through SmileTrain.
Sonali, who is now a sophomore in high school, has received many accolades for her commitment to charity, including a $10,000 scholarship from the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program. But to this kindhearted Mighty Girl, the real reward comes from seeing the pictures of the children whose smiles she has helped restore through corrective surgery: “I think, wow. It makes me happy to think what a difference we have made in their life.”
Kudos to Sonali for her generosity and dedication to helping others!
If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can also help support Sonali's efforts by donating your recyclables -- for more info or to send her words of encouragement, visit her Facebook page at Recycling4Smiles.
For several picture books that show young children how their actions can make a difference in the lives of others -- all for ages 4 to 8 -- we recommend "Extra Yarn" (http://www.amightygirl.com/extra-yarn), "Beatrice's Goat" (http://www.amightygirl.com/beatrice-s-goat), "The Mitten String" (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-mitten-string), and "Maddi's Fridge" (http://www.amightygirl.com/maddi-s-fridge).
For Mighty Girl stories for children and teens about the power of compassion in changing the world for the better, visit our "Kindness & Compassion" book section at http://amgrl.co/1JIHLCr
For a wonderful way to make donating to charity a regular part of your child’s life, we recommend a divided piggy bank that includes a separate chamber for charitable donations -- two of our favorites are the Moonjar Moneybox (http://www.amightygirl.com/moonjar-classic) and the Money Savvy Pig (http://www.amightygirl.com/money-savvy-pig).
And, for great books to show children about how their actions can make a difference in the lives of others, check out our blog post “Making an Impact: Mighty Girl Books about Charity and Community Service” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=5863