"If you never seek to benefit others, how can you benefit yourself? For every social gift, you get one back."
Ingraham High School junior Michael Lang, 16, of Seattle, WA, practices social enterprise by selling candy at his school to raise money for local charities. At the same time, his fellow students learn that as socially responsible consumers, their shopping choices can also help social causes.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Michael: At my school, I'm known as The Candy Man because I sell candy to raise money for local charities of various causes. This past Veteran's Day, I donated the $56.03 profit I made to the Ingraham Hurricane Relief Fund. I've just released another round of flyers that give student shoppers the option of donating to one of four different charity organizations: The American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Northwest Medical Team or the Seattle Animal Shelter. The charity with the most votes is the one to which I will donate all my profits.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Michael: The American Red Cross benefited from my last donation. I brought the $56.03 in a white bag labeled with a cartoon-like money sign on it. (The Candy Man has a flare for the dramatic.) The three other charity causes (Seattle Animal Shelter, Northwest Medical Team or Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation) will benefit from my next donation, which will almost undoubtedly be larger than the first because the Candy Man's popularity has skyrocketed since the Veteran's Day Assembly. There, the principal announced my name for my contribution to the Red Cross, to the response of cheers and applause. It was a good day. On my small 3"x3" advertisements that I slip into lockers after school, I give student shoppers four charity options to choose from; they give the flyers back check marked with their choice of charity. At the end of the day, I tally up both the money I've collected in a small plastic jar labeled "Candy Man's Stash" and the number of votes for each charity.
What inspired you to get involved?
Michael: After I brought the idea up to my friend Rachael Stoeve, a fellow junior at Ingraham, she encouraged me to run the store as a benefit for the upcoming Hurricane Katrina Fundraiser. (At first, I was planning on using the money for gas money.) She said that in light of Hurricane Katrina, "No matter who says what, every little bit counts when you have nothing anymore." She was the inspiration behind this project, and since then has inspired me to expand to giving my shoppers the choice of where they want their money to go.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Michael: I first got involved after candy was taken out of the school vending machines. There was uproar from the student body, and I suggested the idea of being the school's official candy provider to my parents. They loved the idea and encouraged me to start as soon as possible. With the help of my friend Matt, we set up a shelf in my locker on which to put candy and began filling the store that week. This is when Rachael ventured her Katrina idea to me.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Michael: The best thing about this experience occurred when the principal called me into his office during break and ordered ten Almond Joys from me. He said he enjoyed what I was doing and to keep up the good work.
What is/was the hardest part?
Michael: I find enjoyment in this work. This keeps me connected and active in the student body, and I find no shame in saying honestly that there is no "hard" part in providing a much appreciated service to my fellow students at school.
What was the biggest surprise?
Michael: The biggest surprise was how high the demand for candy really was. Students would seek me out once I had distributed the advertisements in their lockers and order from me right then and there. Once I had a spontaneous order of five dollars from a girl who “just had a craving.” Keeping in touch with the student body has provided me many new opportunities and even a few new friends as well.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Michael: From the moment this idea sprang to mind, to the moment I was shamed for not thinking of donating my profit to Katrina, to the moment I placed my first donation in the school office, I have experienced a change in heart. My motivation comes from a deep-seated desire to help the charities, and it keeps me advertising day in and day out to students in the hallways, reminding them that there is an alternative to the corporate candy down the street at Albertsons (a supermarket chain). During every class, break and lunch hour, I seek to provide my business with more profit so that I can donate more and more each time. I seek to procure money for the needy now, not because of anything else.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Michael: If you never seek to benefit others, how can you benefit yourself? For every social gift, you get one back, be it time, talent or treasure. I encourage you to get involved for the sake of many, not the individual, because it's only when you start caring for others that you start realizing how connected you are (whether or not you like it) to life itself. Have you ever heard your parents say, "It’s not always about you"? Well, if it’s not about you, it has to be about someone else. Make it so, and you'll learn to love it.
Want to learn more about what you can do for a good cause?
Explore our Links
to Get Involved; a good place to start is Idealist
Kids & Teens. You could also search the Internet or your local public library for fundraising ideas.
Want to learn more about socially responsible shopping?
Co-op America's Responsible Shopper reports allow you to investigate companies' social practices. The mission of Co-op
America is "to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society."
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