To some people, "throwing in the towel" might mean giving up, but to Jazna Stannard it's a rally cry in her fight to help those who are homeless. As a high school freshman, she led a drive to gather soap, towels and other toiletries for her local homeless shelter. Six years later, the Soap & Towel Campaign is now a nationwide effort that benefits the homeless population in more than 30 states.
- Lather, rinse, repeat
Jazna says it was her mother who suggested she take on the challenge of collecting needed items for the homeless shelter. That first year, it took the form of a service project for her high school student council.
"We collected 300 items, and I guess I just thought we could do a lot better," she says. "I had ideas on ways to get more people involved, and I looked at that first year as a test run. The second year, we received more than 1,000 items — we doubled and then tripled that as the years went by."
- Helping locally on a national level
At Purdue, Jazna took her project to the next level by collaborating with Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. Not only are numerous drives held on Purdue's campus each year, but through the Alpha Kappa Psi chapter network, the Soap & Towel Campaign has a presence on more than 70 university campuses across the nation. Donations from each drive stay within the local community. Jazna and her team work with each new university to provide the ideas, marketing and motivation to get drives up and running.
"Most people would say the group that benefits the most are the residents of the shelters, but I would say it's the shelters themselves since we provide tens of thousands of dollars in donations," Jazna says. "This is money they now have to spend on something much more valuable like food, clothing or heat."
- Engineering change
Strong in science, Jazna took first place in her high school science fair three years in a row and placed third at the state level her junior year. She comes from a long line of engineers (more than 30 in her family), so majoring in engineering or science would have been a natural choice. But it was an English class project as a high school sophomore that caused her to consider something different.
"We had to put together a collage of world events, and that opened my eyes to some of the horrible things that were happening," she says. "I really felt called to change that."
After spending several years considering which major would be better, she chose public relations and is also earning a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation. "My dream job is to someday run a large nonprofit that benefits people around the world. I thought public relations would be the best preparation for improving relations and bringing people together around a cause."
- Speaking up
Those who meet Jazna would never guess she used to be shy with a fear of public speaking. Through Soap & Towel, she now travels the country to speak about the organization and to advocate for the homeless population.
"I came to realize that the speeches had nothing to do with me. It had to do with spreading the word about our mission and what we are trying to accomplish," she says. "I can't be shy when my goal is to inform others about the Soap & Towel Campaign and the good they can do by helping us help others."
Networking now comes naturally. "Yesterday a girl I had never met came up to talk about Soap & Towel — we ended up talking for 30 minutes!"