Seventeen year old Jordyn Schara loves to read, write and travel. She enjoys participating in Reedsburg Area High School's musicals and plays. She's been to France and plans on going again when she graduates from high school.
She also started a drug collection program called WI P2D2, has been invited to the White House where she met Vice President Biden, was presented with an award by Former First Lady Laura Bush, and received awards for her community service from Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.
Jordyn has been volunteering since she can remember. Every Christmas, her parents would have Jordyn and her brother pick out presents for needy children. For her birthday, she would request gifts for the local humane society. As she got older, her parents requested that they create their own community service projects, to expose them to leadership.
When she turned 14, Jordyn and her brother created Project READ (Reading Equipment for America's Defenders), and they collected and shipped over 1800 pounds of reading materials, games, candy and books to troops overseas. They also raised over $1200 to pay the shipping for all of those boxes.
That year, a 7th grade boy in Wisconsin died of prescription drug abuse when his 14-year-old girlfriend stole oxycodone from her grandmother's medicine cabinet and gave it to him. Jordyn couldn't believe these kids were stealing drugs from their family's medicine cabinets, but when she started researching the issue, she realized it is a pervasive and growing problem among America's teens.
Jordyn discovered that in 2008, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs. More people die from prescription drug abuse than from cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines combined.
The truth is, most people are unsure of how to dispose of their unwanted and expired medications. They usually resort to flushing them down the toilet or the sink or just leave them in their medicine cabinets. Each of these methods has devastating consequences.
When medications are flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink, they contaminate our groundwater, causing problems for humans and aquatic animals. If drugs are thrown out in the trash, they are accessible to children and pets and the medications can still get into our groundwater.
Jordyn felt she had to get the word out to adults to properly dispose of medicines that they weren't using and to safely store the drugs that they were using. She also needed to spread awareness to teens about the dangers of taking these prescription drugs.
"If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they had never heard of prescription drug abuse," Jordyn says, "I would have my college education paid for."
That's when Jordyn started WI P2D2 (Wisconsin Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal).
Building WI P2D2
Getting going with her drug education and collection project was an uphill battle. She was told by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other government agencies that they couldn't help her and that a 14 year could not possibly tackle this level of a project. The DEA even stated over the phone to her that "...prescription drug abuse is not a priority for us...we are more concerned with the bigger picture."
Jordyn was tenacious, however, and gave presentations to the police department, local hospital, civic organizations, pharmacists and City Council, and everyone was excited to help make the program happen.
"I am very assertive," she says. "I have to be, because many adults don't listen to teens. Being told ‘no' doesn't really bother me, and I do my research and am a good public speaker."
There were a handful of drug collection programs scattered around the country, started by police departments or civic organizations, but they had to jump through incredible legal hoops to maintain their programs. The law made disposing of these drugs incredibly difficult. The costs and red tape made these programs impossible to sustain.
So Jordyn created a program that used a minimal number of professionals, and the rest were just regular adult and teen volunteers. She helped the police department purchase an incinerator so that they could incinerate most of the drugs onsite – cost free. (Prior to that, it was costing thousands of dollars to incinerate just a few hundred pounds of drugs.)
After two years, the DEA finally got on board and started biannual drug collections. This helped Jordyn because P2D2 can now store the drugs collected (securely at the police departments) and then give them to the DEA twice a year, instead of paying for disposal.
Unfortunately, the DEA's biannual collections are not good enough without 24/7 drug collection programs in every community across the world. If the drugs are only collected twice a year, then citizens are forced to ‘store up' their drugs. These caches of drugs are still fueling the prescription drug abuse problem. People need to be able to safely and securely dispose of drugs anytime of any day, not just twice a year.
Even with the DEA's collections, Jordyn needed to expand WI P2D2. Her first step was to partner with Paul Ritter, a teacher from Illinois whose students had started a similar program and were already helping other kids all over the country spread P2D2's awareness and action. Jordyn joined their effort under one umbrella program.
P2D2 is now in over 17 states. It is a grassroots program that starts in small towns and moves up, powered by the determination of teens who start the programs in their communities by working with local governments, civic organizations and volunteers.
"We are addressing an issue that the government refused to address – then we shamed them to step up and help," Jordyn says proudly. "Nothing feels better than when your ‘David beats Goliath.'"
Jordyn says that even more so lately, volunteers play a critical part in establishing P2D2 programs in their communities. Volunteers are taking on leadership roles because many organizations don't currently have the funding to pay someone. She says VolunteerMatch has been a valuable tool for her to gain resources and information about nonprofits and volunteering so she can be more efficient.
"I have grown so much in the past few years," Jordyn says, "and I know that it is directly related to my community service projects." She has become a great public speaker and has recorded a PSA with a state organization on prescription drug abuse. She's learned to work with government officials, civic leaders, business owners and volunteers to spread awareness. She has learned to write grants, and is the only teen to have won a state drug grant in Wisconsin.
Jordyn has no plans to slow down her work with P2D2. She wants to build out the program's website to provide information about prescription drug abuse and how to safely dispose of and store drugs, and how to create a 24/7 program in your own community. She wants to be able to provide grants to teens to help them start these programs.
She is working with her state lawmakers to enact a law in Wisconsin to help ALL communities set up 24/7 drug collection programs at no cost (P2D2 has already helped pass a similar law in Illinois).
Another of Jordyn's goals is to inspire and motivate other teens to volunteer. "From the first moment, volunteering has rewarded me more than anything else I can think of," she says. "Nothing compares to feeling needed and appreciated by the people that I have helped."
She has mentored several teens, including one who suffered from bullying because he is gay. Jordyn helped mentored him to start their school's first anti-bullying program.
"You need to research, research, research," Jordyn advises other teens looking to start programs for causes they care about. "You should find an adult who can help. However, I have found that as a teen, you can achieve more than most adults who try to set up these projects."
We'll take your advice any day, Jordyn.