One Dollar For Life (ODFL), one of the most well-known clubs in the school, kicked off the beginning of this year with incomparable success. Every year the club hosts a school wide fundraiser for a project in a developing country. This year, the money raised from the fundraiser is going toward building a birthing center in Baglung, Nepal.
ODFL started this school year with the most successful school-wide fundraiser the club has seen since its founding in 2007. Compared to last year’s $4,400, in this year’s fundraiser ODFL raised $6,800 with both student and staff donations.
“We were worried that it would be a tough year because the video announcements weren’t working and we couldn’t show the amazing student-created videos we had,” ODFL club advisor Lisa Cardellini said.
Despite some preliminary setbacks with the fundraiser, the club is continuing to make significant progress toward several of its planned projects, the biggest of which is building a birthing center in Baglung, Nepal. Birthing centers have been one of the most effective projects the club has undergone. ODFL built a similar birthing center in Dolpa, Nepal, last school year, and the center has reduced neonatal maternal mortality rates by 75 percent.
An important factor to the success of ODFL is public exposure through social media and local news. Last year, the NBC Bay Area news channel featured ODFL in a major news publication. Recently, the club was featured in the SFGate as well. The Los Altos Town Crier also periodically publishes ODFL stories.
Although the club gains a lot of exposure from publicity, Cardellini also attributes the club’s success to the support from the local community.
“Since we started in 2007, we’ve completed 41 projects in eight different countries around the world,” Cardellini said. “There is probably no other charity in the country that is doing so much with so little [$1]. We are very happy to be able to share our successes, especially because LAHS remains the ‘home’ school of ODFL.”
Another major contributor to ODFL is club founder and history teacher, Robert Freeman. Freeman took a leave of absence during the second semester of last year to work on expanding and exposing ODFL to more people and spreading the message ODFL has been advocating.
Since taking his leave of absence, Freeman has published five books on European history and one on Vietnamese history. He is currently finishing a book about ODFL. Freeman also travels around the country speaking to students, teachers and civic groups about the club.
“[I have been working] as a model for the student engagement in a way that we can solve big social problems,” Freeman said. “We’ve really proven the model. So what I’m doing now is taking that model to the rest of the country, trying to get every high school student in America to give a dollar.”
Despite having finished over 41 projects in just 6 years and undergoing many changes that come with this constantly growing cause, one thing that ODFL has made sure to keep the same is the novel idea that teenagers can change the world a dollar at a time.
“[ODFL] is really an invitation to your generation,” Freeman said. “It isn’t like we’ve got to shave our heads and live in a cave in India… it’s a dollar…it’s the collaborative altruism, the real transformation.”
This “collaborative altruism” is what Freeman considers the third of the three levels of ODFL. The first level stems from the tangible outcomes of the club’s fundraisers and projects. The second is the idea that not only are students changing the lives of people living in developing countries, but they are also becoming more giving and empathetic people. Ultimately, ODFL’s last level of Freeman’s “covert agenda” is collaborative altruism, or the notion that teens as a team can change the world with a “we’re all in this together” mentality.
“The idea of one dollar has not changed [since the club’s founding] because we want every student in America to be able to participate,” Cardellini said. “We believe that when we focus on [more generous ] people (those who donate one dollar) and a different [mindset], the effect will endure long after the projects are completed.”
Freeman’s ambitious plans do not stop at high school kids. Last year, Egan Junior High School hosted an ODFL fundraiser to raise money for a school in Nicaragua. Egan hosted another fundraiser this year to support the Nepalese birthing center project as well. Also, one of the most successful fundraisers for the club was at an elementary school in Kansas. According to Freeman, the elementary school kids in the school were shocked that kids in Indonesia had no school. As a result, the kids donated, on average, more than $6 per person to help the cause.
“[The fundraiser in Kansas] was the most generous thing I ever saw in my life,” Freeman said. “It made me cry. [The kids]… came with little Ziploc bags full of quarters and dimes and nickels and pennies. ‘This was from my piggy bank,’ [they said]. It just blows me away.”
On the other end of the school spectrum, Freeman is also planning for ODFL fundraisers in colleges across the country. The idea for ODFL college fundraisers came from graduated LAHS alumni who wanted to continue ODFL after high school. The college fundraisers will focus more on a friendly competition in which colleges will race to see which one raises the most money. Freeman’s rule for these fundraisers is that every student is only allowed to donate one dollar in order to prevent graduated alumni from tipping the scales toward their college’s winning. Specific colleges participating in the first ever ODFL college fundraiser are yet to be announced. This year’s fundraisers aim to raise money to build a computer lab in Haiti and is planning to start in March. The computer lab is predicted to be completed by the end of this summer.
“It’s the same idea; if everyone gives a dollar, let’s see what we can do,” Freeman said. “These structures we are building, they are not really complex… and most times, they’re the first one [the people] have ever had. The first time we built [a school] in Kenya…everybody was just crying. They thought it was the Taj Mahal. It was a stone structure, 25 feet by 25 feet, but they could see, it was the first school they’d ever had. Their children’s lives could be different!”
Not only has ODFL changed the lives of underprivileged children through its projects, the club has also affected many of the students in the United States that have participated in it. The students who came back from ODFL summer trips, according to Freeman, realize how privileged they are and how their one dollar profoundly affected someone else’s life.
“[Students who go to ODFL summer trips] come back, and they’re different human beings,” Freeman said. “They’ve gone from one end of affluence on the planet, to the other extreme of poverty. They become more connected to their world, they become more compassionate, they become more collaborative…and they become more competent.”
ODFL will also be hosting trips abroad this summer to areas where the club is working on projects. Although building a birthing center in Nepal is the club’s biggest project this year, ODFL has been planning smaller projects in other areas of the world as well. Due to heavy monsoons in Nepal during the summer season, ODFL will not be taking a trip to Baglung, Nepal for the birthing center. The club, however, is planning two trips to Guadalupe Arribe, Nicaragua on June 29 to July 8 and July 13 to 22 to build a classroom. Even though these projects are relatively basic, they will greatly impact the lives of some of the world’s most destitute people.
“If you don’t get an education, then your life can only be what your parents’ was, which was you take a stick and scratch the dirt and put a seed in and hope there’s enough water and hope that you can live through the winter,” Freeman said. “But that’s all you’re ever going to have, if you don’t get an education. It transforms lives, everywhere we work.”
Although ODFL has changed the lives of many people in the eight countries where it has completed projects, the club is also focused on changing the lives of the local community. ODFL hopes that by the end of this school year, the Nepalese birthing center project will be completed. This means that students will be able to see the effects of donating just one dollar in real time.
“[We are] working to cultivate [the idea that]…teenagers really can be effective if they will all do the smallest bit,” Cardellini said.
According to Freeman, ODFL has essentially revolutionized the idea of culturally transforming the world through the opportunity it has given to this generation. A big factor that has allowed this opportunity to be available is the transfer of information through the base outlet of the whole population, not the downloading of information from a few sources to the public, which is what Freeman experienced in the past.
“Your generation is the first one in the history of the world that can create culture and upload it,” Freeman said. “The question is, what are you going to upload?…Are [you] going to have noble values? Are [you] going to have values that say we can be better people?…If you don’t rise to this occasion, my generation is not going to fix it… If you want a better world, you guys are going to have to step up.”
ODFL has come a long way since the inkling a high school students had during a rainy day in the spring of 2007 in Freeman’s room; the club has many more goals to aspire to. Many may think that the club only aims to help others in developing countries, but ODFL has used its projects in these countries as a catalyst to a deeper cause: creating a new generation of givers.
“Everybody in this area knows about ODFL and it’s so good for the kids,” Freeman said. “It comes down to four words: I believe in you. I believe, as a bigger person, that you want to get out, that you want to find an expression, and [ODFL] is simply a way to do it.”