Springside student creates non-profit to help homeless

by Sharla Feldscher
Posted 11/5/20

She may be 16 years old, but Alexa Rhodes, a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), is wiser and kinder than many people double her age. Always a person with compassion and thoughtfulness, …

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Springside student creates non-profit to help homeless

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She may be 16 years old, but Alexa Rhodes, a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), is wiser and kinder than many people double her age. Always a person with compassion and thoughtfulness, she followed “in her parents’ footsteps” and from an early age began volunteering to help others.

For the past 10 years, she has joined her parents and siblings serving at community dinners and preparing food packages for the homeless and food insecure. And, while caring for others, her appreciation of her own life grew stronger. She recently said, “I learned how fortunate I was to have food on the table and to be able to attend school regularly.” Seeing the gratitude on the faces of the recipients of her efforts, she said, “made a tremendous impact on me.”

With this experience, Alexa decided she wanted to create a non-profit organization. Saddened by the number of homeless people living on the streets in major cities (about 193,000, according to federal government estimates in the U.S., and over 150 million worldwide), she knew her focus would be on this group of the population.

And with this in mind, she launched “H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpacks.” Each of the words in H.E.L.P.I.N.G. has important messages to Alexa: healing, empowering, loving, providing, influencing, nourishing and giving. Alexa is currently in contact with her first homeless shelter, The Broad Street Ministry, and cannot wait to make her first set of 75 backpack donations.

The impetus to start this was a project through the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) and the “capstone” class she took as a sophomore at SCH. She is now working directly with the Executive Director of the CEL in its advanced entrepreneurial offering, the “venture accelerator” program, many people gave items to the homeless in plastic bags, but Alexa wanted to go further and have her items delivered in sturdy backpacks so they would be a lasting gift. The backpack she uses has an outside pocket to hold water bottles and multiple compartments inside.

“I am trying to solve problems homeless people face daily,” explained Alexa, “like having to carry all of their possessions, living outside in extreme temperatures, having their personal belongings outside in the rain and having a minimal amount of necessities to live comfortably.”

Following the “Sustainable Development Goals” of the United Nations (UN), she is focusing on Goal 10, reducing the inequalities within and among countries. She is specifically trying to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness through her backpacks.

The backpack and items are valued at approximately $40 each and include a water bottle, a baseball cap, utensils, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a waterproof blanket, a poncho, a pair of socks, wipes, a hand sanitizer, a mask and a card of positivity. Alexa said, “I know the items inside the bag work because one night I slept outside and used the blanket to keep me warm, making sure anyone sleeping outside wouldn't be cold.

“I poured water on the waterproof side of the blanket to ensure that the water didn’t seep through. I have tested the strength of the bag and have made sure there is a sufficient amount of space to include personal items.”

And, this ambitious, altruistic teenager has gained the support of sponsors who want to be included in her campaign. For example, Bombas, the sock company, donated 1,725 pairs of warm socks. For the first donation of 75 backpacks, Alphabroder supplied baseball caps, backpacks, blankets, hand sanitizers, ponchos, water bottles and wipes. She even received toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes from dentists in her local area. Her next goal is to partner with IKEA for the utensils.

Alexa, a resident of Abington, is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and hopes to one day be a teacher, own a business or work in sports management. Ideally, she wants to have a community relations position at a major sports team.

For more information about H.E.L.P.I.N.G. The Homeless Backpacks, visit her site on Instagram, @helpingthehomelessbackpacks, or arhodes74.wixsite.com/website.

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