Eleanor Su, a sophomore at Henry M. Gunn High School, won Amway's "Who Cares Challenge," securing a $10,000 grant for the Schools for Africa Fund, a nonprofit organization Su founded that builds infrastructure for schools in Sierra Leone, Africa.
"I was shocked and happy," Su said.
Amway's "Who Cares Challenge" invited youth, ages 13-22, to submit stories online about giving back to the community. Public voting determined the top 100 candidates. Judges then selected 10 winners for the $10,000 prize to give to the charity of their choice.
Su first learned about Sierra Leone children's poor quality of life in fifth grade, when Free the Children, a charity and youth movement, gave a presentation at her elementary school.
"[I wanted to find out more," Su said. "I ended up starting my own [Free the Children club in middle school. Ever since then we've been expanding."
Su said that before winning the Amway grant money, she and her friends had already raised $18,000 for the Schools for Africa Fund through organizing annual benefit concerts at the Jewish Community Center and holding monthly bake sales outside of local grocery stores.
Those earnings have been used to build two schools in Sierra Leone as well as provide epilepsy treatment to suffering children in the area. With regard to the recent winnings, Su said that $8,500 will go toward building another school and the other $1,500 will help treat children with epilepsy in the region.
For Su, the contest represents a validation of her efforts to help children in impoverished countries. In her contest entry, Su wrote that it is important to get youth involved in community service and hopes "others will be motivated to make a difference in their communities."