By Allison Pennington, Communications Intern, Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship
“Our vision for SHS is to have a presence in all areas where there is an economic disparity. We will expand our efforts to identify sources of gently-used materials that are being discarded simply because there is not an efficient way to find a suitable home for the unwanted materials in an efficient and effective manner.” –Bill Zandi, Founder, Students Helping Students
Bill Zandi (’14) developed the idea for Students Helping Students in the winter of 2005, not long after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast area of the country. “During this time, my parents wanted my younger sisters and me to see the disparity in the quality of life that exists throughout our country. They explained that not only were we lucky to be in the position that we were in, but that because of this, it was our moral obligation to help those in need when we are able to do so,” Zandi explained. “When I learned that more than 150,000 school children were left without the most basic supplies, from papers to desks, I wanted to help.”
When his high school decided to renovate and began to discard a significant amount of usable school supplies and furnishings, Zandi approached his principal and asked if they could donate the supplies to schools in need in Louisiana. “It was at this moment that the idea of Students Helping Students was born,” explained Zandi. By 2009, with the support of businesses, individual donors, and even a partnership with Barnes and Noble, Students Helping Students was able to send thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies to a dozen more schools in Louisiana.
After entering Wake Forest University in the fall of 2010, Zandi was able to continue building upon his idea and with the help of the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, Students Helping Students officially became a 501(c)3 organization, expanding its reach into the Winston-Salem area. To date, Students Helping Students has redistributed roughly $300,000 worth of gently-used materials to seventy schools in four states.
Since Zandi’s graduation from Wake Forest in 2014, Students Helping Students has continued to grow, recently changing its focus to place a stronger emphasis on an online platform: “Until now, SHS has focused on the ‘user’ experience when redistributing gently-used and/or unwanted materials from one party to another,” Zandi explained. “We are now working on the development of an online platform to create a more efficient and user-friendly, ‘match.com,’ mechanism for materials distribution.” This development will enable Students Helping Students to redistribute greater quantities of unwanted/gently-used materials among a larger number of parties, at many locations simultaneously.
By introducing a new online platform, Students Helping Students hopes to improve the ways that they exchange, analyze, and use information, enabling a significant improvement in their operational efficiency. “As we begin to construct and subsequently implement an online platform, we will be able to increase our scope significantly,” said Zandi. “Our hope is that this will propel SHS into a self-sustaining entity, thereby allowing us to distribute more supplies to more schools in need, with a much higher rate of success.”
Students Helping Students has grown exponentially over the last 10+ years, and Zandi is confident that 2016 will be no different. This year, Students Helping Students hopes to provide over $600,000 worth of school or classroom supplies and materials to low-income schools in the Philadelphia area. “Our vision for Students Helping Students is to have a presence in all areas where there is economic disparity,” said Zandi. “Through the development of proper distribution channels, partnerships, and the efficient dissemination of information, Students Helping Students can help reshape the way businesses and schools alike think about waste and educational needs.”