Turn Grease Into Fuel Project Generates 15,000 Gallons of Bioheat
To showcase the influence that Project T.G.I.F. has garnered over the past few years, the foundation actually played a key role in the signing of a law that required all businesses to recycle their oil—Project T.G.I.F. was the mind behind the drafting and introduction of the bill to the local Senate, and was also a powerful voice in the promotion of the bill.
Through Project T.G.I.F., Cassandra was able to become a part of a truly powerful charitable force that has given around 15,000 gallons of BioHeat (the fuel from processed grease), and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, has offset over one and a half million pounds of carbon dioxide from mixing with the atmosphere. Because biodiesel is used, a clean-burning fuel, Project T.G.I.F. has often been called a ‘win-win’ solution by many people.
Due to her extraordinary efforts in helping not just the environment but also the people in her community, Cassandra has been awarded and recognized by many of the renowned institutions in the country and worldwide. Cassandra is a recipient of several awards, the most notable being the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the President’s Environmental Youth Award. Cassandra and her team in Project T.G.I.F. have been featured in many articles and publications, and she herself has been included in many lists pertaining to environmental care and philanthropy. The most famous of these would be her inclusion in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America, which simply showcases how Cassandra has been very influential and inspiring to many.
There are so many positive qualities that you will find in Cassandra that makes her utterly extraordinary, but it is probably her unwavering desire and passion for serving others that stands out the most. Even at a young age, Cassandra has already had this desire to help burning on the inside of her that empowered her to serve their community. For Cassandra, age is not a determining factor to say if someone really has a desire to serve their society or not. Most of us often think that young kids do not care about their surroundings.
Cassandra pointed this error out in a blog she wrote:
“When you think of little kids, you probably have a mental image of youngsters frolicking around playing hide-and-seek without a care in the world. Most likely, the image that comes to mind is not a group of 10–year–olds gathered around a table in the midst of a serious discussion about creating a business plan. However, I was not the ordinary fifth grader.”
This is why Cassandra is determined to show that even little kids have a passion for helping their community. She often says this whenever she gets interviewed or is called to do a speech:
“I want to make an impact... It doesn't matter how big or small you are, anyone can make a difference!”
Another thing that made Cassandra very extraordinary is her persistence and never say die attitude. Throughout Project T.G.I.F.’s existence, Cassandra has experienced the hardships of having to deal with rejection and disappointment. If organizations run by adults sometimes encounter overwhelming circumstances, imagine what it must be like for Project T.G.I.F., who is run by a 14–year–old girl! And yet, in spite of all the challenges that she faced, Cassandra never backed down. She kept on moving forward, inspired by the lives of the families that her organization changed.
Cassandra said in an interview:
“After doing this program, I've definitely felt more conscious of those who are less fortunate than me. I've learned a lot from them and from this experience. During a documentary we filmed about the project, we got to go to the home of one of the recipients. That family received 100 gallons of Bioheat. Watching the news crew interview them and seeing how grateful they were was a really great experience. I was able to see first-hand the impact that we were making. So yeah, that's definitely changed me.”
Most of us may think that in order to do something good for our society, we must have a lot of resources, training, and people. We often make the mistake of thinking that we should start big, and therefore end up living out our entire lives without getting the chance of helping someone. But this is not Cassandra’s mind-set. To her, doing something good for your society starts in small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness and charity that you offer someone.
When Cassandra was asked what advice she would like to give young people who also wanted to go into the world of philanthropy, here was her answer:
“If you want to get involved in your own community, I think you should start with extremely small steps, maybe even just baby steps. You can volunteer at an animal shelter or somewhere with a food pantry. Just take small steps that you can accomplish and move up from there. They don't have to be huge things, but you should definitely have your goals straight and have them within your reach. So you should set objectives that you can accomplish and feel proud of what you do.”
Cassandra has always had the passion for service ever since. She was born in 1998 in the city of Westerly, Rhode Island. Like other Chinese families, Cassandra was brought up by her parents in a strict, yet loving manner where she was taught the importance of having a good education. But aside from this, Cassandra also grew up seeing how her parents would often go out of their way to help someone in need.
Inspired by the kind of life that her parents modelled, Cassandra grew up with a longing to be able to do something great someday. And so, even while most of the other kids of her age went around without having to think much about their community, Cassandra developed this desire of contributing something big and positive to her hometown of Westerly.
In school, Cassandra was well-known not only for her amazing intellect, brightness, and studiousness, but also for her active participation in many of her school’s local charitable activities. Through these activities, Cassandra became more aware of the issues and problems that the world was facing, and she learned that there were many ways of averting a lot of these issues. However, since a lot of people did not know, and some of those who knew did not care to lend a helping hand, these issues continue to go unresolved, further driving the planet and its inhabitants into a darker place.
This realization strengthened Cassandra’s desire to help her community. But as much as she wanted to, there were several problems: First, Cassandra did not know where to start. And even if she did, she did not have the adequate knowledge and resources to carry out her passion.
These problems were answered by the time Cassandra was in her fifth grade. One day, Cassandra read an article about several residents in Westerly that did not have the resources to afford heating equipment for their homes. During the winter season, it gets very cold in the Northern Hemisphere, so there are several heating devices sold to the public to keep them warm. However, not everyone can afford to buy one of these heating equipment, and as such go through a cold and terrible winter.
Reading about the plight of the people in her own community had Cassandra thinking. She wanted to help out, so Cassandra gathered a group of her friends and researched alternatives that can be used as heating equipment. During the course of their research, Casandra and her team were also able to encounter several other world issues, such as global warming mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming, if not contained or stopped, would have a very disastrous effect globally, affecting everyone worldwide.
In a blog that she wrote years later, Cassandra recalled an article that she read that gave her and her friends an idea of addressing both the issues they encountered:
“The article was about a local charity in our area called the WARM (Westerly Area Rest and Meals) Center, which had initiated a campaign titled "One Dollar Makes A Difference." In this campaign, residents donated $1 each week to go towards emergency heating assistance. We were astonished by the realization that people in our own community were struggling to heat their homes in our harsh New England winters. Surely, we thought, we could help these needy families. And then, a solution came to us. This solution became Project TGIF: Turn Grease Into Fuel.”
This is how Project T.G.I.F. (Turn Grease Into Fuel) was born. Cassandra thought, “Why not create a program that would not only provide warmth to the people who could not afford to buy heating equipment, but would also benefit the environment?” After thorough planning, Cassandra and her team in Project T.G.I.F. set out to partner with Grease Co., and started collecting leftover grease to a nearby biodiesel refiner to turn that grease into biodiesel, a kind of fuel that burns clean and does not pollute the atmosphere.
As with any charitable organization, Cassandra and Project T.G.I.F. encountered seemingly impassable obstacles during the initial phase of their operation. These obstacles were mostly caused by their age—Cassandra was only ten years old when she started Project T.G.I.F., and her group was comprised of children that were not very far from her age. What made things more challenging was the fact that Cassandra and her team usually approached restaurants and other industrial companies which heavily used oil. When Cassandra would go to an office to present, the managers and officers would often not take her seriously because of her age.
In spite of these initial setbacks, Cassandra and her team never wavered in their goal of helping their community through collecting grease and turning it into biodiesel. Even after a number of rejections, Cassandra kept on visiting restaurants, presenting to the managers the goals of Project T.G.I.F. Eventually, through Cassandra’s hard work and perseverance, restaurants started partnering with Project T.G.I.F. and soon enough, the organization’s credibility grew.
Cassandra recalled the beginnings of Project T.G.I.F. during an interview made with her:
“One of the main problems was when, at the beginning of the project, a lot of restaurants didn't want to sign up with our program because they thought, 'Oh, you're just kids. Why should I trust you?' But after a while we started to gain more credibility, and those restaurants started to trust us more. We could point to our list and say, 'Hey look, we have 30 restaurants participating, would you like to be another?' We could show them all of the benefits of our program. For example, we might put an ad in the newspaper thanking them, or give them a table stand that says, 'You're eating at a green facility,' things like that. So, over the past few years, the number of restaurants has just kept growing.”
From there, Cassandra’s Project T.G.I.F. experienced explosive growth. As the organization’s reputation became more established, the number of restaurants and other establishments that partnered with Project T.G.I.F. also grew, thus increasing the amount of grease collected every week. Eventually, Project T.G.I.F. became known nationally through the publications that were made of the organization’s amazing effort in caring for both the environment and the community. In 2010, Cassandra was awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award in recognition of her amazing efforts in establishing and growing Project T.G.I.F.
The following year, in 2011, Cassandra received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. In an interview, Cassandra recalled her experiences when she received the award:
“That experience was awesome! My parents and I got to go down to Washington D.C. for the award, and it was the most amazing experience. We got to meet all of the other winners from all of the other states. (There were two people from each state, one middle school student and one high school level honoree). We got to meet with Susan Sarandon, as well as Kiki Palmer, who gave the keynote speech. And that was pretty cool, I have to say.’ Also, when I was named one of the Top Ten National Honorees, I was definitely surprised! I was caught off guard and never expected to win such a prestigious award.”
Project T.G.I.F. grew amazingly fast in just a span of four years since its founding. By 2012, the organization had collected around 40,000 gallons of leftover grease, which was equivalent to 60,000 dollars-worth of alternative fuel. This amount has benefited the citizens of Westerly and other neighbouring communities, keeping over 90 families warm during the winter season.
The year 2012 was a spectacular and really fulfilling year for Cassandra and her Project T.G.I.F. team. Not only did she receive several awards and recognitions (such as being included in the list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America), but the amount of influence that her organization has was truly proven when Project T.G.I.F. drafted and introduced a bill in the state Senate requiring all businesses to recycle their leftover oil. Through public support and constant promotion, the bill was eventually ratified and put into effect on January 1, 2012. This greatly helped the cause of Project T.G.I.F., thus enabling them to provide more biodiesel to poor families to keep them warm. Since then, Cassandra has led a campaign to expand the work done by Project T.G.I.F. beyond the borders of Rhode Island.
Honored Alongside CNN Heroes
In 20012, Cassandra was among the three youngsters honored by CNN along with their Top 10 Heroes of the year. According to them, Cassandra is changing the world "one french fry at a time" upon teh launching of her Project TGIF. By the time she was acknowledged by CNN, her initiative has "collected 130,000 gallons of used cooking oil and donated $81,000 for the purchase of biofuel. This has amounted to 21,000 gallons of BioHeat distributed to 210 homes. These efforts have also offset 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from the environment. (Source: CNN.com)
Featured in BIF and Confirms she has No Facebook
Business Innovation Factory, an organization taht provides a platform for innovators to be acknowledged, ran a story about Cassandra Lin and dubbed her as an "Unexpected Hero." According to their write-up: "... nobody expected a kid from Westerly, RI, to create an award-winning recycling program that generates fuel for the needy in her community. But that’s exactly what this sparkly, no-nonsense seventh grader has done." (Source: Business Innovation Factory)
To those who want to help Cassandra in her course, you may want to visit her Jr. WIN Team-Project TGIF Facebook Page. The teen doesn't have a Facebook account and when asked about it by BIF, she just said: “I don’t have a Facebook... I want one, but my parents won’t let me. And we don’t have cable because my parents think that— I don’t know what they think. They just don’t think that cable is a good thing.”
Today, Cassandra is in her senior year at high school and is looking forward to finishing with high remarks. She never lets the obstacles and challenges side-track her from her goal, and always looks forward to a better and brighter future for her community. Cassandra’s life is an important reminder and proof that even someone as young as ten years old can make a difference; all you need is the determination and the courage to never give up, and you are well on your way to success.
“So, are 10–year–olds the leaders of the future? In many ways, the answer is yes. Volunteering is both easy and rewarding. A simple passion—in my case, community service—can serve as the driving force to take action. From a young age, I realized that sometimes you can't wait for change to happen. You have to make it happen, and be your own hero. Think about it. If a group of worried 10–year–olds can make a difference in the world, so can you!”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Project T.G.I.F (Turn Grease Into Fuel)
- United Nations Environment Programme
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: Received the President’s Environmental Youth Award
- 2011: Received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2011: Received the Build-a-Bear Huggable Hero Award
- 2012: Received the CNN Heroes Award
- 2012: Included in the list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America
- 2012: Received the Hasbro Community Action Hero Award
- 2013: Received the Chinese Influencing the World Award