Maren Joins Global Soap Project at a Young Age
Maren’s own journey with the Global Soap Project has been a very productive one, having collected over 10,000 pounds of soap since she started with the organization. What is remarkable about Maren is that she joined the organization when she was only 15 years old, but has since become a leader in promoting the organization’s goals.
Because of her extraordinary efforts in working with the Global Soap Project and active participation in what the organization is doing, Maren has received a number of awards and recognitions. She is a recipient of the AXA and the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, two of the most prestigious awards in the area of youth public service. More recently, Maren has been included in Youth Service America’s list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World, which simply shows just how much influence and inspiration she has been through her work.
Maren and the Global Soap Project Address Shortage of Hygienic Products
While the work being done by Maren and the Global Soap Project may appear to be insignificant to some people, it is making a great impact in the lives of thousands of families in the parts of the world who do not have access to getting soap. More than two million people in the world today die of hygiene-related sicknesses, and a great percentage of these incidents happen in areas where there is no access to soaps and other hygiene products.
A lot of people are not aware of this fact. Because of the abundance of hygiene products in countries such as the United States, people often take these things for granted. In a blog written by Maren, she states:
“Each day millions of people shower in a hotel room and head off to meet the day, leaving behind a lightly used bar of soap that a hotel maid generally throws in the trash. Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, a mother cradles her dying child, one of 4 million people who will die annually from intestinal diseases because of a lack of access to soap and clean water. While we take soap for granted, it is a luxury that is out-of-reach for many across the world.”
But aside from understanding the issues that many families in the world are facing, what really enabled Maren to be successful in her philanthropic work is the willingness and boldness to do it. Throughout her career as a philanthropist, Maren has spoken to literally thousands of people explaining what the Global Soap Project stands for, whether they be adults or children. When Maren was asked what special training or skills were needed to do what she did, she simply answered:
“None, it just takes a willingness to speak in front of groups and organizational skills to keep track of who donated the soap as well as staying on top of collection efforts.”
Finally, two things inspire Maren to continue her efforts in working with the Global Soap Project—witnessing how people are naturally willing to help, and the satisfaction of seeing lives changed by something as simple as a soap bar. In a blog she wrote, Maren stated:
“When I first became involved, I could not imagine the natural desire people have to volunteer and help others. As Derreck Kayongo has proven, it only takes one person and a good idea to start a movement. Now, when people shower in those hotel rooms and head out for the day, there's a much better chance the soap lands in a recycling box. And somewhere in the world, a mother may be laughing with her children as they use recycled soap to wash their hands.”
Derreck Kayongo According to Wikipedia
Wikipedia says the following about Derreck Kayongo and the work he is doing: "Derreck Kayongo is a Top 10 CNN Hero of 2011, notable for his Global Soap Project, collecting partially used hotel soap and reprocessing it to save lives. Since 2009, the Atlanta-based nonprofit has provided about 150,000 bars of soap for communities in 10 countries." (Source: Wikipedia)
Maren Johnson’s Story
Maren Johnson was born in January 1995 in Watertown, South Dakota. Even as a young girl, Maren already started to exhibit leadership traits and the willingness to serve others. Maren’s parents greatly helped shape her outlook in life—they constantly taught her the value of every small thing that people take for granted. As she grew up, Maren developed this sense of charity in her in that during her elementary years, she already involved herself in local charity work.
As a student, Maren was mostly known by her classmates and teachers to be intelligent, pretty, friendly, and courageous. A natural born leader, Maren was often praised by her teachers for not only doing well in her studies but also for being a good example to her classmates. Maren’s friendly and optimistic attitude caused her to have a lot of friends, something that would greatly be of advantage to her in the future.
And while Maren actively engaged in a number of productive neighbourhood activities during her early years, it was not until she reached 15 years old that Maren finally found her real interest in the world of philanthropy.
In 2010, Maren was approached by her mother with an interesting story about a collection drive in their area. Curious as to what the program was, Maren further inquired and learned about the Global Soap Project, an organization that focused on partnering with hotels and recycling their used soap to be sent to families in parts of the world where people do not have access to soap and other hygiene products.
Initially, Maren was quite reluctant in participating in the efforts of the organization primarily because she felt that she was too young to have the officers from the hotels in their locality listen to her. However, through the constant urging of her mother, Maren eventually joined the organization and approached the hotels in her area as a start. What she did not know during that time was just how powerful her efforts would become.
Maren Contacts Hotels
Maren narrated this experience through a blog she wrote a few years later:
“I learned of the Global Soap Project through a collection effort that was beginning in the Minneapolis area. At my mother's urging, I decided to meet with six hotels in my hometown of Watertown, South Dakota to see if they would help me start the project. Admittedly, as a high school sophomore, I did not have great expectations for the outcome. But the reaction was enthusiastic and what happened in the next two years has been nothing short of phenomenal.”
And it was truly phenomenal. The first six hotels that Maren approached were very enthusiastic in partnering with the Global Soap Project, and from that time on, the young Maren was truly amazed by the natural response of people to help those in need.
Like her, the people she approached became very interested and willing to lend a helping hand once they knew that there was a need. Because of this realization, Maren concluded that while there was a desire in every person to be someone significant by helping others, they needed to have someone to lead and tell them where they can manifest this desire. And so, from that time on, Maren spent a great deal of her time in speaking to different people about the work being done by the Global Soap Project and how they can help.
Initially, Maren had to put a lot of time and effort by meeting with hotel management and staff to convince them that instead of throwing away their used soap, it would be a lot better and helpful to send them to be recycled at the Global Soap Project. While there were some who showed reluctance in helping, this did not discourage Maren, who knew that once they understood what the issue was, the willingness would come effortlessly.
And she was right. In an interview made with her years later, Maren said:
“I had to build a network of hotels by convincing management and staff that it was worthwhile to save the used soap instead of throwing it away. I also had to build a support team in other communities. I met with hotel staff and volunteers at other high schools to explain the fact that 2.6 million bars of soap were being thrown away daily and that 4 million people were dying annually from disease that could be prevented by hand washing. Once staff and volunteers realized that collecting and storing the soap was not difficult, they engaged in the project.”
There was no stopping her. From the six hotels that she started with, as well as the one box of hundreds of small bars of used soap, Maren’s network steadily grew over the course of two years. Today, there are a hundred hotels in various states that have partnered with the Global Soap Project because of Maren’s efforts, and Maren herself has been able to collect more than 60,000 bars of soap. Aside from this, Maren’s efforts have also inspired 500 other people who have joined her in promoting the cause of the Global Soap Project.
Maren Meets Derreck
In 2012, Maren had an opportunity of meeting with the organization’s founder, Derreck Kayongo. Through her encounter with Derreck, Maren became more fired up in her efforts and has since then appeared in various television, radio, and newspaper interviews to promote the Global Soap Project. She recalled her experience:
“About a year ago, when I first met Derreck during a visit to GSP's headquarters, my project was growing steadily. But Derreck's engaging personality and dedication to others ignited the fire in me to work harder to expand the project. As he talked about how important the soap is to people in need, I knew I had to do more. Derreck, who recently was named one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes, has had that impact on many people.”
Receiving Prudential Spirit of Community and Youth Service America Award
That same year, Maren received a number of awards for her amazing efforts in promoting the Global Soap Project. One of these awards was the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of youth philanthropy. Maren was also honored by Youth Service America by including her in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World, truly proving just how much of an inspiration she has been throughout her career.
Currently, Maren studies as a senior at Watertown High School in Watertown, South Dakota, and will attend Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, next fall while passionately and devotedly pursuing her career as a philanthropist. As she constantly finds new partners and ways to promote the organization’s cause, Maren believes that more and more people from other parts of the world they are helping will avoid sickness caused by hygiene problems. When Maren was asked in an interview what her top values are, she answered:
“Always keep good details about who is involved in your project and respond quickly to those who want to help, be consistent and punctual, and keep working to engage more people in your project and pay attention to who can help you solve problems.”
Maren’s life serves as an inspiration to always value the things that we have and never take anything for granted. When we live life this way, we will start to have this longing to help others. Aside from this, Maren teaches us to always be bold and courageous. When you know you are right, stand up for it. It is better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Global Soap Project
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Named the Youth Volunteer of the Year by the Watertown Volunteer Center
- 2012: Received the Discus Award
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World
- 2012: Received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2013: Received an AXA Achievement Scholarship