At 17, while on a trip to Ghana with some classmates, Lauren Sundstrom stepped into an orphanage where 300 children were living and studying under very difficult conditions and refused to leave them behind.
And now, for her efforts over the past two years aimed at lifting the group out of poverty and offering them educational opportunities, Sundstrom received a hero’s welcome in our nation’s capital, receiving praise and recognition last weekend at a gala event honoring 102 selfless teens from across the country at the 18th Annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Escorted on private tours of the Capitol building and Arlington Cemetery and treated to a special dinner at the Smithsonian Institute hosted by Kevin Spacey and Olympic Gold Medalist Allyson Felix, the trip was aimed at giving something back to a group of teens who have given so much of themselves.
Having spent the past two years forgoing some of the traditional rites of a teen life to devote more time to her Clothes for Hope campaign for Ghana, Sundstrom enjoyed every minute of the five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to D.C. Coming as it did just a month and a half before her graduation from Newburyport High School, it’s capped off what has been an amazing journey.
“It was unbelievable,” said Sundstrom. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”
Working from her home in the West End to grow a fundraising campaign she anointed Clothes for Hope, which is based on collecting and selling gently used clothing, Sundstrom has raised $79,000 for the New Seed International Orphanage. Of that total, $49,000 came from her sale in March, which saw a huge uptick in donations from merchants like John Farley Clothiers and his suppliers, French Lessons, Pretty Poppy and Amy Williams, among others.
The original $30,000 earned from her first fundraiser has already funded the building of a new middle school in the Ghanaian village she first visited in 2012, the Clothes for Hope Library and over 180 uniforms and school books for students of a nearby public school.