San Jose Teenager Turns $100 Seed Money Into $34K For Charity - NBC Bay Area
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San Jose Teenager Turns $100 Seed Money Into $34K For Charity

Armed with just a little bit of money, and a certain bit of knowledge, Sonali Ranaweera is doing remarkable things. (Published Wednesday, March 4, 2015)

The $100 was a gift, for sure, but it was a gift that came with a condition.

"I had to use it to make a difference in someone's life," Sonali Ranaweera recalls.

The year was 2011 and Sonali, now a freshman at San Jose's Del Mar High School, was just 11-years-old when her parents gave her and her brother, Mano, $100 each along with that do-good-directive.

In the years since, Sonali hasn't just done good ... she has done great. At last count, Sonali has raised and donated more than $34,000 to various charities.

It all started, ironically, because the original $100 just wasn't enough.

Sonali had decided she wanted to help a child somewhere in the world who needed a cleft lip/palate surgery. SmileTrain is the international non profit that does such work, but their suggested donation to pay for a single surgery was $250. Sonali was going to need more money.

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Fortunately, it was just about that time her Earth Science class was doing a lesson on recycling. Sonali's family was already well-practiced in collecting their recycling and putting it curbside for the city to pick up. What the young girl didn't know was that there was another way.

"I didn't know that if you took the bottles and cans to a recycling center, they'll give you money for it," Sonali says. She decided that was how she would make up the $150 deficit.

It worked. And then some.

Sonali Ranaweera, now a freshman at San Jose's Del Mar High School, was in sixth grade when her parents gave for $100 for Christmas with the condition she use it to make someone's life better.

Sonali began by turning her family's recycling into cash and then donating the money to SmileTrain. She then expanded to other family and friends, and finally to her school. She started to funnel the money through her own non profit, Recycling4Smiles.

Each week Sonali and her friends (who get community service credit for helping her) sort through the thousands of bottles and cans she has collected. It is hard, and often dirty, work.

Still, Sonali says all she has to do is look at some of the pictures of smiling children her money has helped, and she knows the effort has not been wasted.

"I think, wow. It makes me happy to think what a difference we have made in their life."

Since 2011 Sonali has raised and donated more than $34,000 to a variety of charities.
 

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