Young Activist Seeks to Make a Difference, Locally and Globally, One ‘Step’ at a Time

olivia_russo-hood-verticalWhen a massive flood displaced 8-year-old Olivia Russo-Hood and her family from their home outside Atlanta in 2009, she experienced first-hand nature’s devastation. But, immediately following that, she learned of an even more powerful force: the kindness of neighbors.

“We had to leave our house right away and we weren’t able to bring many things with us,” recalls Olivia, now 14 and a current member ofgenerationOn’s Youth Advisory Council. “Our neighbors came and helped my mom sort through what we could save.”

The experience was overwhelming for Olivia and her brother, Vincent, who was just 5 years old. “It hit me really hard and came at just the right time when I was starting to think about what I wanted to do as I grew up and how I could be a good adult.”

Olivia decided to give back — and she did so with a vengeance, forming a loosely knit group of volunteer efforts that she called Save the Earth Projects, or S.T.E.P., when she was 10. Over the years, projects have ranged from building vegetables gardens, to raising awareness of childhood obesity, to collecting and distributing some 22,000 pairs of gently used shoes to those in need around the world.

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“If I hadn’t received help, I would still feel broken down inside,” she says. “We were lucky, but I couldn’t help noticing that hundreds of others were displaced and that not everyone was able to get the help that we did. I felt like I needed to give something back.”

The organization has three missions: living responsibly locally, raising awareness nationally, and giving globally. “Our earth is our home,” Olivia says. “It doesn’t matter where — people are in need all over the world. That’s why I chose the name. It means that together we can make a difference — one ‘step’ at a time.”

Olivia’s idea has become a family affair, with mom Denise — a professional event producer — handling administrative and social media tasks and brother Vincent creating an off-shoot of S.T.E.P. Meanwhile, Olivia maintains an active speaking regimen to encourage others to find their own ways of giving back to the community.

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“Adults could become paralyzed by the experience of losing everything, but Olivia saw the good of humanity and people coming to aid,” says Denise. “She smells the roses in life.” It’s been that way for a long time, her mom notes that even in third grade Olivia was helping birds survive and thrive in their natural habitats by clearing brush and land.

The intent of S.T.E.P. is for everyone to create their own projects and use the network to publicize them. But Olivia still dreams up projects, too. The shoe collection effort, for example, came about after she discovered that 300 million pairs of shoes wind up in American landfills each year — while, of course, millions of the world’s poor go shoeless, making them susceptible to parasites that can enter the bloodstream through cuts in their feet. Her shoe drives have helped benefit those in need worldwide and they have also raised money for local soccer clubs, science clubs and other nonprofit organizations like the YMCA.

“If you see someone on the side of the road, you have a choice,” says Olivia. “You can continue walking and pass them by or you can stop to help. People went out of their way to help us when we needed it and that felt really good. It also feels really good for me now to be able to do the same.”

If Olivia’s story inspires you, visit savetheearthprojects.com for direction on bringing your own volunteer effort to fruition or to join one of hers.

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Sowing Seeds

Vincent plants

You do not always know why things happen. In 2009 our home and entire community were destroyed in a FEMA disaster. Everything was gone – except our hope and joy.

As you know, Olivia started Save the Earth Projects when she was 10 years old as a way to give back to the world. It was born because she saw so many people come to our aid during that dark time in September 2009 and she wanted to create a movement for good.

S.T.E.P. is only successful when people come together and live more responsibly locally, raise awareness of issues nationally, and when we are all able to give back globally.

You are likely aware that Olivia collected ~20k pair of shoes over the past 3 years for her Leave a GOOD Footprint Campaign.

What you may not know is…

When Vincent was 10 – he wanted his own project. So he created S.TE.P. Up to the Plate – community gardens. The idea is to teach kids to eat better foods, to reduce emissions, to reduce the chemicals we put in our bodies, to address childhood obesity, to get kids outside and to donate crops to people in local communities who hunger.

Well – thanks to the John Maxwell Team and specifically master gardener Emily – Olivia and Vincent received a donation of over 100 navy bean and black eyed pea plants.

Now the kids will not only be able to fill bellies with good food, but will be able to fill minds with good intentions. Grow where you’re planted, tend to the garden of your life, prune wisely to increase your health inside and out, multiply your efforts, and give away the fruits of your labor.

You’ve heard the saying “you reap what you sow”. Sow wisely.

This past week I participated in my 4th International Certification Conference as a mentorship member of the John Maxwell Team.

Dr. Maxwell was just named the top leadership expert in the world for the 7th year in a row (click here for more info on who he is, how to get involved, and how to reach me for more info)

Dr. Maxwell closed the conference talking about Ephesians 3:19-20. We are thankful to know of even a small glimpse of Christ’s love for us – it’s greater than any of us can comprehend. Our prayer is that He continue to fill us with all He has for us – because He can do much, much more than we can even imagine.

In the midst of a few thousand people from over 100 countries, I had an opportunity to speak to a group about the difference in living our lives as buckets – or as pipes. God wants to provide far more to us – but buckets can only hold so much. Buckets store, pipes transport. Buckets contain, pipes are meant for movement – for connection to other pipes – for bringing things further and more easily than they could in a solitary bucket.

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John reinforced my message by challenging us. Do you want far less? Or far more. Try to do things alone? Do things with God. Do things for selfish intent? Or to add value to people.

Lord – thank you for a love that never fails, never gives up, and provides far more than we can imagine or deserve. May you allow us continue to grow as pipes and connectors for your glory. Amen. #jmt #jmtdna#stepuptotheplate #STEP #imc2016#SaveTheEarthProjects #healthyliving#intentionalliving

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For more information on S.T.E.P. you can visit our website or facebook page. We would love to see YOUR gardens! You can also always also donate your shoes!