It’s one thing for teenagers to donate their time to charity. It’s quite another for one to set out alone to head an entire charity by herself, and then encourage others to help.

Katie Elliott, a junior at Scarborough High School, is doing just that. She is the sole founder, and currently sole member, of The Driving Force, a nascent charitable organization based out of the high school. Each month, she holds a week-long drive – this month’s is her third – to gather supplies for a specific charity.

Inspired by Key Club’s impact on the community, Elliott came up with the idea for a nonprofit in September. It took until November to create a name and logo and organize her first drive.

That month she collected assorted supplies for the Ronald McDonald House. It was a “big learning curve,” she said. “I’ve found it’s easier to direct the drive to one thing.”

Therefore, in December, Elliott transitioned from filling a long list of needed supplies to collecting young adult books for the Salvation Army. In the spirit of the holidays, she also gave a candy cane to all who donated a book.

Elliot has already seen her influence spreading; she saw a jump from 65 items collected in November to 237 books in December. This month, she is holding a pasta and sauce drive for the Preble Street soup kitchen in Portland.

“I’ve learned it’s a lot of work to run something as simple as a drive,” Elliott said. The time, work, and communication required give her “an idea of what it’s like to be in the real world.”

Elliot plans the drives one month at a time and holds it the second, third or fourth week of the month, depending on the schedule of the high school. And while she does recruit friends to sit at the collection boxes during school lunches, the drives are organized entirely on her own.

This is all in addition to the rest of her life. Elliott is a member of the National Honor Society, Natural Helpers (a peer support organization), the softball team, and she represents the junior class at school board meetings, on top of all her schoolwork. In September, she even won the Miss Teen Maine title.

Elliott hopes to see The Driving Force become a regular part of student life.

“Sometimes it’s hard to give so much of your time,” she said. “And if you want to get more students involved, the easiest way is to set up drives.” It is also easier, she said, when it’s something people often have on hand, such as books or nonperishable food items.

“I want to make it something people do automatically,” she said. She also hopes to see The Driving Force expand out of the high school and into local businesses.

As for others helping with the leadership, she said that “it’s hard to find someone who will put in as much time.” But she does hope to see it continue as long as she can, and perhaps take it to college with her.

Elliott also knows that the biggest thing she wishes to incorporate for her helpers is delivering the donations.

“It’s a really good feeling. When I drop off I can tell the appreciation and how much they need the stuff,” she said. “Until you go there you don’t realize how much they need it, and just doing this can help so much.”

Ali Pelczar is a junior at Scarborough High School. She can be reached at [email protected]

Katie Elliott, a junior at Scarborough High School, is the founder – and only member – of The Driving Force, which conducts monthly donation drives for local charities. (Staff photo by Ali Pelczar)

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