Dear Future Changemaker,
My sister and I grew up in a motel near Disneyland.
We’d pass time by entertaining ourselves in the breakfast room by building blanket forts from discarded linens as our dad managed the front desk. In 2014, our dad taught us that the linens we played with were meant to be discarded — part of a common hotel practice of throwing away linens with slight imperfections like coffee stains or pen marks.
Driven by a desire to promote sustainability and social responsibility, we co-founded Linens N Love over eight years ago to donate these linens to local animal shelters, women’s homes, and children’s centers, providing them with much-needed resources. Recognizing the power of youth empowerment, May and I recruited other students to join their cause, and encouraged them to develop their own nonprofit initiatives for meaningful service opportunities. To foster empathy and compassion, all student volunteers embarked on a tour of each shelter after their contributions, engaging with shelter residents on a firsthand basis to understand why their volunteerism matters. The nonprofit has grown from two sisters to over 500 global ambassadors — and stands today as a 100% youth-driven organization.
As part of our vision to provide educational resources for students to develop their own nonprofit initiatives, we launched and developed the Linens N Love Global Leaders program — a full scholarship program. This innovative initiative went beyond providing financial support by offering in-person opportunities for first-generation, low-income students to engage with other young changemakers in an intensive leadership bootcamp.
Through the Linens N Love Global Leaders program, participants were immersed in a transformative experience where they acquired essential skills for nonprofit leadership. They engaged in workshops and sessions focused on negotiation, effective altruism, crafting elevator pitches, and professional correspondence. Drawing from my experience cold calling hotels to ask for linen donations, I shared my challenges of hotel managers hearing my voice and asking if I was just a kid. I led several communication workshops to teach our student leaders how to effectively communicate our mission.
To date, our nonprofit has donated over 50,000 linens to various shelters, and we’re on track to donate 100,000 linens over the next year. We have expanded our reach to 15 countries worldwide, ranging from the United States to Singapore.
Linens N Love’s sustainable and innovative vision of giving blankets, sheets, and pillows a second life has saved over 5.1 million kilojoules of energy, diverted over 1.5 million kgs of carbon emissions, and conserved over 7.5 million liters of water wastage.
Looking toward the future, May and I have exciting plans to further amplify our impact and scale our impact to 1 million linens donated worldwide. Our north star is a relentless pursuit to revolutionize hotel practices, driving an unprecedented transformation in standard operating procedures. My sister and I strive to establish a fully circular economy within the hotel industry. Through innovative automation and seamless connections, we aim to bridge the gap between hotels and shelters and empower local volunteers to play a pivotal role in delivering hotel linen donations to those in need. One of our key approaches is to develop a tech-based solution that automates the linens logistics and delivery process, streamlining operations and increasing efficiency. For me, I hope that I can leverage the fact that my university, Stanford University, is located in the Silicon Valley, to further connect with technologists and entrepreneurs who are excited in joining our mission. May and I have these exciting ideas about leveraging technology intersecting with sustainability, but we’re still looking for support.
Reflecting on my changemaker journey, I was once asked during a podcast what my “why statement” is. I told them, “Why wait?” Age doesn’t define your impact. I know we’re all still very young, but it’s never too early (or late!) to start changemaking!
If there’s one thing that you take away from this letter, I hope that you also believe that changemaking is not defined by your age. I’ve met incredible changemakers through programs like Ashoka’s T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge, and I’ve delivered speeches in front of tens and thousands of young student leaders. We’re all still very young, but we don’t let our age define our impact. My sister and I hit several roadblocks leading Linens N Love at such a young age back in 2014, but we never let our age define our impact, and I encourage you to do the same.
So, what are you waiting for? Go out and find what project excites you. I’m rooting for you!
. . .
This letter is the fifth in our “Yours Truly, Changemakers” series when youth innovators write a letter to their peers about why it’s important to lead change at a young age, reflect on the challenges they have overcome, and offer their words of wisdom on making a difference. You can read more articles in the series here.