While many students are planning their summer getaways, one college senior from Fresh Meadows is helping less fortunate students pack their bags for the fall semester.
Liane Stephens-Henry, 22, has been getting kudos for a backpack collection project spreading across campuses nationwide.
The Howard University student, set to graduate this month with a degree in theater, launched an initiative dubbed “Lili’s Backpack Project” to collect more than 500 used backpacks by May 15 for students who can’t afford them.
“It’s definitely opened my eyes to see how those that are more fortunate can help those that aren’t as fortunate,” Stephens-Henry said.
She said she got the idea two years ago while interning in Jamaica, the home country of her parents, and noticing that school bags were expensive.
When she returned to Howard University in Washington, she saw that many fellow students in her dorm threw out old backpacks when they moved out.
“Every kid should have the opportunity to go to school and they should be able to have the basic necessities, including a backpack,” Stephens-Henry said. “With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s great seeing how many people have reached out to me, asking me how they can help with the project.”
The university and its Caribbean Students Association and Haitian Students Association have teamed for the initiative, which helps those in the U.S. and overseas. The project has also spread to Florida International University, Broward College and the University of Miami.
Stephens-Henry’s mother, Karen Stephens, is spearheading the publicity campaign for the project, using her experience in public relations. She has helped her daughter get sponsors The Home Depot to supply boxes for receptacle bins and FedEx to handle nationwide delivery. Stephens has also contacted several Caribbean food suppliers to support the backpack project.
“It’s sad that as a First World country we still have places like Washington, D.C., where students aren’t able to get things like a backpack,” Stephens said.
“I expect a lot from her,” she said of her daughter. “It’s great to have watched her take on the role and to not only think of the idea but to implement it.”
Stephens-Henry wants to turn the backpack drive into an annual effort