Over the past two years, Inland NW Baby has grown from a small, one-room diaper drive to a five-county, two-state operation providing diapers, clothing, hygiene items and other necessities to outreach programs.
It has been so successful that founder Jesse Sheldon, a 17-year-old junior from Central Valley High School, recently was awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Giving Award. He was the high school winner for Washington state.
Sheldon said the organization is filling a need in the community.
“Some of the organizations we work with say they don’t know what they did before we were here,” he said.
The group fills 100 orders a week these days, compared to 100 orders a month a year ago. About 80,000 diapers have been distributed and 5,000 orders completed over the past year and a half.
When he started out, many outreach services could only give out 12 diapers a month to a mother in need. Now, they are able to give mothers 40 diapers a month.
He applied for the Prudential award in November and it was announced in February. He traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award. He met New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Harry Shum Jr., the actor who plays Mike Chang in the television show “Glee.”
“The coolest part was to see 100 other teenagers getting involved in their community,” he said. He noted that while many students were honored for their work in other countries, Sheldon felt a kinship with those who worked to fill needs in their own community.
“I’m all about local,” he said. “We have lots of problems of our own here.”
Along with a medal, a jacket and a $1,000 scholarship, Sheldon had a chance to see the capital – there was a dinner at the Museum of Natural History, he visited the Newseum, he met Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and took a dinner cruise down the Potomac River.
He said it was nice that he received the award and the trip, but he felt it validated the work of the people who have given their time to Inland NW Baby over the years.
“It makes me feel really good,” he said. “But it honors their efforts as well. The award isn’t just about me.”
Despite the success of Inland NW Baby, Sheldon said he is a normal teenager who enjoys doing things every other teenager does. He has a girlfriend. He plays trombone and baritone in the school band. He is in DECA and is a ski instructor at Mount Spokane during the winter.
“I do normal teenage stuff,” he said. “Just less.”
He hopes to attend Gonzaga University once he graduates – it will keep him close to home and his nonprofit. He wants to study business, marketing, entrepreneurship and political science. He feels Spokane is a good place to start a business and feels there is potential for growth in the area.
Sheldon’s goal when he started out was to raise awareness about the need for diapers for low-income families. He said one in three mothers struggles to buy the diapers she needs for her children. Federal and state assistance programs help families buy food, not diapers. While he feels the awareness has grown in the past two years, he plans to keep going.
But he wouldn’t have made it this far without his mother, Julie, the daily operations executive director of the organization. Sheldon said she spends much of her time at Inland NW Baby, making connections, organizing volunteers and completing the day-to-day business.
“She has been a driving force to make this successful,” he said.