Donovan Smith, 17, is a pretty extraordinary person. He started making soap for the homeless when he was just 11 years old, and has been supporting homeless shelters with his homemade soaps ever since.
He has donated over 21,000 bars of soap and thousands of dollars to shelters and organizations that help the homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That’s a pretty hefty deed from a teenager with an unusual interest — but it all makes total sense once you get to know the guy.
We met up with Donovan on the internet to find out more and here’s part of that story, as told by Donovan.
Donovan: Nine years ago, my mother and I were homeless. Since we got back on our feet, it has basically been my mission to do what I can to help the homeless.
The project started in our kitchen after we found a new home. My mother decided to homeschool me and one of the first lessons she taught me was how to make soap. It was as a part of my math and science classes and I really enjoyed making it. And it turned out that my family and friends appreciated the end product as well, so I guess it took off from there.
The connection between myself, soap and the project is that I’ve been in that situation, I know how it feels to be homeless, and at the end of the day I just do what I can. My mother and I had people who helped us get out from homelessness and now I want to walk in their footsteps.
My whole motto is basically just ‘do what you can’. I believe that if we all just did something—it doesn’t have to be big—it could make a big overall effect, a difference and a positive outcome. You don’t even realize what would happen if we all did just a little something.
”I hired nine homeless individuals … In fact, I paid the rent for one of my employees and they have been stable ever since.”
The project has received a very positive reception. I have received letters from the former president, Barack Obama and the first lady, and many awards from places that I can’t name right now. I even got to have my own storefront in downtown Albuquerque.
But there were definitely challenges when I had the store. All of a sudden, there were so many orders and they came in such large quantities that I never fulfilled before. It was just a lot to juggle—trying to make a difference in my community by donating soap, and at the same time trying to get all these orders out. Every so often, I had a ’soapathon’, like a play on the word marathon, where I would just invite people to come in and make as many bars of soap as possible—some people would even volunteer. I don’t remember the exact number that we would be going for during each soapathon, but sometimes it would be over a thousand. I also hired, employed and trained nine homeless individuals to make soap. In fact, I paid the rent for one of my employees and they have been stable ever since. They really just needed a helping hand.
There was so much stress, though, and on the business side of things, there were not that many visitors to the store. So I just decided to call it quits and focus more on donating instead. Now, it’s just me making soap. I have given away at least 21,000 bars of soap, but that’s just what I can keep track of. Who knows really?
”I’m giving people their confidence and dignity back — the confidence to apply for a job or apply for an apartment or go back to school.”
I get my energy from thinking about all of the people that I have helped so far, and all of the people that I will help in the future. There are millions of Americans who are homeless right now. Through my project, I’m keeping my overall community cleaner and healthier. I’m now supporting organizations in my new hometown Spokane, Washington, improving the lives of homeless individuals that I will probably never get to meet. I’m giving them their confidence and dignity back—the confidence to apply for a job or apply for an apartment or go back to school.
In terms of the future of this project, I don’t have a specific goal in mind right now, but I want to continue to inspire others. At the moment, gardening is a hobby of mine and I want to learn as much as possible about that. Hopefully, once this corona virus stuff clears up, I can start donating gardening materials to organizations, too. Overall, it starts anew every Monday with making soap, gardening and inspiring people.
When I’m not doing those things, I’m usually reading books or playing video games. Just playing Animal Crossing. That’s really all. I’m trying to inspire my followers on social media to eat healthier, that’s also a passion of mine. And I try to show them what I’m reading at the time, whether it’s comic books or something more serious like Art of War—I like just sharing my interests on social media to interact with my followers.