Myers Park graduate seeks to change the world
Audrey Huynh set out on a mission her freshman year at Myers Park High School: to create change.
Now a recent graduate, Audrey realizes making a positive change – and encouraging others to do the same – wasn’t as hard as she expected.
Huynh has been instrumental in starting and sustaining two nonprofits during her high school career – Clothes for Change and the MUSTANG Project.
During her freshman year, Huynh noticed a classmate who wore designer clothing each day.
“After (attending) Randolph Middle and Barringer (Elementary), I wasn’t used to the degree of affluence at Myers Park,” she said.
Huynh saw this as an opportunity to use what she considered an “incredible resource” as a way to empower women.
Huynh said she always wanted to start a charity-community organization, but didn’t want to ask people for money because she felt that wasn’t sustainable long term.
During the summer before her sophomore year, after reading Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” Huynh knew she wanted to support women’s rights locally, nationally and internationally.
She became one of the founding members of Clothes for Change, a business model charity that collects designer clothes from Myers Park students and community members.
The group held a clothing drive, which generated an “incredible” response; the group of about 15 high schoolers collected thousands of clothing items and then held a sale of the designer clothes at reasonable prices at the Cornwell Center. The event raised $3,000.
All the nonprofit’s funds went toward women’s rights advocacy programs, locally and around the world.
Huynh said the club began to grow as it held more sales and awareness events about women-centered topics, such as sex trafficking in Charlotte, as well as luncheons and galas to raise money.
The nonprofit held a spring gala this year focusing on the importance of educating young girls and, in turn, empowering them, Huynh said.
The gala raised approximately $10,000 to provide low-income or undocumented students scholarships to attend Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), as well as the Afghan Institute of Learning and Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program in Vietnam.
Supporting undocumented immigrant students was particularly important to Huynh, as they must pay out-of-state tuition at CPCC and receive no federal funding to attend college. The associate degree program costs $8,000 overall for in-state students and $16,000 overall for out-of-state students.
“Most of these girls don’t have enough money to start off with (to start the program),” Huynh said.
The funds from the gala helped fund two $2,000 scholarships and four $1,000 scholarships.
Huynh also established the MUSTANG Project earlier this year, which consisted of building an aquaponic garden and outdoor box gardens to help alleviate area food deserts in the Charlotte area.
There are about 60 food deserts in Mecklenburg County, according to Meg Fencil, education and outreach program director of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that seeks to advance a region-wide sustainability movement.
Huynh raised approximately $20,000 in about two and half months through corporate and community sponsorships to carry out the project.
“It was interesting with that project because I was asking people to invest in something that we didn’t have yet,” she said.
Nonprofit 100 Gardens built the aquaponic garden – a garden that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system, where the fish waste provides an organic food source for plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the fish to live. The group also taught students how to build and maintain the garden.
The crops produced in the gardens went to Communities In Schools and Friendship Trays, a sect of Meals-On-Wheels, which delivers meals to elderly, handicapped and convalescing residents.
“It had always been a childhood dream of mine to have a garden, so I was achieving a childhood dream while still helping people,” she said.
Huynh also said she appreciated how the project helped bring the school community together and connect students who might not have met otherwise.
She feels confident both the MUSTANG Project and Clothes for Change will continue after she leaves Charlotte to pursue a degree in international relations at Stanford University in the fall, and hopes to eventually start another Clothes for Change chapter in college.
Huynh said helping others through nonprofits had been a “transformative experience,” and helped her realize she could make a change in her community, despite her age or others’ doubts.
“I feel teenagers convince themselves that because we’re young, we can’t make change,” she said. “I’ve found people really rally around a young person trying to create change.”
She believes fellow young people feel inspired to create change where their passions lie.
“One thing that was important for me initially was to go outside my comfort zone,” Huynh said. “It seems simple, but I feel that most people don’t do it.”
Huynh encourages young people to believe in themselves and to invest in their passions.
“People will run and support you if you are capable in believing in yourself,” she said. “Investing in my passions, that’s what defined my high school career.”