Students across West Volusia continue to prepare their generation for times ahead by becoming community leaders who truly make a difference. Olivia Russo-Hood, an 11th-grade student at University High School in Orange City, is a prime example.

Like many students, she enjoys a variety of activities both on and off campus. With a strong interest in music, she plays seven different instruments, was in marching band two years ago, and currently plays the viola in the school orchestra.

Russo-Hood is a well-rounded student, who also enjoys weightlifting and the color guard. She was the president of the Speech Club, and helped to organize a spoken-word event that took place at the school’s Black History Month program.

However, Russo-Hood’s ultimate passion of helping families in the community stemmed from her time as a third-grade student in Atlanta.

Russo-Hood tells of her experience when there was a massive flood with 20 feet of water in her family home, and before long, the subdivision in which she lived was full of murky brown water.

The dam was broken, and everything she knew as a child was washed away in a matter of three days.

“Something changed so drastically in such little time. It was life-changing. A lot of people came to help our families rebuild. They were helping out of the kindness of their hearts. I realized I wanted to do that too — like what they did for us — but for people across the world,” said Russo-Hood.

This experience brought about change. In the fifth grade, with the guidance of her mother, Denise Russo, Save the Earth Projects (STEP) was created.

“Mom said whatever you’re feeling, you would need to create it on your own. It has to be your own idea,” said Russo-Hood.

Since that time, two main projects have been created.

The first project is “Leave a Good Footprint,” which is a shoe drive where shoes are donated to those in need across the globe. Thus far, 50,000 shoes have been collected, which has benefited organizations and individuals alike.

The Deltona Family YMCA is one of the drop-off points for the shoes. Due to an anonymous donor, there is free shipping of the shoes, and 50 cents-per-pound of the shoes collected is donated to the nonprofit organization as well. This program meets its needs through community involvement.

The second project is “Step Up to the Plate,” which is a healthful-living initiative that teaches about local hunger, childhood obesity, and how and why community gardens are important.

“I want to make sure the world is a better and safer place by the time my generation takes over,” said Russo-Hood.

If you are interested in learning about how you can make this world a better and safer place, visit www.Savetheearthprojects.com or email to info@savetheearthprojects.com.

— Cameron, a longtime educator, lives in Orange City. Send email to cameronchronicleslive@gmail.com.