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Jordyn Schara: From teen activist to adult difference-maker

In an age when teen activism was, well, activated, nobody was more active in her formative years than Jordyn Schara, and it’s the primary reason why she was the biggest surprise among the five women who were honored as part of In Business magazine’s inaugural Women of Industry awards program.

In Schara’s case, the industry is the nonprofit sector, where she has fought for causes that had been flying under the radar. All she did in her teen years was found the organization HOPE (Helping Our Peers Excel) to give her peers opportunities to tackle issues in their communities, fund community-service projects, and give her fellow youth the tools to be part of the solution. In the process of leading her peers, she’s taken home some impressive honors.

Now a junior at UW–Madison, Schara is just getting started. “I love winning awards that are closer to home like Madison and Wisconsin because I think it’s just really valuable to me to know that I’m having an impact on people in my community,” says Schara, a native of North Freedom. “This particular award is just fantastic because I love the idea of being recognized as a woman of industry who is actually going out and pursuing a goal. It’s important for me, obviously, to try and inspire other people, especially other young women.”

Impactful character

Perhaps Schara’s biggest strength is the personal character never to be discouraged when adults don’t respond, especially when she takes on an issue like prescription pill and drug disposal, aka P2D2. It’s a concern because when we dump unwanted drugs down the drain, they cause problems for humans and aquatic animals. Our wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out these chemicals, and they pass through to surface waters, soil, and groundwater. In addition, if drugs are thrown out in the trash, they potentially are accessible to children and pets, and the medications can still cause groundwater contamination.

Understanding that we could literally be drinking someone else’s antibiotics, Schara responded with a 24/7drug collection program at various police departments. This includes the provision of grants of approximately $1,000 for communities to purchase their own drug containers and other materials they need to start their own collection programs.

Schara had contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as the state Department of Natural Resources, but none of these agencies were willing to help. For example, the DEA told her that prescription drug abuse wasn’t that big of a problem and they had drug lords to deal with.

Fortunately, her local police chief was supportive but noted that when he tried to start a collection program, he was turned down by the city council. Undeterred, Schara worked out the details of her program and made her own presentation to the council, which gave her a standing ovation and provided funds to launch it. To recruit volunteers and create awareness, she went on to make presentations to the local hospital, pharmacists, civic organizations, schools, and business leaders.

“I remember being told from a very young age by my parents [Jeff and Krystal Schara] that ‘no doesn’t mean no, it means try it another way,’” Jordyn says. “I was told ‘no’ repeatedly when I was trying to start my program and, honestly, every time I was told ‘no,’ it made me want to reach my goal even more.”

Thus far, Schara has created 11 permanent drug collection programs and counting — at the moment, she’s working with the city of Monona on another — she has secured more than $40,000 to keep the program going, and she intends to take it statewide and, eventually, national. “It’s obviously something that if I could spread it to any other states or across the county, wherever I could get it, I’m absolutely open to working with someone,” she says.

P2D2 and other volunteer programs have led to a long list of honors and awards, including the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by President George W. Bush’s Council on Service and Civic Participation for demonstrating outstanding character through volunteering. The recognition has come at some personal cost — missing Homecoming dances and the like — but Schara gains energy from equally committed peers in other parts of the country.

“It’s hard to be a young person and to be pursuing goals in largely an adult world,” she says. “A lot of times they don’t always mesh together well, but I’ve encountered so many young people, so many of my peers at conferences and awards programs, and they honestly astonish me. Once they find a goal that’s very specific to them, something that they are passionate about, you don’t really have to push them much.”

Her mother, Krystal Schara, would like to claim credit for the leadership qualities Jordyn has shown, but she believes her daughter was born with it. “As a toddler, it was apparent that she was a different child,” Krystal says. “She never spoke baby talk or simple words — she just started talking in full sentences. Her father and I realized early on that she wasn't intimidated by adults. If she wanted something she just went after it, and the passion and commitment she possessed was unusual for a child.”

Adults outside of her family have noticed, too, and they don’t hesitate to credit her family. Stephen J. Lyons, 
communications, public affairs, and government affairs advisor for Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, worked on a prescription drug project with Jordyn while she was still in high school. Lyons believes her tenacity comes from several places, starting at home with her parents and extending to teachers and other influencers. “When you have a strong family unit that is rooted in firm beliefs,” he says, “it sets the stage early of what is right and what is wrong and to stand up for your beliefs and to fight for what’s right.”

Pushing the limits

At UW–Madison, Schara is double majoring in journalism and gender and women’s studies, and her love of learning should serve her well. By her own admission, she’s never content, so expect her to continue pursuing the thing that she can’t give up on. “I’m definitely going to go in the direction of journalism and advocacy for the things that I’m passionate about,” she says. “I want to take my career and tie in a lot of the things I’ve been doing for the last eight years. I’m going to keep on pushing for these goals that I’ve been working toward.”

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