Sometimes in life, people search for their passion but just can’t find it. Other times, after much trial and error, they stumble upon it later in life and discover a new level of fulfillment. If your name is Cameron Baker, and you’re a junior at Davidson Day School, you found it when you were 17 years old while scrolling on your TikTok feed.
That’s what happened a few months ago, as Cameron came across a video for Her Drive, a company based in Chicago that was founded in June of 2020 by two college students -- Alexa Mohsenzadeh of Emory University and Jenica Baron of Tulane University. The company’s purpose, as explained on its website, is to “support individuals that lack access to basic hygiene necessities,” such as bras, menstrual care, and general hygiene products. (https://www.herdrive.org/aboutus
) Such products are subject to the dreaded “pink tax” -- which, according to Wikipedia
, is a reference to the broad tendency for products marketed specifically to women to be more expensive than those marketed for men.
The video that Cameron saw encouraged people to host their own Her Drive program in their local areas. While preparing remarks for a Diversity Forum here at Davidson Day about Gender Equity this past March, Cameron found herself thinking long and hard about how she could make a difference in women’s lives. In her own life, she observed, much of what she did on a daily basis didn’t feel very meaningful. “I’d go to school, come home, and repeat,” she said. “This was something I could do that meant more than that. And more to the people around me.” When she saw the video, she knew this could be a way. So she clicked on the application on the Her Drive website, and input her information.
One of the questions asked her to explain her motivation for wanting to host a Her Drive campaign of her own. For Cameron, the answer was simple. She and her mom have donated women’s hygiene products for years to one of her friends who gives it to a shelter for battered women. Running her own Her Drive locally would give her an opportunity to do the same thing, except on a larger scale. Also, it would give her a chance to work with two of her close friends, fellow juniors Lexi Justice and Sully Young, whom she recruited to be part of her team.
“It started with Lexi,” Cameron said, “because it was nearing the Diversity Forum for Gender Equity, which is an issue that we both really started to get into together -- about the ways that we felt women are treated differently in regard to certain things, and then we realized there’s another side to the problem that we’ve never even had to consider.” That “other side” had to do with poverty, and the inability of many women to pay for essential items in their daily lives. What Her Drive represented was a way to make a difference without needing to come up with a new idea on their own. “There’s no reason,” she realized, “ that we can’t use the experiences of the college girls in Chicago to fuel this fire that they’ve already started.”
So when Cameron approached Lexi with her proposal, Lexi jumped at the chance to join forces with her like-minded friend. “I said yes without a doubt,” Lexi said. “I knew it would entail a lot of time-consuming work, but I knew I would find time because I was passionate about making a difference in the lives of the women in our community. It also just made sense. There are so many food drives and fundraisers, but there is not much done for the lack of women’s products for those who can’t afford them.”
As for Sully, Cameron chose her because “she has such a great mind for these kinds of things, and it’s something that she cares about too.” Cameron views both Lexi and Sully as people “who care about more than the surface-level things, and have what it takes to do this kind of work, because it has been a lot of work. And I knew they could push it further to where it would be successful.”
It wasn’t very hard to convince Sully to take part. “I trust Cameron a lot,” she said, “so I know that whatever she wants to get involved in will be a good idea. So she said, here’s this organization, Her Drive, she explained what their mission is, what they do, and then it also started hitting me in regards to what she was talking about -- how there are all these problems.” Having grown up in Ecuador, Sully has seen extreme poverty on a regular basis, “but I’ve never even thought of myself being put in that situation,” she said. “And when I thought about how this is an issue, and here’s an opportunity for me to actually help, I was like, I can’t say no to this.”
Despite the girls’ enthusiasm and level of commitment, it was rough going at first. For the first two or three weeks, they printed out flyers and handed them out to local businesses in the Lake Norman area. To their huge disappointment, they received little to no response. Naively, they had assumed that everyone would be as zealous about their cause as they were. They began to feel like they had placed too much hope in what others would do to support them. A few weeks ago, in early March, Cameron and Lexi sat down together one day and Cameron said, “We’re not getting anything.” They had yet to do any pickups. The low point probably came the day before their big event at Davidson Day, when they went to pick up a box they had left for donations at Davidson College a few weeks prior. When they looked into the box, they saw a grand total of one item.
Through all the frustration, the three girls maintained one consistent mantra: keep pushing. As Cameron said, “that’s the only way to get things done.” It helped to learn, when speaking with leaders of other Her Drive campaigns in other parts of the country, that these other teams were encountering many of the same obstacles. Knowing they weren’t alone gave them the motivation they needed. What Cameron figured out was that being “pushy” is a part of running a business, and “it’s what you should do” when your cause matters enough to you. “You can push in a respectful way,” she said. “I think that’s another thing with women. Sometimes we feel hesitant to push people, because that’s not expected from a woman. You aren’t supposed to do that; it’s not polite, it’s not proper. But you can push for the things that matter and still be respectful.”
So she, Lexi, and Sully started sending out more emails, sending out more posts without regard for whether or not the flood of correspondence was annoying. They spoke with Upper School Dean of Students Debbie Taylor about organizing an event at Davidson Day. “We want to get this done,” they said. “How can we make it happen?” With their new forceful approach, they were starting to get the kinds of responses they had been hoping for. When people began to realize that Cameron, Lexi, and Sully weren’t just three private-school students trying to earn some community service hours, but were passionate about what they were doing and eager to help the women who needed these products, people became more supportive. As Cameron put it, “When people see how much you care, it makes them care too.”
The event at Davidson Day took place on the morning of Wednesday, April 13, 2021, during carpool. The night before, Cameron, Lexi, and Sully bought a bunch of boxes and assembled them and shoved them into their cars. When cars started rolling in around 7:30 am, the three girls were waiting on the curb, not knowing what to expect. It was a dress-down day for students who brought in items. The three girls were annoyed to see seniors driving up and entering the building dressed down but without contributing any items. For the first ten minutes, nothing was happening. “It looked,” Sully said, “like we were going to be sitting out there with all those empty boxes for an hour.” Then, finally, a car came through and gave them a bag. The girls sighed with relief, knowing they’d at least have one item for all their troubles.
From there, it kept growing. Two bags. Three bags. Four bags. Boxes filled up. Teachers dropped off items. Parents dropped off items. By carpool’s end, all three of their cars were filled with boxes full of products. Even people who didn’t donate complimented the girls, telling them how amazing they were, thanking them for doing this. Administrators on carpool duty helped them load the boxes into their cars. The outpouring of love was overwhelming. “We felt like we were heard,” Cameron said. “It was one of the first times I had felt that way. Like, we were at the front of this. And literally, in hand, we had the success of it.”
The success, indeed, was enormous. From items counted that morning, they had received over 2,000 items, and that didn’t include all the items in Lexi’s car. After counting those items, and then more items that were donated in the afternoon carpool (as many parents who saw what was happening in the morning came back with items in the afternoon) and then more items the next day, they had received a whopping, astounding total of what will amount to over 6,000 items once more items are bought with the cash donations they have received.
So, where do all the items go? Who receives these products. Cameron said that they will go to two local places: Hope House
and CVAN (Cabarrus Victims Assistance Network
). Hope House is more family based, while CVAN is for women who’ve been victims of assault. Since they are donating to two places, they’re going to divide all the items before going to the locations to drop off the items. Cameron is hoping that the people who run Hope House and CVAN will be as excited as she, Lexi, and Sully are “when they see everything we’ve done and the progress we have made. They don’t know about the numbers right now. And so I’m hoping it’s going to be a very pleasant surprise. They get individual donations, but I don’t know if they’ve had one like this in a while. So that’s something that we’re all really looking forward to -- just actually seeing where it’s going and what it’s going to do.”
To Cameron, beyond doing direct work to impact the community, she and her friends are also doing their part to lift the stigma associated with menstrual cycles and feminine products. She feels strongly that girls her age and in middle school should not feel awkward when seeing Her Drive posters in the hallways. Growing into womanhood and dealing with body issues associated with womanhood, Cameron says, “is not something that should make you feel uncomfortable with yourself. It’s something everybody is going through.” That includes the women at CVAN who, Cameron says, did nothing to deserve to end up in the difficult position they are in.
Cameron says her work with Her Drive has been a wake up call. It has taken her outside of her bubble world of school and grades. “It’s been an experience that has allowed me to grow and to work with people in a professional environment,” she said.
Lexi, perhaps, put it best: “This Drive showed me that I can make a difference. I have always struggled with feeling powerless in that there is nothing I can really do as a 16-year-old to incite change and help the community. The Drive has impacted my view of myself and my worth. I am now aware that I have capabilities that I never had before to change the world.”