13-Year-Old Mobilizes Volunteers Around the World to Clean Up Trash, Protecting Both Animal and Human Life

Daily Point of Light # 7536 Apr 21, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Cash Daniels. April is Global Volunteer Month, a global movement to recognize volunteers and people who actively support their communities, whether through volunteerism or other elements around the Points of Light Civic Circle®, like Cash. Read his story, and join the Global Volunteer Month celebration. 

For as long as he can remember, 13-year-old Cash Daniels has loved animals, especially aquatic life.  

“My favorites are the whale shark and the arapaima,” Cash said. “The whale shark is the biggest shark in the world and is actually a filter feeder. The arapaima lives in the Amazon and has to breathe air so it has to jump out of the water sometimes.”  

So when Cash was 7 years old, and he learned that the Tennessee River, which flows right through his city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is one of the most plastic-polluted rivers ever recorded in the world, he knew that he had to take matters into his own hands to save his beloved animals. 

“I started cleanups with just my family once a month. We got a couple buckets and gloves, and we just went out and picked up trash,” Cash said. “We filled about 30 buckets in one hour.”    

Soon enough, friends and other community members started joining in on Cash’s cleanups. He adopted the nickname ‘The Conservation Kid’ and started posting the time and location for his cleanups on Facebook and Instagram. In the five years that Cash has organized these cleanups, he and his volunteers have collected more than 14,000 pounds of trash, including plastic bottles, shopping bags and straws from the river. With nearly 5.2 million people relying on the Tennessee River and its tributaries for drinking water, Cash’s efforts are not only protecting wildlife but human life as well.

Cash Daniels, 13, co-founded The Cleanup Kids, a nonprofit encouraging other kids to pick up trash and protect the environment wherever they are./Courtesy Cash Daniels

“Without the community, we wouldn’t be able to make a difference,” Cash said. “Seeing the kids come out and actually have fun cleaning up trash makes me really happy. It’s important to educate the next generation because while kids may be a small part of the population, we are 100% of the future.”  

During one cleanup, Cash found two turtles wrapped in fishing line, so he acted once again by partnering with state parks across Tennessee to place 45 monofilament recycling bins for people to throw away their used fishing line. He then sends the fishing line to Berkley Fishing, which turns the fishing line into fish habitats that can help rejuvenate fish and plant growth.  

In order to spread his passion for conservation outside of Tennessee and even outside of the United States, Cash co-founded nonprofit organization The Cleanup Kids in 2019 with his best friend Ella Grace who lives in Canada. Together, they teach children around the world the importance of conservation through public speaking, media interviews and launching direct action campaigns. In 2022, The Cleanup Kids, comprising of more than 50 members across the US, Canada, Australia and Jamaica, achieved their goal of picking up one million pieces of trash.   

Cash has also met with several Tennessee state representatives to ensure that government leaders are hearing his message as well.  

“As an adult of 60+ years of age, it’s not often you think you have a mentor who is 13 years of age,” said Tennessee State Rep. Greg Vital, who participated in many of Cash’s cleanups.  

“He has not only made a difference one creek and one stream at a time. But he’s leading thousands and thousands of people to be more conscious of their environment and become stewards of the earth,” he added.  

Cash, who even authored his own book on river pollution titled “One Small Piece,” has shown time and time again that the power of children should not be underestimated.  

“You don’t have to be a professional or an expert in what you’re trying to do. I’m only 13 and I’m making a difference. And if I can, so can everyone,” Cash said.  

Join the Global Volunteer Month celebration! Download our Global Volunteer Month toolkits and access resources to encourage volunteerism and civic action, recognize volunteers, and raise awareness for your organization’s needs and funding opportunities.   

Alicia Lee