Phoenix Teen Fights Social Issues with a Multifaceted Approach

Daily Point of Light # 7678 Nov 7, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Monica Nitu. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Monica Nitu has lived in Phoenix her whole life. She is a first-generation American — her parents immigrated as young adults to escape the poverty of their native Romania. Today, Monica utilizes her incredible energy to uplift others.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I’m an avid reader and passionate writer, so it’s important for me that young children have access to books. Learning to love reading at a young age can shape their development and affect their future education.

I am also inspired by the fact that Arizona has the dubious distinction of ranking as the eighth worst state in family and youth homelessness. I am inspired by organizations around me that put so much work toward trying to fix this growing problem. Single moms and Native American families often can’t afford housing, which can have a devastating impact on the children. What lifts my spirits is that ordinary citizens are stepping up to tackle this significant problem.

Tell us about your various volunteer roles.

I am the founder and president of the Book Box Project. My main focus is the collection and distribution of boxes stocked with books, clothing, toys and hygiene supplies. I also coordinate with local businesses such as healthcare offices that set up collection boxes and collect donated items from their patients. I pick these up and distribute them to various organizations including Maggie’s Place, which offers temporary housing and support for single mothers, and the Native American Connections which provides housing for families in need. I also collaborate with my school to collect books to donate to the project. This past June, I collected and delivered 1,000 books, 75 handmade baby hats, numerous boxes of donated and new clothing and over $22,000 in donations to benefit unhoused youth and families.

Monica (left), donating hand-made fleece blankets to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for patients to stay warm in the hospital. /Courtesy Monica Nitu

I am the founder of the Phoenix chapter of Brighten A Day, which makes handmade greeting cards for senior living facilities. I and other student volunteers have made over 350 cards and gifts. This fall, we’re gearing up for the holiday season. Senior home residents are often incredibly lonely and isolated from their families. I coordinate everything from handmaking greeting cards to collaborating with seven smaller facilities and one large senior care facility to distribute cards and gifts to the residents.

At the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, I work as a teen volunteer in the hospital’s central supply. I can’t work with patients until I’m 18, but I work behind the scenes putting together medical kits that include blankets, toothbrushes and other supplies. I deliver these kits to patients’ rooms. I coordinate with nurses and doctors, making sure that supplies get to where they are needed. This year, I fundraised over $2,500 and donated 180 homemade blankets to give comfort to patients. I have logged over 700 volunteer hours at PCH since fall of 2021. I have also raised $20,000 for cancer research through the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society, or LLs, which is dedicated to further research on blood cancers as well as financial and other support for patients and their families.

What inspired you to get started with these initiatives?

Let’s start with Brighten a Day. COVID-19 had a devastating effect on seniors living in facilities. Pandemic restrictions meant absolutely no family or friends could visit. The residents felt isolated, lonely and many became severely depressed. As soon as the restrictions were lifted, I knew I could make a difference in their lives. Something as simple as a beautiful handmade greeting card can make a resident feel like someone cares.

I volunteer at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital because of my interest in pursuing a career in medicine. I am always amazed how people work together as a team in the hospital. I speak to hundreds of nurses, and all of them work incredibly hard and truly care for their patients.

What are your long-term plans or goals for the Book Box Project and Brighten a Day?

I plan to expand the Book Box Project so we can work with more organizations and help more people, not just in Phoenix but in other areas as well.

The same holds for Brighten a Day. I want to expand our reach. I want to get more people participating in making cards, and I want to organize groups of students to do group visits to senior facilities.

When I turn 18, I will be an adult volunteer at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. This opens up a lot more opportunities to help. This can include patient visits, supervising play rooms and running craft activities with the kids.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

In general, the most rewarding part is seeing the positive impact I have on the people I serve, for example how happy kids are when they receive picture books and toys I donate to Maggie’s Place and Native American Connections. People will mention how desperately they need supplies, and they are so grateful that we came through and provided them.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned a lot about the challenges that families face in Arizona. It has been eye-opening to see the isolation and loneliness in senior homes and seeing firsthand the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty. It is so important to have support systems for these vulnerable populations.

Just this year, Arizona has had the largest increase in the country of unhoused youth. There has been exponential growth in the numbers of homeless youth. These kids are incredibly resilient, but they can’t do life alone. I am continually in awe about how hard the charitable organizations work to make positive change. I have learned how important community support really is.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

I work with Maggie’s Place, which offers support and temporary housing for single mothers. I will be holding a book drive just before the holidays to provide the children with new picture books for Christmas.

Monica (right), gifting a card to a senior living home resident to bring cheer through her Brighten A Day Chapter. /Courtesy Monica Nitu

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

I believe it’s important to get involved because it fosters a sense of connection with the community. When I contribute to a cause I’m passionate about, I see a positive impact on others, but I also feel more fulfilled. Even though I’m just a high school student I can still have a huge impact on the world around me. Volunteering means people come together to build stronger and more compassionate communities. Being involved makes you see the world around you in a different light. I have seen firsthand how people come together when there’s a need. Despite the negativity we see in this world, volunteering helps us all see that people are really good.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Find a cause that resonates with you personally. For example, I started the Book Box Project because it matters to me that children need access to literacy. Choose something you’re passionate about because it will show through your work. Volunteering can be incredibly rewarding but you have to stay committed to the cause you chose. Don’t underestimate your impact, even if you have very few resources when you start, you can still make a difference and let it grow from there.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I want people to learn that it’s possible to make a positive impact even as a student. I don’t have access to major funding, yet I have still succeeded in making a difference because of the generosity of our citizens. If you see a problem or need, you have the power to take action. You can address immediate problems and you can work toward long-term solutions.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Monica? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman