A Conversation With SODA's Founder: Sara Miller
Written by Ellie Henderson, Social Media and Communications Intern
During her first year at Washington University in St. Louis, Sara Miller wanted to make a difference. Her passion for student advocacy lead to be the founder of the first ever chapter of SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates. Since then, SODA has grown into a national non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and support student-led organ donation education and registration efforts through high school and college organ donation chapters. Today, SODA has 30 chapters of students encouraging and advocating for organ donation and donor registration. Sara continues to lead SODA's National Team and support the organization's life-saving work as a volunteer. Team. Her passion for organ donation is inspirational!
Q: Why are you passionate about organ donation?
A: I became passionate about organ donation at a young age. In February of 2009, my older sister, Laura, suddenly passed away from a brain tumor. On the worst day of my life, my sister was able to save a life by donating her liver to a special education teacher named Trish. During this dark time in my life, I felt hope from knowing that my sister saved a life, and soon became passionate about spreading the importance of organ donation with my peers. At a young age, I spoke at Driver’s Education classes, to my youth group, and of course to my friends and family. When I went to college, it felt natural that I would get involved, and it has become a passion ever since!
Q: Why did you start SODA?
A: I founded SODA my first semester at Washington University in St. Louis in 2014 because I wanted to honor my sister, Laura, and to share the impact she made and that others can make by being an organ donor. A few years later in 2017, I realized that students across the country shared a similar passion for organ donation advocacy and wanted to make an impact. So, we formed SODA National and got to work!
We contacted a few Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) that we knew to brainstorm how we could expand to new campuses. By partnering with OPOs, we were able to expand to our first two campuses outside of Washington University in St. Louis - Marquette University and University of Wisconsin Madison. We realized we had struck a chord. So, we built a website, launched our Instagram, and started recruiting passionate leaders to join our team.
Over the coming years, we expanded to many more campuses. At the beginning of 2021, we had 21 chapters, and today (in March of 2021), we’re already at 30 chapters and counting!
Q: What does SODA believe? What makes SODA unique?
A: SODA believes, at our core, that student advocacy can make a difference in reducing the organ shortage. We simplify the process for students to start a chapter by providing lots of resources, advice, tips, and of course, swag!
SODA is unique in so many ways. Our leadership team is composed entirely of volunteers who share their talents and passion to help SODA make an impact. Additionally, SODA has a strong partnership with more than 20 OPOs across the country, which helps to ensure that each chapter receives outstanding support and advice. And lastly, SODA has incredible, passionate leaders at the helm of each chapter. These volunteer leaders engage their peers and community to promote the importance of organ donation.
Q: What has been your favorite moment or interaction as part of SODA?
A: Every time a new chapter submits an application, I get a “ping” on my email. I love reading through each new chapter application and learning why our student leaders are so passionate about organ donation. I am glad that SODA is able to make organ donation advocacy more accessible for students across the country, and I can’t wait to get to know the next generation of SODA leaders!
Interested in starting a chapter? Get started today!
Q: What do you hope chapter members gain from being involved with SODA?
A: "SODA teaches students invaluable lessons. For example, SODA helps students learn how to be an effective leader, through hosting meetings, recruiting team members, developing goals and a vision, and so much more. Additionally, SODA shows students that their actions have a direct impact on others. Each chapter aims to register 30 students and educate 300 students per semester - that’s a huge impact!
Want to support SODA reach more high school and college campuses? Make a financial contribution today.