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Six Things I've Learned During My First Six Months as an Organ Donation Advocate

Written by Sophia Renner, Student Engagement Coordinator

Hi there 👋 I’m Sophia, SODA’s Student Engagement Coordinator. My main role here at SODA is to serve as a mentor and guide for our student advocates. I work with our growing network of high school, college, and graduate students to ensure they feel confident in their advocacy efforts.

I joined the SODA National team in August 2022, and over the past six months, I’ve learned many valuable lessons that I’d like to share with you, our students and supporters!

1. Finding your passion is exciting (and a little scary… 🫣)

Graduating college is inevitably followed by an overwhelming range of emotions. The transition from 22 years of predictability to an era of all-encompassing change is intimidating, to say the least. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t picture what the next few months, let alone years, would look like. Even though I'd constantly remind myself that everything happens for a reason, it was difficult to avoid the nagging worry: What if I make the wrong decisions?

I’ve always had a strong enthusiasm for volunteer work. I volunteered for Gift of Life Marrow Registry in college, and I wanted a career that made a similar positive impact on people's lives. ​​During my recent job search, I came across a post from SODA National, and SODA’s mission reminded me of the important work I did for Gift of Life. Before I knew it, I’d accepted the position of Student Engagement Coordinator and felt a well-deserved sense of relief. My job would be meaningful since it would help students advocate for organ, eye, and tissue donation. The past six months have been full of inspiring students and life-saving organ donation advocacy, which has confirmed that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

2. It’s okay to not have all the answers

From my very first day with SODA National, I knew our small (but mighty!) team would be there to support me. SODA’s amazing Program Director, Nicole Nidea, has been my mentor and guide these past six months. While I still have much to learn, I know my team will be there to support me along the way.

To our student advocates, there may be times when you’re faced with a challenging situation, and I want to be a mentor for you, like I have at SODA National. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me or your local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) if you ever need advice on how to become a better organ donation advocate, how to make a difference on campus, or how to maneuver difficult conversations.

My mentors here at SODA taught me the importance of asking questions when I feel unsure, and I encourage you to do the same. Remember, we will always be here to support you!

Start a SODA chapter or host a one-off advocacy event on campus and have Sophia be your mentor.

3. Students are powerful

The best part of being SODA’s Student Engagement Coordinator is mentoring our amazing student leaders! Their passion and dedication to donation advocacy is truly inspiring.

I recently received an update from Adlai E. Stevenson High School explaining a new partnership they formed with the University of Illinois Chicago. Their chapter leaders will be traveling into the city to table at two upcoming college basketball games! This will allow SODA at Stevenson High School to increase their impact by educating more people about the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation and registering more people as organ donors. The amazing work that SODA at Stevenson High School is doing is just one example of our students going above and beyond to educate their communities about organ, eye, and tissue donation.

I’d like to thank all our student advocates for their hard work and the positive impact they create in their communities. 👏👏

Sophia tabling with the SODA at the University of Pittsburgh chapter leaders.

4. We’re all in this together

A full-circle moment for me was realizing that my childhood idols, Troy and Gabriella, were actually onto something in the epic High School Musical number, “We’re All in This Together.”

Our students’ connection to their local Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) is a great example of how collaboration can create a positive impact. Our chapter leaders frequently express gratitude for the donation education and local volunteer opportunities that our OPO relationships have made possible. Landry Herrick from Amarillo High School said, “Our OPO [contact] is Sheena from LifeGift! She drove to Amarillo, and we got to talk with her about our events and plans. She taught us a lot that we didn’t know about organ donation. She’s a wonderful woman, and we can’t wait to get more connected with her!”

I’m grateful to have met a few of SODA’s OPO connections in-person at various points throughout these past six months. It's inspiring to see so many people fighting for the same cause, and I look forward to watching our hard work continue to make a difference!

5. We need more organ donors

This goes without saying, but our country needs more organ donors. Despite being a Public Health major in college, most of my knowledge about organ donation came from the media. I was unaware of the thousands of people who are impacted by America’s organ donation shortage every year. What I did know, however, was that I could register when I got my license. To me, the choice was a no-brainer: Why wouldn’t I be an organ donor? Over the past six months, I’ve heard many reasons why people choose not to join the registry, and I understand now more than ever how important it is to dispel the many myths and misconceptions surrounding organ donation.

Do your part to reduce the organ shortage. Register to be an organ donor now!

Our student organ donation advocates are making sure that there are more organ donors by registering their friends and family as organ, eye, and tissue donors. This work is especially important to our student leaders who have personal connections to organ donation, like Sophie Griffin from Northeastern University. Sophie became a student advocate after her aunt passed away while waiting for a lung transplant. Sophie is now pursuing a career in medicine, a field that interests many of our students.

In fact, we recently established SODA’s first graduate-level chapter at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine! I’m truly honored to work with our country’s next generation of medical professionals and organ donation advocates.

6. Human resilience is empowering

SODA has introduced me to some of the most inspiring and resilient people I’ve ever met. Their stories push me to be the best student mentor I can be and are a constant reminder of why organ donation advocacy is so important.

Some of our chapter leaders have spoken with me about the encounters that motivate them to continue advocating for organ donation. Kayla Doyle from Smithtown High School West said, “A teacher approached me in the hall and said her husband had an emergency surgery recently and his life was saved thanks to an organ donor. She thanked me for running the SODA chapter at my high school.”

I’d like to thank everyone who has shared their connection to donation with me, our students, or others. Your resilience is empowering. 💞

Send Sophia well wishes to celebrate her 6 months at SODA!

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