Junior Steele Citrone has channeled his concern for what he perceived as a lack of public information about organ donation's societal benefits into an outreach project aimed at teenage drivers.
The program he developed, License to Save 008 Lives, encourages young people to register as organ donors through regional and national websites, and helps them make informed decisions about becoming donors when applying for driver's licenses.
The design and implementation of a communication plan for License to Save 008 Lives is the culmination of a project Steele conducted as part of a Norton Fellowship, a program of Loomis' Norton Family Center for the Common Good that empowers students to take active roles in their communities through self-directed engagement projects during the summer.
"It's a silent issue — until it affects you," Steele said, noting that he became familiar with the benefits, limitations, and procedural challenges of organ donation as his family sought treatment for his grandfather's chronic kidney disease. The issue is not something most people think about on a daily basis, he acknowledged.
Steele saw an opportunity to reach his high school-aged peers as they entered the process for getting driver's licenses.
"Something like 90 percent of people polled think organ donation is a good thing, and yet only 50 percent of the population actually register," Steel said he discovered. Meanwhile, 22 Americans die each day while on a waiting list for organ donation. But, he noted, this problem can be fixed. If the rate of registration increased by just 10 percent — up to 60 percent — waiting lists for organ donations could possibly be eliminated.
"License to Save 008 Lives" is a play on the title of the Agent 007 James Bond movie License to Kill, and Steele said he chose it because one donor can save up to eight lives.
After researching organ donation organizations and conducting an online survey of young people's perceptions, Steele designed a logo and had it imprinted on keychains, cell phone wallets, T-shirts, and banners to use as promotional materials. Printed on all the items was the website address for Donate Life New England, which provides information and resources as well as directions for donation. Steele also created a portable, educational tool kit with giveaways, talking points, and a T-shirt for the presenter — packed in a logo-embellished organ donation cooler — so that others can have everything needed to share the message in schools, at driver safety events, at community fairs, and at other places and events where young people gather.
During the summer, Steele presented License to Save 008 Lives at public events near his home in Fairfield County, Connecticut, including a sandcastle-building contest at a public beach sponsored by the Fairfield Police Athletic League and at a community-wide tag sale fundraiser in support of the local service organization Operation Hope. He organized Snapchat filters for use at each event to draw youth attention to his message.
"I was inspired hearing people's stories," Steel said. Many of the stories he heard or discovered in his research addressed organ donation in an affirming way, as a silver lining of sorts, he said: When a loved one passed, his or her organs went to support the lives of others. Meeting with people face to face at public events also gave Steele the chance to dispel some of the myths about organ donation, such as someone's being "too old" or "too sick" to donate organs. With advances in medicine and technology and with the great need created by the donor shortage, older donors and those who have limitations are not necessarily ruled out, Steele noted.
While presenting at the tag sale event, Steele made a connection with Griffin Galati, a student at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, who has introduced License to Save 008 Lives at his school as part of the school's driver safety education program. Additionally, Scarlett Rollins, a student at Sacred Heart High School in Hamden, Conn., has expressed an interest in sharing the program at her school.
"What I appreciate most about Steele's project is his commitment to empathy and creativity," acknowledged Eric LaForest, Keller Family director of the Norton Family Center. "At every step along the way [Steele] designed creative solutions that would lead to the kinds of conversations that inspire action," he furthered.
Information and give-away items are on display at the check-out counter of the Alexander Bookstore in the Scanlan Campus Center at Loomis Chaffee, and Steele plans to continue to champion the organ donation cause by setting up a table at student club events and enlisting other students to join him in promoting License to Save 008 Lives on campus and beyond.
"It takes just a little bit of time to sign up, and it can make a real difference," Steele said.
More information about organ donation is available at Donate Life New England.
Connect to Loomis' Norton Family Center for the Common Good webpage to learn more about the Norton Fellowship program and the center's objectives.