Justin Sardo stands by one of his Pocket Change boxes at Santa Monica High School. (Photo by Alex Vejar)

Justin Sardo stands by one of his Pocket Change boxes at Santa Monica High School. (Photo by Alex Vejar)

SAMOHI — In many ways, Justin Sardo is a typical 16-year-old student. He runs cross country and track for Santa Monica High School, and until this past year, even played a musical instrument.

But looking a little deeper, he is anything but typical.

He is so dedicated to his sport that he runs 50 miles every week, and also mentors younger kids to become runners. His musical instrument was a bassoon, a rare choice among other teens his age.

Maybe this kind of individuality is what led him to start his own charity, Pocket Change, on the campus of Samohi.

Sardo says he doesn’t care about change, and is always trying to get rid of it. He figures if others feel the same, then why not empty our pockets for a good cause?

“If every student donates a quarter a day at Samo, we can make about $800 [per month],” Sardo explains.

Collecting change will be as easy as dropping coins into one of five boxes at the school. The boxes were installed over winter break and paid for by the Sardo family.

At the end of each month a check will be made out for the amount raised and be donated to a local charity. This month, the charity’s first, homeless services provider OPCC will be the nonprofit of choice.

“In the future, once we get up and running, we might be letting students vote and decide what organization will be benefited for the month,” Sardo says.

Laurel Fretz, principal of Samohi, thinks highly of Sardo.

“[Sardo] is a very sincere and intelligent young man who is passionate about helping others. He has been working on this idea since last summer,” she says. “I support his efforts.”

And it doesn’t end at the high school level. Sardo wants his charitable organization to expand to other schools as well.

“This would really work at any level,” he says.

Pocket Change is inspired by a similar charity called Project Mailbox at Boston University that was created by a family friend of Sardo’s, Nick Dougherty.

Sardo came up with the name for his charity, wanting to convey the idea that a little can go a long way.

“Your pocket change,” he says, “is making change for the community.”




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