Junior Achievement of Arizona recently announced its 2023 18 under 18 winners.
This award recognizes kids under the age of 18 who have done exceptional work such as starting businesses and nonprofits, breaking glass ceilings, or volunteering or advocating for a cause.
One winner in particular was Molly Budhiraja. Currently a junior at BASIS Peoria, she has developed an app called Project Toy Exchange.
She said her app is meant to reduce environmental waste associated with plastic toys.
“I did some research and about 80% of all plastic in landfills is from plastic toys,” Budhiraja said. “That’s a drastic number, and I wanted to create an initiative to help with that. So I created Project Toy Exchange where parents can trade off toys like a Barbie Dreamhouse for a kitchen play set instead of just buying new toys. It’s helping the environment and bringing smiles to kids at the same time.”
Project Toy Exchange isn’t her only project. She also started a nonprofit organization called My Wish for My Community.
As a teen who regularly volunteers, Budhiraja wanted to create a website that provides information and opportunities tailored to teens who are also looking to volunteer.
“I realized there’s a disconnect between teens and volunteer opportunities,” she said. “There are always barriers, such as geographical barriers, age restrictions or even funding. For example, there are so many volunteer organizations out there today, but they have a membership fee that’s either monthly or yearly. That’s not feasible for the average high schooler, and it should be accessible to all.
“So I created My Wish for My Community as a platform that brings safe and reliable volunteer opportunities to teens in the local area. It also makes it easier for them to track their impact and their volunteer hours.”
Budhiraja got involved with community service at an early age. She said her grandfather’s generosity was a major influence on her growing up.
“I was brought up in a family that really values giving back to others,” she said. “One of my greatest inspirations is my grandpa who was a microbiologist. I spent a lot of time with him, and he would teach me a lot about science. One thing I noticed about him was he would always give as much as he could. He’s the type of guy who would give his own shirt to a person if they didn’t have one.”
Her grandfather’s generosity was so influential that Budhiraja said she asked her friends to bring donations instead of presents for her 12th birthday party.
Another way she follows in her grandfather’s footsteps is through her love of STEM. She said she taught herself how to code, and she coded both her app and website.
She wants to combine her passion for STEM and activism. One way that she wants to combine her two passions is by working in health care policy when she graduates.
However, she said that any potential career plan has to include her nonprofit as she is looking to expand it in Arizona.
“I’m really interested in STEM alongside public policy and public activism,” she said. “So seeing where those two interact is what I’m exploring right now. I always participate in the science fair, and I love creating historical documentaries about scientific discoveries.
“I don’t want to leave that behind in the future even though I love creating positive change and rallying people in our community. So I am exploring how I can intertwine both my STEM aspect and my activism aspect.”
My Wish for My Community
Project Toy Exchange