As Kelechi Iroegbu, 20, drove down the streets of the Third Ward, he was met with a familiar scene to the Houston area: people experiencing homelessness asking for money.
Iroegbu knew he didn’t have the cash to help them, but it made him wonder what else he could do to help the many people he saw in need.
“I thought, ‘How can I help other than money?’’ Iroegbu said. “I’m not a millionaire, so I’m not able to provide monetary support.”
This question has resulted in a chain of service events organized and led by Iroegbu that were centered around people coming together to contribute to the community in ways other than financial donations.
How it all started
As an SGA senator and RA at Bayou Oaks, Iroegbu’s network for potential donors was diverse. In February 2020, with the help of his residents and the residents of his fellow RA’s, he was able to gather 2,500 items of clothing from a simple tweet and a few GroupMe messages.
“I was really happy to see it,” Iroegbu said. “Star of Hope Houston homeless shelter was happy to see it too.”
The massive success of his first charity event motivated Iroegbu to continue his quest to give back to those in need. His next event, Help Feed Houston, encouraged students to use their meal exchange as a donation. They were able to provide over 100 meals and raise over $2,000 to buy personal protective equipment.
“It was crazy, I never know if these events are going to do so well,” Iroegbu said.
Iroegbu used the momentous support from these events to extend his outreach. He decided to turn his attention to children who needed help. With this in mind, Kits for Kids was created.
Kits for Kids was a book and supply drive for Blackshear Elementary School of Houston Independent School District; the district consists of majority low-income families. Iroegbu was able to garner a large amount of supplies and over $2,000 in monetary donations.
“I spoke to Principal Lewis, and she was ecstatic,” Iroegbu said. “There’s just so much we can do.”
Next on his agenda was Help Houston Shine, an event dedicated to cleaning up litter in the areas surrounding UH campus. It saw around 50 participants throughout the day.
“I just put the flyer out there, and it was amazing to see that many people volunteer their time,” Iroegbu said.
Although he is proud of the good he has accomplished, Iroegbu has remained humble about his success. Instead of highlighting his own impact, he recalled how those he’s helped have changed him for the better. One particular encounter from February has stuck with him.
He was surprised to learn that a man, who he thought was an employee of Star of Hope, was actually a member of the program experiencing homelessness. The man’s gratitude and joyous attitude struck a chord for Iroegbu.
“I learned more from him than anything else,” Iroegbu said. “He told me he saw a light in me.”
A new perspective on life
He encourages people to go for what they want to accomplish because life is too short. This motto is one Iroegbu knows all too well after a cancer misdiagnosis during his senior year of high school. Iroegbu’s life of track practice and SAT prep was put on hold after a doctor warned him that he might have to start immediate treatment.
Although a second opinion confirmed that he did not have cancer, the scare was enough to give him a new perspective on life.
“I always wanted to change the world later in life when I was more established in my career,” Iroegbu said. “The cancer scare changed that.”
One kind act can change the world
His giving spirit has now motivated those around him to give back in their own ways. His friends have seen how he organized these events on his own and want to know how they can do the same in their communities.
“I hate when people say one person can’t change the world,” Iroegbu said. “That really puts people off from doing what they want.”
As for his future events, Iroegbu encourages students to stay tuned and follow him on Twitter @overlooked for more information.
Photo courtesy of Kelechi Iroegbu