Vasi Argeroplos isn’t exactly your average teen. While most young people look forward to the holidays as a time when they’ll be unwrapping present after present, for Argeroplos, this time of year (and every time of year) has more to do with giving toys, and making sure that every kid– not just those with parents who can afford it– has access to toys, entertainment, and everything else that makes childhood, well, childhood. The Garrison Forest School student was inspired to start her very own charity program after watching a documentary on television about children in orphanages and foster care.
“They did not have anything to play with or enjoy or even learn with,” says Vasi. “[My brother and I] spoke to our father and said we would love to try to help children have fun, laugh and have something to play with.”
As it happens, their father is an entrepreneur, and was able to point the kids in the right direction. “He said, ‘well, why don’t you do something, start a charity so you can raise money and help them.’ That was the first step. We began finding a name, logos, developed a website, found a way to raise money, brainstormed ideas…We then had to speak to a lawyer who deals with non profits to help us get this all done correctly and find out the rules, and register our non-profit, which we did. Then we put all of our ideas into motion.” Wow. Going through all of the steps to legally incorporate a non-profit is tricky work for anyone. But doing that as a 6th grader? Double wow. Since then, (Argeroplos is now a sophomore at Garrison Forest) Okay to Play has grown into a multi-city operation, bringing toys, video games, and even playgrounds to kids in need.
The Okay to Play model is elegantly simple. The charity collects used cell phones, PDAs, and other electronics. And since most of us end up upgrading one device or another each year, there’s no shortage of donations. Then, the
organization recycles the electronics and uses the money raised through recycling to purchase the games and equipment that they’ll donate to orphanages and foster kids. And the entire operation is volunteer-run. That means every single penny goes toward those in need– no one takes home a salary. “With Okay to Play, we hope to accomplish as much as we can,” says Vasi. “We envision it helping hundreds of locations and children yearly. We want to expand nationally and become a well known charity such as Toys for Tots. The ultimate goal would be to get support from major retailers that could help promote us and add us to their charity lists, which will make it much easier to raise money and help more children.”
In the meantime, Vasi has plenty going on right here in Baltimore, and is often right there on the ground, making it all happen. Most recently, she personally delivered four XBoxes and a 3-in-1 game table to the Woodbourne Foster Home for Boys. And Okay to Play is currently working with the Children’s Guild (home to 24 children) to be able to provide them with YMCA memberships, tickets to sporting events, and access to other types of excursions that would normally be cost prohibitive. And what does the future hold? “I know [my brother and I] both feel that we would like this charity to thrive and we will continue to work and support it. We know we will have to finish college and a graduate degree, but we hope that we can continue to work on this charity along the way. Maybe one day our own children can continue it.” Now there’s a holiday wish we can get behind.
Okay to Play welcomes donations of used electronics, gift cards, and money donated through their website. To donate, volunteer, or for more information, visit www.okaytoplay.org.