By Melody Gutierrez
For almost two years, Alex Darrow saved the money he earned from his dishwashing job at a pizza place and stashed the cash he had received for Christmas and his birthday.
Many 16-year-olds would be saving for a new car, but Darrow was saving to launch a website that aims to raise money for needy children around the world – and create the world’s largest photo mosaic at the same time.
Only after thee Placer High School senior laid the foundation for the site, PictureTheWorld, did he tell his parents. Darrow still hasn’t clued friends in to what keeps him so busy during the week as he goes door-to-door to Auburn businesses seeking support.
“I didn’t want to tell my parents if it was going to fail,” he said. “They are definitely proud of me.”
The concept is this: A person visits www.ptwonline.org and donates at least $5, then uploads a picture for the mosaic. The proceeds will be split among philanthropic groups such as 88Bikes, Doctors Without Borders and UCSF Beniof Children’s Hospital.
The goal is to have more than 112,896 photos submitted so that the PictureTheWorld mosaic would become the world’s largest, beating out the current record holder in Birmingham, England.
So far, Darrow said 35 people have uploaded pictures. If the record is broken, Darrow’s project would raise at least $560,000.
Darrow, who named himself executive director of the site, said he will not take a salary. He said he’s spent $1,400 of his own money on the project.
“I wanted something everyone could participate in that translated into a global community,” Darrow said. “It shows hundreds of thousands of people coming together. Each photo has a story behind it.”
Josh Wagner said he was struck by the creativity of Darrow’s project when the teen first contacted him for help with the website’s finances.
Wagner is executive director and founder of Cultural Media Services, a nonprofit that provides an umbrella program for other organizations seeking tax-exempt status.
He said Darrow is his youngest client.
“I think there is a lot of possibility,” Wagner said. “For someone of Alex’s age to start something so innovative and creative, he has great potential and he’s already starting to realize that.”
After officially launching the website in May, Darrow was having difficulty getting the word out about his project. So, he researched public relations firms and e-mailed Nelson Hudes of Hudes Communication International in Toronto.
Darrow told Hudes his budget. It wasn’t even close to what Hudes normally charges.
“I thought look, it’s a 16-year-old kid who is trying to launch something and it sounds like a winner,” Hudes said Friday. “I didn’t want to take his money. He is trying to give back. What 16-year-old tries to raise money for needy kids around the world?”
Hudes helped Darrow rework his press release, gave him contacts to news organizations, and told him to keep sending e-mails to as many reporters as possible.
Darrow can’t explain what prompted his passion to help others. He said science fiction television shows sparked his interest in inventions, such as his idea for a silicon mat that would stick to a computer monitor and make any computer a touch screen. He went as far as taking that idea to a venture capital group, where he said he received good advice.
He said PictureTheWorld is close to his heart because it can make a difference for needy children.
“Kids don’t deserve to suffer from diseases and illnesses,” Darrow said. “I want to make their lives easier in any way I can. I guess I just wish more people my age would do this type of thing.”
HOW IT WORKS
• A person visits http://www.ptwonline. org and donates at least $5, then uploads a picture for the mosaic.
• The proceeds are split between philanthropic groups.
• The goal is to have more than 112,896 photos submitted so the PictureTheWorld mosaic can become the world’s largest.