Fostering a Passion for Giving Back

Published on 24 June 2020

First-year undergraduate student Daniella Underwood has always had a passion for service. In fact, it's in her DNA.

Underwood's mother, Margot, has long been active in her community. When she was asked in 2012 by a local organization to host a program to support foster children and their families in Will County, Illinois, both she and Daniella embraced the challenge. Underwood, just 11 years old at the time, was set on a path of service and advocacy that she continues to explore at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Each year, the holiday season is full of joyful celebrations and family traditions for most people, but for foster children, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. They can serve as a reminder of the devastating losses and traumas that leave them without homes and families.

This reality did not sit well with Underwood and her family, and they embraced the opportunity to create a positive experience for foster children and their families. They developed an event that became known as Foster Palooza. The first year, 75 children and their families gathered for an evening of food and games and were given a toy and book to take home. Seven years later, the event has grown to serve 350 children and their families.

"My mother used her connections with the Marine Toys for Tots Program and the library at the college she works for to collect toys and books so that every child could go home with a gift," Underwood said. "She even paid for the food out of her own pocket. That's how it all started. Now we offer haircutting and spa services, photos with Santa Claus and the local police chief even brings in his reptiles. The event has grown so much that we are starting to look for new spaces so even more families can participate."

As her passion for this unique outreach grew, Underwood began to take more ownership of the planning process and bring her own ideas to life.

"An initiative that I started was a clothing drive," Underwood said. "I got the idea when I realized that my high school volleyball coach was going to throw out nearly 300 pairs of Nike warm-up pants. They were in great shape, and I couldn't imagine throwing away something that I knew people would cherish. I took them to Foster Palooza, and they were all claimed within 15 minutes."

After seeing the incredible impact Foster Palooza has had on her home county, Underwood aspires to bring something similar to St. Louis by generating support from the campus community and using volunteer connections made through the College's Founders Day community service initiative, STLCOP C.A.R.E.S.

"Helping people is not about extending a favor," Underwood explained. "It's your duty. I think people want to be involved, and they want to be inspired. But what I have learned is that part of giving back is teaching others how to give back."

Through her experience, she has come to appreciate the learning opportunities that community service initiatives like Foster Palooza can offer.

"It's not always easy or comfortable to talk to people you don't know, but it's a skill that I have learned to strengthen," Underwood said. "Foster Palooza has really helped cultivate my leadership skills and self-confidence. It's an experience that makes you grow."

With a passion for giving back and a love of science, Underwood found pharmacy to be the path for her.

"I knew I always wanted to do something in a field that focused on helping people," Underwood explained. "Initially, I thought I would go into psychology or therapy, but I found myself drawn to biology and chemistry. The idea of being able to pursue health sciences and also give back to the community was the perfect combination of what I really wanted to do. I felt strongly about the school, and with guidance and support from my admissions rep and the volleyball coaches, I knew St. Louis College of Pharmacy was the place for me."

This story originally appeared in the spring 2020 issue of Script.

Explore more stories in the categories of: Community Engagement , Philanthropy , Script , Students

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