Sydney Pedersen

At just 15 years old, Sydney Pedersen has already made a difference across the world. Growing up, she made trips with her father and dentists and doctors to the Dominican Republic to work on hygiene projects. Lately, she's been working with Utah-based charity projects, and right now, she's working on her biggest project yet. 

The Canyon View Junior High student is the Utah ambassador for the Live Below the Line campaign, a movement created by the Global Poverty Project to raise awareness of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty by asking participants to try living on $1.50 for food for five days, from April 29 to May 3, and to donate the money they would otherwise spend to charity.

So far, Pedersen has helped recruit 47 high schools, seven Utah universities and many local businesses to support the effort. Money raised on her Live Below the Line webpage will go to Happy Hearts Fund, which rebuilds schools after natural disasters.

Pederson discovered the organization when she met its founder, model and TV host Petra Nemcova at a Global Poverty Project benefit concert. Nemcova was a victim of the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004, and after seeing children from the disaster were left without schools, she started the fund. "I was just so inspired by her," Pedersen says.

Anyone can start their own Live Below the Line fundraising page at livebelowtheline.org/us.

We chatted with Pedersen about her fundraising efforts, and here's what she had to say:

Have you gotten any of your peers at school involved?

"Five of my really close friends are a huge part of this campaign, and we meet every Monday to plan for the week and set goals. I have also talked to all of my other friends, and I have gotten a lot of them to sign up on livebelowtheline.com, and we've done a ton of advertising. We also have shirts and posters we've been handing out." 

Will you get any reward for your efforts?

"If we reach the goal of raising $100,000 I will get to go to Indonesia [in the village of Yogyakarta] and visit a Happy Hearts school and spend some time with the kids. The experience is mainly what I'll get from it." (The top three student fundraisers in grades 9–12 will get to join Pedersen on the trip.)

What's it like to know you're helping people?

"It's awesome. I have been involved in charity work for a long time. My parents have been great about introducing it into my life. Ever since I was little I loved it, and It's such a good feeling to know through this campaign I can help not just a few kids but a ton of kids, because the school will be there for years."

Have you run into any challenges promoting this campaign?

"I have a lot of extracurricular activities, and it's been hard trying to find a balance with getting homework done, getting to my activities and trying to head up this campaign. Sometimes things overlap, but so far it's been pretty good and I've been able to manage it."

Do you plan on doing this type of work as an adult?

"Definitely, I want to pursue business and charity work. I would love to keep working with children and building schools. I think that's what I'm most interested in."

Ambassadors like Pedersen are critical to the fundraising effort. Utah's campaign marks the first time Live Below the Line has been endorced by the Governor's office. The campaign starts on April 29.