Recently I had the extreme pleasure of attending a Fall Brunch at Mountain Park Church, where nearly 60 women — teens to grandmothers — heard an amazing young woman speak.

Nadya Okamoto, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Camions of Care and a 17-year-old high school senior at Catlin Gabel, was spellbinding. Nadya told how her own personal experiences led to homelessness for her and her mother and sisters, and how that caused her very long bus rides to Catlin Gabel, where this excellent student was on full scholarship.

During the bus rides, Nadya would speak to women on the buses, asking what they needed to make life more bearable. What she often heard was that “clothes are available and food is available, but we can’t use food stamps on feminine hygiene products.” She continued to hear stories from women who had to use toilet paper, rags or other items — which often led to infections — for their monthly cycles.

Even after Nadya and her family finally found themselves in a much better situation with a more stable home life, she says she could not forget the faces and stories of those women. So in 2013, Nadya and some fellow teens (boys and girls) realized a passion, forming Camions of Care to spread awareness and education about the needs of women and to distribute care packages of feminine hygiene products.

I can’t say I’ve ever met a more passionate and appealing group of young people working to create change. They can fill a brown sack with enough products for one woman’s monthly cycle needs; they shop for the best prices; they write grant requests (and are getting a great response); they have a distribution system that has teens driving all over Portland to deliver to nonprofits and give to women in need on the streets; and they speak to groups like our church.

After the brunch and Nadya’s talk, the women in attendance had the best time filling nearly 1,200 bags for women in need. What a marvelous feeling to know you made a difference.

What amazing young people — and how often do we hear just the opposite?

In just 2014 and 2015, a few of the awards Camions of Care has received — and money is usually attached! — include the 2015 President’s Volunteer Service Award (with Nadya going to Washington, D.C. to accept), Disney’s Youth Service Award, a National Youth Leadership Council award and many more. In November, Nadya will be giving a Tedx Youth talk.

The money that Camions of Care receive goes 100 percent to this cause. The part I find amazing is that each bag costs $2 to fill! Support by the community and caring people hopefully will continue to follow these youth as they spread to chapters in several states, making a difference to more women in need.

For more information about the organization, check out its website — which is continually updated with information and photos — at

Carolyn Arntson is a resident of Portland and a member of the Mountain Park Church congregation.

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