Naples teenager spends his summers helping children in Colombia

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Zach Smitely handing out school supplies in Colombia (CREDIT: WINK News)

A Naples teenager spends his summers helping children get school supplies in Colombia.

Zach Smitely of Naples is not most teenagers. A junior at Community School of Naples the 16-year-old spent his time helping children in Medellin, Colombia.

“My mom is from Colombia from Medellin so we have this annual trip where we go to Colombia. They don’t have anything or anyone to help them. I’m a student. Why don’t I help them out with school supplies?” said Smitely.

His best friend Ronan Kennedy jumped in to help and with the support of their parents and school administrators, the pair made Smiles for Medellin a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Smitely says the first year as a CEO of a charity was not easy.

“Calculating all the costs was also a challenge because of the dollar to the peso fluctuating every single day,” said Smitely.

The group also faced unforeseen challenges entering the country of Colombia.

“When we landed in Medine and we were going through customs and immigration, we were stopped by around 11 officers who thought it was just suspicious. A white family with 11 bags. They were ripping things open. a few pencils got broken and I was just in shock. That was a big unseen challenge that we faced.

After a few hours of delay, Smitely says they made their way to a school in need to help.

“They were suspicious because they not only as a community but as a country are not used to this kind of help so that was another reason why this felt so nice,” said Smitely.

“There’s about 469 students. Each one depending on the grade a composition notebook, 10 pencils, and then depending on the grade they’d have a couple of pens or crayons and colored pencils,” said Smitely.

In total, they brought clothing, 6,000 pencils, 2,500 pens, 500 erasers, 500 notebooks, 24 packs of colored pencils, two giant boxes of crayons, and a microscope for the school’s science lab.

The team made the delivery in June and Smitely is planning bigger and better giving for next year.

“That might be something we can do in a few years’ time. iPads,” said Smitely.

At just 16 years old, the teenager says he’s found the commodity of compassion is the most precious of them all.

“I’ve learned a lot about happiness because all those kids there were really really happy beforehand and it made me think how grateful I am to have everything I have today. And it’s just nice to see all those kids smile. Smiles for Medellin,” said Smitely.

For more information on how you can help Smiles for Medellin email or follow along on Instagram @smilesformedellin.

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