Swish, rinse, repeat. It all started while 15-year-old Paige Alenick was brushing her teeth.
A thought suddenly popped into her mind — not everyone in the world owns a toothbrush. She realized that oral hygiene was an overlooked daily necessity.
This simple idea inspired the Steinhardt senior to found her charity, Donate A Toothbrush. Alenick began researching the need for oral hygiene products in impoverished areas and found that simply owning a toothbrush not only aids people’s oral health but also boosts their self-esteem.
Alenick contacted dentist Ron Lamb, who gave up his practice to provide dental care for people in over 60 countries through his organization World Dental Relief. With Lamb’s help, the New Jersey native sent her first shipment of toothbrushes to Costa Rica when she was 15.
Since then, she has sent hundreds of thousands of toothbrushes to wherever they are requested. Her toothbrushes have gone to victims of Hurricane Sandy and even to a nursery school in Kenya.
“The toothbrushes that I’m giving them are maybe the only toothbrush they’ll get in their life,” Alenick said. “It really does help to keep their mouths clean, and this way they don’t have to share with their families, and they don’t have to use a stick or piece of cloth to clean their mouths.”
Alenick’s passion for service began when she was just seven years old. She volunteered for 11 years with an organization called Joining Old and Young, where she visited retirement homes to sing songs from the 1940s and ‘50s, and eventually became the co-president of the organization.
“We would have World War II veterans and [we would sing] God Bless America, and it would take them the whole song, but they would stand up,” Alenick said. “And it was just really amazing to see through doing J.O.Y. the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest difference.”
Alenick’s family was instrumental in helping her organize Donate A Toothbrush. Her father helped create a website and her mother, a lawyer, helped register the charity as a non-profit. Her sister Ashley works alongside her in these toothbrush endeavors.
Even with support from her family, Alenick was self-directed in getting Donate A Toothbrush up and running. She was the one responsible for organizing donations and requests for toothbrushes.
“It was primarily just me, and it was tough at times because it’s really hard when you’re young — even though people think that it’s really cute that you’re trying to change the world, that can get annoying when you’re really serious about it,” Alenick said. “But at the same time, the people who did take me seriously were instrumental in making Donate a Toothbrush what it was, so I owe a lot of that to them.”
Alenick was given the opportunity to share her passion with others when she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Alenick said that the people she met at the United Nations Youth Assemblies truly humbled her.
“That’s just a surreal experience, to have people who are my age and have them come up to you,” Alenick said. “It was really amazing to get to speak to people [and] to teach them how to get people to take you seriously when you’re young and you really want to make a difference.”
Alenick’s work with Donate A Toothbrush ultimately led her to study Applied Psychology at NYU. She specifically pursued industrial organizational psychology, because she realized that people would rally behind meaningful leaders and organizations.
“Donate A Toothbrush is kind of how I came to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and with my psychology degree,” Alenick said. “I definitely plan on continuing Donate A Toothbrush through grad school and for as long as I can, because to me, there’s no point in stopping.”
As packed as Alenick’s schedule is, she still has time to be a loyal friend. Her freshman year roommate and good friend, CAS senior Ashley Ellison — who is from Hawaii — said that Alenick took her under her wing and showed her what the East Coast was like.
While the two are close, Ellison said she does not know many details about Donate A Toothbrush because of how humble Alenick is.
“It’s just kind of one of those things about her — she does these incredible things for people, and then kind of never really talks about it,” Ellison said. “She’s so down to earth. It’s so natural for her — I don’t think she knows how cool it is.”
While Alenick’s work seems nearly effortless to those who meet her, she said balancing her schedule is difficult and is something she is still learning to do every day. However, meeting people who are just as activist-minded as she is and who appreciate her efforts keeps her going. But Alenick doesn’t feel like her plans have always been set in stone.
“I kind of have a Rachel Green complex — from Friends — where I kind of moved to the city scared and uncertain of what I wanted,” Alenick said. “I feel like [in] my time that I’ve been at NYU, I’ve grown a lot, changed a lot, become more well-rounded and have more of a different outlook on life now.”
Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]