In the pouring rain, Archer Hadley sat in his wheelchair, unable to open the doors in front of him. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to him, but he was determined to make it the last.
“One morning, I forgot that it was raining, and I took the elevator up,” Hadley said. “I couldn’t get the door open, and that was the moment I realized that I’d been asking for automatic doors since I was a freshman and none of them were put in.”
Hadley, who suffers from cerebral palsy, set out to raise money for the installation of automatic doors at Austin High School.But what began as a $40,000 fundraiser soon turned into $100,000, and then, something much bigger — an increase in advocacy and awareness for those with disabilities.
As a result of his fundraising efforts, Hadley, an undergraduate studies sophomore, was nameda winner of the prestigious CARTER Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy this August.
“Obviously I felt confident about my work and what I had done, and obviously I truly believe in it and think it was a worthy and noble cause,” Hadley said.
When Hadley and his mother approached the school district about the issue, he realized the money for the automatic doors would be something he would have to obtain on his own. So he organized a wheelchair challenge at school — an event where students and faculty paid to challenge each other to spend a day in a manual wheelchair.
However, the challenge wasn’t raising enough money. He knew he’d have to approach the situation differently to reach his goal.
“I wrote a letter to everybody in my community that has supported me, and I asked if they could donate,” Hadley said. “After those letters, I started getting $100 checks [and] $500 checks from these people, and the amount quickly grew.”
Hadley’s determination and advocacy for disability access gained the attention of many influential figures, such as his superintendent, the mayor, and those at the Association of Fundraising Professionals who ultimately nominated him for the CARTER Award.
Michelle Wallis, an AFP Austin member and nominator, said Hadley not only made an impact on his campus, but inspired people all over the city.
“Archer stood out as a leader and someone who certainly saw a problem and went about fixing it,” Wallis said.
The award honors youth from ages 10-23 who help raise funds or awareness for a cause and show leadership in philanthropy.
“All of our youth nominees are just so inspiring,” Michael Nilsen, AFP’s Vice President of Public Affairs said. “But I think not only for him was it just the amount of money he raised for such a personal cause to him, but the awareness that he has created and generated, and the events that he came up with to have people walk a day in his shoes, so to speak.”
Hadley has no plans on stopping anytime soon. With part of the $100,000 he raised, he plans on holding Archer’s Challenge, a city-wide event from October 10-15 that will challenge residents and public figures in Austin to participate in activities while in a wheelchair. The money raised will contribute to the Rosedale School in Austin, which only serves students with disabilities.
He said he hopes that other young philanthropists are encouraged to work towards what they believe in.
“I think that there is no recipe to being philanthropic or caring about a cause or being passionate about something,” Hadley said. “Go at it without fear and don’t worry about the results.”