Pablo Ramirez’s idea of starting The Invisible Project Inc., a nonprofit that carries the mission of supporting students with disabilities, stemmed from a conversation he had with a young girl he met while volunteering at a camp two years ago.
Ramirez was 14 then, and said that he will never forget what Bertha Jones, a camper that summer who suffers from cerebral palsy, told him. The camp is referred to as CAMP, or the Children’s Association for Maximum Potential.
“We talked about how a lot of times, people underestimate her intellectual capacity just because she is in a wheelchair, and that people won’t go down to her level and talk to her face,” Ramirez, who is now 16, recalled. “People won’t look into her eyes and have meaningful conversations with her.
“She told me about how horrible it felt to be stared at, while still feel invisible — that concept really stuck with me.”
Invisible Project was established as a nonprofit in October 2018 and has broadened its reach to support three groups of people: the disabled, hungry and homeless.
For the second year in a row, Ramirez is one of the six teenagers in the nation who received the 2019 DHL Youth Volunteer Fellowship Award. The fellowship program works to recognize students who are taking active roles in their community, and empowers them through mentorship and leadership-building opportunities.
This year, through a collaboration with WE Charity, an international charity organization, winners were taken to Ecuador where they took part in humanitarian aid and collaborated with like-minded youth.
Ramirez said that the most valuable lesson he learned from the trip was how to make the corporation more collaborative.
“The idea of shifting my nonprofit from something revolving around me, and transitioning it into a ‘we’ kind of project is how more impact can be created,” Ramirez said, a junior of the Math and Science Academy program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Ramirez’s first initiative addressed food insecurity.
Last October, through the nonprofit, Ramirez installed the Energy Bar, an open food pantry for students in Lamar Academy in McAllen, where he learned not too long before that “82% of Lamar students were food insecure.”
According to Feeding America, hunger refers to personal and physical discomfort from an undersupply of food, while food insecurity is the lack of reliable access to nutritious meals.
In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, and in the Rio Grande Valley, according to the Food Bank of the RGV, the estimate is about 1 in 6 households.
Three weeks after the approval from the school principal, Ramirez and the nonprofit’s cofounder, Samantha Almaraz, transformed an old science closet into the Energy Bar, where students could pick up snacks anytime throughout the day.
“We made it for everyone, it is not limited to people who needed to take food home to their families.” Ramirez said. We want it to be a place where everyone can just come and grab a snack, or if someone has a genuine need, they can take some home to their family.”
The Energy Bar is stocked with leftover breakfast items, canned food and toiletries.
Ramirez said that he hopes to open one in a local Boys and Girls Club.
The most recent project that the Invisible Project has done was a photo gallery Ramirez called, “Making the Invisible – Visible – Through Their Stories,” which launched in February.
The exhibit features portrait photos of 13 people with disabilities, and Ramirez’s goal was to accentuate his subject’s personality.
“I did not focus on their disabilities or any wheelchairs,” Ramirez said. “I just captured their face because I thought that if you could look into someone’s eyes, you could truly see their personality and the hardships that they have been through.”
Ramirez said he expected about 75 people to attend, but by the end of the event, more than 175 visitors came by, and about $20,000 was raised. All donations went toward sponsoring five local disabled students to attend the CAMP summer camp, which takes place in Center Point.
Ramirez is currently working on an initiative that addresses homelessnes. His ideas include another photography project, or opening a homeless shelter.
“The community service that I have done in the past couple of years has really given me a different perspective on life, and made me really value every single thing that I have,” Ramirez said. “Each one of these people experience different hardships, and it’s great to be able to assist them with the things I have.”