Freshmen students will break record for most pennies raised for charity through nonprofit startups

Samantha Ketterer

Two UT freshmen will dump one million pennies on the ground — and then pick them all back up — at a charity event they will host at Camp Mabry in February. Along the way, they will break the world record for most pennies raised for charity.

Public relations freshman Cambria Sawyer and neuroscience freshman Devika Palaniswamy decided to break the world record, gathering more than 5,500 pounds of pennies, after merging their previous volunteering projects. Palaniswamy and friends run a nonprofit called Raise4aCause, which hosts 5k races for charity donations. Sawyer founded a public relations startup, Damos Public Relations, with the goal of bringing exposure to charity events. 

The two girls met when they joined an organization called Freshmen Founders, which helps freshmen form business models and launch their own initiatives. Student ventures coordinator Nicholas Spiller, who manages Freshmen Founders, said students like Sawyer and Palaniswamy are the reason Freshmen Founders exists.

“Working with students like Cambria and Devika is motivational,” Spiller said. “They think they’re learning the most, but it’s educational for me too. … They’re a perfect example of how the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at UT.” 

To commemorate breaking the record, Palaniswamy and Sawyer will host a 5K race to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation. All money raised from registration fees will be converted into additional pennies for the display.

Palaniswamy said she feels the run will help people feel a connection to Livestrong in a way they might not otherwise.

“[The run] really engages people and gets your message across in a way that people are really open to and never forget,” Sawyer said. 

Since the two joined forces over winter break, Palaniswamy and Sawyer have spent a lot of time together collaborating on the project.

“We have to communicate constantly,” Palaniswamy said. “It’s been really great. I’m really glad because we know where we’re going together in this; we’re on the same page; and we also have similar personalities in the way we work.”

Sawyer said the project has defined her freshman year of college, especially  the amount of planning her schedule requires.

“As difficult as it is right now … we’re going to be raising awareness for an organization that does phenomenal work,” Sawyer said. “People are going to have fun in the community, and they’re going to have an opportunity to give themselves, which is something that people can’t find that easily every day.”

Following the race, participants will gather around a track, where all of the pennies will be placed. After the 5K ends, however, Sawyer and Palaniswamy said their work won’t yet be complete. The million-plus pennies will still need to be picked up and recounted.  

“That’s going to be really fun — to pick [pennies] out of the grass,” Sawyer said. “We can figure that out [later].”