Vasiliki Argeroplos, a rising junior at Garrison Forest School, in Owings Mills, has been involved in community service for several years. But for the 16-year-old who started a nonprofit with her brother at just 11 years old, giving back is an integral part of her daily life.
In 2010, Vasi, as she prefers to be called, and her brother Niko, then 15, decided to start a charitable organization, Okay to Play, after watching an educational program on TV.
"How it started is my brother and I were watching a documentary about orphans and we decided we thought a lot of the statistics were very sad and we were very bothered by them, so we decided to start our own nonprofit and do something about it and basically we wanted kids to have a childhood, and also play helps with development, we found out," she said.
As part of Okay to Play's mission, people can donate their phones to CExchange, which either refurbishes or recycles them. CExchange then gives the funds for those devices to the organization, which uses them to buy toys for various orphanages and children's homes around the globe.
The siblings, guided by parents Ted and Demetra Argeroplos filed the necessary paperwork to become a 501(c)(3) organization, created a website and formed a business plan.
"We told them the steps," Demetra said. "You have to set up a website, get a name … register the name on sites so nobody takes the name, and that took some research because they had different names and they were taken … they had to get business cards and brochures and they had to hire a lawyer to try to make it official so that it was a 501(c)(3) so they had to do that."
Getting the organization officially up and running, including finding a recycling company to partner with and hashing out the monetary details, took three months, Demetra said.
Vasi and Niko relied on their parents, owners of AMA Systems — an international trading company in Columbia — for advice on how to get their nonprofit off the ground.
"My dad owns a business, so we consult[ed] them on how to start everything, like my dad told me how you have to make it a 501(c)(3)," Vasi said.
Though Ted said he and his wife helped them along, he said they let their children take the reins.
"We want to be the sail that guides them but not row the boat from them," he said.
Though the project was initially a joint venture between siblings, the brunt of the responsibilities has fallen to Vasi since Niko, now 20, started studies at the University of Madison Wisconsin in 2013.
"It was 50/50 between both of them; however, now my son is in college, so it's pretty much 100 percent Vasi now, for the past two years," Demetra said.
Vasi has continued to grow the organization. Okay to Play has expanded to operating in five states, has raised about $50,000 for toys to date, and has donated to locations in the Northeast United States, Greece and Afghanistan. Vasi is attempting to procure corporate sponsorships for the organization.
"I'm trying right now to secure relationships with corporate stores like IKEA, Zoes Kitchen and Whole Foods, and I'm waiting to hear back from them, so that would be my next step, as well as continue to give to local foster homes and orphanages," Vasi said. "A lot of these places have programs where they donate to certain charities and I want to be one of their charities that they would donate to if they decide to donate to them. Like Whole Foods, you could become one of their charities — at least in this area — and that's definitely what I want to do."
Though Okay to Play has been a major part of Vasi's life since she co-founded it, she hasn't limited herself to just that one community service venture. She is highly engaged in a range of programs designed to help others, from participating in church-based service projects to serving on a Junior KIPP Board, which aims to provide literacy and mentorship support to students of KIPP School in Baltimore.
Her commitment to helping others earned her the title of distinguished finalist for the 2015 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Maryland as well as a President's Volunteer Service Award in February.
Alpana Chhibber, a history teacher at Garrison Forest and Vasi's adviser said giving to others is just a part of who Vasi is.
"Any time that there's any service-type project, whether its fundraising or community building, I'm never surprised when Vasi volunteers to be a part of it," Chhibber said. "She's always coming to me like 'Is this a possibility?' and I'm like 'Let's do it, let's go for it.'"
Vasi plans to study law and business once she gets to college. But a major focus in her life, she said, will always be community service.
"I want to go into business, but also get my law degree," she said. "I would like to own my own business. I would also love to have some community service aspect … Service is very important to me and that's a very big thing to keep going in my life."
And as for Okay to Play, Vasi said she hopes to keep it in operation as long as possible.
"I definitely plan on continuing with it through college," she said. "I hope that Okay to Play can grow and expand and reach more orphanages and more kids and recycle more phones and keep them out of landfills, just kind of make bigger what I'm doing right now and raise more money so I can make a bigger impact."
Whatever lies ahead for Vasi, Chhibber said she knows the young woman will be successful.
"I think Vasi has a really awesome future ahead of her," Chhibber said. "I'm really proud to be her advisor and I know when she graduates there's going to be such a big hole in the school, we're all going to miss her, just because of who she is … She's always really cheerful and happy and wants to help and she's a great student, she really is, she's a great person."