Coming in from the cold

Anyone who doubts that one person can make a difference should meet Noah Rupp. The Providence High School ninth-grader is only 15 but he's already started his own charity to help shelter the homeless.

Noah's Ark Project began last fall when he and his father, Mark Rupp, were on vacation in Asheville. Walking back to their hotel, they noticed a man who appeared to be homeless and was shivering from the cold. 

"On that trip, I noticed many unsheltered people who were not equipped for the weather," said Noah. "The images stuck with me. I had to do something to help."

When they returned to Charlotte, Noah researched what types of products could help a person stay warm. It led him to a bright orange, lightweight sleeping bag designed to be used as an emergency shelter. They are waterproof, windproof, heat reflective and can be used year-round.

"Portability is a necessity for people who have nowhere to call home and nowhere to store anything so this product was perfect," said Noah.

They built a website and set out to raise $15,000 for the first shipment of 1,000 sleeping bags. Noah, by then an eighth-grader at South Charlotte Middle, presented his project to his classmates. Most were very supportive and helped him with his first fundraiser — a garage sale.

"I was a bit naïve," said Noah. "I thought we'd raise the money right away and distribute the bags that winter. It's taken more than a year to reach the goal. It taught me to be more resourceful."

While he wants everyone to fund his cause, he knows not everyone will so he has pursued targeted audiences.

"Our big break really came when I started reaching out to churches," Noah said. "They were very receptive and supportive. Park Road Baptist Church was the first to invite me to address the congregation. I'm thankful they gave me the opportunity because we saw a rise in donations."

The next step is to deliver the sleeping bags this fall. Noah is collaborating with the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte for the distribution and is looking for a partner organization in Asheville.

Like other teenagers, Noah has homework, plays sports and spends time with friends. Unlike many of his peers, he balances those things and a charity. He sets aside time each day to work on making it grow. He and his father are already looking for new fundraisers.

His mother, Leslie Perez, is amazed by her son's dedication.  

"His compassion and drive are remarkable," said Perez. "He trusted the process and worked through the challenges. As a mother, it tells me that no matter what life throws at him, he'll be okay."

Others are also taking notice of Noah's work. The Housing Opportunity Foundation, the charitable arm of the Charlotte Regional REALTOR Association, recently selected him as one of two recipients of its inaugural Humanitarian Youth Service Award. He will be recognized March 13 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education meeting.

"I didn't expect people to latch on to the project as much as they have but the more awareness we spread, the more we can save lives," Noah said. "I'm grateful that I've been able to do this with my dad. It's not only my project, it's his, too."