More than a ‘sweet 16’

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    For many teens, turning 16 is a right of passage that comes with a driver’s license and a party. But one first-year student used the milestone to create a charity that supports U.S. troops.

    Tori Pimentel, a psychology major, decided to replace her party planning ideas with a plan to raise $16,000 for American troops by her birthday on March 16, 2012.

    She started Operation Sweet 16, which is now a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, when she was 15 years old.

    “My life is so simple and so easy because of these men and women, who are not only defending our country, but strangers such as you and I. I was able to dream about a birthday and be able to sleep at night without a worry in my mind,” Pimentel said.

    Pimentel exceeded her initial goal and raised $24,000 for troops.

    Operation Sweet 16 encourages others to sacrifice one birthday and set a goal to donate to military troops. Donations go directly to other 501(c)(3) nonprofits that aid American troops.

    “I just want some people to give up a birthday, not for no reason, but because it is really time to take the focus off ourselves and put the recognition on the troops who have made so many sacrifices for each and every single one of us,” Pimentel said.

    Although Pimentel has no immediate relation to the military, she said they are the “true American heroes.”

    “I think we tend to idolize celebrities, sports figures… and we have parades for the Super Bowl, but really that’s only possible because of these men and women,” she said.

    First-year nursing major Katie Wells is a close friend of Pimentel. She said Pimentel is extremely passionate about what she does.

    “It was awesome to hear how much she loved to tell me about her nonprofit and how involved she got. Even her license plate represents her own nonprofit,” Wells said. “Usually people talk about how they worked with a nonprofit organization, but it’s cool to see one of my best friends actually taking a stand and starting one herself.”

    Pimentel has traveled to schools, hosted dog parades, fashion shows, art shows, a 9/11 memorial at the Texas Motor Speedway and more to advocate her foundation.

    Pimentel said her most memorable moment was when she donated a $20,000 check to Homes for Our Troops in front of thousands of viewers in Plano.

    “Looking into a crowd of that many people was terrifying, but it was so much more than me being up there; it was for our troops,” she said.

    Being a full-time student at TCU, balancing a social life and running a nonprofit takes serious time management, but Pimentel said she always makes time for Operation Sweet 16.

    She receives help and support from her biggest cheerleader: her mom. Pimentel said her mom was the biggest supporter during the creation of Operation Sweet 16 and now sits on the foundation’s board.

    Pimentel’s genuine desire to help does not end with her nonprofit; she hopes to run her own private practice as a psychologist and focus on helping those who struggle with addictions.

    “I am just this small person trying to make a big impact,” Pimentel said.