Doing Good for People & the Planet

Former health insurance executive Danielle Butin saves unwanted medical supplies destined for the dump-and sends them where they’ll save lives.

By Karen Schwartz
Danielle Butin, at a night market outside Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Photograph: Photo: Ed Ou

Butin yearns for funding to expand the foundation’s infrastructure. “Sarah and I are blessed with enormous energy, but we can’t get everything done,” she says.

Butin’s goals for Afya continually evolve. Thanks to a grant from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, she’s started a program in Haiti to train rehab technicians to make products, such as special shoes, that will help people with disabilities. Stateside, she supervises a prevocational training program with occupational therapy graduate students from Columbia University and New York University: People with mental illness go to the Yonkers warehouse to learn how to function in a work environment as they sort donated goods for Afya.

Reflecting on Afya’s success and her midlife career change, she adds, “I never would have been able to do this when I was in my twenties. I didn’t have the range of interpersonal experience or the understanding of how to get things done, not to mention the confidence in my own decision making.” Is she ever discouraged by the magnitude of the problems she is addressing? Butin looks baffled, as if such a thought had never entered her mind. “No,” she says firmly. “I am inspired every day by what I do.

“But what would make me cry now”—she begins to as she says this—“is the realization that there is no bigger blessing than to be able to do this work. We’ve sent these supplies that have changed people’s lives. But we’ve also built a place where people can come and make a real difference.”

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