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Zero Bound, a national crowdfunding organization that asks communities to support students as they pay down student loan debt through volunteer work, will launch its fundraising campaign on March 31. To find out more, or to support local students, visit zerobound.com

Becky Havens has a heart for volunteering — and though she might not get paid, her passion could help her pay off her student loans.

Havens, a Broomfield resident who is studying creative writing at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is trying a unique approach to paying off student loans: Using a new crowdfunding site called Zero Bound.

Zero Bound asks users to "pay it back by paying it forward." That means participants volunteer in the community while crowdsourced backers sponsor participants' volunteer hours.

The idea is to promote volunteer opportunities that can strengthen students' resumes while also paying down student loans.

"I love volunteering, and I want to go into the nonprofit world. This just seemed like the perfect fit for me," said Havens, who will graduate in May.

Sabrina Norrie, CEO and co-founder of Zero Bound, said new, creative ways to handle student loan debt are critical, especially as the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket.


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"One thing we've seen is that ... students and alumni paying back debt still have an interest in giving back to the community," Norrie said.

Zero Bound is in its beginning stages, but will launch its full website on March 31.

After that, people can browse Havens' and other users' profiles, then decide if they want to kick in a few dollars to support those students as they pay back their loans.

The term "zero bound" refers to students who hope to reduce their loans to zero.

Zero Bound users sign up and create a profile, then film videos and write blog updates to talk about their volunteer work, passions and personality.

Outside funders — friends, family and interested strangers — can donate directly to that person's student loan account.

Havens hopes the new crowdfunding effort will help her pay about $15,000 in student loans, while also connecting backers with her favorite nonprofit: The Harry Potter Alliance, a national group that tackles inequality, illiteracy and human rights violations. HPA chapters throughout the United States use parallels from the Harry Potter books to launch social activism campaigns.

Havens has volunteered with the Harry Potter Alliance for about two years. Her time there has been inspiring and invigorating, but she had no idea her volunteerism could help her pay her college debt.

Norrie said Havens' dedication to volunteering made her a perfect fit to become one of just 24 students who are participating in the beta testing of the Zero Bound site. More than 1,000 people signed up for the first wave, but Zero Bound only chose students who already had a history of activism and hearts for making change in their communities, Norrie said.

"She's very motivated and a great example of having a student who is just really involved in and passionate about the work she does," Norrie said. " She's proving her skill set to an organization" while growing her career, she said.

Norrie and fellow co-founder Kelli Space have experience working with crowdfunding, and felt the formula could translate to a program that helped students while promoting worthwhile nonprofits and charities.

"We just knew there had to be a way to get creative about student loan debt in a way that hasn't been done before," Norrie said.

According to the nonprofit Institute of College Access and Success, Colorado students who graduated from a four-year public or private Colorado institution in 2012 had an average of $ 24,540 in debt. At Metro State, where Havens studies, students had an average of more than $31,400 in debt.

While students who have earned their degrees look for ways to pay back their debt, they still carry with them the skills and expertise they learned while in school, Norrie said.

Students might see themselves as broke, but they have more to their futures than a dollar sign, Norrie said.

"Attached to that loan debt are skills and education that can be reinvested in the community," she said.

Harnessing those skills to help the community is a valuable way to make change, Norrie said. Havens and other Zero Bound students volunteer for organizations that address social justice causes, the arts, children's causes and health care.

Havens said she is not used to promoting herself on a site like Zero Bound, but has no problem promoting the Harry Potter Alliance and the programs it launches throughout the year.

Havens got connected with the Harry Potter Alliance while she struggled with an eating disorder. After learning Harry Potter fans in the alliance were committed to providing support to teens struggling with eating disorders, she knew she wanted to get involved.

"I learned that that the fandom was not just a place where I could escape, but a place where I could also be supported," she said.

In addition to volunteering with the Harry Potter Alliance, she also has an internship with the Tibetan Village Project, which helps Tibetan communities with sustainable development. She also volunteers for Uprise Books, a Portland-based organization that helps inspire underprivileged teens by connecting them with banned and challenged books.

Working with nonprofits "is just my favorite thing to do," she said.

Norrie said social outreach is at the heart of the Zero Bound, and students with a passion for helping others should get their own helping hand with loan debt.

"We not only reduce student loan debt, but strengthen communities. There's a high level of skill (participants) can offer to our communities," she said.

Contact Enterprise Staff Writer Megan Quinn at 303-410-2649 or quinnm@broomfieldenterprise.com