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Take a look around the world and it won’t be long before you come across a number of influential women. Whether it’s your mom, your favorite celebrity, or a local good Samaritan, women are running their own businesses, founding organizations, and pioneering change all across the world. L’Oréal Paris’ signature philanthropic program, Women of Worth, honors influential women who are making a beautiful difference in their communities and going above and beyond by volunteering their time for the greater good. Here, we talk to 10 influential women we think you should know, each one a Women of Worth honoree for 2019. Click through to learn everything from how they started their volunteer work to what New Year’s resolutions they’re making for 2020.
Meet Shanté Elliot, the founder of TasselTurn, a social impact organization that is dedicated to improving life for homeless and foster students through their education.
What inspired you to start TasselTurn?
“At the age of 13, I hit the lottery. I received what all children in the foster care system long for: a forever family. With this family came educationally stability. Throughout my pursuit of education, I’ve benefited from many coaches along the way: Mrs. Spearman encouraged me to embrace my love for reading; Mrs. Laute coached me in my first national oratory competition; and finally the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program helped me become the first in my family to graduate college and pursue a doctoral degree.
“Education remains the greatest weapon to change the trajectory of one’s life. And this is why I started TasselTurn—to change the lives of foster-involved youth. I am no anomaly. I recognize that every youth in care will not hit the lottery the way I did, yet I still believe that all youth in care can win big with educational attainment and coaching along the way; this is what TasselTurn provides.”
How do you strike the right work-life balance?
“I often fail at achieving work-life balance. To compensate, I extend myself grace. I also remind myself that it is okay to be off balance for a period of time. I want my contributions to the world to out-live me, so I know that in order to accomplish this it will take long hours, diligence, and perseverance. However, some habits I try to make routine include: checking-in with my best friend at least weekly, having consistent fellowship with close friends and church family, making dinner at least once a week, attending therapy and exercising regularly—I will never sacrifice my mental and physical health, and lastly, celebrating my small wins.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
“I’m really excited to continue growing TasselTurn, because in 10 years, I’d like to see the organization achieve global recognition and serve as a model in helping homeless and foster-involved students succeed educationally. In addition to this, I will soon earn my PhD from Northwestern University, and look forward to becoming a tenured professor on the path to becoming president of a university.
“It is also important to me to share the financial security I will achieve, and I hope to do so as a social impact investor. I know how challenging it was for me to find start-up capital when I launched TasselTurn. I want to help other budding entrepreneurs quickly overcome this obstacle. Lastly, I have a unique and diverse perspective and I want to carry this diversity on nonprofit and corporate boards.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to never allow a high salary to be the only reason I accept a job offer. This advice came at a very critical time. I was a recent college graduate with two job offers in reach. The higher paying job was in industry, and the second offer was in higher education administration. Higher education felt right, but there was a $20,000 difference in salary. The president of my university at the time gave me this advice; I’m so glad I listened!
“I accepted the job offer in higher education administration. Doing so allowed me to receive personal mentorship from college presidents, introduce policies to increase college access for vulnerable student populations, lobby for funding for historically black colleges and universities, and really develop an expertise in blending issues of policy and entrepreneurship-- it’s actually where I first envisioned TasselTurn.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
“Vanilla. Don’t think boring, think classic.”
Meet Sally Berenzweig, the CDO for KidSafe Foundation, which is a nonprofit with a mission to teach personal safety to children and adults.
How did you get started with KidSafe Foundation?
“14 years ago, my three-year-old son walked out of the house and wandered through the neighborhood—barefoot and crying—before a stranger stopped, put the toddler in his car, and drove around looking for my son’s home. The babysitter never noticed he was gone. We trusted her; she was 24 years old, a certified swim instructor, preschool teacher, and part-time nursing student. You don’t get better credentials than that. Thankfully our son was brought home safe and sound, thanks to a good Samaritan. But the life-changing incident inspired me to bring a safety program to my son’s preschool that other families, along with our family, could benefit from.
“That’s how I met Cherie Benjoseph, a licensed clinical social worker and former middle school guidance counselor, who started giving safety seminars to mom’s groups after one of her students disclosed she’d been abused by her stepdad, also the PTA vice president. After I heard Cherie speak, I approached her and asked, ‘Why isn’t every parent and child getting this program? Let’s do something here.’”
“My career prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom was a teacher and a psychotherapist to physically and sexually abused women, so I had motivation on both the personal and professional level to educate and make a difference. Cherie and I started meeting at local Starbucks shops, researching ways to keep kids safe, which led to a joint passion: co-founding KidSafe Foundation, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that provides education to children and adults to prevent child sexual abuse, bullying and internet exploitation. Since their inception in 2009, we have educated 60,000 children through the ‘KidSafe for Kids’ 8 lesson program, and trained over 35,000 adults in sexual abuse prevention.”
“Striking the right work-life balance has not been easy and it’s something I continue to work on. I am so passionate about keeping children safe, that it become very hard to shut down. I am so lucky to have a supportive husband and son who understand the difference we are making and support me 100%.”
What is the most inspiring thing you’ve seen lately?
“The most inspiring thing I have seen lately would have to be watching the Larry Nassar trial and seeing all these brave women come forward with their stories of abuse. For survivors of child abuse, coming forward and sharing their stories is one of the most difficult things to do. The devastation and struggles these women have been through and their strength and ability to share their stories is beyond inspiring. We (KidSafe) honored gold medal Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman as KidSafe Foundation’s National Child Advocate of the Year at our gala in 2018. I am humbled by her strength, courage, and tenacity. Sharing her story of abuse has helped so many survivors.”
“The best piece of advice I ever received was from my husband when I first started KidSafe. He said ‘If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.’ Remembering this advice helps me to always be asking, whether it’s for support, advice, or funding. I always keep in the back of my mind that I’m asking to save children from childhood trauma. If I can save one child it’s worth the ask, even if it makes me uncomfortable.”
What was your New Year’s resolution for 2019?
“I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions, however my goal for 2019 is to take care of my health and wellness. Exercise, eating right, and making time for family and friends. I know that we must take care of ourselves first so that we can better take care of others. When you are on an airplane and the flight attendants say ‘In case of an emergency, put the oxygen make on yourself first,’ it’s great advice for life and something I continue to work on.
What is it for 2020?
“I love what Karen Fondu said about her rule of no emails on weekends. My goal for 2020 is to take time to disconnect and I will try the no emails on weekends thing.”
Meet Brittany Schiavone, the founder and Visionary in Chief of Brittany’s Baskets of Hope. Born with Down syndrome, Brittany’s nonprofit is decidated to providing support and information for families who have recently welcomed a baby with Down syndrome.
What inspired you to start Brittany’s Baskets of Hope?
“A handful of years ago, I was working at a clothing boutique and my boss came across a YouTube video that talked about supporting parents of babies with Down syndrome. Right then, I knew that video was meant for me. I went home and told my parents that I wanted to help moms of babies with Down syndrome and I wanted to give them hope. Luckily, I have incredible, supportive parents and a great team around me who was willing to go all in and help me envision and, eventually, launch my own nonprofit, Brittany’s Baskets of Hope.
“Originally, we imagined that I would deliver baskets of hope, as we call them, locally to new moms in hospitals. But we soon realized there’s a lot of red tape that gets in the way. It wouldn’t be possible to meet new moms of babies with Down syndrome in the hospital. So, we planned on meeting with local families after they were comfortably home with their child. But when media attention came our way shortly after we delivered our first basket of hope in 2016, we got a surprise: basket of hope requests from families across the country! So, these days, many of our baskets are actually boxes which we pack with love and mail throughout the nation.
“In the baskets, we include resources as well as fun gifts for the baby and their family. One of the most important items in the basket is the parenting book that my parents relied on 30 years ago when I was born! Of course, the book has gone through many editions since then, but it is still essential and supportive for all new parents. It’s called Babies with Down Syndrome: A New Parent’s Guide. We also include my story in my own words as well as my journey from the perspective of my parents. One of our favorite items is a onesie that goes in every basket that says, “Down Right Perfect” on it in blue and yellow (Down syndrome colors). We also include baby books, precious headbands for the girls, muslin swaddles, and every basket has a handmade blanket and hat. We have been blessed to receive loads of donations from knitting groups and individuals across the country who hand-make these baby blankets for our baskets with lots of love.”
“I love my life and I love what I do, so each day is fulfilling. I have a wonderful family that supports me in everything I do. While I am very involved in Brittany’s Baskets of Hope and serve as the organization’s founder, I also hold two part-time jobs. I work at Party City with the support of a Job Coach who accompanies me to work. I am also learning administrative and office skills at the SMILE office, which helps people like me live independent, self-directed lives.
“My support staff work with me each day to help me develop the skills I need to be more independent in life. They’re with me at work and socializing with my friends. I love acting (and have taken acting and improv classes at Stony Brook University in a program for individuals with developmental disabilities). I also enjoy going to the movies, bowling, having girls’ nights, and dancing.”
If your life were a song, what would the title be?
“I love the movie, The Greatest Showman, and listen to the soundtrack every morning as I get dressed to start my day. One of my favorite songs from the show is, This Is Me. I think that this song also lets the world know that not everyone is the same and everyone has worth and a purpose in life.”
“Actually, my favorite advice is something that I thought of and remind people of every day, ‘People with Down syndrome can do anything! Really, really anything!’”
What’s on your bucket list?
“My bucket list is pretty much like anyone else who’s my age. I would like to have a boyfriend, move out on my own in a supported apartment with my staff to help me, keep working at my jobs, and maybe live in New York City or in the theater. I would also like to get married one day, but first I need to find a boyfriend! And of course, to keep Brittany’s Baskets of Hope growing and to continue reaching out, supporting and celebrating those new babies with Down syndrome and their families.”
Meet Raja Marhaba, the founder and president of The Jonathan Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities, which has a mission to address the needs of children with educational, emotional, and behavioral challenges.
What inspired you to start The Jonathan Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities?
“Over 20 years ago I was a novice mom who tried to obtain special education services for both of my sons. At that time, navigating the broken special education system was extremely challenging. The financial and emotional hardship my family endured tore us apart. My sons and all the services I was fighting for were placed on hold for several years while their mom was learning how to navigate this broken system. No family should have to endure this kind of stress and no child should be sacrificed for a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). After all it is our tax dollars that pay for our ‘Free Public Education.’”
“I place personal tasks on my schedule just like any other business appointment. It holds me accountable to take care of me. I am constantly on the go. Previously, I never took time to breathe, rest, and step away from the day-to-day business activities. I find myself much more productive in both my personal and businesses life when I take time off. It is important for me to make family time with my sons, travel, weekend getaways and so forth. Without rest the body and mind can’t keep on going. Just like your car running out of gas.”
What do you wish more people knew?
“I wish some school personnel would be more educated and passionate toward the families during Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. An IEP is the vehicle that provides services for the child such as: occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, educational therapy, and so forth. It would be amazing if the school’s budget did not play such a huge role when it comes to making decisions on whether or not a child should be provided a specific special education service.”
“During my eight-year due process of hell, one attorney told me a long time ago, ‘Your signature is your best asset, so don’t give it away.’ When I was a novice mom I used to sign everything the school personnel told me to—it was not very smart. The attorney also told me, ‘If it is not in writing it did not happen.’ When fighting the district for services it is important to communicate in writing. If you do not, you cannot prove what was said and/or agreed upon verbally. One very special school teacher told me, ‘You are your child’s best advocate, nobody knows your child better then you do.’”
What’s your favorite way to practice self-care?
“I try to go to the gym at least four to five times a week so I can release stress. It helps me feel good about me and I sleep better. I like to go hiking and on road trips with my sons and friends on the weekends when they are available. In the mornings when I wake up I spend at least a half hour mediating while listening to K-LOVE music as it calms me so that I can get ready to face my day.”
Meet Judy Winter, who founded the, Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp. The camp, held in honor of her late son, offers opportunities for people with special needs to engage in musical expression and movement.
What inspired you to start the Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp?
“I was inspired to begin the Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp, aka RicStar’s Camp, to honor the remarkable life and legacy of my son, Eric, who had cerebral palsy and a gift for music and passed away suddenly in 2003 at age 12. RicStar’s Camp fulfills a big promise I made to Eric that we would create a summer music camp to provide others with special needs access to the benefits of music therapy who might otherwise be unable to afford it. No one is ever turned away from RicStar’s Camp because of financial need, age, or disability. My son’s music still lives on beautifully seventeen years after his death.”
“Striking the right work-life balance is a continual challenge for me, in part, because I’m so driven to work to improve the lives of others, especially children with disabilities. The need is endless. That said, I’ve finally learned to say no to anything that does not align with my life goals and true calling, or that steals away sacred moments with my adorable grandchildren.”
What are your best organization tips?
“My best organizational tips include: limit social networking time, stay on top of emails, clear clutter from your desk and life and make regular, updated to-do lists, including on paper. For me, such actions greatly reduce stress, increase energy and productivity, and fuel creativity. All that and remembering to breathe out.”
“The best advice I’ve ever received was to boldly and honestly share my own life story to help change other’s lives, and to never give up. Ever.”
What is the last book you read?
“I’m a proud Francophile and I love all things Paris! I’m fortunate to have traveled to the City of Light twice, including for the 2018 Paris Writer’s Retreat. My nightstand is full of beautiful Paris titles that inspire me creatively. My most recent read was In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light by Jeanne Damas and Lauren Bastide. Oh, là là! I’m also a big fan of the works of Julia Cameron, especially The Artist’s Way.”
Meet Samantha Gerson, a clinical social worker and the founder of UnBroken. Identifying as a survivor of institutional abuse and conversion therapy, Samantha started UnBroken to offer free services to other survivors.
What inspired you to start UnBroken?
“I was inspired to start Unbroken by a fellow survivor I met in the community. I had always realized that I was one of the few individuals who came out of treatment and perservered. I had watched so many students and peers leave treatment, struggle, and end up going down a dark path due to the trauma they endured. Then I met Em. She shared her story with me, a terrible story, all too familiar to mine. We had gone to the same school, had the same therapist, and endured many similar things. Hearing her story and her path since, inspired me to help others that didn’t make it through like we had. Em had persevered on her own, but that defies the odds. Others are not so lucky or capable. With Em’s continued support, I started UnBroken to help others in our community get the help they so deserve in order to overcome their own experiences in these facilities.”
“In order to have the right balance in my life, I have to make time for self-care. Due to working a full-time job on top of running UnBroken, I often have to unplug, take a step back, and spend a day or two with myself, friends, or in an isolated space in order to decompress. I am lucky enough to have the skills and training to know how and when I need this, but I feel it is so important that everyone takes care of themselves before trying to help or care for others. Mostly, my self-care looks like an afternoon reading, a road trip with a friend, or spending some time in nature.”
What’s your personal motto?
“My personal motto is ‘You are not broken.’ There are far too many aspects of my life in which I feel incomplete, broken, or less-than. Reminding myself I am not broken is the way I continue to persevere and get through some challenging times. No one is broken. Maybe we have a bit of damage, but nothing that cannot be helped or fixed!”
“The best piece of advice I ever received was ‘You cannot fill up anyone’s cup if yours is empty.’ That always reminds me to make sure my cup is full in order to best fill up others. For me, this means to remember that I have to make sure I am in my best state of mind, living a safe and happy life, and that I am taken care of before trying to do my work or help others.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“My guilty pleasure is watching terrible Netflix shows and eating bags of candy. Being able to take a step back from reality and indulge on sweet treats has always been a guilty pleasure for me. Most recently, my go to show is The 100 and my candy of choice is 3 Musketeers.”
Meet Crystal Chatman, the founder and director of Beautiful Spirited Women, which is an origination that aids in improving the community and mentoring teenage girls.
What inspired you to start Beautiful Spirited Women?
“My journey with Beautiful Spirited Women started in a dysfunctional era of my life. I was confused about what it is I was supposed to be doing. While having an undergraduate and master's degree, I could not put my finger on what my purpose was. I weathered the storm and established a newfound relationship with God. Shortly after bible class while going over my class notes in 2009, I asked the question to God himself, ‘What is it that you want me to do?’
“It was not even hours later that I began to write the letters ‘BSW‘ on my paper. It was like I was in a bored class and I kept tracing over the letters, and they appeared to become darker and darker. ‘Lord, what do these letters mean?’ I asked. The voice of God spoke those words ‘Beautiful Spirited Women’ and I wrote it down on my paper. He wanted me to gather my sisters and women in my community who have a passion for helping young girls. Of course, that sounds so easy to do, but as easy as it sounded, it was truly a struggle.
“Beautiful Spirited Women began the process of hosting workshops for girls in the City of Memphis and we started with the women who were passionate and their children. We hosted workshops such as self-esteem, no bullying, hygiene, social media presence, attitude adjustments, college prep, public speaking, business class, TCAP/ACT Prep, and much more. After about a year of interacting, engaging with the youth girls and their parents, Beautiful Spirited Women was incorporated on November 10, 2010.”
“Work-life balance is very important, especially running a full-time nonprofit. I strike the right work-life balance by prioritizing my time. It is very important that you plan out your day Monday through Sunday, so you won't find yourself so overwhelmed or not having enough time to do certain things that are very important to your life. Having my weekly planner helps me with setting hours for each project I am working on for the week, time with my family, and my personal time.”
How can women empower other women?
“Empowering other women is so passionate to me. Even though I did not have these mentors growing up besides my mother and sisters, I still found learning experiences through them. Telling my personal story has truly helped many women feel empowered, as though I was not born successful, I worked hard to get to where I am today. I am also empowered to empower other women by sharing great opportunities and connections that will add value to their business or future endeavors. If I know someone that will fit perfectly for the opportunity, I am excited to share. I encourage women to seek trainings, apply for bigger promotions, take a leap of faith, seek mentors, and keep reminding them of their talents and abilities.”
“The best piece of advice I ever received was from my dad. He got it from the movie Heat: Don't ever get attached to nothing you can't get rid of in 30 seconds.”
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
“My go-to karaoke song is Kirk Franklin, I Smile. Oh, what a good time I be having when I am acting it out.”
Meet Hetal Jani, SPEAK Mentorship’s founder and executive director. SPEAK, which stands for Support Prepare Empower Aspiring Kids, has a mission to develop a generation of diverse leaders by increasing self-efficacy and aiding in access to opportunities that can impact success.
What inspired you to start SPEAK Mentorship?
“A few years ago, I had a student by the name of Ashley, who was incredibly bright, hard-working, and a true young leader. Over the four years that I knew Ashley, she had only excelled in school, always ahead of the class academically, making friends easily and always helping others succeed. She was also a daughter of immigrants and I enjoyed watching her bring the best of her Guyanese and American cultures into every situation.
“Soon after Ashley had entered middle school, she received a grade in the 80s on an essay, which was the lowest grade I had ever seen her receive. Her father, whom I had never met before, came to me with this grade and said that he was disappointed and expected Ashley to only get excellent grades. Through the conversation, I realized how much pressure this little girl faced to be perfect and, the second she failed to be perfect, she was threatened with being sent to Guyana to get married.
“Marriage is still a fallback option for so many young women and women, who, upon failing, resort to marriage or a relationship as an option for support instead of learning to overcome difficulties, becoming independent, and supporting themselves so that, when they are in a relationship, it's a true partnership.
“Ashley was devastated, and I had never seen her upset before, let alone crying in defeat. She and her mother came to me the next day, her mother also upset that she could not provide the emotional support Ashley needed because, as a Guyanese woman, she did not have a say in the household. I knew I had to do something and began serving as a cultural translator and broker for youth of South Asian communities—I helped them understand their own culture, the reason their parents do things certain ways because of the culture they had been raised in, and how they can talk to their parents about their lives in America.
“Realizing I could do more by enlisting the support of my diverse network, I started SPEAK Mentorship to mentor vulnerable and under-served youth from immigrant families and ensure their future well-being. SPEAK provides counseling to address the intersectional struggles of immigrant youth like Ashley, making it integral to our community’s fabric. Growing up is already difficult and challenging, with a host of different emotions you experience throughout your childhood and adolescence. Couple that with the feelings of displacement, lack of belonging, cultural confusion, and anxiety of being from an immigrant family and of feeling like your voice has less value as a young woman, and the barriers to feel confident and independent are tremendous. Young women like Ashley should be the leaders of our society, and we need to make it easier for her to succeed.”
How do you strike the right work-life balance?
“’Find a job you enjoy doing, and you'll never have to work a day in your life.’ This Mark Twain quote is a mantra for me because working on a passion and spending time doing what inspires me balances my life. If possible, I encourage everyone to pursue their passion because then your life doesn't start at 5 p.m. and you don't need to look forward to Fridays or lament Mondays. Find the meaning in the importance of the job you hold and any job can become a passion, making your life have purpose and feel balanced.
“Being an entrepreneur isn't easy—it’s isolating and challenging work. But, I work on SPEAK every day because it is what I want to be doing, and SPEAK has opened doors into social circles where, even if I am working to build relationships for SPEAK Mentorship, I am in the presence of people I admire, respect, and am honored to be around. My work has led to incredible opportunities in my life, and this chemistry is the right balance for me.
“Because I'm spending the majority of my day doing something I love, I'm also able to be completely myself, and feel balanced internally—nothing is at odds with how I'm spending my time. This can be really energizing and, being somewhat introverted, I also find time each day to be by myself and time to be with my family or really close friends where I can just be. Finally, if I need some further balance, I travel and seek out new experiences.”
If you could make three wishes, what would they be?
“One wish that needs to be immediately granted is for girls and women to be taken more seriously, and that their abilities to lead with a conscience and to unite people around them be at the top of the list when putting someone in power. Another wish would be to live in a world that is more motivated by morality and less by power and money so that the causes we need to care about as a united front, like equality, climate change, and gun control, get acted on with the urgency and sensibility of a morally driven society. A third wish, and one far less serious than the other two, is to be able to eat what I want without packing on the extra pounds!”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“For two years, I had the pleasure of living in China where I was told nearly on a daily basis to ‘be patient'. This is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received, especially as a New Yorker. I had become accustomed to a fast-paced life, having things done quickly, on my terms, and struggled with inefficiency and wasted effort. But, living in China forced me to 'stop and smell the roses' and learn to be patient with others who do things differently than me.
“Building a nonprofit is incredibly challenging. I can set out on a plan but there is no guarantee that any of my actions will come to fruition. 'Deng yi xia' means 'wait a moment' in Mandarin and has been such an incredibly powerful mantra I learned while in China.
“Now, I set a few plans into motion in the case that one doesn't work out, have the patience to listen to the community, build trusting relationships with people who can help me move that plan forward, and change course if needed to really serve the community effectively instead of simply prescribing my approach. Now I 'deng yi xia' and observe the people around me, how the situation is unfolding, take in the bird's eye view. It's much easier to move past challenges when I can see where those challenges may be and have taken the time to build bridges with others who can lead me directly to my destination instead of having to blindly climb out of the trenches. I went into a new country ready to get to work, and, wisely, China told me to 'deng yi xia.’”
What movie can you quote from memory?
“This one was a hard one for me because I'm not very good with movie quotes, song lyrics, names of things like restaurants; but it was also hard, in particular, because it relates back to what I do. Navigating two identities, I grew up with both Indian movies and American movies. I always loved the song and dance, the traditions, the portrayal of the culture in Indian movies and probably can quote them better than I can an American movie, which I watched more for the cinematic quality and story lines.
“A lot of children of immigrant families share this experience, and we may often hide from this truth. I actually asked someone to suggest some quotable movies and almost even Googled movies that I felt I might quote, emphasis on the might. But, after giving it some thought, I realized I need to publicly own how proud I am of my Indian culture, especially as a visible role model to young women of the South Asian diaspora. It's okay to be proud of the entire you, and if you can quote Indian movies and songs more than others, than good on you! So, to bring it back to the question, two movies I can quote the most are named Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Saudagar.”
Meet Ni’Cola Mitchell, who founded the nonprofit Girls Who Brunch. The organization helps inspire and empower at risk girls, providing them with essential tools that are key for helping them make a difference in their own communities.
What inspired you to start Girls Who Brunch?
“I was inspired to start Girls Who Brunch from the loss of my son, I was seven months pregnant when I delivered a stillborn, and the death of my mother two weeks later. These life changing moments reminded me that tomorrow is not promised, and I needed to finally make time, and add a mentorship program for girls onto my already hectic book tour.
“Being a Jamaican born, at-risk youth, it is important to me, that we as today’s leaders take the time and invest in our youth and show them that even though one may look perfect on paper, we all have a past. If it wasn’t for the ones that invested into me, I wouldn’t be here, so I wanted to create a program that would help guide them to becoming productive citizens and recognizing the ones that are being difference makers when no one is looking. I wanted to show them it did not matter their circumstances, ethnic background, religious beliefs, or where they were born, that they controlled their destiny and can be anything that they want to be.”
“I used to suck when it came time to find the right work-life balance. I am an over achiever, so if I am alone at home, you can find me working throughout the wee hours of the night. Once my girls began to complain about our quality time that was being spent, I had to get it together. So, I began reconstructing my day and living by a calendar. After 5 p.m., my work cell phone goes on silent, and unless we have a late scheduled call, you are not able to reach me. Once I am with family or friends, my phones goes on silent, and once my mate and I go to bed, we both try to turn off our phones and give each other our undivided attention.”
What has been your most memorable moment in 2019?
“My most memorable moment in 2019 was during the Indianapolis experience. There was a young lady that I met a few months prior in May during our Pop up event that was having issues with her mother. She was defiant and had a horrible attitude. During our event, we began answering questions of problems that the group of girls were facing dealing with bullying, colorism, and self-esteem. Between myself and the other women of our Indianapolis committee, we continued to love on her, and remind her, that she was beautiful. By the time I came back for an adult literary event, she was back dressed in her Sunday’s best, and sat in the front row giving us her full attention.
“By July, we came back and hosted our annual Girls Who Brunch Tour event. This baby ran into my arms, and hugged me giving me a bag full of items. I opened it up and read her note. Bringing tears to my eyes, it touched me so much, that I had to read it to the entire audience and called her up to the front to share a few words.
“Even though our organization received a Proclamation from the Mayor’s office in Indianapolis declaring July 13th, Girls Who Brunch Tour Day, that letter from Samayah meant more to me. The honesty and vulnerability in her words were authentic and pure. That was the most memorable moment to me in 2019.”
“The best piece of advice that I ever received was to speak life into myself. Words are powerful, and if you speak it and believe it, then you can accomplish anything that you want.”
If you could take 5 things on a deserted island, what would they be?
“Five things that I would take on a deserted island are as follows: the VC Andrews book series, bug spray (I’m allergic to mosquitoes and red ants), seaweed chips, my reading glasses, and a pen and journal set to document my days.”
Meet Shreyaa Venkat, the founder of NEST4US, which is a nonprofit that provides volunteer and leadership opportunities based on their goal to feed the hungry, inspire the youth, and connect the world.
What inspired you to start NEST4US?
“I have a great passion for community service. I began volunteering when I was in fifth grade and have spent over 850 hours giving back to my community since then. However, serving solo wasn’t my plan. I really wanted to get my friends and community involved, so along with my sister, Esha Venkat, I founded a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called NEST4US as a platform for giving back to the community in a multitude of ways. The mission of NEST is to work with communities to provide volunteer and leadership opportunities to make the world better through kindness.
“Our organization has grown from a small project to an impactful organization with over 450 dedicated volunteers. There were a couple key issues I noticed in my community that I wanted to tackle: food insecurity, lack of volunteering with a passion, and inclusion. Through our various programs, we look to provide a diverse variety of volunteer opportunities where people of all different backgrounds could find a service activity that interests them and help the homeless and others in need.”
“Now that I’m in high school, I have to find a healthy balance between academics and extracurricular activities, as well as making sure to leave weekends for volunteering. However, community service has strengthened my time management skills and has taught me how to prioritize so that I can pour equal amounts of energy into everything I do. Through my service, I have learned how to work better with others & how to manage large groups of people.
“In addition, as a third-degree black belt and assistant instructor, I teach students not only martial arts, but also good character and discipline. Being a teacher has taught me how to overcome obstacles, show compassion and understanding to others, and stay determined towards a goal by never giving up. For me, participating in activities that I’m passionate about has motivated me to continue putting forth my best effort to serve the greater good.”
What would you tell someone who wants to get more involved in their community?
“Finding a cause you’re passionate about helping and then spreading awareness about it around your community is the first step toward getting more involved in your community.
Something else I’ve noticed is that many people claim that they don’t have enough time to volunteer or they are too busy to participate in volunteering. However, I believe that you don’t need to have time, you should make the time to help others. Nothing is impossible, you just need to have the passion and heart to give back. I strongly believe that even if you have nothing else to give to someone, your kindness will mean the world to them.”
“Ever since I was little, my parents have raised me to spread kindness and never give up on my dreams. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to believe in yourself and always follow your passion. These simple words have definitely transformed my life for the better. I just love getting that rush of energy and the feeling that I did something good and selfless for others. It's always deep in my heart to do that for my community and it will always be a part of my life. By following my passion for service and volunteerism, I’m now able to inspire others to give back to their communities and follow their own passions.”
Where do you most want to travel?
“I love traveling with my family and have visited over 16 countries so far! In the future, I would love to go on a trip around Europe to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium. I love learning about different cultures, so this would be the best opportunity for me to experience a variety of traditions and taste lots of exotic food!“
Next: What Is Women’s Empowerment and 10 Women-Led Organizations to Support
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