The Million Dollar Question is…

Why and how did you start a non-profit organization?

I’ve been asked a variation of this question countless times in the last few months- both in casual conversation and media interviews.  And in neither setting is “Well, it’s kind of a long story” acceptable as an answer.  So I usually default to my co-founder to field this one.  But in the interests of my blog, I’ll give my side of the story.

In high school, I was a classic over-achiever.  I wanted to get the best grades, highest test scores, and most extra-curriculars in order to get to my dream: college.  That magical place where I’d start new again and have the freedom to study whatever I wanted.  Pretty much everything I did was for this goal.  To the point that during my freshman year of college, a friend of mine said, “Why are we working so hard to get straight-A’s?” And my immediate thought was “Duh, to get into college.” Until I realized, oh yeah, we’re already there. It was quite unnerving.

But anyway, while I was in the have-to-do-anything-and-everything-to-get-into-college mindset, I did a lot of volunteer work: walks for cancer, organizing a blood drive, being a junior counselor at a Christian camp, etc.  And I found that I really liked it. My parents (Mom- runs a Blood Bank in a hospital, Dad- attorney in his own practice) always instilled in me the importance of helping others. So, when I finally got to college, I knew I wanted to use whatever skills and talents I have to help others.

At BU, I got involved in some causes, most notably helping restart the GAIA club at BU, which is for AIDS awareness.  But I was kind of all over the place- I was on the women’s crew team for a while, started working to help my parents out with money, and so on.

Then, at the beginning of sophomore year (Fall 07), I met Brendan.  He’d just gone to Tanzania in June and had fire in his heart to help the people he saw there.  Truthfully, Brendan is my best friend and he makes me want to be the best person I can be. So, we spent a lot of time talking about finding a way to help these and other people.

We knew that helping schools was the way to go, because education is where it all begins. It’s where we learn the skills needed to follow our dreams.  In Africa, he saw children who wanted to learn, but their schools had no supplies and were so overcrowded that there was hardly a place for them to stand during class, not to mention even sit.  I’m thinking, how can they learn like that?  If they can’t sit, or take notes, or have books to read from?

So, in Summer of 08, Brendan and I were out running.  It was raining and we were quiet.  Finally, he said, “I want to start the organization now.”  To which, I said, “Alright, I’m in.”  We’d talked about it, maybe starting something after we actually had jobs and money.  But, no better time than the present.  So we began.

The next part of the saga lasted for about 4 months.  This venture involved hours upon hours of paperwork for the government and trying to create a web site.  I like to block this part out of memory, because it was boring and frustrating.  We learned how to make a non-profit by trial and error and with lots of outside help. Thanks to a friend named Colin (a web site guru who thankfully helped us for no pay), a thick book about starting a non-profit (crucial in filling out our form 1023 and creating bylaws), and the legal support of my father when we had some incorporation issues, we got it together.

Then, by February, we were cleared by the US government, had a functioning web site, chose a school to help (in Olasiti, Tanzania), and could start fundraising.  It’s pretty much been a whirlwind since then of email inquiries, letters asking for donations, press releases, and trying to set up events.

Is is stressful?  Time-consuming? Tiring? Frustrating at times? Of course.

But what in life that is worth it isn’t?  Nothing’s easy, free, or simple. But starting a non-profit is beyond rewarding and continues to show me the goodness of humanity, which is something I’ve doubted in my life in the past.

So why and how did I start a non-profit?

a. To help people.

b. To change the world, or at least make a difference in it.

c. Because I have the skills to do so, and not using them would be a waste.

d. All of the above, which led me to believe in myself and in the kindness of others.

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