Minor: Creative Writing
Favorite W&L Event: Fancy Dress
Favorite Campus Landmark: The Colonnade and the front lawn
Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant?
After doing a test run of the ABCs for Change fund-raising concept, I became more convinced it could be successful. The test also illuminated the many tasks that still lay ahead of me, things that would take significant time and resources. I knew I would incur fees building the website and purchasing the software I needed, but I also felt that I needed the opportunity to devote myself to the project this summer. I applied for the grant to give me an opportunity not only to invest in this project, but also to spend the summer somewhere I could witness the current issues and needs of elementary schools first hand. DC and my part-time internship at Independent Education, has been an ideal way to explore this field.
How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L?
One of the things I've loved most about my time at W&L is the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects outside of your major. Taking a variety of classes has helped me to hone my interests, and is partially responsible for leading to me ABCs for Change this summer. I grew more interested in child development after taking Cognition, explored the positive effects of educational media and Social Impact Theory in the Sociology of Culture, and continued to write in creative writing classes. This project feels like a culmination of all these fields that I've discovered over the past three years--fields I hope to continue to pursue.
What has been the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience so far?
I really had very few expectations for the creation of this company. If anything, I was concerned that I was getting in over my head. I continue to be surprised by aspects of business I never considered, or roadblocks I never could have imagined. But I also continue to be surprised by the willingness of others to help, and by all the interesting things I continue to learn.
I would love to find a business grant or investors to pursue ABCs for Change and explore its full potential. I also have considered getting a degree in Developmental Psychology in a few years and getting more involved in the emerging field of educational technology.
I've spent the past three years jumping from one possible career option to another, as I imagine many students have. I've always known that I loved writing and books--from the day my father pasted the giant letters of the alphabet on my bedroom wall, it's been a passion. The summer after freshman year I worked for a literary agency in New York. I enjoyed the work and continually found myself drawn to the creative manuscripts for children and young adults. Early in my sophomore year I wrote a term paper on the benefits of educational media, focusing specifically on shows like Blue's Clues, the Leap Frog game series, and books used in classrooms. It was then that I truly began to realize a way to combine my interests in literature and child development
As a high school student I had once written an ABC poem called "D is for Diversity," the idea sparked by my younger sister asking what the word meant. My family encouraged the project and suggested it might make a good children's book, my father adding that I could recruit children to create colorful illustrations for it. We continued to throw the idea around, but it wasn't until my sophomore year at W&L that I revisited the poem with a renewed desire to follow through with the idea.
I was excited about pursuing a project where I could combine my love of writing with my new found interests in early education. Meanwhile, I continued to hear reports of funding cuts to education, and witnessed the effects first hand as my old elementary school cut its art program. As I thought back to my days of selling candy bars, wrapping paper and scented candles door-to-door (and to my parents groans as they delivered the useless wares), it struck me that schools should be able to raise money in a more productive and meaningful way. Other events like school fairs were often successful, but also at the cost of massive time commitments from parents and teachers outside of normal class time.
The idea for a fund-raising company began to emerge, and over winter break of that year I visited my youngest sister's elementary Montessori school in South Carolina. The lower and upper elementary classes agreed to help me test the concept, and each student began illustrating one letter from the poem. While that first book didn't raise as much money as we'd hoped, it highlighted roadblocks and helped me refine my business plan. The response from teachers and parents was also very encouraging, and strengthened my conviction that a fund-raiser that complimented students' experience and worked with teachers' curriculums could succeed.
Last summer I officially registered ABCs for Change, LLC and created the initial website. Over the past year I've finalized a business plan and brainstormed further ABC books (covering topics like "Green" living, the countries of the world, art history and ecosystems, all in child-friendly language) and other fundraising products I could add to the model. The concept is meant to be simple, and radically different from the approaches of other fund-raising companies. Schools pay a $75 fee up front, which covers all of the materials and services they receive. Their initial packet includes a booklet outlining the process and tips for creating and selling their book, the text of the fundraising book they selected and its accompanying classroom guide, which includes ideas for incorporating the book into classroom activities and ideas for other fund-raising events that compliment the book's topic. The school has only to assign students a letter then submit the finished illustrations, by mail or e-mail. ABCs For Change covers the rest of the process--everything from assembling the artwork into a full-color, professionally bound book to contacting the school's local news organizations to spread word of the school's fund-raiser. The school receives a promotional kit, including digital versions of flyers, advertising emails and letters personalized with their school's information. The book is available for purchase online, can be bought with a credit card, and ships directly to the customer's door. Because I am using a Print-on-Demand supplier, schools aren't required to pay anything for books purchased, and receive their profit at the end of each month. Unlike other fundraising companies where schools receive only a small percentage of the money they raise, the school will receive about 42% of the book's selling price, almost $8.50 per $20 book. Another $7 covers printing costs, and the rest goes back into the company to cover upkeep, time, and expansion.
I've spent this summer finalizing the company and am hoping to be ready to launch an email ad campaign in the fall. I've launched a new website with a logo and color scheme, created the emails I'll need to reach out to schools and encourage them to sign up, created all the materials a school will need, including the "Getting Started" booklet, classroom guides, and promotional kit, and created a list of eight fundraising titles schools can choose from. I've also had to tackle some of the concept's initial issues, like finding a printer with low enough costs to make the endeavor worthwhile. Finally, I've been working part-time for Independent Education, a non-profit that represents 85 independent schools in the D.C. area and offers them resources like professional development conferences, research, policy advocacy and cost-cutting services. The internship has been an ideal opportunity to see the needs of elementary schools first hand. I attended their Summer Development Conference and heard industry leaders speak about current fund-raising issues and ideas. I've also made connections that I hope will lead to relationships with possible client schools in the future.
I'm certain that there are many challenges yet to come, but I truly believe that ABCs for Change will offer schools a much needed service, and effectively combine their fund-raising and educational goals. This summer has allowed me to do work I'm truly passionate about, and finally begin to realize an idea that sparked my interest five years ago.