INSPIRED IMPACT™ is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of purpose-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m the CEO and founder of the international nonprofit, Brink Literacy Project. Brink is devoted to utilizing the power of storytelling to positively affect the lives of people on the brink. Through our education, community, and publishing divisions, our nonprofit works worldwide to foster a love of literature, increase literacy rates, and use storytelling to empower underserved communities.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Brink believes that literacy isn’t just about learning to read and write. Although we all need these vital skills to navigate the world, engaging with stories can do something even more important: it can change the way we think about ourselves. This is especially relevant in underserved and marginalized populations. Often people in low-income, high-crime areas are told their entire lives that “they don’t matter,” that “they’re worthless,” and that “they will never amount to anything.”
This is the story we need to change.
At Brink, we believe that if we can pair vital education skills with the empowerment that comes from rewriting and reclaiming our own narratives, we can help people “on the brink” radically change their lives.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Since our founding in 2007, we’ve helped more than three million people tell their stories and gain access to free education and worked to increase global literacy rates. We work with thousands of students in low-income high schools, max-security prisons, homeless shelters, in addition to university students and countless online learners on five different continents!
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
My love of stories was born, like many others, through the discovery of our small town library. Growing up in rural Colorado, these books felt like a portal to another world, one so much bigger and more adventurous than I thought possible. I wanted to create some of that magic myself, so I wrote my first novel when I was 15-years-old.
Unsurprisingly, it was rather hard to get editors or publishers to take a 15-year-old girl seriously, so by the time I could finally walk into a Barnes and Noble and pull out a copy of my book, I wasn’t so taken with the accomplishment, but how very, very close I’d come to giving up.
I thought of all the other writers out there who were creating amazing stories—stories that could change the way we think about the world—but these writers caved under the pressure, confusion, and rejection, and those stories never got out there. And that broke my heart. Thinking of all those amazing voices—voices far more important than mine—that were being lost.
So I started the nonprofit when I was 19, vowing to help great stories find a way to be heard. Over the course of the last 12 years, that dream has grown and evolved. Now we don’t just help writers create and publish their work; we make sure that people around the globe have the ability to read and be changed by them!
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Our dream for the nonprofit is to use the power of stories to not only change the lives of the populations we serve but to elevate those stories to change the way society views and approaches our largest issues. As a culture, we have a tendency to ignore the parts of the world that make us uncomfortable. Underserved communities—especially incarcerated, homeless, and low-income individuals—are easy for us to dismiss…which is one of the reasons these populations keep growing. Our dream is to elevate these voices into the global discourse, letting great stories do what they do best: change the way we think.
If we can shine a light on these overlooked populations, humanize them, start a dialogue with them, we can finally find a way to come together as a society to solve the issues that lead to so many people living on the brink.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
Like any nonprofit, we need the support of our communities, from individuals who want to get involved in teaching and mentoring to amazing donors who give their insights and financial support to help us run education programs around the globe.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
At our core, we’re an art and education nonprofit. And in today’s world, art and education can often be branded as frivolous, as unimportant. When we think about combatting our largest societal issues—such as unemployment, incarceration, and homelessness—many struggle to see reading and writing as a tool for major change. But the statistics don’t lie. The thing that unites all these populations is literacy rates—which are staggeringly low in these marginalized communities. And as we said in our mission statement, to break this cycle, we need to combine literacy education with personal empowerment. We need to provide the tools, desire, and direction to use them!
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
I love this question! Leadership for me was something I stumbled into…and then did very badly for the first few years. What I’ve learned—after lots of humbling failures—is that you really need three things:
1. Make a compass, a direction to walk in. It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going if you forget why you’re going there. Find a clear mission and repeat it over and over, every day. You’re going to need it.
2. Find allies that share that direction. Not people you’re dragging behind you, but people who will walk beside you…who might even drag you every now and then. Someone to celebrate the wins with, but often more important, to bear the losses and regroup with after those terrible punches to the gut. But also, don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a while to find the right people. It took me nearly a decade to find a partner in crime, and she was worth the wait!
3. Have more stubbornness than sense. Doing something that matters hurts. It’s hard. So incredibly, shockingly hard. And common sense will kick in and start screaming at you to get out. Don’t listen. Be stubborn. If you’re doing something you love, something that matters, just keep doing it. The world will bend eventually.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Thanks for asking! We’d love it if you wanted to learn more about us! Check out our website. Come to some of our events! We’re always looking for volunteers, advisors, and community supporters!
And if you have a spare $10 lying around, toss it our way. With just $10, we can give one of our students a book that could change their life!
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