Welcome to my very first blog posting! I've wanted to start a blog for a while, and now with the new year, I finally decided this was the time! Why blog? I wanted to share all that stuff that goes on with Project Smile, that no one usually ever hears about. It's not about complaining how difficult things are, how much money we need, or gloating when we do raise funds. It's about the daily work; the successes, struggles and everything in between.
A little background: Project Smile is a non profit organization that I started in October 2003. I was 23 years old and working part time as the director of the extended day program at the Dover/Sherborn Middle School and going to graduate school part time. Holiday time was fast approaching and I was looking for something to do with my students as a holiday activity. Every so often, I would pick up the New York Post. My fondness for the Post dated back to my days in New York City. I went to college there and everyday, walking to school, I would glance down at the Post to read their remarkable screaming headlines. After coming back to MA, the Post fondness still lingers.
Anyways, on this particular day, I picked up the Post and saw on the front page a photo of 3 brothers who were starved by their adoptive parents. The abuse was horrific; the children literally ate scraps of paint off the walls. One was 1o years old and weighed only 28 pounds. When the police arrived to remove the boys from the house, an officer gave one of the boys a stuffed animal that he kept in his cruiser to give to a child. The article said that the boy clung to it and refused to let go of it through his entire time at the police station.
I read the article and that got me thinking of starting a stuffed animal drive in our school in which we would donate to some police departments, particularly those that serve low income or higher crime areas. I still remember sitting a student's desk with my purple spiral bound notebook and red pen, trying to come up with a catchy name for our stuffed animal drive. On that fall afternoon, Project Smile was born. I had no idea where it would go, all I wanted was to get the students enthused, collect some stuffed animals and donate to a few departments. I would have been happy with about 200 stuffed animals. We collected 1,800 stuffed animals in one month. I went home after work each day with my car filled with bags of stuffed animals (the school couldn't store them for us). Little did I know, that trend would continue. We donated to the Framingham Police, Worcester Police, the Mass. State Police and three hospitals. The press came, took photos and wrote a few nice articles. The response had been great, beyond anything that I had even thought of. From the articles, I received phone calls from parents who wanted to donate their children's stuffed animals to a good cause and I started talking to more police departments who wanted to be involved.
Suddenly, it became something more. I couldn't even tell you when it happened, when I knew I wanted to do this full time. We were incorporated as a non profit in MA on April 8, 2004 (my brother's birthday). I was doing it part time then, but I knew my job at Dover/Sherborn was going to be eliminated and I was totally fine with that, it was time to move on. I knew it was time to move full time to Project Smile. The funny thing is, I had never had a doubt about working full time on an organization that had no money, had only worked with maybe 15 departments, no logo, small board of directors, no website, not even a business card. All Project Smile had was me. I knew it would be challenge, but I've always loved a challenge. Above all, it felt right, felt like a natural progression. Maybe I was a little young and naive, but I will always be forever grateful for that choice.
So here it is, my first posting. There is much more to say about our early days and there is much to say about everything I'm working on today. Until next time...