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Nepal in a Nutshell

I wrote an entire post about how much my trip to Nepal to visit our 91 She’s the First Scholars meant to me. And then it disappeared. I hit publish, the page redirected to an error message, and I lost everything. All the awe, gratitude, joy that I had packaged in such a neat list to share with you… gone.

I was just about pulling my hair out… and then I stopped myself. It was only a blog post. I remembered what the She’s the First Scholars teach me: Patience and perseverance.

Rather than rewrite the post as it was, I’m going to write something else entirely, hopefully even better.

So here we go, the highlights of my third visit to a She’s the First partner school and my first-ever trip to Asia, to see Blink Now Foundation‘s Kopila Valley School.

The best takeaways come down to 3 Cs:

1. Collateral: I get to see my co-founder Christen Brandt and our Junior Board Chair Kate Lord work storytelling magic with our Scholars. This duo has churned out two short films about STF Scholars, Magho and Focused, and two more are on the way this year. Other organizations have spent six figures to millions of dollars on documentary work, so it mesmerizes me to watch C+K create equally powerful and effective content as a team of two on a shoestring budget. Follow @shesthefirst so you don’t miss any of it.

Kate and Christen at work filming Scholars

Kate and Christen at work filming Scholars

2. Collaboration: We detest the word charity around here, because She’s the First is a model of collaboration — our Scholars are receiving the money needed to attend school, but they are giving back so much more to our mission. The “Race to Equality” 5K organized by a team of STF Scholars while we were in Nepal is the perfect example of this. It was the first-ever race through the small town of Surkhet, in the valleys of the Himalayan mountains, involving 200+ boys and girls, men and women. Every participant had a sign on their back dedicating their run to a person or reason. There were even cheer squads along the route! (How cute are they?!)

Scholars raise awareness on the back of every 5K participant

Scholars raise awareness on the back of every 5K participant

3. Color: Our trip happened to line up with Holi, which is the Hindu festival of love, color, and spring. 50 children and adults pelted us with colored power down by the river (imagine a Color Run on steroids). We’re helping girls be the first in their families to graduate, but this week, they gave us an unforgettable first of our own: Celebrating Holi. I’m so grateful to the Kopila Valley family, led by fearless founder Maggie Doyne, her co-founder Taupe, and the superhuman fellows: Nena, Anjali, Patty, Luke, Jamie, and Chris.

Can you recognize us? That’s Brooke Oliver, me, Christen Brandt, and Erin Leigh Patterson

Can you recognize us? That’s Brooke Oliver, me, Christen Brandt, and Erin Leigh Patterson

It wouldn’t be completely fair of me to just share the happy photos and not reflect on the challenges that come with them.

The hardest part of STF trips is trying to reconcile your own human capacity with the tremendous need and injustice you see all around you. After I meet our Scholars and explore their communities, I want to knock down more doors, make bigger and bolder asks. My daily life in the office is very much about firing away emails and making phone calls to bring in our major funding, and when you’re in a place like Nepal, you have to take a break from that. I went the entire day without Wi-Fi and email. I had to keep reminding myself to be in the moment and disconnect so that when I came home, I could activate more.

You think you have all the drive in the world, and then these STF Scholars have an uncanny ability to get inside your heart and find these power switches you didn’t know were in you. So that’s where I am now — feeling incredibly thankful for all the supporters who have sponsored these 91 girls and made us one of the top funders ever to the Kopila Valley School. But that’s not enough. It’s time to do more because these girls are on fire, ready to reinvest.

Our goal this year is to sponsor 600 girls across the She’s the First partner schools.

You can make a donation at shesthefirst.org/donate and turn more girls in Surkhet into She’s the First Scholars. Or maybe you can connect me to corporate and foundation sponsors for our two milestone events this year, the Campus Leadership Summit and the Mentor Breakfast. You don’t need a plane ticket to make a difference in these girls’ lives. You can do it from where you are in this very moment.

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The Benefits of "Sweatworking"

“Sweatworking” with She’s the First volunteers, Stephanie Florence of Edelman (wearing her SIX:02 pants!) and Evann Clingan of 360i & EvannClingan.com

“Sweatworking” with She’s the First volunteers, Stephanie Florence of Edelman (wearing her SIX:02 pants!) and Evann Clingan of 360i & EvannClingan.com

A reporter’s query crossed my inbox today, asking about the benefits of “sweatworking” — in other words, doing your networking and relationship-building with colleagues and/or clients through fitness. I had never heard this term before, so first of all, I was incredibly excited to now have a way to describe something I suggest doing all the time.

Why is sweatworking awesome?

  • It’s good for you! Exercise = endorphins = happiness. Basic brain science.
  • People are vulnerable when they work out, especially if it’s their first time taking a particular class. You learn the ropes together, and the shared victory at the end is way more memorable than paying your bar tab when you get drinks.
  • When you’re working out, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to wear that will make you look as put-together and dignified as your job title. You’re both equally unglamorous and, most importantly, authentic and energized–and that’s where the best partnership and friendship forms.
  • It’s multi-tasking. If this isn't someone you can prioritize in your personal time over close friends or family, slot them into your work-out time. 
  • This does not apply to me, but if you work for a PR firm, in ad sales, or for any company with entertainment budgets, you can expense it.

How do I love to sweatwork?

  • Yoga: Every Sunday at Lululemon, there are free yoga classes. I invite a friend (who is usually invested in She’s the First in a big way, personally or professionally) and afterwards, we grab a coffee and croissant or Bruffin.
  • Cardio Dancing: My friend Sadie Kurzban is the fierce founder of (305) Fitness in the West Village. She’s the First is her cause of choice. Sadie not only organizes donation-based classes for STF whenever she’s introducing a new instructor to her community, but she donates class passes to me so that I can treat my VIPs. I invite people whom I think will become (305) Fitness die-hards and evangelists, so it’s a win-win.
  • Running: When the weather is warmer, nothing beats a run around Central Park. Do it on a Saturday, Instagram a photo and tag it #WillRunforJuice, and you’ll even get a free smoothie at Juice Press locations, between 9am-noon.

How do I propose you sweatwork?

Organize a donation-based Zumba, yoga, or exercise class at your company and invite colleagues. This would make an incredible fundraiser for our #SweatforSTF campaign! Or, invite your clients and partners. Hold the class at a professional studio, like Soul Cycle or Uplift, or bring an instructor into your office. For example, maybe you’re a PR company trying to launch a new beauty product. Say you’ll donate $25 for every magazine editor who comes. That’s far more exciting than all the other PR events they’re invited to that week.

So, who wants to sweatwork with me?

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BEST DAY EVER!

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done” was the Nelson Mandela quote I printed on the back of my NYC Marathon shirt. Before crossing the finish line at 3:49pm this past Sunday, 5 hours and 18 minutes after starting, “done” felt a long way off. But here we are — this fundraising page and the 2014 NYC Marathon are officially DONE!

Now, our connection to our She’s the First Scholars begins, and that is the best part.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit our scholars and partner organization Starfish One by One in Guatemala, and then I returned to NYC just 48 hours before the marathon. I feared all that could go wrong — getting sick, twisting my ankle on a cobble stone, bad weather — but I knew no matter what, we had raised more than $10,000 to support 10 girls in school. That was comforting. Our grand total is in fact almost $13,000 now!

Marathon Sunday was, as cheesy as it sounds, magical. Seeing my friends and family cheering at miles 8, 18, and 23 in their STF tshirts was electrifying and unforgettable! Though she was still in Guatemala, my co-founder and Director of International Operations, Christen Brandt, surprised me by commissioning posters that pictured the girls we all sponsored together. (Last week, I got to meet Petronila in Guatemala – pictured on the poster I am touching below – and thinking of her carried me through many parts of the race.)

Mile 18 of the NYC Marathon (Photo by Kate Lord

Mile 18 of the NYC Marathon (Photo by Kate Lord

Meet my mom Cheryl, dad Scott, and sister Shelley (Photo by Kate Lord

Meet my mom Cheryl, dad Scott, and sister Shelley (Photo by Kate Lord

Any of you who are runners know that even when you train properly and work hard, you don’t always get a good race, so I feel incredibly lucky that all the stars aligned. Believe it or not, even when I crossed the finish line, the song blasting from the big Central Park speakers was exactly the same one I used as my “power song” all throughout training season on my Nike app. (That’s the song that plays every time you finish your goal distance. Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” if you must know.) I just lost it. Don’t let these smiley photos deceive you. I was bawling at the finish, though fortunately with uncontrollable happiness and not excruciating pain.

This year, I so badly wanted to add the next chapter to our She’s the First “Run the World” fundraising campaign and teach myself that I, the kid who couldn’t run a mile in gym class, could do something that was once “impossible” to me. It was good fate from the start that I got in via lottery on the first try, which any New Yorker will tell you is virtually unheard of. Last year, Erin Leigh Patterson ran the first NYC Marathon for She’s the First, and next year, I hope more women (and how about a man!) will also run the world’s largest marathon to send more girls to school. If you do, I promise to be an outrageous cheerleader.

I will forever be in awe of this group of names that you are a part of below. I met each of you through such different avenues of my life and a few of you, I actually never met in person. My heart is tingling to see you all here together for the same purpose.

THANK YOU Adam, Adrianna, Ale, Alison, Ally, Amanda C., Amanda K., Ami, Amy S., Andrea, Angel, Becky, Belma, Brianne, Brittany, Brooke, Callie, Carrie H., Carrie M., Cassandra, Catherine, Chanelle, Chelsea, Cheryl, Christen, Christian, Craig, Crystal, Dan, Daniela, David, Denise, Donna, Emily B., Emily D., Emma, Erin, Gemma, George, Gina, Glenda, Grandma, Holly, Irene, Jamie, Jan, Jane, Jayne, Jenn, Jenna, Joan, Judy, Julie K., Julie P., Kate, Katie, Keds & Seventeen, Kelli, Kim, Kristen, Kristen & Greg, Lauren Horn, Lauren Hurwitz, Lianna, Linda, Liriel, Lisa, Long, Maggie, Marc, Marci & Marty, Marcia, Mariam, Mariko, Matthew, Michael, Michelle, Mike, Mom & Dad, Nadia, Nicole, Nina, Lady Project, Opal, Partha, Rachel Simmons, Rachel Sklar, Rachel & Lorne, Rethink Gainesville, Rob, Rose, Roseanne, Ruth Ann, Samantha, Sammy, Shelley, Sierra, Simtec, Stephanie F., Stephanie S, Therese & Casey & Gianna, United Way, Uyen, and Yamile.

And to Elly in Tanzania, a graduated She’s the First Scholar – You wished me all the lucky in the world, right here on my fundraising page, and I got it. Nakupenda, dada!

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