Melissa first got involved with WISER while working at Johnson & Johnson and has stayed very close to the WISER girls since then. She has traveled to WISER three times over the last five years and has already signed up to go back again.
We sat down with Melissa to hear how the WISER girls have become so important to her.
W: How did you first hear about WISER?
MK: I worked at Johnson & Johnson for 14 years. While in the Diabetes Franchise, I first met Carrie Arndt. She was leading a fundraising gala for WISER and asked me if I would emcee. With matching gifts, we managed to raise over $100,000 in one night! A WISER student, Mercy, and Principal Madam Dorcas came and spoke. Mercy had everyone in tears with her story. And Madam Dorcas just has this amazing way of commanding a group – in a room full of 200 people and major corporate executives, she had everyone engaged and responding as if they were in class. Soon after, Jeff Pearson told me about a J&J volunteer trip to WISER and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. So in 2013, I traveled to WISER for the first time. And that was just the beginning!
W: Tell us about your first trip – what was that like?
MK: Everything about it was completely amazing. We did a “business bootcamp” for the WISER girls and I taught communications. There are almost too many stories to mention. While practicing interview skills, I asked a girl named Millicent what she wanted to be when she graduated, and she responded “lawyer.” I asked her why and she looked at me straight in the eye and simply said, “I want justice.” That really stuck with me. When another girl said she wanted to be a doctor and I asked why, she told me her dad had died of malaria and she wanted it to be different for others. And each girl has a powerful story like this. When I was in the middle of a divorce and was struggling with perspective and feeling sorry for myself, getting to go to WISER and see what those girls work their way out of was so inspiring. The minute you get to WISER, you meet the girls and they’re so full of love and joy – they fill you up with so much happiness that there isn’t room for anything else.
W: There really is a magic to the WISER girls. Why do you think WISER’s mission is important?
MK: If you want to end hunger, poverty, and disease, a World Bank study showed that you need to educate girls. We found a solution to so many problems and this is it. The founders sat under the WISER tree in Muhuru Bay and said ‘what do you want us to do?’ and the town got together and said ‘save our girls.’ It’s an amazing thing, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it? Sometimes people want to give “close to home,” but these people need so much and it takes so little to help them. The WISER girls put so much work in – they understand the gift they’re given and don’t want to waste it.
W: What makes WISER special for you?
MK: When I’m talking about WISER to others, I usually share the story of how the WISER girls have inspired my children. Both of my kids did their Bar and Bat Mitzvah projects as fundraisers for WISER. My daughter and her friends held a car wash to raise money for WISER and she spoke about this during her Bat Mitzvah speech. She said that, for her and her friends, it was a fun day in the sun in Pennsylvania at age 13 with not a care in the world, but she knew that this was a different life from girls in Muhuru Bay, where 13-year-old girls have a high chance of getting married and having babies at that same young age. Hearing my daughter speak about this was really impactful for me. It’s been so special to be able to share WISER with my family – having my kids choose to donate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, having my wedding guests donate to WISER last year, and being able to have my husband come on my third trip to WISER in 2017. My kids have grown up understanding the importance of giving to others and the importance of WISER’s mission, and I feel like that’s a gift I’ve given them.
W: What do you wish other people knew about WISER?
MK: I wish there was a way to bottle the feeling you get when you’re on WISER’s campus and share it with people when you leave. I think if everyone could have that feeling you get when you’ve been there, then I know others would care as much as I do.
Gifts come in many forms. You can be gifted with a talent, intelligence, musical ability or with something that merely fills you with joy when you are in the proximity of it. Being at WISER with these brave young women is a gift. It fills me with joy, hope and peace to see their shining smiles. Every time I leave, I take them with me in my heart and keep them safe until I return.
If you give to WISER, you’re having such a huge impact on the trajectory of someone’s life in such a positive way. That’s part of what I love about donating to WISER – the money goes so far. I like that WISER is local and community based. It feels like my own personal investment. I don’t know if people seek out these opportunities, but this one is there for the taking. WISER is affecting real people that I’ve gotten to meet and to know and to love. It feels good to know that one more life has improved because of the work we’re doing at WISER. The girls are pure joy. They’re joy on legs. As soon as you meet them, they envelop you in it. These are my girls. This is my cause.
We can help you build a supporter story of your own. If you’d like to learn more about how you can make an impact like Melissa has, please contact Zack Fowler at [email protected]