It's About More Than Me
Editor's note: In December, the More Than Me Foundation won $1 million from Chase at the Second Annual American Giving Awards, which aired on NBC. More Than Me was chosen from among five finalists.
When Grace Schroeder ’15 traveled to Liberia this past August to meet the young girls being helped by the More Than Me Foundation, she was prepared to hear some shocking stories. What she didn’t expect was to be told about prostitution by a young girl who hadn’t even gone through puberty. Even though the girl talked only about others who had been prostitutes, Grace suspected that this girl, too, even at her young age, had been involved in the sex trade.
These are the girls that the More Than Me Foundation seeks out: girls scratching out a living on the streets of West Point, the slum jutting out from Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia. Public school is free in Liberia, but the teachers are poorly paid and sometimes don’t even show up to teach. Some 75,000 people live in the slum of West Point, but it has only one public school. Young girls often take to selling fruit or trinkets on the streets of the impoverished township and may resort to prostitution. Some are forced into it by their own mothers. When identified and selected by the foundation, the girls receive funding for education and food. The foundation pays $300 for each girl to attend school for one year. The program recently added a lunch (which accounts for $100), so that the girls could eat instead of just watching their friends eat. The organization also provides after-school programming to keep the girls safe and off the streets.
Schroeder first heard about the More Than Me Foundation last November. She was tagging along with her younger sister when she agreed to participate in a flash mob for the organization in New York City. The flash mob, which was choreographed to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls),” raised $250,000 for the cause through Chase Bank’s Chase Community Giving Contest.
Before the dance routine, More Than Me founder Katie Meyler gave a pep talk that lit a fire in Schroeder. She says that she had never worked on something that meant so much to her.
“This experience was my first introduction, face-to-face, with somebody who has known girls selling their bodies and who are desperate for a meal and to go to school,” Schroeder said. “So I think what clicked that day was that ‘This is real. This is something that I can do, and these girls need my help, and I know I can do it.’”
After the flash mob dissolved, Schroeder and her sister decided to join Meyler as she continued to drum up votes for the contest on Facebook. They took to the subways, and Meyler was impressed by Schroeder, who shouted out the message and danced in the aisle. “I could tell right away that she was a leader; she loves to be in front of people, and she’s good at it,” Meyler says of Schroeder.
Meyler offered her an internship with More Than Me that same day.
MORE THAN ME MONDAYS
Schroeder originally took on the task of helping maintain More Than Me’s website and Facebook profile, but in the early months of 2012, Meyler posed a challenge to her and two other college interns: raise at least $5 a day for the girls of Liberia—the cost of one day of school. The person who raised the most would earn a trip to meet the girls and assist More Than Me’s work on the ground in West Point.
Schroeder decided to conduct a meal giveaway to raise money for the challenge. For nine consecutive Mondays during the contest period, which ran from mid-February to the end of April, Schroeder set up a table in the Campus Center. She used her training as a communication, management, and design major to promote the fundraiser—calling it More Than Me Mondays.
The result? A total of $6,320.26. The majority of those funds—$5,290.26—came from IC students.
“The experience I had during the contest solidified that I wanted to be a communication, management, and design major because of the marketing skills that I used,” she said. “To see that so many students cared so much about the rest of the world and these girls in Liberia and about me and what I was doing—it really warmed my heart.”
“Ithaca College helped me realize that students my age were just as passionate as I was and would give up their breakfast for a girl to go to school in another country,” Schroeder said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I’d get the reaction that I did. But so many students really were interested in helping me and following up and asking whether I had won the trip to Liberia. It really helped renew my faith in my generation.”
Schroeder was the runaway winner of the challenge, and she traveled to Liberia for the first time during the summer after the contest. Although the girls were on summer break, More Than Me was running weekday programs for them. Schroeder sat in on several sessions and even ran her own project, showing the girls how to craft colored bracelets. On other days, she went into West Point with a clipboard and camera to collect biographical info on the More Than Me girls to tell their stories more fully on the organization’s website. Most important, she got to spend time with the girls, talking with them and getting to know them.
While Schroeder was in Liberia, the organization received a $150,000 donation from various partners to help renovate several bombed-out buildings donated by the government to turn into schools for the girls. The organization is also looking to construct a boarding school.
Closer to home, Schroeder started the first More Than Me college chapter this fall, drawing from the students who worked with her last year during the More Than Me Mondays campaign.
“My interest in human rights is very new for me,” she said. “Coming to Ithaca College and seeing how different it was from my hometown, I became more aware of the rest of the world.”
– Steve Shoemaker