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Be You.

March 18, 2015

I’m a daughter and a storyteller and the appreciator of a good joke.

I’m a friend and a Gemini and the lover of really bad music.

I’m a bleeding heart and a dreamer and if I’ve met you once, I can tell you that you’re important to me.

I’m a wallflower most of the time and a quiet girl sometimes and an outgoing, bubbly person when I need to be.

I’m fiercely loyal and a supporter of the Golden Rule and a firm believer in the power of a good cup of coffee.

Above all, I’m faithful to the One who gave me life and honestly, I’m just really happy to be here.

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They tell you to “Be yourself!  Everyone else is taken.”

And when I was a little girl, I got to be myself.

My mom operated a chauffer service of sorts, where she toted me all around town.  To music lessons and dance classes and theater performances and sports practices.  I did it all.

And you know what?

Doing it all helped me become me.

Just be you, they say.

I walked into the basement of an orphanage in Haiti last November 8.  It was dark and hot and covered in dirt, but had nothing else inside of it.

Except for children.

As I walked down the stairs and peaked around the corner, I saw children.  I saw children like the child I used to be.

Innocent children.  Precious children.  Hopeful children.

Children with dreams.

When I saw these children on November 8, 2014, they didn’t have a place to dream.

They didn’t have a mother like I did, who would drop everything to ensure that their dreams were fostered.  They didn’t have hope shining in on their lives, but rather, only a dark home with not so much as a bed or toilet in it.  They didn’t have a mentor to tell them they could become anything they wanted to be, as the older children looked after the younger children and the name of the game was survival, not dreaming.

When I walked into the orphanage they were living in, the children whose faces are burned in my mind forever were packed tightly on six wooden benches sitting on top of that dirt floor.  They were silent.  They were stoic.  One would argue that they weren’t living, but rather, merely existing.

I believe that in life, there are a handful of moments you receive that stand out more than the rest.  These are the moments that in turn, shape you and turn you into the person that you need to become.

Seeing these children was one of my moments.

Seeing these children changed me.

I sat in a corner that day holding a two-year-old boy who looked like an infant because of malnutrition.  As I held him and stroked his head, I looked on at the children on those benches.  I didn’t care that I was staring at them.  When their eyes caught me, I would just hold my gaze with theirs.  If anything, my eyes screamed to them that I was perplexed by the image of childhood that was being painted in front of me.

As I sat there, the thought that continued to pound through my mind was how angry I was that these children weren’t receiving a chance to live up to their full potential.  The only thing I could think about in that moment, was how mad I was that these children didn’t have a chance to live out their dreams.

Before we left the orphanage, my friend David Nelson, one of the co-founders of I’m Me, stood in front of the group of children spread across wooded benches.  Through an interpreter, David asked the children what their dreams were.  He asked them what visions they had for their futures.

At first, the children were shy.  None moved.  Dreams?  How do you dream when you’re living your life on a wooden bench in a dark room covered in dirt?

I guess though, that even darkness cannot turn out the light of a child’s hope, because, soon enough, they came alive.

One by one, for the first time in God knows how long, they got off of the wooden benches and came to the front of the room.  And there, they did what no one else had ever asked them to:  They shared their dreams.

They sang.

They told jokes.

They opened up their hearts.

And they shared their hopes for their lives.

When they were encouraged to dream, these children came alive.

Life has a funny way of working, is one of the most important things I’ve learned in my 30 years on this Earth.

Life has a funny way of working, because as I sat in that dim orphanage on that November Saturday morning, my constant silent prayer was for these children’s dreams to come true.  I prayed that they’d be given a chance to live out their full potential.  I continuously hummed to myself that day, “God doesn’t put people on Earth for them to live a life of sitting on benches.”  I made a silent deal with myself, that I’d give up all of my dreams coming true for just one of them to have a dream come true.

Less than two months later, the answer to my prayer began.  In January 2015, I’m Me launched its fine arts program–the first of its kind in Haiti.

On day one, 200 children lined up outside of the doors of the facility that I’m Me rented to house it in.  200 children!  200 children on a hot afternoon in Haiti stood wrapped around a building in a line to get inside of a place they’d never even seen.  They did, because something inside of them told them that inside of that building, their dreams would come true.

Be you, they say.

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These days, the children paint and sing.  They play basketball and soccer.  They tinker with musical instruments and act out plays.

Some may become the next Haitian Idol.  Others may land a star on Hollywood Boulevard.  Some might be picked first overall in the NBA Draft.

All of them, though, are getting to do something that up until this point, they’ve never had a chance to:

Be a kid.

This March Madness, I’m asking you to join me in supporting I’m Me’s fine arts program.  Supplies for the program cost $200 per month and the program runs for 9 months out of the year.  I’d love nothing more than to be able to raise enough money to fund the program’s supplies for an entire year.

If you know me, you know that I believe that sports is one of the greatest facilitators of social change in the world.  Sports, though, also has an uncanny way of making dreams come true.  This year, a Cinderella team’s success will fuel young men’s dreams.  Coaches’ dreams will come true when their team wins the National Championship.  As we celebrate my favorite season of the year–yes, March Madness is its own season in my book–I’m asking that you join me in supporting the dreams of some young people who need people championing behind them the most.

Anything you can donate will help bring to life the possibility of making a young person’s dreams come true.  My goal is to fundraise $100 per day over the 18 days that the tournament lasts.  To donate to my campaign, which will be open through April 6, you can click here.

Thank you for believing in these children’s dreams.  Thank you for empowering a nation.  Thank you for being you.

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