Sunny Stars

Sunny Star: Julia Gallagher

There are some people that I meet during my travels that I will remember forever. Julia Gallagher is one of them. One of those kind-hearted souls that you encounter and immediately like, Julia is a friend to many. I first met her during my trip to Tulane University in January of 2014 to help with Chi Omega’s recruitment. Julia was a standout member and I got to see her ability to lead when I visited the chapter once more for their annual visit later that spring. Julia was gracious enough to show me around New Orleans and I will also be thankful for her hospitality and generosity.

IMG_2959

Now, Julia has a mission that is making a tremendous difference. She has partnered with Mama Maji, a small non-profit that uses water to help women flourish. I interviewed Julia and her answers shed light on this issue that often goes unnoticed. Ultimately, Julia has a goal of raising $4,000 and it is my sincere hope that you will help her with this.

Here is my interview with Julia so that you can learn more:

1. You’ve been working with Mama Maji in New Orleans, Louisiana. Can you tell us more about this mission and what called you to it?

The mission of Mama Maji is to empower women to change their world through water. I was first called to this organization and mission because I was interested in the water crisis. The water crisis is the fact that there are 748 million people living on earth without access to clean water. This is a pressing crisis because water is so essential to life and humans truly cannot live a healthy life without it! However now that I have learned more about this organization and the water crisis, what really calls me to the mission of Mama Maji is the women’s empowerment. Mama Maji is just as much about solving the water crisis as it is about empowering women. Women are an intense part of the mission because in most developing countries, women are the ones collecting water for their families…whether it is clean or not! Therefore it is disappointing to know that only 14% of water projects worldwide involve women in the planning process. Doesn’t that seem silly when THEY are the ones who know most about it?! I am called to Mama Maji’s mission because I know that involving women is the key in attempting to solve the water crisis.

water 1

2. How do you see Mama Maji bringing happiness to those in need?

I definitely see Mama Maji bringing happiness to the women who get to participate in the community trainings. One method that Mama Maji uses for women’s empowerment is hosting trainings for community members to learn skills such as small group management, sustainable business practices, public speaking, and grassroots marketing. With these skills they are able to seek new opportunities and let their passions manifest. They find happiness in knowing they are creating positive change in their communities.

Also in the simplest way… without thinking about all of the other things that water is used for, simply drinking water brings happiness. Do you know when you’re feeling kind of slow, feel a headache coming on, have trouble concentrating, and start getting kind of irritable… and then… you realize you haven’t had a glass of water all day! If you are someone who is really good at staying hydrated I applaud you. But I know that sometimes all it takes for me to turn my mood around is remembering to stay hydrated.training 2

3. What has been the greatest challenge that you’ve faced in this work?

My greatest challenge is feeling small against a huge issue. It is easy to feel like nothing can be done. When millions of people don’t have water and water projects rarely involve women, it feels like the barriers are too big. Thankfully I am able to confront this challenge with a poem by Emily Dickinson that serves as a motto in my life, because I know that each moment of my life can have a positive impact on something no matter how small.

Not In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: 
If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, 
Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, 
I shall not live in vain.

4. What moment of pure inspiration have you had that motivates you to continue offering help?

I have a lot of strong women mentors in my life. They span from peers, to family, to former bosses, to sorority advisors. Whenever I have conversations with these people I both feel inspired by what they have to say and simply by their presence in my life. I know women all over the world have it inside of them to be this person for others too, but when they are burdened with the task of spending hours each day collecting water this isn’t always a possibility! I am motivated to continue offering my time so that I know women in other parts of the world can experience the opportunity and inspiration that is an empowering part of my life.

general 1

5. How can we help?

I have a crazy goal of raising $4,000 to help complete a water project in Kamrongo, Kenya. This money will finish the piping for a water kiosk as well as train community members so that the women can run the kiosk as a successful business! Truly any dollar amount is effective and appreciated toward this cause. If you are not interested in giving financially but know that people you know would find this interesting, have fun by sharing on social media! You can make a social media post with the hashtag #wherewomenare and fill in the blank of what you believe happens where women are. For example I believe #wherewomenare there is motivation! Either way here is the link to my fundraising page which you can visit or share!

www.mamamaji.causevox.com/wherewomenare

6. Last thoughts?

I love how you talk about how a part of happiness is giving back and especially that Millennials are more philanthropically minded. I read articles about both of these facts all the time but often I don’t see them in practice! I challenge young people reading this to take a look at my fundraising page and do it with a critical eye. If this is something you believe in as well, please consider making a donation! If it is not and you are passionate about something else, I challenge you to live your creed, do some research, and figure out the organizations who are BEST contributing to that cause. I can verify to you that Mama Maji is an organization that is making an efficient and effective use of their money fundraised because of their involvement of women within the water crisis. We, as philanthropically minded millennials, have so many organizations in front of us to give back to, but it is SO important to do your research first and make sure they are having an effective impact.

Let’s support Julia in this cause–don’t you think it’s worth it?

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Why You Should Hit the Send Button

One of my favorite parts about traveling is the amazing people that I meet along the road. You never know how a certain phrase or story can resonate with someone. Sometimes it is weeks or months before I hear from someone but I love when they has the courage to connect. It’s scary, right? You draft an email, hoping for a response, send it into the Internet abyss and wonder if your message will even be read. I have certainly had that experience before, where my email has fallen on deaf inboxes, and it’s disheartening.

I make a pointed effort to reply to every email that I receive because I know the courage and tenacity that it takes to hit the send button. I wanted to share a recent email conversation that I had with Christine, a student from Roanoke College in Virginia. I spoke there this past spring and it made my day to hear from her. After getting her permission, she agreed to let me share her email. Why am I doing this? Because I think Christine’s ability to reach out and connect is remarkable—it sets an example for other college students. Also, she’s asking some questions that I thought would be valuable to share with all of you. Enjoy!

Visiting the Chi Omega Chapter at Roanoke College.

Visiting the Chi Omega Chapter at Roanoke College.

Here’s is Christine’s original email:

Hi Lauren,
It was my pleasure meeting you a few months ago when you spoke at Roanoke College to my Chi Omega chapter. I apologize for how delayed this email is, but I thought you should know how much you touched my life that day. You came and spoke in the middle of one of the hardest times in my life: trying to decide what to do with my life in the post-grad world that was looming in the distance. I still try to use the methods you talked about that night in my day to day life now. What I took away that night was not so much your message of choosing happiness but your method of not allowing or accepting defeat.

I’ve always known that I didn’t want a cookie-cutter life or career, much like it seems you imagined by interning with E! and Disney. I’ve always loved writing and found it to be the one thing in life I feel truly fulfilled doing. I interned at local newspapers and magazines in college, setting myself up for what I thought would be immediate success in the world of journalism. Instead, all I received the months leading up to graduation and the months I’m living in thereafter has been a resounding no after no or just complete silence from different companies and magazines. It’s hard not to get discouraged.

It’s in these moments of sadness that I feel like a failure for not doing what I’m meant to do or what I feel passionate about that I remind myself that God has a plan for me that’s bigger than anything I could imagine, and that you also heard no and turned that no into your own brand and book! As silly as it may sound, you’re my role model.

Which is why I turn to you, at what feels like as low a moment as it did when I first met you after feeling continuous defeat and confusion about how to turn my dreams of having my own business and well known blog into reality, to ask for your advice. How did you have the courage to create the no you heard about collaborating to make the teen version of the Happiness Project into your own yes? How did you know where to start? How do you avoid feeling self-conscious about what others may think about your dream?

I look forward to hearing your advice about how to continue a life with meaning, happiness, and the Chi Omega method of being “discouraged never.”

Thank you again for touching my life and inspiring me to chase my dreams or at least get the ball rolling on them!

-Christine Winder

A pretty amazing young woman, right? Christine is a member of my sorority, Chi Omega and she is a shining example of The Symphony, which you can read below.

In return, here is my response to Christine:

Dear Christine,

Wow! Thank you so much sending such a thoughtful and heartfelt email. I am so happy to see that you are pursuing your goals and not giving up easily. I can sense that you are not faint of heart and that will be one of your strongest assets as you move forward.

Journalism is an especially challenging industry to break into and it takes persistence. In my brief time working at NBC News (which I loved), I saw the kind of sacrifice that people in news are willing to make. You have to be willing to travel, prepare a story at a moments notice, and learn how to do it all—write, produce, and speak on camera (if that is your goal). If you are looking to do strictly print journalism, keep writing. I love how Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly skilled at something—professional. That equates to about 10 years. That’s no small measure of time but making a daily effort to practice your skill will make all the difference.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback—and honest feedback at that. So many of us are scared to learn about our flaws or areas of improvement. But ask, especially when it comes to your writing. The best way to improve is to take a critical eye to your work and always challenge yourself to be better. Go to writing workshops, meet other writers, read—none of these efforts will be in vain.

So, when you ask me about where I found my courage, here is my answer. Approach the world fearlessly. Don’t look back at what other people are saying about you because it will break your neck. It’s no secret that I love Pinterest and a quote that I read the other day was poignant: “Don’t be afraid to do something just because you’re scared of what people are going to say about you. People will judge you no matter what.” Perhaps it’s a sad reality but it helped me realize that what other people think about me is none of my business. My business is creating meaningful work and inspiring others to find happiness. You have to find out what your business will be.

09af541cd6684304dfc9f48b25b52fb0

I believe the way that we hear the word “no” is all about perception. For some people, they are crippled by it and often cower in fear, afraid to even ask questions. But others hear no and it motivates them even more, it gives them that drive. That’s what it did for me. And if you feel like every door is slamming in your face?

Build your own door. This is one of the biggest keys to success as a young Millennial. People expect us to be lazy, entitled, selfish, etc. Show them that you are different by creating your own work. Show others that you have the self-motivation to create your own job. If you can prove that you can teach yourself and that you are willing to voraciously learn, others are going to be much more inclined to work with you. They won’t need to hold your hand—instead they can high five you.

How did I know where to start? I used my resources. Five years ago, Facebook was in its heyday. I used that platform to interview hundreds of young adults about what made them happy. I felt like that was a central question that was not being asked of this generation and so I made a concerted effort to find out the answer. Find your own niche that is currently untapped—offer a new perspective that hasn’t yet been shared.

As a young author, I felt like the central judgment against me was be my age. Ultimately, I learned that this was my greatest advantage. Don’t let your age intimidate you. Let your work surprise others and it will speak for itself. With your age and your life experience, you offer a unique take with your writing that others will be curious to read. I believe in that.

And how do I avoid feeling self-conscious about my work? I own it. I have certainly had times when I’ve felt embarrassed or not “cool” enough, especially when I’m speaking with teens who know what’s on “fleek.” Still grappling with that word. But I accept who I am. As I’m sure you know, inauthenticity as a writer is one of the greatest disservices that we can do to our readers. They deserve our genuineness, our flaws, our humanity. It’s hard to put ourselves in that vulnerable place but I often that it is in that place that our best work flows forth.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Keep Shining Girl Scouts

I was recently asked to speak at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles Gold Award Ceremony. While I was eager to say yes, I had no idea how truly inspiring these Gold Award recipients would be. These young women exemplify motivation, persistence, gumption, and grace. While it saddens me to say that I was not a Girl Scout, I hope that one day I can have a daughter so that she may be a Girl Scout. The organization is that amazing.

IMG_8496

There’s a big reason why I think we need more programs like Girl Scouts. It was not until after my college graduation that I realized how truly unprepared I was to take on the world. Perhaps it was my lack of initiation or the heavy emphasis on research and theory from college but there was something crucial missing from my training: how to SURVIVE.

IMG_7796

While our schools teach us about the quadratic formula, Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and the anatomy of a fetal pig (or frog or cat, etc.), we were forgetting something major. Maybe you were lucky enough to have parents take time to educate you further but ultimately, many of us are missing the essentials. These include the following:

  • How to establish credit and effectively use a credit card
  • How to purchase stock and save funds proactively
  • How to rent an apartment and someday purchase a home
  • How to cook a meal other than macaroni and cereal
  • How to maintain happy and healthy relationships

Are you catching my drift? We’ve been so busy teaching to the test every year, we’ve forgotten how to help kids not only survive, but THRIVE. And this is why I love Girl Scouts.

IMG_8495

Girl Scouts teaches young women the most valuable lessons.—these are lessons where you earn a patch but never a grade. These are lessons that we may innately know as adults but sometimes forget to teach to children. We can’t always remember pre-calculus or even algebra for that matter, and so we hire teachers. But investing? Laundry? Friendship? Kids are supposed to watch and observe and if they miss it, too bad. Sometimes we forget that if school isn’t in session and there’s no bell to start class, students don’t need to keep learning. But I think it’s what happens after school hours—like talks at the coffee table or drives in the car—when kids can truly learn the most valuable lessons. We just have to make sure our parents are sharing and our kids are listening.

IMG_8493

Because parents are so cramped for time, they don’t always have the time or energy to educate their kids on these life lessons. There will be another time—another moment when it will matter more. That’s what we say as the days turn into weeks and into months and into years. And then it’s graduation time…except the graduate doesn’t know how to iron their graduation gown.

What I love about Girl Scouts is that they don’t wait. You’re never too young to learn…even if you’re a Daisy or a Brownie. They take the precious time to TEACH young women what others think is innate. Children are not born knowing how to prepare effective business plans, rise to leadership roles, or simply connect with others. By taking the time to train these Girl Scouts on the building blocks of a successful life, they are able to truly shine as they reach adulthood. They are not the college students fumbling to find out the answers (like I was), they are the ones exceling and moving one step ahead. They are ready in every sense of the word.

With the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles CEO: Lise Luttgens

With the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles CEO: Lise Luttgens

While those Girl Scout cookies are darn delicious (even just the smell of the Trefoil cookie candle they gave me is intoxicating), they are teaching young women invaluable lessons. They are learning how to network, approach and interact with adults, organize money, and set challenging goals. They also get to experience the reward of meeting those goals and thus they are motivated to reach higher. Hence the prestigious Gold Award years later.

IMG_7837

When the big day came, I asked a question before my keynote. I was quickly corrected. I said, “How many hours does it take to win the Gold Award?” To which the Marketing Director replied, “Our Girl Scouts don’t win the Gold Award…they EARN it.” I think that says it all.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
Click here to book!