Several years ago, in response to the mass shootings at Columbine High School, I started up a nonprofit organization called through different eyes. I was 19, a sophomore at NYU, and determined to make a difference. I’d like to think I did.
I got together a group of about 30 high school students and recent high school graduates and in a matter of weeks, we wrote, produced, and put on an entirely student-run musical review in Poughkeepsie, NY. There was lots of publicity – front page of the arts section of the local paper and several radio spots – and in one night we raised over $1500 for a scholarship fund to be awarded to two high school seniors who used art/media to express what it was like to be a high school student.
Later that same year, we hosted another event – a students vs. teachers basketball game – emceed by a local radio host I happened to know who helped us to raise another $500. We had so much money, we couldn’t award it all in one year, not having anticipated raising so much so quickly.
The scholarship applications were incredible. We received videos, photojournals documenting Eagle Scout projects, essays, poems, drawings… One of the winners (I opted not to judge the materials so as to remain objective) had written a song in memory of a friend of hers who had died at the age of 15 – a friend who happened to be my friend Anne’s younger brother.
The project was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. I have never felt like I’ve made as much difference in other people’s lives – or my own – as I did that summer.
Of course, over the years, I drifted from that project and into new ones. Now I’ve got a scheme that will hopefully have me running my very own art studio and school, teaching adults and kids how to use art to find themselves and their passion. But it takes up a lot of time that I can’t dedicate to the fund.
The fund still exists in a managed account that earns investment funds on an annual basis. Apparently over the last six or seven years the fund has grown to a point where another award can be given. My plan at this point is to issue a grant to a local school so that they can award the money to a graduating senior along the same parameters I set all those years ago. After that point, the fund will be closed.
It’s sad to see a door close like that, particularly when it means so much to you. But at least I can always have the knowledge that I did something meaningful and important. And as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. I’ll just keep moving ahead, into the great bright light with both eyes and all my heart as open as I can bear.