The school season has wrapped as students transitioned from one grade to the next or high school graduates say their final farewells to classmates. They enter a new chapter in their lives. For college-bound students —it can be an exciting yet overwhelming time for families finding additional resources for their children’s first year away home.
Better Love Yourself (BLY), a nonprofit organization started 13 years ago know only so well the challenges of what students deal with living away from home for the first time. The brainchild of national R&B singer and entertainer, Terisa Griffin—BLY offers a unique mission. The organization has provided traditional footlockers filled with on-campus essentials for first-time college-bound students in over six cities.
“I wanted to help students not only in preparing for prom but truly assist them beyond high school in preparation for college. Encourage our future leaders with love and the pearls of knowledge was important to me,” says Griffin.
With the volunteer team comprised of both initial fans- turned-friends, the organization has developed into a small group of dedicated women and men who believed in Griffin’s vision from the beginning.
Motivated by A Mission
Katrina Douglas has been with BLY since its inception and works in various roles, helping where she is needed. She is highly regarded as the ‘glue’ who keeps things organized.
“It started with me attending one of Terisa’s concerts. A friend of hers introduced me to her music. She invited me to the Green Dolphin, where she used to perform. I went gradually to her shows, and then I became a groupie. After that, we became friends. She had a vision giving away trunks to kids. I was on board to volunteer to do this,” she says.
The organization started as a way to bring together professional women out to network and patronize local vendors as a “Girl’s Day Out” function to help area female students. The mission was clear—the commitment will be for both girls and boys. The resources were needed, and they made a year-around goal to raise funds and build donations for scholarships and items for each trunk. The event outgrew the Green Dolphin St. venue and held at the DuSable Museum of African American History for the past 11 years.
A retired educator, Alexis “Moxy” Wallace met Griffin through her brother and would attend her concerts where she would eventually volunteer for BLY for the past ten years.
“BLY is more of a family than your typical nonprofit organization. We see volunteers come and go. The family atmosphere is there. It’s an awesome project—divorced from the music. It’s an amazing thing, and it’s awarding to see the kids get their trunks,” says Wallace.
Applicants are required to apply online or mail in their applications by the second week of June. As part of this process, they are asked to share their short and long-term goals in addition to providing community service information performed throughout their senior year.
Each year, volunteers read through the applications and are struck by some of the student’s circumstances. It has become a constant motivator that keeps them focused.
Going the Extra Mile
Bonita Gillan, a U.S. postal worker and has volunteered for BLY for 12 years. She says it’s a labor of love that each volunteer feels when they sign on. One year, the organization sent out selection letters, and some students didn’t receive them.
She recalls, “I stayed on the Northside and Terisa had me drop off the acceptance letter to a student who lived on the Westside. Their house wasn’t in the best condition. When I delivered her the acceptance letter, her mom started crying, and the student jumped around my neck as I gave her a million dollars. You could tell the family was in need,” Gillan says. “Out of all of the students, that situation was the most heart-wrenching. This is one of the reasons why I volunteer for BLY, and this why I keep coming back every year.”
The youngest volunteer from this close-knit group is Jamie Douglas, who joined her mom, Katrina Douglas a few years ago. She helps with the organization’s social media and digital presence. Regarding some of the students’ letters, she adds, “The main thing that stood out was violence in Chicago. I’ve read many incidents where students want to leave Chicago. Secondly, their concern was about affordability. Their parents didn’t have enough money to send them off properly.”
Dr. Angela Watkins has worked in the education field for the past 35 years as a former eighth-grade teacher; an administrator in the Chicago Public School’s Central office location and 15 years at Northeastern University. In the last decade as a BLY volunteer, she admits there isn’t an organization like it.
For more information on Better Love Yourself, NFP, visit: www.betterloveyourself.com