Interview with Grace Li, 16-year-old founder of We Care Act
That’s the mantra of We Care Act, a non-profit organization that came to life after the Chinese earthquake in 2008. Siblings Grace, Eric, and Sharon Li were immediately compelled to help the victims and started going door-to-door to collect donations—and the movement has grown by leaps and bounds from there. Their organization now helps victims of natural disasters around the world—from Hurricane Ike to the Haitian earthquake.
We chatted with Grace to find out more about this perfect storm of philanthropy:
Tell us a bit about how We Care Act transformed from a small neighborhood effort into a powerful organization.
Grace: When my siblings and I started fundraising for the earthquake victims in China, we never expected to do any more than just that. But after we got started, we wanted to just keep on doing more. We got involved in a variety of fundraising efforts and even organized our own events to help disaster victims. It just snowballed from there, with more and more people hearing about We Care Act and wanting to help out.
Your efforts help to raise funds and obtain supplies for kids who’ve experienced natural disasters. How do you go about soliciting these items and donations?
Grace: My siblings and I have gone door-to-door in our neighborhood to solicit donations, and we have also made donation boxes out of shoeboxes and taken them to various places, such as Chinese school and dance class. We’ve held clothing/book drives at our school to obtain supplies for children in need, and we’ve had bookmark fairs and silent auctions to raise money and raise awareness.
Can you give us some numbers as far as how much money you’ve raised to date to help natural disaster victims?
Grace: We’ve raised over $40,000 in funds and $70,000 in in-kind donations, including over 14,000 items for disaster victims. We’ve impacted more than 40,000 people through our efforts.
The “Letters to Japan” program sends cards, letters, and origami cranes overseas to various schools. What types of responses have you gotten from the recipients?
Grace: When we sent out the letters, our contacts had already warned us not to expect a response, considering the damage that had been done to Japan and the recovery efforts still going on, so we were absolutely astonished to receive two packages in return. One of them was full of letters in reply to the ones we had sent, another we had candy and traditional Japanese sweets. The teachers thanked us not only for the concern and kindness of so many people but also for the educational opportunities that English letters provided them. We were so touched by the responses, especially since we were certain that we would never know exactly what kind of impact we had. To get so many replies really opened my eyes to how much of an effect just a few people could have. It truly showed me the significance of what we were doing—not because we ourselves were making a difference, but because we could get other people involved and interested.
How do you go about getting the word out about ways people can help?
Grace: Because We Care Act is an international organization, with team leaders in four continents and over 100 different cities, we mainly use social media, such as Facebook, and our website, We Care Act. Another way to get the word out is through DoSomething.org, where we post our project information so that we can reach out to many people over the Internet. We also keep in regular communication with the people involved in We Care Act, so we’re able to mobilize people in a variety of places.
What are some of the challenges you face as a non-profit?
Grace: Just getting non-profit status itself was a challenge, but I would definitely say it was worth it, simply because it opens up a lot more opportunities. However, keeping track of all the expenses and just handling all the non-profit paperwork takes a lot of effort.
Grace: I think Letters to Japan has been one of my favorite projects. I personally love to write, and to read so many letters from so many people all around the world really opened my eyes to how disasters may physically tear the world apart, but can spiritually bring us together. To receive over 4,000 letters was both inspiring and extremely humbling.
What are your goals/plans for the future (both for We Care and personally)?
Grace: In the future, I’d like We Care Act to expand, and focus not just on disaster relief but education, since that’s a subject very close to my heart. When I go to college, I know that I won’t be able to be as involved in We Care Act, but I still plan on doing as much as possible to help manage the organization. I don’t have a set profession in mind for the future, but as to my college plans, I’d like to study something along the lines of Psychology or Biology, and maybe Economics. I think the phrase that best summarizes my future goals is the quote: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I hope to go far.” I think this applies for the majority of people who are about to apply to college as well.
Do you have any advice for Heart of Gold readers who want to start a non-profit?
Grace: Despite the cliché, I would like to say just do it. Starting a non-profit seems daunting at first, but when it’s broken down, it’s really not too hard. The most difficult part is just getting started and not being put off by how difficult it seems. Readers should find what they’re passionate about and then start small, maybe with community projects or something of that nature. And my last bit of advice would be this: don’t be afraid to apply for grants! There’s a lot of opportunities out there for the people who are willing to seek them, and it enables kids to take service to a whole new level.
If you could start a non-profit, what would it be? Share your vision in the comments section!