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She Made It

August 23, 2013

Seven years ago, I wrote the email below. Today, that little girl I wrote about flew to Paris to start university at PARSONS PARIS – one of the top design programs in the world.  It was an adventure getting her there, in so many ways – but that’s another post altogether.

Here’s the flashback to 2006:

“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ ”

Dear Friends,

Right now in Ghana, a young girl is boarding British Air Flight 78 alone in the middle of the night. She is excited, brave, and resourceful. Her name is Lovetta Conto and she’s fourteen years old.

She’s coming here as the first participant in a program that has been my own life-long dream and which I’m launching with a group of wonderful fellow adventurers called “The Strongheart Fellows Program.”

This is a program – supported by strong, compassionate people – dedicated to taking exceptional young people from extreme circumstances and giving them the kinds of resources and support that will encourage them to develop into exceptional leaders wherever they go in life; essentially, whispering to them, ‘Grow, grow.’

Here’s our official description:

“The Strongheart Fellowship provides the opportunity for exceptional young people from extreme circumstances to attend a one year residency program in Los Angeles, California. During the term of their residency, each recipient will work with Strongheart Fellowship to create, plan, and execute a social entrepreneurial project to benefit others, using resources and contacts developed throughout
their residency. Additionally the recipients will receive the highest quality academic education through scholarships to progressive area schools.”

The name of the program comes from the Ernest Hemingway quote: “The world breaks us all, and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.” We are looking for the kinds of young people – and supporters – who have faced significant challenges in life but are “stronger in the broken places.”

Lovetta was a 12 year old refugee when Kristi and I met her. She was separated from her mother in the civil war in Liberia when she was a baby. Her father was living outside the Liberian refugee camp in Ghana, trying to earn a living. She was living basically on her own in this camp – but you would have never known it. She has the kind of charm, humor, and self-possession that comes from growing up a beloved child in a loving Universe – or just knowing it innately despite harsh circumstances to the contrary. She also has another ingredient crucial to success: the ability to reach out for help. Quite simply, she has an inner resilience and presence.

Since then we’ve been back to see her many times, worked to build a school in the refugee camp (with her as part of the team), and ultimately repatriated her and her father back to their home country of Liberia. Most recently, our team has helped her father get set up in a business to sustain himself and Lovetta. We’ve worked intensively to set up our Strongheart program, knowing that Lovetta will be the first of many young people to benefit from our work. Finally two weeks ago – we were granted her visa by the US Embassy in Liberia. Two days ago, we purchased her plane ticket.

While Lovetta is here, she will be targeting the issue in her home country of: “exceptional kids orphaned by the war.”  She’ll be working with a group of us to develop a plan to provide a group home and center of excellence for a select group of young people in Liberia. It will be also be a “Medici Effect” community, where visitors from all over the world and from many different fields can participate in hands-on projects for a better world alongside the kids who live there. We’ll be launching the project in Liberia next summer upon Lovetta’s return home.

I am emailing you to ask for your support on behalf of Lovetta while she’s here for the next year. (We are currently a project under our nonprofit sponsor Creative Visions – our own paperwork is in process
but all donations are tax-deductible.)

Her school – the excellent New Roads School in Santa Monica – has offered a significant scholarship and I’ll be providing housing but we have additional expenses that we’re seeking partners to help cover.
(These are related directly to her – we’re all volunteer.)

Would you be willing to help us? Any amount would be helpful. (Example: $5 will allow us to buy a phone card so that she can call home.) We have a complete but lean budget that we can share with anyone who is interested or would like to make a larger donation or commitment to her. (Our total budget is $14,385 for the year. Not too much to change someone’s life – and sense of what is possible – forever.)

Another way to participate: we’ve put up a big green bulletin board in her bedroom. We hope to post photos, quotes, and notes from anyone who wants to join “TEAM LOVETTA.” It will be a source of inspiration and encouragement as she adjusts to the US and begins creating her plan for her future. Please send any notes or photos via email to me and I’ll print them and have it waiting for her. You never know if what you share will be the thing that will make all the difference in the world to her. (Can you imagine what your life would be like if you had a board like this to greet YOU every morning? :) )

We will be throwing her a shower here in Los Angeles in a few weeks so that many of you will be able to meet her. I’ll send out additional details as we have them. If you have any questions or thoughts, please
feel free to call me.

It’s taken me a few minutes to write this email (and check my spelling) so I’ve just received word that Lovetta’s plane is in the air. In seven hours she’ll be landing in Heathrow – changing terminals on her own – and boarding another plane for the US. At 2:20 pm tomorrow, she’ll be landing at LAX – and facing a challenging but grand new adventure here with all of us for the next year. I hope you’ll be a part of it.

Best and Fondest Regards,

Your Pal-



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