You would never know that Amanda Ebokosia was a shy girl growing up, always a part of organizations in high school, though not the one to be in charge. In fact, speaking to Amanda, you would become so enamored by her strength and passion that you could see her becoming President of the United States. Amanda will say that she became a leader “by accident,” because at only nineteen, while studying biology and psychology at Rutgers University, she found out that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wanting to inform others with relatives or friends in the same condition, she quickly arranged the “Traveling Awareness Exhibit” and wrote a beautiful poem to cope with her concerns about her mother:
A photo shoot that brought young students together to pose with foam boards that had facts about breast cancer, the “Traveling Awareness Exhibit” quickly expanded into The Gem Project, where more issues that concerned Amanda were included, and more programs and initiatives were formed.
The motto behind The Gem Project is “Captivate to Educate”. With it, Amanda inspires, assists, and provides tools for school-age youth to take action and carry out programs about community affairs and youth issues that matter to them. One issue that particularly concerned Amanda in the beginning stages was autism, inspired by her own brother’s experience with it, as well as several mothers she had met who had been raising autistic children on their own. The “Autism Quote Initiative” was founded in 2008 and with a team that Amanda formed, and a quilt of puzzle pieces was constructed as a symbol of hope and awareness to families with autistic children.
The Gem Project used autism as a theme in the Interactive Literacy Program, where volunteers travel to libraries in different communities and combat illiteracy through the use of different themes, such as public speaking, culture, mentoring, and empowerment. Children age four to twelve participate, working on their reading and writing.
Amanda hopes to expand The Gem Project across the nation with a standard lesson plan for the Interactive Literacy Program, as well as College Campus Marches that are organized to make change for issues that students care about. What’s so inspiring about this project is that Amanda puts the reigns in everyone’s hands, nurturing and empowering them to organize where they see fit.
The Gem Project’s newest “traveling photo exhibit” is the “Define Real Beauty” campaign, which celebrates women in all forms, shapes and sizes. See photos by MG Oania below…
What started off as a therapeutic approach to coping with her mother’s illness became a way for Amanda to meet people and develop a team that now combats a wide variety of issues. Amanda says the team of volunteers she works with “probably wouldn’t have crossed paths if it weren’t for The Gem Project” because they are all so different and all have completely different schedules (one is an accountant, another is a flight attendant, for example). But, what’s so amazing about The Gem Project, is that it brings people together. Amanda says all the members and volunteers may be “transitioning in life [but they are] concentrating on their similarities [to] move mountains.”
Follow The Gem Project HERE and Facebook them HERE. Most importantly, get involved and start your own program through The Gem Project HERE. Your internet love will help spread awareness and you yourself can become an advocate for change!”
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Photos courtesy of Amanda Ebokosia and The Gem Project. Quotes/interview material provided by Julia Gazdag.