It happens about once every two months. A dinner. A tradition. A family gathering. Circled around the table are five people who very easily could have never crossed paths in an entire lifetime, but have become essential to each other’s existence. On the surface, the relationships may seem like a stretch – a 24-year-old from East New York, a 32-year-old from Brownsville, a 27-year-old from Queens by way of Los Angeles, and a married couple fresh off giving their 19-month0old daughter a bath. But, the dynamic is perfect, happy, and real.
As the co-founder of STATE Bags, along with my wife Jacqueline, I look around the table and can’t help but think back to how this whole family came to be.
In the summer of 2008, I began working at a New York-based nonprofit organization. My job was to link up corporate teams to underfunded school systems and put together days surrounding the theme of giving back. Putting on events at what seemed like every playground and cafeteria in New York City, I became jaded and frustrated as to how spending one day in a struggling community could genuinely benefit the kids I was looking to serve. I watched countless amounts of kids latch on to the corporate volunteers, but then just hours later, these newly loved adults would disappear.
It wasn’t until a day in East Harlem where two guys jolted me into taking action of my own. Each event site had a different vibe, which most of the time was swayed by their staff. This particular event in East Harlem immediately carried a unique feel, triggered by their two site leaders. I remember stepping back while normally taking charge just to watch these two in action. For three straight hours, more than 200 kids were engaged, smiling, dancing, learning, and looking 100 percent confident in who they were.
The two site leaders – Rick and Roger – were having a blast while running the show, making sure that even if the corporate volunteers would vanish from these kid’s lives in just a few hours, they never would.
As the event came to a close, I approached an exhausted, but still energized Rick and Roger and told them that we would meet again…it was a must. The high energy duo were too good to not give them a larger platform to impact more kids the way they had in East Harlem.
While on the train back to the office, I jotted down notes of a plan to build my own movement, whose focus would be to benefit the lives of kids in at-risk neighborhoods in a more hands-on, long-form way…and doing so with Rick and Roger by my side.
One Saturday afternoon meeting in Chinatown led to another Sunday morning meeting in Queens, and things were already in motion. The makings of Camp POWER – a one-week, fully funded, overnight camp experience for kids from Brooklyn’s most impoverished neighborhoods was becoming a reality.
In 2009, myself, Jacqueline, Rick and Roger carried out the unthinkable, pulling off the inaugural season of Camp POWER in five months, sending over 80 kids from East New York, Brooklyn to Pennsylvania for the week of their lives.
The summer of 2013 marked the fifth year of Camp POWER, impacting close to 1,000 kids across Brooklyn. But for myself, Jacq, Rick, Roger and camp’s Assistant Director, David, it wasn’t enough.
The one unfortunate constant at Camp POWER was seeing kids getting on and off the bus with all their belongings in trash bags. It was clear that there was a genuine need to further serve kids in the United States, but it would be imperative to do so in a way that would have more meaning than just a material donation. And thus, STATE Bags was created.
As Jacqueline and I brainstormed product ideas and company names, we also thought about how we could revolutionize the act of the give. Giving a bag for each one sold had been done before, but finding a way to hand-deliver them to communities of need through inspirational and motivational methods would need to be the differentiator. Luckily, the site leaders from East Harlem that helped start it all (as well as a very enthusiastic, David) were already on board.
Many companies launch and then scramble to find its charitable angle. STATE Bags began with its mission central to everything we do. Rick Roger and David – the STATE PackMen who carry out the signature, high energy bag drop events – embody what the company is all about, having each successfully risen from communities where the odds were heavily stacked against them.
The STATE team would never claim that delivering a backpack to a child living in a turbulent American neighborhood instantly changes a life, but if its coupled with role model figures, positive messaging and smiles, it’s certainly a start.
In less than a year since forming, our team of PackMen has hand-delivered thousands of bags to kids across the east coast through their innovative GiveBackPack program. We take great pride in the fact that people of all backgrounds have been ignited to give back, thanks to STATE’s mission, and are absorbing the message that a STATE bag isn’t just a backpack, but a GiveBackPack.
So as the bi-monthly dinner gathering of the STATE crew convenes, it’s clear that the impact we’re making, fun we’re having and strong family we’re building is just getting started.
For more information about how STATE is taking a more local, long-form approach to the buy one, give one model, visit www.statebags.com