Even the most connected influencers can suddenly find themselves inspired to send a direct message when inspiration strikes.
This is how Meadow Walker, model, actress and chef The Paul Walker Foundationwhich she founded to honor the legacy of her late father, became the ambassador of pencils of promisethe organization founded in 2009 that has built over 550 schools serving 900,000 students, teachers and community members in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Ghana, and I’ve been inspired by the work they’re doing there. Their access to education was so impressive to me,” says Walker. “So I actually DMed them, which is kind of funny. They responded that day.
At 23, Walker is already skilled enough to use her platform and nearly 4 million followers for good. “It’s something that really means a lot to me, so it’s easy to talk about it,” she says of Pencils or Promise. “I can see that people are really engaging, and I’m impressed because I see the response and what we’ve been able to do as a collective is so great.”
Engaging with ambassadors — who also included Justin Bieber, Olivia Culpo, Gigi Hadid and Endeavor CMO Bozoma Saint John — who then engage their followers is key to organically spreading the Pencils of Promise mission, says Kailee Scales, who became CEO of the organization last July after holding leadership positions at ThinkFree Global Strategies, Black Lives Matter Global Network and Teach for America, among other organizations.
“One of the things that has intrigued me the most over the last few years is seeing how big an impact social media connectivity has, and what leadership that those with influence can have,” says Scales. “It really helps to broaden the impact because I believe that each of us, regardless of our life course, has the opportunity to change the world. And if one of us can influence another d between us for it to be transformative, it’s incredibly impactful.
While Pencils of Promise is rooted in providing infrastructure in the form of safe and sustainable places to learn life skills, its mission is also to educate and empower the whole child, with mental health as key element. A new short film about the organization that features Walker beautifully captures the sense of empowerment experienced by children in underserved communities, especially girls, when their talents are unlocked and nurtured.
“People in the areas where we work are at particular risk of mental health issues because of poverty, because of early marriage, because of early pregnancy, because of things like child labor,” Scales says, who shares the statistic that one in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 19 worldwide suffer from a mental disorder.
“Education mitigates a lot of these things. It has a direct impact on the way out of poverty. this has a direct impact on whether or not a girl becomes pregnant at an early age or is married off at an early age, and whether or not a child is forced into early labor. Education allows children to think about their future in a different way. They are allowed to think for themselves and value themselves and their talents.
Because ability is distributed, but opportunity isn’t, “Imagine being in an environment where you have gifts — because we all have them — but they’re not allowed to flourish,” Scales says. . “Education in a safe environment, with qualified teachers, where students are engaged, where there is clean water and a bathroom… gives you the opportunity to see yourself as you want to see yourself, and it allows you to fly.”
Mental health is embedded in a curriculum steeped in social and emotional learning, which extends to teachers and community members so they too can present themselves in their best light. “It speaks to feelings, engages students in getting to know themselves in the world so they’ll be good citizens and understand its presence and build their self-esteem,” Scales says.
Support also means a community-wide effort to ensure girls can go to school when they are menstruating. Pencils of Promise engages members of the entire ecosystem – boys too! – not only to understand how women’s bodies work, but also to help make sustainable hygiene products.
“When you think about the self-esteem and interpersonal challenges your period can have on a woman, you understand the connection to these services and mental health,” Scales says.
“All over the world, when women hit puberty, they fall back and boys start to emerge as leaders. Even in the United States and countries where we think we should be done with it, women are stigmatized when they menstruate. What we can do through our mental health programs is empower women to understand how their bodies work. And we are also able to empower the boys and the community to understand too. »
As she strives to improve wellbeing in Ghana, Walker is also working on her own mental health. Along with citing the benefits of spending time in nature, acupuncture, her yoga practice, and meeting up with friends, she’s a huge proponent of therapy.
“I don’t think everyone necessarily knows that I go to therapy and do certain things, but I’m totally comfortable talking about it,” she says. “I do therapy once a week and I think it’s really good for everyone, honestly, to talk. It’s not just because if you have something in your life that you need to talk about. , it’s also great to talk to a professional about your mental health at any time.You may be the picture of health, but it’s still so helpful.
Lately she has been working on maintaining balance. “With my career and my philanthropic work and my friends…I always try to make sure that I keep my sanity stable. Especially in fashion, it’s so chaotic and it can get the better of you if you don’t hold on. not good,” Walker shares.
“I want to change the way I take care of myself, turn going to an acupuncturist session or having a therapy session into something that’s work, something that I can’t undo at the moment. last minute. And that helped a lot. I used to think, ‘I’m too busy, I can’t do this right now’ but really…can’t you take an hour to go do something for yourself?”
Walker and Scales also brought home gems of wisdom from the Pencils of Promise communities they serve.
“I remember my first experience in Ghana,” recalls Walker. “There was just this general happiness and this feeling of contentment that they have. I feel like we always want more; they were very happy, they just wanted to have fun and be outside. There’s a lot less of that competition than I feel like there’s in the United States where everyone tries to get there first.
“I was in school and little girls were helping other kids with math and translating English for me because a lot of them didn’t speak English. The class felt like a family. And when I got home I got this new feeling, like I can’t hang out with people who don’t [understand that]… It’s about realizing that what we have is right in front of us and really cherishing that.
“It feels like there’s this focus on the collective and making sure everyone is taken care of,” Scales says. “When we build schools, the whole community comes out.”
Hollywood & Mind is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellness, and features interviews with musicians, actors, and other culture influencers who are elevating the conversation about mental health.