MEntor

hannah brencherMeet Hannah Brencher. She’s the professional love letter writer behind The World Needs More Love Letters—a social media driven movement aimed to lift broken spirits and instill self-confidence. Today, she and her team of writers have left scripted love letters around the world—spanning six continents! We had the chance to meet the awesoME girl behind this incredible organization. Here’s her story. 

MyEveryzine: How did you get into love letter writing?

Hannah Brencher: The story behind More Love Letters began about two years ago, shortly after I graduated from college and moved to New York City. I was a full-time volunteer, living on the third floor of an immigration center, trying to figure out the starting thread for all these unkempt writer dreams in my head and crying far too much on the subway. I actually started writing love letters to people I would see on the train as a way to rid off some of the waterworks. What started as a hobby of sorts resulted in the leaving of dozens and dozens of love letters across New York City for others to find and be encouraged by.

As it usually unfolds, when social media joins in, people began requesting love letters from me. The people were from all across the world with all shapes and forms of heartbreak. It was during the writing of those first couple hundred letters that I started to think something bigger was brewing.

 

ME: Who was your inspiration?

HB: Letter writing has always been a big part of my life. I attribute that to my mother—a diehard unbeliever in all things social media. She’s got the social down good, but no such skill in the media parts—Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. So she wrote me letters all throughout childhood and into college and adulthood. I’ve always had it in my bones because of her. Did I think I would become such a figure for it? Never. 

 

ME: When did you think, ‘OK, I want to share this with the world,’ and turn your letter writing into More Love Letters? What were your first steps?

HB: I honestly wasn’t given much of a choice.  A reporter from the Wall Street Journal reached out to me and interviewed me about how I find balance between handwriting and social media. I honestly didn’t want every reader of the WSJ thinking they could ask me for a love letter: I would never stop writing then. 

The week before the article ran, I fleshed out the bigger picture, built a website and just went with it. I honestly thought the website would die out in a month or two… but this proved it had momentum overnight.

 

ME: When did you realize More Love Letters was becoming this big social media driven organization?

HB: From the very start I knew that, in order for it to work, More Love Letters would need to be very, very social. There was never a question in my mind that it wouldn’t be social media driven in order to fuel the offline practice.

  

ME: What has been the response so far? 

HB: More Love Letters has grown bigger and brighter than I could have ever imagined. People love it. I’ve yet to find someone who opposes it. And it has gained so much amazing publicity—none of which I actually pitched for—and so it leads me to believe that I am really onto something good here. And I am just thankful that it is a mission I am proud and humbled to stand behind and not something I half-heartedly believe in.

 

ME: Do you send out a weekly email with love letter requests or do you go about it differently?

HB: Being an actual writer on the team means you take on a few extra letter requests every month. I had writers for the team apply and do sample letters before actually giving them real letter requests. They receive requests on a monthly basis. 

  

ME: Is there a story that sticks out the most in your mind that reinforces your work?

HB: I gather these kinds of stories every single day. It is such a blessing to me. One that definitely resonates is one of the very first stories that trickled into the inbox. It was the first two weeks of More Love Letters existence, and it was really the point of, ok…can this work? A girl from Florida sent us an email saying she had found one our love letters on her bathroom sink at the university she attended. She went on to explain that she had been having a really rough day and that letter changed everything for her. That was when I realized I was in this for the long haul.

 

ME: How did you make the decision it was time to devote 100% of your time to More Love Letters?  

HB: I was reaching a point of burnout, to be honest. I was beginning to be stressed and overwhelmed over both my full-time job and More Love Letters. And that was when I had to step back and reevaluate. I knew I didn’t want to grow resentment for either of my roles, so I made the decision to find a way to pour myself into More Love Letters and find the actual time to give it wings and make it fly.

 

ME: Did you ever feel discouraged or fearful? How did you overcome that and follow through?

HB: Who doesn’t? I think that happens to everyone who has a really wonderful project under his or her belt. Honestly, I think the big fear came at the beginning, of not knowing how the people who actually knew me or had grown up with me would react to the project. This thing has healed so many relationships and brought me back in touch with so many people. The fear doesn’t hang on too tightly anymore. A little is a good thing, but I don’t let it keep me from doing the good work on a daily basis ad moving towards innovation and bigger heights with More Love Letters.

  

ME: Any future plans for More Love Letters you can share? What can we expect?

HB: More Love Letters will have great big changes ahead. I cannot reveal it all, but there will be definitely more options for letter writing, and bigger and brighter campaigns that really reach out and rattle people.

 

ME: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

HB: Good, good question that I honestly cannot answer. This is a path I could have never predicted even a year ago, so I just have to let the bigger plan take all of me. I hope to have written some books and really be an advocate for meaningful communications in such an overwhelmingly digital world, but we shall see. I am open to anything and everything.

 

ME: Are you always looking for love letter writers? How can people get involved?

HB: Anyone can hop on the site and join the subscriber list. You’ll be all hooked up with the letter requests and all the More Love Letters news.

 

ME: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find their passion, and for people who want to turn it into something more?

HB: My advice would be not to belittle your passions. That is the first thing we do. We cut them down. We deem them not worthy and it is just not true. If you have a great and daring idea, then flesh it out…make it fly. Don’t keep talking about it—see what it would look like to really make it work in the real world.

Oh, and another big thing, don’t place so much pressure on yourself to start something new. The greatest innovations often come from us stumbling into them from experience. Go outside and live. The great ideas get all untangled from the living the life that feels real and authentic to us.

  

ME: You’re a finalist for the TED2013 Global Talent Search. Tell us about that.  

HB: TED was my first opportunity to speak openly about what my life has looked like in the past two years. I’ve stumbled into a social movement that began with a single love letter and I’ve grappled to find the words to tie it together for a very long time. I feel like my story is really at just the beginning, but it was an amazing opportunity to be able to share the start of it with a wider audience.

Check out Hannah’s TED talk here. Trust ME, you don’t want to miss it. 

—Grace Gavilanes 

ChickRX

 

ChickRx founders and long-time friends Meghan Muntean and Stacey Borden were working for Wall Street and Apple respectively before they decided to build a health and wellness website for young women that is fun, informative and fast growing. They even won the 2010 New Media Women Entrepreneur award before the ChickRx came to be.
 
“We just had the idea for the site at the time,” explained Megan. “We were really debating if this was something we should pursue.”
 
With that encouragement, Muntean and Borden figured now was the best time to take a chance on their future.
 
“You owe it to yourself to try,” Muntean said about following dreams. “It’s a better feeling to know that you tried instead of going to bed thinking ‘What if?'”
 
In case you haven’t logged on yet, ChickRx is an online community for women to connect with health and wellness experts and peers for personalized advice. Since its launch in July 2012, the website has seen hundreds of thousands of monthly users and continues to grow.
 
“We would talk to each other and girlfriends about how to eat healthier and beauty regimes when we should’ve been talking to experts,” Borden said.
 
After extensive research via Google and women’s magazines, Stacey and Meghan saw that something was missing in the way of health information for women.
 
“We saw there were not really any beautiful health sites,” Muntean said. “The site’s design reinforces our brand. Information doesn’t have to be sterile or boring. ChickRx is refreshing, fun and engaging — it’s edutainment.”
 
The end result came to be a well-designed website complete with 500 experts, and counting, eager to answer your medical, beauty and fitness questions.
 
“We found our experts through word of mouth, or we’d see them quoted in magazines,” Muntean said. “They’re excited to promote their wisdom.”
 
ChickRx is not your typical WebMD. Instead, it’s highly interactive with members receiving answers to their questions in real-time from a panel of experts. And it’s not just members that are paying attention. The website features interviews with celebrities such as Kendra Wilkinson and Brooke Burke and partnerships with Everyday Health, FabFitFun and “Seventeen” magazine.
 
As young, women CEOs, Borden and Muntean didn’t so much have to prove themselves worthy, but prove that their product was.
 
“There are far fewer women in the tech/start-up world than there are men,” Muntean said. “And while that can sometimes make things challenging, know that as a woman you stand out a bit and that can certainly work to your advantage.”

“If you want to prove yourself as woman, or a man, prove it through results,” Borden added. “Go after an idea that makes a difference and show you can get the job done.”

 The staff consists of primarily Muntean and Borden with a handful of freelance writers and interns. Members’ constant flow of questions keeps fresh content on the site.
 
“It supports itself,” Muntean said. “It doesn’t need a huge editorial staff.”
 
When it comes to taking your own career risks, Muntean and Borden suggest embracing your fear and just going for it.
 
“You just have to have confidence,” Borden said. “Attempting to do something is a success in itself. There’s a lot to be said of overcoming that fear of failing.”

For anyone interested in starting their own business, Muntean has two suggestions: read “The Lean Startup,” by Eric Ries and test your product in cost-effective manners.

“You don’t have to have to put in a lot of money or effort to test your idea,” she said. “Before your build the website, do in-person tests.”
 
And if you’re still in school, take advantage now of finding your niche.
 
“Do what you love, something you’re passionate about,” advises Muntean. “Be excited and develop your interests through extracurricular activities.”

Join ChickRx today and become connected to hundreds of experts ready to help you. You can also follow the ChickRx team on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
—Jennie McKeon

MEntor -Teen CEO Tread for Teens


Allyson Ahlstrom has more on her plate than the average high school junior:  she’s a soccer player, a member of the track team, a pianist, and junior class president.  That would be plenty for most, but Allyson made time to found Threads For Teens, an organization that assists less fortunate teen girls in her area, and she now continually finds about 15 hours of her week to devote to being CEO of it!  In January of 2010, the ambitious 16-year-old began Threads For Teens, an organization that provides a customized shopping experience for under-privileged girls aged 13-17 in the Sonoma County area of NorCal who are nominated by a social worker, foster parent, or school counselor.  Each girl receives “two tops, two bottoms, a dress (formal or casual), a pair of shoes, a jacket, two accessories, and other small items”.  

Teen CEO

 To obtain her first donations of clothes, Allyson contacted over 300 clothing companies and a mere few hours later she was able to call Tommy Hilfiger one of her donors!  Allyson originally crammed all her donations into her bedroom, before moving them to a storage space.  The Threads For Teens boutique was born when, in August of 2010, family friends Lori and Bill DenBeste allowed her to use their vacant deli as a workspace.  Threads For  Teens is currently a recipient of  the 2011 National Violet Richardson Award and the 2011 Kohls Cares for Kids Local Award, while Allyson herself has received the 2011 Red Cross Real Hero Award.  The organization hopes to expand and create a scholarship fund.  You can get involved with Threads for Teens by liking their facebook page or by donating a formal dress!  ME sat down with the fab teen CEO to hear the secrets of her success.
 
ME:  What inspired you to create Threads for Teens? Did you have any mentors who helped you with the creation process?
AA:  I read a book called Generation Change by Zach Hunter. The book was about different service projects teenagers had done. I was incredibly inspired and felt like I could actually do something myself to make a change. Before, I felt I was too young, but after reading that I knew that I wasn’t. From the start, Threads for Teens has been my project, however, I have had support from many different people. The most influential in helping and supporting Threads for Teens have been my parents, and my teacher Ms. Greaney.
 
ME: What is the number 1 thing you’d like people to know about Threads for Teens?
AA: Threads for Teens is not just about clothing. Threads for Teens is about providing a boost of self-esteem in girls that have been through some extremely tough times. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful.
 
ME:    What are your personal career goals?
AA:  I have many careers that I would love to partake in. I am most interested in opening my own company, being a politician, or having my own talk show.

ME: How would you describe yourself?
AA:   I am a focused, organized, and dedicated person. At the same time, I am random, bubbly, and positive.

ME: Who inspires you?
AA: God, my parents, and the girls that come to my boutique. All the girls who have been through the boutique have suffered through horrific circumstances, but most have such a strong sense of courage.

ME: Threads for Teens is about providing fashionable clothes for girls your own age. How would you describe your personal style?
AA: Well, I go to a school that requires a uniform so there is not much personal freedom there. When I’m not at school, I like to dress classy and semi-dressy. I am definitely not a fashionista though. Some days, I throw on old jeans and a sweatshirt.

ME: What advice do you have for girls your age who aspire to make a difference?
AA:   Anyone can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you come from. None of that matters. What matters is your desire to help others. Pin-point what you want to do, and go after it. There are many people out there that would love to help you succeed.

ME:   What are some ultimate goals for your program?
AA:   The ultimate goals of Threads for Teens are to improve self-esteem, provide hope, and give love through gifts of clothing.

ME: What has been the most moving and rewarding experience in your career as CEO and founder of Threads for Teens?
AA: Watching the girls faces as the walk around the boutique, as they come out to show what they have tried on, I love watching. The comments are also sometimes meaningful as well. There are signs hanging around the boutique with messages along the lines of “You are beautiful”. One girl looked at one, and said, “Thank you, no one has ever told me that before.” That is what I am here for, to help boost self-confidence in girls that don’t necessarily have any.

—Karina Stow

Tara OstroweBe Prepared: A motto that not only the Boy Scouts use, but so does dietitian and nutrition counselor of New York City, Tara Ostrowe. However, Ostrowe applies this motto to nutrition, dieting and exercising in her specialized work of eating disorder management, sports nutrition and cardiovascular health, advising you to do the same to make yourself fit and awesome! How did Ostrowe decide she wanted to help others develop healthy eating and exercising behaviors? Simple, she pursued a passion, turned it into a career and always looked ahead.
 
Turning A Passion Into A Career 
“I have always felt that it is important to give your body what it needs,” said Ostrowe. Because of this interest in feeding her body with the correct nutrients, the sports enthusiast also enhanced her soccer, softball and tennis skills.
 

“I have always been interested in what we can do to help performance in sports and help in not getting sick,” said Ostrowe.
 
The University of Wisconsin graduate went on to pursue this interest by concentrating her studies on dietetics and interned at places that focused on all areas of nutrition. Eventually, she moved onto studying at Columbia for her Masters in nutrition.

“I loved it,” said Ostrowe. “It is a great field to be a part of and it helped me focus on the areas I was most interested in.”
 
Bouncing around from working at a community health center, participating in health fairs, working for a professional sports team and working at a college health center, Ostrowe did whatever she could do in the nutrition field that was available to her.
 
“I helped out wherever I could and I made connections overtime with different therapists and doctors,” said Ostrowe
 
The Key To A Fit Lifestyle 
 
Ostrowe uses her passion to inspire others to live healthy. “My motto is balance and moderation,” said Ostrowe. “It is the key to a healthy life.  A varied diet and exercise leads to a balanced day. If you can’t do everything in one day then make up for it the next day.”
 
Ostrowe dishes that the best way to achieve this is preventive nutrition to help the body functions. She advises people to think long-term about their health and happiness.  “Eat in terms of the future,” says Ostrowe. “Don’t wait until you have to make changes.”
 
Your diet and exercise schedule should include plans for weeks before in order to get in shape. “Try to always be prepared ahead of time and think of what the next day is,” says Ostrowe. “If a party or holiday is coming up and you will not be able to eat as healthy you might want to, exercise more another day.”

Following this advice herself, Ostrowe always checks her future schedule to see what is possible for her. She follows a preventive nutritional diet, which helps the body function. This type of looking-ahead thinking allows her to make changes now instead of when she’s forced in the future, in terms of high blood pressure or cholesterol.

 “I always try to eat a balanced diet and make sure I get all the nutrients I need,” Ostrowe says.



Give It a Whirl 
With the fire of passion in her eyes, Ostrowe looked ahead in both preparing for her career by making connections and in her motto by helping others. So what do you need to have to be as awesome and successful as Ostrowe? Something you already have, a passion!  
—Kimberly Turner

Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters, Jasmine Villegas has her Jasminators and Stephanie Kaplan, CEO of HerCampus.com, has her collegiettes™ to look after. Did we mention she’s only 22?Stephanie Kaplan

From ASME to absolute success, Stephanie Kaplan has come a long way from formulating an innovative idea to making it into reality, and has no intention of slowing down. ME had the chance to ask the inspiring CEO about her journey to success, future business plans, and helpful advice for making your own dreams come true.

 

ME: Tell ME about your college experience at Harvard University.

SK: At Harvard I was a psychology major and economics minor, and I also participated in a number of extracurricular activities that were definitely formative experiences for me. I joined a sorority (Delta Gamma) my freshman year and later became Vice President, Communications of it. This role definitely taught me a lot about leadership and how to effectively communicate with a large team of people. I also worked as a research assistant in two psychology labs, which taught me to be analytical, think through every step of a project, and pay close attention to detail.  In addition, I worked as a tour guide at the Harvard admissions office, which gave me good public speaking and PR experience. I also served on the communications and development committees at Harvard Hillel, which taught me about marketing. But my most important extracurricular was running Freeze College Magazine, Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, with Windsor and Annie (co-founders of Her Campus), which inspired us to start Her Campus.

 

ME: Why did you choose to major in Psychology?

SK: I never planned on a career in psychology; rather, I just thought psychology was really interesting and I liked that I could easily apply it to my life. It seemed like a helpful field no matter what career you go on to pursue, and I found understanding how people work to be fascinating.

 

ME: Like Ashlyee Hickman, MyEveryzine’s founder, you were also accepted into the super selective ASME internship program. Can you tell us what ASME is and share your own experience with ASME? 

SK: ASME is the top magazine internship program in the country, accepting about 25 college students nationwide each year and then placing them at magazine internships in NYC and DC. Your internship is supplemented with program-wide speakers, panels, and events. I interned at SELF magazine and had an unbelievable experience there. SELF is one of my favorite magazines and I felt so lucky to get to work there. I also made amazing connections through the speakers that we got to hear from at ASME, including one of our current advisors at Her Campus, Nina Link, who is the President of Magazine Publishers of America.

 

ME: Do you feel the experience with ASME helped you successfully launch Her Campus?

SK: I definitely do. I learned so much about how a successful magazine runs through my internship at SELF, and I made so many connections and got to hear about so many different parts of the industry through all of the speakers who we heard from throughout the program.

 

ME: When and how did you come up with the idea for Her Campus?

SK: Windsor, Annie and I met as undergrads at Harvard through running Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, which was a student publication on campus. We transitioned the magazine entirely online, and it started experiencing incredible success. Girls from colleges across the country were reading it and telling us they wished their school had something similar, because their only media outlet on campus was the school newspaper.  We recognized a hole in the media market for media that specifically reaches out to college women, and we wanted to provide this as well as a platform for the nation’s top student journalists to get their work published somewhere beyond just the school paper. We decided to take what we had done at Harvard and do something similar but on a national level, with localized campus branches at colleges across the country.

 

HerCampus.comME: Were your loved ones supportive about your decision to start up Her Campus?

SK: My family was incredibly supportive of my decision to start Her Campus. They’ve been behind me every step of the way!

 

ME: What makes Her Campus different and innovative?

SK: I think Her Campus’s model of national content supplemented by local content at the campus level is really interesting.  I also love that all of our content is produced by students; college students are often just as capable if not more so than real “adults”!  Her Campus also serves as a marketing platform for companies looking to reach college students, and because of our role as a content provider with an online and offline presence on the ground at schools across the country, we’re able to execute really creative strategic marketing programs for our clients.

 

ME: What is it like working with so many girls?

SK: It’s a lot of fun! We have a nail polish library in the office, as well as makeup that we keep there for touch-ups. Our office is super “girly.”  But we try to only take the fun parts of being girly to work with us, and skip the cattiness. 

 

ME: What is one thing you wish you could change about your journey in becoming CEO of Her Campus?

SK: I can’t think of anything! We certainly made mistakes along the way, but I’m happy with where things are now, so at this point there is nothing I would change.

 

ME: Were you ever discouraged or fearful about launching Her Campus? How did you overcome it?

SK: We were definitely nervous about launching Her Campus because there was no guarantee it would work out at all! I was most nervous about how I was going to be able to balance Her Campus with being a full-time student at Harvard. I was also planning on writing a senior thesis in psychology, but decided to drop that so I could focus more on Her Campus, which was definitely the right decision. We decided to just launch Her Campus and take a risk and see what happened!

 

ME: What is the craziest and most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur/ working on the Web?

SK: I think the craziest thing is the fact that Her Campus has a team of 1500+ college students working on it across the country, yet I have only met a handful of them!  Basically our entire business is run remotely—the office is just me, Windsor, Annie and a few interns, and everything else is done via e-mail and phone. The most rewarding thing is having a vision and being able to see it come to fruition, and knowing that you are fully in charge of making things happen one way or the other; though that is also scary.

 

ME: Where do you see yourself and Her Campus in 5, 10 even 15 years?

SK: I have no idea, and that’s what’s so exciting! But we see Her Campus becoming the leader in college marketing with a branch at every college and being a must-read daily for every college girl.

 

ME: Do you ever feel discouraged about your professional future?

SK: I really don’t. I think as long as I keep doing things that I love, my passion for my work will make me happy and will make what I’m doing a success.

 

ME: Do you have enough time for yourself outside of Her Campus?

SK: At this point in my life, work is definitely my focus, but I still have time to work out, hang out with friends, watch TV, go shopping, etc…Our work is very flexible so we are able to make time for anything in our personal life that is important to us.

 

ME: Fill in the blank: I love my job because_______

SK: I get to be in Miami on college spring break right now for “work”!

 

ME: As an entrepreneur, what will be your next big move?

SK: I have no idea! For the time being, my focus is on making Her Campus as successful as possible.

 

ME: Have you always known what you’ve wanted to do career-wise?

SK: No. I used to want to be a writer and I did not think I had any interest in business, but that has since changed of course! But I was always interested in journalism and media.

 

ME: Any advice for aspiring business women?

SK: Be confident in your abilities and don’t doubt yourself. I like the saying, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I think everyone should live by that, and women in particular are often afraid of taking risks, but you should just do it!

 

ME: Would you like to share anything else with our readers? 

SK: Pursue things that you love, not things that you think you “should” do. If you’re doing something you love, that will translate much more easily into success.

 

Stephanie Kaplan was named to Inc. magazine’s 30 Under 30 Coolest Young Entrepreneurs, Glamour magazine’s 20 Amazing Young Women, and The Boston Globe’s 25 Most Stylish Bostonians. Stay tuned for her next big move, and check out HerCampus.com!
-Grace Gavilanes  

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