As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of our award-winning global media digest & Chief Encouragement Officer of our affiliated pro bono social impact enterprise; GoodWorks 360° Foundation, I was delighted to have the opportunity to get better acquainted with Laura Gray, Founder & Executive Director of IPride, a self-esteem, empowerment program for youth. Learn more as you enjoy our inspiring Interview with Laura below ⤵︎
We’d like to hear about your professional journey before IPride.
Starting out with nonprofits in marketing and fundraising, transitioning into manufacturing sales for a Fortune 50 company where I moved into human resources for sales recruiting/training and into my current role with a professional services firm as Director of Business Development. From opportunities and experiences on the West Coast, East Coast, and back home to my Midwestern roots, I have been blessed to work in diverse environments with wonderful colleagues.
Tell us about IPride and the inspiration behind it.
IPride is a self-esteem-building program for youth, aligned, and designed with social-emotional learning standards, placing emphasis on mindfulness, creative thought, expression, and basic physical fitness. For twenty-six years, I’ve borne the dark shame and secret from my tormented childhood filled with sexual abuse at the hands of a close family friend. At the age of thirty-two, I found the strength and my voice to tell all that had happened to me. Little by little, as if peeling the greens away from an ear of corn, I discovered the sweet gold, my light, buried inside of me. With a renewed sense of self, I rediscovered my gift of words and wrote poetry with regards to my trauma and three of my poems were published. During my late teens and early twenties, I suffered through bulimia, cutting, and an overall disdain for my body. At the age of thirty-four, I decided to get healthy and get certified in multiple areas of exercise and nutrition and began teaching classes at local fitness centers.
Through my deepest wound and from my darkest days, I felt called by God to use my pain to propel my passion and life’s purpose; to provide kids with the tools to help improve their self-esteem.
In 2011 two words came into my head. I Pride. The words were flashing, at first, like a crosswalk sign. In 2015, the light stayed on, I took a leap of faith and developed the initial curriculum for IPride.
What’s unique about IPride?
IPride is unique in that its sole purpose is to provide tools to youth so they can learn to live peacefully in the moment and how to effectively cope with any hardship life may throw their way.
When did your launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?
IPride officially launched in January 2015 when I received my first “no”. Rather than sink down in defeat, it pushed me to pursue my dream and find the right fit for the program. The challenge, at this point, is to keep up with the growing need and demands for the program’s curriculum.
Any noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments along the way?
There have been many moments of pure love and joy that I have been witness to in the eyes of the program participants. Unabashed hugs, requests to come back tomorrow, and notes expressing gratitude for IPride fill my soul and reaffirm my commitment to work with youth, lifting their spirits while improving their self-esteem.
How would you describe your typical day presiding over IPride?
Fortunately for me, there is no such thing as a typical day😊 I enjoy working with a diverse group of young people through the schools and programs I have been invited to attend and learn something new each time.
What about your “social impact/outcomes?”
It’s difficult for me to place a value on the overall social impact of the work I do with kids. I can, however, attest to the change in energy and sense of self-awareness from the time the workshop begins until it ends.
The kids are calmer, filled with a greater appreciation and respect for each other as well as themselves. There is a freedom released, like the wings spreading from a newly formed monarch butterfly, from within each of them, knowing they can create and discuss openly without judgment or pushback. That type of developmental value, in my opinion, is immeasurable on the positive impact to society, both now and in the future.
What’s the next big thing/challenge for IPride?
My initial reaction to this question is to reflect on how IPride was able to successfully pivot, like many other businesses, during the Covid pandemic. Shortly after lockdown, a local college, whom I had worked with before, reached out to me seeking resources for their students who were suffering from confusion and anxiety. Within a couple of weeks, I created a YouTube channel featuring a series of original videos called “IPride in 5: Peace in Peace Out”, with 5 minutes of mindfulness, stretching, affirmations, and meditation. These virtual messages were well received and much appreciated by both students and the administration.
Living in the moment and yet looking ahead, my challenge is to stay fluid, meaningful and present in the lives of our youth. The “soft skills” and tools IPride teaches are vital in our ever-changing world. IPride provides a creative safe space for kids, a reset both mentally and emotionally. My ultimate goal is to shift from being a “free” program to a self-sustaining nonprofit with a strong, global presence adding a little love and light in the lives of our youth.
As an entrepreneur, what’s non-negotiable for you?
The overall heart and integrity from which this program was founded: to serve youth by providing tools to learn how to improve their self-esteem and to enjoy living in their now.
How can our readers learn more about/help IPride?
BONUS QUESTION: What’s something interesting that most people wouldn’t know about you?
I sang the National Anthem, a cappella, before our home basketball games my senior year in high school.