It all started when I lost my best friend Lindsay Marie Hawley to suicide in 2017. A gorgeous world traveler with her own non profit, She was my role model, my inspiration, my rock. After a bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realized the best way to make the most of the situation was to continue her legacy of giving back and advocacy, so I carried her torch and took over the organization she started called Give Backpackers.
The first Voyage we went on was to Cambodia a few months after she passed, to follow in her footsteps and volunteer where she had, and visit all the ancient cities she traveled to, giving back where I could along the way. Later that year and again in 2018 while I was living in Vancouver, I continued her tradition of hosting an annual October fundraiser in Southern California called Hawleyween, raising enough money to put 3 girls through school in Peru and then supporting Oceana, an environmental and wildlife protection organization.
In 2019 I made Give Backpackers a “501c3” certified Non Government Organization, and travelled to Uganda with a video crew from Canada and volunteers from California, to initiate a sustainable sewing program with women in a village two hours from the capital city of Kampala. We bought 14 sewing machines and a plot of land to build a community center, visited schools and families, interviewing and filming everything along the way. From village visits, talking to single mothers in their humble homes, city adventures, exploring markets and sewing supply shopping, to speaking at schools and everything in between. Everyone’s lives involved were forever changed, with scholarships and sponsorships arising from our social media shares and a ripple effect of education, micro economy and empowerment springing from the sustainable sewing program we started.
Now back in Los Angeles after three years abroad, my first project with purpose was to co-produce a Voting Advocacy photo and video shoot that a fellow model and advocate focused actress Dominika Juilet approached me to help her with. We managed to bring on two diverse models and an LGBT crew of makeup, hair and a fashion designer, as inclusivity was incredibly important to us, so we could represent all walks of life and voices to be heard in this explosive presidential election. Red carpet celebrity designer Maggy Barry (credits include Lady Gaga and Cher) custom made us 4 beautiful dresses, Wonder Woman-esque gloves and hats to celebrate the Suffragette Centennial, that is 100 years of women having the vote.
Video made by Dominika Juillet
The purpose of this shoot is to encourage people to register and vote in this year’s presidential election, quickly approaching in a couple short weeks. “Beauty for the Vote” is about using more than just our beauty in today’s very appearance driven world, but rather using our voices to raise awareness to causes that matter. It isn’t enough to just be beautiful, you have to stand for something. And now is not the time to be complacent and apathetic, we must fight even harder for our freedom and rights as females. The Suffragette women did not die for the cause in vain 100 years ago so we could just sit back and watch. We must speak up, and stand up for what’s right. Or we will lose our rights.
It was never a smooth road to find my higher purpose and overcome tragedy and loss, and even now I struggle with mental health challenges as many of us are struggling with during 2020. In a world of social media comparison, online bullying and pandemic related issues, mental health has taken a dip for many of us. I have faced my own demons, and that of many around me with anger and attitude issues at an all time high as people are on edge more than ever. It’s been very isolating and lonely at times, as I feel some people do not know how to respect boundaries or grief, but it’s made me stronger and more resilient to handle anything life throws at me now. I feel unbreakable and more motivated to stand up for others that are struggling or oppressed, even making a movie on mental health in Vancouver last year that is now a finalist in a two global film festivals so far and doing the circuit internationally which I am incredibly proud of. Though I have had many heartbreaks in life, a good friend told me once “Your accomplishments will never fail you”.
If you are someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please reach out for help. There are so many great resources out there like www.ruok.org.au and BetterHelp.com with licensed therapists to talk to who provided me some much needed counselling during times of grief.
Image from our BEAUTY FOR THE VOTE voting advocacy campaign, published in Women’s Wear Daily Magazine- https://wwd.com/business-news/business-features/hollywood-maggie-barry-custom-vote-dresses-1234630148/