By Victoria Feng, AKOM, Money Smarts, and Assistant Editor
Patricia Manubay created Dream Boxes to provide those in need with school supplies. Most recently, Patricia has founded Above Apathy, which aims to help inspire people to give back to their communities. She has been awarded the Jefferson Award for her nonprofit work. Read on to find out more about Patricia’s story.
Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired you to create Dream Boxes?
Patricia Manubay (PM): Dream Boxes was created out of three of my passions: service, writing, and dreams. Growing up, I fell in love with the two most unpopular hobbies: writing and service. My father used to work at a bookstore, so I was always immersed in dangerous worlds and crazy imaginations; the stories I read were limitless, and I saw life the same way. After watching the pen through books, I learned how to wield it—to write my own story. So whenever I went through bullying or times where I felt like my life was out of control, I found control and compassion in writing. As a writer, I developed the crazy belief that I could write the world.
When I was younger, I was bullied a lot from things like how I looked to what I did. This experience trickled down to my early adolescence, and I developed problems in my mental health (something that I just began speaking up about). I know how it feels to think the whole world is against you, to be discouraged in pursuing your dreams, or to be told that you aren’t good enough to do something. I know the feeling of being the only person who truly believes in you.
I created Dream Boxes because I did not want anyone else to feel what I experienced. I wanted to remind students that education is the pathway to achieving your goals, no matter what your dream is. I wanted to remind students that they should be able to do what they are passionate for and be supported doing just that. I believe that education is a human right. The purpose of Dreams Boxes is to ensure that students have the necessary supplies to be successful in school and the encouragement and support they need to pursue their dreams. Dream Boxes isn’t just about giving out school supplies; it’s about creating a connection and a generation of passionately driven students.
AK: Can you explain how they help children in need?
PM: Thousands of students in our local communities cannot always afford the new supplies every school year. In low-income families, money and budgeting typically go towards more urgent necessities such as rent, mortgage, food, and medicine; sometimes some new notebooks or pencils are not part of the question. Fortunately, growing up I had some school years when I had new school supplies whereas during the more difficult years I did not. There is a feeling of reassurance and confidence when students have new supplies to work with. In many ways I think of it as someone building a house: If you have old or worn supplies, or not even any supplies at all, you are unable to build that house efficiently. The second part of Dream Boxes is the letters of encouragement. This helps students because we are creating this “floating support group.” Although the students receiving the boxes and the students writing and creating the letters are from two completely different worlds or communities, these letters connect them. We are showing the world that students are helping students and reminding children that although we do not know each other, we believe in your dreams and aspirations. Many times growing up, we are faced with doubt and especially self-doubt: By providing these reminders through Dream Boxes, we are able to fight that.
AK: The Dream Boxes are packed into boxes. Is there any reason why you chose boxes?
PM: Ha-ha, in the two years of doing Dream Boxes, no one has ever asked me, “Why boxes?” The idea of boxes comes from the feeling of being in a box—caged or restricted. At the beginning of my Dream Boxes journey, I talked about this idea that when children are children, their eyes light up at the idea of their dreams, but as they grow up, it almost seems like they put it in a box filled with other childhood things and keep it under their bed or in their closet. Dreams are often talked about, especially when you’re older, as unrealistic childhood dreams that we subtly laugh at for having in the first place. The idea of Dream Boxes and boxes is that students are opening that box back up and bringing it to life.
AK: What do you feel are you biggest achievements/successes?
PM: The year I started Dream Boxes, I was also president of a successful service club at my high school under the Jefferson Awards Foundation called Students in Action. At the same time I launched Dream Boxes, so my volunteering and service were at an all-time high. In many ways, my members saw me as someone to look up to. Although I had the privilege to be recognized and awarded for various things, the moment I truly felt like I was doing what I was made to do was during my very last service club meeting.
I was giving a speech about the year and all our successes: the number of volunteering hours we did, our projects, and the small inside jokes that we made. I had a very difficult time speaking because, as president, I created not only a team but a family, so graduating and leaving them was heartbreaking. After the meeting one of my members came up to me. She was a member that I knew was having a difficult time throughout the year; in fact, she started off as an officer but had to step down because of personal problems. In many cases, the rest of the office would let a failing officer go, but we did not. She looked at me, hugged me, and said, “Thank you for not giving up on me; thank you for teaching me kindness.”
She then explained that throughout her year, she had felt that one by one it seemed like everyone in her life was giving up on her. She expected the same from the club and from me since I was her president. In that moment I felt like I did my job. It was not during big speeches or accepting service awards; it was this moment. I want to create an environment where people feel that they are important, loved, and making a difference. I want to serve as an inspiration, so other people can, too. The girl now talks to me every now and then, giving me updates on her life. She now runs her own service club.
This moment is so important for me because I believe this is what everyone should be doing. I do what I do because if I am able to empower or inspire someone to be kind or do good, then I have done my job. This is why I continue service.
AK: Do you have any goals—both professionally and personally?
PM: When I started this questionnaire, my main and most relevant goal was to get accepted into University of San Francisco. However, I’m proud to say that a few days ago I got my acceptance letter and will be attending USF this upcoming spring majoring in Psychology and minoring in Public Relations! In terms of long-term professional goals, I do want to study behavioral psychology and attend grad school at NYU. I have yet to decide if I want to work in a therapy or clinical environment or go into business and/or nonprofits for project management and public relations.
This summer I started a new service organization that works as a virtual platform and discussion for young people involved in service. It is called Above Apathy. In terms of goals, I really do want to put more time in developing Above Apathy and doing more presentations and trainings for high-schoolers on servant leadership and volunteering. Next year one of my goals is to host a leadership conference for young high-schoolers under Above Apathy.
For my personal life, my two main hobbies besides service are writing and fashion. In high school I used to do a lot of poetry and even compete and perform in competitions for poetry slams. I hope to get more involved in that area in my life again because it served as a form of catharsis. For fashion, I work at H&M, so I hope to continue stepping up my fashion and developing myself at work as well. I’m starting to do a lot of merchandising and design at work, so that’s exciting!
2016 was a year where I took a lot of time to develop my personal self because 2015 was my ultimate year of service. In 2017, now that I have a good taste of both, it is up to me to find a good balance while at the same time developing myself personally and professionally.
AK: If there was any one thing in the world that you could change, what would it be?
PM: Apathy. I created my organization Above Apathy for this sole reason: to challenge apathy through service and leadership to enact positive change. Apathy is a problem worldwide in every age. Being apathetic means not caring, being unconcerned and uninvolved. By showing empathy, we are showing kindness; we are listeners; we are showing each other that we care. A lot of people live apathetic lives and do not get involved or associate themselves in movements or volunteering. People tend to stick to themselves and their own personal problems, which I understand, but I think it is important for everyone to feel strongly about a cause or a problem. Even if they aren’t involved in nonprofits or have their own service project, asking someone if he or she is okay or picking up a piece of trash on the floor and throwing it away is a sign of empathy. For my organization we shed a spotlight on issues and people that need attention. We remind young people that there are a whole lot of things that need to change in the world, but we not only have to want the change—we have to take action towards it.
AK: Is there any advice you would give to our readers?
PM: Do what you love, and remind yourself why you love it. If it is something you are passionate about, work towards it, and you will get there in time. Remember to take care of yourself. Listen to your mentors and colleagues. Remember that you can do anything but not everything. Surround yourself with people that will challenge you positively and lift you up. Do not be afraid of no’s because they are just an opportunity for you to prove people wrong. Create teams, not groups. Do not stop believing in people. Lastly, lead with love, and love loudly.