Sixteen-year-old Mary Grace Henry of Harrison designs, makes and sells more than 300 different hair accessories. A junior at the Convent of the Sacred Heart high school in Greenwich, Conn., Mary Grace is the owner of Reverse The Course LLC., and founder of Reverse The Course Foundation. The foundation, which she established at age 12, is helping 35 girls and has paid 94 years of their education costs in Uganda, Kenya, Haiti and Paraguay.
Eight stores around the country, including two in Westchester County — Twinkle Toes of Rye and Larchmont — carry her wares. All of the company’s profits fund Reverse The Course Foundation.
We recently caught up with Mary Grace to hear the latest on her efforts:
Q: What motivated you to start Reverse the Course?
A: I wanted to make a real long-term, life-changing difference for one girl. And I wanted it to be about her having a say and a future that she could decide. That’s why I decided to fund education; she’d have the tools to pursue her own dreams.
Q: How does Reverse the Course work?
A: Reverse The Course LLC is my hair accessory company. I make and sell different types of products: headbands, ponytail accessories, bows, barrettes,etc. Within each of those categories, I have hundreds of options. For example, I have 98 different hair bows—solids, dots and stripes—and then people can choose if they want them personalized—lax sticks, golf balls, their initial, their sorority letters, a cupcake, dog paw, school mascot—over 150 options.
That is why I have just launched an Indiegogo campaign http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/reverse-the-course
As my Board began thinking about how my business would continue when I head out to college in a few years, we realized that I needed to move from event-driven sales to e-commerce sales. My current website cannot handle the customization of my most popular items: bows and ponytail accessories. Also, I need to re-brand in order to let people know that I have hair accessories not just for girls, but also for women of all ages.
Q: Could you highlight some of the foundations’ achievements?
A: Well, I was thrilled that so many people supported our work and we won the Kids Who Give $10,000 contest last February. I am also honored that Scarsdale High School students designated a major portion of their carnival proceeds and donated $9,000 to the Foundation in May. In August, the Miss Westchester and Miss Hudson Valley Pageant choose the Foundation as their designated charity, donating $1,800.
This is so important because it shows that we are really building this vocal, emphatic movement for a girl’s right to an education. Those gifts represent thousands of people supporting our efforts. I was in Kenya to meet the Maasai girls we support in June. The girls are extraordinary. Each has faced adversity that none of us can imagine, yet they are happy, committed and determined to bring positive change to their communities. They inspire me to keep going.
I was also asked to be an ambassador for the film Girl Rising, which allows me to reach out to more people, share my stories of visiting Kenya and Uganda, and help others understand the need and the simple solution.
In January of 2013, we had funded 17 students and 34 years of their schooling. As of today, we have—with the help of so many people—funded 35 girls and have paid 94 years of their education costs. Plus, within the next month, final funding decisions for another group of girls who will start school in January will be made. (for 97% of our students that means tuition, uniforms, books and boarding costs, which keeps them safe from early marriage.)
Q: What goals does the foundation have for the future?
A: My next goal is to fund 100 girls.
I am also hopeful that the Indiegogo campaign will be successful because an important component of my new website is building a social platform for change. I want people who visit the website to share their stories about their college years, their families’ education experiences, and we’ll be able to share more about our girls and the paths they’ll blaze. I really want to develop this community for change and empowerment that is not just about girls halfway around the world, but people everywhere.
Q: What advice can you give another teen looking to make a difference?
A: All they need is to find a cause that is meaningful to them. And then just start small: post on Facebook, attend a meeting, walk, bake, and begin using their voices. I actually think my generation is one comprised of an unbelievable number of kids who are charity activists.