We sat down to chat with the founder of The Letter Project, Whitney Saxon, about the heart behind The Letter Project that keeps everything ticking. Over a casual lunch on her back porch she shared responses to your questions, her wisdom and her passion for empowering women. Here is what she had to say, in her own words.
If you had three words to describe yourself, which ones would you use?
Whitney: “I am grateful, energetic, and happy.”
What keeps you motivated?
Whitney: “What keeps me motivated for The Letter Project is thinking about all of the recipients who are getting letters. If I’m feeling discouraged or my motivation is waning, I’ll read letters. It always reignites me. They are so beautiful and our letter writers are incredibly generous. It blows me away.
What was your inspiration in founding The Letter Project? What got you started, or what was that spark that made you think, ‘I need to do this’ or ‘I need to fill this space, there is nothing here to minister to these girls.’
Whitney: “I have a blog and I was getting a lot of emails from women. They were all emailing me late at night and almost seemed embarrassed. They were saying things like: ‘I know this is probably just me, but I’m really struggling with this…’
Once I started getting enough of those emails, I realized how similar they were. All these women thought that they were alone, but they were actually struggling with the same things. And all of it was really boiling down to, ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘Am I pretty enough?’ ‘Do I have enough friends?’ ‘Am I normal?’ Basically just questions that were self-worth related. Once I realized that, I thought, ‘Why not try connecting women with one another to see if we could bridge the gap and stop living in silos.’ So I thought letters would be a good way to do it.
Interviewer: “That’s so true and I feel like that’s at the core of what The Letter Project has been for me at least. That recognition that I’m not the only person that is going through this or that I’m not alone, basically.”
Whitney: “Exactly! A few years ago, there was a woman who received letters from us because she’d lost her dad. One of the writers who sent her a letter had last her dad the exact same day years before. It just shows us that God is moving in this project. I’m learning we are all unique, but there is no story that has been unlived. So you are not alone.”
Did you have any doubts when you first started?
Whitney: “Oh yeah! I didn’t know if people would want letters. I didn’t know if people still liked letters or if they would want to volunteer. But I think that’s been one of the biggest things about The Letter Project. You can volunteer in your own home, on your own time. So many volunteer opportunities require big commitments but I think that what has helped The Letter Project grow is the fact that it’s so accessible.”
How did you start getting the word out to people?
Whitney: “I put it on my blog and I actually had 200 women sign up in the first week. And I was like, ‘Okay, there’s a need! People want to give back.’ And now we have more than 3,700 writers. It’s grown so fast!”
What is the best advice you’ve gotten? Both relating to The Letter Project and also just to life.
Whitney: “In your career, someone once told me, never be too big to make copies or too small to pitch to the president. And I think that’s just a good way to live. I try to never think that I’m above any task or below any, either. It has really helped me in my career to take on that attitude.
My biggest life advice is just the idea that anything that you want in the world, if that’s peace, or more generosity, or anything else that you think is missing, it starts with you. So if you want a kinder world, start being kinder. If you want a more peaceful world, peace starts with you. We are all required to do our part.”
What is your favorite The Letter Project story?
Whitney: “A few years ago, we got two requests at the same time. One was a six-year-old who had gotten a haircut that she didn’t like and she was about to start kindergarten and she was really embarrassed. She didn’t want to go to school. The other was a nine-year-old girl who was being sexually assaulted by her stepdad.
These two instances show the breadth of the project. Something that I’ve always wanted is for women to know that nothing is too big or too small for them to receive support. Both of these girls tug on your heart in completely different, but real, ways. All of us have gotten a bad haircut! That is important and can feel really big when you’re in kindergarten.”
What is the most encouraging thing that someone has done or said to you in relation with continuing your work through The Letter Project?
Whitney: “Something that was really cool that happened about a year ago is Bobbi Brown sent us a letter of encouragement, saying how great what we were doing is. And that was just very encouraging. But the other biggest thing is when recipients that tell us how the letters impact them. One girl, for instance, said how she lined her locker with them. I think she was a sophomore in high school and she made wallpaper with the letters inside her locker. Just picturing it having that impact is really cool.”