Interview with Tofunmi Jewesimi, the 15 year old co-founder of INSPO!

Tofunmi is currently 15 years old and a junior at Seven Lakes High School. She is also the Co-Founder of the student led non profit organization, INSPO, which can be found at inspirepotential.org. She is passionate about helping others, and using her speaking skills to do her part in making a change in her community.

Interview by Joann Lam

Would you mind talking about or describing your organization?

ofc! INSPO was started in June of 2019 after our other co-founder, Graze Zhang, and I had the idea to create a non profit organization that assists students in underprivileged areas further their success in schools. We do this through volunteering, book drives, donations, tutoring, and other events and initiatives. We also advocate about the education gap found in those communities. I’ll like to add that we also work with another organization to provide a scholarship for students in the fall.

How did the founder come up with the idea of this organization? How did you help develop the idea?

When we were first planning, we didn’t really know what we were doing because we had never run a business before, but we knew we wanted to focus on education. That’s when Grace brought the idea to me about an education based organization. After thinking about that for several months, we realized how much privilege we are given just by the area we live in, the school we attend, and our parents' income. Other students in other areas of Houston are sadly not given this boost in opportunities. That’s when we realized that we wanted our target demographic to be underprivileged students. Specifically, underprivileged students in the Houston area.

How has the organization progressed since then?

We are very happy with the progress INSPO has made in almost a year. We were able to successfully collect and redistribute over 500 books to elementary and middle schools in the greater houston area. We also were able to collect and distribute over 1700 feminine care products to women’s shelters in houston. In addition to this, we donated blankets to a houston daycare and lensed laptops for students after COVID-19 moved schools online. Although coronavirus places a hold on some of our other events, we are currently in the middle of building our tutoring base and creating an online library for students to rent out textbooks free of charge to use for studying.

Since you have done multiple fundraisers, how did you hear about these opportunities? (i.e does your school help you research foundations to donate to or do you have connections?)

We were able to start chapters of our organization at both Seven Lakes High School and Tompkins High School and they are able to hold events as well. The chapters were the ones that made the blankets to donate. When we partnered with CAPST AFNB for the scholarship, they reached out to us after finding out about our organization to assist them with finding students for their scholarship. Through that we were able to be a partner for the scholarship that gave $1000 to 5 students in moderate to lower income families. We have a fairly large executive team and we don’t all go to the same school so we come up with ideas individually to share at our meetings or through messaging.

COVID has hurt everyone one way or another, how has it affected your organization?

We had some big plans for 2020 that have been placed on hold. We planned on having a one week event for teacher appreciation week that our chapters would host at their schools, but we had to reduce it to an Instagram post encouraging students to email a thank you letter to their teachers. Towards the end of 2019, a computer science initiative working with us called InspireCS was able to receive a grant that allowed them to purchase laptops which they planned to use this summer to teach students at a Houston based refugee center computer science. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we are still trying to figure out how to move the computer science camp to be online. Luckily though, because of Covid we were able to come up with the idea for an online textbook library. So coronavirus has some negative impacts, but also has some positive outcomes.

Talking about me personally, I actually have never heard of this organization, but I think it’s amazing what you and the other board members are doing. Have you ever thought of spreading the idea of this organization to other schools?

We have! We would love to start chapters in different schools and school districts starting this year. We chose Seven Lakes and Tompkins because those are the schools our board members go to so it’s easy to find officers at those schools. We also wanted to start off small before we expanded so as people find out more about us, they would like to start a chapter. We do think it’s important that we expand our chapters into different areas and we’re hoping that for the coming school years we can have chapters in different districts and cities. :)

Has there ever been problems within this organization (i.e not meeting a deadline, not raising enough money for a particular event or not getting enough support?)

Although we love community involvement, we’ve tried to refrain from doing things that require too many people since we’re still fairly new and we don’t want a large let down but we’re always surprised when we have a lot of people willing to help like with our drives. We’re still waiting to be approved to award the presidential volunteer service award which will hopefully give people more of an incentive to volunteer with us. As if right now, our biggest struggle is finding sponsors and especially with covid, small businesses may not have much money that they’re willing to spare to donate to our organization, but we’ll keep searching

How do you want your legacy to continue in this organization after you graduate?

Since Grace and I and a few other board members only have 2 more years in high school, we plan on making the most out of the organization while we’re here. We are not 100% sure yet how we will handle things in regards to our positions, Grace is the President and I am Vice President. We do plan on still running INSPO and hopefully by then, our chapters will be able to run completely on their own with minimal intervention from us. By then we will probably open up new positions for the executive team as members choose to leave.

Lastly, do you have any tips for people who also want to give back to their community? Do you have any suggestions of how they can start?

I would say that it’s very important to remember that it takes time to grow, even if you feel like you’re not making a big impact, even the smallest act on someone’s life will leave a lasting effect. Also, don’t make too large of an investment all at once. take everything as small steps when starting. Find someone you can trust to help you and you will both go far. :)

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