She’s the First founder inspires young leaders

By Jessica Ganga
Features Editor

It all started with a simple video uploaded to YouTube.

The College alum, Tammy Tibbetts, launched a fundraising campaign in 2009 with some friends in the hope to raise awareness on girls’ education.

Flash forward six years and She’s the First (STF), the nonprofit organization started by Tibbetts, has helped hundreds of girls around the world be the first in their family to receive a secondary education along with inspiring these young women to be future leaders.

Tibbetts’s story begins on this campus where she was a journalism major. She said her first entrepreneurial experience was starting the College’s chapter of ED2010, a magazine club.

“My dream at the time was to break into the magazine industry, and I saw that the way to do it would be building a network and camaraderie among other students who shared that dream,” Tibbetts said.

Tibbetts’s dream would come true during the beginning of STF, where she worked as the very first social media editor for Seventeen.com

During her time at the College, Tibbetts found inspiration in College alum Leigh Belz, who at the time worked for Elle magazine. Tibbetts “snail mailed” Belz a letter and was surprised when the editor wrote back.

“I remember being so blown away that a magazine editor in NYC actually responded to me,” Tibetts said.

Tibbetts would later become someone else’s inspiration through her work and leadership with STF.   

Carissa O’Larte, a senior elementary education and mathematics major, is the president of the College’s STF chapter, She’s the First*{TCNJ}. She joined the club as a sophomore during the annual activities fair held in the fall. Overwhelmed by all of the tables stacked with information pamphlets and free candy, O’Larte said she had just happened to pass by the STF table and quickly grabbed a sheet of paper, not realizing at the time that that piece of paper would one day allow her to be a leader.

O’Larte first met Tibbetts at the She’s the First Summit in New York City and has gotten other chances to speak to her, each time being reminded how “caring and down-to-earth she is.”

“She is very involved with the campus chapters of She’s the First and she makes sure that we are all connected, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter or in person at the She’s the First Summit or campus events,” O’Larte said.

Tibbetts speaks at She’s the First Leadership Summit (Photo courtesy of Kate Lord)
Tibbetts speaks at She’s the First Leadership Summit (Photo courtesy of Kate Lord)

STF does a lot on campus to bring attention to the mission of the global organization, and this year, O’Larte says that they want to make their presence even more well-known. Along with their annual, signature tie-dye cupcake sales, the club will be having a #SweatsforSTF fitness campaign. O’Larte said that the organization would like to increase involvement outside of the campus by partnering with after school programs or scout troops.

On a larger scale, Tibbetts was excited to bring up #BakeAChange, the organization’s fifth annual Tie-Dye Cupcake Bake-Off campaign. Students can help out the campus chapter by purchasing a cupcake during the annual bake sell on Sunday, Oct. 11.

STF is also helping lead the way in achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, the main focus being high-quality education. According to the 2014 She’s the First Annual Report, at the United Nations’ General Assembly meeting in September 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will be approved, with the key goal being gender equality and female empowerment.

Though STF is helping girls all over the world, the organization is also helping the girls involved with making others dreams come true.

“Being a part of this organization has had a huge effect on my life,” O’Larte said. “I am in a leadership role that I was once too timid to take on and have learned a lot by working with the She’s the First leaders who have come before me.”

Tibbetts is one of those leaders who, O’Larte says, she has learned a lot from.

“I have gained leadership skills through my participation in She’s the First that I would never have gained otherwise,” O’Larte said. “Just by watching Tammy and listening to her speak, I have gained confidence and learned that even a very shy person like me can be a leader and make a difference.”

Once voted “Most Shy” by her senior class, Tibbetts would go on to prove that anyone, no matter how shy or timid, can have a voice and shed light on an issue they feel strongly about.

Tibbetts voice has definitely been heard. In 2014 she was named one of Marie Claire’s “20 Women Who Are Changing Your World,” along with being named on other lists in various magazines such as Time and Glamour.

“I’m always honored to be recognized in places where the visibility of She’s the First will be raised and our mission will receive more credibility.” Tibetts said. “I do hope people realize I’m representing She’s the First — and those awards should not be seen as a solo spotlight. Each and every one reflects the hard work and dedication of so many volunteers, teammates, and students.”

That hard work is reflected through O’Larte’s work on campus and in the end it all pays off.

“It’s cool to think that $400 is equivalent to a year’s worth of education.” O’Larte said. “This $400 will change a girl’s life, change her family’s life and in turn, change a whole community.”

STF is an organization that is not only meant to inspire the young girls they help, but also the people involved. There are 86 campus chapters, according to the 2014 She’s the First Annual Report, and that number is only growing. The chapters on campus allow students, like O’Larte, have a chance to make a difference in a girl’s life, something Tibbetts wants people to be aware of.

“I would like the reader to know, if they took the time to pick up The Signal and read this article, then it is their signal — literally — to DO something. Take one action. Follow She’s the First on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Go to our website and sign up for the newsletter. Show up for a She’s the First chapter meeting at TCNJ. Take one action to support, in any small or medium or big way, a girl having a chance to graduate from high school, just as you have. I promise you it adds up. It matters.”