The Founder of #HappyPeriod Shares How to 'Get Off Your Butt and Make Your Passion Part of Your Everyday Life'
'You get excited even at your losses. Because it wasn't a failure, it was a lesson,' says Chelsea VonChaz.
Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.
For Chelsea VonChaz, the founder of non-profit #HappyPeriod, you can hustle as much as you like, but if your work isn’t purpose-driven, then what are you actually doing with your time? In 2015, VonChaz was working as a freelance wardrobe stylist. While she liked the work well enough, she wanted to find something that would make her feel like she was really making an impact.
She found her calling one day, when she was stopped at an intersection driving in her home base of Los Angeles, she saw a homeless woman wearing bloodstained undergarments crossing the street. She says, “[I asked myself], what is it that homeless women have to do, what kind of measures do they have to take, if they don't have a pad or a tampon? And when someone doesn’t have the products that are so often taken for granted every month, what happens to your body and your mind, your consciousness and your dignity?”
She started doing research and realized that even if shelters were predominantly housing women, they were not required to have menstrual products available. Most of what they received came from donations, and even then, there wasn’t enough to go around. VonChaz knew what she had to do.
With her mother, Cherryl Warner, VonChaz founded #HappyPeriod, a nonprofit that provides menstrual hygiene kits to the homeless and others in need. The first group of volunteers passing out kits on skidrow in Los Angeles was made up of VonChaz and her friends. “It's all about starting from within the circle that you have and being as resourceful as possible,” VonChaz says.
She attributes the success of the movement -- there are now chapters in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C. -- with the passion of her friends, family and early supporters who made the cause their own, passing out fliers and sending out social media blasts. Her greatest motivation during stressful moments is the very women that the organization serves.
“When we collect [and give out the] donations, we literally get tears and hugs and kisses, [with women] telling us about their experiences,” VonChaz says. “People believe that if you are house-less that you are crazy, you are a drug addict or a prostitute -- they put you in this box. However, in my experience, a lot of these women are like you and me…It's your period, it’s your experience. We're not here to judge.”
VonChaz shared her insights about why you shouldn’t ask permission to go after your dreams.
Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
Madame C.J. Walker. She is a huge inspiration, [especially] when I was a stylist and when I was in high school and college trying to figure out what I wanted to do. She is first black millionaire in America. She did this in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with no iPhone or computer. She went door to door [with her haircare company], and it was all word of mouth. That's so powerful. When I think about her, I feel like if she were to talk to me, she'd say, “You have no damn excuse [not] to make this happen, because you have all this stuff [with social media and technology].”
What has inspired you to be a better person?
The women that actually take the time to sit and have a conversation with me when we're distributing [menstrual hygiene kits]. A lot of times, they don't want to be bothered. I'm always conscious of we're going into their space, this is their home. The word homeless is kind of inaccurate, because [whether they live in a tent or shelter or transition house] I know where to find them. That tent is their home.
All of that feedback really helps keep it going. It has definitely helped form and mold myself into a more compassionate person. I'm very aware that this could have been me. This could actually happen, and that would shape all of us into something else that we may not be able to imagine now, but from talking to them, it is really humbling. I'm in the position to actually do better, and make this person's experience better.
What is a quote that inspires you, and why?
"Excuses are for people who truly do not care about their own progress." It's a version of a famous quote that my friend told me, and it’s about tough love,-- I feel like a lot inspirational quotes are so soft and sweet. A lot of times we need a little kick in the butt. I like that one because when I'm talking to other women, or entrepreneurs in general, there are always these excuses of “I don't have this or that. I didn't have any money to start.” But that didn't keep me from writing my ideas down.
You have to really get off your butt and just do it. That's a really big problem for a lot of people, because they want a how-to book of how to do something. But I tell people just get up and do it. Don't ask permission, especially if it's for a cause or to help someone else. Don't ask for permission to follow your dream.
For those women who are looking to start a business, or have begun one, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
Ask yourself, can I be passionate about this for a very long time? What is my purpose? What keeps me up at night? What is it that burns in my soul that really makes me mad or that makes me cry as far as someone else's hurt or burden? What is it that really just gets to me?
If your answer is yes to that question “can I be passionate about it,” then you have to get off your butt, and make it part of your everyday life. That means research, e-mails, reading books. Teaching yourself how to do things. That may mean taking classes at libraries or going to a local college or enrolling back in school. Educating yourself as much as you can, because you're going to have to be learning things all the time.
If you have found your purpose, then it won't ever feel like work. It really brings a smile on your face and [lights a] fire in your chest. And you get excited even at your losses, because it wasn't a failure, it was a lesson.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.