AN INTERVIEW WITH PAIGE THOMPSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE LETTER PROJECT.
In 1-2 sentences, how would you describe The Letter Project to someone who may have never heard of it?
The Letter Project is a non-profit dedicated to lifting up girls and women going through hard times. Our 6,500+ volunteers write personalized, handwritten letters to strangers who are needing encouragement.
What sparked the creation of The Letter Project? And what has fueled it to become what it is today?
Our founder, Whitney Saxon, saw a need after reading that 7 out of 10 girls believe they are not good enough. She also consistently saw the need for connection among women going through hard times while running her personal blog and was inspired to start this project. She started The Letter Project in October of 2016. I came on as Executive Director in August of 2019. We now have 6,500+ writers. We’ve sent over 7,000 letters this year alone. We are fueled by our writers and their commitment to making the world a kinder one, even for total strangers.
Through your large base of writers and recipients across the globe, have you noticed a common theme that ties women and girls, and perhaps all of humanity, together that we may not even realize?
This project profoundly reminds me that people are inherently good. It’s easy to think that things are just bad when you look at news or social media. When I read the amazing heartfelt letters that our writers write, I know that people are good in ways that are just incredible. I see a true longing for connection in our society and a bond that comes from being both genuine and vulnerable with one another.
Can you share one of your favorite/funniest/happiest memories from The Letter Project? Perhaps a success story you keep coming back to?
We have sent bundles to girls after bad haircuts that affected their self-esteem and to women who have endured domestic violence. We’ve written to celebrate sobriety and to shed tears in the depths of grief. We have been friends from afar in the midst of loneliness, cliques, or bullying. We’ve cared through divorce, abuse, and neglect. We have lifted each other up through cross-country moves and the start of college. We have talked ice cream and Netflix binges following break-ups. We have shared Spotify playlists in mental health struggles. We have traded tips with new moms and prayed for moms who have endured heartbreaking loss. We are a genuine community who cares.
One story I often think of is a writer who felt very connected with the story of one of our recipients who had just left an abusive relationship and was very much starting over. This writer said she just knew if they lived closer, they’d have so much to talk about over a cup of coffee. So, she sent a $5 gift card to Starbucks with a beautiful letter and, in it, she said she wished they could laugh and cry together over a cup of coffee but to enjoy a cup on her and know that she would never be alone.
How has a tumultuous 2020 impacted The Letter Project? Has there been a silver lining?
2020 has not been easy from a financial standpoint. We had to cancel our fundraisers which is a great financial loss to our organization. We know there is a great deal of financial struggle right now and ours is not unique. We are grateful to be able to do what we do and we know there’s never been a more important time to mail a letter than now. We have grown this year and are glad to see more people joining our mission.
Where do you go to find inspiration when the world feels heavy? Are there any go-to books, songs, podcasts, movies, role models, or activities that you recommend to other women when they need a little extra fuel to get through the day?
I am a mom of 3 (I have 5- and 3-year-old daughters and a 1-year-old son). They are home with me full time so I fervently believe in self care. I am a Christian and find my inspiration in the Lord and cherish my time in scripture. I enjoy early morning quiet time and prayer. I am an avid reader. I am in the Spivey’s Book Club (on Facebook) and that has really enhanced my book choices. My goal this year was 55 books and I’m almost to 70. Living in a pandemic helped that! I re-read Present over Perfect every year (highly recommend!). I rarely watch TV or movies but can often be found completely losing my evening to a book. I enjoy a good coffeehouse playlist or dancing around to The Lumineers. If you need a quick mood lift, I like to embark on a daily Jock Jams dance party with my kids - it’s really hard not to laugh when you dance to Jock Jams.
I’m obsessed with podcasts but have found that I have to step away from the news ones or it gets too heavy. My favorite podcasts are in-depth investigative ones (S-Town, Serial Season 1, Up and Vanished, Dr. Death). I also like Conan O’Brien’s podcasts – he just makes me laugh. I enjoy Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations, 10% Happier, Risen Motherhood, and Coffee and Crumbs.
We enjoy being outside as much and as often as possible. If I’m ever needing a quick mood lift, outside is the very first place I go. I practice mindfulness throughout the day but especially when I am outside. I also find peace when cooking. I truly love the act of cooking and getting lost in the process of making something. Exercise has always been a part of my life but during the pandemic I’ve fallen in love with indoor cycling and bike bootcamp workouts. I have a Horizon bike and use the Peloton app and absolutely love it!
My best friend and I have been best friends since 4th grade. She lives in Tennessee and I live in South Dakota. When this pandemic started, we decided to FaceTime every Tuesday. I highly recommend weekly FaceTimes like this. It’s been an amazing thing to look forward to and stay connected!
When you hear "the future is female", what does that mean to you? What does that future look like for participants of The Letter Project?
I hope that my daughters live a life beyond my own imagination. I hope that for my son too. I am deeply invested in the generations to come. I believe in these generations and stand ready to listen to them, to learn from them, and to be in awe of all they do.
What is one thing we could all do today to lift each other up?
Check in on a friend. Send a text and say “Hey, just thinking of you. How are things there?” It never has to be a grand gesture. The simplest act can have a huge impact on someone’s day.
Want to learn more about The Letter Project and get involved? Check them out here.
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