Our Blog

October 24, 2014

Everyone has promise: PoP Gala 2014

“From a Rwandan Dump to the Halls of Harvard.”

This was the headline of an article featured on the front page of the October 23, 2014 issue of the New York Times. Published just a few hours after the most successful gala in Pencils of Promise history, the article – which describes how Justus Uwayesu, a Rwandan orphan formerly living in a garbage dump, was able to enroll in Harvard this past fall – epitomizes everything that PoP represents in the countries we currently work in, Laos, Guatemala and Ghana. It would be an understatement to say that Uwayesu embodies the calling card of this organization: that everyone, no matter where you are born, has promise.

The fourth annual PoP gala celebrated the generosity and dedication of three of PoP’s most vocal and vital supporters, actress and activist Sophia Bush, CEO of VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk, and CMO of SB Projects, Brad Haugen. Hosted by PoP founder Adam Braun, the night featured a myriad of inspiring speeches – like that of PoP’s Ghana country director Freeman Gobah, who invited every guest to his home country to see the impact of their donations firsthand – and videos, including the debut of PoP’s new “Everyone Has Promise” video.

Vaynerchuk stressed that as an immigrant to the United States, it was pure circumstance and fortune that allowed him to rise to a place in life that he deemed “ridiculously lucky.” He emphasized that everyone in the room was in a position to make a difference, no matter how big or small, before handing off the microphone to auctioneer CK Swett, who jokingly encouraged attendees to finish their drinks and raise their extra large pencils high in the air for the live auction.

The first item to be auctioned off, a wine tasting with Vaynerchuk, made it clear that guests had indeed heeded Adam’s request in his opening speech. Just as an education can change the way in which a child views his or her future, Braun called upon gala attendees to alter their own perceptions of themselves – whatever their occupation, he encouraged everyone to become a philanthropist for the night. The wine tasting prize was ultimately split between three bidders for $30,000 each, setting the tone for the remainder of the auction, which included private lessons with a Dancing With the Stars professional, a Shania Twain VIP experience, an Elton John VIP experience, and an opportunity to meet Sophia Bush.

The final item (a surprise!) featured a spinning lesson from world-renown DJ Martin Garrix. The item was even more special because Garrix was actually a PoP gala attendee. During the bidding process, he spontaneously added to his original prize, offering another spinning lesson and VIP access at the exclusive nightclub Hakkasan in Las Vegas. Needless to say, Garrix’s smiling presence on stage helped make this one of the most popular items of the auction.

After all of the prize items were auctioned off, CK Swett led the crowd into the Fund-a-Need portion of the night, where guests were encouraged to donate at any level. Two individual $100,000 donations kicked off the fundraising, which in about ten minutes raised an additional half million dollars for PoP. This was an astonishing and incredibly exciting feat, and a true testament to the generosity of the 750 guests who filled the tables at Ciprani Wall Street.

In a fitting introduction to Brad’s closing speech, Adam remembered that five years ago he and Haugen had attended a PoP event at the same venue, but under very different circumstances. Half a decade ago, they were placed in a library off to the side of the building, and the event was attended by a grand total of nine PoP supporters. But that same night, Adam recalled, he and Brad had looked out at the enormous main hall together, and said that one day they were going to fill it – a dream that ultimately came to fruition at the 2014 gala.

Brad explained how merely hearing about Adam’s first build five years ago reignited his own passion for giving back, which propelled him to seek out ways to become involved with PoP. In his speech, Haugen read aloud his first email to Adam, where he requested to help build a school in any way possible. Now the chairman of the Board of Directors of an organization that has built over 250 schools, the standing ovation that Haugen received at the end of his speech was only fitting for someone who is endlessly driven towards bringing innovative and life-altering education to children all across the world.

At the PoP gala just one year ago, we honored Malala Yousafzai, who was recently named a 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Shot in the head for being an educational activist, Malala’s incredible life reveals that if given a chance, anyone is capable of receiving one of the most premiere prizes in the entire world. While education unquestionably provides the groundwork for transformative stories like that of Malala’s, or that of Justus Uwayesu’s, it is also transformative on a smaller – but equally effective and as important – scale.

Take Nuth, for example. At this year’s gala, Adam shared recent pictures of Nuth and referred to video he took of her years ago in which he professed that she would be PoP’s first student. Today, Nuth is in fourth grade and wants to be a doctor or a nurse, a career that would have been all but impossible, and also inconceivable for a four-year-old child in rural Laos who had never set foot in a school. Nuth is only one of the 30,000 children PoP has impacted thus far, just one representative of the fact that education is perhaps the most powerful tool to alter the course of a child’s life.

On October 22nd, 750 members of the PoP family gathered for a night of impact. Together, we raised over two million dollars to bring education to our students in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Everyone has promise, and as last night’s gala demonstrated, there are hundreds of people who believe that not to be overzealous jargon, but legitimate truth. PoP won’t stop until that conviction becomes reality, for we are committed to the principle that education is an inherent, inalienable and achievable right, for every one, everywhere.


Olivia Wittels

Marketing Team
August 27, 2014

PoP & ESPEROS team up to send students back to school

It’s that time of year again – school is back in session!  We are excited to be partnering up with ESPEROS bags for our Back to School campaign to provide 1,600 students in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos with the scholarships that they need to continue their education. With every scholarship, a student is provided with the tuition fees, school supplies, uniform, and sometimes housing and transportation fees, that they need to be successful.

ESPEROS was started with the mission to provide children throughout the world with access to quality education through the sale of premium products. With every online sale, a portion of proceeds is donated to help children in the developing world have access to the quality education that they so deserve.

About half of the students in our partner countries aren't able to continue their education past primary school due to various reasons – the biggest being cost.

Together with the help of ESPEROS, we are trying to change that. Join us in unlocking the potential of students in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos this back to school season.

2014 Pencils of Promise Ghana 200th  

Carlo Dumandan

Digital Media Manager
May 14, 2014

Will You Go to Prom with Us?


We're so excited to partner with 1-800-FLOWERS again this prom season. Together we're unlocking the promise of students who lack access to education.

Like PoP, 1-800-FLOWERS knows how important teachers are, and how much they appreciate it when we acknowledge that. When you donate to our No.1 Teacher campaign, you'll be entered for a chance to win two bouquets: one for yourself, and one to give to your favorite teacher.

With the prom and graduation season coming up, it's a busy time for 1-800-FLOWERS. They have decided to share their success this season by donating 20% of the proceeds from the very special PoP Collection to support our programs.

Help us celebrate spring by making your next floral purchase at 1-800-FLOWERS. You'll get a beautiful bouquet, and you'll be making an impact that will change the lives of countless students.


Jessica Littman

Digital Media
February 20, 2014

Every Mile Matters – PoP Fundraisers are Going the Distance

2013 was an exciting year for PoP with many supporters choosing to run 5Ks, half-marathons, and full marathons to support our programs in Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos.

We're blown away by the physical challenges our supporters are taking on to ensure quality access to education for children around the world.

Our PoP Clubs are hosting runs as well as running themselves. We are so proud of our fast-footed friends and what they have been able to accomplish. Our UCONN PoP club hosted their own Wobble, Gobble, and PoP: a Turkey Day inspired 5K trot as a major fundraiser.

Individuals like Katrina Garry, have worked so hard to prepare for a marathon to support PoP. She told me about her experience, “I finished my last big training run yesterday and ran 20 miles!! Education fuels every stride. I am so excited to get to Miami and run it for PoP.”

Even some of our newest members of the PoP Club family are joining the fun. The Penn State PoP Club is launching a fun run 5K this Spring. Our PoP Clubs are pounding the pavement with serious fundraising goals and achieving them every step of the way!

You can join in the fun today by using the Charity Miles app whenever you walk, run, or bike. PoP receives 10¢ per biked mile and 25¢ for every mile that's walked/ran. In our first year, our Charity Miles runners earned $10,000 for PoP! We'd love to have you on the team.  

Carlo Dumandan

Digital Media Manager
February 13, 2014

Campus updates from our PoP Clubs

PoP Clubs are popping up all over the U.S. and all over the world! Our PoP family members are in elementary school all the way up to college. PoP Clubs are a great way for passionate supporters to step forward with their classmates, friends, and teachers to create an impact while having fun in their school. PoP Clubs all over are going above and beyond and leaving their legacies behind. Taylor Sission of the University of Connecticut has created a new project she’s calling the Global Education Project. Taylor explains the program:

“We will be traveling to local elementary schools and teaching the students the importance of education and the mission of Pencils of Promise, in child friendly language and concepts. It will be a one time visitation program for individual classrooms. I have found children's books that teach lessons on both diversity and education, and have created activities for the children to do and take back home with them.” Taylor is a college student who believes that that there is no bad time to start passing on the PoP mission.

     Our friend George from the PoP Ashesi chapter in Ghana has also been dedicating 100% of himself to Pencils of Promise as this is his last semester in college. He is currently looking for a ready, willing, and able candidate to pass the torch to. “The goal for my last semester is to hand over PoP Ashesi to the younger years, to ensure sustainability, I have spoken to my team and we are willing to make PoP bigger than what it used to be.” Our PoP Clubs are united all over the world for one cause and that is to promote the right to education. We have heard from many clubs about their candy cane and pizza sales, their PoP Concerts and change collections. Some of our amazing clubs have even done fundraisers for tickets to Orlando Studios!

We're so proud of the creative ways our PoP Clubs are finding to make an impact. What will you do next? Email clubs@pencilsofpromise.org with your updates.

Carlo Dumandan

Digital Media Manager