project aloe

Lip gloss, mascara, blow dryer, curling iron–all essential items when it comes to getting ready for a girl’s night out, right? Sure, but they mean a lot more when they come with some sage wisdom.

These are a few of the items someone will receive when you donate to Project ALOE, an annual beauty drive that provides young girls with essential items and advice before they head off to college.

Each girl receives a care package, which includes at least one standard-sized towel or washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner and a comb or brush.

Jumoke K. Dada, the woman behind Project ALOE, which stands for Assisting Ladies by Offering Essentials, says the idea came to her while waiting in a hair salon.

“I watched as a young girl was getting her hair done. I knew that what she was having done could be damaging to her hair, so I wondered where her mother was,” she says. “I decided to collect products for [young girls] and host an event, where they could get advice from beauty and hair experts. I [targeted] high school seniors who were going to college since for many girls, it would be their first time away from home.”

The first year was so successful that Dada decided to make it an annual event, and it’s been going strong ever since.

Every year, between June 1 and July 31, Project ALOE partners with multiple sponsors to promote the beauty drive and encourage supporters to drop off items at participating locations. After the donations are collected, there’s a big send-off event, where the care packages are distributed to the girls. This year, there will be two send-off events, one in Philadelphia and the other in Washington, D.C.

“We all meet each other for the first time at the send-off event. It’s always exciting,” Dada says. “Typically two days before the send-off event, we hold a ‘Pack-N-Play’ night, where we order food, play some music and make care packages with all of the items that were donated. At the end, we call out the name of each girl and the school that they will be attending and invite them up one by one to receive their care packages.”

Nikki Jett-El, recent graduate of Syracuse University, participated in the very first send-off event in 2010 and says being a part of Project ALOE has greatly enriched her life.

“I love helping out and being a part of an organization that supports, uplift and celebrates young women who have made education a priority,” she says. “I’ve met some wonderful women who serve as examples and mentors for me.”

Two years ago, Project ALOE announced ALOE Campus Sisters, a program that encourages young girls to help mentor fellow college students as a way of paying it forward. To join ACS, the girls must be college sophomores who attended the send-off event before becoming freshmen in college. Essentially, the sophomores serve as “big sisters” to the freshmen.

“This year will be the [second] year of the ACS program,” Dada says. “We noticed that girls from different Project ALOE ‘classes’ were going to the same schools, so we thought it would be a good idea to start introducing them to each other.”

For those interested in making a difference, there are many ways to help support Project ALOE from hosting a beauty drive in your local area to donating items that will be included in the care packages. Acceptable donations include shampoo and conditioner, body wash, bonnets, bobby pins and curling rods.

As for the future of the organization, Dada plans on launching a blog called, “Sister’s Keeper,” where the topics pertain to beauty, fitness/health and education, of course, and is currently searching for bloggers to contribute. She’s also in the process of creating a network of ambassadors (beauty, fitness/health and education experts) to give advice to the girls at future send-off events and making Project ALOE a standalone organization. As of right now, it’s operated by Signature RED Cares, a pending nonprofit organization with a mission to prepare youth to become confident leaders and problem-solvers through mentorship and tangible resources.

“In order to take things to the next level, Project ALOE needs to become a standalone initiative,” she says. “It began as a Signature RED ‘give back’ initiative and now it will be its own program.”

Going into the fifth year of Project ALOE, Dada says there are many feel-good moments during the planning and execution stages of the beauty drive and send-off event, but one moment in particular always stands out.

“The most rewarding part comes after the send-off event when the girls express their gratitude for the care packages and the advice they received,” she says.

For more information on how to get involved, visit www.projectaloe.com.

Princess Gabbara is a 20-something Michigan-based journalist/freelance writer. As a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she’s contributed to several local and national publications, including Ebony.com, Essence.com, xoJane.com, Clutch Magazine and The Glamazons Blog. You can read more of her work on her blog. She also tweets at @PrincessGabbara.