"We live in a culture that is not conducive to us loving ourselves. We have to fight against that everyday, but also recognize it to be an internal battle. Self love liberates us."
Haley Hoffman Smith is the founder of our current charity partner Lit Without Limits and we are SO excited to feature her. An avid reader and writer, Haley started her literature based non-profit organization at only 18 years old. LWL donates empowering literature to girls in mentoring groups, as well as a self written curriculum, to go with each book.
We are so thrilled to be working with Haley and also to show her off to the world, because Haley, you are CHANGING the world!
Every Ella: Tell us about yourself.
Haley Hoffman Smith: I grew up in Denver, Colorado and have been attending University of Colorado at Boulder. I will actually be transferring somewhere else next year (to be announced)! I am an avid reader and writer. I am fascinated by language, I’ve always been. I won the spelling bee in 5th grade and have been challenging myself in learning new words and stretching myself as a writer ever since. I also love mentoring girls and running Lit Without Limits - it’s the perfect intersection of leadership with business. I have such a heart of service and have so much sheer energy for helping others, so this is the best outlet for that.
What are you studying in school?
My current major is Philosophy of Law and Society, and I’m minoring in Women’s Studies. As far as that major goes, I just picked something that would prepare me for law school. I really believe I’d be happy studying anything - I love learning so much. Political Science, English, Business, International Affairs.. I would get ten degrees if I could!
When you were 18 you started your own non-profit, Lit Without Limits. Can you tell us about LWL?
Yes! So Lit Without Limits donates literature to girls in mentoring groups. The books have empowering themes, along the lines of girl power, encouraging educational pursuits, etc. What’s unique about Lit Without Limits is the curriculum I write to accompany the books. It’s one thing to donate books to girls, but I feel that without a curriculum to guide the discussion, some of the deeper messages of the book may be skimmed over or entirely missed. I am such an analytical reader and thinker and that translates perfectly into the curriculum.
What made you choose literature as your primary focus for your non-profit?
It’s funny, before even considering starting my own nonprofit, I had this idea to donate textbooks from my university to schools in other countries. I was entirely consumed by the idea of the benefit one Macroeconomics textbook could bring to a classroom. I didn’t think of this in a nonprofit sense at all, it was just something I wanted to organize on my campus. College students either return their textbooks or sell them back at a discounted price. How incredible would it be to just choose to donate them? Anyway, this idea really implemented the value of books from a service aspect for me. I have always loved literature, and it really dawned on me that if we get books in front of others, we can invoke some serious change.
What was the biggest challenge thus far in your journey with LWL?
It is not easy to run a nonprofit at (now) 19 years old. It is the only thing I want to spend my time on, but I’m constantly juggling other responsibilities as well. I also jumped in without really doing any research first. The desire to just run with the idea was so arduous that I didn’t want to waste time learning, I just wanted to learn as I went along. That’s gone well for the most part, but the feeling of “faking it” (which is actually called the Imposter Syndrome, and is a real condition that plagues many women who believe their success is a mere accident) gets to me sometimes. But here’s a message to anyone who wants to start something and doesn’t know how: you will always have people around you who know the answer to the questions you can’t answer. I truly believe certain people came into my life in special ways when I began this process because they had something to contribute to LWL. We’ve figured it out as a team. And now I feel like, so what if I’m faking it? I’m loving every second, and I’m helping others.
How do you choose the books that are donated and can you explain your curriculum that you write for them?
I did extensive research on the best books in the conversation right now. Sometimes a book comes out that really grabs people, its message resonates and is inspiring at just the right time. The books we currently have on our website have that “it” factor. “I Am Malala”, in particular, is an attention grabber because the story is so emotional and so pertinent. It fascinates everyone. Malala is such an incredible girl, and in the midst of her movie coming out and all of her work on the social activism front, donating this book first ensures engagement beyond chapter meetings. When I read books, I write all over them. Seriously, I should photograph some pages. There are notes everywhere, phrases underlined… I can spend hours entirely immersed in a sea of words. Nothing gets to me like literature does. So, writing the curriculum is pretty easy. I mark up the chapter, then make questions based on the basic message from the chapter. The only challenge is not answering the question for the girls. I nudge them in the right direction with discussion questions and comments, but I really want them to savor the joy of exploring those hidden messages.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting LWL?
Hearing how it has helped and inspired the girls. Beyond the girls who are reading the books and going through the curriculum, even just proving that at any point in your life, regardless of how young you are, you can begin something like this… that’s revolutionary for some girls. I want to instill the same sense of empowerment in them that my parents have instilled in me. I had my doubts, but my mom constantly reassured me that I could do whatever I set my mind to. My close circle did as well. I think all women should be able to support each other and create a community that transcends distance. I believe so passionately in each girl’s innate potential, and LWL has really enabled me to reach such a large audience with this message and help girls to see that in themselves.
What are your goals and ambitions for your future and the future of LWL?
Biggest short term goal is getting our book published - I wrote a self-help book over the past few months called “She Is Without Limits” that gets real about the modern girl’s daily experience. I invited some pretty exceptional women (and one man!) to explore several topics with me in dialogue chapters. I can’t wait for girls to read that, because that’s a program in itself. I wrote it to be very self-reflective and relatable. I wish I could sit down and spend an afternoon over coffee with every girl in the world, I mean that. This is my way of playing within the words and pretending I’m right there.
My team is really excited about the future of Lit Without Limits. We want to get the new book to them and bond girls through summer camps and retreats with the material. Our priority is building a community of women globally. My vision for LWL has always been international, so it will be really exciting once we plug into communities outside of the USA. The idea of having all these chapters around the world reading and participating in a program together nearly brings me to tears. Although we will always be centered in literature, there are many exciting directions we’ve been brainstorming.
What are you currently reading?
I’m actually reading “Mastering Life’s Energies: Simple Steps to a Luminous Life at Work and Play” by Maria Nemeth. Maybe it’s the Philosophy major in me, but I really enjoy exploring ways to shift my everyday experience. My mom is always encouraging my autonomy over that and reminding me how much control I have. It is liberating.
Name on woman who inspires you.
Ugh, I can’t choose just one! But lately I’ve been really enthralled by Arianna Huffington. Any woman who builds her own empire despite any adverse circumstances is my hero. She also does so MUCH! I like the idea that we don’t have to settle - we can start our own newspaper, star in some TV shows, do anything and everything we’ve ever dreamed of.
Do you have a favorite book and/or author?
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh comes to mind. Asking me to choose my favorite book is not a fair question! But this particular book had me riveted. My favorite author is a poet - Rainer Maria Rilke. Sometimes I just wander through his quotes. They tug at something within me that has no name. I think some people can write in a language that is not of this world, and he was one of those writers.
What advice would you give to girls today?
The most important thing you can do is love yourself. We are so often in our own way and we don’t even know it. Nothing will go right on the outside if something is amiss within. We are taught to work towards achievements - they will feel empty upon first grasp if we do not love ourselves. We are taught to surround ourselves with people who love us - we will feel empty when it is only us at bed at night, or driving the roads alone at night. You have to be your own best friend, talk to yourself the way you’d imagine your “Prince Charming” to.
Most importantly, we live in a culture that is not conducive to us loving ourselves. We have to fight against that everyday, but also recognize it to be an internal battle. Self love liberates us.