College is expensive, and for first-generation women students, it can also be a maze of confusion. Christie Garton knows this first-hand, so she decided to create first a website, and then a book, to help young women navigate the higher ed process. And then, she put her money where her mouth is.
The 1,000 Dreams Fund
Understanding that the college experience includes more than classroom lectures and labs, Garton founded the 1,000 Dreams Fund (1DF) – a non-profit dedicated to providing micro-grants to pay for life-changing extracurricular opportunities in high school and college – like internships and travel to career seminars – so that all American girls, regardless of their economic situation, can succeed in college and their careers.
“This was literally a result of my own experience in college and knowing just how expensive things like study abroad can be,” Garton tells HER Magazine. “I knew that these ‘extras’ were going totally un- or under-funded.”
Garton received a scholarship that allowed her to study abroad in Paris, but without it, she would not have been able to take advantage of that opportunity.
“These types of funding sources are few and far between, so I wanted to create an organization that would be a resource for every girl that has a big dream and is working hard but needs a boost at a critical moment.”
The goal of 1DF is to provide micro-grant “boosts” that can lead to the types of experiences that can change a woman student’s life. “To that point, the other thing 1DF does is to share and celebrate the success of each and every girl we fund, hoping to inspire more.”
Garton wants to see the fund continue to grow and positively impact even more young women. I can’t wait to follow up with them in a few years to see what exciting things they’ve been able to do,” she says. “I want the 1DF to be there when my 4-year-old daughter Georgia is on her way to college – that is my own and greatest dream.”
However, years before Garton founded 1DF, she set out to solve another problem. When Garton was in law school, she says there was no digital resource for young women in undergrad or graduate school. “Every magazine brand at that time was geared toward either teen or older female audiences, leaving this huge gap in the marketplace for the female college student who has a ton of resource and informational needs.”
Also, Garton says the brands that did exist were not providing a platform for young voices to be heard. “All of the advice was coming top-down from the editor to the reader,” Garton explains. “I wanted to create a platform that would give a voice to the very young women who would be reading the content, because who better to share this advice and stories than the actual girls really living it?”
And so, in 2005, she soft-launched UChic.com (short for University Chic), to test her theory that there was indeed a need for this type of digital platform for college – and graduate – women.
“In between lectures and massive reading assignments, I launched and grew the site at the Starbucks next to the law school,” Garton explains. “We quickly grew in traffic and by the time I graduated and took my first law firm job, we had thousands of young women visiting our website each month.”
This led to an offer from Sourcebooks, a publishing company. “They approached us to turn our website into what would become the most comprehensive guidebook to college ‘for and by’ real young women, featuring advice from college women nationwide.”
Over 100,000 copies of U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything, have been sold and an updated 5th Edition came out this year.
In fact, the proceeds from the 4th Edition of U Chic were used to launch 1DF, and the non-profit continues to be funded by book sales.
In 2013, Garton also co-authored Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Group of Consumers Ever, which has led to consulting and speaking projects.
Advice for women entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs
While Garton spends a good deal of time helping other girls, she realizes that as a mom, it’s also important to focus on her kids and their dreams and development. “When it’s family time, it’s family time and I can’t allow work stress to infiltrate my kids’ lives.” She says business women who are mothers have to separate work from family time.
Garton also advises women to acknowledge and even savor small victories. “Never forget that even helping one single person – or animal, or plant, or whatever you’ve set out to save – is an accomplishment, and a big one.”
“The goal of 1DF is to help finance one thousand young women, and it will feel amazing when we hit that goal,” Garton says. “But it already feels amazing to know that we’ve helped one or ten or twenty girls.”