As a hairstylist with a distinguished 20-year career, Patricia Forte is passionate about helping ladies look beautiful on the outside. She is also passionate about building up positive self-esteem in ladies on the inside. Her non-profit, The Esther Project 212, serves both purposes, helping girls look and feel good inside and out, as they head back to school.
“The Esther Project is something God gave me to empower our young women,” Patricia explains. “I donate hair care products to the young ladies who are going back to school,” she states. The organization developed from a need that Patricia saw while at a church event. She saw a void, and wanted to fill it. “In 2003 I was at (World Changers Church International), and they were getting ready for back to school. At every Back to School event, the boys get free haircuts and they’ll have book bags. The little girls are just there to get the book bags.” Inspiration struck, Patricia says. “The community takes pride in cutting the boys hair for free, but no one does anything for the young ladies.” She reached out to her church about donating bags with hair care products for girls heading back to school. They embraced the idea with open arms. Patricia was driven to start making a difference. “My first year, I gave out 500 bags.”
Initially, Patricia says she provided bags filled with hair care tips and hair products. Over the years she has formed partnerships with organizations that help provide donations. Bags can be filled with a number of items, including shampoo, conditioner, combs, brushes, T-shirts, snacks and even jewelry. Word spread and demand for the hair care items ballooned. Patricia decided to establish The Esther Project 212 in 2013. In recent years, she has given away almost 3000 bags at Back to School events, which she now also holds at schools and community centers. She has also had an increase in volunteer participation, as people see the value The Esther Project brings. Patricia has expanded to add other activities, including fashion shows, and has added a critical element to her events – speaking words of encouragement and affirmation to the girls, creating a positive experience for them. “I give them things to use that they can help beautify themselves,” inside and out, she says.
The desire to help others was born out of painful childhood experiences. “I came from a family that neither one of my parents graduated high school. When I was 12, I tried to commit suicide.” Patricia continues, discussing her feelings at the time. “I’m dealing with acne, I don’t have any friends, I’m overweight. I didn’t feel like I belonged.” At her lowest point, Patricia says she began to sense God’s presence. She yearned to find out what was wrong in her life, so she could strive to make it right. She says she started to encourage herself. “I began to tell myself every day, I am somebody. I began to tell myself, I am beautiful, no matter what.” That strength she discovered is a part of what propels her today to want to instill that same confidence and self-love in young women today. And bolstering their confidence through taking care of their hair is a part of it. “When you love yourself and care for yourself, it shows in your appearance. You take care of yourself.”
I definitely remember the excitement of buying new clothes and getting new supplies as it was time to head back to school. Thanks to Patricia and The Esther Project 212, young ladies can walk into the building with a new attitude, a new confidence, and a new ‘do.