Founder Courtney Brockmeyer
According to a U.S. Census report, more than 16 million American children are living in poverty and low-income youth are six times more likely to drop out of school than those from higher-income families. Courtney Brockmeyer witnessed the problem when she saw some kids doing their work with golf-score pencils. Asking them about it they said, “The library lets us take these. We don’t have any regular pencils.” It stunned her that she was raising her kids with multiple crayons, markers and paper, while these other kids were trying to find a pencil to do their schoolwork. From that realization, she founded Sydney Paige, a company that sells backpacks; and for each one sold, one is donated with school supplies and books to a student in need. Risen talked with Brockmeyer to learn how she started the company, her commitment to excellence, and how simple school supplies can really be life-changing.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: How did you decide to start Sydney Paige?
Courtney Brockmeyer: I was working with a large company for over a decade trying to bring a worldwide initiative to lower income consumers in the United States. I did that for about three years and implemented it at Nestle USA and grew it to $350 million. As part of my work, I interviewed and did market research with low-income families. One day my daughter asked me, “Mommy, why do you work so many hours?” I didn’t have the right answer for an eight-year-old. I decided to quit my job and start my own company. I began doing research and saw that one in five kids are in poverty in the United States. While we know that education is key to breaking out of that, so many kids are still dropping out of school. Then I read that the top reasons for dropping out is lack of confidence and lack of supplies to do their work. I just thought, “I can help with that. Even if it is just one child at a time.” I can help give them the basic tools that they were lacking. I named it after my daughters, Sydney and Paige.
RM: Your company matches all purchases with a donation of the same exact purchase. Additionally, you fill the backpack with clothing, hygiene items and food. Why is it important to you to donate the same quality backpack as the ones the customers are purchasing?
CB: I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with what other non-profits were doing. I wanted to partner and help them. It turns out that many of them do backpack drives every year. As I dug further, I saw that what was being donated wasn’t always being used by the children because it made them stand out as poor or different. I met these children from Harlem, New York, and I noticed that their backpacks were hanging by the door and not being used. I asked them, “Why aren’t you using your backpacks to carry these heavy books?” They said, “Those backpacks were donated to us and they are nice for carrying a sweatshirt or something, but they won’t hold up to carrying anything heavy.” I decided that I wanted to do “Buy. Give.” I wanted it to be the exact same one as we sell because these kids deserve the same excitement [and quality] as my kids when they pick out their bag.
RM: How did your partnership with Matthew McConaughey and Camilla Alves’ non-profit, Just Keep Livin, which distributes backpacks and school supplies to intercity high school students, come about?
CB: We approached them because we loved what they were doing and aligned with the importance of education. They are helping students become leaders and to learn and thrive. When people purchase from our site, they can pick which non-profit they want the item to go to so they can choose Just Keep Livin kids. It has been amazing to see the graduation rates and overall attendance and test scores improve.
RM: A backpack, pencil, notebook, and other school supplies seem like simple items and probably things many of us take for granted, but what impact have you seen on a child’s education and future?
CB: For my children, there is a direct correlation between creativity and confidence. Even when they were growing up and they were just scribbling, they were always creating things. As a parent, I praised that and built their confidence. It also enabled them to express themselves. The first five years, it is such an important part of their development. For many low-income kids, they start kindergarten and they haven’t had any of that. They aren’t going to restaurants where they can color. For every affluent child, there are 30 books. Whereas with a low-income child, there is one book to 30 kids and that is if they are lucky.
RM: What is your hope for Sydney Paige?
CB: I hope it changes the landscape of the buy/give mentality. There are many buy/give companies that give a cheaper product and they aren’t really doing the research and caring that the give is really giving a need. We want to raise that bar by giving the same bag and filling them with age-appropriate school supplies. We allow our customers to choose what non-profit they can give to because we believe that giving is personal. I would love to see that as a common goal and expectation.