Today we’d like to introduce you to LaNai’ Whitaker.
Thanks for sharing your story with us LaNai’. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My vision started when I was a teenager. My mom, Nai Whitaker, is a successful entrepreneur and I have watched her give back to the community for years. She would help with anything anyone needed. I always thought…”When I grow up and become financially successful, I will give back as well.”
I just didn’t know how I was going to become financially successful, nor did I know how I wanted to give back. August of 2013, my little cousin went off to college, and that is when I realized how expensive living on campus actually was. I never lived on campus during my time in college so I was oblivious to the door room and meal plan expenses. After having to come up with $40,000 for the year’s tuition, my aunt still had to come up with money to furnish his dorm room necessities. So his big sister and I went in half on his dorm room to help relieve some of the burden. In December 2013, my grandmother, Vernita Belcher, died. At her funeral, I found out she donated college care packages to students at her church. No child at her church left without receiving a care package from her.
This was a surprise to me because I actually lived with my grandmother. She was not poor, but she was far from rich. Hearing that testimony made me realize I didn’t need to be financially successful to be able to give back. I could do it right then and now. I started my non-profit, Simply Helping Foundation, in January 2014 and obtained our 501c3 status. Our mission is to provide non-monetary support to college students living on campus. Items include school supplies and personal toiletries. I’ve come to realize God doesn’t check your bank account when He gives you a purpose. He just gives you All the resources you will ever need. He provides a way for you to fulfill His purpose He has placed on your heart, and that is exactly what He did for me. We are now in our 5th year of operations and are continuing to grow. We have made our way outside of Houston to other cities and states. We have donated over 1000+ care packages since starting in 2014, and we look forward to increasing that number.
Our ultimate goal is to not have a limit on what we can supply to our college kids. We want them to know someone is out there willing to help with no strings attached. We want them to know they have someone in their corner cheering them on every step of the way. We want them to be able to focus on their school work and the more important things in life rather than worrying about the small things like toilet paper, toothpaste, lotion, school supplies, etc. Every summer, there are hundreds of back to school drives for k-12 students. People tend to forget that college students need the most help because they have to pay the most for their education. I’m glad I’ve teamed up with other organizations such as The JCS Project and Paper, Pencil, Pen to allow the students to receive three care packages instead of just one. All three of us have came together to help as many college students as we possibly can. I’m excited to see what God has in store for all of our organizations.
Has it been a smooth road?
No, the road has not been smooth. With any dream comes obstacles. Like many non-profits, funding is always a hassle. First starting out, donors told me that I would have to show more activity in the community in order to get funding. In my head, I’m thinking…I could do that if I had the funding. So I began funding the organization with my own money. I would set aside the funds I needed for different tasks. Next item was to get our name out there so more students would apply, and then I could go back to the donors and show our progress. This even became an obstacle because most students and parents didn’t even believe me when I was telling them we give out our care packages for FREE. They just knew it was a catch so they would turn me away.
We tried going on different college campuses in the Houston area, and the campus staff would tell us we could not solicit on the campus. They made it seem like we were selling something when in reality, we were trying to provide a free service. One campus understood exactly what we were trying to do and still told us not to come on their campus. They had a deal with a company that sold care packages to their students, and they did not want us to interfere with that. Once again…we found a solution. I started going to the high schools instead of the colleges. High schools are full of students heading to college. The college counselor, Dr. Lauderdale, at Westfield High School, invited me to their college fair in 2015, which is where I met the founder of The JCS Project, Tiffannie Jones. Since then, our organization has attended dozens of high school college fairs. Our numbers started increasing. Once our name started getting out there, we were able to receive donations from multiple corporations such as Walmart and The Home Depot. There is a solution to every problem. You just have to take a step back and think it through.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Simply Helping Foundation story. Tell us more about the business.
Our company provides FREE care packages to college students living on campus. Included in our care packages are school supplies and personal toiletries. We have our annual Back2School Drive in Houston, TX every year on the last Saturday of July. Three years ago, we teamed up with The JCS Project to do campus tours. On the campus tour, we deliver 100 FREE care packages to each campus we attend. The care packages include food, snacks, and school supplies. We have traveled to multiple cities and states. I am most proud of our progress of how many students we are reaching and providing help to.
In our first year, we were able to provide only 20 care packages. Last year we provided over 500 care packages between the annual Back2School Drive and the campus tour. I believe what sets us apart is our will to go the extra mile for college students. Not many organizations provide FREE care packages to college students, and not many organizations will drive hundreds of miles to deliver FREE care packages. We have traveled to San Marcos, San Antonio, New Orleans, Grambling, Denton, and many other places to provide help to college students.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I’m not sure if free college care packages is an industry. If it is an industry, I pray it grows tremendously and without limits. This is an industry that is not competitive because at the end of the day we are all here for the best interest of the students.
- Address: 340 N. Sam Houston Pkwy E., Houston, TX 77060
- Website: www.simplyhelpingfoundation.org
- Phone: 713-876-6672
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @simplyhelpingfoundation
- Facebook: @simplyhelpingfoundation
- Twitter: @HelpingSimply