Manuela Testolini launched the foundation, In a Perfect World, with the intention of providing access to education for underserved children. The program has evolved to mentor artistic expression for kids all over the world in a variety of ways. I spoke to Testolini about how it all began and where the organization is headed.
What was the initial inspiration to start In a Perfect World?
I have always felt a desire to help people, even from a young age. I began working with nonprofit organizations right after school, getting my feet wet consulting for a variety of nonprofits. From my time working with these organizations, I found working with youth to be so incredibly rewarding. It inspired to create a foundation that empowered young people of all age, groups, and backgrounds.
Tell me a bit about your background and how it prepared you for IAPW.
I was actually on track to become an attorney and during my pre-law schooling, I focused quite heavily on both criminal and social justice. Once I realized that law school wasn’t the path for me, I took time off and began volunteering at a homeless shelter. I knew instantly that this was the type of work I wanted to do. I was so drawn to working hands-on with communities in need. I soon found myself consulting for different foundations, connecting them with partners to help facilitate various forms of support for their initiatives. That experience led me to create In a Perfect World, so that I could design and implement the exact programs where I saw the greatest need, particularly in the youth empowerment space.
So IAPW programs are active in multiple countries, you’re mentoring kids here and have built more than 25 schools in countries of need. That’s pretty incredible. Were your initial intentions to have such a far reach or did the organization just grow and evolve that way?
It is incredible to step back and take a look at how far In A Perfect World has been able to reach and make an impact. I, of course, have always had big dreams for In A Perfect World, but honestly just take each new project one step at a time. Before we start a new project, we work very strategically to ensure we know as much as possible about the community we are serving. We partner with experts in the field that advise us every step of the way and help ensure we are creating effective impact. We really owe a great deal of our success to our strategic partners that have helped us build more than 25 schools, paving the way for more than 5,000 to be empowered through education.
It’s a wonderful concept to get kids involved and hopefully instill charitable habits in them. How do your ambassador programs encourage kids to continue taking action?
Our Youth Ambassador program continues to be one of my favorite initiatives with In A Perfect World. It’s a program designed to inspire our young people to become compassionate, socially conscious, and responsible community leaders. We work with youth up to 18-years-old in Los Angeles and D.C. and guide them on how to coordinate their own community service projects that run the gamut of backpack drives, beach cleanups, food drives, care kits for homeless teens, community clean ups, and book drives.
Any notable stories you’d like to share?
Our Youth Ambassadors just organized a family-building event in partnership with the sheriff’s office in Richmond, VA. This was the first-of-its-kind program that offered both trust-building activities and art therapy sessions for families impacted by incarceration. Hosting both former and current inmates of the Richmond City Justice Center jail and their children, the day took them on a journey of empowerment, reconnection, and healing.
What’s next for IAPW?
We have so many great things happening, and I am so excited to see IAPW continue to grow. I think our near-future impact will be focused on building out our youth empowerment programming here in the U.S. with more art therapy programs for at-risk youth, and leadership opportunities through our Youth Ambassador program.
I’m also taking a trip to Malawi this fall to visit two schools we have built there in the last year. In total, we have four schools in Malawi servicing over 1600 children. In addition to access to education, our ongoing priority is to ensure that the community is coming together around the school. We’ve found that when the community is involved in the success and services provided in and around the school, attendance improves and enrollment rises because school becomes an important hub in daily village activity.
How can we get involved?
Whenever I have the opportunity to speak about our work at In A Perfect World, I also always want to mention that it’s possible for anyone to give back. There are so many ways to make a difference, whether you can lend your time and talents, donate to a cause that inspires you, or simply spread the word about what matters to you. Every act of service makes an impact. If you are interested in becoming a part of In A Perfect World you can visit our website for more details about donating, volunteering, or getting involved in our Youth Ambassador programs.