ST. LOUIS — During Black History Month, 5 On Your Side is highlighting historic figures and sites across the St. Louis area. One nonprofit organization with roots in St. Louis is supporting the next generation of change-makers.
Better Love Yourself is a nonprofit organization that awards first-year college students with a trunk full of tools to build a strong future with its Collegiate Trunk Tour program.
Reflecting on a program that changed their lives years ago, former Better Lover Yourself trunk recipients, Mahlik Good and Dr. Taylor Osuji said the program made their transition to college smooth.
Good received his trunk in 2018.
“By having guidance, I didn’t feel like I was alone," he said.
Osuji agreed when she thinks back to 2011, the year she received her trunk through the Better Love Yourself program.
“We were on the right path moving forward,” she said.
Stuffed full of dorm room necessities, the trunks given to students hold everything from cleaning supplies to food to bedding.
Better Love Yourself has programs in seven major cities and has given away more than 2500 trunks so far. The work is rooted in the heartfelt history of founder Terisa Griffin.
This renowned singer and songwriter performed alongside the likes of Patti LaBelle and Isaac Hayes. But, she said, her crowning achievement is creating Better Love Yourself.
“In Monroe, Louisiana, my dad was a minister," Griffin said. "The ladies -- the mothers of the church -- put together a trunk for me. It has my comforter and some other things in it that I really hadn’t even thought about. But I still have my trunk today."
The trunks are just the beginning for the student.
“They had a whole program for us. I didn’t even know what I was getting into,” Osuji said.
When students receive their trunks, they’re in for a day full of activities, music and mentorship.
Damon Green is the St. Louis volunteer chairman for Better Love Yourself.
"They leave with a certain level of enthusiasm," he said. "They leave feeling more prepared than when they came. We have some of the former recipients come in to talk to them. They share what their first year of college was like.”
Osuji is now a pharmacist in the St. Louis area. She has returned to the program events to speak with students heading to college.
“What I always encourage them to do is to be their authentic self," she said. "A lot of times we will find ourselves in anxious moments and overwhelming ourselves with the thoughts of tomorrow."
Good returned to give advice to students receiving their trunks. He knows about tough days, firsthand. The loss of family members and other struggles have challenged him during his time in college.
“Life is going to throw us curve balls, especially in young adulthood…I don’t think I would have made it as well as I did without having a circle of supporters,” Good said.
Much of that support comes from branches on the Better Love Yourself family tree, rooted by a strong "trunk."
“I had Damon Green to go to and say," Good said. "‘Can you give me some advice?’ Terisa Griffin, I love her. She’s a text away. She gives her number to every student and said, ‘reach out to me.’"
Scheduled to graduate this year from Lindenwood University, Good has set his sights on graduate school -- his next mountain to climb. He wants other students to know, you reach even the highest of peaks one step at a time.
“Don’t give up," he said. "Keep pushing. Get your circle. Use your resources. You can make it. In December, I’ll be living proof that this works. You can make it.”
To receive a trunk from Better Love Yourself, incoming college freshmen have to apply to be accepted by the program. The organization is now accepting 2023 Collegiate Trunk Tour applicants.
Better Lover Yourself is also accepting donations to help cover the costs of the trunks for students. More information can be found here.
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