ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando teacher is spreading love one city at a time through her nonprofit organization, The Love Project Inc.
"Travel changes you, travel teaches you; you grow, you learn, you expand your mind. It lets you know that nothing is impossible," Shontay Blakeney said. "Growing up in a small town, it's hard to know what else is out there. You need to know that there's more outside your small town."
A year ago, Shontay Blakeney, a South Carolina native, created The Love Project Inc, which links travel and community service to bring new experiences to teenage girls in Central Florida.
"Each girl is matched with a mentor when they join the organization. You must be active and engaged in school, have good grades," Blakeney said.
The goal is to expose the girls to different cultures and open their minds. Blakeney said some of the girls have never been out of Florida.
The organization's first trip was last year to New York City.
"Several of them had never been on a plane ... so, you can see them meeting the pilot, getting in the cockpit, putting on the pilot hat," Blakeney said.
During the four-day trip, the group volunteered at a soup kitchen for the homeless in Brooklyn.
"It really showed I should be grateful for what I have," Anysa Beveral-Caines, a 16-year-old from Orlando ,said. "I humbled myself more because of the things I have, other people don't have. So, it was good, it made me open my eyes."
This past summer, The Love Project Inc. traveled to Siesta Key, where the girls volunteered with the Meals on Wheels program.
The next adventure is Dec. 26. Blakeney will be taking seven teen girls to Puerto Rico.
"We felt that the girls, especially, we got in some new girls that had never flown. We wanted to give them that opportunity to be able to leave the country and not have to have a passport," Blakeney said. "We would love to be able to just help any type of hurricane victims that we can, but we will either do some farming, we will help with some animals."
But it's not just the travel and community service experience the girls are exposed to; the organization also helps with leadership skills.
"We're talking about our business workshop that we're doing internally because several of them have ideas and businesses that they can do, just become young entrepreneurs," Blakeney said.
One of those girls is Anysa Beverly-Caines, an 11th grade student at Evans High School, who already got her nail technician license.
"I've changed as a person and I've started my own business, so it's like they really help me see my full potential," Beverly-Caines said.
Blakeney said the reward for her is knowing the girls are growing a support system and gaining new experiences.
"Just hearing them say 'This is my first time anything, gives me great joy' ... or hearing them say: 'I feel like I'm part of a family now, I have someone I can talk to, I have sisters that I can connect with,'" Blakeney said.
To to join The Love Project Inc. each girl needs to demonstrate a passion for helping others, community service and that she needs a mentor. To apply online, visit www.theloveprojectinc.org.