Imagine Scholar, an educational program for children living in rural South Africa, is hosting its annual yard sale event in the parking lot of Kenmore’s Northlake Lutheran Church from Aug. 15-17.
All the proceeds collected from the multi-day charity event will go back to the program.
Founded in 2009 by Corey Johnson, a University of Washington alumnus, Imagine Scholar gives students the opportunity to refine their skills in non-traditional subjects including communication and media literacy, health and well-being and more.
The program began in 2009 when Johnson went on a trip to South Africa for a project. While he was there, he met a young man who he said was “doing everything right.” The young man was a motivated student and an active member of his community. But because he lived in a rural area, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities.
“That was the starting point, and it grew from there,” Johnson said.
The interaction inspired Johnson to start a general enrichment program in rural South Africa, which became Imagine Scholar. The first group comprised about five students who, like the young man Johnson met, had shown noticeable academic potential.
Classes were held on top of students’ government-mandated sessions and took place in the backyard of a women’s crisis center. Johnson said the early days involved a lot of trial and error, feedback and a lot of borrowing from other educators and programs.
“It was pretty much built with the students — kind of co-created,” he said.
When Johnson first started the school, he didn’t have a big network — something he attributes to his Yakima upbringing — and didn’t have enough money for the program to realize its full potential. While at home, Johnson brainstormed ideas with the mother of one of his college friends, Barbara Lloyd, on how he could raise money.
Lloyd, who has a background in business, told Johnson that her other daughter sometimes hosted garage sales with her college roommates to raise money for utilities. Typically, the amount earned would be more than enough.
“It’s quick, down and dirty,” Lloyd said. “When it’s over, it’s over.”
Inspired by Lloyd’s suggestion, the first Imagine Scholar Yard Sale, which is now an annual event, came to be. The first one was held on Lloyd’s property, with items coming from family and friends.
Johnson estimates that the first sale garnered Imagine Scholar around $1,000. At the time, that was a huge number.
Now, though, it might seem small in comparison to the $10,000 the organization raised last year. Still, it helped Imagine Scholar attain what Johnson describes as its “bare necessities,” which included more books and funds to make improvements to the curriculum.
In the decade since both the program and yard sale’s inceptions, Imagine Scholar has expanded its capabilities. It used to be just Johnson steering the ship, but now the program has a seven-to-eight-member staff. Classes are 26 hours a week rather than the initial two. Students can now study abroad in places like the United States, Hong Kong, Norway and the Netherlands.
More and more students are able to apply than ever. Next year, Johnson is hoping to double the program’s intake from 60 to 120 scholars.
Though the program is no longer as dependent on the yard sale event as it once was due to an increasing number of donors, it’s still something the organization looks forward to every year.
“It continues to get bigger and better,” Megan Nellis, Imagine Scholar’s program director, said. “We’re really excited.”
This year, the Imagine Scholar Yard Sale will be held in the parking lot of Northern Lutheran Church, which is not affiliated with the program. The goal is to raise $12,000, which will go toward regional growth and campus expansion.
It’s not too late for people to donate items or volunteer at the event. Nellis said that “anything and everything” is accepted — as long as it’s not too outdated. Interested community members can either drop items off at one of Imagine Scholar’s storage units, or they can contact a volunteer with the program to pick up their donations. If Eastside residents want to volunteer, they can contact the organization.
When asked what it’s been like to see her brainchild grow over the years, Lloyd said it’s been satisfying knowing that students have benefited as a result of the yard sale.
“It’s very rewarding,” Lloyd said. “It’s a lot of work, but in a relatively short period of time to be able to make that kind of a contribution to the organization makes it worth it.”
For Johnson and Nellis, the event itself is always a memorable experience, and one they look forward to.
“I love going to yard sales,” Nellis said. “For me, it’s the most epic one. It gives you a glimpse into the human spirit.”
Johnson added, “It’s fun just to meet people. Every year we get a bunch of new people and volunteers…It is in some ways an outreach event as well.”
Johnson hopes that Imagine Scholar can eventually get to a place where it can be run by the program’s alumni. He has always had a 15-year vision for Imagine Scholar, and part of it included it being community run.
“We’ll always be involved,” Johnson said. “But we always wanted it to be something like scaffolding — something they can take over.”
For more information about the event, visit tinyurl.com/y6o8cwpe or contact Megan@imagine scholar.org.