At the recent Watermark Conference in San Jose, 22-year-old Laura Graham was surrounded by impressive women. Tens of thousands of them.
Still, the person Graham is perhaps most impressed with these days is herself. Her 14-year-old self, that is. The one who started her very own non-profit before she was old enough to drive.
"You look back and say, 'How did I do it?'" Graham said. "How did I make it happen?
1 Closet is the name of the non-profit Graham started back then.
At the time, Graham had heard there was a great need for good, used clothing for teenage foster children. So, she set out to collect some.
Graham ran the non-profit with the help of her mother, Sue, throughout her high school years in the East Bay. They ended up collecting and donating hundreds of thousands of articles of clothing to grateful teens.
When it was time to leave for college in Arizona, though, Graham found someone else to run the program in her place. She held the title of Creative Director but for the most part, Graham stepped away from the day-to-day operation with little intention to return.
"I really thought I was done with it," Graham said. "I didn't think I was coming back to 1 Closet at all."
So, why was Graham on the floor on the San Jose Convention Center in February, pitching 1 Closet to the Watermark attendees who walked by? To save her creation, it turns out.
Graham's successors' involvement in 1 Closet recently came to an end and Graham was forced to make a choice: let it close or take the lead once again.
Graham chose door number two.
"Someone has to," Graham said. "That's what it boils down to. The need is still there, even greater than before."
Sue Graham has stepped up from the role of advisor and helper to full partner in the endeavor. Together they plan on making 1 Closet bigger than it ever was before. They are looking for partnerships with corporations, space to house and sort the donations (other than their home), and taking on volunteer help.
As for Laura, it is a lot of work for a young woman who is also attempting to grow a career in software sales but she has seen too much good come from her creation to turn back now.
"It has made me remember how fulfilling it was," Graham said, "how much it is needed.