Andi Long is the founder of Bloom Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps girls grow through challenges by providing an inclusive community and essential tools to build emotional resilience and bloom with confidence as leaders.
Our stories can become our strength. When shared from the scar instead of the wound, our stories can position us as a seasoned guide ready to help others who now face the same challenges.
“Keep in mind that everyone is on their own journey. You’re not alone in this. Becoming whole is absolutely a process for the rest of your life. So give yourself time to bloom in your own unique way. There’s no such thing as being a late bloomer, you bloom at your own time and pace.” – Andi
Highlights from the podcast episode:
[02:20] Cyberbullying and how that inspired Andi to found The Bloom Foundation
“Well, when I was in sixth grade in middle school, I first experienced cyberbullying. Cyberbullying was just starting because we had dial-up internet at the time. Someone had created a username and posted really mean things about my clothes. I felt pretty isolated. I didn’t know what to do during that time, but tried my best to navigate it.
Then it happened again, later on in life and it was meaner. I felt really isolated during that time and went into a mini quarantine for myself – I watched a lot of Twilight and ate ice cream.
But I remember hearing a quote back then: “They tried to bury us but they didn’t know that we were seeds.”
That quote just really stuck with me. After hearing that, I wanted to take the experience of being bullied and feeling buried and rise above and grow from it. I started learning lessons on what it means to bounce forward, learning about resilience, and creating this idea of what I needed when I was younger.
I felt called a program to help those who are going through bullying having that safe and supportive community around them. Since then, it’s been really amazing to have people come alongside and create Bloom into what it is today. It’s definitely a byproduct of so many people who have contributed and built bloom together.”
[06:30] Using social media to create community and bring people together
“Social media can bring hope, healing, and also hurt. It’s a mixed thing. But for us [Bloom Foundation], we strive for our social media to be a place that’s safe, supportive and encouraging, empowering, and empathetic.
We’ve strived to have every post reflect that. We know that a lot of teenagers are online and we hope that when they come to either the Bloom Instagram, or we’re building an online community they will feel like this is a safe space to share and process and navigate things together.
We’ve even had a pen pal program within our ambassador program. So they’ll actually take it offline and write letters to each other from Georgia to New Jersey.”
[08:30] How to safely and sustainably show up online
“It can definitely be scary to show up. Or, you know, having that fear of being judged from when I was younger, doesn’t necessarily leave when you’re older. [That fear] is there and present.
It helps to remind myself that even one thing I share could be helpful. I don’t know who that might be but if I have the courage to share, maybe someone else could connect with it or identify with it and it can change their lives in a better way. That’s a reason to push through the fear and to post, share, and use my voice.
You know, courage is such a muscle that we just have to keep exercising. It eventually builds up to be more of a habit. I just encourage myself to go for it. Like even for this podcast, I was definitely a little nervous. But once you say yes, and commit, I show up and get braver for the next one.
And it’s super important to keep those like little victories and accomplishments in your pocket so that you can see your growth and motivate yourself to keep showing up.
I love this quote, by Brene Brown: “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” I think part of it is just showing up. And that in itself is brave enough.”
[13:16] How brave storytelling can create a deeper impact in our community
“When we work with a new group of students, they don’t know who I am. The first thing that I share (and the first page in the book) is my story. It’s what I shared with you too, at the beginning of this podcast. I’m immediately vulnerable and share my experience.
I think it’s so important to have that in the beginning. Because it does build trust. With social media, you sometimes just get a surface look. But when we share our story, we’re really going deeper, and it can be a little disarming to share your story and then also encourage other people to share theirs. It’s something we’re not used to doing in day-to-day life.
But we encourage the girls [in Bloom Foundation] then to write their story. They take some time to think about it, write it down, and then at the end, they’ll read it again. It’s really cool to see when they revisit it, because they see the growth. It’s a great way to show the change that we often see within the eight-week program.
But storytelling is critical to the program: it’s sharing my story, sharing the facilitator’s story, and then also encouraging the girls to think about their story.
[17:47] Tools to help heal your hurt inner child so you can show up and shine
The common thing we hear is, “Oh, my goodness, I wish I had this when I was younger.” Or, even as an adult, the work is really speaking to them.
I think addressing the inner child and giving our inner child that compassion is so incredibly healing. The curriculum is built out in stages of growing. The first one is about being buried. We’re thinking about and addressing those negative things that have been said about us. But by addressing them, we’re able to replace them with a more empowering truth. I think that’s a great place to start, and a great place to get in the habit of doing that.
Then being planted is about looking forward and thinking about our goals, and where we want to go moving forward from that place of hurt. And then rising is about coping skills, things we can do that are creative or ways to practice self care. That’s something we can all always use more of, especially during this COVID time.
Spreading seeds is about choosing kindness. Even if you’re not receiving kindness and being watered, it’s about worthiness. It’s about embracing your worth and who you are as a human.
Growing strong is about empathy, forgiveness, and compassion. Becoming rooted is about turning your heart into purpose. Hello, Bloom is the wrap-up, revisiting your story and how you’ve grown.
So that’s a summary of the program. It’s really helpful for anybody who has lived and gone through some harder, challenging things to reflect and take that process of growing and apply it to their lives.
[22:18] An exercise: 10 reasons to love yourself today
By being yourself, you put something in the world that was never there before. This is a lifelong process of embracing and knowing our worth.
Keep in mind that everyone is on their own journey, you’re not alone in this. Becoming whole is absolutely a process for the rest of your life. Give yourself time to bloom in your own unique way. There’s no such thing as being a late bloomer, you bloom at your own time and pace. Different people and different flowers bloom in different seasons.
One thing I would love for everyone to think about today is 10 reasons to love yourself. It can be anything: something about your character, your personality, but challenge yourself to write those 10 things down today.
[25:34] The process of turning an idea into a nonprofit organization
It’s been filled with ups and downs, and lots of learnings. What we actually talk about within Bloom Foundation too, is to try and let go of perfection and be open to learning and growing together. That’s definitely been a motto for myself, too.
One of the first things that really helped me was to hire a friend/consultant, just to verbally process and to share my dream and what I want to do. They recommended a book to me that has been so helpful called “Will It Fly” by Pat Flynn. We went through that book together.
From there, I kept meeting wonderful people to help move the vision forward. I had an incredibly talented graphic designer help with the branding, and I just did one step at a time to get the 501c3 status. I pushed through and just figured it out. It was a lot of Googling, figuring things out, applying, and finally receiving the status.
As I shared my story, a lot of people wanted to help and be involved. Even the program partners happened pretty organically. One thing led to another and I just kept learning and growing throughout the way, making some mistakes, learning from them, and continuing to move forward, show up and be brave in that.
I’m just immensely grateful for the people who are involved on the Board, staff, leadership committee, the lovely ambassadors who help spread the word and message.
I think there’s something about the mission that can connect with everybody.
Resources from this episode:
Connect with Andi Long
LinkedIn: Andi Long
Connect with Tania Bhattacharyya
Linkedin: Tania Bhattacharyya
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