In addition to playing two sports, completing her homework, thinking about college, and socializing with her friends, Mary Grace Henry, a 16-year-old high school sophomore who lives in Harrison, runs Reverse the Course (RTC), a successful international nonprofit organization that she founded in 2008. RTC sells reversible headbands to raise money to send girls living in impoverished countries to school.
From a young age, Henry was aware that girls in other countries did not have the same opportunities she did. Her school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut, had a sister school in Uganda that they raised money for through jump-rope competitions and penny wars. But she was not happy with just supporting one school; she wanted to find a way to send more girls to school so they “could be in control of their own lives” and “give back to their communities.”
After attending a headband-making class in 2008, Henry knew she had found her revenue source. She asked her parents for a sewing machine and quickly made 50 headbands to sell in her school’s bookstore. They sold out quickly, and she started selling more in boutiques, at sidewalk sales, and at craft fairs across Westchester. By 2010, she had raised enough money to send two girls to school in Uganda. Now, she has raised enough (more than $35,000) to send 32 girls in Uganda, Kenya, Paraguay, and Haiti to school for at least two years. (RTC also works with the girls individually to determine which institution they should attend.)
“It’s kind of shocking to think that I’ve lived on Earth for about 16 years, and I’ve sponsored 75 years” in tuition, she says.
Organizations such as Pencil for Hope, the Philanthropic Educational Organization, and the Girl Scouts have recognized Henry’s success and have asked her to speak at their events. She also received the Richard A. Berman Leadership Award for Human Rights from the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. But Henry knows her work is far from over. Her short-term goal is to sponsor 100 girls, and, in the long term, she hopes to keep the organization up and running as she graduates high school and goes to college to study business or journalism.
“I think that for the rest of my life,” Henry says, “I will in some way be connected to this organization.”