This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Tonya, who is the founder of Free2Luv, an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to rockin’ individuality, spreading kindness and standing up for bullying through arts and entertainment. Their mission is to take the bullied to the brave, heal hurts and build dreams, so no child is left feeling alone, unwanted or hopeless. We’re working with their amazing organization to give 30% of our profits back to help their mission.
Tonya’s path to starting Free2Luv is incredibly inspiring, as she didn’t originally come from a background in the nonprofit industry. Tonya was working in the music business for many years before she had the idea to start her nonprofit. While she enjoyed her career in the music industry, she had always known from a young age that she wanted to be a mentor to children since she didn’t have the most pleasant childhood.
Her desire to be a mentor always rested in the back of her mind while series of events pushed her to start the organization. One of the most memorable events was many years ago when Tonya and her wife were fostering a young lady, who was around the age of seven at the time.
When they first met her and asked what her name was, she responded with, “My name is Taylor, but everyone calls me Gaylor because people tease me for being gay.”
After hearing this, Tonya and her wife befriended and fostered her, helping mentor her and help her become who she was after she had been tortured for being confused and not knowing who she was for so long.
Later in 2010, Tonya’s mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June and passed away shortly after in August. This was their determining sign to begin Free2Luv and also at the time, there were many children taking their lives because of their identity and having nowhere to turn. Tonya discussed the increase in issues with her wife, Kym, because she felt a growing need to help, and after discussing, they packed up from Los Angeles and moved to Seattle to start Free2Luv.
Starting a nonprofit is significantly more challenging than starting a for-profit business, and after years of working through the paperwork, Free2Luv was officially founded in 2014. During this time, they worked on creating the branding and social media campaigns to prepare the launch of the organization. Tonya had many years of experience with branding from her work in the music industry, which really helped her create campaigns focused on the organization and tailored campaigns with ambassadors.
“A lot of people are told how to feel or respond, and we wanted to help with feeling and growing from it. Life isn’t cookie cutter. To be whole, you have to love yourself first, and everything [in Free2Luv] needs to have that message.”
After launching Free2Luv, Tonya worked diligently with ambassadors to help share their message. They were able to gather ambassadors from all walks of life, including celebrities, both younger and older and people who are actively making changes in their community. They received messages from those whose lives were already being saved by their mission. Within just a few years, they won awards for their outreach, volunteerism, and the impact they were making.
Their message is clear--”We’re letting young people know that they belong, and there is always a place for you. You’re uniquely beautiful and special, and we want to tell people that their story about their identity, why they have their story, etc, are here for a purpose. Some people feel like they are not here for a purpose, but they are. You are not alone. We’re here for anyone struggling.”
Free2Luv has various opportunities for others to help support their mission. One of their most notable ways is through their Million Sign Mission. Their Million Sign Mission encourages people to share the message of not allowing friends to bully others by taking photos with the sign and sharing them on social media.
They also have their Free2BeMe program, which is a group art project with the materials supplied by Free2Luv. They provide art materials and outlines of paper hearts as well as guidance for classroom instruction or any other groups looking to discuss being themselves and to share their stories.
Finally, Free2Luv also takes donations to help fund both of these initiatives and to also help spread their mission to a larger audience.