As an actress, retailer, and stepmom to Bobby Flay’s daughter, Stephanie March keeps herself busy (and well fed). Yet the Law & Order star carves out time to help better the lives of impoverished women and children, making her this month’s Inspired Mom of the Month, presented by ViaCord. We caught up with March on her role for OneKid OneWorld (OKOW) and her cool Soho makeup salon.
Tell us a little about OneKid OneWorld. It’s a foundation for education in impoverished communities in Kenya and El Salvador. The foundation provides children from primary through secondary school with the basic needs of learning, including books and desks, teachers’ salaries, classrooms, and even solar power technology so students can study at night. What is your role as an ambassador? Earlier this year I traveled to north central Kenya and Nairobi, where I spent time with girls at several schools including the Kasawanga Girls School, where we donated text books and helped with gardens, painting, and building fences. I also led empowering sessions with the girls focusing on ‘I am…I will be’ and encouraged them to dream of a successful future. Beautiful. How did you originally become involved? Josh Bycel, who founded OKOW, is the writing partner to my best friend’s husband. I was in Los Angeles visiting my friends when I ran into Josh. He told me all about OneKid OneWorld and I immediately fell in love. Why? What was it about this particular charity that caught your attention? OKOW has every element I was looking for in a philanthropic endeavor: it targets girls, education, the developing world, and has a very direct, hands-on approach with minimal bureaucracy. I would always prefer to work with a smaller organization whose impact is immediate and tangible. We’ve heard that your family has a long history of philanthropy. It’s funny. I am not so sure we are philanthropically minded so much as fair. There is a long line of women in my family, starting with my great-grandmother, who were appalled at the second-class citizen status of women in the US and abroad. It’s just not something we will allow to go unaddressed, whether it is a woman’s right to vote, receive an education, have access to modern medical care, or any of the other fundamental First World rights most men have access to. Amen. Tell us about your Texas childhood. My parents divorced when I was 12 and it was tough on all of us. My mother suddenly found herself a single, working mom and my sister and I had to behave and take care of business at home. Everyone had a job to do and everyone was expected to pull her weight. That being said, I felt completely loved and safe and healthy and I am so grateful to my family for giving me that security. Growing up that way is like winning the life lottery. So true. We know that earlier this year you traveled to Africa for OKOW. Can you share a little about your experience? It was amazing. We spent time at Samburu, a tribal community where OKOW supports the Lolkulyani Primary School; and on Rusinga Island, where we support various schools including the Kaswanga Girls Secondary School and the Rusinga Island National Trust Nursery School. In neighboring Mbita, we visited our very first project, which is Nyamasare Girls Secondary School. What was it like, spending time in these communities? Girls, children, people—all of us—we are the same everywhere, around the world. The kids want sweets and do not want to sit quietly at school. The adults want a good job, a roof over their heads, and an iPhone. The girls, well, they want to do well in school, look at a cute boy, and find someone to mentor and protect them. We’re not so different, any of us. No, we’re not. It’s an important point to make. And how does OKOW make an impact on these communities? Education is the silver bullet. There is not one situation, one person, or one geographic area that is not significantly improved with education. If you want to raise the status of women and children in the world, they absolutely must have access to good schooling. It’s imperative. And it works. And if there is anything I have learned over the years I have spent traveling to our schools, it’s that contact, real one-on-one contact with a human being, is the single most fulfilling way to assist. The quiet, shy moments sitting with a group of students talking about their day—what they are having for dinner, what their favorite subjects are, how far from home they travel for school—have added up in a way I can never fully express. What we do matters. I know. I’ve met the people we help. We’ve discussed dreams and desires, and I am wholly committed to making sure a good education is part of achieving those goals. While we wipe our tears, tell us, how can other mothers help? ‘Harambee’ is a Swahili word that means, roughly, “pulling together as a community.” As a stepmother, I know you do not have to be a blood relative to take part in the care and raising of a child. We pull together as a community and take collective responsibility for the ones we love. It is our responsibly as adults to raise a kind and caring and educated citizenry. Before we let you go, what else are you working on right now? I opened a makeup salon called Rouge in Soho with my partner, Rebecca, last December. It’s like a blow dry bar but for makeup. Thankfully it has really taken off and we are looking for additional locations. This time last year I told myself I would give it just six months and then get back to my regularly scheduled programming. Here we are a year later and I’m still in just as deep. And I love it. Congrats, Stephanie! Thank you for sharing—and inspiring.