For our first-ever group of Changemakers, Aerie has granted 20 advocates with $20,000 each to help foster their many ideas for changing the world. They’re building libraries. They’re researching for breakthroughs in women’s health. They’re making space for girls that keep it REAL. They’re pushing humanity forward.
Meet the #AerieREAL Changemakers:
Cookies, pies and cakes — oh my! Bella Lam of Rosemount, Minnesota is on a mission to change the world through guilt-free bites from her Coconut Whisk confectionary. She plans to open a 100% vegan food cart that will service a number of people and initiatives, including her company’s vision of donating 1 million plant-based meals to children in need.
Brittany Sinitch of South Florida always knew that she wanted to be a teacher, but who knew that those dreams would one day lead her to therapy after surviving the devastating 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But along her journey to healing, Brittany discovered the power in her unbreakable spirit, leading her to found The Unbreakable Organization with the goal of helping communities heal.
With roots in Pomona and a current spell in Fresno, California, Candice Youngblood has been moved to develop a state-wide youth leadership program for high schoolers in low-income communities. Her program will focus on combatting environmental health disparities, and seeks to be a healing space and educational resource.
Cassie & Chelsea
How do Cassie from Oxford, England and Chelsea from Golden, Colorado come together in Wichita, Kansas? Through their shared goal of advocating for those with a chronic illness to live a full, thriving lifestyle. Under their nonprofit Spoonies Unite, the duo provides resources such as podcast talks and webinars that encourage a better quality of life.
Cat Lantigua is bringing a joyful beat to the world as the CEO and founder of Goddess Council, a social wellness platform aimed at fostering meaningful spaces for all women to connect. Hailing from Miami but based in Brooklyn, Cat has tapped into her own vulnerability to help spark meaningful likeminded friendships around the world.
Self-care should have no age limit, and Haile Thomas is introducing wellness to the youth through her initiative The HAPPY Org. Based in Hudson Valley, New York, Haile considers herself a compassion activist who is making #AerieREAL changes by nurturing humanity and fostering healing.
Denison, Texas-bred Jenna Zapata is using her creative prowess to make change through her contemporary and fine art gallery Zig Zag. By offering scholarships, free workshops and other support initiatives, the creative director hopes that the significance of the arts will become embedded in the community.
Katie Howland is making real change through her literacy organization Millie’s Bookshelf, with plans to install the first-ever school library in Sinjar Province, Iraq to serve survivors of the 2014 Yazidi genocide. A San Diego native, Katie sees challenges as opportunities to do good and bring humanity to underserved areas of the world.
Find neuroscientist Katie Long working away in the research lab, where she and a multifaceted team are working to make breakthroughs in women’s health. As an #AerieREAL Changemaker, the Chicago native will invest funds into the bionic breast project, a study on breast sensation and how to restore it to those who have lost it.
Get moving with physical therapist Katie Muckley and her initiative The Imagine Dance Project, which increases access to dance education through programs for youth in Haiti. Originally from Columbus, IN but based in Atlanta, Katie hopes to empower others through mobility and movement experiences.
Keely Cat-Wells, a British entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, believes that telling diverse stories is the way to change society and she’s turning the spotlight on disabled artists. Keely is utilizing her grant to create several talent management jobs, in addition to launching a first-of-its-kind film and T.V. studio for people with disabilities.
Kendall Renee is forging her path through music, advocating for herself and others that have disabilities by paying homage to the community with an original song and video. The Long Beach, California singer uses her special story as a “superpower” to enact change.
Feel good about getting dressed with lifestyle brand GRL Collective, the brainchild of Downey, California-based founder Kristine Rodriguez for “grls that give a f*ck.” Through her partner organization The Sambhali Trust, the CEO champions social good by giving back 20 percent of proceeds to fund girls’ education in Jodhpur, India.
Maya Caine knows that real women like to shop — and she wants to make it even more fun to do so. Through the Changemakers program, the CEO will bolster the development of her digital fashion venture MIVE, a marketplace to make shopping more personalized.
Mei-Li Hey is working to make the world more inclusive by increasing access to safer sanitation solutions for individuals with disabilities. Through her organization Atwero, the Long Beach, California-based board president believes that taking tangible action is the way to spark positive change.
Rubini practices her activism through social good, having literally created an app called Selfless that matches people to opportunities where they too can make change. Raised in Novi, Michigan and now based in Chicago, the CEO is a genuine practice in making change by paying it forward.
Sofiya Abena Ballin
What good is being an award-winning journalist if you aren’t sharing important stories? Sofiya Abena Ballin is showing how it’s done through her multimedia identity series Black History Untold, which explores Black history through the lens of those who have lived it. Hailing from Philadelphia, the writer and producer is fueled by one core tenet: authenticity.
It’s Trinity Simone’s “hunger and passion for freedom” that inspires her to advocate for criminal justice reform. Through her initiative The Youth Will Be All Write, the Atlanta-based activist provides thousands of composition books to incarcerated youth nationwide in order to encourage therapeutic healing and amplify the voices of those that are often underrepresented.
Valerie of New City, NY went from being bullied at a young age to becoming the founder and CEO of her own company, The Validation Project, which she hopes will help boost confidence in middle schoolers around the world. The international organization works with 6,000 students in 105 countries, providing mentorships with college students, career field trips, social justice projects and more.
Wren Blae Zimmerman
Limits don’t leave much room for change, which is why Lexington, Kentucky-based Wren Blae Zimmerman simply doesn’t subscribe to them. In the arena, the blind equestrian show jumper is aiming to shift the perception of what disabled people can do, while outside of it she uses her platform to advocate for the regulation of Para-Equestrian Show Jumping.
In Loving Memory of Ali Neff
Ali Neff was an #AerieREAL Ambassador who, too, had dreams of changing the world. She applied for the Changemakers program with the idea of using the $20,000 grant to create a charitable T-shirt line in honor of her most recent heart donor, Eric. We hope to honor her memory by gifting this grant to her family, who will use the funds to start a foundation in remembrance of Ali, whose spirit and light has left an enduring mark on us at Aerie.
She was brave and strong in the face of a serious illness, and she wore her scars proudly — encouraging so many others to embrace what makes them REAL and even sharing such intimate moments in her book If Not Now When. Her lifelong experiences taught her to love herself and her body, allowing her to connect with and inspire other transplant patients on their journeys too as she carried on her mission of advocating for organ donation, research and charities.