The Love Yourself Foundation has just celebrated the fifth year since its creation in July. As the Editor-in-Chief, I’ve decided to sit down with the founder and starting members of the organization to reflect on how far the organization has come in the past five years.
Q: What was your goal in creating the Love Yourself Foundation?
Monica Garcia, Founder of LYF: My goal in creating the Love Yourself Foundation was to help people not feel alone in an endeavor that can feel at times quite lonely. I wanted to create a community around the journey of self-love and self-acceptance. As a lifelong environmentalist, much of the beginning part of my life was trying to see how I could motivate people to treat the planet with love and care. I was involved in various campaigns, organizations, and initiatives within Las Vegas around environmental sustainability. I worked really hard at trying to get people to change their habits when it comes to thinking about the Earth. When I was confronted with heavy depression, anxiety episodes, and other darker emotions and not knowing how to navigate, it opened my eyes to the emotional wellness issues that humanity is facing today. It made me reflect on the various mental health issues that are on the rise and compare it to the environmental degradation that continues to rise on Earth. It made me reflect that perhaps there is a correlation between the two. After I contemplated this, this question came to my mind, “How can I expect people to care for one another/to care for the Earth when so many people are in survival mode and unable to care for themselves?” At that point, my focus shifted to thinking perhaps the solution is to help people feel empowered, and from that point, we can help bridge community and caring for the Earth.
Q: How have you seen that goal develop in these past five years? What are some big milestones LYF has experienced through this?
M.G.: Every year LYF has reached significant milestones and I am so thankful! The first year we spent diligently creating events and working with other community events to help bring exposure to the organization. In the second year, we worked diligently at creating a strong online platform (which coincided with COVID). The third year we spent it bridging our in-person interactions with our online interactions. The fourth year has been a continuation of that, into creating more programming to help bring one-to-one support to people, in addition to creating different events. LYF became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2021 and that was HUGE for us because it helps bring national recognition to the organization. I can’t express enough that we couldn’t have reached the growth we have had without the support of Downtown Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, along with community partnerships we have created with various hospitality and restaurant groups in town.
Q: What changes and growths within LYF these past five years have surprised you?
M.G.: I think it always brings me so much gratitude to see so many people eager to help, it’s both surprising and comforting, to say the least. <3
Rachel Baxter, Board Member & Inter-team Strategist: LYF has been through an immense amount of growth and change. As life and the world have changed around us, LYF and our team have always asked: “How are we needed right now, how best can we show up?” and our ability to understand and adapt as that answer shifts is incredible, to say the least. LYF is universal, yes versatile. Changing completely over to virtual events, then pivoting back to in-person events after the lockdown ended-–that was something even large businesses struggled with, and we did it with grace and teamwork and a lot of success.
Mei-Mei Mijares, Blog Founder: We’re so much bigger than we were, and we’ve gotten even more dynamic with the resources we provide. From when I joined as the Executive Assistant in 2019 to now, it boggles my mind how much we’ve been able to achieve because we started out with only open mics. Monica and I would be managing them and also tabling at the same time. Now we have pop-up events, workshops, and a whole website. We have the blog. I can’t say that I’m surprised because we put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I think I’m relieved to see the changes in 5 years.
Q: What were some of the biggest struggles in getting LYF to where it is now?
M.G.: The biggest struggle has been splitting my own time to ensure we can keep the momentum going. At times I have worked a variety of jobs that could give me the flexibility to keep LYF alive. Thankfully, I am at a point in my own professional life where it isn’t the same struggle anymore. As LYF grows, the dream to get our staff funded feels more and more attainable.
R.B.: One of the biggest struggles has been our volunteer base. We are a nonprofit, and we often feel the weight of that. Often, we have to say goodbye to excellent, wonderful, extremely talented folks who have to take on a job that can provide for them. We all find time for LYF within our busy schedules and busy days. The turnover is sometimes a bit of a heartbreak, but what makes it better is that so many of these people still find ways to contribute in smaller ways once they part ways with LYF as full-time members. That speaks to our ability to keep people in our ever-growing family no matter how their roles with us change.
M.M.: As my fellow LYF members have already said, time was a huge obstacle, personally. With a heavy heart, I even had to step down from my larger responsibilities because I couldn’t perform at the caliber I wanted along with a full-time job. I find that in the nonprofit world, we tend to fill other people’s cups before our own. It took a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice from members to get us to where we are today, and I am forever grateful to the team for everything they have done.
Q: What was it like starting a nonprofit like this? How have you kept motivated, especially in the beginning, when it felt too difficult to get to the point we are now?
M.G.: It is hard! It definitely isn’t easy, but it is extremely rewarding. I drew up on my background working with other organizations and creating university programs. My experience gave me the confidence to be able to do it. In the beginning, I listened to a lot of motivational speeches to help my mind stay focused. Developing a healthy routine is what helped me at the beginning and continues to help me stay motivated. I am very thankful that since the start I have been able to lean on good friends and that the organization has attracted wonderful people who have become great friends. I also have my own therapist/coach - ensuring that I am practicing what I am promoting is essential to ensure I am okay to keep this going <3
Q: What was the inspiration for the Love Yourself Foundation’s name?
M.G.: Wonderful question! One of my favorite bands and inspirations is Incubus. I absolutely love them and their music. They have a foundation called the “Make Yourself Foundation.” As I was looking for the perfect name, their foundation was definitely an influence to lead me to land the Love Yourself Foundation as the name!
Q: What was LYF’s first event? What was it like preparing for that and what was it like at that actual event? (Describe the community there, how many people showed up, what it was like getting the venue/setting up, etc)
A: The very first event LYF did was back in December 2019, and it was our first-ever Love Your Self Expression event. The venue we selected is no longer around, but it was called Juicy Beats. It was a healthy food restaurant/music venue. I had friends that were doing events there and thanks to them, we were able to get connected to the owner. The first 3 events we ever did were there. We had a really big turnout as we made the entry very economical and accessible. The community was vibrant, filled with folks from the open mic community (since a big part of the LYSE event is an open mic segment). The friends that helped me make this happen were Fil Malinao, Brent Buffone, Marisol Pino, and Niko Centeroy. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Q: How has that changed?
M.G.: We continued doing the Love Your Self Expression every year after the first one for like 8-9 months out of the year. Only last year we shifted to not doing this event as often, so we could have more time to focus on other goals and create other types of events. This year, we have experimented with different concepts and a new event format, which includes art, music, and a panel discussion. We have also collaborated on creating retreat experiences. In the future, we would like to create larger-scale events, which include a music festival, retreats, a mental health conference, and more!
Q: What was the motivation behind starting the LYF blog? What were some of the challenges in creating it? And what topics did you originally want to cover?
M.G.: The motivation was in 2020 when we wanted to create a stronger online presence, which also coincided with the challenges COVID brought to the collective. Thanks to our partnership with the UNLV College of Liberal Arts Internship Program, we were able to get support to make this a reality with student interns. Mei-Mei Mijares, the blog founder, was able to draw on her experiences to create our blog. Thanks to her and our initial writers, we were able to get our own blog going, which still stands today. Shout out to Sierra Zimmer, our current Editor-in-Chief, for running the blog! <3 And a big thank you also to Mei-Mei Mijares and all of our past writers for building this from the ground up!
M.M.: Above all, I wanted to create a safe space for writers and readers alike. I wanted there to be a soft place to land for those to share their self-love stories and for people to learn that they’re not as alone in their struggles as they think they are. I rooted the blog in the things learned in the Poets’ Club at UCSB about how much wisdom we have from our personal narratives. Regarding challenges, I think getting people to read long-form nowadays is very difficult. Attention spans have shortened in the virtual world, so figuring out all the ways we could get people to read from IG, how to optimize our SEO, and other logistics took a lot of resourcefulness from our small team of four in the beginning. And I think figuring out topics was a challenge as well—how could we make the blog focus on holistic wellness? I didn’t want the blog to only cover narratives but also include research topics we were interested in like the effects of social media, internalized capitalism, and current events. Luckily, we got to a point where every writer had a personal style and expertise to hone in on. We got a well-rounded collection of pieces as a result.
Q: The LYF podcast also was created around the same time as the blog. Were the motivations behind its creation the same?
M.G.: The podcast was created in 2020 to help us reach people in a time that was so needed. Thanks to Dez de Costa, we could get this launched. A big shout out again to all of our student interns who have helped with editing our podcast episodes. A big thank you to Ayla Babakitis, JR McMichael, Jackson, all hosts of the podcast alongside me, and to all the guests we had over the years on the podcast too.
Q: What accomplishments has LYF made so far this year? What are the most recent developments?
M.G.: Creating more partnerships with hospitality, restaurants, and other companies. We are also creating a new program that would support people in a new way, I can’t fully disclose this yet… but I am very excited about this because it is near and dear to my heart. I have also loved creating different events and having the creative freedom to explore new events to bring people together :)
Q: How do you think being a part of LYF has helped you? What changes have you seen/made in your everyday life because of LYF?
M.G.: Beautiful question. LYF literally saved my life! The idea of LYF came to me at a time when my purpose was being reimagined, and putting my focus on it truly got me out of one of the darkest places I’ve ever had to sit in. LYF challenges me to always remember myself, as a person who has naturally always thought of others. My challenge has been to remember and love myself. I have grown so much thanks to leading the organization every day. It gives me more opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. Though there have been many moments where it’s been a challenge to keep it going, but I am so grateful to have gotten through those bumps, thanks to the support of friends and family. Because of LYF, I have a healthy routine, and it always inspires me to keep that going.
Ayla Babakitis, Growth and Development Coordinator: LYF has immensely changed my perception of the community surrounding self-love and discovery. The journey is never one you have to feel alone in and I am so grateful to be involved in building that community!
R.B.: LYF has allowed me to use the skills I have towards a cause I am passionate about. So little of life aligns in a way that passions and pursuits can be one and the same, but this foundation has it all. It allows outreach, support, resources, education, discussion, community, and love for anyone who needs it. What more could we want in a world like today’s?
M.M.: Much like Monica, LYF saved my life! I stumbled upon LYF’s very first open mic back in December 2018 while I was here in Vegas during winter break. I saw that there were spaces curated for freedom of expression out in the “real world” and that’s something I had spent my time creating in Santa Barbara. I felt so lost after graduating from university because being a student and a spoken word artist was so rooted in my identity, and after I moved to Vegas, I didn’t know anyone in the artist community other than Monica and some LYF members. LYF allowed me to rebuild my support system, meet best friends, and expand who I am as an artist and community builder. I could not have gotten where I am today in my holistic health journey without LYF and that’s a hill I’ll happily die on.
Q: What are LYF’s priorities now? What are your future goals for LYF? What are the next steps for that goal?
M.G.: The main priority now is to ensure funding for the organization. The biggest goal is to land sponsorships and donations, to ensure we can continue to grow and create new programming to support our local, regional, national, and global community. We have big dreams and aspire to help people across the state, across state lines, and globally! We had to limit how many in-person activities we could do to ensure we could get to this goal and draw out a good strategy for our engagement. More growth, more love, and more unity! That is what we strive for! :)