On Saturday, supporters will learn whether More Than Me, a foundation that helps girls get off the street and into school in Liberia, West Africa that was founded by Bernardsville native Katie Meyler, has won up to $1 million in the second annual NBC Chase American Giving Awards contest.
Only 25 charities were selected throughout the entire country — and just one from New Jersey — and the foundation and even some famous names worked through Tuesday night to galvanize a final push to collect the most votes on Facebook.
Votes were counted until Tuesday ended midnight through the foundation's voteabigail.org page. The foundation's cause has received tweets and Facebook posts from numerous celebrities, including a retweet from the chef Emeril and support from the actress Rosario Dawson and others.
Abigail was an orphan in West Point, Liberia. Her letter is in a previous article here on the Huffington Post. At six, she was left with prostitutes. She learned to work the streets in order to get access to drinking water and food. Education was not an option.
Then Abigail met Meyler. The two became fast friends, and More Than Me has raised the money to put Abigail through school. She is learning to bake, and aspires to one day be a senator, so she can, in turn, help other girls like her.
The non-profit More Than Me foundation strives for education and girls’ empowerment, and is gaining notoriety through its guerrilla-style marketing, inspiring hundreds of people to write “I am Abigail” on their foreheads and posting the photos on Facebook, according to information from More than Me.
"So, why are all these people also 'Abigail'?" Meyler asks. "Abigail could be you. Abigail could be your sister, your niece, your student, or your neighbor. Remember, we live in a global community; there is no 'me' without 'we,' Abigail is because you are, and you are because Abigail is."
The outcome of the Chase American Giving Awards will be televised at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 on NBC, Meyler said in a speakerphone conversation last week with the Bernardsville Borough Council. Charities that don't win the top $1 million also are eligible for prizes of $350,000, $250,000 or $150,000 through the awards, Meyler said.
Meyler, a graduate of has said she thought she had grown up poor in Bernardsville until she saw how people were living in other parts of the world, shares her personal story is many venues, including churches and other gatherings in the Somerset Hills. The More than Me organization now has an office on Route 202 in Bernardsville. Her spoken word poem via Vimeo is here.
"I think we all have a calling," Meyler told the council last week. "My calling is to work for these girls and be a voice for them."
Last year at Bishop Janes United Methodist Church in Basking Ridge, Meyler talked about how she got together the money to send that first girl to school while in a mission to Liberia. Her efforts gathered the attention of a professional who aided her in setting up the foundation. Now, her aspiration is to build an academy, complete with after school programming to teach crafts and entrepreneurship to girls who otherwise could be selling themselves on the streets.
Winning a $1 million grant would be life-changing for More Than Me, "would be life-changing, not only for the organization itself but for the thousands of Liberian girls it could reach," said an earlier announcement from the foundation.
Asked why she has chosen to help children in Africa rather than here in America, she says, “I grew up poor in America. My single mom worked the overnight shift at a Lipton Tea company making minimum wage… but I always had free school. I never had to work the streets to find my next meal; there were government programs and neighbors that could help. In Liberia that just doesn’t exist and before I’m an American, I am human.”
The organization has thrived and grown on purely volunteer support, spearheaded by Meyler's dedication, and since its creation has raised enough money to send over 100 Liberian girls to school, Meyler has said.
The organization currently is working with the government of Liberia to transform an old bombed-out and looted building into an all-girls academy, with afterschool programs focused on teaching the girls entrepreneurship. With an additional $1 million, the organization would be able to see this dream come true even faster, employing a skilled, locally-based team, according to information from More than Me.