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Sam Altman: A True Woman in Learning and Leadership

By Noelle Paredes

Some members of TCNJ’s Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) program are headed to Nicaragua this summer to take part in a two-week community engaged learning experience. Sam Altman, a sophomore English, special education, and women’s and gender studies major is co-leader of the trip, as well as the originator of the Letters for Solidarity project. In order to raise money for the journey to Nicaragua, she began hand painting and personalizing wooden letters to be sold on campus. Altman and her “solidarity sisters” as they refer to themselves, are participating in other fundraisers to cover the cost of their trip, but through the Letters for Solidarity project alone the group has raised nearly $1000.

Altman talked with HerCampus TCNJ about how the fundraiser came about and what the group will be doing this summer in Nicaragua.

What is Letters for Solidarity?

Letters for Solidarity is a fundraising effort the 2013 WILL Nicaragua Solidarity Delegation has made to raise funds for our trip. The idea is for the Solidarity members to paint wooden letters personally for those on campus, while our fellow students support our effort to forge solidarity amongst women in a third world nation.

How did your fundraiser, Letters for Solidarity come about?

Last year for my birthday, my freshman roommate, Meagan Loo, another solidarity sister as we coin ourselves painted me a letter. At the time, a relative was pregnant and I thought it would be the perfect gift for her child. Needless to say, after I painted the letter, I found a passion for creating patterns and designs on a small canvas that held symbolic meaning. 

At the beginning of our meetings [for Nicaragua], we were told to raise money as quickly and purposefully as we could. My co-lead for the trip, Carrie Beth Hornberger, and I quickly looked at each other, eager to incorporate the wooden letters as a fundraiser. We saw a broad market, with Roman and Greek letters, and a sense of individuality we could leave on each letter. The idea has grown, and many people on campus are aware of our work.

What kind of work will the WILL members be doing in Nicaragua?

Our project began in 2007 when several members journeyed to El Salvador to learn about the lives of – and to be in solidarity with – people who have been socially, economically, and/or politically marginalized. When in Nicaragua, the WILL women will have the opportunity to stay at Pronica, a Quaker-based charity, to learn and explore efforts of uniting the Nicaraguan community. All events we will venture into will relate back to the meaning of WILL’s Solidarity mission, including in-depth discussion on what it means to be a woman in any country.

Are you the only person who actually paints the letters? If so, how do you get it all done?

More recently, I have taken on painting the Greek letters and my solidarity sister,AlexaLogush, is heading Roman letters. While Alexa and I are the major painters within the fundraiser, undoubtedly the effort can’t continue without the entire delegation.

Why do you think so many people are interested in purchasing your letters?

While many people just see them as a little painted letter, others are able to understand the personal detail and time paid to each letter, and the time and effort we are paying to our creations. Many of my friends do not think that their dorm rooms look complete without a letter matching their bedding, and it’s comforting to know that our letters will remain at TCNJ even after we’ve gone to Nicaragua.

With the success of Letters for Solidarity, do you plan on doing any other craft fundraisers for WILL in the future?

Right now, I’d love to commit to other crafts, [but] one of the most amazing aspects of WILL is that our fundraising efforts go beyond tangible items. Look out for all of our Women’s History events, including our second annual Slut Walk. Our mission is for fellow classmates to experience what it means to be a woman without boundaries, or a man witnessing the equality we so desperately seek, and we are beyond ecstatic that TCNJ approaches us with open arms.

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