Monday, September 28 was a beautiful and a full day for Sarah Stevens of Moline, who was awarded a $10,000 Nation of Neighbors grant by Royal Neighbors of America.
Founder of The Beautifull Project in 2018, Stevens works as an online curator and author of content that encourages women of all body types, ages, and ethnicities to embrace their bodies and to live in them more confidently, freely, and fully. TBP, online at thebeautifullproject.com, has grown into a multimedia platform that showcases stories of women who navigate the world in diverse bodies, life circumstances, and diverse world views. Many of these women are faced with the challenge that the world often expects them to shrink in order to fit in. Stevens says TBP encourages them to take up space instead.
"The Beautifull Project is a storytelling collective, inviting women back to their bodies, and creating a world where every body belongs. It is also an invitation to be full – that’s why the name is beautiful with two l’s. It has nothing to do with moving toward a beauty standard. It has everything to do with inviting yourself to be full.”
“What that looks like in the last three years is a multimedia platform that invites, allows, and amplifies the stories of women. There are three parts to that – there’s the blog, the podcast, and the photo gallery. It allows our body stories to be told in the written word, the spoken word, and through photos.”
Julie Robinson, director of member development and public relations at the Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors (a women-led, fraternal life insurance and annuity organization), says that for over 125 years, Royal Neighbors has tried to empower women to make a positive impact in their communities. And she says, "being able to provide financial support to Ms. Stevens and her project aligns perfectly with that mission.”
Nation of Neighbors is an award and empowerment grant that annually recognizes people who are improving the lives of women and girls in their community with a new or expanded business, organization, program, or non-profit.
This year, $100,000 in grant money will be distributed through the Nation of Neighbors program. More than $2 million has been awarded to grant recipients since the program began in 2007.
After spending a decade as a health care executive, Stevens decided in 2016 to depart her high-stress career and follow a path defined by her passion for supporting other women through mentoring. She became the first executive director of the nonprofit Lead(h)er, which matches young female professionals with more experienced mentors, guiding them through career and community involvement.
She left at the end of last year, and is now director of marketing and development for Family Resources. Stevens founded TBP in honor of her daughter Alannah, who graduated last spring from Alleman High School. She and her wife Becky also have two teenage boys.
"Once you land on the thing that lights you up – the thing you know you’re meant to do in the world, it doesn’t feel like work anymore. I poured a lot of passion into Lead(h)er; I still very much believe in that mission. I think it’s important. Actually, the experience at Lead(h)er taught me that I could take an idea and turn it into a reality. It really served me well, because then when it came time to turn my own idea into reality, I had the confidence in me and the experience to know that I could do it.”
Stevens says she’s yet to find a woman who isn’t affected by the unhealthy expectations that society places on them to reach a beauty ideal.
“I have never met a woman who doesn’t have a body story, where she learned there was something wrong with how she is in the world. And then spent the rest of her life trying to fix it. It is literally every woman I’ve ever met.”
The RNA grant will be used to compile a self-published book for TBP, in about a year, including many of the hundreds of interviews Stevens has done with women.
“From those stories, the thing I learned most consistently is that, women are very open to this message – to this idea that, I want to stop shrinking. They hear it; it resonates with them. But what ends up happening is, they don’t necessarily know another way to be in the world, so they have what they’ve known most of their lives and they’re ready to release that.”
"So this book will be full of tools and resources for women who may want to understand the relationship with their bodies, with food, and with movement differently.”
Stevens wants women to shift their lens and their life, to love and accept themselves. She also recently started a lifestyle brand that runs parallel to TBP, including merchandise (like T-shirts) and a virtual yoga package. To see that, visit www.bysarahstevens.com.