March 3, 2023
We sat down for an interview with Sophia Turker and Elle Foley, who run a non-profit organization called Gratitude For Maine. With specialty photographs, they make calendars, notecards and many other custom-designed products, and proceeds help fund scholarships for Maine youth to attend summer camp.
Gratitude for Maine first began in late 2020, and received their first donation in early 2021. At only 14 years of age, the dynamic duo has accomplished incredible feats despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. If anything, they said, those challenging times were the catapult that led them to starting their non-profit in the first place.
What was the motivation behind starting your own non-profit?
Sophia: At the height of the pandemic in 2020, all in-person summer camps were canceled, but we both had the opportunity to attend an online photography camp. We had taken so many photos in that time and weren’t sure what to do with them. We decided to get together and brainstorm ideas of how we could put them to good use and give back to the beautiful state where we had captured these images.
What roles and responsibilities do each of you have?
Elle: I am responsible for the accounting, operations, social media and web design and Sophia is in charge of marketing, sales and product design. We love what we do, and especially love that we get to do this work together.
Where do the photos come from?
Sophia: We originally started the business only utilizing our own images, but in the past three years we have expanded. Until 2022, a lot of our photos featured mostly the Southern Maine region, and we wanted to branch out to showcase the entirety of the state. We now have professional photographers working with us who use their own photos in our calendars as well.
How do you allocate your donation funds?
Sophia: For the past two years, we have donated to the Susan L. Curtis Foundation. They use that money to help kids attend camp. This year, we want to try and offer scholarships specifically through Gratitude for Maine. We hope to have applications on our website soon so that we can get to know the kids we’re talking with.
What important lessons did you learn from the pandemic and how has it shaped who you are today?
Sophia: The pandemic taught me the importance of learning how to manage things in life. Because we didn’t have school as often as before, I ended up taking a lot of classes elsewhere. I had to learn time management, and having more time to reflect on my own personal growth really pushed me to look inward and think about what I wanted in life.
Elle: I learned the importance of perseverance. There are always challenges and difficulties in life, but in the pandemic, we had to find different ways to cope and learn to adapt to the new normal. It taught me that even if you are facing a big set-back, you can find ways to work through those difficulties and continue to live your life.
What do you love about summer camp and why would other kids benefit from the experience?
Sophia: I’ve made incredible memories while there, and some of my closest friends are the people I see there - even if it’s only for a couple of weeks. Summer camp provides a lot of opportunities to try new things and meet new people. We wanted to give others a chance at a really fun and enjoyable summer too.
Elle: Outdoor camps offer such beautiful scenery, and allow you to disconnect with the world and just be yourself. It’s almost like a new world, in a way. It can be really life-changing to experience that, and doing this felt like a natural way to help others.
What have been the most rewarding — and most challenging — aspects of starting a non-profit?
Sophia: The most rewarding thing about all of this is having the opportunity to put myself out there. I’m generally a shy individual - I didn’t consider myself a very outgoing person prior to this. It was hard at first talking to people and writing emails and making calls, but now I’m so used to it. I really like it and look forward to it.
Elle: The biggest challenge for me was learning the importance of time management. During the pandemic, we had a little more time on our hands. With school back in session, we have a lot of new things in life to try and balance. But that challenge is an important part of our learning process along the way. The most rewarding part is just knowing we’re helping children experience an amazing opportunity that they may not have had otherwise.
What are your hopes for the future of Gratitude for Maine?
Elle: I would love to keep the mission of Gratitude for Maine alive, even if we’re not able to be a part of it 15, 20, even 30 years down the road. If we can still have our mission continue in helping children in Maine attend summer camp, that’s the most important thing to me.
Sophia: We’ve been working hard recently to find kids younger than us and bring them onboard. We want to teach others about this process to keep our mission going for years and years to come.
Outside of Gratitude for Maine, what do you hope to achieve in your lifetime?
Sophia: I want to continue the mission of helping people however I can. I want to go to college and do something in the medical field. I find that area of work fascinating.
Elle: We both learned so much from this process of starting our non-profit, and have paved the way for many things we will experience in the future. I would love to be a lawyer someday. I want to help people get through hard times in their life.