Laura Talmus of San Rafael’s Beyond Differences has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.
Describe your organization
Beyond Differences is a student-led social justice movement and the only organization dedicated to ending social isolation by inspiring students to become activists and change the culture of middle school. We truly are, at core, working to create a world where every child is accepted, valued and included by their peers no matter what their difference.
While many organizations focus on strategies for reacting to bullying after it happens, Beyond Differences works to prevent bullying before it starts by teaching students that they can change the culture of their school. There are three ways in which we work: we provide teachers and their schools our original curriculum written by and former classroom teachers free of charge.
Each curriculum contains four to eight individual lesson plans on topics that are fun and engaging for students. The curriculum wraps around the school year and each unit culminates in our second strategy: our national awareness days! Three special events — or national awareness days — are run by the students themselves. They include Know Your Classmates Day, No One Eats Alone Day, and Call It Out Day.
Last but not least, Beyond Differences trains middle school students to become leaders by providing them skills in public speaking, by teaching them how to run our lesson plans, by instilling new and personal self-awareness about social isolation and self-confidence.
What is your role in the organization?
Executive director and, along with my husband, Ace Smith, co-founder.
What achievement are you most proud of?
That Beyond Differences has far surpassed the reach we could have ever imagined. Today, we are touching millions of lives through the more than 4,000 schools that have used our curriculum. What started as a small, Marin-based nonprofit organization with eight high school leaders, has grown to include teen boards in three cities and middle school leaders in over 20 middle schools. That’s over 200 students directly in our programs.
I am most proud that these children are in our programs for their own personal reasons and not because they were classmates of Lili, my daughter.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Resources. Many small nonprofits struggle to raise enough money to meet the demands of their growth. Today, more schools want our materials as well as professional-development and student-leadership programs that we can meet. But we are hopeful that funders, especially foundations who may have their minds made up about what they will and won’t give to, will become more open to fresh ideas and new strategies.
Small nonprofits deserve the chance to prove they are great investments for funders. I know Beyond Differences is one of the most efficient and cost-effective investments for philanthropists because you can actually see and receive what we offer for free and what an immediate difference it is making on the ground!
What is the next major project either underway or on the horizon?
Ace and I are planning to write a book about Beyond Differences and the growth of our movement to end social isolation among youth. We’re excited! Beyond Differences is also planning to offer more and more professional development for teachers, resource counselors, social workers and others who want to work with our materials.
711 Grand Ave., Suite 200, San Rafael 94901
Professional background: Nonprofit executive and fundraising consultant.
Staff: Five full-time positions; three part-time positions in Portland, Oregon; Oakland; and soon San Mateo.
Education: B.S., School of Natural Resources, University of Michigan.