I’ve said time and time again how one of my favorite things about The Smile Project is the community we are fortunate to be a part of and how inspiring it is to share space with so many people making the world a better place. Cathy Le, Laura Truong, and Vivian Ritter fit that description perfectly. Cathy, Laura, and Vivian are the three directors behind Project Starlight in Northern Virginia. I am so excited to share their story now.
Liz: Let’s start in typical Smile Project fashion. What is bringing you joy right now?
Cathy, Laura, and Vivian (CLV): There are a million ways to define happiness and each definition will be different for other people. For us, happiness means something bigger than a standard definition. It’s the feeling of being loved and loving others, the ability to live out your goals and passions, or to feel confident in your true identity and help others express themselves. We want to be able to help other people believe in themselves and find their own happiness!
Liz: Tell us about Project Starlight.
CLV: Project Starlight is a nonprofit organization based on promoting diversity in STEM and creating a safe space for others regardless of identity. Students can learn about subjects that they have trouble with and develop their ambitions through tutoring and peer support. The organization also highlights the incredible achievements of LGBTQ+ people in STEM to inspire young members of the community to further pursue their passions in STEM fields as well.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
CLV: Queer scientists, mathematicians, and others who are in the STEM field are not highly represented in academia or education. That leaves queer students feeling that they are alienated in a predominantly cis-het academic field. With Project Starlight, we want to help make a change against the lack of representation so that queer students can be inspired and motivated. What also drives us is the hope to make a difference in the world, as it can be really hard to “fit in” and find a safe community to belong to. We hope that our organization fosters a welcoming community for many.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
CLV: Service is giving back to the community and working every day to spread a little more happiness throughout the world. Service also means to take time out of your daily life to help others who are in need or who feel alienated. We believe that it is important to dedicate yourselves to others with their well-being in mind so that there can be a stronger community to help make a difference.
Liz: How can people get involved?
CLV: People can get involved by following our Instagram and Tiktok at @projstarlight for daily updates regarding the organization and educational posts. They can also volunteer for our organization by registering as a tutor through our website (https://projstarlight.weebly.com) or our Linktree on Instagram. For any questions or inquiries, we can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org and through our social media!
Liz: Would you like to leave us with a favorite quote or piece of advice?
Laura: My favorite piece of advice is to tell others to always advocate for themselves and to put your foot down to reach your goals.
Cathy: My favorite quote is: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it” by Albert Einstein.