In 2003, a massive electrical fire struck the Kennedy Homes projects in Gainesville, Florida. Over 100 families were displaced as a result. Daphne Charles, a sophomore in college, heard of the tragedy and found out the families were being temporarily housed in a hotel just across the street from the University of Florida (UF). The hotel was in bad condition and she had heard that the families, who already came from financially distressed backgrounds, were not being treated well and had few belongings left from the fire. Just a sophomore in college, Daphne was determined to be a beacon of light to the families. She went to the hotel on her own, interviewed the families about how they felt and what they needed and proceeded to start a movement. She needed a name to promote this movement to community members and University students and thus, titled the initiative, “Project Inspire.” “Inspire” means “to breathe life into,” and that is exactly what she yearned to do—breathe life into a situation where many people lacked hope.
Daily, in what Daphne referred to as The Kennedy Homes Project, she coordinated the fulfillment of the dreams communicated to her by the hotel’s inhabitants. She coordinated field trips and programs there for youth including reading nights, dance and stepping classes, football, bowling, a magic show, and a fashion show, among others. She was affectionately referred to as “The Activity Lady,” and made it a point to create sustainable relationships between UF students, the community, and former Kennedy Homes residents. She found out that the Kennedy Homes community was known to be the most dangerous in Gainesville and was warned to decrease her interaction with its residents. She continued her efforts, and it was one of her most fulfilling experiences as a community activist.
After the families were eventually moved into various housing alternatives, the project was over, but Daphne realized there was yet work to be done. There were many communities that needed inspiration and programming that could bring hope into what seemed like hopeless situations.
For years, Daphne has done programs around dance—her passion—in communities she was often warned not to enter. These communities included Gainesville, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and Washington, D.C. She has combined dance, leadership, mentorship and team building to try to impact lives, all under the name of Project Inspire.
While in her second year of college, she also proceeded to create a scholarship program for her alma mater, providing personal donations for book scholarships for young ladies who participated in the auxiliary squad. As a high-achieving student, it was hard for her to get scholarships, and she also knew she had not been prepared for some of the social and academic challenges of navigating the college and career process. Daphne started the Daphne L. Charles Auxiliary Scholarship Program as an email-based program where young ladies would gain the tools necessary to navigate the college and career process while also receiving mentorship in areas that would help them to be successful. Book scholarships were funded mostly by Daphne’s personal donations. This program has evolved over the years and now serves three schools in the state of Florida.
In May of 2013, Daphne officially registered Project Inspire as a nonprofit organization, hoping to expand the reach and capacity of what started out as an act of hope. Her hopes are that, in the future, Project Inspire will truly be a movement, spreading from community to community, creating sustainable connections between community members and the resources within their communities to improve the state of society and create endless possibilities for all youth and communities alike.
In 2015, Project Inspire celebrated its 10th anniversary by launching a national professional development webinar series to provide wider access to personal, professional, and financial development to inspire and empower youth and young adults. We also expanded our scholarship from a one-time $200 scholarship to a $2,000 scholarship distributed through $250 disbursements each fall and spring semester for 4 years of each scholarship recipient’s undergraduate matriculation. In 2015, we also began to match each of our scholarship applicants with professionals associated with their career interests to provide them with a stronger foundation towards their personal and professional success.