“When you give and contribute to something bigger than yourself, that’s where you’ll find true happiness,” Andi Long gently voices while sipping on a latte. It's a warm Saturday afternoon at a local coffeeshop, where Andi sits and chats about her work with the Illumination Foundation, living in Prague, and how she sees style as more of a narrative and less about trends.
Tell us about what the Illumination Foundations hopes to achieve?
We want to break the cycle of homelessness, especially intergenerational homelessness and chronic homelessness. One way we do this is providing assistance through our children resource center. We provide kids with after school programs, tutoring, and therapy. For adults, we offer recuperative care. Hospitals refer homeless patients to us, and we'll connect these individuals to long term housing.
And what is your role within this foundation?
I'm a Communications & Development Coordinator. My goal is to spread awareness for the foundation and our cause. I'll organize fundraising events such as our yearly carnival and the OC Chef's Table. I also seek to educate the community about homelessness.
What motivates you to do your work?
I was invited to the Santa Ana Civic Center. There, I witnessed homeless children who literally called a parking structure with towels "home". While visiting weekly, I began to notice that families would disappear over time. I learned that the Illumination Foundation was helping these families by providing them with bridge housing (i.e. hotels) and assisting them with tools to start a stable life.
Why do you think more people aren't aware of homelessness in Orange County?
It's easy to make assumptions about the area, and homelessness is an uncomfortable subject. That's why the foundation seeks to shine a light on homelessness and illuminate the issue. Once it comes to the surface, people can create change.
How do you suggest people get involved?
Volunteering and seeing things first hand. There are also many workshops and seminars individuals can attend to educate themselves. It's also important to be open-minded and realize that homelessness isn't just the cause of poor choices and substance abuse. Often times simply having bad luck and unforeseen circumstances can knock you off your feet.
So what does "home" mean to you?
I don't think it exists in four walls. I think of a feeling of belonging. Somewhere you can be yourself and let your hair down.
Let's talk about your style. How would you describe it?
Definitely relaxed, but still business casual. I need to look professional, but comfort is key. A lot of the things I wear feel like blankets. I guess I just love that feeling of security, plus I hate the cold!
Would you say that you follow trends?
No, not really. But it's good to think about the narrative of my clothing. By becoming more mindful of your purchases, you can better the world. And it's important to make that choice with brands like Kestan. You know that your purchases are a vote for a more ethically minded world when it comes to production and the source of their raw materials.
In that case, how do you view style and fashion?
I love the idea of empowering fearless women through their style. You don't have to look a certain way to be powerful, and it's incredible that Kestan supports this idea. Their clothing has a different story depending on who is wearing it, but it's united in that each individual is fearless and a leader. They take ownership of their story. And this freedom trickles down to who is touching the clothing and who made it. It's all weaved together in this narrative.
Let's talk about Prague. You lived there for a year?
Yes! I would describe myself as a wanderlust, and I decided my senior year of college that I just had to live abroad. I got a job teaching English, and immediately bought my flight. In fact, I bought the flight at In-n-Out before I even told my parents!
That sounds scary!
I've been thinking about taking risks lately, and how important it is to take risks in your life. I hope to be an encouragement for others to live the life they imagine. Speaking of risks, I want to get my scuba diving license!
The sun begins to set, and we wrap up our chat. While joking about the impossible task of finding a burger in Prague, you can't help but be taken the ease of Andi's smile. As an advocate for the homeless, a wanderlust, and with some serious networking chops under her belt, we're proud to have Andi be part of our Kestan Community.
To read more about the Illumination Foundation, please see their site here.