Inspired by her personal interactions with kids she encountered on her travels, Shannon Kozee saw a need to help support children in their pursuit of education. Through partnerships with organizations around the world, Hope Pak exists to bring a glimmer of hope to kids through the practical gift of school supplies inside a backpack.

It’s for this inspiring reason Red Carpet Life is featuring the rich and fruitful life of Shannon Kozee.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where do you live? What is your day job?

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia and my family all still lives there. Just out of college I moved to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to start my first job at Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization, where I led marketing and PR for their shoe box project. After seven years there, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee six years ago, and have since fallen in love with this place. I’ve had a few jobs in town, but for the past three years I have been with Compassion International as an events marketing regional director. I live in a small town just outside of Nashville, in a cute little house with one adorable cat. I work from home and travel a lot for my day job, which keeps things fun and different each week.

What is Hope Pak? How did you come up with the idea?

Hope Pak is a side project I created and am so excited to see how it’s growing. The idea is for people to fill backpacks with school supplies, toys, toiletries, and practical items for kids in need. We will collect them in August during back-to-school time, and deliver them to kids by the year’s end.

I had the idea to create Hope Pak in January 2016. The short answer is, I feel like God told me to do it. I know that may sound crazy to some! The long answer is that I have seen a lot of kids living in poverty, and I know what their needs are. I know that lack of education and resources are key factors in keeping people locked in the cycle of poverty. And I know that backpacks filled with school supplies and gifts can be a simple way to help.

A backpack is not going to change the life of a child in need, but it can bring a smile to their face, as well as provide some essential items that can help them with their education and personal development. That has been my true goal with these backpacks – to provide a glimmer of hope for a child in need.

In the hands of trusted Christian partners delivering them to children they work with, I know the impact will be great. Once collected, they will be delivered through local Christian partners in the countries we work in. I reached out to my network of friends working in or for organizations that serve needy kids in about 25 different countries. These people are missionaries, lawyers, pastors, ministry workers, businessmen, and more from all walks of life. It’s been really neat to see who say, “Yes, please send us Hope Paks!” I am in different stages of confirming the delivery sites with many countries for many kids.

What is your hope/vision for Hope Pak?

One of the things I wanted to do with Hope Pak was to be intentionally small and agile. I’ve met so many generous and adventurous people in my travels that I wanted a way to sort of round them all up and connect them together through a common cause. Hope Pak has been a way for me to do that. To ask them, “how can we help you serve the kids in your communities?” and make it happen.

I am hoping to start with about 5 countries and 500 backpacks for the first year. I wanted to start in just a few countries so that I can learn some best practices to carry into the future. Like how best to ship the items, what the kids like best and need more of, and how to deliver and follow up on them. So far we have 3 countries confirmed for delivery – Brazil, Guatemala, and South Africa.

For the future, I don’t know what will happen… I am focusing on securing delivery countries, raising donations, and collecting the paks for 2016 for now, and will think about the future once those commitments have been met, and hopefully exceeded!

I’m so thankful to the people who have come alongside this project already. People have donated funds, sent me feedback and ideas, notified me of deals on backpacks and supplies, planned to make some paks, and generally sent their encouragement and prayers for Hope Pak.

I hope these paks will bring smiles to the kids who receive them, and alleviate some of their hardships. Going to school can be so difficult for children living in poverty. They have to walk long distances to school, don’t have access to supplies, have under-trained teachers, and have tasks at home that keep them from attending. I’ve seen kids sharing notebook pages – writing on them, erasing it, writing again, and erasing again until the pages are thin and tearing. And I’ve seen kids break one pencil into pieces so their friends can use a little nub of the pencil to write with. And I’ve seen moms weep over their child getting a new backpack – just what they have been praying to receive. Hope Pak is inspired by those stories.

As you’ve served and cared for others in your career and in your personal life, what has been one of the greatest impacts you’ve experienced?

Not too long ago I took a quiz that was supposed to reveal my strengths and weaknesses for work. I was very high on the empathy scale, which can indeed be both point of strength and weakness! I can get very passionate about a cause I care about – a fight for justice, a people group who need support, or someone who is raising money for something important. But for me, it almost always comes back to helping kids who are hurting or in need.

Every job I’ve had in my career had some aspect of helping kids and ministry to kids. It’s top of mind for me at work and in my personal life. Kids are the most vulnerable people in our society, and we have a huge responsibility as a global community to care for them. We must fight for causes that impact them, like curing diseases, access to education, economic development, clean water, human rights, trafficking prevention, orphan care, refugee resettlement, and more.

Personally I am a child sponsor of 3 kids, a big sister to a girl in my local community, and a welcoming volunteer for Muslim refugee families in my city. I pack shoebox gifts every year, I donate to anti-trafficking organizations, and financially support adoption fundraisers. I believe in the power of crowd-funding and groundswell support. No one can do it alone, but if we all give a little, we can make big things happen. And that is what I hope to see happen with Hope Pak as people catch the vision and join in.

What would you tell people who want to be involved serving others but aren’t sure where to start?

When you post photos with adorable little ones in the Andes mountains of Ecuador on a “work” trip, people are bound to ask, “Um, how can I do that too?!” Because of my career path, I get this question a lot. What I always ask people is – what are you doing now? You say you want to help people. You say you have a heart to serve people. You say you are called to missions or nonprofit work. What are you doing now to learn and prepare? Are you living out those passions even now?

Try your hand at several different ways to serve and help people, and see what strikes your interest most. Find out where you feel most excited about what you’re doing, and pursue that further. There are so many needs, and yet, so many ways to help. It’s not always easy. You’re going to have to get out of the house, set aside the computer, interact with people, have awkward conversations and you may crash headfirst into cultural differences and new situations you’ve never experienced before. But I hope that it will make you feel more alive than ever before.

To learn more about Hope Pak and to get involved, visit hopepak.org. Email Shannon at hopepakinfo@gmail.com. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @pakuphope and Instagram @hopepak. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com.hopepak. Thank you!

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