• Annie Gense

How I Became The Co-Founder of a Nonprofit at Age 22

Last March, I had a pretty solid idea of what the next year of my life was going to look like: I was going to enjoy my final semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, move to Spain with my boyfriend, start applying to graduate schools, get a job…


Exactly two months before my graduation date, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US. In an instant, every plan I had for the foreseeable future became uncertain.


At the beginning of May 2020, my former boss, Rachel, asked if I could give her a call. She was the director of a SoCal day camp where I had worked as a counselor the previous summer and, although we had kept in touch with a few “How are you?” texts here and there, I could tell that she was now reaching out to me for a different purpose.


When we got on the phone, Rachel explained that she had been noticing a crisis amongst parents of children with special needs. The sudden transition from in-person to online learning was causing a detriment to their education, and many kids with special needs were left without the necessary accommodations they received in the classroom.


As a special needs parent herself, Rachel saw this as an opportunity to help other families who were struggling. She envisioned a non-profit organization that offered virtual tutoring for kids with special needs, and she needed a business partner. She told me to take 24 hours to think about it, but I agreed immediately...what did I have to lose?


In the early development phase, the two of us decided that we wanted to help kids in more aspects of life than just academics. Rachel, who had just finished a multi-week certification course in mindfulness education, saw the potential of incorporating fun and interactive mindfulness activities into normal tutoring sessions. With that thought, Exceptional Mindset Tutors officially came to be.


We set out with a week-by-week plan for the summer that would have us ready to launch before the upcoming 2020/2021 school year. Rachel, now our Executive Director, was responsible for reaching out to parents, schools, teachers, and other industry professionals who could be of help in the establishment of our organization. As the Chief Operations Officer, my main tasks were to design and build a functioning website, create a marketing plan, recruit and interview tutors, and research different types of scheduling and video conferencing software.


On paper, I was not qualified for this role. I had never designed a website, never interviewed potential employees, never scheduled meetings with software engineers, and the only marketing experience I had was as the Social Media Chair of my sorority in college.


None of these things mattered to Rachel. She saw my potential and threw me into the deep end. And somehow, I figured out how to swim!


Before the pandemic hit, I never envisioned myself becoming the co-founder of an education non-profit. I loved working with kids in my previous jobs as a nanny and camp counselor, but I had little experience working with children with special needs. I loved doing yoga throughout college, but I had little experience practicing mindfulness and meditation on my own time. Throughout the last year, however, I gained the experience that I had lacked. I learned by doing.


Rachel and I are so proud of this beautiful thing that we have built, and we cannot wait to continue moving forward. Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled than hearing about the wonderful impact that our tutors have made on the lives of their students.


How did I become a co-founder of a nonprofit at the age of 22? Someone gave me the chance to do something good for the world and I had the determination to put my whole heart into doing so. That’s it.



You can read more about Exceptional Mindset's story and philosophy here!