SOAR! is a scholarship award program that not only changes the lives of three women, but breathes hope and encouragement into people across the nation. The SOAR! Scholarship helps three women each year to make their dream of building a photography business come true.

Starting in November, we invite women to submit a 90 second video that shares why they have what it takes to SOAR! in building their own photography business. In mid January we announce the three winners and begin their next 12 months of self discovery, empowerment and support to building a business that will last. The scholarship recipients will receive camera gear from Sony, beautiful websites and blogs from SmugMug, designed by Fast Line Media (Smug Mug’s Partner). They will also receive software from Adobe that makes their life of photo processing easier. The women will not only be mentored by me and Brian but other industry leaders such as Jeff Jochum, CEO of Me Ra Koh Media, as well as receive monthly business coaching from my former business coaches at the The Wisdom Connection. Every SOAR! partner that you see on the Partner page is here to empower our three recipients to go for their dreams.

But SOAR! is not for the faint of heart. The recipients will be required to document their year long journey on the SOAR! website through weekly blog posts, videos, images, teleconferences and more. In turn, the next 12 months will change their lives and give them a Confidence they have never known. And even better, all entrants and followers of SOAR! get to shadow their experience and grow alongside them in real time through the SOAR! blog.

SOAR! is about understanding the wind that lifts us. SOAR! is about having the courage to believe our dreams were given to us for a reason. SOAR! is about climbing swiftly and powerfully! SOAR! is about helping you jump, take flight, and believe that you can not only learn to fly but SOAR!

THE BIRTH OF SOAR!

During one of our CONFIDENCE Workshops in 2009, we (Me Ra and Brian) had an attendee share that her husband took out a micro loan to pay for her workshop registration. He had been laid off for some time and due to the recession wasn’t able to find work. They believed her dream of having a photography business was their best bet at keeping them afloat during this difficult time. Her story has never left my heart.

Every week I receive hundreds of emails from women who dream about having a side photography business, who are deeply affected by the economy, who are struggling to stay encouraged. I want to wrap my arms around every one. As many of you know, I’ve had years of traumatic experiences that have caused me to spend many years in the dark, struggling to not lose sight of hope. I know how days can turn into weeks that turn into months of wondering whether you’ll ever get a lucky break. Will the tide of events ever change?

I wanted to do something tangible to help women. I wanted to create something that women could put their hands on, something that would dramatically change their lives. How could Brian (my husband and partner) and I pull together our best resources to make a difference—to impact not only a few winners but women across the nation—infusing them with hope? In the Fall of 2009, I sat down at my desk with a big piece of paper, and over the next five hours, Brian and I drafted out the idea of SOAR!

At first, SOAR! was a possible scholarship that would involve me mentoring them throughout the year and Sony possibly granting them camera equipment. By the end of that first five hours SOAR! had become something much bigger. With the help of Jeff Jochum (SmugMug's Cheif Marketing Officer at the time), we stretched the idea of SOAR! more and more. What would it be like to shadow these women in real time through blog posts and videos? This way thousands could be empowered.

I put together a proposal that night and sent it to Sony. To my delight, Sony was ready and willing to help women—to spread a message of hope and encouragement. SmugMug fronted the bill for web design and endless other pieces that go unseen and are pivotal to the success of this size of project. More partners, each whom I respect, all offered their time and services. But the piece that has inspired me most is that not one partner just made a no-brainer type contribution. Instead, each partner put incredible creative energy and generosity into giving BIG. Through the combined efforts of every partner, the viral marketing campaign for the first year of SOAR! reached 800K people!

The dictionary uses specific verbs to describe SOAR!: “to climb swiftly and powerfully”. The three SOAR! recipients are given thousands of dollars of camera gear, services and mentoring. But throughout the their twelve months, they are also given something you can’t quantify. They are given the gift of guided challenge—challenge to CLIMB heights they never imagined. They will build new found strength which leads to empowerment. When they have made the leaps of risking over and over again, our goal is that they will be empowered to catch the wind. And we will not only witness them take flight, but we will see them SOAR!

Meet our first three SOAR! recipients for 2009-10, Jennifer Armstrong, Lindsay Baumgartner and Linda Baylis, watch their journey and hear about the impact the SOAR! Scholarship had on their lives and businesses. The greatest honor of the SOAR! Scholarship was to watch these three women transform over twelve months of hard work. We are happy to say that even though they are finished with their SOAR! year, they have excitedly agreed to become encouraging Sponsors to this year’s new SOAR! Recipients!

If you are looking for a community of women to support your photography dreams, no matter how small or big, join our Soarority Forum at www.soarority.com. I guarantee that you will find inspiration, support and empowerment for as much as you put in! No dream is too small with this community!

Join the Journey of Learning to SOAR!
Me Ra Koh