The grand-prize winner was Kyria Henry of Round Hill, Virginia, who put the prize to good use in her project, Paws4People, which helps improve the lives of children, adolescents, and veterans with physical, neurological, and psychiatric problems.
I interviewed Kyria Henry to get her insights about how to win a big prize like this, and to find out how the $100,000 prize has changed her life and her project. Here are her responses:
How did you hear about Ikea's Life Improvement Project Contest? What made you decide to enter?
Kyria Henry: I received an email from one of my chapter Directors who had received the email from IKEA. I thought that we could use a $100,000, so it was well worth the time to take a chance!
Do you enter contests and sweepstakes regularly, or was this the first time for you?
Kyria Henry: I know we have a compelling story to tell, but I am usually so tied up with the daily requirements of keeping the organization growing and running that I tend to delete any forwards or corporate emails, let alone take the time to enter a contest. I'm not sure what it was that made me stop and fill out the form that day - maybe not wanting to hear from an angry Director for ignoring her email! - but I am very glad that something made me do it!
What do you think it was about your entry that really made it stand out and get the judges' attention?
Kyria Henry: I can never be certain what aspect of what we do touches someone's heart, because our mission is so multifaceted. We train Assistance Dogs not only for children and adolescents with physical, neurological, and emotional disabilities; but also for veterans and active duty service members facing any number of challenges resulting from their service to our country. Our dogs are trained by both male and female inmates, and most recently by college students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. It seems almost everyone can find a personal connection to some aspect of what we do, how we do it, and who we are doing it for.
Can you describe how it felt to be notified that you were a finalist? How it felt to win?
Kyria Henry: When I was notified that I was a finalist, my brain kicked into high gear. Some who know me might describe me as a super-planner. So, when I found out the winner would be chosen by voting, we set to work getting the word out in every way we could. Literally every day of voting, many paws4people volunteers were hard at work lobbying for votes, just like I was in a political campaign! The day I received the phone call from the IKEA team about winning, I literally had to pull my car over to regain composure. A lot of people had worked hard trying to ensure we would win, and I was overwhelmed knowing how much more paws4people™ foundation would be able to do for our dogs and clients this year with the prize.
Part of the contest involved getting votes for your entry. Can you give my readers any advice about how to get votes for their contest entries?
Kyria Henry: I definitely put those closest to me hard at work. We didn't settle for one excited, explanatory email burst to our address books. By the time voting was halfway done, people were probably pretty tired of me. We emailed everyday to remind people to vote. We included some jokes, cute pictures, anything to attempt to keep people from ignoring the email. I may be on some people's spam list now, but somehow keeping emails regular and updating Facebook relentlessly worked!
How has winning changed your life? How is your project coming along?
Kyria Henry: The prize allowed us to increase our operations this year in terms of number of dogs being trained. When 2011 wraps up, we will have had four litters of puppies whose medical expenses and entry costs to our training program were funded from the contest. Furthermore, we have been able to implement our paws4people™/UNCW Assistance Dog Training Program. This planned four-course Certificate Program allows students of all majors to learn how Assistance Dogs affect our society, and how a custom-trained Assistance Dog could enhance their career. Students who complete all four courses will be eligible to receive a certified paws4people™ Assistance Dog to utilize in their career upon graduation; for instance as a Recreation Therapist, a Special Education Teacher, etc. The funds from the prize have allowed me to relocate to instruct the courses, and the first course in now in progress.
Do you have any tips or advice for people who are interested in entering this year's Life Improvement Project Contest, or other contests in general?
Kyria Henry: Just go for it. You never know how it might change your life. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason; so if you feel compelled to go out on a limb and take the chance, there is likely something very important you will gain from it - win or lose.
More about the Paws4People Project:
According to the Paws4People Website, Kyria founded the project back in 1999, when she was only 12 years old. 12 years later, the project has helped 175 people with assistance dogs to help with physical and psychological problems like PTSD, seizure disorders, limited mobility, and more. All services are provided free-of-charge, although training a single dog can cost $35,000.
For more information about the Paws4People program, including how to volunteer, how to request a dog, stories of people who have been helped, and more, visit HelpKyria.com.