Photography by Jessica Turner.

When Madeleine Chen was 8, her mother enrolled her in contemporary and jazz dance classes. She’d been struggling with confidence, but dance provided a way to make friends and express her personality. 

Elizabeth Echt found music to be a method of self-expression. She began playing violin at 6 years old. Now, she sings and plays guitar, piano, drums, mandolin and bass. A couple of years ago, she joined a band called Love Club.

“That atmosphere really helps you build your confidence level and express yourself,” Echt says. 

Chen and Echt, both sophomores at The Hockaday School, wanted to help other young people like them. Dance and music were so transformative in their lives. They knew the arts could change others, too. 

“We just kind of saw all the harsh expectations in society, and what really helped us combat those feelings was going into fine arts, finding another outlet to express ourselves,” Chen says. 

Last year, they decided to create a nonprofit, Visions for Confidence, and have already been able to provide scholarships for students pursuing the arts. One recipient was able to get started on a professional dancing career, while another used the funds to enroll in a competition, where she won a $100,000 scholarship to attend Pace University. In addition to providing scholarships, Echt and Chen teach music and dance classes to students who can’t access other instructional opportunities. For example, Chen, who competed in Youth America Grand Prix’s world finals last spring, taught a ballet camp at HappyFeet Dance School. In September, Echt and Chen planned to volunteer at Rays of Light, an organization that offers respite care to families of children with special needs. 

“We didn’t really know what the basics were of a nonprofit,” Chen says. “We just knew that we wanted to do something and we wanted to help people.” 

The first step they took was fundraising. Initially, they tried selling some of their old dresses on eBay. When that wasn’t successful, they started selling on the side of the road, and now they accept and sell gently used clothing donations. Recently, they had a pop-up at Traders Village, and Echt took a job at TBC Consignment to learn more about the resale process. 

Echt and Chen are working with another Hockaday student who donates profits from embroidered items she sells to Visions for Confidence. They also joined Johnson & Johnson’s Matching Gifts program to boost fundraising. So far, they have raised about $10,000.  

Besides figuring out how to generate funds, Echt and Chen had to create a website. The first one they designed was “horrible,” by their own admission. But they’re feeling much better about version 2.0.

“It was a long process to get to where we are today,” Echt says. 

Echt and Chen are hoping to grow their organization by recruiting people who specialize in other kinds of fine arts and starting a club at Hockaday.

“There are a lot of communities right now that we’ve seen that aren’t able to get any resources for fine arts,” Chen says. “And we thought that being able to be a team and work together, that we could reach those communities and help bring fine arts to them.”