Everyday Hero: Irie's effort gets national recognition
In Irie Page's family, "giving back" is paramount.
"Service is a really important part of being in a community," says Irie's mom, Sarah.
But Irie, an eighth-grader from Portland, has taken that message to new heights, and she's earned national recognition for it.
Irie organized an important program last November on safe dating and consent. More than 500 people, including hundreds of kids and young adults, attended. But how she got there shows that effort matters.
The catalyst was hearing Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speak in person.
"Two summers ago, I got to see Malala speak here in Portland, so I think that was the inspiration for the project," recalls Page. "One of the things she said was 'Everybody's voice matters.'"
Irie knew she wanted to do something, but she wasn't sure what. Then came a fateful visit to the library, where she happened across a book called "PhilanthroParties!", written by a 17-year-old girl.
That gave her the inspiration to have a birthday party with a purpose -- but she still wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to do. She considered a showing of Malala's movie. She even thought of having a speaker come after the show.
"My first idea was Emma Watson, but that wasn't going to happen," laughs Page.
But it was around that time that the #metoo movement took off, and stories of sexual assault began dominating the news. And that led Irie to Mike Domitrz, a nationally respected sex educator and author whose Date Safe Project aims to stop sexual violence and educate young adults, teens and their parents, and even military members, about safe dating, relationships, intimacy and consent.
"His presentation is very interactive, very relatable. It's not at all a lecture or any standard, traditional presentation on consent or sexual assault in any way," says Irie.
But getting him to Portland would take some work. As a well-known national expert on talking to young people, Domitrz is in high demand. His speaking fee reflects that: $6,500.
"Hundreds and hundreds of phone calls," she says, "and I followed every phone call with an email."
In short order she found herself gaining expertise in typing, cold calling, and outreach. But she was still a couple thousand dollars short of the speaking fee.
Then Brenda Tracy caught wind of Irie's campaign. Tracy is a rape survivor who visits colleges to educate students and student-athletes about sexual assault. Irie's mission obviously resonated with her. After months of $5, $10, and $25 donations on her GoFundMe page, Irie got a surprise.
"She donated the remaining $2,175, so she was kinda listed as one of our sponsors," says Irie.
With the money raised, Irie sat down for an online interview with Domitrz. In the middle of that interview, Domitrz dropped a bombshell.
"He surprised me by announcing that he would be donating back his entire speaking fee for me to further support my community," says Irie.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and, not coincidentally, on Valentine's Day Irie announced the local organizations that would be benefiting from the generosity of all the donors and sponsors and from Domitrz himself: Project Niyyah, The Domestic Violence Healing Circle at NAYA, and the Call to Safety Hotline.
"He said it was the first time in his entire, I think he's been working more than 20 years, that he's seen a teen like me do something like this to bring his event and take the initiative and fundraise and all of it," she remembers.
Finally, it was time for the presentation, and it was more than Irie had ever dreamed it would be.
"It was really a large, HUGE, reaction," she says. "I had always hoped it would make a difference and impact people, but it was much larger than I think I had anticipated."
The turnout was tremendous. It filled The Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University, with every one of the 475 seats filled, and dozens more people standing to watch. And the kids who attended got to take home a free copy of Domitrz's book, "Can I Kiss You?", which he also donated to Irie's cause.
And this all led to another surprise for Irie. She'd applied for a national award, The Prudential Spirit of Community Award, months ago. Early in February, she learned she's won the honor for middle school students in Oregon. She'll join 101 other middle and high school students on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in April, where she'll attend a recognition ceremony, do community service projects, and sight-see. The award comes with $1,000 cash and a silver medallion, and Irie could win one of several national awards there, which would mean more cash, $5,000 to donate to a cause of her choice, and a trophy for her school.
"I mean, I don't know if I ever want to go back to a normal party," Irie says.
She says she appreciates the recognition, if only because it's shining a more intense light on a place where the world needs to improve.
"It's really just a reminder that sexual assault is real, and this is all happening, and a reminder about consent, and what we need to be talking about in our country," she says.
And the whole experience, and how Irie navigated through it and ended with a remarkable gift to her peers, has impressed Irie's mom.
"I think, when you stay committed to your goal, you can stay really clear," Sarah Page says. "And if Irie's anything, it's really clear."
"I did not do it to get recognition. I never planned on being on the news, or doing interviews or anything like that," Irie says. "I just wanted to make a difference."