The Girls actress is raising money for the educational organization Horizons National

By Jeff Nelson
Updated May 09, 2016 11:30 AM
Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Allison Williams is just one of those Girls that gives back.

For years, the actress has had a passion for eliminating the education gap thanks to Horizons National, a program launched in her hometown school.

She’s now an official ambassador for the nonprofit, but Williams has been connected to the group since she was in grade school in Connecticut.

“It was started at the elementary school that my mom and I went to called New Canaan Country School,” says Williams, 28. “It was started in 1965 because the principal at the time realized that the campus was just lying dormant during the summer, so why not fill it with kids who could use a little extra preoccupation during the summer, who maybe come from under-served families or ESL families to give some extra stimulus?”

Since launching in 1965, Horizons National has grown to serve 51 communities in 17 states, offering summer school to combat the “summer slide” and aid kids from low-income and other under-served backgrounds via a six-week program.

“I sort of look at it as the hacking generation’s guide to giving because it’s very logical: It takes preexisting resources, like a school, and a donor base that’s wealthy enough to support a program that is also close enough to low-income families or under-served areas that would comprise the student body,” says Williams.

From swimming lessons and refresher courses in various studies to providing meaningful mentors, Horizons National is working to provide equal education across the country.

“I was talking to kids in the program and how they feel about Horizons generally, and they were both like, ‘We dread going back to school because the kids there aren’t motivated learners.’ They used that phrase! These are second graders!” says Williams of a recent eye-opening experience talking to beneficiaries of the program.

“I’d never looked at my classroom’s analytically like this, but when you see such a stark difference Our public education system in so many places is just failing these kids, and once they’re exposed to what education can be – that it can be engaging and fun, completely outside the realm of learning – they go back to their other schools and realize the inequity of it.”

In addition to bonding with some youth as part of Horizons’ buddy system in the past, the Girls star is now using her celebrity to advance the effort.

Most recently, that means: Through May 12, Williams is running a 10 Days of Giving campaign on her social media accounts (Allison Williams on Facebook and @aw, Instagram and @awilly88 on Snapchat) to raise money for Horizons. She’s partnered with various businesses and friends – from Jennifer Meyer jewelry and Keds to Apple – to give away some serious swag, all in the name of charity.

“I’m gonna post a product that I love, and we worked with each of these companies to donate their product to us. So I’m gonna say: If you donate $50, you get a pair of Keds, and we have 200 pairs, so the first 200 people who reach out to us get the Keds. And every day there’s different products,” says Williams, who sends handwritten notes to everyone who participates and donates.

And this isn’t the first time Williams has raised awareness and money for the organization using social media: She ran a similar initiative last year, but only for one day.

“I got so much out of it last year, even though my hand basically broke – it’s literally not been the same since, I went to do a doctor, after I wrote hundreds of page-long notes, and it gets you after a while,” she says.

But the impact she felt she was making continues to drive her.

“Being able to look up someone’s address and say, ‘Okay, you are 15 miles away from a Horizons program, and the program starts and ends on these dates, and you should go visit, and if you say that you are interested in how it works, they will show you around.’ Or, ‘Oh, you’re from Houston. We don’t have a program in Houston; we absolutely should. Please let us know if there’s a facility you think could host us. You’d be a hero to so many kids,'” says Williams.

“Selfishly, it allows me to be in really intimate communication to people who have already shown a vested interest in our organization and endeavor.”

The actress is so invested in the effort herself that she actually asked for donations to Horizons in lieu of wedding gifts when she married Ricky Van Veen in a star-studded September ceremony, attended by A-list pals like Katy Perry and John Mayer

The results? An entirely new Horizons location.

“For our wedding, we didn’t do a registry, we just asked for donations to Horizons, and most people don’t donate when they see that, they think, ‘Phew, I don t have to give a present!’ Because they think the bride and groom are never gonna see it,” says Williams.

“But we wrote it in such a way that was clear that we were gonna see it as the donations came in – as a nudge, like, ‘We will know who you are if you don’t do it.’ And we raised enough money to open up a whole new program in Austin, Texas, which is starting this summer – which is crazy! The mere act of us getting married meant we could open up a whole new Horizons.”

As driven as ever, Williams says: “My hope is we’ll figure out a way how to teach our children equally, as it should be everywhere.”