In 1994, when Jenny M. Buccos graduated from Fonda-Fultonville High School, she wasn’t dreaming of the Champion of Change title recently bestowed on her by the White House.
She was probably thinking about studying theater in Boston. In fact, nearly two decades later, she was surprised last week when she checked her email to find a message beginning with the words, “Dear Jenny, Congratulations!”
“I don’t even know who nominated me,” she said.
The honor is part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative.
Small groups of community-driven educators and entrepreneurs are chosen from a pool of 15,000 nominees and recognized for their efforts each week.
Buccos, who now lives in Brooklyn, was carried to the top of that pool by her work on ProjectExplorer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing a world perspective into the classroom through free interactive Web content.
• Visit www.projectexplorer.org for information about the nonprofit.
• See other Champions of Change at www.whitehouse.gov/champions.
“We live in a global society,” she said. “People can’t just say ‘I’m an American’ and not learn about the rest of the world.”
Buccos launched the site in 2003 with the financial help of a few friends and a small crew of volunteers.
Their first project was a series of travel videos, essays and lessons on Shakespeare’s England.
She wrote a letter to actor and known Shakespeare enthusiast Kevin Spacey, who runs the Old Vic Theatre in London, asking if he would help.
“Once Spacey was on board, everything fell into place,” she said. “People donated hotel rooms, equipment.”
At the end of the trip, Buccos had 40 short videos and a full lesson plan for only about $20,000.
ProjectExplorer.org was off and running.
Since that time, she’s overseen the shooting and editing of 375 short films all over the globe, interviewed international figures from U.N. ambassadors to Nobel Prize winners, and written dozens of lesson plans.
All that knowledge is funneled through the website, giving students an insight into the world outside their hometown and racking up roughly 450,000 hits a month.
She’s now the director, producer and series creator of the nonprofit entity she created.
As with most good ideas, Project Explorer took a leap of faith to bring to life.
Buccos was working for a New York City investment bank in 1999 when the idea first came to her.
She was sent to Tokyo and Hong Kong on business, an experience she said changed her life.
“I came back thinking how valuable travel could be to students,” she said.
Then, in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Buccos lost her job with the bank, the idea came back to her.
“I watched as people around me developed a fear of the unknown,” she said, “and the bank gave me a severance package, so I had time to think about what to do about it.”
While Buccos credits more recent life experience with giving her the starting boost, her mother, Claudia, who still lives in Fonda, said her daughter has always been a motivated person.
“She’s a hard worker, always has been,” she said. “And we tried to travel with the children. Nothing extensive, Canada and Mexico, but we wanted them to know there was more to the world than Fonda.”
ProjectExplorer.org can go a long way to giving a student that larger perspective, which, at least to the White House, is a noteworthy accomplishment.