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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2015

Beyond the Degree: A Sweet Spin on a Serious Problem

Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay turned to an unlikely source—cotton candy—to help raise awareness of HIV/AIDS

Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay

Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley is known as a fun place to work. But it was even sweeter when employees sampled Oscar William’s Gourmet Cotton Candy during a meeting last year. Each Friday, Mark Zuckerberg shares stories of how Facebook impacts communities, and that particular meeting featured a video of Oscar William’s success in raising money for HIV/AIDS awareness and education programs.

Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay ’07, coowner and founder of Oscar William, never thought her company would be noticed by Zuckerberg. In fact, she had forgotten she’d sent a simple submission to the Facebook Stories page months before. And she certainly never expected the e-mails that soon came flooding in from prominent Facebook employees professing their love for Oscar William: “I love the pumpkin spice flavor!” “We love what you’re doing in the community!”

“This is just not real,” Holland-Kornegay remembers thinking. “Zuckerberg is a social revolutionist; people are always trying to figure out how to get to this guy. I’m little old Tasha in Apex, North Carolina, selling cotton candy, and the founder of Facebook has his marketing team calling and e-mailing me.”

While she may have been surprised at the response, the fact that Holland-Kornegay found a way to connect with Facebook’s headquarters doesn’t surprise those who know her well. She has been forging meaningful connections with others since she first acted as the “community therapist,” chatting with neighbors on her stoop while growing up in Few Gardens Public Housing in Durham, North Carolina. She realizes now that those interactions with her neighbors molded her for a career in counseling.

Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay

Holland-Kornegay completed her PhD in Human Services and is now a licensed counselor providing outpatient mental health therapy. She credits Walden with showing her that if there is a problem, there must be a solution—and how to bring the two together. She and her husband, William, must also be teaching this to their son, Kyree—he’s the one who suggested cotton candy as a unique solution to her fundraising problem.

Holland-Kornegay donates her time teaching young women about HIV/AIDS, and she needed to raise money to further boost awareness of the illness. She wasn’t having much luck with grant writing, so her son suggested she raise her own funds. Soon they were brainstorming flavors for the family’s organic, kosher, vegan, gluten-free, and allergen-free cotton candy. Oscar William now uses 10% of its sales to distribute HIV/AIDS pamphlets and sponsor educational workshops.

“My friends were affected by HIV and AIDS,” Holland- Kornegay says. “I wanted to help people, and this was the only way I knew how. I wanted to tie in a nonthreatening, fun product to ease the discussion of such a serious topic.”

As “little old Tasha” learned, social media really works. “You can reach people and impact communities you never dreamed of being able to touch,” she says.

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