As founder and executive director Adrienne Diercks laughingly puts it, the origin story of Project Success sounds "kind of dramatic."

Nearly 30 years ago, she was riding a camel in Cairo, living out her post-college dream of traveling the world, when she realized that she wanted to help others follow their dreams, too. "I had no money to travel or understanding of how to travel, but I had a year to plan, I had a year to dream, and I was fortunate enough to have people who thought I could do it," she says. How could she provide these same resources of time, space, and support for others? The answer couldn't wait until she got back to the United States—instead, she went to a cafe and began to sketch out Project Success.

Project Success is a nonprofit that holds regular workshops and excursions for middle school and high school students in Minneapolis so students feel empowered to not only dream, but to understand the steps to achieve them.

"If you don't [plan] until the end, you lose a lot of your options," Adrienne says. After starting with seniors, Adrienne worked to immediately expand to all middle schoolers and high schoolers. That way, if the students' dreams changed or they faced road bumps along the way, they would have time to make new plans.

To be clear, Adrienne's passion isn't about helping youth find careers, although that can be a component of it. Her passion is helping them discover who they are and how they can get the most out of their lives. "What I'm really passionate about is the possibility and the impact of when you love a child and when you give a child … opportunities of excellence that really meet them where they are," she says.


The Beginnings

The concerns weren't unfounded: The most workshopping she had done was with her college friends not even two years prior to starting Project Success, which is how she had decided to embark on her travel expedition in the first place. But Adrienne knew she could be a facilitator, she had the mettle to forge partnerships—she still remembers her first meeting with the Guthrie Theater’s Garland Wright and Sheila Livingston to ask for 200 reduced-cost tickets—and she picked up a $10-per-hour side job to finance students' transportation to the theater.

"I did a ton of reading: How do you go through a transition? How do you set goals? And then George, who had been a teacher for 30 years at Anwatin Middle School and North High School, and a couple of other education leaders, mentored me," she adds. "Did I fail? Every day. But with love and failing and consistency, we kind of learned together. … The second year, I was in the whole school. So you learn very quickly when you do five workshops a day, 20 days a month."

Living Out the Dream

Over the past 28 years, Project Success has expanded from its original 200 students to more than 15,000 Minneapolis students annually across more than 25 public schools. Besides the workshops and Guthrie partnership it began with, it now includes a bevy of additional theater trips across the Twin Cities, free student training in topics such as computer coding and personal finance, and trips to places such as the Boundary Waters that are free, at a reduced cost, or accompanied by scholarships. It has gone from simply Adrienne's dream to the dream of 41 other employees.


Because of this growth, Adrienne has taken great lengths to make sure Project Success can sustain its quality and work-life balance. That means trading off between adding schools and taking a year or two to reanalyze staff capacity and infrastructure. It means continuously working to create a system for personal time off where a staff member can truly separate from work because their responsibilities are covered.

Admittedly, Adrienne has confessed to working some recent Saturday mornings. But for her, the "secret sauce" isn't never working outside the 9 to 5. As she puts it, it's "knowing the moments that really do need you to work on a Saturday morning versus the things that don't." Getting a student who has COVID-19 home from the Boundary Waters. Attending the wedding of a former student who has become a lifelong friend. Worthwhile, necessary, and gratifying. Answering a run-of-the-mill email? That can wait until Monday.

"It's been such a great life because that passion guides you, and you have to be rested to be good at your job. And you have to be not just rested, but positive and in a good place," Adrienne says. "Sometimes you help 100 students, and sometimes you help one. Sometimes you impact or influence them, and they always impact you. 

Moments in Adrienne's Journey with Project Success
  • To coordinate her first student theater trip, Adrienne first had to call every family to let them know what was happening. Only about three students had ever been to a play before, and some students and families thought, "The Guthrie's not for us." Despite the initial doubt, though, 128 of 200 seniors at North High School in Minneapolis were in the theater on a Tuesday night.
  • In the mid '90s, Adrienne facilitated a workshop and discussion with a class of seniors about inherent self-worth and love. The focus was on a poem that had touched her when she was younger, about how nobody in the world is exactly like you. "There were two students who made fun of me, but Nicole, I'll never forget—she peeked around with tears in her eyes," Adrienne says. Nicole said, "No one's ever told me that before, that I'm really, really special. And I am. And I needed to hear that."
  • Adrienne was welcoming back students from a Boundary Waters trip when a parent came up to her, with a few years of gratitude, taking her hand, and offering to make her food. "I don't know why you guys do this," she was saying, "but my child has been struggling, and they love this trip." Then, when she found out Adrienne was the founder of Project Success, she looked her in the eye and said, "You know John Lennon? 'They say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.' … Thank you for dreaming."

Learn more about Project Success at or by following its social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.