As January comes to a close, I realize it really has been quite a month. The post holiday recovery, a busy time for my non-profit day job, a new President, and few needed holidays. So it makes perfect sense that with all of this going on, that I have not really had time to make my New Year’s resolutions. It is better late than never!
While I could barely get a parking spot at the gym, the first few weeks of the month…it seems that those well-intentioned souls are already beginning to slack off on their resolutions, which seems like the perfect time for me to kick in with mine. To help me along, I pulled out my trusty copy of Write It Down, Make It Happen by author, Henriette Anne Klauser. The book’s author believes and proves that writing down your goals in life is the first step in achieving them.
The author tells stories of people who have done just that, and the way they began to realize their dreams. What I love the most about this book is that, in addition to asking you questions that slowly unravel your goals, each chapter ends with a little homework assignment. So as we say goodbye to January and hello to February, I have a clarity as to which direction I am headed in 2017. That in itself is an amazing resolution!
On a rain soaked day, a couple of weeks ago I met the most remarkable woman for lunch, her name is Katie Quintas. Katie is a living example of C.S. Lewis quote, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Katie’s hardship re-routed her destiny.
Katie’s life was fantastic. She had a husband, Silvio, she adored. A wonderful son, Bryan and a fantastic career consulting non-profits. Then all of that changed in 2006, when her husband Silvio was diagnosed with leukemia and six months later, her only child Bryan, was diagnosed with Stage Four Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at age 16.
Katie’s employer was supportive as she tried to manage a full-time job and the two most important people in her life’s cancers. What Katie didn’t realize was how was she going to manage to cook, clean, do laundry, grocery shop, update everyone on Bryan and Silvio’s conditions, deal with the offers for help, all while working and driving between two hospitals over an hour apart from each other? She was overwhelmed, wondered how families manage and didn’t even know where to look for help.
It turns out that she was not alone.
As 2007 came to an end, and both Katie’s husband and son were finishing up their cancer treatments, she began looking for organizations that help families through daily life during an illness, especially the illness of a child. In 2009, when she still hadn’t found an organization that fit the need, she began discussing the idea of creating one with her husband Silvio. With her husband’s encouragement, she did just that launching Here to Serve.org in 2011.
The Quintas family had been through so much but realized that there were so many people who had less. With Silvio’s support Katie set up her non-profit to connect and create online care communities that come in at the beginning of the health crisis to organize, friends, resources, medical information, funding, support all without overwhelming the caregiver, who is typically the parent.
As I sat at lunch and listened to Katie’s story, it was almost too much to process what she had been through but even more to grasp what she does for others. When we both went onto her web-site together and I saw what a care community looked like for a family, it was unbelievable. Once I was part of a sick patients community, I could sign up for everything from walking the dog, bringing a meal, doing laundry, running an errand, donating groceries and the list goes on. The services Here to Serve provides is everything that Katie needed when she went through this and didn’t have.
Sadly, Katie lost her beloved husband to cancer, but she said his memory still keeps her going. Katie told me, “I can’t imagine not doing this. Here to Serve gets me up in the morning, it motivates me and I was created to do this work. This is my purpose.”
This past week, you would have to be hiding under a rock to know there has been a lot of talk about empowerment, but today I would like to share with you an inspiring non-political, good old-fashioned kind of empowerment. It’s the story of a young woman named Veronika Scott, who in 2010 found herself in a college class with an assignment to create a product that would fill a need in her Detroit community. An assignment that would change her life and empower so many more.
Veronika was the daughter of parents who had struggled with addiction and unemployment. So she found herself in a warming center for Detroit’s homeless with an idea to create a coat the could also become a sleeping bag. While she was working on her design, a homeless woman angrily confronted her and said, “We don’t need coats, we need jobs.” It was that moment that Veronika realized she could do both. She said, ” I wanted to create an opportunity, that I wish my parents had when I was a kid.”
In 2012, she created the Detroit based non-profit The Empowerment Plan, to elevate families from the generational cycle of homelessness. Veronika began hiring single parents from the local shelters, trained them as seamstresses to make the coats to meet the needs of the homeless community. More than that, she gave these women a purpose, a job, education, full-time employment and a chance to regain their independence.
Today, Veronika at age 27, has founded the non-profit The Empowerment Plan, employed 39 homeless women and made and distributed over 15,000 coats since 2011. As C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Veronika is a living example when she said, “No matter what you’ve gone through, you still can do a lot with what you have.”
While I know this has been a crazy week with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday and the Presidential Inauguration today….I find my mind somewhere else. Each week I try to find a theme for Charity Matters and Martin Luther King Jr.’s question of,” What are you doing for others?” Thishas become my mantra for the week, that common thread of service.
Really, more than that, I am fascinated with people’s journeys to serve. On Wednesday, it was the story of InsideOUTWriters and Sr. Janet’s program for incarcerated youths in juvenile hall. But what happens when one person’s service inspires another? The goodness is contagious.
That is exactly what happened to Scott Budnick. In 2003, he was asked by a friend to attend a writing workshop through the InsideOUTWriters program. Scott is the infamous producer of The HangOver movies, a Hollywood producer and man who had no idea that his life was about to change. His first trip to juvenile hall, to mentor incarcerated youths, changed everything.
Scott not only committed to mentoring incarcerated youths (which he still does) but he took it so much farther when he realized that these young men and women had a 54% recidivism (going back to jail) rate and decided to do something about it.
He decided to start a non-profit called ARC to change that statistic, one youth at a time by providing the support, mentoring, education, housing, employment and guidance needed to make the transition out of prison a final one.
Today, ARC serves more than 300 formerly incarcerated men and women, who commit to living crime-free, drug-free and gang-free and dedicate themselves to being of service to their community and paying it forward to others in the ARC network.
One man, one moment volunteering and now Scott Budnick is a non-profit founder, who has taken on prison reform, mentored hundreds of young men and women, transformed their lives, the prison system and less than five percent of his kids ever go back. They only go forward passing that torch of service that Sr. Janet ignited in him, to others.
When I heard the words, “It’s never too late to write your own ending.” I knew I needed and wanted to know more about how this phrase came to be, especially from an incarcerated youth in juvenile hall.
Before I can tell that story, I need to share another, and that is the story of Sister Janet Harris. In 1989, Sr. Janet took the role of chaplain at the LA Central Juvenile Hall. A facility that houses anywhere between 1,700 and 600 incarcerated youths. In 1996, a LA Times reporter named Duane Noriyuki came to interview Sr. Janet for a story he was doing. Sr. Janet asked the writer if he could lead some creative writing classes with these kids and that was the beginning of InsideOUTWriters.
Those classes turned into weekly writing classes and in 1999 and IOW officially became a non-profit. Their mission is to reducing the rate recidivism (translation: the tendency for a convicted criminal to re-offend) by providing services, such as creative writing, as a catalyst for personal transformation. Sr. Janet, Duane Noriyuki and a handful of volunteer writers wanted to create an environment of trust and camaraderie where students creativity could flourish regardless of their harsh surroundings.
Today, there are over 42 weekly classes, twenty-seven volunteer teachers, teaching 400 boys and girls the power of writing at over four juvenile detention facilities and the LA County Men’s Central Jail. There is now an alumni program that helps InsideOUT Writer‘s alumni transition as they are released from prison. Since 1996, more than 11, 000 incarcerated youth have participated in over 15, 000 classes.
An InsideOUTWriters alum, Mario Rocha was quoted saying about Sr. Janet, “She is one of the greatest examples of human loyalty and spiritual dedication. For her, religion isn’t something you read, its something you experience by giving your self to the struggle of other people.”
And to end where we began, it is never too late to write your own ending.
With the rain pouring down this past week in LA, I have been thinking about something that has literally NEVER occurred to me…a flood. I know, crazy isn’t it? However, floods are reality in many parts of the country and when a flood or natural disaster strikes, the first concern is safety, housing and food. Once those needs are met victims begin the process of recovering their possessions, most especially trying to find and repair their families photos. This is when Operation Photo Rescue steps in to literally rescue a families memories.
In 2006, photojournalists Dave Ellis and Becky Sell launched Operation Photo Rescue after they witnessed victims throwing out treasured family photos that had been destroyed. Their mission became, “Insurance doesn’t restore memories but we do.”
A few weeks after a natural disaster or flood, OPR‘s team of volunteers set up a location where people can begin to bring in the photos they have found to see if they can be saved and restored. The damaged photos are digitally copied and a host of volunteers from around the globe use Photoshop and give hours of time to restore the images.
Over 12,000 photos have been restored thanks to more than 2,000 volunteers around the world. For many of these volunteers the work behind the scenes becomes personal and being able to give families their memories back is a gift.
It seems fitting to end the week where we began, with Aaron Siskind’s quote, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
On Sunday night I curled up on the sofa for one of my favorite TV nights of the year, to watch The Golden Globes. Unlike the Academy Awards, this show feels like you are at a party you were invited to. So when I saw this story on last night’s news, about the Golden Globes and an amazing non-profit’s photography program, I had to share…. especially since this week was already devoted to photography and how it makes our world better.
In 2008, when Jo Ann Thrailkill and Jeff Castelaz’s son, Pablo, was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer they wanted three things; to fund research for a cure, to help educate families dealing with cancer and to improve the lives of children living with cancer through the arts. Pablo lost his battle at only six years old but his family was determined to help others and in 2009 began the Pablove Foundation to continue their mission.
So what does this have to do with the Golden Globes you ask? Well, one of their programs is called Pablove’s Shutterbugs and the goal is to give pediatric cancer patients a new perspective through the lens of the camera, in order to learn to express themselves and find a new way of seeing things. Well one of these little shutterbugs was the cutest paparazzi on Sunday’s Red Carpet, take a peek…
Pablo’s legacy lives on in the over 1,000 students who have been reached through Pablo’s Shutterbug program since 2011. The foundation has funded over 19 research institutes worldwide with over 1.9 million dollars given to find a cure. Now that is a picture worth smiling for.
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
I live in a house full of photographers. Not just the modern-day iPhone everyday amateur photographer, like myself, but a husband and three sons who truly love the art, the skill, the process and the gear. They are all passionate about their images and were long before there was an Instagram.
I came across a non-profit recently,that I will share with you later this week, that helps families restore their images after a flood or natural disaster. Just thinking about losing my photos had me thinking about how truly precious they are.
We may live in a digital world but it is still the ability to freeze those precious moments in time that continues to capture us all. As Marc Riboud said, “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely every hundredth of a second.” I think this year I will add becoming a better photographer to my New Year’s resolutions along with savoring life more intently.
It seems that the entire planet was happy to see 2016 come to an end. Over and over, everyone is saying goodbye to 2016 and hello 2017. What is it that we are all looking for this year that will be so very different from the last?
How could one year truly disappoint us so much? But it seems unanimous, that we are all SO over last year and looking ahead. 2017 is off to a great start, we get an extra day off, which in my book is a most excellent beginning. Lets be honest, we all really need it and it has been a busy few weeks as we try to catching up on sleep, life and friends.
So, as we begin to ponder about what we want from this new start, let me suggest a few thoughts….in the planning stage of resolutions. First, what went so wrong last year that you want to be different this year? How might you change that? What is the one thing you really want to accomplish this year? What are a few simple ways to start working towards that goal? How can you be kinder to those you love this year? And lastly, how can you be kinder to yourself in the next 365 days?
Why I do not yet have the answers, these questions are where I will begin…..that and heading off to the Rose Bowl to cheer on my team. Here is to a magical, joyous, prosperous and very Happy New Year to all!