“Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”
Graduation season is in the air and with it come all of the inspiring pearls of wisdom that go along with the celebration. It is oh so easy to give advice and it is oh so difficult to use it. Every time I speak to a non-profit founder I hear passion, purpose, joy and gratitude in their voices, regardless of where they live or their cause.
The reason is that they have not set out to do something remarkable, they just paid attention to the signs, one thing lead to another, the knew they needed to do this one thing and then they reached out to inspire others to help them achieve that goal….which ultimately became a non-profit and something remarkable.
Each of us makes daily choices with our time. How will you use yours to do something that inspires passion, purpose, joy and gratitude? ” Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”
The common thread between all of these extraordinary individuals? Gratitude. Each one is grateful to have either survived their journey and inspired to help their fellow veterans. Or they are like you and I, ordinary Americans, filled with gratitude for the country we are blessed to live in and the freedoms which we have. They have used that gratitude to fuel their work to serve and honor our veterans.
So today, I will take a page from Carolyn and Rob’s book of gratitude, as I reflect on those who sacraficed to serve us. I am filled with gratitude for these heroes who gave their lives for something bigger than themselves…..
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
A few weeks ago my friend, Alexandra invited me and a few of her inspiring friends, to a very special lunch. The purpose was not to catch up, but rather in a mentoring role. Alexandra has been involved with a local school here in LA, a place where barriers crumble and community grows. Students from all walks of life come together in this unique school to learn, thrive and grow.
Alexandra spoke to the school’s principal and asked for ways she could support the school and out of that conversation came this age-old and brilliant idea of real conversations with mentors. Something so simple, so perfect and truly missing in our busy lives.
The guest list of mentors included; our wonderful hostess and Friends With Causes Founder, a very inspiring Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker, a super hip successful interior designer, and myself. We were asked to come armed with questions for these young ladies and to be ready to answer some as well.
None of us knew one another, and yet we were all there to learn and that in itself created a beautiful beginning for conversation. Our discussions ranged from prom dresses, to college, to boys, failures, careers, following your passion and my favorite question, “Who do you think you mentor or inspire?” From that question alone we learned about one girl’s experience with foster care, another who mentored after school at the Boys and Girls Club, another’s younger siblings….but more than that, you saw these girls (young and old) shift in the thought that someone looks up to them.
We all mentor someone, whether we realize it or not. Ask yourself whose life you inspire? I think you will find your self surprised and smiling too. That is the gift of mentoring, you always get so much more than you give.
They say all good things must come to an end. My question is when do you know? This month I am saying goodbye to two separate non-profit boards that I have had the privilege of serving on for the past six years. I’m not sure where the time went, but it appears my time has come.
The beauty of serving is that like life, our service is constantly changing as we do. As a child, I saved pennies for others because my teacher would give us candy if we gave to those in need….my earliest memories of giving were more to myself. As a teen, I worked at the Boys and Girls Club each summer. In college, I read to under-served students with my sorority sisters, in South Tucson. As a young mother, I volunteered and raised funds to build a new children’s museum in our town. The service always seemed to fit the season of my life.
These past few years, my service has come in the form of leadership. Six years ago, when one of the organizations approached me about joining their board, I was surprised, it was unexpected and yet, I was thrilled because I love their work and mission in navigating young men out of poverty and into college. During the past six years, I have witnessed incredible change, growth and seen hundreds of young men head off to college. A privilege to witness and serve.
The second board I will be leaving is my alma mater, my all girls Catholic high school. True confession, they did try to kick me out more than a few times when I was in high school, so I do receive enormous joy in both the sweet irony and in giving back to the school that taught me actions not words.
Most of all, I will truly miss the incredible people who have made both of these experiences ones I will always treasure. The time has come and now a new season has arrived. What it will bring, I have no idea…but I know I will be ready for whatever is calling.
I am not a stalker, but lets face it…we all like to follow certain people, whether on Instagram or in the media, it could be a top chef, an author, or a celebrity. What these individuals all have in common is that they intrigue us, they seem to be living their purpose. They know who they are and seem to know where they are going.
That person for me isn’t Victoria Beckham or Oprah, while I’m sure they are lovely, the person who I have loved to follow is young man I met in Watts at Verbum Dei High School five years ago and his name is Caylin Moore. He is the one I am following.
As a young man he was a student athlete, a stand up young man with a deep faith. I have followed him via the media, when he headed to Marquette on a full scholarship. I watched when he became a Fulbright Scholar, and then when he landed in my literal path at TCU in February, I was stunned.
I followed Caylin as he created SPARK at TCU to inspire young underserved youth to follow their dreams and to become whatever they dream of. I sat in front of him as he said he had to give back to those that helped him along the way.
Now, I will watch from a far, as he graduates from TCU and heads off to Oxford, England to become TCU’s second Rhodes Scholar. We all need heroes, people to look up to and to inspire us to be our best…Caylin Moore is mine….and one to watch!
Telling a magical Christmas story in May, might sound unusual but it is so beautiful, it simply can’t wait until December and since May is National Foster Care Month it seemed only fitting to share it now. A few weeks ago a woman from Maine reached out to me, via email, to tell me about her incredible friend, Janalee Moquin. Like most non-profit founders, Janalee truly did not want any attention on herself, said her girlfriend, via email. However, her friend was undeterred in wanting Janalee’s story told and about her amazing work with children aging out of foster care. I am so glad she did…
There is no place like home and for thousands of foster care children each year, who age out of foster care, they sadly do not know that feeling. Janalee Moquin was determined to impact and change that in any way she could. She told me, “I had a difficult childhood, and I know what its like to feel like you have no one. I knew I wanted to help that child, that I was.”
Janalee went on to say that the most magical moments and happiest memories of her childhood were at a Christmas tree festival in Massachusetts, where she grew up. Thirteen years ago when Janalee moved to York, Maine she decided to re-create the holiday tree decorating festival in her new town. She went out and bought 32 trees and asked friends to compete in decorating them, in hopes that people would come together, buy tickets, feeling the spirit of the season and the funds would go in some way to support children in foster care.
Well the first year, while her vision was there, the rest of the town didn’t really see it. The years that followed, little by little the idea caught on. The tree festival grew and grew and so did Janalee’s passion for directing the increasing funds into A Place Called H.O.M.E., which stands for Having Opportunity Means Everything.
Janalee worked with social workers to find these young foster care children who were told at age 18, goodbye. She knew they needed support, love, help, mentoring and just basic kindnesses that we take for granted. Janalee and her group of volunteers began asking these young adults what they needed, what would mean the world to them. Their answers, “birthday cards with our name on them, a care package that has something I like, that feels like someone knows me.” The simplest request.
Today, thousands of people come from over five states to attend the now four-day long tree festival. The people of York have tree decorating rooms set up all year in their homes for the big event. Janalee is a foster parent to a 16-year-old boy and knows that she has recreated her childhood holiday magic for her community, for thousands of children and more importantly for the foster care children her work supports.
She said, “I know I have made a difference when I see a photo of a foster care child smiling holding their birthday card and when I can witness a communities joy.” I asked Janalee, what fuels you to keep doing this work? Her answer, ” This is what I was meant to do and why I am on this planet.”
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
A few weeks back I wrote about persistence, a common thread in all the amazing people I interview for Charity Matters. Most of these individuals, were dealt a bad hand in life and yet, how they chose to play it, is what makes them so inspiring. They not only refused to be defined by that hand, but rather they persisted in re-defining that experience into something life changing for others.
The other day I stumbled onto a major road block for a project that I have been working on and frankly, I was pretty frustrated and unsure which way to step next. I was driving through the tunnels on the 110 freeway when I looked up to see the sign…literally….which days before read RESIST and someone had now reworked it to read PERSIST.
In that moment, I knew that I would trudge on ahead, undeterred, fearless and committed to making a dream a reality, exactly like the 1.5 million people who have changed out world by taking their bad hand and turning it into a non-profit.
Mothers. We all have one or had one. Just the word warms our hearts and brings a flood of images and memories of our moms. For me when I think of my mom, I think of her huge smile , contagious laugh and the midwestern warmth she shared with every person she encountered. She was gracious and kind and her life was all about who was in it and who was in front of her. My mom was joyful.
I have been without her now for 15 Mother’s Days. It is just so crazy to think she was only 60 when her life ended so abruptly, a decade from where I am now. Yet, her legacy to me is the reminder of how precious life is, how you never know when your time will come and to live each day with joy and purpose.
She died as she lived, having fun with friends she loved and cherished. Even in the moments before her death, she was living fully with those she was with. It is this gift and reminder that I hold dear, as I celebrate her and Mother’s Day.
Wishing each of you and your mother’s the gifts of joy, presence, and cherished moments with those you love this Sunday.
This upcoming weekend we will celebrate our moms for Mother’s Day. Last week, I had an incredible conversation with two inspiring mothers, who have taken their journey into motherhood and transformed the lives of hundreds of young mothers in the foster care system. These amazing women founded Alliance of Moms, a non-profit organization whose mission is to break the inter-generational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care.
Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Jules Leyser were both pregnant in 2012, along with three other girlfriends (Danika Charity, Emily Lynch and Kelly Zajfen) all at the same time. For some it was their first child, for others their second or third but the girlfriends all experienced a profound change in becoming mothers. Together they were determined to use that shift in each of them to help other mothers, the most at risk, those in the foster care system.
Yasmine:I was pregnant with my son, having a child makes your heart burst wide open and makes you see everything every differently.I wanted a part of motherhood to be looking out for all children, not just our own. From my previous work withThe Alliance for Children’s Rights,I knew we needed to explore more volunteer opportunities for children’s rights.
Jules: My mother grew up in foster care and was a teen parent at 17. I understood the need to break the cycle, 66% of babies born into foster care become teen moms. I also understood that my child had won a lottery that he didn’t even knew he entered, just by luck. We needed to help support all mothers.
Tell us about when you knew, your work had made a difference?
Yasmine: In July 2014, five of us began exploring this idea of creating an auxiliary group to support The Alliance for Children’s Rights but more than that we wanted a mother to mother, community to community event. Six weeks later, we had our first program, Raising Baby, inviting 70 youth in foster care and their children for a day of fun, educational parenting workshops. We were determined to be there for these moms, when so many have let them down.
While we set out to serve these young women in foster care, our members were also impacted by serving. The women we serve have changed all of our lives for the better because regardless of your circumstances, we all walk away stronger knowing that we all struggle as mothers.
What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Jules: Having a hands on relationship with our pregnant girls and seeing them on an upward trajectory. Knowing that these young mothers are now talking and singing to their unborn children, or reading to their children at bedtime, creating family rituals, and using the little things that we teach them, which have a big impact on their children.
These young parents are motivated to change their lives and their children’s’ and more than that, it is seeing people being kind.
Yasmine: My dream would be to create something sustainable and scalable that we could take outside of Los Angeles and to other communities of mothers across the country. We know and see the value of creating community and a village for mothers.
Jules: My dream would also be to see our program expand to other places and perhaps to help all teen moms. The real dream would be to have the public start seeing these young moms in a different way…with humanity and empathy.
As Yasmine and Jules both said, “We are all different and yet we are all the same. We all want the best for our children, we all get overwhelmed, stressed, worried that we are not doing the right thing. We are all learning about ourselves and our children as we struggle to do our best.”
Over 600 members, hundreds of families and young mothers served and countless lives forever changed by a group of mothers who know what it is to share the love, create an alliance and to inspire us all.
Have you ever heard a song that spoke to your soul? A song that expresses exactly where you are in a moment, that feels as if it is reading your mind? It doesn’t happen very often for me and perhaps being new to Satellite radio…I was so inundated with noise that I never really listened.
Last week, I was driving to a meeting and this song came on and spoke to me. One line in particular grabbed my attention, the line was “Heroes don’t look like they used too….they look like you do.” That line is so true….because each week I am privileged to meet and bring you these amazing heroes…people just like you me. People that care deeply, have a passion for making our world better and reminding us that we are all the same and that We are one.
As you begin your weekend and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, remember there are Alternate Routes to take (the bands name) and know we are love, we are one, we are how we treat each other when the day is done.
The beauty that is Charity Matters, is the incredible people who I have the privilege of meeting and telling their stories. Mark Brenner is one of them. A few months back, when I attended a non-profit seminar I was fortunate enough to be seated with this dynamic man, with a huge smile, a zest for life and an unlikely non-profit founder.
Mark told me that in the end of 2013, he had recently sold his recruiting business and attempted to play golf for a few months, but knew there was something missing. A life long connector and recruiter he knew he still had people that he could help with his skill set.
In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark served in Vietnam, and was a Veteran. When Mark came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said,”The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”
More than that, Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran’s unemployment and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” His help turned into a 501c3, non-profit called Veterans Career Xchange. His mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.
Today, Mark is working harder than ever. He and his team at Veterans Career Xchange have coached, mentored and gainfully employed hundreds veterans, with over 80% who have remained employed. His passion for helping these men and women who have served our country is simply contagious. Mark said, “When the Veterans you serve get a job and donate back to your cause and tell you that they have purpose and are happy again, it makes you just want to keep going.”
While I don’t typically do follow-up stories, I think we are just at the first chapter with this one and I can’t wait to share with all of you what is next for this remarkable man and organization. Mark is proof that regardless of where you are in life you, you always have something to give.