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Shields for Families

A few weeks ago I attended an incredible event at the Hilton Foundation that I wrote about. One of the women who spoke at the event was named Danielle Lowe and at lunchtime, I approached her and told her how impressed I was with the work she was doing with her nonprofit Shields for Families. I told her that I would love to learn more about the organization and asked if she by chance knew the founder. Danielle got a huge smile on her face and said, “Why yes I do, it happens to be my mother, Kathryn Icenhower.” A few weeks later the three of us, Danielle and her mother Kathryn and I had a fantastic conversation about the truly unbelievable work that Shields for Families is doing to serve South Central Los Angeles and thousands of families dealing with a full spectrum of needs like shelter, housing, transportation,  substance abuse treatment, education, homelessness and breaking the cycle of poverty. This amazing mother and daughter team is a perfect example of what is right in our world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Shields for Families does?

Kathryn Icenhower: We attempt to provide families everything they need to be successful in life with whatever the dreams are that they set for themselves and not make that hard, by providing a full range of services. It always frustrated me when I was a social worker that families don’t come with one problem and our social services have always been set up in silos that make it challenging to get help. I don’t feel that getting help should be that hard. We tried to set up an organization where families can get whatever they need. We are all about believing, building and becoming.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Shields for Families?

Kathyrn Icenhower: To be honest, I got really mad. I was working for the Los Angeles County and I was in charge of programs, planning, and development. We had a massive drug epidemic and in 1987  The Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center alone delivered 1,200 neo-natal infants that were exposed prenatally to drugs. Children were being ripped from their families and in most cases being placed far away. Our models for delivering treatment for substance abuse were not effective. So, I developed a model where women could bring their children with them to treatment every day and we had no funding. I met with the Assistant Director of the Alcohol and Drug program for the state to present my idea. At the time there was nothing like this in the country and she literally laughed me out of her office.

What I didn’t realize at the time, is that there were two doctors were presenting a similar idea at the state level about the medical ramifications of these children being born with drugs in their systems. The state agreed with the doctors and went back to the same woman, who had laughed at me. She called showed them my plan and it became the pilot program for the State of California. That was 1990 and the first program called Genisis began with $350,000. Norma Mtume and Xylina Bean helped make this happen and the three of us are still together.

Charity Matters: How did you start?

Kathyrn Icenhower: We listened to families to see what they needed and then I used my skill as a grant writer and we began asking for funding to meet those needs. We were able to get funding to build our treatment program. Then the county wanted to keep some of these programs local so that is when we expanded into child welfare and mental health. Danielle was five when we started Shields.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I think one of the biggest challenges that Shields is very innovative with solutions and as a result, we are often waiting on funders or the community to catch up with us. We are very selective with our funding and we ensure that our funders mission needs to match ours. Sometimes we end up with a gap in services and end up doing a lot of pro bono work. 

Kathyrn Icenhower: Families don’t have problems in a vacuum and you can’t address them in that way. We have outcomes to prove that our programs are effective. We partner with ten different agencies that bring a wealth of information to us. In the past couple of years, there has been such a focus on accountability. While accountability is important, the amount of time for measurement audits and scrutiny is sometimes overwhelming. We have fifty grants from the federal government, the state, and private funders.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I was raised that everyone on this earth was put here for a purpose. I have been blessed to find mine. That is what keeps me going. To see people achieve things they never thought they could never do is the best and a blessing. This is my purpose and I was blessed enough to be I born with this work watching my mom. I was there as a child as she did this. Helping to give people the skills they need to advocate for themselves really keeps me going.

Kathyrn Icenhower: My spirituality lead me here. I had a calling. I’m not going to lie, this is hard work. I would not have survived this had I not stayed in touch with the people I help for the past twenty-nine years. I am grounded by the people we serve. I can’t take any credit, I just listened. That is something everyone needs to do. I love attending all the events we do to remind me why I do this work every day. It is all necessary. These families remind me why I do what I do.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: The outside world defines family success differently. When I watch a family go through a treatment program and reach their goals. When our families become independent. When I see one of our teens help another through coping skills that we have taught them, I know we have made an impact. I tell all my families the line from Nanny McPhee, ” When you don’t want me but need me, I’ll be there. Go fly and call me to tell me how you are flying.”

Kathyrn Icenhower: I know we have made a difference when kids graduate from college. When mothers in treatment get their masters degrees. What we are able to accomplish changes, whole families. “We” made a difference when someone can have their children back. There are so many minute things. Seeing families being successful in accomplishing their goals and that they are caring for one another. We have been able to change the trajectories of entire families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: With our charter schools these are students who have been kicked out of a traditional school for a host of reasons. On average our students are about a year behind when they start with us.  Forty percent are homeless youth, involved with child welfare or probation and we have a ninety percent graduation rate with 85% transferring to a four-year college.

Book of Joy

Kathryn Icenhower: We serve over 10,000 families a year with 350 full-time staff and a thirty million dollar budget. Historically, our models have been very successful, our treatment centers have an eighty percent success rate versus the national average of twenty-five percent for long term treatment. We have an upfront assessment plan when a child needs to be removed from the home due to drugs or abuse, we assist the family with services for treatment and do whatever we can to help keep the child at home or make sure the parents voluntarily let the child go while they get help. Within a year and a half of implementing the program, we have reduced the out of home removal by 62% and are now training other agencies on how to use our skills.   We saved the County of Los Angeles over one hundred million dollars and that program became embedded in multiple other programs.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned to always speak for what is right. My mom showed me how.

Kathyrn Icenhower: When Danielle was little we were at a meeting and she spoke up for something that made her upset. She has always done that which makes me proud. This journey has made me stronger. The challenges may try to knock you down but I’ve had to learn to trust myself and to maintain my faith, that it is all going to be ok.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned the ability to be humble and vulnerable. Sometimes we all take for granted everything that we have.  I am always humbled by what I learn about resiliency and faith from those we serve. To watch them working towards those goals that every human being deserves. Being open is a constant reminder of what is actually meaningful in this lifetime. This work is a constant reality check that it is not the money that gives you status but what you have to offer from within.

Kathyrn Icenhower: I have learned to always have faith. I must always do what I believe is correct no matter how difficult that path may seem and have faith that will carry me through. 

Charity Matters

 

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

The Fig Factor Foundation

 

” The best gift you can give others is your positive attitude.”

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz

For the past year, I have been contemplating writing a book. A few weeks ago I reached out to a number of authors and publishers to talk about how to begin the process. One of the people I was referred to was a woman named Jackie Camacho-Ruiz. She is the author of fifteen books, has a marketing agency, a publishing house business, and is also a pilot. We had a terrific phone call about writing and in the process, I discovered that Jackie started a non-profit called The Fig Factor Foundation. This woman is a dynamo! After learning about what Jackie was doing for others we had an additional call about her work mentoring young Latina women that was beyond inspiring.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Fig Factor Foundation does?

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: The Fig Factor Foundation helps unleash the amazing potential in future Latina leaders. For us, it is recognizing that young Latinas have something beautiful inside. What we do is a series of four steps to help bring that out. We serve girls from the ages of 12 to 25. The first step is our CORE program where the girls complete a two-day course where we go through a series of exercises based on eight factors; discovery, wisdom, humility, persistence, vulnerability, vision, awareness and passion.

The second step is all about leadership, where one mentor is paired up with two young girls, usually between the ages of 15 and twenty, for six months. There is a curriculum where there is a theme per month and the mentor’s report back what they did for that theme, whether it was a field trip, reading a book together or a variety of activities. Then step three is exposing the girls to as many enriching experiences as we can. We take them to experiences that they would not have access too, such as the Facebook headquarters in Chicago, take them flying and a multitude of experiences. The final step is to ask the girls to give back. The girls come back and volunteer to give back to the other girls going through the program.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your non-profit/philanthropic organization

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: I am a survivor, poverty and a two-time cancer survivor. When you get to a place in life when you are so grateful for all you have. When you go to the kitchen and you want an apple and you see that you have five apples and everywhere you look there is an abundance of love, you are filled with gratitude. So five years ago on my birthday, I was turning thirty-one and feeling nostalgic because I had been given a second and third chance to live. I told my husband I had an inspiration or a divine download, as I like to call them. I said I didn’t need anything for my birthday, instead, I wanted to bring thirty-one friends for my 31st birthday together for the day and make them feel like princesses.

Ninety percent of the women happened to be Latina, and one by one I asked them to get up and share their dreams. All of them stood up and shared their dreams and for every dream, there were three reasons why they couldn’t accomplish it. So I asked all the girls at my birthday to vote for who inspired them the most and they voted for a young 16-year-old girl who had come to the celebration. It was this young girl that had a number of challenges but was still trying so hard against many odds.  A few days later, in August 2014  I was sharing the story at work about this girl and my co-worker said, “Why don’t we through her a quinceanera?” My co-worker and I ended up giving this girl a huge quinceanera. My client Dale Carnegie Institute gave this girl a scholarship to the Carnegie leadership camp.

When I talked to my business mentor at Dale Carnegie Institute he asked me about my dream and I told, ” I just want to make a change in the world.”   He said, “You can do this Jackie.” In 2014, I started researching and figuring out how to make empowering young Latinas dreams to happen on a bigger scale. I got that fire and knew I needed to make this happen.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: I think getting more donors and more people to support our work. This is a labor of love and not having an Executive Director to run the day to day organization is a challenge. We have an amazing board who is working with me to implement the dream but we would love to have someone fulltime.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: The impact. How could you not want to help when a young Latina says,” thank you for believing in me.” When the girls see the magic. For me, the countless miles of hugs, tears, dancing…it is beyond anything. I feel like I have the energy to give to thousands because of what these girls have given me. The mission has found me.

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Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Jackie Camacho- Ruiz: I am an aunt, a mother, a sister, a mentor to these girls and when I reflect on the interactions I have had with these girls. I know we have made a difference and that I would do anything for these girls.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and What has your impact been?

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: This is always a very interesting question because you have qualitative data that you are converting into quantitative results. We have been working with an executive at Google to create a survey for their pre- Fig Factor experience and their post experience to measure the factors of our results. We have had 112 girls go through our program who are thriving, going to college and following their dreams.

One thing that we have done was in March of 2017, I called the second biggest city in Illinois and asked them if they would consider promoting a young Latina day? My hope was to create a spotlight for these young women. The city said, “Sure, that would be a great idea. Would you come to our City Council meeting on April 11th (my birthday, the day this all started) and bring your girls and present this?”  We did and they made April 11th, Young Latina Day. This year we are going to seven cities with our bus full of young Latinas spreading the word of our mission and we are taking Young Latina Day international in eight countries as well.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Jackie Camacho-Ruiz: I have learned that if you operate from the heart, in the sense that the energy that is being created, that magic has to be protected. The biggest lesson I have learned from this journey is that if you encounter resistance that sometimes you need to change the course. I’ve also learned that this is so much bigger than me. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jackie Camacho Ruiz: I have realized that I have the power to create a life of significance. I have been amazed by the power that is within each one of us and how a mission that is bigger than you can activate getting people together aligned for the same purpose. To see that display of generosity, compassion, and alignment of something that we are all passionate about is magic. When you align with your heart there is no confusion and that is where the magic happens.

Charity Matters

 

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

 

Family Promise

Every one of us has passed a homeless person on the street but not every one of us stops, especially when we are in a hurry. That is exactly what happened to Karen Olson in 1985 on her way to a meeting in New York City.  On an impulse Karen not only stopped but she bought the woman, named Millie a sandwich. Karen began speaking with Millie, who explained to her that homelessness brought about profound feelings of disconnection from society and a lack of self-worth.  That moment changed everything for Karen Olson and from that meeting, she began to look at a new way to try to help connect those in need to those who wanted to help. Little did she know that this encounter would become the birth of Family Promise.

Earlier this week I had a fantastic conversation with Claas Ehlers who is now the Executive Director of Family Promise, as Karen stepped down a few years ago after almost twenty-eight years at the helm. Claas not only has a personal connection to this mission but has been working at Family Promise since 2002. I can’t wait to share the rest of this story and enlightening conversation with you. It is remarkable what one sandwich did and continues to do for thousands of homeless families across our country.

Charity Matters:  Tell me a little about what happened to Karen after the sandwich and The beginning of Family Promise?

Claas Ehlers: So, in 1985 the number one reason the State of New Jersey was placing children in foster care was not because of abuse or neglect but because their mothers had become homeless. At that point, homelessness was a relatively new phenomenon and family homelessness was totally unheard of concept. In 1985, you thought it was an urban problem of single homeless people but not of families out in the suburbs. Karen had worked in the city with individual homeless people but when she discovered the statistic about children and families she got motivated to do something.

Karen decided to arrange a conference and was smart enough to recognize that the faith community would be engaged in this. There were over 80 congregations represented by over 200 people at that initial meeting, in late 1985. She simply asked the question, “What can we do about this problem of family homelessness?”

Congregations said we want to do something more meaningful than writing checks. The initial thought was to get a church or synagogue building and turn it into a shelter. Then these congregations realized that they had space and they had volunteers who already wanted to help. The YMCA offered space, Autoland gave them a discounted passenger van so they could offer transportation. So out of that meeting in an ad hoc way the program started. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Family Promise does?

Claas Ehlers: We are a national organization, somewhat like the headquarters of McDonald’s but we don’t actually make hamburgers here. What we do facilitate is to empower families towards success and we mobilize volunteers and we cross those over so that each one is stronger as a result of the other. When we look at empowering families, we are looking specifically at families that are experiencing homelessness, which is not a sharp line….there is a lot of blurring, people that are at risk of homelessness, people who are nearly homeless and people that are experiencing homelessness.

Overall what Family Promise does is provide more than just shelter for families but a holistic solution that includes the prevention of family homelessness and the stabilization of families at risk. What we do here is to try to maximize our affiliates so that they can serve as many families as possible and engage the community in ways that bring in many more resources than one might expect to address the issue.

Charity Matters: How did Family Promise Grow so quickly?

Claas Ehlers: After that first meeting it took about a year and a half before we were operational and in October 1986 we officially started serving families. Neighboring communities began to see what we were doing and the program took off organically and kept spreading to Philadelphia and Ohio.  In addition to shelter, meals, housing and job support our affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homeless prevention. In 1988, Karen said,” we should make this a national organization.”  As a result, we renamed our national organization Family Promise. Karen had a vision from the beginning. We are so lucky to have incredible engagement with communities across the country who are innovative with how to solve their communities problems. 

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges in your work?

Claas Ehlers: One big challenge is that people do not understand family homelessness. People view homelessness as chronic singles homelessness and the bigger issue is housing and stability. Another challenge is to ensure that we have resources to meet our mission and overall awareness of our work. We recently had a piece on the Today Show that did a wonderful job telling the story of our work in a very compelling way. (click above to watch)

The terrain is changing too with artificial intelligence and how is that going to affect jobs and homelessness?  We are thinking about these things. We do have a goal to increase the number of people we serve but at the same time, we think about how are we going to push the bell curve to the right. We are always trying to find out ways to help our affiliates do their jobs better.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Claas Ehlers: Certainly there are always lots of challenges and obstacles but I wake up every morning feeling like I am the luckiest person in the world. I have the most amazing team, they are mission-driven, talented, and work well together. I go out into the field and I work with a group of volunteers who are so committed to having an impact on homelessness in their community and that is just SO inspiring.

The other side of that is the alumni of our program, the people who serve on our guest advisory council. I work with these people who have faced adversity they have been homeless and come through our program and are now committed to helping others be successful by paying it forward. They are working, have families and are dedicating all their time and energy to help others in any way they can. I have my own personal stories and have been in Foster Care but that is nothing compared to what a lot of these stories are. These are people that say that this community supported me and now I am going to give back.

When I see the children who leave our programs and see the future they have that they didn’t have before that keeps me going.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Claas Ehlers: It is a tough question for me to answer because I am self-critical. I always see what I haven’t done. There are so many moments. Recently, when the Today Show piece came out, I emailed it to a number of our partners to share. The responses I received from current partners and potential partners saying, ” I am just so proud that our firm partners with Family Promise.” Those moments remind me of the work we are doing.

This morning, I was talking about the weekend with our relatively new Chief Operating Officer, she told me that she took her children to volunteer for Family Promise. She told me she couldn’t believe that her 14-year-old son was so compassionate working with a 4-year-old at one of their shelters. There are so many moments that show me the impact. Every statistic is a human, a person whose life we touched. There is magic everywhere. There is just magic.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact at Family Promise been?

Claas Ehlers: We always really try to look at how we are successful and how that can drive innovation. First of all, we serve over 90,000 people a year in all different ways and 60% of those people are children. What is really important is that we have our core Shelter Program that is about 18% of the people that we serve. In that program, 88% of those people move into long term housing (traditional, permanent, or shared) after 57 days. We are not about getting people into housing, we are about getting them into housing they can sustain. That is critical that we get them into sustainable housing.

We have 200 affiliates (chapters around the country) that have over 1,700 distinct programs that address some element of prevention, shelter or stabilization that are run by 200,000 volunteers. We are launching a new program at our National Convention this week that trains volunteers to understand the grief and trauma that happens when you lose your home.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Claas Ehlers: I always had a connection with helping children who were under-resourced. My children have been raised with this work. Now that they are grown, I get to watch their service. All of my three children serve and this work has helped define our values. We have always prioritized helping those that are not as fortunate as we are. If we can all just incrementally be better people each day then that is what really matters.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Claas Ehlers: What I have learned is that things are rivers and you have to understand that things are rivers. And that when you are at the river the water at the river is the way it is now but might not be the way it is next time. The water that you see at the river today will be entirely different than the water you see next month. It is higher or lower or not as clean. You have to realize that everything is fluid and that things are never the same at any one time. That every time something changes it is a new opportunity.

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Opening Minds Through Art (OMA)

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Dr. Seuss

Almost a decade ago I made the most amazing friend through a wonderful happenstance. I was filming a fundraising video for my  alma mater and the filmmaker, Noah Applebaum, was so talented, compassionate and smart that I asked him to help me with another nonprofit project, and then another and then another. Through the years Noah’s heart has shown through in a multitude of nonprofit videos we have worked on together and our friendship has been a wonderful gift. Last week Noah told me about this incredible documentary film that he is now fundraising to make for an Alzheimer’s program called OMA, which stands for Opening Minds Through Art.

Noah’s late grandfather had gone through the program and Noah wanted me to meet the nonprofit’s founder, Dr. Elizabeth Lokon.  We had an incredible conversation and it became abundantly clear why Noah wants the world to know about this remarkable woman and her journey to give the elderly an opportunity to express themselves through art once dementia has left them without a voice. If anyone can tell their story it is Noah. Talking to Dr. Lokon was beyond inspirational and a privilege.

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) from NoahApplebaum.com on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what OMA does?

Dr. Lokon:  Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is an intergenerational art making program for people with Alzheimers disease. The program provides opportunities for creative self expression for people with dementia.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start OMA?

Dr. Lokon: I had my Master’s Degree in Fine Art and got my PhD in 1997. I had been teaching teachers in Japan from 2000 to 2006 and I had a student club called MICA where we did service for a number of causes. We cleaned beaches, bought toys and were very involved with an organization that prevented sex trafficking of Cambodian children through education. When my husband retired he said to me, “What do you want to do now? Our kids are grown.”  I knew that I wanted to go back to school to make a difference and that my primary goal was to live a life of service.

In education I learned about the first half of life but I knew nothing about the second half, so I decided to study Gerontology. When I came back to the U.S., I moved into a nursing home to learn a new culture, it was like a whole new world and I approached it like an anthropologist. Then I saw people with dementia. They were kept clean, safe and ignored. They were zombies.

 As an educator I knew this was not fair. Children have programs and advocates but with older people there is no one to speak for them. Even with dementia people can have joy. So, I went back to school and worked with a theater program that was for people with dementia. The program used photos to trigger memories to tell imaginary stories. So, in 2007 I asked if I could intern and I moved into a nursing home.

I quickly realized that art was a way of connecting with the patients, like the theater program. Verbal skills may have been impaired but people with dementia could flourish if there wasn’t any language, they could paint. In 2007, I had the idea for OMA.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic Family?

Dr. Lokon: No! I did not. I am Chinese but grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. When I grew up there was a large gap between the wealthy and the poor. I had to walk through the slums to get to school and I remember on my way home from school as an 8 year old bringing younger children home from the slums just to be bathed.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Dr. Lokon: Funding. While we are funded under the Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University.Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University for operations, the biggest challenge is trying to plan our work and the expansion of our work with extreme financial variability . The other challenge is that I know that our program works and we want to expand our work to other medical schools. We want them to be able to have OMA training. I want to give schools the opportunity to train students to be better health care providers. We need to create awareness to fund this work and it takes a lot of time and effort to make this happen.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Dr. Lokon: I continue to go to a site each week and I see the magic happen and it keeps me grounded and going.

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?

Dr. Lokon: Students realize that it is a privilege to be with someone vulnerable with dementia. Students change and see a shift in themselves. The students begin to see themselves differently and value themselves. I know I have made a difference when I see a student put their arms around their partner with dementia and I see the connection between the two. From a distance you cannot tell that that there is dementia because the old and young person look “normal” and that is the power of human connection.

The patient feels normal and in return the student knows they have made a difference. This is something special. The students write in their journals about their experiences and you know you have made a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us about your impact at OMA?

Dr. Lokon: We began the program in 2009 and since that time we have  trained over 2,00o students  from Miami Ohio alone. We have 150 locations in the United States and Canada that are using our program and are serving eight retirement programs locally. We are currently working with ten universities and their medical/nursing schools to ensure that their students know how to treat those with dementia and communicate with them. When I think of the ripple effect of just the 2,ooo plus students  who become kinder to people with dementia. People who no longer dismiss the elderly, students who are more respectful. I think the measure of success is a cultural change within the aging world, one student at a time. 

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Dr. Lokon: I have learned there is value to everyone in any stage of life regardless of age, condition or disability. There is a reward in seeing that value and in making a human connection. I have learned the importance of social connection and seeing everyone as worthy of your time, attention and love. In the end, it is just what it means to be human.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dr. Lokon: This journey has changed me by making me more aware of the deeper purpose of what it means to be together. What it means to connect and how much is really happening in that connection. We are so busy meditating and going to yoga that we are depriving ourselves of the very substance that makes us whole.

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

The struggle is real…

 

This isn’t my usual post. I am even hesitating as I write this. To be honest I am really struggling with this and don’t know what to do? As most of you know I live in Los Angeles. We happen to have the largest homeless population in the country, with an estimated 58,000 people living on the streets. Many say that the number is much higher. I have spent time on Skid Row, I have fed the homeless and interviewed a number of people who run shelters and nonprofits that support homelessness.  I have a confession to make; not even my teenage sons can make me feel as many human emotions in a flash as someone that is homeless.

When I walk by and see someone who is barefoot, cold, suffering and hungry my immediate reaction is empathy, sadness, then guilt at why do I have so much when someone has so little? Anger, helplessness and most of all frustrated. I have been advised by the Executive Directors of many of these nonprofits that the best way to help the homeless is to help the organizations that support homelessness and not to give money or food…both of which I used to do.

I went to the bank yesterday, where we have a regular homeless man who hangs out by the ATM. I walked by him on my way to the ATM and he says, “Oh good, here is someone who can help.” I smiled and said hello, went to the ATM, looked at him again and told him to have a nice day. His reply, “Look Mrs. big shot can’t share.” I got into my car and started to cry. Tears of frustration, tears of sadness, anger and a host of emotions surged through me. I thought about rolling down the window and giving him money and or an earful about how I serve but what good would that have done? Nothing,  but this encounter really made me think.

 

I drove away feeling dejected and helpless. I really have no answers just a million questions. How do we as a society address mental illness and help those suffering that can not help themselves? How do we get those suffering from addiction to the places that can treat them? How do we support families or individuals who live paycheck to paycheck that had one bad moment that spiraled into homelessness?

I honestly do not have the answers but watching people suffer is difficult. I want to help. I want to make a difference but the struggle with all these feelings is real. This is honest, not so politically correct but how I feel. Am I the only one? Do you feel the same way? Maybe I am the only one crazy enough to say it out loud and in writing…

 

I write this from the comfort of my warm home. I have never been hungry or without a pillow, a warm and safe placed to lay my head at night. I have never been without love, family or a job. I am blessed, aware of how fortunate and full of gratitude. I also know that we must do better for those who so desperately need our help. But how? Again, no answers but so many questions. I would love to hear how you feel?

Charity Matters.

 

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Infinite Hero Foundation

Mike in front row without shirt

What started as a phone call from my sister last week in hopes of helping a friend turned into an amazing journey. She called to tell me about a friend and Vietnam Veteran named Mike Stirling who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, from an agent orange related cancer. She went onto say that she and my brother-in-law knew Mike and his family and had watched him lovingly restore a M37 truck just like the one he had in Vietnam. Now that Mike’s not well he wanted his beloved truck to go to serve others. My sister and brother-in-law purchased the truck from Mike and are now auctioning this special truck off next weekend for a nonprofit called Infinite Hero Foundation that supports Veterans in amazing ways.

Naturally, I needed to know more about this nonprofit and that lead me to an incredible conversation with Infinite Hero’s founder, Colin Baden. In addition to being a nonprofit founder, he is also the former CEO and President of Oakley but even more impressive is what a remarkable human he is.

Charity Matters: Tell us what Infinite Hero Does?

Colin Baden: Infinite Hero’s mission is to connect our military, veterans and military family members with innovative and effective treatment programs for service related injuries. Our focus is to help our Veterans where the VA leaves off, we support Veterans and organizations that help our Veterans with physical rehabilitation, leadership development, brain health, family support and suicide prevention.

Charity Matters: What was the moment that you knew you needed to start Infinite Hero?

Colin Baden: Oakley has a long history of working with the military in our core eyewear business, so through that work we got to know a lot of people within the military, predominately special forces. When we had been at war for as long as we had, we started to see some of the people we had worked with pretty closely return from war pretty messed up and some not coming back at all. It wore on us.

One day we lost an entire Seal team when their helicopter was shot done and I was really upset. I was 52 at the time and what I tried to do initially was to enroll in the military and I thought if I could just take the place of someone else. I quickly realized that you can’t join the military if you are over 45. Since, I couldn’t join I called our military liaison at Oakley, Eric,  and said we need to do something bigger for our Veterans and that was in 2012. From that we began Infinite Hero.

Charity Matters: What makes Infinite Hero different from some of the other military nonprofit organizations?

Colin Baden: When we started it everyone at Oakley was super passionate about it so we had instant volunteers and help. We had no trouble getting support and because of our connections with the military we able to pull together an incredible board and get to the people we wanted to serve. We kept our mission simple and framed it within the culture of Oakley. Oakley has been successful because of its ability to innovate so we wanted to replicate that for Infinite Hero.

It felt to us that the VA model wasn’t diverse enough to solve the complexity and challenges to solve the problems. So we took the simple approach that if we could find innovative ways to help our Veterans we could probably make an impact unlike any other group. Over the course of the last five years we have found some exciting ways to have real impact.

Charity Matters: What are some of your biggest challenges?

Colin Baden:  You would not think that giving the money away is truly our biggest challenge but it is. Identifying a cause that aligns with our mission and being able to use that innovative filter  isn’t easy. We receive over 200 grant applications each year and we struggle to get it down to a handful of organizations that are going to have a real impact. We take the fact that we are stewards of this money very seriously and want to make sure that we are investing it where our Veterans will best be served and have the greatest impact.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Colin Baden: I think its because so many people have been a part of this conflict for such a long time and the challenges they face are really profound and not going away. Some are very hard to grapple with, when you see someone with their limbs amputated from an IED or suicide prevention. When the suicide rate amongst veterans is 30 a day and how you grapple with all of this is not a simple thing. There are not enough VAs to be there to adapt and deal with so many of these challenges, so we need the diversity of all of these foundations to make a difference. We are just one piece of this work.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Colin Baden:There are moments when an investment has paid off, when Gary Linfoot gets to walk his daughter down the aisle for her wedding and we had a hand in that or someone going through one of our leadership development programs and is passionate about his new life as a result of our work. All of these moments make me feel really good about the little work we have done.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your success and impact?

Colin Baden: We manage to raise about a million dollars a year. We aspire to always have a bigger impact and we do everything we can to make sure all of these funds go directly to the cause. What has been so nice about Oakley being a part of this is that we have already had so many skilled people that we didn’t need to pay who could help us make this work.

Investing in innovation in this space has been interesting. We signed up to take on really huge challenges of problems that are not simple for our Veterans. For example we found a treatment center that does amazing brain work with depression and we have been paying for a number of our veterans to go through this treatment and it has been eighty to ninety percent effective. When you think of suicide being one of the biggest challenges our Veterans face and we are really excited about what this can do for so many.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Colin Baden:What has always struck me about the military and their families is their humility and the realization that they really struggle asking for help. I will give you an amazing story as an example and try not to cry telling it. When we launched Infinite Hero we went to Walter Reed Military Hospital. When you are blown up in Afghanistan you are bandaged together enough to get to Walter Reed. When you show up there you are a bandaged ball. The minimum stay at Walter Reed is one year to give you an idea of the severity of these injuries. On average soldiers have an operation every other day.

I walked into a room at Walter Reed and there is a guy who has lost both his arms and legs to an IED laying there. I had a great conversation with this guy who was a beautiful human being and he tells us how happy he is to see us because he wants to thank us for all we have done for him. You have lost your arms and legs and are thanking us? Are you out of your mind? The soldier said, “No, no, no you don’t understand. I am going through training so I will be fitted with artificial legs and will be able to walk around. More than that, I am getting fitted with artificial arms so I can pick my baby girl up. If it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t be able to do that. That is why it is so important that I thank you.”

That kind of humility taught me all I needed to know about Veterans. They are not the ones to help themselves. It dawned on me that if you have any ego on the battlefield, people will die. I have learned humility from these soldiers and I just admire them for that so much. I have made that my personal mantra to never let my ego take over and to have humility.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Colin Baden: This work is so rewarding and more people should do this. We have had such huge returns emotionally from all of this work. I just wake up every morning and think how am I going to out nice humanity. 

 

Charity Matters

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Help Us Adopt

All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about what Help Us Adopt does?

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt began in 2007 at our kitchen table and an idea to help build families through adoption. Our platform was families combined with a commitment to equality, something everyone could believe in. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer. We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. We do that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Help Us Adopt?

Becky Fawcett: I was raised that we were fortunate, there will always be people with more and always with less but more importantly, be grateful for what you have. When my husband Kipp and I realized that Invetro Fertilization (IVF) wasn’t going to work and adoption was going to cost $40,000 I thought, what would happen if we didn’t have this money? I knew how much motherhood meant to me and that I could just barely afford this, but where would I have gone if I didn’t have the resources?  So, I began to look for organizations that helped families to fund adoptions and couldn’t find one that didn’t dictate how someone adopts.

I never intended to start this. My original intention was to give my marketing and pr skills as a volunteer to an existing grant organization. The more I looked I realized that the only existing organizations were limited in their thinking, giving small amounts of money to help fund adoptions, charging expensive application fees and were really patching the problem. These organizations were dictating how someone adopts. I thought who am I to tell families that they have to fit the traditional mold to adopt?  Everyone grows up dreaming of a family. We knew we wanted to support all who had a dream of having a family.

That is why I started this because it just didn’t exist.  So in 2007, I set out to tell this story that I knew I had to tell. Raising the initial funds was easy, until the recession….

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Becky Fawcett: Our biggest challenge is raising money. Finding big angel donors is a lot of hustle for the million plus dollars we raise a year. Finding those donors who are investment donors. The other challenge is that there is still a stigma about adoption and a lot of misinformation about adoption out there and what makes a family.  It is frustrating the language used around adoption. 

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Becky Fawcett: So many things, number one thing is that a lot of people thought we would fail and we have succeeded. Strangers have come to us and want to get involved, which is huge. We are doing groundbreaking work not just for adoption but for family equality. I love leading the charge here and I have become very comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I love building things and I believe Help Us Adopt can be even bigger. The last and most important thing is that helping people is infectious! 

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Becky Fawcett: The minute we read an application from a family I know we are going to make a difference. When we award  a grant we know we have moved the needle. We relieve families from debt in some cases, in some situations our funding helps to speed up the process of adopting their child. I know we help people the minute that grant is awarded. When the child gets home that is when the story starts getting told.

We can watch our work grow up before our eyes and that makes me SO excited! When we watch these children grow up and get Christmas and birthday cards of these beautiful families. Adoption is my world, this is my children’s lives and I need to make it better for everyone. For my children, for their birth mothers and all birth mothers who make the most difficult decisions in the face of adversity that none of us will ever understand. I am advocate for them and their rights as well and I never expected to be here.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt is now in our 12th year and are awarding on average a family a week a grant. When we started Help Us Adopt we only had $100,000 to award. Now, we have four grant cycles at $150,000 each year and our average grants are about nine thousand dollars. This puts us at helping a family a week for 2019.

A lot of blood sweat and tears have gone into this.  It is hard work but a steady progressive upward climb. Everything we do is slightly different and we run our nonprofit like a business. Our issue is a unique and such an untold story. People think it is easy to adopt and that it should be free. When we start to tell people the challenges in adoption and about the children that need homes, people say, “I had no idea what can I do? ”  Every single donor big or small makes a big difference by helping the life of a child. We put kids in homes and build families and everyone can relate to building a family.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Becky Fawcett: I know that every job I have ever had lead me to this. I have learned to always ask, the worst thing that can happen is that someone can say no. People are waiting to be asked. Tell people you need help they want to help.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Becky Fawcett: I don’t even know how to put that into wordsI know I am not the person I was fourteen years ago. I am such a better version of myself in so many ways. The biggest change has been my level of compassion. I think I am much more aware now that you really never know what someone is dealing with. I didn’t tell people what I was going through when I struggled to have children. I’ve learned I have had to trust strangers, my children’s birth mothers and so many others along the way.  I know I’m far from perfect but I do know the instant love I had with my children has changed my life forever.

 

Charity Matters

 

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Changing children’s lives:Centinela Youth Services

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Office Benny Abucejo and Executive Director Jessica Ellis

In my crazy life one thing always seems to lead to another. This past Christmas I met the amazing Jessica Ellis at a holiday work party. Jessica is the Executive Director for an incredible nonprofit called Centinela Youth Services. Their mission is to reduce the number of youth attached to the criminal justice system. After last week’s conversation with the remarkable Jill Weiss from UpRising Yoga, I thought the time to circle back with Jessica was now. There is so much work happening in the juvenile justice system and I wanted to know more.

It truly never ceases to amaze me how a  simple idea can impact generations of lives in such a positive way. That is exactly what happened in the 1970s when a few Inglewood police officers recognized that kids who were doing stupid things didn’t really need jail, they needed guidance. More than that, these juveniles’ needed to own their mistakes and face (literally eye to eye) the person that they had harmed.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about what Centinela Youth Services (CYS) does?

Jessica Ellis: Centinela Youth Services, or CYS as we call it, mission is to reduce the number of vulnerable high needs youth attached to the juvenile justice system in partnership with the Los Angels Police Department, seven other police departments, Inglewood and Compton School Districts, the Public Defender and the District Attorney. We work to keep kids out of the justice system and service the victims of crimes in the process in order to create a more human approach to healing.

When our kids and the victims of crime meet face to face they are put together with two trained community volunteers. We are healing the child and the victim and the community. Our volunteers are the true champions. The magic is bringing two people together towards resolution.

Charity Matters: Give us a little history of CYS?

Jessica Ellis: Between 1973 and 1975 there were a number of police officers in Inglewood, CA who thought that there were kids who really needed to be helped rather than arrested. A couple guys on the police force on their own started to connect these kids to after school programs or counseling rather than to jail. It ended up demonstrating that there was a need for this. It became more than they could do on top of their day job so the city of Inglewood along with five local cities ended up coming together to charter our nonprofit to divert students from arrest to counseling.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jessica Ellis: The interesting thing for us right now is that there is a very unique window of opportunity that has been going on the past couple years for our kind of work in restorative justice. We have been doing diversion (from juvenile hall) since the 1970s and restorative justice since the early 90s and now it is sort of the new hip thing and all of the sudden there is political will for this work and a quite a bit of it.

We have been doing this work in actively transforming the juvenile justice system and our model has influenced others to replicate our program across the state and country. We started the first diversion program in LA County, so when a child is picked up the arrest is not recorded on their record if they complete the diversion program successfully that they have been assigned. While the replication is hugely exciting, we get pulled in as the experts to help replicate our work for this juvenile justice transformation. We don’t necessarily get funded to be the experts. So the challenge is to meet our core capacity  and help to  expand and replicate work. 

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Jessica Ellis: What I love most is that we transcend all criminal justice systems. We bring people face to face to resolve conflicts. We bring the child face to face with the victim of the crime and this two sided approach brings us back to our humanity. It is so much more rewarding. A lot of us have been impacted by both  sides of the justice system, I have close family members who have spent time in prison and I have a family members who was murdered. People that I love have hurt other people. We need to recognize both of those sides and that we can repair humanity, move forward, make people whole and not just give up and throw away people, especially kids.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Jessica Ellis: I know that we have made a difference when a child connects with the person that they have harmed.  A fifteen-year old boy vandalized a school really badly with graffiti everywhere. He really did a huge amount of damage. The principal was so angry he didn’t want to meet with him. The principal sat in the room with the images of the damage on his laptop fueling his anger. The boy walked into the room and the principal would not look up at him. 

When the mediator asked the boy why he wrote bad things about his school and his teachers. The boy didn’t answer. The boy’s mother said to her son, “Tell the principal about what your teachers did.” The young boy tells his principal that when his father went to jail, his teachers were kind and that they bought him clothes and food. The principal now looked at this boy now with humanity. He said, “Your dad went to jail?” The boy replied, “Yes, and I was angry.” The two began talking about art because some of the “damage” was very artistic. The principal loved art as well. He ultimately mentored the boy and enrolled him in a special art program and had him draw a mural at the school

Resolution like this happens everyday. This is very typical of our work. One third of kids are dealing with some sort of mental illness in their homes, one third deal with trauma…we see so many kids do dumb things on the heals of a parent’s death. Kids act out so often due to trauma . Our system is set up to feed that anger and bipolarity, the prison system does not get to the underlying issues where we do. 

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been? Number  of people impacted, funds raised?

Jessica Ellis: Our greatest impact is that we have created a space where kindness and compassion can grow for over 1,000 children a year. We believe that our kids deserve quality. Our crime victims have a 98% satisfaction rate with our work, the kids rate our program fair and equitable 96% of the time.  Our recidivism rate (or the rate with which students are rearrested) is significantly reduced. If you lock kids up they have a higher chance of going back to jail by two-thirds. If you don’t lock them up but put them on probation there is a 23% to 33% of recidivism. Our kids a have less than 8%rate.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Jessica Ellis: It is so easy as humans to want to fix or to blame and to not look at ourselves. If we are helping other people resolving conflicts at work, how can we do this in our own families and lives? Looking at our own lives reminds us how hard this work is and how important.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jessica Ellis: Our work is having such a huge impact here in California. Nationally there is so much discord. All politics aside, the amount of change we are making here in California that moves the criminal justice system to be better for kids, just gives me so much hope. We are seeing law enforcement, District Attorneys, community advocates, criminal justice reformers all coming together to make this change. 

Having hope is a good thing to have.

Charity Matters.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Uprising Yoga

 

While I am still compiling my final New Years resolutions one of them is definitely to do more yoga. In a recent yoga class I was talking to my instructor about her work volunteering in juvenile hall teaching trauma informed yoga with an organization called Uprising Yoga. My yoga teacher and friend introduced me to the amazing and beyond uplifting founder, Jill Ippolito Weiss. Jill has taken her gifts to bring yoga to both underserved communities and to the incarcerated kids at juvenile hall.

I came away from our conversation inspired, invigorated and moved.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Uprising Yoga Does?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: The mission of Uprising Yoga is to bring trauma informed yoga to the incarcerated and to underserved communities. Trauma informed yoga helps people understand the impact of trauma on your entire mind and body, it helps understand the imprint left on the brain.

We have now had such growth that we are training the trainers to bring our program to social workers, probation staff and more teacher awareness. We are building sustainable business models where others can take our curriculum into their communities and use to provide trauma informed yoga.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Uprising Yoga?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: In the summer of 2010, I was dating a man named Nick, now my husband and he came home from work and was shaking and upset. I asked what was wrong and he explained that he had just toured a youth prison camp. He described what he saw and I asked him, “Can I teach yoga there?” 

I was working at a yoga college with my friend Mary and she was trying to put a group of instructors together to teach in juvenile hall already. Between the two of us we tried to find a way to actually get into juvenile hall. Getting clearance to work in prisons is a big deal. For months we tried to offer our services and got nowhere. Then in 2011, Nick and I were at a Christmas party and I was talking to a man who worked in the prison system and told him what I wanted to do. He and his colleagues all reached out and said, “When do you want to start?” So Mary, Nick and I began teaching trauma informed yoga on Tuesday nights to juvenile hall’s most vulnerable kids, the foster care sexually trafficked minors. 

Slowly, the classes began to grow and grow. We received a grant to determine how yoga was helping these kids. A friend said, “Have you thought about starting a nonprofit?”  So in 2012 we started officially. We were having a fund raiser and I called my mom to ask if she would donate. She asked what for and I told her to help the kids in juvenile hall. My mom said,” Jill, I picked you up there when you were a kid.” I was speechless because I honestly did not remember that I had been in the juvenile hall that I was now teaching in. Because I didn’t remember I began to study trauma and how it affects your brain and how we heal from trauma. That is how I connected trauma and yoga. 

I knew that I had gotten into trouble and I knew that recovery and yoga had saved my life. I hadn’t really been able to figure out why I was drawn to incarcerated youth until that moment. What pulled at my heart is that my mom came for me and no one is coming for these kids.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I had no idea when I started how this was going to grow and expand. Our biggest challenge is that there is not enough man power and so much need that we simply can not meet.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Connection and the stories I hear about what we do works. The thank you notes that I receive from students that say, “Thank you for letting my body detox.” It makes me high on the universe . My work matters. The ultimate gift is hearing that how you changed someone’s life for the better.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: There are so many ways but when we receive a letter, an email or a picture from juvenile hall saying, “Thank you for caring about us.” I know we are teaching life skills and that what we teach lasts a lifetime. I was recently asked to participate in a book about best practices for yoga in the criminal justice system. When people recognize me for my work that is touching.

We recently had a hostage/shooter situation at our local Trader Joes a block from our home.  The day after the situation I called volunteered my services to teach trauma informed yoga to the hostages.  I felt so helpless and thought what can one person do to offer their gifts and talents?  There was so much pain and trauma in my own neighborhood. So now we come together once a week and the trauma informed yoga has brought us all together. The yoga is healing these victims of violence and has given me an opportunity to use my gifts to let others know I care. These hostages have told me how this class has healed them.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact? The successes you have had?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Our impact is on many levels. It can be as small as what we do for one person with our one on one work or large when we do large events. We know that violence goes down significantly after we work in the prisons. Today is our work is recognized nationally and internationally. Our Uprising Yoga curriculum is spreading across the country because it works and people are replicating our model. That is when you know your work has impact.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned since beginning Uprising Yoga and how has this experience changed you?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I have learned that people are good and want to keep doing good.  Once the nonprofit got started, people who cared came out of the woodwork to volunteer, to help, to donate and that literally shifted my entire perception of humanity. I didn’t know people had SO much good in them. I continue to believe that.

This experience made me go from suspicion and confusion into understanding why I went through my pain and how my healing process became available to others. I understood what my own healing journey meant. The yoga just didn’t heal me but it also healed everyone around me. My husband Nick has been a part of this entire journey and I feel that our love is shared out into a community.

Charity Matters

 

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Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Tracy’s Dogs

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

Josh Billings

There are 1.7 million nonprofit organizations in the United States and not enough days in the year to cover them all. Years ago when I began telling the stories of these incredible humans making our world better, I decided I would only tell stories of people helping people. As much as I love green causes and animals I needed to create some perimeters. When a friend of mine at HooplaHa reached out to tell me about Tracy and the work she and her husband Scott are doing to rescue dogs in kill shelters, I knew these were very special humans. When you see what Tracy and Scott Whyatt do, you will realize that this is people helping people and thousands of dogs in the process.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Tracy’s Dogs Does?

Tracy Voss Whyatt: We initially thought we were going to be an online platform to connect people with dogs that we rescued from kill shelters that were going to be euthanized. We never thought we were going to have five acres, care for up to 100 dogs a day, with some in our homes or have a nonprofit. 

Scott Whyatt: We never expected to start a nonprofit and really had no idea what had started out as Tracy’s passion for these dogs would become what it is today. We really intended to be an online virtual rescue and then Tracy had another idea…

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Tracy’s Dogs?

Tracy Voss Whyatt: In 2010, I was a single mom of three girls and had been working in human pharmaceutical sales for years and was laid off. I really depressed, so I started going down to the local animal shelter taking pictures and videos of these dogs that were on the euthanasia list and sending them to local animal rescue groups. What I didn’t realize that the dogs I was sending photos of were getting adopted and the images were going viral. Four to six weeks later my company hired me back but I just continued. On my lunch hour, after work going to these kennels. Scott and I started fostering some dogs and it just kept growing.

Scott Whyatt: I had just moved to Texas and had come from a media back round having worked in branding, marketing and television. I told Tracy, I think I have an idea to help you with your online presence we can create a platform to help shelters across the country promote the dogs that are not getting adopted. We are going to name this Tracy’s Dogs. The following year, in 2011 we became an official nonprofit.

Tracy Voss Whyatt: The plans changed when a local woman heard what we were doing and believed in our work. She offered to lease us her 5 acre property with buildings on it for $1.00 a year. So we started housing dogs there. It has grown. I am still in pharmaceutical sales but now I am work in animal health.

Scott Whyatt: Early on we decided that I would get out of what I was doing to run Tracy’s Dogs and Tracy could keep her corporate job. I came on board full time to take care of 85-105 dogs a day for 16 hours a day. The payoff for this work is huge.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Tracy Voss Whyatt: I think our biggest challenge is not having enough space for all the dogs I want to save. I could save so many more dogs if I had a place to put them. There is an endless supply of dogs, but there is nothing worse than walking into a kill facilities seeing a beautiful dog and knowing I can’t take him because there is no space left. The other challenge is finding people who love our dogs and want to do this for the right reason. You have to love dogs to your core.

Scott Whyatt: My biggest challenge is that Tracy’s heart is so big that it is hard to keep the operation, the engine and everything else running at the level of her passion. She is truly the heart of this. I am simply the steering wheel and and the breaks. I am just trying to keep up with her. We have fifty-eight volunteers across the country who handle the adoption process and seven on staff full time who care for the animals. These dogs bring out a level of emotion in all of our staff and volunteers and sometimes that is more challenging than managing all of our dogs.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Scott Whyatt: Honestly, I get so much from the transport day. The day we actually get to connect the dog and their new forever family. I have the honor of shaking every person’s hand. There is something indescribable in that moment. Those dogs mean so much more than an adoption. It is remarkable every time.  It is a privilege and an event to connect these dogs and their new families. I worked for free until 2017. I get so much out of meeting these people. We work all month finding the dogs, connecting them to the right family, caring for them and then once a month we get this amazing payoff. I will give up everything but that moment, there is nothing better.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Scott Whyatt: We are doing so much than caring for, rescuing and saving dogs. We are filling needs for people that we often do not even know about. Last year, I was in New Jersey handing off a Boston Terrier to a man in his sixties. He began to cry when he got his dog. He could not contain his emotion. His previous Boston Terrier had died, he had lost his wife and this dog filled an enormous void in his life. 

Tracy Voss Whyatt: We get letters and emails all the time from families. One of them was from a family who contacted us and sent a picture of their daughters favorite stuffed animal. Their daughter was having open heart surgery. We found a puppy that literally looked exactly like this stuffed animal. We heard that the little girl loved her dog and pulled through surgery. A year later we heard from the family that the little girl now had leukemia and during her treatments she would show the doctors photos of her dog at home and say, ” I can’t stay here overnight because I need to get home and take care of my dog.” They are literally best friends. We realize that these dogs have a purpose and that these connections are not by chance.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact? The successes you have had?

Scott Whyatt: What I’ve learned is that our successes is really about the service we do for people. We have rescued 4800 dogs but more than that we do it right. We want to know how connected our customers are to us and their dog. Forty percent of people end up with a different dog than they initially wanted because our screeners have matched them. Less than 1.8% of the dogs don’t work out and we take them back. We have created a family across 44 states of 4800 people. This isn’t a transaction, it is so much more. We mean something to these families. This is bigger than just dogs.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned since beginning Tracy’s Dogs?

Scott Whyatt: I used to play college football and I get more out of this work than playing football in front of 40,000 people. I had a big life but you realize the focus on yourself doesn’t matter. It is not about you but about what you are doing and who you are doing it for that matters. I work for rewards that matter. It is a privilege to connect these dogs and families.

Tracy Voss Whyatt: I’ve spent many years angry towards people for the abuse and neglect I see everyday towards defenseless animals.   What the dogs have taught me after years of trying is that love and forgiveness  is much stronger than anger or hate.

Dogs have the ability to see only the good in people and are very forgiving creatures.  Qualities I admire and strive to live by every day. Making the world a better place isn’t going to happen with anger or hate.   We have a much better chance of making the world a better place with love and forgiveness.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Scott Whyatt: I am very different. I am far more driven than I was eight years ago. We pull 700 dogs a year and that is 700 lives. I know in the grand scheme of things that number is small but it is 700 lives that I get to touch. I know that this life we save is going to make another life happy. I feel the responsibility to our volunteers, our dogs and our families to all be a part of something so much bigger than we are.

Tracy Voss Whyatt: Tracy’s Dogs has made me a better person and more understanding towards people.    My passion is helping animals but through this work, I’ve developed a better understanding and love for people thanks to the dogs.I finally realized after 8 years in rescue, love and forgiveness can change the world.    There are more good people out there than bad.

We are changing the lives of dogs and people one person at a time.

Charity Matters

 

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Looking back and looking ahead

“People get up, they go to work, they have their lives, but you will never see a headline that says,’Six billion people got along rather well today.’ You will have a headline about the 30 people who shot each other.”

John Malkovich

I love this quote above from John Malkovich because it perfectly explains what Charity Matters tries to accomplish every week….highlighting the extraordinary everyday heroes who make our world better.  The world is focusing on those few that don’t get along, when in reality we should be celebrating all the beautiful work happening in our world everyday. I am heading out of town for a few day of R & R, some time to relax and think about goals for the New Year. Before I look ahead, I wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the remarkable people we met this year.

It was a year with some personal milestones with our oldest graduating college and reflections on motherhood. A year spent thinking about gratitude and goodness. A year with remarkable people who showed us by example what it means to serve. We covered topics from education to cancer, human trafficking to homelessness, AIDS and so many more.

We began the year meeting Lisa Knight of Camp del Corozon who began a camp for children with heart disease and others who set out to help those with cancer. The Foundation for Living Beauty’s Amie Satchu showed us how her organization gives hope to women living with cancer while the tenacious Alisa Savoretti inspired us with her commitment to serving women who could not afford reconstructive surgery after their mastectomy with My Hope Chest.  One of the highlights for me this year was the incredible conversation with Myra Biblowit of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or BCRF. She amazed me and taught us about the power of friendship with her dedication to her work and friend Evelyn Lauder.

We discussed difficult topics like human sex trafficking with two nonprofits ,Saving Innocence and The Well House. We met famous super models turned homeless advocates with the stunning Elena Davis of I Am Water Foundation. We learned more about AIDS with the wonderful humans from Project Angel Food and the inspiring work done by the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation.

If that wasn’t enough, I met a few new friends with the beautiful Rochelle Fredston whose work with Learning Labs Ventures is transforming children’s lives through education. And Jennifer Hillman, the genius entrepreneur who found a way to combine philanthropy and shopping with her brilliant LuxAnthropy. Each person who crossed our path was a gift, a lesson in kindness, compassion, service to one another and love. 2018 was a magical year and I am grateful for each of you joining me on the journey to tell the story of the billions of kind, good and loving people who walk this earth each and everyday. Here is to more joy, love and kindness in 2019!

Charity Matters.

 

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Many Hopes

 

” If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are stories and then there is this story, one of the most remarkable journeys I have encountered in my nonprofit adventures. A beautiful tale of survival, love, goodness, and hope. The setting is Kenya, where there are 2.6 million homeless children and sixty percent of the country survives on less than a dollar a day. Like any great tale, there is a heroine, her name is Gift. The story opens when Gift’s mother died of AIDS. Gift was six years old and was carrying her six-month-old baby brother on her back to find food and medical help for him. A group of street children told Gift that the baby she was carrying was dead. These street children took Gift to meet their friend Anthony.

Anthony Mulongo

Anthony Mulango was a prominent journalist in Kenya and from a well to do family. He was doing a report on the street children in Mombasa and had befriended many of them when young Gift appeared. Anthony brought Gift into his home, hired a woman to take care of her, sent her to school and essentially raised Gift as his daughter.

The story takes a twist in 2007 when Irish journalist Thomas Keown was traveling to Kenya and met Gift and Anthony. He came back to the United States where he had a newspaper column published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Thomas wrote a column about sacrifice and mentioned Anthony and Gift. The article’s response came with letters and checks which became the start of Many Hopes. I spoke with Thomas this week and I came away from our conversation in awe of what love, dedication, and vision combined can achieve. Here is our conversation:

Gift

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Many Hopes Does?

Thomas Keown: We rescue, educate and advocate for children. Fundamentally we believe that children who suffer injustice are the most powerful agents of change. We want children to defeat the causes of injustice that they survived. We work for Gift, she is the true founder of Many Hopes. Many Hopes is more than a school it is a long term strategic solution to the corruption and poverty that exploits the most vulnerable children. When the poorest children are educated alongside children with means they help one another to have confidence and to build a network that will make them free to make their own choices and not need charity.

Growing up in Belfast during a time of turmoil. I learned early and was privileged to witness that lessons that seemingly unsolvable problems can and do have solutions if the right ingredients come to bare. If you can transform a generation, you can transform anything.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew that you needed to start Many Hopes?

Thomas Keown: When I met Anthony I was struck by his life of sacrifice and I wondered what I would have done at 28 if I had seen Gift? I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to make the sacrifice that Anthony made. Would I have taken Gift into my home and arranged for the burial of her brother?

I had seen poverty in my travels before going to Kenya in 2007. I came home from my trip and wrote my weekly newspaper column and talked about what people need to do to have a useful and purposeful life. I mentioned Anthony and Gift in the last two paragraphs of the column, as an example of people doing that. I asked people to consider to use their lives and resources for good. I had never thought about a nonprofit organization.

The power of the story kicked in and the reality is that every human being wants to be impactful.  I had never seen letters before like we did from this article. An editor in New York began to forward all the emails she received and reached out to me. People wanted to do good, to meet me and to help Anthony. In the beginning, we were just trying to help Anthony and raise some money. I knew he was very smart and that I had access to resources living in the States so I volunteered to try to raise funds and became part-time and six years ago came on full time for Many Hopes.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Thomas Keown: Most fundamentally I’m a  a Christian, this is what I am on earth to do. My driving motivation is my faith. Growing up in Northern Ireland during a violent time I have always been driven by work that supports justice. I believe the work that we are doing is transformational. I see results in the lives of individual children. I am fueled to keep doing this work when I see students who should be dead are now in college instead. When you get tired you just need to look at the individual milestones.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Thomas Keown: To be honest, sometimes I don’t know we have made a difference. You don’t always know the love and education that a six year old child receives will do to them, you do know it will do something. We see girls are afraid who become trusting. We see children find faith. We see the worst of what humans can do to one another and the best. Then you see one of our first students like Brenda. Brenda told us from the time she was little that she wanted to be an attorney. She said, ” I hope I can become an attorney to defend someone’s rights because someone defended my rights.” Seeing Brenda graduate with her law degree and then to use her degree to advocate for other children, like herself, that is when I see the work we have done.

I also see the people who support our work. The favorite part of my job is inviting people to partner with us and to feed their souls.I get to help people discover or rediscover the joy of generosity and the pleasure of changing other peoples lives. We get to change these donors lives and our children in Kenya’s lives as well.

Charity Matters: Tell us what successes you have had?

Thomas Keown:We have built girls’ homes, built a school for 900 boys and girls where students of priveledge and poor students are educated together. We are reservoir of aspiration that is narrow but deep. We are not trying to educate millions of people. Rather we are  focusing on love and education on these few, we are creating leaders and influencers who will create great change.

Charity Matters: how has this experience changed you?

Thomas Keown: I have learned to overcomeI am much more committed and persistent than I used to be. I know that I am doing the thing that I am supposed to be doing. I am more optimistic than ever having seen donors and children’s lives changed. I have no unmet needs.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this journey?

Thomas Keown: Life lessons, I’ve learned so many in the past eleven years. I have learned self care and to rest. This work is so important that often we keep pushing on overdrive but I have learned to rest. I have learned that I don’t need to worry about rejection or failure but to simply overcome. 

I used to need tangible success but have learned that you don’t know the immeasurable lasting impact you have on someone’s life until years later. We don’t always know who we will carry so when in doubt be kind.

Charity Matters

 

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Gifts that give

“The greatest gifts are not wrapped in paper but in love.”

Finding the perfect gift is never an easy task. So many of the people in my life really need for so little and so many need so much, so why not combine the two this holiday season? There are a variety of great ways to give back and give, it is like having two gifts in one….or a gift with purchase.  After moving a few years ago, it became clear that we did not need any more stuff and it seemed that many of my friends and family do not need it either. So how are we supposed to show the ones that we love with a meaningful gift? In my search I came across some thoughtful gift ideas that give back worth sharing.

Luxanthropy

Founder Jennifer Hillman combined her passion for philanthropy and high end luxury goods in one brilliant online stop to shop. LuxAnthropy is a place where you can find a fabulous bag, dress, accessory or the perfect gift and a percentage of every sale goes to a host of amazing nonprofit partners. On top of that, LuxAnthropy even gives an additional percentage to each cause. This is a win-win! Beautiful gifts that give back!

The Giving Keys

The Giving Keys began in 2008 when founder, Caitlyn Crosby, stayed in a hotel room that used real keys. The keys reminded her of each person’s uniqueness and she began having keys made with inspirational words such as DREAM, CREATE, or INSPIRE engraved on keys. Caitlyn began giving the keys away to anyone who needed to be inspired. The purpose is to embrace your key and your word and then to pay it forward and give your key to someone who needs that message. The Giving Keys is not a nonprofit but every product purchased supports job creation for individuals transitioning out of homelessness and to date The Giving Keys has provided over 146,318 hours of work and created over 70 jobs for those in need.

One Hope Wine

In 2007, Jake Kloberdanz  had an idea, 168 cases of wine and eight friends just out of college. No, it was not a party but the beginning of his company, OneHope that’s mission is to make the world a better place through every product they sell. OneHope‘s core product is wine but they have expanded their brand and their charitable donations along with it. Every product benefits a cause and to date OneHope has donated over one million meals to the cause Why Hunger, 65,000 diapers to help premature infants, planted 52,000 trees, provided clean drinking water and the list goes on.  OneHope has donated over $1.6 million dollars since its inception. Now that is a cause worth raising your glass for and a great gift that gives!

 

 GIFTS THAT BENEFIT ST. JUDE CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL

This year St. Jude’s has partnered with fantastic retailers such as William Sonoma, Home Goods,Brooks Brothers, Pottery Barn, Tumi Luggage, West Elm and Mark and Graham all with proceeds from certain items going to support cancer research and  the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital where parents do not receive a bill for any of their child’s medical care. To support St. Jude’s and shop 

 PUBLIC SUPPLY COMPANY IN SUPPORT OF EDUCATION

The Public Supply Company makes beautiful suede,v elour and leather notebooks for the writer in your life. More than that their mission is to support creative work in our country’s public schools by channeling 25% of profits from every sale to a teacher in a high-need classroom who will use the money for a project that drives creativity. To find that thoughtful gift that gives back, visit Public-Supply Co. You will be happy you did!

GIVE LOTTO LOVE SCRATCH CARDS

This amazing organization has created their own lotto where everyone is a winner. Play LottoLove to win for someone in need. With the purchase of each scratch card, LottoLove donates to one of its nonprofit partners to support a different worthy cause.

For every card purchased LottoLove donates to their Non-profit partners to fulfill their social mission of helping people receive: clean water, solar light, nutritious meals or literacy tools. Each ‘Basic Needs’ card gives one of the following:
1 week of clean water
3 weeks of clean water
1 month of solar light
4 months of solar light
1 set of literacy tools
3 sets of literacy tools
To purchase these fantastic cards, which by the way make great stocking stuffers, check out Give Lotto Love 

GIFTS FOR GOOD

Lastly, there is a great website called Gifts for Good where if there wasn’t anything above that fit your holiday list that this is the place for you. Gifts for Good’s mission is to change the way the world gifts. According to their site U.S. corporations spend over $60 billion every year on corporate gifts, but donate less than a third of that to charitable causes. If every corporation purchased gifts that gave back―without spending any more money―we could redirect an extra $60 billion a year to addressing our world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

To solve this Gifts for Good has an incredible catalog of gifts that all give back and just might be the final place to finish up your shopping.

Hoping that these suggestions are helpful in making this season of giving meaningful for all.

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF)

There is nothing better than friends supporting one another. A few weeks ago Jennifer Hillman of LuxAnthropy asked me if I had met the amazing people over at The Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Foundation? The answer was that I hadn’t and to be honest I was completely naive in my thinking about AIDS, that was until I spoke with Joel Goldman who has acted as the Executive Director of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) for the past five years. With World AIDS Day here, this Saturday, December 1st, it seemed like the perfect time to share our enlightening and moving conversation.

 

Charity Matters: Joel give us some HISTORY of how the ETAF began?

Joel Goldman: In 1985 Elizabeth Taylor planned a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles, that was the same year that Ryan White was banned from entering school for having AIDS. Elizabeth’s friend, Rock Hudson died of AIDS that year along with 12,529 other Americans and Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson’s doctor, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, created the National AIDS Research Foundation, which became AmFar. By 1987 over 40,000 Americans were dead from AIDS and a year later that number jumped to 61,800 deaths. 

In 1991, Elizabeth Taylor sold her wedding photos to People Magazine for one million dollars to begin the funding for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. That same year Freddie Mercury of Queen died of AIDS and by now, one million Americans were infected with HIV. By 1996, the United Nations estimated that 22.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV and by 2002 HIV was the leading cause of death worldwide for people between the ages of 15-59. When Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 there were 34 million people living with AIDS.

I came to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation five years ago to lead this incredible organization without Elizabeth Taylor at the helm. My mission was to take her legacy and build a continued legacy in global health.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Does?

Joel Goldman: We were established to provide funding and grants to organizations around the globe that offer direct care to people living with AIDS and HIV.  We also focus on HIV education around the globe and advocacy programs.  We work on HIV criminalization reform that still exists in 31 states across our country. We have mobile clinics in Malawi that are treating up to 1,000 people per day.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Joel Goldman: What fuels me to keep doing this work is the global disparity in access to medication. There are over 36 million people globally living with HIV and millions do not have the same access to the medication they need. Our work is to ensure that everyone has an equal playing field.  Part of that work is education and going to Washington DC for AIDS advocacy on Capitol Hill.

Joel Goldman with Elizabeth Taylor’s grandchildren (photo:Sean Black)

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?

Joel Goldman: We know we have made a difference with the education and awareness work we fund. We have made an impact on our advocacy laws and in the millions of people we serve with our support services. The ETAF has granted over twenty million dollars to over 675 organizations in 44 countries and 42 states. We make a difference every day in big and small ways.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from your time at the ETAF?

Joel Goldman: There have been so many life lessons learned during my five years here at ETAF. This was my first time in the Executive Director role and there was an immediate lesson in responsibility and truly caring for an organization and it’s legacy.

I have learned how much better our world would be if we all partnered instead of competed. I learned this when we partnered with a malaria organization in Africa because people were willing to be tested for malaria and afraid of being tested for HIV. Today because of that partnership we treat more malaria in Africa than HIV because we were willing to build a bridge to work together. More than anything, I have learned that if we are going to defeat something we ALL need to come together.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Joel Goldman: I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, the next day I needed to fly to Los Angeles for a job interview from Indiana. I was in shock with my diagnosis and thinking I was going to die of AIDS, I upgraded my plane ticket to first class…thinking why not? On the plane, I ended up seating next to Ryan White’s mom, Jeanne. I thanked her for all she had done and was doing for AIDS patients, not sharing with her my diagnosis. I asked her why she was going to LA. She replied that she was going to give Elizabeth Taylor an award for her work with AIDS.

Five years ago, on my first day at the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, they gave me a stack of folders on the history of the organization. The first one I opened was the photo of Ryan White’s mother presenting Elizabeth Taylor with her award. I knew then and know now that I was meant to be here and to do this work. All I can hope is that I have done Elizabeth Taylor proud.

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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