This week’s news certainly seems to be about football and country. While many are talking politics, there is another game involving the two, that is all about strength in the face of adversity. It is the Invictus Games that are happening this week in Canada.
Prince Harry is perhaps an unlikely nonprofit founder. In 2013, while he was on a trip to the United States visiting the Warrior Games, Harry saw how the power of sport helped to heal physically, physiologically and socially. In that moment, he decided to create the Invictus Games to be an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service personal.
The word Invictus means unconquered and the purpose of these games is to harness the power of sport to inspire recovery. This week over 550 competitors will gather from over 17 countries to compete in eight days of fierce competition.
Prince Harry wanted to honor those that he has served with and all military service men and women around the world in hopes of creating a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country. The motto of the games is based from a poem entitled “Invictus” which says, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
As Prince Harry said, “These games have shown the unconquerable character of service men, women and their families Invictus spirit. These games show the very best of the human spirit.” Here is to an amazing week of recognizing those who serve and cheering them on!
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In the town I grew up in, we have the most beautiful bridge, that was built in 1913. I drive over this bridge almost daily, its architecture and views bring me such joy. The bridge’s most recent fame was being feature in LaLa Land. However, over the years the Colorado Street Bridge has sadly become famous for something much more tragic and that is for suicide. Many locals refer to the bridge as suicide bridge because of the long history associated with it. Seventy-nine people jumped off that bridge following the Great Depression and sadly, many have followed in the years sense.
This month is Suicide Prevention Month. A sad and depressing topic that many do not want to discuss, but the reality is that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. An even more shocking statistic is that 22 Veterans commit suicide EVERYDAY.
When I heard that a local nonprofit, Wellness Works, that works with veterans healing PTSD, was bringing in hundreds of veterans to patrol The Colorado Street Bridge with a mission of promoting awareness about suicide and veterans, I knew I needed to do the same. For three days, 24 hours a day, in an event called Not on Our Watch, these veterans will walk to hold a vigil to honor those that have died and to offer hope to those that feel there isn’t any.
Today when I drive across that bridge, I will think of those who have so bravely served our country and say a prayer for those still suffering. My hope is that they are brave enough to reach out for help.
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In the recent weeks following Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma we have watched the citizens of Houston as they struggle with the most basic of needs, food, water, shelter but one thing we often forget about when discussing basic needs is toiletries. Something as simple as a toothbrush, deodorant or a bar of soap and more importantly the huge effect that not having these basic essentials has on our self-esteem and life.
I recently had a fantastic conversation with a remarkable man named Jeff Feingold, who identified this need in 2010. An unlikely nonprofit founder, with an MBA from Harvard business school and over 20 years working as a portfolio manager at Fidelity, yet his huge heart and overwhelming gratitude inspired the nonprofit, Hope and Comfort in 2010. Their mission is to improve the health and self-esteem of school age children and young adults in the Boston area. His story is one of gratitude, inspiration and hope….
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start a nonprofit?
Jeff Feingold:It started in 2010 when my daughter was having a birthday party, and my wife and I decided she didn’t need anything but so many other children did. We asked people to bring items needed by a local nonprofit. We were overwhelmed by the toys, toiletries and clothes that friends brought to donate. In delivering these items, I met a social worker who shared with me a statistic that 58% of low-income families are unable to buy personal care items. She said, if you don’t have a bar soap it is hard to go forward.
We knew then that we needed to do more and began sourcing toiletries out of our garage. In 2011, we applied for our nonprofit status for Hope and Comfort.
Charity Matters: You have a full-time job and run a nonprofit what fuels you to keep doing this work?
Jeff Feingold: I think the realization that life is short and fragile and there is so much need. We have been blessed but there are so many kids who are not. Children who do not go to school because of their hygiene, that are afraid to smile because they haven’t brushed their teeth, students being bullied because their families can’t afford soap or shampoo, who are refusing to go to school. Knowing that we are able to bring resources together to change this for so many kids is what keeps us going. That and the need seems to keep growing.
Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?
Jeff Feingold: I know we have made a difference when we hear that children are going back to school, when they send us notes saying that they are smiling again. I know that we have been able to thrive in a crowded nonprofit landscape by partnering with food pantries, human services, children’s organizations and bringing everyone together in partnerships creating a distribution network to get these toiletries to those who need them.
We have made a difference in inspiring hundreds of volunteers, young families and young children, including our own on teaching them how to give and make a difference.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
Jeff Feingold: In May 2010 we started with a donating a few items from our daughters birthday party and within the first year of working from our garage we distributed over 1,000 toiletries. By 2014 we partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Mass General Hospital to provide products and hygiene lessons, distributing over 50,000 toiletries. Today, only seven years later we have distributed over 375,000 toiletries to close to twenty thousand children in need.
As Jeff said, Hope and Comfort has gone from soap to hope…..a shinning example of what love and gratitude can do!
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This week was supposed to be about back to school, but somehow it just didn’t feel right when thousands of Texans are suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. So rather than talk about beginnings, it seems more appropriate to talk about what happens when people come together in times of crisis to help one another and what we can do to help the 6.8 million people affected by these storms.
Texas Monthly, provided this amazing list of ways we can help those in Houston and I thought it was worth sharing here, with a variety of ways to help children, families, the sick, disabled and animals.
The Texas Diaper Bank Each year The Texas Diaper bank helps change the lives of 15,600 babies, seniors and the disabled. They distribute over 1.1 million diapers every year.
Driscoll Children’s Hospital The hospital served over 171,000 children last year and is in need of blood donations as well as financial support during this challenging time as the staff works to serve these children and families.
Port Light This nonprofit is a grassroots organization that was established in 1997 to help those affected by disasters, specifically those with medical equipment needs and disabilities. Since that time, the organization has grown and in addition providing disaster emergency services, they spend much of their time educating others how to be prepared.
Direct Relief USA This organization operates the largest charitable medical program in the United States serving more than 23 million Americans each year. 72% of those served live under the poverty level in the United States. They are working to provide medicine and medical care to those people evacuated from their homes and in need.
Houston Food Bank In 2016-2017 The Houston food Bank distributed over 83 million meals! That was before Hurricane Harvey. With thousands and thousands of people living in shelters the Houston Food Bank is in desperate need of support to feed so many additional families.
Galveston County Food Bank was founded in 2012 to provide meals to Houston’s surrounding area and helps to provide food and meals to over 53, 000 people each day who struggle to feed their families. They need your support to help so many more during this crisis.
Global Giving is the largest global crowdfunding community connecting nonprofits, donors, and companies in nearly every country. This organization helps nonprofits from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (and hundreds of places in between) access the tools, training, and support they need to be more effective and make our world a better place. Their goal is to raise over 2 million dollars towards the Hurricane Harvey Relief effort.
SPCA of Texas is overwhelmed with need to rescue, care and support the thousands of animals effected by Hurricane Harvey. They annually help over 50,000 animals each year in addition to the seven thousand they spade/neuter and the other seven thousand animal cruelty investigations each year. The SPCA needs your support to rescue and care for the thousands of pets affected by the storm.
Aesop said, “In union there is strength.” This is the time we need to stop, click a link and help those who need it most, I just did……because together we can really do something.
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Summer’s end is bittersweet for me. It is not just the long days, the sun, and the inevitable back to school but it is saying goodbye to the remarkable students that we are privileged to work with all summer long through the youth leadership organization I work with. These students are beyond inspiring and we give them the skills to change the world and it is amazing to see what they can do.
The other day I was looking into other organizations that do similar work and I came across the most remarkable story about a young man named Craig Kielburger and his older brother Marc. Craig, at the age of 12 saw a news story about a young man his age, that changed his life, ignited a fire within and sparked a generation of youth to give back.
That moment was the beginning of the nonprofit Free the Children, whose mission was to free children and families of poverty and exploitation but that was simply the beginning of a remarkable journey and story. Free the Children grew and expanded into ME to WE, the WE Movement and a remarkable organization that empowers youth to change the world.
More than twenty years later, their vision and scope has expanded into empowering youth at home, connecting them with global and social causes, partnering with schools, service oriented travel programs for youth and families, along with a social enterprise that provides products that make an impact with their everyday consumer decisions.
These two brothers, used a spark to ignite a flame of service that has inspired hundreds of thousands of youth to be the change. In Craig’s words,” Over the years, we’ve discovered that it’s far more important to reach as many people as possible-especially our youth-empower them with the knowledge that it’s not up to anyone else, it’s up to them to make a difference.”
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As Father’s Day is quickly approaching, I begin thinking about my dad. A wonderful man, with a big heart, heart disease and a history of heart problems. My Dad and I still spin together at least twice a week and he will be 78 this fall. However, a few years back, while in spin class my Dad’s heart stopped, while he was on his spin bike. Technically he died. Thankfully, due to the gym’s quick response and having a defibrillator (think the paddles on medical tv shows) close by, his life was saved.
The other day I came across the story of Michael Salem and it reminded me so much of my dad. Mike Salem was also a great guy beloved by all and in 2002 he was playing golf with friends when his heart stopped. Sadly, there was not a defibrillator near by and he did not survive. His company and co-workers wanted to do something in his memory, the result is The Mikey Network. A non-profit whose mission is promote healthy heart living and to provide public access defibrillators, which they call Mikeys.
Since 2003 the Mikey Network has raised millions of dollars, trained thousands on how to use defibrillators, placed hundreds of defibrillators in schools, camps, police cars and in public transit. More importantly than that, they have saved over 15 lives (that they know of) and counting, all because of one man’s legacy.
We never know when our time is up, that is something I have witnessed with both my parents. As a result, everyday when I exit my spin class with my Dad, I say loudly (in front of the entire class), “I love you Dad.” It just takes one moment to change everything….and it is people like Hugh Heron and The Mikey Network who have changed that moment for so many families.
I can no longer take moments for granted….and the beat goes on…
My grandmother and mother used to cut articles out of the newspaper and send them to me. Nowadays, my sweet mother-in-law sends links instead. I received this link from her recently and it coincided with a dear friend’s dad being honored as a veteran of WWII.
As I watched the video below, tears streamed from my face and I was so touched to learn about all the work, actor Gary Sinise has done to support our veterans. Coming from a military family he had always done work for Veteran’s causes going back as early as the 1970s. After September 11th, 2001 Gary decided to focus all his efforts on helping those who serve our country, whether first responders or members of our military. In 2011, Gary decided to establish the Gary Sinise Foundation, with a mission to continue to “spread the word about the importance of service and sacrifice.”
The actor’s most recent focus has been to collect and preserve the oral histories of our WWII veterans. He has been bringing soldiers to WWII museum in Louisiana, to collect these stories before they are gone.
Since the foundation has been established in 2011 they have:
Served and provided for over 5,775 children of fallen families
Served over 83,000 veterans meals
Collected over 8,000 oral histories from WWII Veterans
Provided over 5,800 veterans nights out for art and theater
Performed over 365 concerts for veterans
Adapted 51 veterans homes and counting to be handicap accessible
This work in service of those who have given their life to serve and protect us, is beyond inspiring. As Gary Sinise said, “While we can never do enough to show our gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.” Thank you Gary Sinise for showing us what service is all about.
With the rain pouring down this past week in LA, I have been thinking about something that has literally NEVER occurred to me…a flood. I know, crazy isn’t it? However, floods are reality in many parts of the country and when a flood or natural disaster strikes, the first concern is safety, housing and food. Once those needs are met victims begin the process of recovering their possessions, most especially trying to find and repair their families photos. This is when Operation Photo Rescue steps in to literally rescue a families memories.
In 2006, photojournalists Dave Ellis and Becky Sell launched Operation Photo Rescue after they witnessed victims throwing out treasured family photos that had been destroyed. Their mission became, “Insurance doesn’t restore memories but we do.”
A few weeks after a natural disaster or flood, OPR‘s team of volunteers set up a location where people can begin to bring in the photos they have found to see if they can be saved and restored. The damaged photos are digitally copied and a host of volunteers from around the globe use Photoshop and give hours of time to restore the images.
Over 12,000 photos have been restored thanks to more than 2,000 volunteers around the world. For many of these volunteers the work behind the scenes becomes personal and being able to give families their memories back is a gift.
It seems fitting to end the week where we began, with Aaron Siskind’s quote, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
There is something magical and cathartic about writing. For me, it is a time to hear my inner voice and explore the outside world, as well as a gift that I cherish. That is why when I heard about 826National.org I was smitten with their mission and story to encourage the gift of writing.
Their story began in 2002, when author Dave Eggers and educator, Ninive Calegari were looking for a solution to help overburdened teachers, while connecting talented working adults and students who needed help. They located a store front in the Mission District of San Francisco, aptly at 826 Valencia Street, where they opened a pirate store in the front and built a writing lab for kids in the back of an old gym space.
Word spread quickly and before long 826 Valencia was serving 6,000 students, between the ages of 6 and 18, annually with over 1,700 volunteers.
Only two years later in 2004 a second chapter of 826NYC, opened in New York City and the following year chapters opened up in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor and Boston. By 2008, 826’s fifth anniversary the non-profit had published its first book with their students work and opened their national headquarters called 826 National with a mission that believes great leaps in learning can happen with individual attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.
Today, 826 National.Org serves over 30,000 students across the country with over 5,300 volunteers, the organization has been a part of over 886 publishing projects and currently has seven chapters nationwide.
Ever wonder what happens when you go out to eat and your children leave all their free crayons behind at the restaurant? Well you are not alone, one LA mom did too. Her name is Sheila Michail Morovati and after dinning out weekly at their families favorite restaurant, she noticed all of the unused crayons being left behind. After a little research she learned that there are actually 150 million neglected crayons that get tossed every year in the U.S. Who knew?
Determined to teach her children And so the Crayon Collection was born. Here is how it works: The non-profit organization creates presentations for each restaurant that signs on, gets trained in how to collect the crayons so that they are clean and not soiled, and how to store them. The restaurant is paired with a school about 2-5 miles away and a crayon pick-up is scheduled for about once a month, to get those crayons to the school and in the hands of students who will actually use them.
Believe it or not, they even take those scrappy not so pretty crayons too. “The schools we are serving are so under supplied that even the chalky crayons offer some benefit,” said founder Sheila Morovati.
The goal is simply to reallocate gently used crayons from restaurants, and in the process begin to teach children at a very young age about the needs of other children who can benefit from this simple resource so often taken for granted, teaching the joy of generosity and recycling for a greater good….all while helping another.
Now that seems like the perfect art of childhood….
Since this week is all about love, it seems only fitting to talk about the newest matchmaker in town. This isn’t your average speed dating site, but rather a brilliant concept that connects volunteers with non-profits who need help on specific task and its called CatchAFire.
So often when we think about volunteering, we think about stuffing envelopes, collecting trash or the most mundane activities. In 2009, Rachael Chong had an idea to connect professionals and their skill set to non-profit organizations. Rachael had a vision to “forward a cause you believe in” by using your professional skills to help a non-profit organization. So if you are a graphic artist, who is passionate about the environment….Catch a Fire would connect you to an environmental non-profit that is working on a new logo. You get the idea….
Rachael’s platform CatchAFire.Org is an amazing way to make a difference. She is changing the face of the non-profit workplace, creating a pro-bono movement and making our world better by inspiring people to share their gifts and talents for a greater purpose. I think her bio best sums her up by saying, “Rachael wants to leave this earth known as a leader who empowers others to be better than her.”
This Valentines week, I would say Catch A Fire is a match made in heaven and definitely something to love.
As we begin to get organized for Spring Break, a bunch of items start coming out for packing, the most important being the camera. Capturing memories of precious moments spent with loved ones is a universal tie that binds us all together. The nostalgia of past trips and looking back at photo albums (yes, real books….a thing of the past, I know!) lead me to this amazing story.
In 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one Kansas woman decided an important way she could help families suffering from their enormous loss and grief of the storm’s aftermath. She would restore some of their damaged photographs. That kind gesture turned into the non-profit Operation Photo Rescue.
When a natural disaster strikes, what is the first item we rush to save? Our photos, which hold the key to our history, our past and our lives. Once victims are safe and have their basic needs met, they begin the process of searching for any remaining possessions. At this point Operation Photo Rescue starts their online fundraising efforts to underwrite their work.
What began as a simple gesture has today turned into a global initiative. This entirely volunteer run organization now has a network of over 2,000 volunteers representing 77 countries where high end cameras digitally copy the damaged photos for restoration. Over 9,000 images have been restored in the past eight years.
The organization’s motto is, “Insurance doesn’t restore memories but we do,” The group’s President, Margie Hayes said recently, “As so often happens when people bring in their damaged photos, you learn that some of the photos are the only ones left of a relative that is no longer living. To be able to restore that memory is beyond words.”