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Infinite Strength

October may have come and gone but there are way too many amazing humans doing incredible work for breast cancer to fit them all into one month. Breast cancer doesn’t happen only in October but every two minutes in the United States someone’s life is changed by the diagnosis. There are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States and one of them is Roberta Lombardi. She is an incredible woman who I met through the Female Founder Collective recently. Roberta is the mother of three daughters, a breast cancer survivor, the founder of a line of beautiful bras for women who have had mastectomies and the founder of the nonprofit Infinite Strength.

Her mission is to support women in every possible way (groceries, bills, emotionally, medical bills) who have breast cancer and do not have health insurance. Roberta and Infinite Strength give these women the extra hope they to fight.  She is a bright light and exactly what our world needs more of.  I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Infinite Strength does?

Roberta Lombardi: While most people have been touched by breast cancer in some way, you do not really understand what it can do to your life unless you have had it yourself. Breast cancer doesn’t just take your breast, it can ruin relationships, shatter you mentally and is capable of destroying major areas of your life. How can you try to heal and have the best possible outcome in fighting this disease if on top of all this you are worried about bankruptcy, feeding your family or paying your bills? Infinite Strength is there to help financially and emotionally support those women so they can hopefully have the best possible outcome from their treatment. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Infinite Strength?

Roberta Lombardi: I am someone who never wanted to ask anyone for anything. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, most people had no clue that I had been sick. When I was done, I felt very blessed. They never tell you when you get cancer that when you are on the other side you are somehow estranged from who you were before cancer. I could not figure out how to get back to my previous life after fourteen months of going to the hospital every week.

My husband and I were standing in our kitchen and opening the last of our insurance bills and realized that my last round of chemotherapy had cost $80,000. We just looked at each other and my husband said, “What do people do without good insurance or without insurance at all? ” I was lucky, I didn’t need financial help but the minute my husband said it, I thought of all the women I had sat with at chemo for months and knew many of them were those women without support.

When I started to put all of this together, I just kept thinking about what if we hadn’t had the financial resources? What if we had not been able to afford food or rent because of medical bills? So, I went to the hospital where I had been treated and asked how I could help? I had been an event planner in my previous life and wanted to help them do an event to help those women who needed financial support. I also realized it was time to pick up the pieces of my own life and make things better for others. The hospital suggested that I start a nonprofit.  I was so grateful and I knew I needed to do this for these women and that was the beginning of  Infinite Strength. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Roberta Lombardi: I think our biggest challenges are in creating those long term partnerships with sponsors. After everything I have been through, I now know how important wellness is and trying to find the right sponsors who are aligned with wellness, who mirror our values and want a long term partnership is challenging. 

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

Roberta Lombardi: Just when things get difficult, I believe the universe sends me a sign. I can not walk away from this work because it is a part of me and who I am. I need to take that part of me to help someone else and I need to make it better. On those days when life is overwhelming, I’ll receive an email with a story of what they are dealing with in addition to breast cancer. That is what motivates me to keep going and that is what motivates me to keep upping my game. They say that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer but it literally feels almost like an epidemic to me and Connecticut has the third-highest rates of breast cancer in the country.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I know I am on the right path. For me when I have a quiet moment I think about what we have done when someone really needs our help. One of our women had a toddler who wouldn’t hug her because she was scared of her mom, so trying to find her a human hair wig so that her child would recognize her. I think about that and feel a moment of peace. I sit and think about what we have done and from every moment that I’ve been able to say we made a difference today, it seems that from that something else builds and it always leads to the next opportunity to do more.  

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

Roberta Lombardi: We began Infinite Strength in February of 2018 and in our first year we gave away $135,000. More than anything we give women strength and hope so that they do not give up. We come in and help them so that they can keep fighting and not worry about the bills. Sometimes it’s just that one little thing that gives them that light that they need to go on.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Roberta Lombardi: My dream would be that they wouldn’t need us and that they will find a cure. I know that if I hadn’t gone through this I would have never met any of these incredible women who have not only survived breast cancer but they have also turned it something amazing for others. Breast cancer survivors stick together like a family and hearing their stories makes me want to be a part of making this dream reality.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I am very mindful now. I have learned that no one knows what is going on behind someone’s smile. We all have something that we are going through. I have learned patience, not to judge and to give kindness…even if it is just a smile. It is SO simple! Saying good morning to someone can change their day. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: All of this has made me a better person and I am more grateful than ever before. I feel so blessed with the life that I have had. In the grand scheme of things, breast cancer has led me to this. I am genuinely happy with myself. Before my happiness was about others and making them happy. Now, I take care of myself. I think true happiness can be just being alone with yourself being peaceful. I am peaceful inside. My life has been good.

Charity Matters

 

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Moving Day:Parkinsons Foundation

People who move change the world. That is the slogan for the Parkinson’s Foundation and this past weekend that is what our family did, we moved. We are a family of action but this weekend our movement was different. On Saturday,  we moved to support my stepmother, Nan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease ten years ago. This year alone another 60, 000 people will be diagnosed with the disease. So when my sister-in-law reached out to everyone and said let’s walk for Nan, we were all in.

Over one million Americans live with Parkinson’s Disease and every nine minutes someone new is diagnosed. There are ten million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease. While we think that Parkinson’s affects older people, ten percent of the diagnosis are for people under the age of fifty.

So before we began our walk on Saturday we each grabbed a ribbon to walk with. The blue ribbon was for the person with Parkinson’s disease. The gold for the caretaker living with someone with the disease and the silver ribbon for those of us that supported a loved one with Parkinson’s.

What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease? It is a chronic and progressive disease that at its most simple definition is a movement disorder that affects the ability to perform common daily activities. Parkinsons is often characterized by its most common motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness of the muscles and slowness of movement.

The American Parkinson’s Disease Association was founded in 1961 and even google could not help me find out who founded the organization, so that will have to wait for another post. What I do know is that since that time the organization has raised over $185 million dollars to help research, educate and help us to find a cure for this disease.

So on Saturday, we carried our ribbons and walked for Nan and for my dad and for all of those who love and care for someone with Parkinson’s.

We raised money, sent emails and did social media to get the word out and my sister and brother-in-law even sponsored the porta potties for the event. This isn’t our typical family photo….

As the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “People who move change the world.” There was simply nothing better than seeing Nan and my dad moving together, our family and hundreds of people supporting one another to change the world and the face of this disease one step at a time.

Charity Matters

 

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Honoring our Veterans with Higher Ground

Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day. 

Charles B. Rangel

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day that our nation comes together to honor those who have served our country. Brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.  According to statistics, twenty-two veterans die each day in the United States from suicide. I was thrilled when I had the privilege of connecting with Kate Weihe, the Executive Director of an amazing organization called Higher Ground that serves our veterans and their spouses and supporters through amazing outdoor experiences as they adapt and learn to deal with their disabilities. In addition to Kate, I spoke to Higher Ground’s Director of Military Programs and a veteran himself, Rich Cardillo. An inspiring and emotional conversation that had me in tears a few times. The passion that Rich has for the veterans he works with was palpable.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Higher Ground does?

Kate Weihe: We enhance the quality of life for people of ALL abilities. Our biggest programs are with our veterans, their trauma, PTSD and we exist to serve and support them.  Our mission is to use recreation, therapy, and support to give people of all abilities a better life. Together we build the bridge between disability and belonging. One of our biggest programs is working with Veterans and active duty service members with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress syndrome, military sexual trauma, and other military trauma. We serve people with disabilities from ages 2-101 and we do this by using outdoors and nature along with family, friends, and community to support them.

Rich Cardillo: As a veteran, myself, who wanted to continue to serve veterans and servicemen in any capacity after I left the service. What drew me to Higher Ground in 2013 was the care and passion for people. We are now a staff of twenty-four and we are fully committed to enhancing our veteran’s lives as well as the local non-veteran community, here in Sun Valley, Idaho and in our other chapters in New York and LA.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about Higher Ground began?

Kate Weihe: Higher Ground began as an adaptive arm of the Sun Valley, Idaho Ski School. There was a local skier who had Multiple Sclerosis and wanted to get on the mountain again and there was not an instructor or equipment to take her. We began in 1999 when Mark Mask, our founder, talked the resort into getting their first sit-ski.  Kara Barrett who was there from the beginning developed all of our programs that initially were based on skiing and that evolved to a summer camp for children with cognitive disabilities.  In 2004, when we started seeing our Veterans coming home with PTSD  and we pivoted to embrace or veteran community. Initially, we were working with Veterans who were visually impaired from their service and then that translated into the invisible injuries of war. Today, we continue to have winter programs and summer family camps and a host of outdoor programs for our veterans as well as others with disabilities.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rich Cardillo: Our biggest challenge is trying to help the volume of veterans that still need our services. We are such a small organization compared to some other larger veteran based organizations. We want to grow our programs to continue to chip away at an insurmountable number of veterans. The financial need for expansion is critical. We are looking at alternative ways to reach more veterans and at the same time while trying to save money. Currently, Veterans come to us but we are beginning to fly our teams to them. We know that one of the true benefits of the program is the community they establish during their time with us.  We want them to be able to go back home and have others in their community that they call can call up and say let’s go do something together. 

Kate Weihe: I think our biggest challenge is to make sure that we continue to have exceptional programs and consistency as we scale and expand.

Charity Matters: What fuels to keep doing this work?

Kate Weihe: Undoubtedly, being with our program participants and seeing how effective our work is. When we hear from Veterans and their testimonials proving that our work truly made a difference for them and even better is hearing from them years later when they share that they are thriving. The other piece that fuels me is our exceptional staff.

Rich Cardillo: Having the opportunity to be a part of this process of witnessing the transformation that happens in the five days of our program. We get to witness our veterans become more of themselves and work with their partner or spouse to deal with their injury. It fills me up.

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

Rich Cardillo:  For me those moments are emotionalI retired from the military in 2008 and told my wife that we screwed up thirty years of our lives serving our country on active duty. My wife said, “What are you talking about?” I told her she needed to come witness the transformations that happen on our programs and see the changes being made, for me that is my life. The work we are doing at Higher Ground. fills my cup. When you can be a part of that change and know that you have made an impact on someone’s life it is powerful.

Kate Weihe: Rich gets to witness life-changing experiences in his work with our Veterans. In 2010, I received an email from one of our veterans who was one of the toughest people and stories you have ever heard. He was completely broken when he came to us and faced a lot of challenges. Today he is thriving and the long term impact of our work is why we do this. 

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

Kate Weihe: We are a quality over quantity organization that focuses on individuals. We transform veterans’ lives being in the outdoors with the people they love and we are able to lend a unique and heartfelt way to help them find their own fulfillment. We do a lot of connecting our veterans with their family members and we are lending a unique way to help people realize their own potential.

Rich Cardillo: Our impact is only three words, we enhance lives. Whether it is a Veteran or a non-veteran that has an injury, everything we do makes their lives better. We know we have made an impact even if we have improved one component of their lives, even one piece is huge. I do know that what we do gives our veterans a better quality of life moving forward.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Higher Ground what would it be?

Kate Weihe: My dream would be that we would no longer have a waitlist for our programs. We serve 200 Veterans in our Military Program a year and we have over 1,000 on our waitlist. 

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

Rich Cardillo: I think for me personally a life lesson is have learned the importance of communication and having the ability to have a real conversation. We give our veterans the tools to do this and it’s called a win-win, so in the course of a conversation, no one loses.  In the end, both people involved in a conversation can feel good about themselves. For me, my life lesson is definitely communication.

Kate Weihe: I think overall in the bigger bucket my perspective has changed. Every time when I have had a rough day, I am reminded how lucky we are. Spending time with our veterans gives me gratitude on a daily basis. I know talking to my friends and family that they do not have that same opportunity that I have in my work. I am so grateful and so fortunate for the life I have been given. Now I can share that with others, a whole lot of gratitude.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kate Weihe: I think I’ve grown up a lot. I think I have learned to move a little bit slower and reflect more and take time to step back and be more compassionate.

Rich Cardillo: Higher Ground has shown me that there is hope. We are doing the right things for the right people. This work has reinforced my hope in humanity and that has come from our donors, our volunteers, and our veterans. They all remind me every day of the fact that people want to do the right thing and that gives me hope.

Charity Matters

 

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My Hope Chest

” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.”

Author unknown

I couldn’t let October come to an end without discussing Breast Cancer. Last year I interviewed an amazing nonprofit founder and breast cancer survivor and since that interview, I have had four friends who have undergone mastectomies. Breast Cancer isn’t something that only happens in October it is something that happens every two minutes every day. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer does not discriminate from the rich or the poor. To be honest I had never thought about what happens when you get breast cancer and have no insurance? I assumed that Medicaid and Medicare covered everything. Well, I was wrong.

Last year, I had the most inspiring conversation with the nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, a woman who lived this journey of having a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, the only national nonprofit in the country that takes these women and helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation and I left feeling inspired by this amazing warrior who fights for women who truly need one. She has left such a lasting impression on me that I wanted to re-share her story.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew that you needed to act and start My Hope Chest?

Alisa Savoretti: Hearing you have cancer is a devastating moment. It’s one thing to hear you have cancer but it is another thing to realize you have cancer, you do not have insurance and you do not qualify for Medicaid. This is what happened to me at 38 years old. I had been working in Las Vegas as a showgirl and had recently moved to Florida to begin an online furniture business before companies like Pottery Barn existed. I had borrowed funds on credit cards to launch Retrohome.com in 1999 when I found out I had cancer. The doctor said to take care of the cancer, focus on surviving and worry about the reconstruction later. 

I survived but lived without my breast for almost three years. You have no idea what this does for you as a woman, for your mental well being. During those three years, I reached out to organizations all over the country, government, nonprofit, anyone who could help me to become whole again. I discovered that there wasn’t anywhere to go. I felt deformed, depressed, frustrated, had metal anguish and enormous financial stress.

I went back to Vegas to work at The Rivera and the 1998 government law now mandated that their group policy could not decline me insurance in order to get my reconstructive surgery. I realized how my own self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth as a woman returned when I could look in the mirror and could see my whole physical being once again. It was my healing, a restoration in body mind and spirit.

While I was in Vegas, I volunteered for a NAWBO (National Association of Women’s Business Owners) event. I told the women from NAWBO my story and these women rallied around me and with their help, I was able to start My Hope Chest and had my 501c3, six weeks later on December 3rd, 2003. We will celebrate our 15th anniversary this year.

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

Alisa Savoretti: Some days it feels as if I am pushing a boulder uphill with a toothpick. And fifteen years of doing this at the grassroots level, the work is very hard. What fuels me is knowing that thousands and thousands of women are missing their breast and this shouldn’t be happening in our country. Making women whole again is our mission. I think about more women are surviving breast cancer and that’s true, but what about their quality of life if they are not whole?

These women are sick and often lose their jobs because they can’t work. They are now disfigured, deformed and depressed. The ripple effect of not being whole is devastating on marriages and families. This work has become my life’s mission. I am not married, cancer made children no longer an option and for the past fifteen years, this work has been my life.

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

Alisa Savoretti: We pick up where the government programs leave off. That is why we exist.  Our biggest referrals come from nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and Care.org.  We get referrals from them weekly and we can not tell our clients if or when they are going to be helped. They sit on a waitlist while we try to raise the funds to make their reconstructive surgery happen. Helping women to become whole again is what fuels me and just knowing that there is always a list of women waiting for us to find the funding.

I know that we have made a difference when we can help them with whatever they have asked for and the letters they send us.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Alisa Savoretti: We help women every year in a small way and I feel blessed that God picked me to do this task. Every time we get the word out about our work it helps fund someone’s surgery. Shining a light on this cause is SO important. We have been able to fill a gap where other breast cancer charities leave off. If there was another organization doing our work we wouldn’t do it but sadly there isn’t anyone else. The women we help are eternally grateful for all we have done and to me, that is the success.

Charity Matters: What is your vision for My Hope Chest going forward?

Alisa Savoretti: We will only exist until there is a cure for breast cancer. Of course, the big dream is that there is a day when our services are no longer needed. Ten years from now I dream that we have enough resources, funding, surgical partners and angel warriors that we can help women as quickly as they are referred to us. I dream of no longer having a waitlist and being able to have a more efficient meaningful impact on these women’s lives.

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

Alisa Savoretti: God had a different plan for my life. I have a quote on my desk that says,” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.” I feel like that is what happened with My Hope Chest. My life’s lesson is that when you persevere you will make a difference. The fact that this even exists in 2018 and is still flying under the radar that there are women, thousands of women in this country living without their breast.  I have refinanced my home three times to keep the funding going for My Hope Chest. I have taken extra jobs at the grocery store to fund this. I have learned that I have to persevere to help these women in any way I can. I cannot give up on them.

I think that changing even one life is important. Things are bigger than us, this mission is bigger than me and I have tied my life to making a difference. For me, I am grateful I was chosen for this journey. I am grateful to keep doing this work and I pray the Lord that My Hope Chest gets to leave a legacy on this earth until there is no longer a need for our services. That is my utmost prayer.

In the end,  I know that I have done my very best.

 

Charity Matters

 

 

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Create the Change Day

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”  Margaret Cho

Nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters in an attempt to learn more about Project Giving Kids (PGK). I quickly learned that PGK is a nonprofit organization that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate community service activities.  Their mottos is, “connecting kids to causes.” 
Molly initially launched Project Giving Kids in Boston in November 2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children and families. With 1.7 million nonprofits in the United States, as a young mother herself, Molly clearly saw that there was a need to leverage technology by creating an online platform and mobile app, Youth Give, to make it easier for kids to be powerful agents of positive change in our world.

 Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. This past weekend was an amazing experience as Project Giving Kids came back to LA  for their second annual Create the Change Day LA. The day was hosted by The Today Show’s Natalie Morales and was all about teaching hundreds of children and their families the joys of serving others.

 Think of the day as a trade show for kids where they could shop causes and service projects that they were interested in and cared about. Whether it was decorating duffle bags for children in foster care so they were not moved from home to home with a trash bag or putting toiletry kits together for low-income families or making toys for shelter animals.

Each of these projects benefitted nonprofits such as; Access Books, Crayon Collection, Baby 2 Baby, St. Joseph Center, Reading Partners, The Jared Box Project, Karma Rescue, LA Family Housing, North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, PATH, School on Wheels, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Together We Rise.

These incredible kids  packed over 325 toiletry kits for low-income, homeless, and elderly individuals, made 175 Veterans Day cards for local veterans and random acts of kindness notes for homeless neighbors to lift their spirits, asssembled 70 Jared Boxes full of cards, games and toys for pediatric patients at UCLA Mattel and Cedars Sinai, made 115 dog toys for shelter animals,packed 125 backpacks full of school supplies for homeless youth, made 100 keychains for families transitioning to permanent homes,decorated 80 bookmarks to benefit local students receiving reading help and made the beginnings of “welcome home kits” for 100 homeless individuals/families getting ready for a new home to name a few of the projects with the nonprofit partners there, which is why they are jumping for joy!

As Molly said,Project Giving Kids is thrilled to offer an afternoon of hands-on service to kids and families in the Greater LA area. Create the Change Day was the perfect way to introduce young children to the joy of service to others. At PGK, we strive to connect youth and families to the amazing nonprofits in their own backyards they often do not know about that would love to benefit from their passion and involvement. We do that through our website and mobile app where youth can find fun and age-appropriate service opportunities and through select events like Create the Change Day.”

I was lucky enough to man the PGK booth where children could make a holiday pledge of service either by drawing a picture or writing a pledge to create change and PGK will be sending them their postcards in early December to remind them of their idea.

 

If these cards were any indication of our future, I think the world is only going to get better and that the kids are ready to create some change for good. 

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SPY Safe Place for Youth

“We must all work together to end youth homelessness in America.”

Jewel Kilcher

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what A Safe Place For Youth (SPY) does?

Alison Hurst: Homelessness is our number one crisis in LA County. We created a one-stop-shop where young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness come and access to a whole array of services to assist them while they are homeless and also assist them getting out of homelessness and into stability.

We provide all of the services one would need including; education, employment, health and wellness services, housing and case management services and of course a sprinkle of fun stuff because young people need fun stuff like our healing arts program which provides music, art,  poetry, meditation all ways to lure our young people into our services because young people need different things. All of this is topped off with really awesome food, access to showers and clothing. Today we have nine comprehensive programs that make up our continuum of care. All of our programs weave together to meet the different needs of the young people we are serving.

Charity Matters: What was the moment that you knew you needed to act and start SPY?

Alison Hurst: There wasn’t one moment but rather a series of moments. The initial moment was in 2008 when I would take my son to the skateboard park in Venice Beach and see all of theses disconnected kids at the beach, which were actually sleeping on the streets.  I’m from London, where we didn’t have a large population of homelessness, but when I came here to  Venice Beach and then Hollywood I realized that we had a massive problem with youth homelessness and we didn’t have many resources here on the Westside of Los Angeles. That was the initial spark.

When I met with other nonprofit organizations that were working with the homeless population, I realized that people just didn’t seem to know what to do with the unhoused youth.  One of the other initial sparks was when I realized that even the other social service providers didn’t know how to meet the needs of the young people and that they didn’t believe that they wanted the same kind of resources. Even the old Federal policies entitled “Runaway homeless youth” which placed blame on the youth. These youth didn’t run away, they were tossed out and thrown away, neglected and abused.

In learning all of this, I immediately began handing out food packs to these kids on Venice Beach with a bunch of volunteers and realized once I got engaged with the youth that there was literally nothing that separated these kids from the kids in my normal everyday life, other than the fact that they had nowhere to live. The system had colossally failed them over and over again. The epiphany was that I became super engaged in the cause and I thought I could impact that cause by handing out food and very quickly realized that was not enough and started to build the program.

In the last eight years, we have become the leading provider for homeless youth on the westside. We now have a staff of 59 and eight years ago we had zero staff and a handful of volunteers and today we have hundreds of volunteers. While our growth is great the fact remains that more young people are falling into homeless than any other demographic and by young we mean ages 12-24. When we started SPY it was literally to meet the needs of hunger and then as our expertise grew so much of this became around policy change. We have worked with local businesses, government, individuals and the community to help us to be a part of the solution.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alison Hurst: The biggest challenge we currently have is fighting the housing project that we are trying to expand. While having almost 60,000 folks residing on our streets has increased so has the neighborhood opposition to siting any kind of housing program.  Through Measure H and HHH, there are resources provided to build more crisis and critical need housing. The opposition from the community is being slowed down by neighbors’ opposition to all of these projects.

Having access to general housing funding is top of mind always but getting neighborhood buy-in on the two very large projects we are involved in, one is a 54-bed shelter for youth homeless shelter. We have never had a youth shelter ever which will transform the landscape and we continue to face enormous opposition. The second project is a 40 unit development that we will be operating. We have one hundred youth a day currently walking through our doors and we haven’t had any opposition but with these projects, we have had a lot. There is a lot of NIMBY or not in my back yard.

There is a lot of fear and shame. the shamefulness of what we have when there is so much unbelievable wealth all around us. So the shame that comes with recognizing the levels of poverty and drivers of homelessness. Rather than letting that shame motivate you to do something, it becomes a fear of others. I think it is much easier to write people off if we think that they are different from us. The truth is there is very little that separates us and once you come face to face with homelessness you can not deny the commonality between us.

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

Alison Hurst: The young people we serve. I regularly feel that I am pushing a boulder uphill. As you grow your budget gets squeezed and there isn’t always funding. What drives me is that I have to stay connected with the young people we serve. Every member of our team, myself included, spends a portion of their time in direct service with the kids to stay connected to the work. I have to be apart of the work so I don’t make decisions that are not based on reality. 

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

Alison Hurst: When we moved into housing. We had one housing program that we launched last year. We were literally placing young people in the spare bedrooms of community members and we were the first agency in LA to do that. In February of this year, we launched into a transitional housing program and to me, that felt monumental. For years we didn’t have anywhere for these kids to go and nothing to offer but love and connections to resources but now for the first time we at least have 20 young people safely off the streets. We are getting ready to launch a third program for young pregnant homeless youth and families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with SPY?

Alison Hurst: I think there is a combination of things that make us feel that we have had success. From the number of young people, we have moved safely off the streets, which was 127 last fiscal year and I think the number of young people that we have connected to education and employment. Because the two things are absolutely dependent on each other. Over one hundred youth that were connected to education and employment and the additional 127 who are off the street.  At the same time we served 1,400 youth and we still have a long way to go. The annualized national number of youth homelessness is around 10,00 young people between the ages of 12 and 25. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for SPY what would that be?

Alison Hurst: I would dream that we would continue to grow our housing resources and add an additional transitional housing program, that we would execute on our Venice Beach bridge housing project. That we can continue to be the first in the class agency that provides a hopeful, safe space for young people to access services and wonderful place that provides employment opportunities for people who want to be a part of the solution as well as a wonderful place to work.

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

Alison Hurst: The learning curve was SO steep and SO challenging, it feels like being in a Master’s program for the past eight years.  I left school at 15 and have never been back. I don’t have a Ph.D. or a fancy degree and never in a million years did I think that I would be here. I learned early to always hire people smarter than you. More than that SPY is all based on relationships, connection, community, and our youth members. Everything we do is about creating connections and community for everyone involved. We would be nothing without all of our community partners. Power in the change happens when you bring everyone to the table.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alison Hurst: I think this journey has impacted me the most in my level of listening and understanding around poverty. I am a much more serious person than I was before because a huge weight has been put on me.  I am a much more focused person than I ever was which motivates me. This work never ends it is 24/7 but I am fearless, absolutely fearless and I never stop. SPY is all about light and love and I am not afraid to use the word love, it is the underpinning of everything we do.

Charity Matters

 

If you are so inspired feel free to pass this along. Who doesn’t love to hear about all the good in the world?  You will make someone’s day!

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.

Thirst Project

 

I think the saying that you never know who knows who is a theme always present in my life. A few weeks ago I was at a wonderful event where I met and struck up a conversation with a girl named Allie. We talked nonprofit and Allie, in turn, said that I needed to know her friend Seth Maxwell. Seth is the founder of an incredible nonprofit called ThirstProject.  While this may sound like a crazy game of telephone, where that one moment leads to another, it is what ultimately led to my inspiring conversation with Seth and for that I am grateful. It’s not often that 19-year old’s start nonprofits’ but that is what happened in 2008 when Seth and seven college friends who took on an enormous undertaking and over ten years later are literally changing the world one well at a time.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what the Thirst Project does?

Seth Maxwell: There are currently 663 million people in the world who do not have access to safe clean drinking water. In developing countries around the world, women and children will walk from their homestead to whatever standing water source is available. Most commonly pond, rivers, swamps and then drinking from those open and unprotected sources that are often shared with animals who defecate in the same water that people drink from causes those people to get really preventable water-borne diseases.  Most people don’t realize that diarrhea and dysentery kill more people every year than HIV and malaria combined.

So we build freshwater wells and washing stations in developing countries to give people clean water. It isn’t super unique, there are a lot of great water organizations in the world but what is unique is that we are the world’s leading youth water activism organization. We have a school tour where we send our youth activists to educate high school and college students about the global water crisis and challenge those students to do something about it. We will have 12 speakers total who will go to about 800 high schools and college campuses across the country. So about 175,000 students will sit and learn about the water crisis and in turn, they will do walks, dances, video game tournaments…all to raise awareness to build water projects around the world.

Since we started we have mobilized a couple of million students who have raised about ten million dollars. We commit to giving 100 percent of funds raised to building water projects and we have a pretty incredible group of donors, lead by our board who pay for our operating expenses. We have given 400, 000 people in 13 countries clean water for the rest of their lives.

Charity Matters: What was the moment that you knew you needed to act and start the Thirst Project?

Seth Maxwell: For me, I couldn’t NOT do something about the water crisis. I think I considered myself, a pretty well educated (then 19 year old) and was just struck by how massive in scale this issue was and the fact that I had never heard about it. for how sweeping the problem was both in terms of the number of people at that point. There were over 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water but also how far-reaching the negative impact of the water crisis was on so many issues. Whether it was health or access to education, I was truly struck that this wasn’t something that was on the news every night. 

It was one of those moments when I was swept up and just knew I had to do something about it. I wasn’t sure what one person could do but knew I had to do something. So, I gathered seven of my closest college friends together and we decided to simply tell these people’s stories. We pooled all our money together  ($70) and were able to purchase 1,000 bottles of water from our nearest store. We took to Hollywood Blvd and began giving bottles of water away if people would stop and listen. In one day we spoke to over 1,000 people and were able to turn our $70 into $1,700. and this was used to fund our first freshwater well.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Seth Maxwell: So many people really want to contribute to making an impact and contribute some amount of time and feel like they can walk away knowing they did something that day or at that moment. While this is the least sexy answer but we are pretty limited by the amount of funding we can raise to build our projects. We know how to bring safe water to communities. We know how to build wells and work with local contractors in the communities we serve who in turn get trained on maintenance, repair, sanitation, and hygiene.

This really is a very solvable issue. When we started a decade ago and the number of people who needed clean water was 1.1 billion and today it is down to 663 million people. In just a decade, while the global population has risen the number of people without safe water has literally been cut in half. There will be an end to this issue in our lifetime it is just a question of how quickly we can move this ball down the field.

Our biggest challenge is scale and funding. Especially given our commitment to give one hundred percent of our student donations to our water projects, it makes for some challenges. We are constantly coming up with new and exciting ways to address our challenges and it is an exciting time.

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

Seth Maxwell: One of two things…first is our students. The work we do with students and young people means there is never a shortage of inspiration. It is easy to keep going when you see a high school student who gives up their birthdays or swims around the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to this issue or raise funds.

We are constantly given the gift to interact with students who are selfless, innovative and creative. Similarly, they have amazing experiences. I can not tell you the number of times I have had a student writing to us saying, “Thank you so much for starting Thirst Project, if it wasn’t for thirst project I don’t know what the highlight of my Senior year would have been.”  Incredible things.

On the other side, it’s not hard to stay inspired when you look at our impact in the field.  The impact of the water crisis on health, on mortality, when you see a new freshwater project open in a community and have conversations with moms who say they used to have to walk three hours for water. I was worried about getting Collerea or dysentery or diarrhea and now knowing that my baby will never have to make that walk is incredible. These are the kind of things that keep you going when things get tough.

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

Seth Maxwell: It is like the examples I just gave above. When we talk to students who have had an impact because of their service whether it shaped their trajectory for their career, their leadership skills, their social-emotional skills development. It is countless conversations in the field and the idea behind each of those 400, 000 people in the field who now have clean water and the stories of how their lives are changed from clean water. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with the Thirst Project?

Seth Maxwell: Impact for us isn’t measured in the numbers that most people would typically look for; yes it’s meaningful to look at dollars raised or the number of water projects built or the number of people given safe water, those are all good and super meaningful but for us how we measure impact is the implication for each of those numbers.

So for example when we bring safe water to a community, yes we can measure the number of people in that community that now have safe drinking water but what is really more meaningful to us is measuring both before and after. Saying before this project was built there were only 39 of the 200 students in this community enrolled in school, presumably because one of their responsibilities would be collecting water for their family or because they were sick from something that prevented them from going to school. If six months to a year after our project we can report back and say we, measured an increase in school enrollment by fifty percent that is really meaningful to us.

We can measure waterborne disease rates before and after and if we can say that before we built a water project that there was a twenty-nine percent rate of cholera but if after our project, it was reduced to four percent, that is really meaningful to us. It is those kinds of things really that matter to us.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for the Thirst Project what would that be?

Seth Maxwell: To see the end of the global water crisis. We believe in a world where everyone has access to safe clean drinking water and we are running really hard at that goal.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Seth Maxwell: I think it has changed me entirely. I think one of the biggest ways it has changed me is how I evaluate problems. think I somewhat struggle to empathize with my friends or family with their problems, which to me sometimes do not feel like an important issue in the context of what I see in our work. I have to literally remind myself to be empathetic. My perspective on life and the world has completely changed. 

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

Seth Maxwell: It is hard to pick just one life lesson because there are truly too many. For me learning how to build a community of people who are committed to using their gifts and resources and not just sort of throwing those resources but coming together with an intention and a strategy that is effective to make an impact on problems that are really meaningful. It has been incredible to learn that skill and be able to see it in action and amazing that people are willing to trust me with their time, money and gifts to make that impact a reality.

Charity Matters

 

If you are so inspired feel free to pass this along. Who doesn’t love to hear about all the good in the world? You will make someone’s day!

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 Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

” Love one another, for that, is the whole law; so our fellow men deserve to be loved and encouraged-never to be abandoned to wander in poverty and darkness. The practice of charity will bind us-will bind all men in one great brotherhood.”

Conrad N. Hilton

Over the years I have written a number of posts about raising philanthropic children. In each story, the key ingredient in raising philanthropic children is modeling the behavior that you want your child to emulate. I can think of no greater example than Conrad N. Hilton and his son Barron Hilton, who followed in his father’s business and philanthropic footsteps.

You may recall a few months back when I did a story on Conrad Hilton’s legacy, well last week, I spent three days at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for a seminar they were hosting for the Catholic Sisters Initiative. I happened to be there when the announcement was made that, Barron Hilton had passed away at the age of 91. It was a sad and reverent moment being with all of those who are doing the work daily to ensure that his father, Conrad Hilton’s, last wishes live on through his philanthropy.

Conrad Hilton was always a philanthropic man with a generous heart and kind spirit for all, and his son Barron followed in his father’s footsteps. Barron joined the Navy in WWII as a photographer and set out at age 19 to make it on his own without his father’s help. He began an orange juice packing business and then an oil company. Barron began the first aircraft leasing company and in 1951 and already a self-made millionaire began at the bottom of his father’s hotel company. He married his high school sweetheart, Marilyn, a marriage that lasted over 57 years and produced eight children.

By 1966 when Barron became CEO of Hilton Hotels the company had 50 hotels. In 1960 he bought the LA Charger football team for $25,000 and sold it six years later for $10 million. In 2007, when Barron sold the Hilton Hotel Corporation the chain had grown to 2,600 hotels in 76 countries. He had grown his father’s $160 million in Hilton stock to $2.9 billion. Barron took the Giving Pledge and committed to following his father’s example leaving 97% of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which now has over $6.3 billion dollars in assets.

Watching the incredible team of people who work hard every day to ensure that the generous legacy of both Conrad and Barron Hilton lives on through the foundation’s work has been a privilege. Since 1944,  the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has given more than $1.8 billion dollars in grants around the world to alleviate poverty, hunger, HIV, homelessness and the list goes on. As Conrad Hilton said, “Charity is a supreme virtue and the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. It is the virtue that unites men and inspires their noblest efforts.”  A virtue that a father passed to his son and now will live on to serve those in need.

Charity Matters

 

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.

RAD

 

Tonight millions of people will watch as celebrities walk the Red Carpet for the Emmy Awards. Stars will be wearing designer gowns styled by talented stylist and promoting the designers they are wearing. It is a big business and a huge platform. A few weeks ago I was invited to an event that discussed how do we combine passion and purpose where I met two amazing women trying to change and elevate not only the red carpet but the conversation.

The evening was put together by two incredible women, Carineh Miller and Arianne Phillips, the founders of RAD, which stands for Red Carpet Advocacy. Two amazing women and friends who decided to use their skills and talents (which they have many) to change the narrative on the red carpet by inspiring and activating fans towards social good and promoting cultural relevance through social responsibility. The stars will still wear beautiful gowns but the designers and talent will use the platform for good.

All of this is because two friends got together and said how can we put our talents together to move the needle? And talents they have! Arianne’s talents are legendary, as one of the most creative forces in the fashion and entertainment industry as a visual artist and has worked in film, fashion, theater, music, opera and media. Arianne has worked with Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez as well as received Tony nominations for her costume design and recently styled Quintin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She is legendary for her work and vision. Arianne and her friend Carineh wanted to use their skills for a greater purpose.

The two friends had wanted to collaborate for a long time and knew they would be a dynamic duo. Carineh, graduated from Penn and has been a force in fashion and entertainment from the start. She worked for Prada where she launched and ran their global VIP relations department, one of the first in the industry fostering relationships with celebrities, Hollywood A-listers, stylist and influencers raising brand awareness worldwide. She worked for Dior, Estee Lauder and was VP of Entertainment and Brand Strategies for the entertainment industries largest independent PR Firm.

So after meeting this dynamic duo I knew that I needed to know more. So last week Carineh and I sat down for coffee and chatted about RAD and their mission.

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

Carineh Martin: What we do at RAD is we rally around talent (celebrities). So when we create partnerships we say to talent, what is really going to inspire social progress is if you are talking about something that is truly meaningful to you. So we are going to create advocacy campaigns around you and we will bring a brand to the table to make a donation to your cause. With the RAD model the money goes directly from brand to cause. That is for two reasons; one for authenticity and two for transparency. The brand can decide if it is public or private. There are three entities within which we work with talent, brands and nonprofits and we connect the dots.  We are putting these partnerships together where the brand and the talent can drive impactful social messages. Talent picks the nonprofit and we connect the dots between the three.

We are creating opportunities for talent to use their platforms so that moment when all of their fans are watching them they can talk about something meaningful to them in order to inspire social progress.

Charity Matters: What was the INITIAL Thought process when you were creating RAD?

Carineh Miller: We knew we wanted to work together and we knew what our values were and what we wanted to accomplish. Following the election there were marches and activist and we decided it was time to act. I knew I wanted to dedicate my knowledge, my relationships, my network and everything I have learned along the way I wanted to contribute to this, to RAD. We knew that we had an opportunity to leverage our relationships to contribute to this dialogue.

When we were creating RAD we knew what it would be and we originally thought the best way we could contribute was by being a nonprofit. We talked to a lot of different people who said that being a nonprofit would be more complicated and could actually hold us back.  We consider philanthropy as our third business partner.

Charity Matters: What are you’re biggest challenges?

Carineh Martin:We have a lot of challenges. I think our biggest challenge is education. Everyone talks about authenticity but who is actually practicing it?  We are doing things differently and not from existing models, so we need to educate people. One  example is that we do not do contracts with our partnerships. We are asking talent to do something emotional and that touches on their passion and they continually exceed our expectations. Talent is always being asked to sell products for people and we are coming to talent saying what can we do for you? We want to use their real passion to inspire people because authenticity resonates with audiences. It is an education to get everyone there and once you get there it is super impactful.

Charity Matters:What are those moments when you know you have moved the needle and made a difference?

Carineh Martin: The single moment for me thus far with RAD was when Margot Robbie chose her charity which is Young Care in Australia. We created a partnership with Levis and we said, “Margot, Levi’s is going to make a donation to your charity for this event, what is your charity?” I had to dig to find this small organization in Australia and got to call them and say I have a very big check for you. The CEO called me the next day from Australia and I was able to tell him that Margot Robbie had this opportunity and she chose you…your cause. He called me back the next day in tears and this is exactly why we do this work. That moment was everything.

Charity Matters: How do you measure your impact?

Carineh Martin: We don’t! Our focus is the public. Everything that we create is towards inspiring the public to give, to be involved and any way we do that is what is important.

Charity Matters: What is your dream for RAD?

Carineh Martin: I want to change the narrative. Do something that is meaningful. My dream is for brands to actually be altruistic about their philanthropy. Be super strategic about everything you do but when it comes to your philanthropy be altruistic about it. I just want to change the conversation and have people be more authentic. 

Charity Matters when we watch that Red CArpet we will see not only a new conversation but a whole lot of good….which is RAD!

Charity Matters

 

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 Birthday Party Project

 

photo via: today.com

We all strive to use our gifts for the greatest good and purpose. We spend a lifetime honing our crafts and talents and usually putting those skills into our careers. For many of the nonprofit founders I have interviewed there is a moment when they realize that their skills and gifts can be used for a bigger purpose, one beyond their job. That is exactly the story of Paige Chenault the Founder of The Birthday Party Project. Paige spent her career as a high end party planner, organizing extravagant weddings and events to create lasting memories for her clients. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Paige and attend a fantastic party to help support her beautiful mission of bringing joy to children living with homelessness.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what the Birthday Party Project Does?

Paige Chenault: The Birthday Party Project is a nonprofit that throws birthday parties for children who are experiencing homelessness. The Birthday Party Project partners with homeless and transitional living facilities and we host birthday parties for the kids that are staying there.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Birthday Party Project?

Paige Chenault:I was on an airplane reading a magazine article about kid’s birthday parties and for almost a decade I had been in the party planning business, so I was getting excited about my  daughter’s upcoming birthday and the party I was going to throw her. As I flipped through the magazine and saw images of these picture perfect parties thinking that I could totally do this for my daughter Lizzie.

Then I put that magazine down and picked up a Time Magazine with an article about children living in Haiti and the extreme discrepancy between the party that I had envisioned for my daughter and what I saw this child in the article living in every single day. That was the moment that it hit me that I could do more with the gifts and talents I have been given. There were children that were out there that would never know the power of a celebration of people coming together. In that moment I knew that I was the one to do something for these children.

I do believe that we are called into service and absolutely do feel that I was called to this. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Paige Chenault: Some of the biggest challenges that we face has everything  to do with the amount of interest we have for people to get involved with our mission and the kids that we are serving and celebrating. Knowing that so many people realize that these children are human beings going through things that are incredibly difficult and traumatic. These are families that are truly experiencing crisis and whether they are in sex trafficking rehabilitation programs or if they are chronically homeless or in a domestic violence agency trying to get help and to stay alive. These families are facing things that we don’t have to face.

In knowing that there are measures in place that allow children and families to feel safe and because of that we have worked really hard on the way we celebrate with kids. Treating people with dignity is our ultimate goal and we have worked very hard with our birthday enthusiasts which is what we call our volunteers to do this. There is a tremendous opportunity for people to get involved with our organization. Yet, we still can’t seem to catch up with the excitement around our mission.   We have scaled incredibly fast in these past eight years and to celebrate in fifteen cities is incredible for us. What we do know is that we do things well and unless we can do them in honoring our agencies and shelters and continue to keep up with the excitement and enthusiasm can be a challenge for us sometimes.

I think as founders I think it is really important that we stay true to our core values and that we let those be our guide post. I can see where it could be very easy if someone wanted us to do this and that moment that we begin to do things that don’t align with our values that is the moment when there are tension points. We have worked very hard to honor our core values, be good stewards of the dollars we have been given and that we are serving our kids and families well. These are hard lessons to learn as a young entrepreneur.

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

Paige Chenault: Our core team of volunteers, our party coordinators, these are volunteers who host parties on our behalf all around the country. For me, those are the people that fuel me the most because when I am so tired and can’t take one more call or email or whatever it is…I have the opportunity to look online and see what they are tackling for us on our behalf and it is so powerful to see the way that they are giving of their time and resources to serve our mission. We are extraordinary in that way because we have 150 party coordinators around the country who show up on our behalf. Some of these people have been doing this work for almost eight years with us.

Our retention rate is really high and we have worked really hard to care for those people because these are the folks on our team who are doing the work. I have a team in Dallas and we call ourselves the support team because we need to support our volunteers/party coordinators.

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

Paige Chenault:I get really energized when my team comes up with great ideas solve a problem, when we get it right and everything goes really well or when I get emails saying that this was the best experience I have ever had volunteering. Those are the moments for me that I am most proud of the work that we do.

 We do have stories of impact and the ways in which our kids are impacted. I would say those moments are extraordinary and incredibly special.  We have immediate impact with our work but the ripple effect takes ages to come back. Recently, I had the opportunity to truly run into someone who she said to me, “Do you know you celebrated my 14th birthday with me when I was living at a shelter?” I had never met her before and I was at a speaking engagement and she came up to me and she was now the youngest intern ever at this company and for me it was incredibly special and this was my moment. It was everything for me.

 For me that was a four year gap before we saw her again and she still spoke so fondly of her party in such detail and to me that speaks volumes to level of work that we are doing making lasting moments that help me over come those hard days of the grass roots building of this organization. We are leaving lasting effects on the children that we are serving and that is what matters. These moments are the greatest gift that have been given.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about some of the successes you have had?

Paige Chenault: We have celebrated 10,000 children’s birthdays in eight years and we have done that alongside 50,000 children. So we have celebrated 10,000 birthdays with 50,000 children there with us celebrating. We have done that with the help of 38,000 volunteers which we call our birthday enthusiasts, which is extraordinary to me. That is a lot of kids reached, a lot of birthday cakes.

We have done that with our agency partners or transitional living facilities or homeless shelters. The Ronald McDonald House is a prime example of a transitional living facility. Covenant House is a teen living facility and there we celebrate children 17-23 and often these kids revert back to their childhood because they never celebrated a birthday before. We partner with domestic violence agencies, sex trafficking rehabilitation programs and then we have homeless shelters and emergency shelters which are typically 24 hour facilities .

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Paige Chenault: I think there is an opportunity to go big and give people an opportunity to have experiences that they would never otherwise have the opportunity to be a part of. Yes, I want every child in America to feel celebrated and yes I would love to take The Birthday Party Project internationally but in addition to that there is always room for us to do more for others. I want to partner with people who dream really big. Allowing kids to experience Disneyland, or a movie lot or having a larger than life birthday party in the middle of a field. I just want them to see how creativity can bring people alive. 

 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Paige Chenault: I think I am more sure of who I am as a wife and a mother and a leader. I have always been empathetic, compassionate and a giver and I have always expended most of myself for others. I now realize that I don’t have to do it all or be the hero of the story. So for me, the narrative that has switched since this endeavor. It doesn’t have to be about me but it really can be about more and everyone together and thank goodness for that because there are plenty of others who can share in the joy of this. It is like taking off the cape and the in charge mentality and saying people there is plenty to go around.

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

Paige Chenault:I think for me the biggest lesson for me is that we gain people’s trust when we operate from a place of authenticity and vulnerability. If I were to continue along this journey with all the answers or needed to be the person with the first and last word, we would have crumbled by now. I think for me it was incredibly important as we brought people into the fold that I was incredibly honest from the beginning that there was a lot that I didn’t know but that I knew we needed to it.

By sharing just who I was and what my strengths and weaknesses were and by being able to share that with the people around us we created a movement. People realized that I didn’t have all the answers but maybe they had a piece of the puzzle and by allowing them to do what they do best and to get out of the way, we were able to build this incredible community of these magic makers that I trust and that trust us.

That has probably been the biggest take away from this experience. When we get out of our own way and rely on the expertise of others that is where community is built and that trust exists in those moments and when you are able to do more. I believe strongly in the power of people but allowing others to find out what they are capable of is even more rewarding.

Charity Matters

 

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.

Kidspace Children’s Museum

 

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

It is amazing how life always has a way of coming full circle. Over twenty years ago, I was a young mother who was looking to get involved with an organization that would not only connect me to other young moms but also one that my young toddler sons could be a part of.  Lucky for me a hand full of Pasadena women has realized the importance of play and had created a small and innovative children’s museum called Kidspace.

Kidspace quickly became part of my children’s lives and mine. Over the years I volunteered, chaired events, benefits and then lobbied the city to help build the new museum for our community. Who knew that a few women’s idea to provide children an innovative and safe place to play would turn into a nationally recognized premiere Children’s museum? As Kidspace gets ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary, I was thrilled when the museum reached out and asked me to be a part of their celebration and to interview one of the museum’s founders, Cathie Partridge.

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

Cathie Partridge: When we first started out, there was nothing for children in Pasadena. So I thought why don’t we start a children’s museum? We set out to create an exploratory experiential fun place for children to play.  It was more than that because we wanted our kids to be able to choose their activity. We didn’t want an academic learning center but an informal place for children to learn. Children need play to develop emotionally and to grow.  

Charity Matters: What was the moment that you knew you needed to act to make this idea of Kidspace happen?

Cathie Partridge: I had been teaching school and had worked at the old Pasadena Art Museum with children. I was a  member of the Junior League and we had a committee thats job was to dream up ideas for things that we needed in Pasadena. The idea of the children’s museum was chosen from a list of things and I was in charge of this project.

Because I had a back round in education and art, we hired six artist to create some interactive displays for children. We created a show called Making Senses  at Cal Tech and Midred Goldberg, who was the wife of the President of Cal Tech, had started the Princeton Junior Museum at Princeton University. She was very pro children’s museum and there were very few children’s museums in the country at that time. Boston had one but there really wasn’t a prototype at the time.

We really didn’t know if anyone was going to come. Our project was a test to see if this is something that should continue and in the first three weeks we had something like 10,000 children come through this basement at CalTech. We knew then that we had something worth going forward with.

Charity Matters: What happened that first day?

Cathie Partridge: It was 1978 and a lot of kids showed up. That first moment they screamed and we knew had something. They just didn’t want to leave. So we knew there was something magical and unique.

Charity Matters: What were your biggest challenges?

Cathie Partridge: The biggest challenge early on was money and to find a location. We needed someone to give us a location. We went from CalTech to the Rosemont Pavillon for six months, where the Rose Parade Floats are built and from there into McKinley School. I loved the concept that the Exploratorium used that hired one artist to create one exhibit and then they kept adding exhibits and I thought we could do that. and eventually we would have a museum. These kids gave us honest feedback. The concept of what the kids did then is still relevant. There was a maze and a glow in the dark treatment, a half of a fire truck and the kids loved it.

At Kidspace there has always been something for everybody. The other challenge has always been measuring how fast to grow? To balance the facility with the budget and the growing number of children. Good challenges to have.

Charity Matters: In those early days when you were a young mom and you had little ones and were trying to get this going, what fueled you to keep going?

Cathie Partridge: We were lucky that we had a team of people from the Junior League and lots of volunteers. We had a great board that really guided us i the beginning. We had definite highs and lows. I never gave up and I am always learning, the staff just gets better and better.

Charity Matters: When did you realize that you had made a difference?

Cathie Partridge: I don’t know if there was one single moment. What I do know that my children’s friends bring their children and while I’m not a grandparent the fun of it is seeing the next generations come through and seeing it continue. The first year we served 10,000 and this year we are close to 400,000. We have served over five million guests since that first day! I always said it was better to have the grass roots. It has been a gathering of the masses to make this happen.  

Charity Matters: What do you think you have learned from this journey?

Cathie Partridge: I think I have learned to hang in there. I have learned courage and risk taking. I have been involved with many other organizations and I think the courage to think outside of yourself and what you think you can do for the community is what I learned from Kidspace.

I went to the Lilly Foundation years ago and they said that ninety percent of volunteers come from families that volunteered. I come from a long line of women who have done this work. My grandmother started Save the Bay in San Francisco and she would call me regularly and ask me what am I doing to help society? I think I watched both my mother and grandmother  doing this work and that it was modeled for me. For me seeing my own children give back is the greatest legacy.

Charity Matters: When you think about Kidspace celebrating their 40th year which is a huge ACCOMPLISHMENT for any nonprofit, what are you most proud of?

Cathie Partridge: I think I am the most proud of the community we have built. The volunteers, the staff and creating this property into a joyous and fantastic place. We started with a group of seven women called the circle of friends and today we have over a hundred plus women coming together for Kidspace. I’m very proud of the thousands of people that have volunteered and helped to make Kidspace what it is today. Passing this onto the next generation is a great legacy.

Charity Matters: If you had one wish for Kidspace what would that be?

Cathie Partridge: I would like to see us grow internationally where we are sharing exhibits with others from around the world and continue to serve more children. There is always more to do. I am so proud of Kidspace, the staff and the volunteers, I am just a tiny part of this.

Charity Matters

 

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Be Perfect Foundation

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment as best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that gentleman – you’re perfect!”

Friday Night Lights

Two weeks ago I was in Canada with my husband on a business trip and we grabbed a cab with another couple we didn’t know attending this work event. We began to chat and this amazing couple told us that they had started a nonprofit with their son who is a quadroplegic to support other paraplegic patients with their organization the Be Perfect Foundation. As my husband said, “Heidi only you would share a cab with nonprofit founders.”  We chatted with our new friends, the Hargraves,  exchanged information and then we went on to take our youngest son off to college.

While we were getting our son settled I reached out to the Hargraves and was connected to their son Hal Hargrave Jr. via email. Hal Jr. and I set up a time to talk the morning I returned home from dropping our son. I was devastated and a mess and wondered why I had agreed to the conversation at that time. I will tell you that God sent this remarkable man into the world to lift us all up and I have thought about Hal Jr. a million times since we spoke. He had a profound impact on me with his incredible unflinching optimism and grace. He reminded me that we each choose our attitude everyday and we all have the power to lift others by choosing to be joyful. I hope our conversation is as impactful for you.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Be Perfect Foundation does?

Hal Hargrave Jr.:  The Be Perfect Foundation is a nonprofit thats mission is provide direct financial and emotional aid to individuals living with paralysis. 

Twelve years ago I was just graduating from high school and had aspirations of taking over my dad’s business. I was set to go play college baseball at Cal State Long Beach and pursue a business degree and in a wild twist of fate God had bigger plans for me and put me exactly where I was supposed to be. Some might say that I was physically weak but I was more spiritually and emotionally strong and capable to go out and serve others. I had a huge change of perception of what is important in life and that is serving others.

After a roll over car accident took my arms and my legs I recaptured my heart and my mind where it was time to go serve. Although I was deemed a quadriplegic, I had never been so capable and able to light the world on fire. Like everybody in this world you have that AH-Ha moment when you identify with things around you and mine was the realization the lack of support from insurance companies and the inability that many had to fundraise for themselves because of paralysis. That was the need I had identified and I went to my parents and said I think this is what I have been called to do. 

My parents said, if you are going to do this you will not expect a dime from this, you will give out of grace and expect nothing in return and as a family we will support you through this endeavor. The Be Perfect Foundation was kind of born overnight, nine months after my injury in 2007. The mission is to provide direct financial and emotional aid for individuals living with paralysis by providing resources for paying medical expenses, restoring hope and encouraging personal independence through a non-traditional method of exercise based therapy.

The mantra of Be Perfect to me means being the best version of yourself that you can be every single day and that starts with your philanthropic heart. Twelve  years later we have raised over seven million dollars for those living with paralysis for things like medical supplies, wheelchairs, vehicles, handicap accessible homes and keeping people in exercise based therapy programs.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Be Perfect Foundation?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Post injury in ICU Care there are over 200 people holding a vigil outside of the hospital room and all I can think is what can I possibly do to repay these people? That answer came about day five in ICU. A friend of mine named Katie came into my hospital room and she breaks down sobbing. In that moment I realized that every action I make and every decision I make effects somebody around me. I realized in that moment that I could play the whoa is me card or change my attitude.

I said, Katie what are you crying about? She said, “But your not the same.” I said, But I am the same Hal. I have a heartbeat, I’m here, I can smile, I can laugh, I can communicate with you. Everything is going to be ok. And in that minute  she smiled and hugged me and that was the beginning of me realizing that I and all of us have the ability to have a positive effect on people. My approach to emotional intelligence transcended at that point. I believe we can control two things in life. One is how we feel about ourselves and the other is how we behave.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.:Let me just start with the most important number which is zero. I think our biggest impact has been that we are a one hundred percent volunteer endeavor and that zero dollars go to administrative costs. You will do this to serve others for the rest of your life  because this is about other people and it is not about you. I want to people to know that this mom and pop organization gives 100 percent of funds to those we serve through program services. We have raised over seven million dollars providing over seventy -five wheel chairs for people in need, we have helped over 400 people stay in our exercise based therapy programs. We meet people in the acute care setting typically within 72 hours of their accident to talk to remind them of the great possibilities that are out there. We also treat people with all types of neurological disorders now outside of spinal cord injuries. Be Perfect is a way of life and we want everyone to try to be a better version of themselves.

In addition my family owns an outpatient recovery center called the Perfect Step. We went into business twelve years ago with a local gym called the Claremont Club. The gym wanted to know how they could be a part of my recovery. The gym built out the racquet ball court and I was the sole client. Now the facility is 7,000 square feet with 100 clients. While my family owns this business 100% of the proceeds go to the Claremont Club. We see 100 clients a week and many of our fundraised dollars go into making it possible for these patients to receive the exercise program. I am the facility director at The Perfect Step and Executive Director of The Be Perfect Foundation.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: I went to the University of LaVerne for my undergraduate degree and then I got my Masters in Leadership. I also met my beautiful wife there as well. We were married last September.  The University President asked me to stay and help them fundraise for their annual giving. Through that experience I realized that our biggest hurdle is from an annual giving perspective of getting those repeat donors. Seeing those dollars and cents in that continuous repetitive transaction to create value in people’s hearts. We are also trying to empower others and give them the platform and the voice in the community to raise funds for us.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for The Be Perfect Foundation, what would that be?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Our intent is to take the Perfect Step national. We want to provide Perfect Steps in every major region across the country so these patients have access to low cost recovery model.  They are similar to fitness clubs which help our patients with long term sustainability. We would like for The Be Perfect Foundation to grow in tandem with The Perfect Step.  The dream would be to have the nonprofit be able to raise money for local chapters across the country to give patients access to this program. The dream for the Be Perfect Foundation for the next five years is to create an endowment that would sustain the organization for life. I want to have a broader vision to ensure that our work is carried on for years to come.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.:To be quite frank about it, I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision everyday to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. 

There is a level of excitement for me when I wake up every morning because I don’t always know what is going to be. Sometimes something seems negative because not everything in life is rainbows and unicorns in life. When we try to see the good in everything in life, you can always have a positive outcome with what surrounds you. There is a sense everyday, philanthropically speaking, that if my face is attached to this foundation than it better be the best and be the most  authentic and sincere way as possible. At the end of the day there is one thing that matters to me in life and that is my authenticity and sincerity is what matters. If you are going to be perfect you have to get up and be the best version of yourself everyday. God has great plans for me, I need to listen to him and I need to stop talking about all the problems in the world and I need to be a part of the solution.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Sometimes as simple as it is, getting a thank you note from someone. Having humility is one of the toughest things to have in this world. There are a lot of takers in the world but when someone comes up to me and says, “How can go out and can I pay it forward?” When someone wants to know how they can be there for others. When I can get someone to say how can I be involved, I know that is what the intent of this is for, to not only show people how we can be there for them but how they can get back up on the high horse and start being there for others. When we can create a world where everybody is a giver and not a receiver….can you imagine what this world would be like?

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.: We live a life with underlying intent. We all believe that we are at the center of our own universe and with everything that is going on around us rather than what is going on within us. We act to take of ourselves and not others. We are hard wired to protect ourselves first. I have had to learn to get out of my own way and that it doesn’t start with me but with others. I have to remind myself when I’m stressed to remove myself by one degree and say to myself that A) I can handle anything. Nothing has ever taken me down. B) Find a way to put others before yourself.  C. Always lead with empathy, go to the depth to find out what is below someone’s surface level because sometimes we don’t someone’s whole story. Life is about others. D) Everyone can coexists if we always lead with respect. How you treat one person is how you treat every person.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: On July 26th, 2007  the morning of my accident the person that I was was driven by dollars and cents. It was all about how I was going to school for me, how I was going into the business school to make money for me, how I was going to make money for myself working for the family business, how I was on a baseball scholarship for me. Everything was me, me, me, me. Today that me word or I word is never used. Today I live for others before myself. 

Charity Matters

 

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One For All

“Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference.”

Colin Brown

I have always believed in angels among us and the conversation I had earlier this week with nonprofit founder, Mari Rodriguez was proof to me that angels are here on earth. My dear friends have been involved with supporting Mari and her work to provide the most underserved children and families in her neighborhood of Inglewood. Mari came to the United States at age 19 and taught herself English. She became a citizen and a nurse. She raised a family and people in the neighborhood were coming to her for help with their children. First, it was a few and then a few more and then a hundred and now hundreds. Mari, is living proof that one person can change the world and one of the most amazing humans I have had the priveledge of talking too.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what One For All does?

Mari Rodriguez: One For All encourages students to stay in school, graduate from high school and we give these students and families the supplies and guidance they need to accomplish that.  Our mission is to help build the character of our children through social programs that emphasize the importance of personal growth as well as develop the community as a whole.

We do back to school backpacks and supply drives, toy drives for winter, we have students bring their report cards and if they are getting a 3.0 GPA or higher they are rewarded for good grades and if not we get them tutoring, we do prom dress giveaways and whatever students need, sometimes its as basic as a pair of shoes for school, we find it and help. The biggest thing we do is give $500 scholarships for those students with good grades who are going to college.

We currently serve over 500 students a year between the ages of 5 and 18.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start One For All?

Mari Rodriguez: I lived in Inglewood and saw that the children in my neighborhood didn’t have guidance. So, in 2001 I talked to the pastor at our church on the corner and asked if we could use the church parking lot to help children and families. Then we started an event on our street to gather everyone together but our neighbors were so impacted and the neighborhood couldn’t accommodate everyone. I wasn’t sure what to do because I was still working full time as a nurse during the day and raising my children and helping all the neighborhood children at night and after work.

In 2007, I had a patient that kept telling me I needed my 501c3 and I had no idea what these numbers meant or what that was. While I was working in the doctor’s office a patient asked me about what I do in my free time and I told him. He said I needed my 501c3 and his wife would help me. She did and in 2007  One For All became an official nonprofit organization. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mari Rodriguez: Donors. The hardest part is raising funds.

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

Mari Rodriguez: (Tears) The love of people. The love of people fuels me. Sometimes I want to quit and think I cannot go on and then people hug me and thank me for helping them. When families need me. This is my purpose in life to help others.

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

Mari Rodriguez: I think of all the people whose lives I have touched. From a five year old girl who died of cancer and whose funeral I did because her mother just couldn’t, to the young boys who were becoming gang members and we were able to get them to change direction, to the young man who was gay and thinking about suicide for fear his parents wouldn’t accept him.   I got involved and this boy is now a wonderful and happy young man in college with his family’s support.

When I close my eyes I see myself on a journey helping, going forward, helping, helping and not looking back just keep going and helping. I see the hugs, the smiles of all these people and that is my reward. I love this country with all my heart. I came to this country at 19 with nothing but dreams. I dreamed I was going to do something big.

I taught myself English and with the help of two angels went to nursing school. It was such hard work and my life has been so good. I have to give everything I have received. I am so grateful.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Mari Rodriguez:We started with 25 kids in 2001 from my home. Then we had 100 and then 200 kids and we would close down our street to do our events. Our neighbors asked us to take our events off of our street and we moved our programs to the church in Inglewood. Today we help more than 500 children and families. This year we will distribute over thirty $500 scholarships for our students who are going to college.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for One For All, what would that be?

Mari Rodriguez: The dream I have is to find more supporters. We need more school supplies. I dream of finding someone who can donate backpacks. To me, the most important thing is to keep giving more scholarships to motivate these kids to stay in school and to help us really help them.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mari Rodriguez: It hasn’t changed me, I continue being humble and treat everyone equally. I really do not like to talk about me. I would rather just help others. 

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

Mari Rodriguez: I have learned that anybody can help somebody. Nothing is too little to help another. Each individual can help somebody. If you can not give money you can give love or conversation to someone who is lonely. Anybody can make a difference in the world. To start a nonprofit with an intention to help others is enough. I am just happy to help these families.

 

Charity Matters.

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Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”

Anthony D’Angelo

When I tell people that there are amazing humans around us everywhere and most of us don’t even realize it, I mean that. I meet them all the time in the most unlikely of places and this is one of my favorite stories. I was at the StageCoach music festival and got separated from my husband. Standing next to me was a former college football player, a big man with an even bigger smile and heart. This stranger, named Jason Lehman, is a Long Beach Police Officer and nonprofit founder who also found my husband in the large crowd. We recently spoke about his work and journey from law enforcement to nonprofit founder and his mission to bring people together through his amazing work.  Such an inspirational man and story….

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about What WYSM is and does?

Jason Lehman: We are an empowerment educational organization that works to help build and strengthen relationships between the police and the community. We do that in scenario involved training by impacting six different aspects of a community. Not only do we provide education but we provide a three hundred and sixty-degree approach by bringing a police officer and an ex-felon to team teach these incredible messages of peace to police officers, schools and communities.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  WYSM Foundation?

Jason Lehman: I think I had three Ah-Ha moments and two of them are the most valuable. The first one happened in 2009 when I was working undercover in Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team for the City of Long Beach. Working on this Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team we did a bunch of things and one of them was we bought drugs from gang members who were selling them. There was an undercover drug deal that went bad. That drug deal ended up with me having to fight for my life and at the end of the fight, only one person walked out alive. Immediately after this happened, I thought to myself something could have been done differently. I didn’t yet know what that meant but I really tried to figure out what that meant. I spent two years trying.

At the end of it, I was found to have used the force necessary in the situation and my name was cleared, but that didn’t completely help. I spent two years seeing psychologists, dealing with family issues, and trying to figure out how or why all of this was happening. I was found to have done the right thing and been fit of mind but this justifiable homicide was a horrible situation for me. That was my first AH-Ha moment. In December 2011,  some informants tipped us off that there was going to be a gang hit on my life. It turns out that the person that died in the drug enforcement situation was a gang leader and the gang had spent two years plotting how they were going to ambush and kill me.

In hearing this situation I walked into a classroom at a local high school knowing that there were students in that classroom that were affiliated with the gang trying to kill me.  I walked in and spent about an hour telling them how scared I was and how much I struggled with power. The kids were listening and they were with me, they knew me as Tiny, the gang cop that worked in their neighborhood.

One kid at the end of the program raised his hand and changed my world forever. He said, “Hey Tiny, you talked about how scared you are but you haven’t said a word about me? Do you remember me? Two years ago you arrested me with a gun in my waistband, you made me crawl through the rain and layout in front of you. Did you ever think about who was standing next to me when you made me do that? My girlfriend. Do you know how it made me feel when you laid me down and put your knee in my back in front of my girlfriend? Did you ever stop to realize that gun wasn’t for you but for a rival gang? Did you understand I was raised never to be disrespected in front of a woman? I have had visions of hurting you for two years but after one hour of listening to you explaining things and what police officers go through. This is the first time I can ever say that I respect you.”

I walked out of the classroom and the principal said, “What’s the name of your program?” and I said, I didn’t have a program, I am going back to being a cop. The principal said, “We have a new website and I want to mention your work on it what do I call it? I said, ” The kids always ask me why did you stop me? So why don’t you call it that, Why’d You Stop Me? That was how we came to be.

The second AH- Ha moment was on August 10th, 2014 when we had our first nonprofit event. We had 200 hundred plus people coming and we had just gotten our 501c3.  I had not been watching the news so I didn’t know that Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO by a police officer. We were the first organization of its kind in this country that could unite a police officer and an ex-felon to teach a message of peace. We knew that night that there was really something that WYSM had to offer and that is how we came to be.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: The biggest challenge has been funding. The grant process can be very frustrating. It is hard to measure the amount of change that your work is doing and grant funders want to see the measurement. When we first started the organization, I worked with my family to raise over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to fund this work. I did this because I care enough about this organization to try and grow this message.  The other challenge is scaling the organization. We can’t scale without the funding, those are two biggest challenges.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I have two fuel sources. The first one is the change that you see in the community members after they receive this training. We have a million amazing stories. One of them is about a young girl named Jasmine Simpson, she was placed in the foster care system for years and was dealing with some problems. Jasmine went to school two days in an entire semester and on the second day I had her in class teaching about positive outcomes to situations and in that messaging, I pulled her up on stage to re-enact a scenario to allow her to make some decisions. A few weeks later the school resource officer calls me and said you need to read what Jasmine wrote. She had submitted a poem in her English class that said, “I used to hate you but now I want to be just like you.”

The second fuel source is when we train police officers and talk about being kind for 2 minutes during every stop. Often times as police officers we don’t find time to be kind.  After a law enforcement presentation, I was approached by a Sergeant of 27 years and he told me, ” I just arrested someone a week ago and I vividly remember not saying a word to them. I remember them asking for air and to roll the window down, I remember them trying to talk about their problems but all I could tell them was to shut up. After your speakers came and spoke to us and asked us what it would be like if our own children were arrested and treated this way? How would we want our children to be treated by the police if they were arrested? He said to me after hundreds and hundreds of arrests I have never humanized one and I will never do that again after your training. More than that I will do my best to ensure that everyone I supervise in our department treats every person we arrest as a human being.” Those are the types of stories that fuel me to do the work that I do.

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

Jason Lehman: An individual is affected by our training when an organization brings us in. So a payday for me is when an organization wants to embrace the training. Whether it’s a school district, a police department or one of the county’s probation agencies., that is a payday for us. We want to change behavior and now we know we have an audience, a captive audience. We get on their level if we are talking to a group of prisoners we talk about their mind being free from the walls of a prison. When I talk to police officers I talk to them about being kind to someone to make it easier for the next police officer that pulls someone over. They get that. Being able to see the organizations buy into the message and then being able to see the individuals shift, that’s when we know we are doing good stuff.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about some of the impact you have had at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: We are the only nationally endorsed program by the fraternal order of police. We have 380,000 police officers supporting our organization, we are the only organization in the state that’s been called the best practice organization by Senator Harris. Right now WYSM operates in 19 cities and five states.

More importantly, since we started doing this work that human beings see other human beings differently. When they see other human beings differently they have less opportunity to judge them for something they are not. We are now able to see more of the human being behind the condition in order to allow them to grow and thrive, the power happens when we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before. Our work teaches people to cooperate with the authority to achieve their greatness.

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

Jason Lehman: When starting WYSM I learned about myself. Back in 2008, I made a bad decision in my early years as a cop, that could have had me charged federally for excessive force. I am fortunate not to have been charged and having gone through this was horrible. In creating this movement and mission I have been able to hold myself to the highest accountability I can think of with WYSM. I am now in a position of leadership where I can model positive behavior for others and teach others to model behavior for those that come after them.

Charity Matters: If you had one wish for WYSM what would It be?

Jason Lehman: I have two wishes, one is for the community side and the other is for the police side. On the community side, I would like to replace the 7th grade home economics class with a class called, Cooperating with Authority to Achieve Greatness.

Police Officers take the lives of more approximately 1,000 community members each year is a big deal. Learning how to cooperate with the police and create safer contacts is more important than home economics.  I think the fact a police officer is dying in the line of duty once every 62 hours in this country is also too much.  Learning how to build safer police/community contacts is more important than learning to boil water. Police officers, our protectors, kill themselves at four times the level of a normal individual. If police/community conflict and violence were reduced, I believe we could reduce police trauma and ultimately see a reduction in police suicides.

On the flip side, I would like police officers to see value in what they typically view as hug a thug training. I hope that police officers see value in this training and that this training will spread across the entire country. Those would be my two wishes.

Charity Matters: Is there anything else you want to Share about your work at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: I think one of the most valuable and important assets of this training is that my partner is somebody who is a college graduate, was 2016 Long Beach’s Hero of the Year beating out firefighters and police officers. This man whose name is Rodney Coulter spent 29 years of his life in prison or on parole or on probation. He has been arrested 39 times by the Long Beach Police Department and his cousin is the person whose life I took in that undercover drug deal. Rodney and I are best friends and we stand side by side in unity and team teach. He is incredible. His line is, “I never thought a cop and a Crip could be best friends.”  Rodney teaches gang members why cops are good and I teach the police why people like Rodney are good. The power happens when together we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before.

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