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Not on Our Watch….

In the town I grew up in, we have the most beautiful bridge, that was built in 1913. I drive over this bridge almost daily, its architecture and views bring me such joy. The bridge’s most recent fame was being feature in LaLa Land. However, over the years the Colorado Street Bridge has sadly become famous for something much more tragic and that is for suicide. Many locals refer to the bridge as suicide bridge because of the long history associated with it. Seventy-nine people jumped off that bridge following the Great Depression and sadly, many have followed in the years sense.

This month is Suicide Prevention Month. A sad and depressing topic that many do not want to discuss, but the reality is that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. An even more shocking statistic is that 22 Veterans commit suicide EVERYDAY.

Photo credit: Pasadena Weekly

When I heard that a local nonprofit, Wellness Works, that works with veterans healing PTSD, was bringing in hundreds of veterans to patrol The Colorado Street Bridge with a mission of promoting awareness about suicide and veterans, I knew I needed to do the same. For three days, 24 hours a day, in an event called Not on Our Watch, these veterans will walk to hold a vigil to honor those that have died and to offer hope to those that feel there isn’t any.

Today when I drive across that bridge, I will think of those who have so bravely served our country and say a prayer for those still suffering. My hope is that they are brave enough to reach out for help.

Charity Matters.

 

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Never forget….

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Virgil

It is almost impossible to fathom that sixteen years have passed since that fateful day September 11th, 2001. We all remember where we were when we heard the news. Our brains could barely comprehend the surreal images being flashed on our televisions. Family members called family members, all of our lives were forever changed in that moment, and our innocence lost.

I will never forget taking my young son on a private tour of the makeshift 911 museum a couple of years after that fateful day. Our tour guides were the survivors’ families, the brother of a fireman, the other lost her husband in tower two and both of these grief-stricken people walked us around the Twin Towers perimeter of the rubble, while recalling the path that their loved ones took that morning of September 11th.

When the tour ended at the American Express Building, we all gathered around the fountain of eleven tears that was created for the eleven American Express employees that lost their lives. There was not a dry eye amongst us as we watched tears drop into the fountain and roll down each others faces recalling the stories, the people, and the lives which ended too soon.

Last year we went back to NYC and took our youngest son to the 911 museum, a cavernous space that was filled with thousands of people and yet, the museum is silent. Each person walking through, what was the bottom of the World Trade Center buildings, remembering, reliving that day, the loss, hearing the loved ones memories of each of those faces, reminding us never to forget.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, it is overwhelming to think of so much suffering, yet it is up to each of us to remember that, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Charity Matters.

 

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Gordie, a story worth retelling…again and again

Gordie's story

Next week we head to Parent’s Weekend at our son’s college. The weekend will include tailgates, football games and the obligatory fraternity party (parents included). All of it will be fun, nostalgic and take us back to our college days. Thinking of our trip, reminded me that the 13th year anniversary of Gordie Bailey’s death is coming up and while I do not typically repost, I have shared his story every September because the lesson is invaluable and sadly, needs to be told over and over.

So often we do not make discoveries or connections until it is too late.  We do not realize the value of a friend until they have moved away, we do not appreciate our child until they have left for college or we do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? Why is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? This story is perhaps no different, however, the beauty of it lies in the ability to take that clear vision and create something that matters.

This month thousands of college freshman have left home, including my own son, and many are beginning the process of Rush as they look to make new homes away from home in sororities and fraternities across the country. That is exactly what Gordie Bailey did in September 2004, as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gordie, a fun-loving freshman who had been the Co-captain of his varsity high school football team, a drama star, a guitar player and a walk on at Boulder’s lacrosse team was adored by all. He pledged Chi Psi and on the evening of September 16th, Gordie and twenty-six other pledge brothers dressed in coats and ties for “bid night”, were taken blindfolded to the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest where they were “encouraged” to drink four “handles” of whiskey and six (1.5 liter) bottles of wine.

They were told, “no one is leaving here until these are gone.” When the group returned to the Fraternity house, Gordie was visibly intoxicated and did not drink anymore. He was placed on a couch to “sleep it off” at approximately 11pm. His brothers proceeded to write on his body in another fraternity ritual. Gordie was left to “sleep it off” for 10 hours before he was found dead the next morning, face down on the floor. No one had called for help, he was 18 years old.

The nonprofit Gordie Foundation was founded in Dallas in 2004 by Gordie’s parents as a dedication to his memory. The Gordie foundation creates and distributes educational programs and materials  to reduce hazardous drinking and hazing and promote peer intervention among young adults.  Their mission is committed to ensuring that Gordie’s story continues to impact students about the true risks of hazing and alcohol use. As Gordie’s mother Leslie said, “Parents more than anything want their dead children to be remembered and for their lives to have mattered.”

In ten years, the Gordie Foundation which is now re-named Gordie.Org has made an enormous impact on hundreds of thousands of students across the country through its programs and educational efforts. If you have a college age student, think about asking them to take the pledge to save a life, possibly their own.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? Why is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? Why is it that we do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed? Perhaps more than a decade later, our vision is becoming clearer and we realize just how much precious each life is……

Charity Matters.

 

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ME to WE

Summer’s end is bittersweet for me. It is not just the long days, the sun, and the inevitable back to school but it is saying goodbye to the remarkable students that we are privileged to work with all summer long through the youth leadership organization I work with. These students are beyond inspiring and we give them the skills to change the world and it is amazing to see what they can do.

The other day I was looking into other organizations that do similar work and I came across the most remarkable story about a young man named Craig Kielburger and his older brother Marc. Craig, at the age of 12 saw a news story about a young man his age, that changed his life, ignited a fire within and sparked a generation of youth to give back.

That moment was the beginning of the nonprofit Free the Children, whose mission was to free children and families of poverty and exploitation but that was simply the beginning of a remarkable journey and story. Free the Children grew and expanded into ME to WE, the WE Movement and a remarkable organization that empowers youth to change the world.

More than twenty years later, their vision and scope has expanded into empowering youth at home, connecting them with global and social causes, partnering with schools, service oriented travel programs for youth and families, along with a social enterprise that provides products that make an impact with their everyday consumer decisions.

These two brothers, used a spark to ignite a flame of service that has inspired hundreds of thousands of youth to be the change. In Craig’s words,” Over the years, we’ve discovered that it’s far more important to reach as many people as possible-especially our youth-empower them with the knowledge that it’s not up to anyone else, it’s up to them to make a difference.” 

Charity Matters.

 

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A different way to view the eclipse

“Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.”

Victor Hugo

Today millions of people around the world are celebrating a cosmic moment, a solar eclipse. Hotels are full across the country for those in the path of totality. Communities are coming together for viewing events, neighbors are gathering for parties and it seems that the world is taking a much-needed pause to realize just how tiny we are in our universe.

In light of all the recent headlines, I think the eclipse is just what we need….a moment to stop and to come together. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling all of us that we have been acting a little crazy and that perhaps we should simply take a pause.  Step back and watch the wonder of our world, think about our role within it and perhaps, ask ourselves what are we doing to make it better?

However you decide to view the eclipse and start your Monday, remember this opportunity isn’t coming back until April 2024. It isn’t just about your view today but more importantly about your perspective. So, as you watch that moment as the moon passes in front of the sun, think of Victor Hugo’s words, “the reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.”  Think of your light and how you can make your universe a better one.

Charity Matters.

 

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Unforgettable

There are days, when I really wonder what is going on in our world? I turn on the news and get seriously depressed, last week Charlottesville, yesterday Barcelona and I could go on and on. Yet, everyday I am privileged enough to meet, interview and learn about remarkable people who inspire, lift us up and show us the sunny side of humanity. These are my people.

Yesterday, in the shadow of the Barcelona attack, I came across this piece from an unlikely source but the perfect messengers of how love must overcome. These women are truly unforgettable.

 

This isn’t about religion, or race… it is about being human. It is about being kind and good, which if you are reading from a site called Charity Matters, chances are high that you are already amazing. So in the spirit of that goodness, we all need to #WeRemember and spread our love to all.  Love will always over come.

Charity Matters.

 

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Guest blogger: Theresa Gartland

This past week I had a long over due catch up with my friend Theresa Gartland of Operation Progress. Theresa who is originally from the Washington DC area came to Los Angeles, more specifically Watts, right out of college. Watts is still considered one of the most dangerous places in Los Angeles, but Theresa fell in love with the children and families in Watts. In the past decade plus, she has worked for a few different organizations, all with the same mission of making Watts a place for children and families to thrive.

Today, I am handing the handing Charity Matters over to Theresa to share her remarkable story of service…she is a true inspiration to us all.

As I am embarking on my 15th year of working in Watts and serving the youth of the community, I cannot help but reflect on what keeps me energized and going, of course two words…the kids! Everyday, I’m so grateful that I get to fulfill my life purpose by provide the most incredible, life-changing opportunity for some of the most deserving youth.

Attending Holy Child High School in Potomac, Md, I was taught the values of giving back through action not words. This rang true for me during my high school service trips to an afterschool program in Southeast DC. During my service, I would play with the children, help them with their homework, and spend time getting to know they. I quickly learned that they only difference between them and me was our neighborhood, and they were just as deserving as all the opportunities I was given. It was my actions that were making an impact. Through service and volunteering I had found my voice, it sparked my passion but I no idea it would ignite my career.

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned through my work is that each child deserves to feel safe, validated and know that someone is proud of them. This has become my mission, to make sure every student feels apart of something bigger than themselves, to feel validated, nurtured, and empowered.

My biggest success thus far, has been watching two girls that I have known since they were in 2nd grade, now sophomores at an all girls catholic high school, flourishing and succeeding. To be apart of their journey and see how OP has literally changed their life trajectory has been of the biggest rewards of my career.

It’s truly been a joy, honor and privilege to work at amazing schools and organizations in the Watts community that are so committed to inspiring, fostering and developing the youth. Being able to be there for a children, to motivate, challenge, and encourage them is no short of a miracle.

Thank you Theresa for reminding us what it means to serve, you are an amazing example to all.

Charity Matters.

 

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Charity Matters: Summer Reading

A few weeks back a girlfriend sent me a book for my birthday. Now that summer is kicking into high gear, I am thrilled to be diving into a great book. When something is inspiring, heart warming and fills my soul…well I simply have to share.

The book I am reading is called The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The two icons decided to spend a week together to celebrate big birthdays but their gift was not only to each other but rather to the world. They wanted this book to be an invitation  to more joy and happiness.

There is more wisdom than I have space to share, but with one voice these two said, “No dark fate determines our future. We do. Each day and each moment we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.” 

They go onto say, “Lasting happiness cannot be found in pursuit of any goal or achievement. It does not reside in fortune or fame. It resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it. Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday.”

So as your summer hits mid-way, I hope you find time to rest, relax and read this inspiring book. It is such a gift and I hope one that you enjoy as well. Happy Summer!

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Always better when we’re together

“The world needs new leadership, but the new leadership is about working together.”

Jack Ma

This past weekend was the last day of camp. I sat in the front row like a proud mother listening to 175 children that were not truly my own, talking about love and kindness and acceptance. Never have I been more proud.  The lessons these 6th, 7th and 8th graders taught every parent in the room about their experience at camp were awe-inspiring. If ever this message was needed…it is now.

I am privileged to serve over 3,000 students a year, as the Executive Director of a non-profit leadership organization, which also runs a summer program. We have two full-time employees and hundreds of high school and college students volunteering that serve as camp counselors and mentors. Students teaching students, to listen to one another, to respect and learn from different opinions and how to work together towards resolution. Ultimately teaching them how to lead.

Every night as I watch the news and see the continuing political discord rearing its ugly head,  I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope…just as one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world…”

Charity Matters.

 

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Purpose and a punchbowl

It is graduation season and along with graduations come a slew of commencement speeches. Last year, I was asked to give the Commencement address to my high school alma mater…..a wonderful crazy and surprising experience. A number of you requested this, but let’s be honest by late June..the last thing we want to see is another speech.

So, I thought I would share it with you here, figuring if the speech was going to land anywhere, it should be here on Charity Matters. The story is my own, the only one I have.  The message is about finding that elusive thing we call happiness..when those intersections of passion and purpose connect.


As Pablo Picasso said, The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.”

 

Charity Matters.

 

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The gift of mentoring

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 
Benjamin Franklin

A few weeks ago my friend, Alexandra invited me and a few of her inspiring friends, to a very special lunch. The purpose was not to catch up, but rather in a mentoring role. Alexandra has been involved with a local school here in LA,  a place where barriers crumble and community grows. Students from all walks of life come together in this unique school to learn, thrive and grow.

Alexandra spoke to the school’s principal and asked for ways she could support the school and out of that conversation came this age-old and brilliant idea of real conversations with mentors. Something so simple, so perfect and truly missing in our busy lives.

The guest list of mentors included; our wonderful hostess and Friends With Causes Founder, a very inspiring Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker, a super hip successful interior designer,  and myself. We were asked to come armed with questions for these young ladies and to be ready to answer some as well.

None of us knew one another, and yet we were all there to learn and that in itself created a beautiful beginning for conversation. Our discussions ranged from prom dresses, to college, to boys, failures, careers, following your passion and my favorite question, “Who do you think you mentor or inspire?” From that question alone we learned about one girl’s experience with foster care, another who mentored after school at the Boys and Girls Club, another’s younger siblings….but more than that, you saw these girls (young and old) shift in the thought that someone looks up to them.

We all mentor someone, whether we realize it or not. Ask yourself whose life you inspire? I think you will find your self surprised and smiling too. That is the gift of mentoring, you always get so much more than you give.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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A season for service

They say all good things must come to an end. My question is when do you know? This month I am saying goodbye to two separate  non-profit boards that I have had the privilege of serving  on for the past six years. I’m not sure where the time went, but it appears my time has come.

The beauty of serving is that like life, our service is constantly changing as we do. As a child, I  saved pennies for others because my teacher would give us candy if we gave to those in need….my earliest memories of giving were more to myself. As a teen, I worked at the Boys and Girls Club each summer. In college, I read to under-served students with my sorority sisters, in South Tucson. As a young mother, I volunteered and raised funds to build a new children’s museum in our town.  The service always seemed to fit the season of my life.

These past few years, my service has come in the form of leadership.  Six years ago, when one of the organizations approached me about joining their board, I was surprised, it was unexpected and yet, I was thrilled because I love their work and mission in navigating young men out of poverty and into college. During the past six years, I have witnessed incredible change, growth and seen hundreds of young men head off to college. A privilege to witness and serve.

The second board I will be leaving is my alma mater, my all girls Catholic high school. True confession, they did try to kick me out more than a few times when I was in high school, so I do receive enormous joy in both the sweet irony and in giving back to the school that taught me actions not words.

Most of all, I will truly miss the incredible people who have made both of these experiences ones I will always treasure. The time has come and now a new season has arrived. What it will bring, I have no idea…but I know I will be ready for whatever is calling.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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The journey continues

TCU football player and Rhodes Scholar, Caylin Moore, stands on the

I am not a stalker, but lets face it…we all like to follow certain people, whether on Instagram or in the media, it could be a top chef, an author, or a celebrity. What these individuals all have in common is that they intrigue us, they seem to be living their purpose. They know who they are and seem to know where they are going.

That person for me isn’t Victoria Beckham or Oprah, while I’m sure they are lovely, the person who I have loved to follow is young man I met in Watts at Verbum Dei High School five years ago and his name is Caylin Moore. He is the one I am following.

As a young man he was a student athlete, a stand up young man with a deep faith. I have followed him via the media, when he headed to Marquette on a full scholarship. I watched when he became a Fulbright Scholar, and then when he landed in my literal path at TCU in February, I was stunned.

I followed Caylin as he created SPARK at TCU to inspire young underserved youth to follow their dreams and to become whatever they dream of. I sat in front of him as he said he had to give back to those that helped him along the way.

Now, I will watch from a far, as he graduates from TCU and heads off to Oxford, England to become TCU’s second Rhodes Scholar. We all need heroes, people to look up to and to inspire us to be our best…Caylin Moore is mine….and one to watch!

 

Charity Matters.

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Alliance of Moms

This upcoming weekend we will celebrate our moms for Mother’s Day. Last week, I had an incredible conversation with two inspiring mothers, who have taken their journey into motherhood and transformed the lives of hundreds of young mothers in the foster care system. These amazing women founded Alliance of Moms, a non-profit organization whose mission is to break the inter-generational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care.

Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Jules Leyser were both pregnant in 2012, along with three other girlfriends (Danika Charity, Emily Lynch and Kelly Zajfen) all at the same time. For some it was their first child, for others their second or third but the girlfriends all experienced  a profound change in becoming mothers. Together they were determined to use that shift in each of them to help other mothers, the most at risk, those in the foster care system.

What inspired you to start Alliance of Moms?

Yasmine: I was pregnant with my son, having a child makes your heart burst wide open and makes you see everything every differently. I wanted a part of motherhood to be looking out for all children, not just our own. From my previous work with  The Alliance for Children’s Rights, I knew we needed to explore more volunteer opportunities for children’s rights.

Jules: My mother grew up in foster care and was a teen parent at 17. I understood the need to break the cycle, 66% of babies born into foster care become teen moms. I also understood that my child had won a lottery that he didn’t even knew he entered, just by luck. We needed to help support all mothers.

Tell us about when you knew, your work had made a difference?

Yasmine: In July 2014, five of us began exploring this idea of creating an auxiliary group to support The Alliance for Children’s Rights but more than that we wanted a mother to mother, community to community event. Six weeks later, we had our first program, Raising Baby, inviting 70 youth in foster care and their children for a day of fun, educational parenting workshops. We were determined to be there for these moms, when so many have let them down.

While we set out to serve these young women in foster care, our members were also impacted by serving. The women we serve have changed all of our lives for the better because regardless of your circumstances, we all walk away stronger knowing that we all struggle as mothers.

What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Jules: Having a hands on relationship with our pregnant girls and seeing them on an upward trajectory. Knowing that these young mothers are now talking and singing to their unborn children, or reading to their children at bedtime, creating family rituals, and using  the little things that we teach them, which have a big impact on their children.

These young parents are motivated to change their lives and their children’s’ and more than that, it is seeing people being kind.  

What is your dream for Alliance of Moms?

Yasmine: My dream would be to create something sustainable and scalable that we could take outside of Los Angeles and to other communities of mothers across the country. We know and see the value of creating community and a village for mothers.

Jules: My dream would also be to see our program expand to other places and perhaps to help all teen moms. The real dream would be to have the public start seeing these young moms in a different way…with humanity and empathy.

As Yasmine and Jules both said, “We are all different and yet we are all the same. We all want the best for our children, we all get overwhelmed, stressed, worried that we are not doing the right thing. We are all learning about ourselves and our children as we struggle to do our best.”

Over 600 members, hundreds of families and young mothers served and countless lives forever changed by a group of mothers who know what it is to share the love, create an alliance and to inspire us all.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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