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Education

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Lessons learned from graduation

“you build a legacy not by one thing but by everything, your legacy is every life you touch.”

Maya Angelou

As many of you know, there many things in this world that make me happy, giddy and joyful. Last week at my alma matter more than a few of them came together. Talking, giving speeches, college graduations, USC Annenberg and Oprah….like a perfect storm they became one. While I was supposed to attend the graduation for one of our volunteers, I sadly couldn’t get there in time.

However, through the power of media I was able to watch Oprah’s speech. She has such wonderful lessons that I wanted to give you some of the highlights here. Oprah knew the first rule that they teach you at Annenberg and that is to know your audience. She certainly knew hers, future journalist, broadcasters and the messengers of the future. Oprah asked those messengers to give voice to the people who need a voice. She said,”Use your gifts to illuminate the darkness in the world.”  She asked the students to, “Be the truth” and asked,”what are you willing to stand for?”

Oprah quoted her friend Maya Angelou’s words saying, “You build a legacy not from one thing but from everything. Your legacy is every life you touch.”  Words that resonate.  As she wrapped up her speech with practical advise about making your bed, being kind, and investing in a good mattress, she pivoted and said,” Join forces in service of something greater than ourselves. Pick a problem, any problem and do something about it.”

These are not just words for USC Annenberg alumns or words for Oprah fans but rather words for all of us to process, think about and decide how we are going to act.

charity matters.

 

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The Barron Prize for Young Heroes

 

A few weeks ago, a young lady that has helped start and run a local nonprofit asked me to write her a recommendation for The Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I happily did. This high school girl is extraordinary and I was thrilled to help.  More than that I was  excited to learn about this incredible award and nonprofit that inspires and encourages students between the ages of 8 and 18 to use heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance to make a positive and significant impact on the world.

The prize was started by New York Times best selling Children’s author, T.A. Barron seventeen years ago and named after the author’s mother. His hope was to inspire children that could make a significant difference in the world. The founder’s fear was that  perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find these children. However,it was just the opposite, hundreds and hundreds of applications would begin to come in.

Seventeen years later, the Barron Prize for Young Heroes has honored over 417 young heroes who have  all done remarkable things. One prize winner is Alexa, who created a nonprofit called Bags of Books, which she started at age 10. Her organization distributes gently used and new children’s books in free pop-up stores in underserved communities. She has donated more than 120,000 books and inspired hundreds of volunteers to distribute books in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and after school programs.

One  young prize winner founded NY is a great place to Bee! to educate the public about bees about the importance of healthy bee populations. She built a team of volunteers and they have educated over 14,000 students about ways to protect bees through her advocacy.

Another inspiring change maker,  Jahkil, founded Project I Am to help the homeless in Chicago. In one year Jahkil and his team distributed more than 3,000 Blessing Bags filled with toiletry items, towels, socks and snacks through his drop off sites and bag stuffing parties all at the age of nine!

While I could go on with hundreds more of these incredible young nonprofit founders and budding philanthropist, these 417 Barron Prize for Young Heroes winners have combined raised over 19 million dollars for their causes in the past seventeen years. The real winners of this prestigious award are the incredible communities served by these extraordinary young leaders and their enormous compassion to serve. Each of them give us hope for a brighter future of kindness, caring and service.

 

charity matters.

 

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Earth Day

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” David Attenborough

I think I have shared with you before that my Dad was in the recycling business, long before it was hip. He started recycling in the mid 1960s and spent his entire career recycling. This week my husband started a new job and will also be in the recycling business, in a different way, but his new business is truly based on protecting our earth. Since this Sunday is Earth Day, I have been thinking a lot more about our environment lately.

We were raised to recycle, not pollute and to respect our planet. That being said, we grew up at time in LA with smog alerts and our lungs hurting after swimming outside on summer afternoons from the pollution. While smog has improved in LA in the past few decades, pollution and litter seems to be at an all time high. Scientist are saying that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. How devastating is that?  It is statistics like these that really make you think more about our planet and what we can do to protect it and why this year’s theme is End Plastic Pollution.

What began in 1970 by one man, John McConnell, has gone global in the best possible way.  On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans came out to peacefully to demonstrate about environmental reform. This year over 192 countries and close to a billion people will celebrate Earth Day, making it the largest secular holiday in the world. We have come along way in these past few decades but still have much work to do.

My pledge to Earth Day is that I am going to start using my reusable metal water bottle and cut back on bottled water. A small step but if we all just make one tiny adjustment then our united impact can be significant. We all love this beautiful planet we call home.  Now, its time to take care of Mother earth. Happy Earth Day!

charity matters.

 

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Teaching service and leadership

As many of you know I run a youth leadership nonprofit organization as my daytime job. Teaching over 3,000 students each year how to be leaders. This time of year at work we are doing leadership days, so think about a school field trip where a few hundred middle school students are going to a local high school to be taught leadership by high school students.

All year the college alumni of our program teach the high school students leadership skills and then like a waterfall, the high school students turn and teach the middle school students, which is how we run an organization that serves 3,000 students with only two employees. More than any of that, what constantly inspires me is seeing the power of peers. It doesn’t matter if you are 50 and looking up to those a few years older or 12 and looking up to a 15 year old, that peer relationship is so powerful and never really goes away.

We spend so much time in our schools talking about bullying and negative things that are happening with our youth and so little talking about the good, which is why I needed to  share this. I have been working with hundreds of these inspiring teenagers as they teach these middle school students. I watch as they take, shy, sometimes awkward, sometimes overly confident middle schoolers and they validate them, accept them, include them and as a result empower them. These small gestures of kindness are transformative.

I watch these young adults transform others lives through their service and transform their own by recognizing their own power and the power of kindness. I continue to be in awe of watching these students transform themselves, their schools and communities through their service and leadership.

This isn’t a post about school violence, politics or bullying but rather a place to point out that these teenagers can fix almost anything. If our youth continue to come together to reach out to an alienated or lonely child, include someone who feels isolated, help another who is feeling left out…. those simple gestures can have the most powerful results. We don’t need marches on Washington, we simply need kindness, compassion, inclusion and acceptance that is how we are going to take back our schools, society and safety.

Charity Matters.

 

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The gift of connection

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”

Mark Twain

For the past few years I have been very involved with my alma mater, an all girls Catholic school, that I was lucky to attend.  A place that taught me “Actions not words” and the meaning of service. Anyone who has high school age children knows that the cost of education, along with everything else these days continues to rise. As a result, families often have to make difficult financial choices about their children’s high school education. A number of schools, including the one I attended, recognize these obstacles and create a way to support families while giving alumni the gift of connection.

For me,  it means that there is one student that I have had the privilege of getting to know the past four years. I have to admit that”my student” is adorable, smart, articulate and full of joy. Yes, I’m totally biased and unfortunately cannot take any responsibility for this. Lucky for me,  this past week we had the opportunity to sit down and catch up at a dinner the school arranged.

As the two of us chatted about school, college apps, boys, soccer and prom I couldn’t help but feel so proud and excited for this remarkable young lady. Her future is so bright and she has the whole world ahead of her. How blessed am I to have the opportunity to know her, watch her grow and share our mutual love of  a school that shaped up us both? The connection, a gift to treasure.

It is easy to think of giving as a strain, a burden, or a sacrifice but in reality giving is a privilege. As Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Investing in the future

People see inspiring stories and send them my way all the time, to me it doesn’t matter where the story comes from as long as it is full of goodness and inspires us to be better. A friend sent this one a few months back and the good news is that there has been so much good happening in the world that I am just now able to get this in the queue.


Photo by KEVIN SULLIVAN Orange County Register

The story is about an amazing couple Marty Burbank and his wife, who were planning on buying a big boat because of their love of sailing and the sea. Marty and his wife attended church and listened to their pastor talk about charity, kindness, compassion and giving.  The sermon had a powerful effect on a man who was getting ready to spend his life’s saving on his dream boat. Marty Said, “I can invest in a boat or I can invest in 26 kids and their lives. I am just grateful for the opportunity.”

Take a peak and see what the Burbanks decided to do with their one million dollars.

The Burbanks are examples for us all. While we may not be in positions to give as generously, they certainly inspire me to rethink how can I truly make a difference. Such a beautiful legacy of generosity, kindness and compassion.

Charity Matters.

 

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Charitable children, it’s never too late to start

I am always so amazed that is the same time each year that I find people asking me for suggestions for raising philanthropic children. As a result, I share this post once again as refresher for all, holidays or not.

When my sons were younger I wondered if they were really understanding what we were doing as a family for others. We wanted to raise compassionate and charitable children, good humans. While my sons are far from the poster children for philanthropy, they certainly do a lot to help others. I am proud that each of them has found different ways to give back and share the gifts that they have been given. My oldest has a passion for serving inner city children. His younger brother, has recently gotten behind Movember and men’s health through his fraternity. His house is one of the top Greek organizations in the country for fundraising this year. The youngest, at 16, has recently gotten involved with a nonprofit, Once Upon a Room, that does hospital room makeovers for very sick patients.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we sit down as a family and decide what our family will do this season to help others. We have adopted soldiers for a year, adopted families over the holidays that could not have Christmas, we have wrapped gifts at local Childrens’ Hospitals and voted on which non-profits we want to support. Each person trying to convince the others why their cause is most worthy.

The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question and that raising charitable children is an ongoing process. Families now have resources such as the nonprofit Project Giving Kids, which cultivates volunteer opportunities for young children and families. I read an article recently that said role modeling philanthropy is simply not enough. The article referenced a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. The director, Debra Mesch, said “the research showed that talking to children about giving increased by 20 percent the likelihood that children would give.”

Here are a few tips to remember as we approach the season of giving:

Six Tips for Raising charitable children:

  1. Start early, as early as 4 or 5 years old. Giving becomes a habit.
  2. Talk to your children about what causes interest them and bring causes to their attention.
  3. Be intentional by involving your children in your own charity endeavors.
  4. Use online tools to research organizations to involve your children
  5. Be consistent. Make charity a part of your traditions, the holidays and birthdays.
  6. Emphasize the joy because giving feels great.

Benefits of raising charitable children:

  1. Opens children’s eyes to the fact that others are not as fortunate as they are
  2. Develops empathetic thinking
  3. Fosters an appreciation for what they have
  4. Enhances self-esteem
  5. Correlates to improved performance in school

While this topic is relevant for the holidays, it is important to remember that giving does not just happen once a year. Teaching the gifts you receive from giving should be a part of the year, not simply the season. Once your children feel how great it is to give, their lives will forever be altered in wonderful ways.

Charity Matters.

 

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A grateful heart: Alliance of Moms

As this week of gratitude begins, I am thankful for so many people, opportunities and moments that make my life and heart full. There is a saying, “it is not joy that makes us grateful but rather it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” In meeting and working with so many nonprofit founders over the years, I have discovered that people either start nonprofits because something happened to them that they want to prevent from happening to someone else or they begin their organization because of gratitude.

This weekend I spent time with the most amazing women, the founders of Alliance of Moms, who are just that….grateful. Women whose hearts are full with gratitude who  wanted to inspire and help other young mothers. You may remember the interview with Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Jules Leyser a few months back about their incredible organization whose mission is to break the inter-generational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care.

In 2012, Yasmine and Jules were both pregnant, 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.

Jules told me back in May,”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.” 

This past Saturday was the organizations fourth annual Raising Baby event where over 100 underserved youth in foster care and their children came for a day of fun and educational parenting workshopsThese young mothers in foster care engaged with parenting experts and learned practical tips about how to help develop their babies brains during the critical first three years of life. While the parents were learning, Alliance of Mom member volunteers provided childcare for their children.

Yasmine said,”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.”

It was a day of fun, giving, education, and above all gratitude. These young mothers in foster care were grateful for the support, the education and the childcare. More than that, it was a day of women and community coming together to support one another. The full hearts and gratitude were abundant.

Charity Matters.

 

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Something else to cheer for….

The difference between the impossible and the possible, lies in a person’s determination.”

Tommy Lasorda

So often when we are cheering on our hometown team in sports we forget the amazing philanthropic work that almost all sports organizations do for their communities. Since today is the first day of the World Series and being a LA girl, I thought it only fitting to see what those Dodgers are doing around town to make our city and world better.

While the Dodgers have been supporting the city and hundreds of causes since they first came to Los Angeles, in 1995 they created The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. Their goal, to focus on underserved youth and more specifically; sports, recreation, education, health and literacy.

Since 1995, the team and foundation have been busy supporting these incredible organizations:

photo via: LA Dodgers

Vision to learn                          Serves low-income youth with glasses and eye exams

SPARK LA                                  Serves at risk youth

Summer Night Lights              Provides community events to prevent gang violence and build community.

Jackie Robinson Foundation    Provides scholarship and literacy for low-income students

City Year LA                               Enriches education for high poverty areas of Los Angeles

LA Reads                                    Supports 13 organizations to encourage reading and literacy

If that wasn’t enough, the Dodgers have built over 47 baseball fields in Los Angeles spending over $7.3 million dollars. More than that, the Dodgers have provided over 7,800 children (that is a whole lot of kids…) aged 5-18 with baseball uniforms and equipment. So tonight when you turn on that game, regardless of your team, you have something really amazing to cheer for…a true home run!

Go Blue!

Charity Matters.

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Grades of Green

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” 

John Muir

You may remember a few years back I interviewed the founders of Grades of Green, a nonprofit that was founded in 2008, by a few passionate mothers, who wanted to educate and inform children about their choices and the impact on their environment. After receiving an award from the EPA, the founders created a non-profit so that other schools would have free and easy access to the tools and information needed to empower and inspire students to care for the environment.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this incredible organization and chat with Emily Stewart, Program Coordinator for Grades of Green.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and participate in a non-profit?

I was raised with environmental values and completed a degree in environmental policy, so I always knew that I would be involved in the nonprofit world. When I found out about the work that Grades of Green was doing across the globe to inspire children to start their own grassroots sustainability movements, I knew that I needed to be part of it.

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

Grades of Green: Climate change poses very real threats to the future of our planet. I believe that if enough students become involved in the environmental movement, they can tip the scale and create a safer and more sustainable world.

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

Grades of Green: When students that you have mentored take the initiative to innovate their own solutions to environmental issues in their community, you know that you have made a lasting difference by encouraging the next generation to become environmental advocates. For example, a Grades of Green Youth Corps student named Antonio’s work to champion cleaner air through No Idle Zones inspired the passing of ACR 160, a statewide resolution in California.

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

Grades of Green is a very exciting and rewarding place to work because its impact in terms of benefits to the environment is measurable, and yet the environmental values and leadership skills that children gain from participating last a lifetime. 568 schools across 43 states and 17 countries are involved in our green programs, and the number of schools and students involved grows every week! Their actions to protect the environment translates to thousands of tons of waste diverted from landfills, gallons of water saved, tons of CO2 emissions reduced, and toxins removed from the environment.

Four moms set out to educate their children and others on how to care for our world and one another. Almost ten years later their message has spread across the country and the globe. To circle back week  with John Muir’s words,When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” 

Charity Matters

 

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Katie’s Krops, a seed that grew

After the chaos of last week, I wanted to bring you the incredible story about an amazing young woman who is living a life that matters…….a life of purpose.

Working with students everyday, I truly believe that kids can do anything. Like a garden, they simply need the seed planted, cultivated, fertilized and time for it to grow. The story below is exactly that, about one 9-year-old girl who had an idea to end hunger.

Her name is Katie Stagliano and her story begins with a seed. In 2008, as a third grader Katie received a package of cabbage seeds. She went home excited to plant her seedlings and began taking daily care of her cabbage. Her hard work paid off and her cabbage ended up being over forty pounds! She knew her plant was special and needed to find a special home for it. Katie and her mother reached out to a local program, that served the homeless and hungry. She helped prepare her cabbage and served so many grateful people and now knew she needed to do more.

It was at that moment that Katie began to understand how many people in our country are hungry and she was determined to do more. She went to her school and asked if they could start a school garden and give the produce to the local soup kitchen, which they did. Still her dream expanded, Katie said,”If people (I hope lots of kids too) could grow even one vegetable plant and donate the harvest to a local soup kitchen we could make a huge difference in the fight against hunger.”

Katie is now 18 and this past month she headed off to College of Charleston as a freshman.

In under ten years Katie has created her nonprofit Katie’s Krops and established over 100 gardens in 33 states. She has summer camp where children learn about growing vegetable gardens and her team of young gardeners has grown thousands of pounds of produce, come together to cook and serve thousands meals since 2008…..all because of a seed, an idea and a boundless heart.

Charity Matters.

 

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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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