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.
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.
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!
“The world needs new leadership, but the new leadership is about working together.”
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…”
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.”
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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 withThe 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.
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.
I was at the bookstore recently and came across a book entitled, If Nuns Ruled The World. I thumbed through it because I have an aunt I adore, who is a Sister of the Holy Child. Like most nuns that I have met, my aunt is an exceptional human being. Intrigued by the book title, I flipped through the pages and found ten nuns who were profiled for having done extraordinary things and one in particular caught my eye. Her name is Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald.
Tesa Fitzgerald was born into an Irish Catholic family on Long Island and surprised them all when she entered the convent after graduating from high school. Sr. Tesa worked in Catholic schools as a teacher and ultimately a principal, until her life had a change of direction.
Another nun, Sister Elaine Roulet, had created a program that helped incarcerated women to stay with their newborn children until they were at least one year old. Sister Elaine reached out for help with the problem.
Learning that there are approximately 150,000 women incarcerated nationwide, Sister Tesa wondered what happened to these women’s’ children? So, in 1985 Sister Tesa answered Sister Elaine’s prayer by becoming a foster parent and turned a convent into a home for six children, with the goal of maintaining the bond between mothers in prison and their children.
In 1992, she created Hour Children as a nonprofit to offer supportive services to other children of incarcerated mothers and to the mothers themselves. She named it to reflect the hour of the mother’s arrest, the hour visit allowed to the children and the hour of her release.
Today, Hour Children oversees three apartment buildings, three thrift stores, a day care center, an after school program, a group home, a food program, a mentoring program and four communal homes, all while continuing to work with women during their incarceration. Sister Tesa has been recognized by the White House, received the Opus Prize and of course was featured in the book, If Nuns Ruled the World……which just makes me wonder what our world would be like?
The other day, as I rapidly scanned my very full email inbox, a letter for an upcoming women’s conference caught my eye. I glanced ahead to see whether this would be one of the rapidly deleted emails to enter my trash when I saw the words vulnerable and Rise.
As I continued reading, I discovered an incredibly personal story shared in the letter about the author, a tragedy, the survival and how that moment fueled and shaped this woman’s life. Today, she is using all that fuel to bring women together to empower them, teach one another, evolve and to Rise. I am continually in awe of the human spirit, our vulnerability and resilience. These people are my heroes, my fuel, my inspiration.
Each of us is dealt a band hand in life at some point, at least I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t had one? It is how we play that hand and use it, not only to empower ourselves, but more importantly how we use it to empower others. In a world, where we all put on our social media mask to shield that vulnerability, I want to salute, pay tribute and share stories of these brave people who take their pain and inspire us that the human condition is one we all share.
This post is dedicated to all of those who rise up and continue to inspire.
If you have been a long time reader of Charity Matters, you know I have certain causes, as we all do, that are near and dear to my heart. As a result, I love to re-visit these from time to time. In 2014, I wrote a post on a most remarkable young man from Verbum Dei High School in Watts (a favorite cause of mine for sure) and his name was Caylin Moore.
Last week, while I was at TCU, this inspiring young man and I had a few minutes to connect and hear about his incredible life in the service of others. Caylin grew up in Compton, with a strong single mother, two siblings and a deep faith. He attended Verbum Dei High School, where he was a scholar student and star athlete. After high school graduation he headed to Marist College on a full scholarship to play football. He became a Fulbright Scholar and then transferred to TCU and walked onto the football team.
I came across a Charity Matters post from 2014, which opens with Caylin being asked where he sees himself in five years. His answer was insightful, as were his feelings about college. He said, “You go to college to change the world.”
Today, Caylin is still studying hard, working on a book, running his campus organization called SPARK (Strong Players Are Reaching Kids) where he and fellow athletes are inspiring the underserved youth of Fort Worth to be their very best and to dream big. Caylin is also getting ready to head to Oxford, England as a Rhodes Scholar.
I can’t wait to circle back in a few more years and see how this remarkable man continues to inspire so many in his faith and service to others. A force in forward motion and compassion.
Late February and early March may be a gloomy time of the year in most parts of the country, but if there is one thing that brightens all of our lives it is the beginning of Girl Scout cookie season. Half of the year I suffer from a mild depression when my freezer no longer contains thin mints and don’t get me started on how much I love tagalongs. This year, there is something really special about all of this, its the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scout cookie and their sales. Who knew a cookie could make such a difference in all of our lives?
The other day with my cookie order on my mind, I had a great conversation with a friend, who told me I needed to meet one of his dear friends, an amazing woman named Frances Hesselbein. My friend, author Mike Stallard, began describing this incredible woman who transformed the Girl Scouts and so many more lives. I knew I needed to know more about this amazing woman and how she has used her life to inspire so many others…
Frances, the mother of one son, went from Girl Scout troop leader to CEO of the Girl Scouts and was accredited with turning the organization around. She grew the organization to over 2,25 million girls and had a volunteer workforce of 780,000 during her time. In 1998 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with the Girl Scouts.
In November, 2011 she told Forbes Magazine, “When I left the Girl Scouts in 1990, it was the largest organization for girls and women in the world. Six weeks later I found myself CEO of the Drucker Foundation, with no money, no staff and just a powerful vision. Peter encouraged us to focus on the type of change that will determine whether or not we are, all of us, a part of the future.”
Today the Girl Scouts is the world’s most successful organization dedicated to creating girl leaders with 3.2 million active members and over 59 million alumni! Truly nothing sweeter than using your life to make others better. Frances will be 102 in November.
While I know this has been a crazy week with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday and the Presidential Inauguration today….I find my mind somewhere else. Each week I try to find a theme for Charity Matters and Martin Luther King Jr.’s question of,” What are you doing for others?” Thishas become my mantra for the week, that common thread of service.
Really, more than that, I am fascinated with people’s journeys to serve. On Wednesday, it was the story of InsideOUTWriters and Sr. Janet’s program for incarcerated youths in juvenile hall. But what happens when one person’s service inspires another? The goodness is contagious.
That is exactly what happened to Scott Budnick. In 2003, he was asked by a friend to attend a writing workshop through the InsideOUTWriters program. Scott is the infamous producer of The HangOver movies, a Hollywood producer and man who had no idea that his life was about to change. His first trip to juvenile hall, to mentor incarcerated youths, changed everything.
Scott not only committed to mentoring incarcerated youths (which he still does) but he took it so much farther when he realized that these young men and women had a 54% recidivism (going back to jail) rate and decided to do something about it.
He decided to start a non-profit called ARC to change that statistic, one youth at a time by providing the support, mentoring, education, housing, employment and guidance needed to make the transition out of prison a final one.
Today, ARC serves more than 300 formerly incarcerated men and women, who commit to living crime-free, drug-free and gang-free and dedicate themselves to being of service to their community and paying it forward to others in the ARC network.
One man, one moment volunteering and now Scott Budnick is a non-profit founder, who has taken on prison reform, mentored hundreds of young men and women, transformed their lives, the prison system and less than five percent of his kids ever go back. They only go forward passing that torch of service that Sr. Janet ignited in him, to others.