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.
When I heard the words, “It’s never too late to write your own ending.” I knew I needed and wanted to know more about how this phrase came to be, especially from an incarcerated youth in juvenile hall.
Before I can tell that story, I need to share another, and that is the story of Sister Janet Harris. In 1989, Sr. Janet took the role of chaplain at the LA Central Juvenile Hall. A facility that houses anywhere between 1,700 and 600 incarcerated youths. In 1996, a LA Times reporter named Duane Noriyuki came to interview Sr. Janet for a story he was doing. Sr. Janet asked the writer if he could lead some creative writing classes with these kids and that was the beginning of InsideOUTWriters.
Those classes turned into weekly writing classes and in 1999 and IOW officially became a non-profit. Their mission is to reducing the rate recidivism (translation: the tendency for a convicted criminal to re-offend) by providing services, such as creative writing, as a catalyst for personal transformation. Sr. Janet, Duane Noriyuki and a handful of volunteer writers wanted to create an environment of trust and camaraderie where students creativity could flourish regardless of their harsh surroundings.
Today, there are over 42 weekly classes, twenty-seven volunteer teachers, teaching 400 boys and girls the power of writing at over four juvenile detention facilities and the LA County Men’s Central Jail. There is now an alumni program that helps InsideOUT Writer‘s alumni transition as they are released from prison. Since 1996, more than 11, 000 incarcerated youth have participated in over 15, 000 classes.
An InsideOUTWriters alum, Mario Rocha was quoted saying about Sr. Janet, “She is one of the greatest examples of human loyalty and spiritual dedication. For her, religion isn’t something you read, its something you experience by giving your self to the struggle of other people.”
And to end where we began, it is never too late to write your own ending.
There is something magical and cathartic about writing. For me, it is a time to hear my inner voice and explore the outside world, as well as a gift that I cherish. That is why when I heard about 826National.org I was smitten with their mission and story to encourage the gift of writing.
Their story began in 2002, when author Dave Eggers and educator, Ninive Calegari were looking for a solution to help overburdened teachers, while connecting talented working adults and students who needed help. They located a store front in the Mission District of San Francisco, aptly at 826 Valencia Street, where they opened a pirate store in the front and built a writing lab for kids in the back of an old gym space.
Word spread quickly and before long 826 Valencia was serving 6,000 students, between the ages of 6 and 18, annually with over 1,700 volunteers.
Only two years later in 2004 a second chapter of 826NYC, opened in New York City and the following year chapters opened up in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor and Boston. By 2008, 826’s fifth anniversary the non-profit had published its first book with their students work and opened their national headquarters called 826 National with a mission that believes great leaps in learning can happen with individual attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.
Today, 826 National.Org serves over 30,000 students across the country with over 5,300 volunteers, the organization has been a part of over 886 publishing projects and currently has seven chapters nationwide.
Last weekend, I attended my first TED talk. While I have listened to an occasional talk here and there, I am one of the rare people on the planet who is not addicted or really even familiar with TED. I was even more surprised when I learned that TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a non-profit organization….but isn’t everything these days?
The TED concept was created in 1984 from Richard Wurman’s observation of three amazing fields converging, technology, entertainment and design. The very first TED talks included demos from revolutionary new products, the compact disc and the e-book. However, even with such a wow factor the conference and idea lost money and six years later, in 1990 Richard Wurman tried again and this time it worked.
A decade later, media entrepreneur, Chris Anderson met with Wurman and in 2001 Anderson’s non-profit, the Sapling Foundation acquired TED. Anderson believed in the concepts that make TED great and was determined to seek out the most interesting people on the planet and let them communicate their passion.
So as I sat in an auditorium and listened to speakers talk on such topics as, The Future of Women in Science, Troubled Water on water conservation, Transforming Prisons from the Inside, Out, Accepting my transgender daughter, and the list goes on….I was inspired. Each speaker and topic more unique than the previous, and yet they were all the same.
What was it that made this very different group the same? Their passion. Each speaker was passionate about their topic and their passion and insight was real, it was human and the hundreds of us in the audience became one…..and that is the magic of TED.