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Thirst Project

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

Charity Matters

 

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

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Gordie, a story worth retelling…again and again

Gordie's story

Next week we are heading to our youngest son’s parent weekend at his college in Texas.  He attends a big college football school where  weekends include tailgates, football games and the obligatory fraternity parties…..all of it fun and takes us back to our own college days. With so many students heading off to college or in their first month of school I was reminded that the 15th year anniversary of Gordie Bailey’s death is coming up.  While I do not typically repost, I have shared his story every year because the lesson is invaluable and sadly, needs to be told over and over to each new generation of college students.

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.

There has been at least one university hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017 according to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer. Over 200 university deaths by hazing since 1839, with 40 deaths from 2007-2017 alone and alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death. 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 almost fifteen 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.

 

Sharing is caring, if you feel moved or inspired, please inspire another…

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Be Perfect Foundation

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

Friday Night Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

Charity Matters

 

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Once Upon a Room

Like all good fairy tales, it begins with once upon a time…there was a beautiful woman named Jennifer Hull and her heart was so huge that she not only adopted one child but created a non-profit to help hundreds more sick children at children’s hospitals around Los Angeles. Jennifer and I have known each other for a while and a few years back I interviewed her about their incredible cause called Once Upon a Room. A non-profit organization that decorates rooms for children who have long stays in the hospital.

Since that time, Jenny’s daughter Josie, Josie’s best friend Sienna, my son and host of amazing high school students have brightened hundreds of children’s hospital rooms with their work. Now that my son is heading to college in Texas he and his buddies are bringing Once Upon a Room to their local Children’s hospital. This week I thought I would share the magical fairy tale once again…because like all good fairy tales we want to read them over and over.

Charity Matters:  Give us a little back round on you and Josie?

Jennifer Hull: A little history about Josie and I…I am the very proud, adoptive mother of Josie. Josie and her sister, Teresa, were born in Guatemala and were conjoined at the head. They came to the US at 9 months old. At 1 year old they underwent surgery done by a 50 person medical team to separate them. After 23 hours in the operating room, our two beautiful girls were rolled out in 2 separate beds.

We were granted a miracle that day and have spent every day since trying to do everything in our power to better the girls’ lives and those around us. As one can imagine our medical journey did not end at separation surgery. There have been countless hospital stays with over 30 surgeries combined and hours upon hours of physical therapy. 

We know from first-hand experience when you are in an environment that makes you happy and calm healing is easier to achieve. It was important to Josie and me to help others in medical situations feel better. The main portion of our program is to decorate hospital rooms for pediatric patients going through active medical treatment.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your non-profit?

Jennifer Hull:  Once Upon a Room has a tag line…Every child has a story. My sweet daughter, Josie spends so much time in the hospital. Every time we are inpatient, I noticed her spirits were lifted when we would bring in items that were ours and set up a mini “house” like atmosphere. We have had the pleasure of meeting other patients and families over the years and when we would visit them we would bring something to brighten their room we could see the joyous effect it had.

We wanted to expand our reach and really transform the hospital setting into a personalized, happy environment. Josie and I got excited about the possibility of spreading joy to others in the hospital. We knew we needed to do this. We wanted to serve others and this was such a perfect fit for us.

Sienna, Josie and Ford

Charity Matters: Who along the way has helped you make this journey happen?

Jennifer Hull: Siena Dancsecs is a huge contributor to our success and is one of Josie’s best friends and has been through so many ups and downs with Josie medically. Siena’s passion to help others started to light on fire. At 11 years old she called to tell me that the organization should be named Once Upon a Room. She said that our mission should be to serve pediatric patients in and out of the hospital that was inactive medical treatment. 

Siena says, “Through my friendship with Josie I wanted to do more. We do what we do because we can see the long-term impact it makes. I remember getting asked to go to the hospital for the first time. I honestly had no idea what to expect, what I would see or what I would hear. Normally when I think about a hospital I think about all of the needles, medicine and doctors. We get to see a different side of it. When we walk into those rooms we get to brighten this patient’s room with what they like. It becomes all about them in a different way. It’s not all about their disease or injury; it’s about them as a person. That’s what makes it so special. Getting to make these patient’s days just a little bit brighter. And truly it affects not only their environment but also everyone around them. It brings this glow to their surroundings, helping them start fighting a little harder.”

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

Jennifer Hull: This is an easy question…making other people happy!! As Josie says, “We do this to make other kids happy. I know how hard it is to be in the hospital so I want to help them too.”

We can’t change the medical outcome but we can change how they feel when they are going through this journey. You can’t believe how rewarding it feels to know that you put your heart and soul into doing something for someone else that hopefully makes a difference in his or her life. Every room we do we put ourselves into their shoes for a moment. We do our best to anticipate what they would want or what would bring joy to them.

When we get the theme of the room we try to do the best we can to make it perfect for them. You would think after doing over 500 plus rooms it would be redundant but instead, we try to make each room better and more personalized. Making someone else happy fuels us. Hopefully, that person is the patient, but also the family. Being in the hospital is so stressful for the whole family.

We are one of the few people who walk into the room and can concentrate on the person, not the medical diagnosis. We get to recognize them and their interests. The family gets to be reminded of the person, not the condition.

The other part that fuels us is the excitement that it brings to the medical staff. You almost see them invigorated. It is so much fun to watch them and their reactions when they are watching a room reveal for one of their patients that they clearly have compassion for. It is a gift to us to make others feel special.

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

Jennifer Hull: There is an interesting thing that happens in our group. It isn’t only the patients and families that we affect. Many times it is the volunteers or vendors that we see affected by our work. It is so much fun to go into Target and the cashiers are all excited to see what rooms we are shopping for. It is so rewarding to see the change in our volunteers when they come to help. 

Witnessing the love and compassion that kids and teens give to patients is one of the best gifts in my life.  We don’t give them enough freedom or opportunities to give to others in a meaningful way. Giving them a positive experience serving others at a young age while hopefully help them remember that feeling when they are adults and they will find a cause that they can make an impact giving to as adults.

Charity Matters: Last question before we end this fairy tale, tell us what success you have had?

Jennifer Hull: Our success isn’t measurable. Success for us is determined by the about of love and compassion we are able to spread to our patients, families, staff, volunteers, and vendors. It is the ability to spread hope and happiness. Our success is based on helping and serving others.

Now that is happily ever after….if ever I have heard one.

 

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

The Comfort Cub

Have you ever had a friend that keeps telling you, “you need to meet so and so.”  Well, a friend of mine has told me for years that I needed to meet her friend, Marcella Johnson, who is the founder of the nonprofit The Comfort Cub. The stars finally aligned and we had a conversation last week that was supposed to last for forty-five minutes and when I looked at my clock and saw that two hours had passed I was in awe. She was beyond worth the wait and such an inspiration.

In 1999, Marcella’s fourth child, George died shortly after he was born from congenital heart disease. Marcella used her grief as fuel to help others who were suffering from broken heart syndrome and trauma in her creation of the nonprofit the Comfort Cub.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Comfort Cub does?

Marcella Johnson:  The Comfort Cub is the world’s very first weighted therapeutic teddy bear.  After I lost my newborn son George in 1999 due to congenital heart disease we developed the Cub to help other mothers who suffered from the loss of their infant. The Comfort Cub is specially weighted and is intended to simulate the weighted comfort of cradling a newborn. While the initial intent of The Comfort Cub was for child loss, research now shows it provides profound relief for any traumatic event. This includes having to leave the hospital while your baby is still in the NICU, the loss of a spouse, parent, loved one or beloved pet. It has also been effective for occupational & autism therapy, adoptions and those experiencing divorce or traumatic loss. Due to deep touch pressure, holding The Comfort Cub triggers the brain to release the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which causes the body to relax and feel comforted.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start The Comfort Cub?

Marcella Johnson: Leaving the hospital empty handed, with nothing in my arms was one of the worst parts of the whole experience of losing a child.  It was doubly heartbreaking because when it was time to be discharged my husband took all my things and went to get the car.  I was in the elevator next to a woman both of us had just delivered and she had balloons, flowers, her baby boy and I had nothing to hold, it was so painful. Then when we were both wheeled outside to pick up her husband has the video camera, the balloons, and the joy. I just wanted to die. Then my husband pulled up and to see his pain looking at this happy new family was so hard, watching him suffer. We just drove off in silence.

What happened when we got home was that the emotional pain felt like an open wound. My chest literally hurt and my arms ached and no massage or Tylenol made it go away. There was a dull ache in my heart and I thought I was losing my mind. Twenty years ago people didn’t know about Takotsubo Syndrom, also known as broken heart syndrome, but research eventually proved that I wasn’t alone. 

A week after the funeral I asked my dad if he would meet me at the gravesite and he had this beautiful pot of flowers to leave at the grave. When I held the pot the aching in my heart and arms went away. I was sure I was losing my mind. Then I began doing my own research on grief and discovered women who were grieving would hold sacks of flour or carried a pineapple wrapped in a blanket and realized that the pot was about the weight my child would have been.

I had asked people to donate teddy bears instead of flowers in baby George’s name that we would bring to the local Children’s Hospital. We had a lot of teddy bears and about four months after the funeral I saw a Build a Bear and I went to the manager and told him my story and that I wanted to try to create a comfort bear for other women like me. He told me he would help me after work and to go and buy all the split peas that I could find. We opened up the bears and filled them with 6.7 lbs of lentils (baby George’s weight) until we got the weight just right. The following year we started the organization because I was determined that I am not going through this in vain and if I can help just one other woman than I will be satisfied.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about How you started The Comfort Cub after the prototype?

Marcella Johnson: Helping to me is second nature. I wanted to make sure that no woman in San Diego left the hospital the way that I did. My husband and I started a fund with the money that we would have spent on baby George. So instead of the money to buy diapers and formula, we bought teddy bears, ribbons and spilt peas. A hospice organization asked for ten bears and the Children’s Hospital asked for twelve. I got my girlfriends together and we started an assembly line.

I realized early on that this doesn’t belong to me but I am simply a steward of this. The way people have responded to this bear is so much bigger than me. The reaction from parents and people who have gone through trauma has been so inspiring. Unfortunately, when there has been a tragedy we have sent the bears. My sister lived near Sandy Hook and showed up at the office with the bears. The office manager said they had received 60,000 teddy bears and didn’t need another bear. When she told my story the office manager said she would hand deliver each Comfort Cub to tall of the parents of Sandy Hook victims. Then the parents of the teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary requested the bears. We made three hundred cubs for the grief group of the Vegas tragedy and just this past week we delivered bears here in San Diego for the recent shooting at the temple.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marcella Johnson: Our biggest challenge is to get people to understand. Twenty years ago people didn’t know about the physical effects of grief and Takotsubo Syndrome. People can sometimes feel overwhelmed by helping women who have lost children and they either get it or they don’t. The Comfort Cub isn’t about sadness but about hope and healing. People are much more interested in talking about trauma than death. Why it is uncomfortable for many of us to try and find the words for people who lost someone we can not turn our backs on those who are suffering. 

There have been times when this work has been hard. When the economy changed and we had the financial crisis in 2008 funding became more challenging. I had three other children, was making the bears, distributing them and it was a lot. We had a Comfort Cub hotline where we offered them for free to anyone in the United States who had a need. The San Diego Hospice group ran the hotline and funded much of the program in the beginning until a few years ago when they closed down. In 2013, I officially started running everything and in 2015 we became our own nonprofit.

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

Marcella Johnson: This work is internal and in my heart. It is in my soul and I feel called to do this work. There are so many people that are grieving out there and we need to help them. I believe that I am supposed to be doing this work. 

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

Marcella Johnson: There are so many ways….I hear from the hospital all the time the comfort and peace the cubs give to so many. The people who write on our Facebook page about what an impact the cub has made.  I find out second hand because I do not directly distribute the comfort cubs. However, a few years ago I received an award and they brought out a woman who had lost a child and she was carrying something that looked like the velveteen rabbit, it was so worn and loved. I realized as she began to speak about what the comfort cub had done for her that she the loved thing she as holding was her comfort cub.  It is just wow to realize the difference we have made and it takes your breath away.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success and impact you have had?

Marcella Johnson: Since we began we have given over 15,000 Comfort Cubs. So often we learn that these cubs are usually passed on to at least three people. People want to give their cub to someone else who is hurting and now needs it. When you do the math that is touching almost 45,000 lives. I have a friend who is a nurse practitioner and she was recently doing a physical exam. The woman undressed and had a comfort cub tattoo. My friend asked about her tattoo and the woman explained that she had lost a child and that the comfort cub literally saved her life and she wanted it tattooed to always have it with her. That was an impact that I never expected. 

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

Marcella Johnson: Before losing a child I always thought it was best not to mention a person who has died’s name. I have learned that you do not want a loved one to be forgotten. I make it a point to always tell people that whoever they lost, mattered. Also, the more you can do to help someone who is grieving the better, it doesn’t have to be anything grand but just to let them know you care.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marcella Johnson: My son’s passing changed my life forever. I wanted to know when he died where did he go? Where is my child? His death sent me on a quest to know more about my faith. It made me realize that we are not in control of anything. Life is short and we need to enjoy and celebrate all the goodness in our lives. Let’s go to the birthday parties, let’s go to the graduation parties and see our children in their plays.  You need to tell people who are meaningful in your life that you love them and what they mean to you because it is fleeting. This is my journey and this is my life….

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Opening Minds Through Art (OMA)

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Dr. Seuss

Almost a decade ago I made the most amazing friend through a wonderful happenstance. I was filming a fundraising video for my  alma mater and the filmmaker, Noah Applebaum, was so talented, compassionate and smart that I asked him to help me with another nonprofit project, and then another and then another. Through the years Noah’s heart has shown through in a multitude of nonprofit videos we have worked on together and our friendship has been a wonderful gift. Last week Noah told me about this incredible documentary film that he is now fundraising to make for an Alzheimer’s program called OMA, which stands for Opening Minds Through Art.

Noah’s late grandfather had gone through the program and Noah wanted me to meet the nonprofit’s founder, Dr. Elizabeth Lokon.  We had an incredible conversation and it became abundantly clear why Noah wants the world to know about this remarkable woman and her journey to give the elderly an opportunity to express themselves through art once dementia has left them without a voice. If anyone can tell their story it is Noah. Talking to Dr. Lokon was beyond inspirational and a privilege.

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) from NoahApplebaum.com on Vimeo.

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

Dr. Lokon:  Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is an intergenerational art making program for people with Alzheimers disease. The program provides opportunities for creative self expression for people with dementia.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start OMA?

Dr. Lokon: I had my Master’s Degree in Fine Art and got my PhD in 1997. I had been teaching teachers in Japan from 2000 to 2006 and I had a student club called MICA where we did service for a number of causes. We cleaned beaches, bought toys and were very involved with an organization that prevented sex trafficking of Cambodian children through education. When my husband retired he said to me, “What do you want to do now? Our kids are grown.”  I knew that I wanted to go back to school to make a difference and that my primary goal was to live a life of service.

In education I learned about the first half of life but I knew nothing about the second half, so I decided to study Gerontology. When I came back to the U.S., I moved into a nursing home to learn a new culture, it was like a whole new world and I approached it like an anthropologist. Then I saw people with dementia. They were kept clean, safe and ignored. They were zombies.

 As an educator I knew this was not fair. Children have programs and advocates but with older people there is no one to speak for them. Even with dementia people can have joy. So, I went back to school and worked with a theater program that was for people with dementia. The program used photos to trigger memories to tell imaginary stories. So, in 2007 I asked if I could intern and I moved into a nursing home.

I quickly realized that art was a way of connecting with the patients, like the theater program. Verbal skills may have been impaired but people with dementia could flourish if there wasn’t any language, they could paint. In 2007, I had the idea for OMA.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic Family?

Dr. Lokon: No! I did not. I am Chinese but grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. When I grew up there was a large gap between the wealthy and the poor. I had to walk through the slums to get to school and I remember on my way home from school as an 8 year old bringing younger children home from the slums just to be bathed.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Dr. Lokon: Funding. While we are funded under the Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University.Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University for operations, the biggest challenge is trying to plan our work and the expansion of our work with extreme financial variability . The other challenge is that I know that our program works and we want to expand our work to other medical schools. We want them to be able to have OMA training. I want to give schools the opportunity to train students to be better health care providers. We need to create awareness to fund this work and it takes a lot of time and effort to make this happen.

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

Dr. Lokon: I continue to go to a site each week and I see the magic happen and it keeps me grounded and going.

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

Dr. Lokon: Students realize that it is a privilege to be with someone vulnerable with dementia. Students change and see a shift in themselves. The students begin to see themselves differently and value themselves. I know I have made a difference when I see a student put their arms around their partner with dementia and I see the connection between the two. From a distance you cannot tell that that there is dementia because the old and young person look “normal” and that is the power of human connection.

The patient feels normal and in return the student knows they have made a difference. This is something special. The students write in their journals about their experiences and you know you have made a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us about your impact at OMA?

Dr. Lokon: We began the program in 2009 and since that time we have  trained over 2,00o students  from Miami Ohio alone. We have 150 locations in the United States and Canada that are using our program and are serving eight retirement programs locally. We are currently working with ten universities and their medical/nursing schools to ensure that their students know how to treat those with dementia and communicate with them. When I think of the ripple effect of just the 2,ooo plus students  who become kinder to people with dementia. People who no longer dismiss the elderly, students who are more respectful. I think the measure of success is a cultural change within the aging world, one student at a time. 

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

Dr. Lokon: I have learned there is value to everyone in any stage of life regardless of age, condition or disability. There is a reward in seeing that value and in making a human connection. I have learned the importance of social connection and seeing everyone as worthy of your time, attention and love. In the end, it is just what it means to be human.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dr. Lokon: This journey has changed me by making me more aware of the deeper purpose of what it means to be together. What it means to connect and how much is really happening in that connection. We are so busy meditating and going to yoga that we are depriving ourselves of the very substance that makes us whole.

Charity Matters

 

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Uprising Yoga

 

While I am still compiling my final New Years resolutions one of them is definitely to do more yoga. In a recent yoga class I was talking to my instructor about her work volunteering in juvenile hall teaching trauma informed yoga with an organization called Uprising Yoga. My yoga teacher and friend introduced me to the amazing and beyond uplifting founder, Jill Ippolito Weiss. Jill has taken her gifts to bring yoga to both underserved communities and to the incarcerated kids at juvenile hall.

I came away from our conversation inspired, invigorated and moved.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Uprising Yoga Does?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: The mission of Uprising Yoga is to bring trauma informed yoga to the incarcerated and to underserved communities. Trauma informed yoga helps people understand the impact of trauma on your entire mind and body, it helps understand the imprint left on the brain.

We have now had such growth that we are training the trainers to bring our program to social workers, probation staff and more teacher awareness. We are building sustainable business models where others can take our curriculum into their communities and use to provide trauma informed yoga.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Uprising Yoga?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: In the summer of 2010, I was dating a man named Nick, now my husband and he came home from work and was shaking and upset. I asked what was wrong and he explained that he had just toured a youth prison camp. He described what he saw and I asked him, “Can I teach yoga there?” 

I was working at a yoga college with my friend Mary and she was trying to put a group of instructors together to teach in juvenile hall already. Between the two of us we tried to find a way to actually get into juvenile hall. Getting clearance to work in prisons is a big deal. For months we tried to offer our services and got nowhere. Then in 2011, Nick and I were at a Christmas party and I was talking to a man who worked in the prison system and told him what I wanted to do. He and his colleagues all reached out and said, “When do you want to start?” So Mary, Nick and I began teaching trauma informed yoga on Tuesday nights to juvenile hall’s most vulnerable kids, the foster care sexually trafficked minors. 

Slowly, the classes began to grow and grow. We received a grant to determine how yoga was helping these kids. A friend said, “Have you thought about starting a nonprofit?”  So in 2012 we started officially. We were having a fund raiser and I called my mom to ask if she would donate. She asked what for and I told her to help the kids in juvenile hall. My mom said,” Jill, I picked you up there when you were a kid.” I was speechless because I honestly did not remember that I had been in the juvenile hall that I was now teaching in. Because I didn’t remember I began to study trauma and how it affects your brain and how we heal from trauma. That is how I connected trauma and yoga. 

I knew that I had gotten into trouble and I knew that recovery and yoga had saved my life. I hadn’t really been able to figure out why I was drawn to incarcerated youth until that moment. What pulled at my heart is that my mom came for me and no one is coming for these kids.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I had no idea when I started how this was going to grow and expand. Our biggest challenge is that there is not enough man power and so much need that we simply can not meet.

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

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Connection and the stories I hear about what we do works. The thank you notes that I receive from students that say, “Thank you for letting my body detox.” It makes me high on the universe . My work matters. The ultimate gift is hearing that how you changed someone’s life for the better.

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

Jill Ippolito Weiss: There are so many ways but when we receive a letter, an email or a picture from juvenile hall saying, “Thank you for caring about us.” I know we are teaching life skills and that what we teach lasts a lifetime. I was recently asked to participate in a book about best practices for yoga in the criminal justice system. When people recognize me for my work that is touching.

We recently had a hostage/shooter situation at our local Trader Joes a block from our home.  The day after the situation I called volunteered my services to teach trauma informed yoga to the hostages.  I felt so helpless and thought what can one person do to offer their gifts and talents?  There was so much pain and trauma in my own neighborhood. So now we come together once a week and the trauma informed yoga has brought us all together. The yoga is healing these victims of violence and has given me an opportunity to use my gifts to let others know I care. These hostages have told me how this class has healed them.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact? The successes you have had?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Our impact is on many levels. It can be as small as what we do for one person with our one on one work or large when we do large events. We know that violence goes down significantly after we work in the prisons. Today is our work is recognized nationally and internationally. Our Uprising Yoga curriculum is spreading across the country because it works and people are replicating our model. That is when you know your work has impact.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned since beginning Uprising Yoga and how has this experience changed you?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I have learned that people are good and want to keep doing good.  Once the nonprofit got started, people who cared came out of the woodwork to volunteer, to help, to donate and that literally shifted my entire perception of humanity. I didn’t know people had SO much good in them. I continue to believe that.

This experience made me go from suspicion and confusion into understanding why I went through my pain and how my healing process became available to others. I understood what my own healing journey meant. The yoga just didn’t heal me but it also healed everyone around me. My husband Nick has been a part of this entire journey and I feel that our love is shared out into a community.

Charity Matters

 

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Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF)

There is nothing better than friends supporting one another. A few weeks ago Jennifer Hillman of LuxAnthropy asked me if I had met the amazing people over at The Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Foundation? The answer was that I hadn’t and to be honest I was completely naive in my thinking about AIDS, that was until I spoke with Joel Goldman who has acted as the Executive Director of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) for the past five years. With World AIDS Day here, this Saturday, December 1st, it seemed like the perfect time to share our enlightening and moving conversation.

 

Charity Matters: Joel give us some HISTORY of how the ETAF began?

Joel Goldman: In 1985 Elizabeth Taylor planned a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles, that was the same year that Ryan White was banned from entering school for having AIDS. Elizabeth’s friend, Rock Hudson died of AIDS that year along with 12,529 other Americans and Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson’s doctor, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, created the National AIDS Research Foundation, which became AmFar. By 1987 over 40,000 Americans were dead from AIDS and a year later that number jumped to 61,800 deaths. 

In 1991, Elizabeth Taylor sold her wedding photos to People Magazine for one million dollars to begin the funding for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. That same year Freddie Mercury of Queen died of AIDS and by now, one million Americans were infected with HIV. By 1996, the United Nations estimated that 22.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV and by 2002 HIV was the leading cause of death worldwide for people between the ages of 15-59. When Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 there were 34 million people living with AIDS.

I came to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation five years ago to lead this incredible organization without Elizabeth Taylor at the helm. My mission was to take her legacy and build a continued legacy in global health.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Does?

Joel Goldman: We were established to provide funding and grants to organizations around the globe that offer direct care to people living with AIDS and HIV.  We also focus on HIV education around the globe and advocacy programs.  We work on HIV criminalization reform that still exists in 31 states across our country. We have mobile clinics in Malawi that are treating up to 1,000 people per day.

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

Joel Goldman: What fuels me to keep doing this work is the global disparity in access to medication. There are over 36 million people globally living with HIV and millions do not have the same access to the medication they need. Our work is to ensure that everyone has an equal playing field.  Part of that work is education and going to Washington DC for AIDS advocacy on Capitol Hill.

Joel Goldman with Elizabeth Taylor’s grandchildren (photo:Sean Black)

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

Joel Goldman: We know we have made a difference with the education and awareness work we fund. We have made an impact on our advocacy laws and in the millions of people we serve with our support services. The ETAF has granted over twenty million dollars to over 675 organizations in 44 countries and 42 states. We make a difference every day in big and small ways.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from your time at the ETAF?

Joel Goldman: There have been so many life lessons learned during my five years here at ETAF. This was my first time in the Executive Director role and there was an immediate lesson in responsibility and truly caring for an organization and it’s legacy.

I have learned how much better our world would be if we all partnered instead of competed. I learned this when we partnered with a malaria organization in Africa because people were willing to be tested for malaria and afraid of being tested for HIV. Today because of that partnership we treat more malaria in Africa than HIV because we were willing to build a bridge to work together. More than anything, I have learned that if we are going to defeat something we ALL need to come together.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Joel Goldman: I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, the next day I needed to fly to Los Angeles for a job interview from Indiana. I was in shock with my diagnosis and thinking I was going to die of AIDS, I upgraded my plane ticket to first class…thinking why not? On the plane, I ended up seating next to Ryan White’s mom, Jeanne. I thanked her for all she had done and was doing for AIDS patients, not sharing with her my diagnosis. I asked her why she was going to LA. She replied that she was going to give Elizabeth Taylor an award for her work with AIDS.

Five years ago, on my first day at the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, they gave me a stack of folders on the history of the organization. The first one I opened was the photo of Ryan White’s mother presenting Elizabeth Taylor with her award. I knew then and know now that I was meant to be here and to do this work. All I can hope is that I have done Elizabeth Taylor proud.

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Project Angel Food

“In every community, there is work to be done. In every heart, there is the power to do it.”

Marianne Williamson

As we enter the month of November, it is time to think about food, hunger, and Thanksgiving, sort of the ying and yang that is life. It is a bit bizarre, that as we begin to think about the feast we are about to have, we somehow become acutely aware of those who struggle to have food or make a meal. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine connected me to an amazing organization called Project Angel Food. As someone who has a strong affinity for angels and who believes in signs, I knew I was being sent there for a reason.  I wanted to know more about the cause before taking my field trip to meet Project Angels Food’s Executive Director, Richard Ayoub.

The organization began in 1989 by the famous author and spiritual trail blazer, Marianne Williamson, as an outreach program of the LA Center for Living. The Center for Living was created to help people with life threatening illnesses and provide services and lunch for those who were too ill to leave their homes.  In response to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic at the time, Project Angel Food moved into the kitchen of the Cresent Heights United Methodist Church.

I went down to see what this organization that really rose up to meet the HIV/AIDS crisis was doing today and have an enlightened tour and visit with their fantastic Executive Director, Richard Ayoub.

Richard Ayoub, Derbeh Vance, a volunteer of 20 years and Chef John

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Project Angel Food does?

Richard Ayoub: Project Angel Food cooks and delivers over 12,000 nutritious meals each week, free of charge, to the homes of men, women and children affected by life-threatening illnesses. Our vital food and nutrition services, include medically tailored meals, help the underserved people throughout Los Angeles County who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. We are referred by over 150 agencies and while we were created in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we expanded our mission in 2004 to help our neighbors who are struggling with any life threatening illness burdened by hunger and malnutrition.

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

Richard Ayoud: I like to go out and deliver meals to our clients and hear from them. Many of them are very sick and are not super sociable but many of them are craving someone just to talk too. We were visiting with an HIV patient in his fifties and he looked at me and said, “Can I give you a hug?” This man was SO grateful for our work, for his meal, and he held me in the longest biggest hug to let me know just how much our work meant to him. The one universal thing we see with all of our clients is gratitude.

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

Richard Ayoub: I know I was meant to be here and it was a calling. I was in broadcast journalism , I was a newscaster and yet I always wanted to make a difference more than anything. I believe that I was put here to serve these people. They fuel me to keep going.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had at Project Angel Food?

Richard Ayoub: Project Angel Food sometimes feels like LA’s best kept secret and people do not know how deep our commitment is to make made from scratch, healthy nutritious meals. Our favorite phone calls are when our clients call and say they are healthy and no longer need the meals, please give the food to someone else.

We have just entered into a pilot program with the state of California that is proving food is medicine, proving that we can keep people healthier and the results are amazing. We drive all 4,000 miles of LA County everyday. We believe in all forms of equity and we go the distance for our clients. In the last two and half years we have increased the people we feed by 30%. Our goal is always to feed more people. It costs us $2,000 to feed one person for a year. This year alone we will serve over 500,000 meals with over 4,700 volunteers.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience and how has it changed you?

Richard Ayoub: I think one of my biggest life lessons is to just believe and to turn it over. The theory of just believing truly works with everything in our lives. In this work, one day you have a grant that you are counting on to feed people and you do not receive it. You want to give up and then out of nowhere you receive unsolicited donations that are even more than the grant. We have a supporter here who calls that “Divine Choreography.” These miracles constantly happen in this work.

This journey feels like my calling and everything I have done prior to this moment has prepared me for this. I am doing something to make the world a better place, even in a small way. This journey with Project Angel Food has brought out the essence of who I am and simply amplified it.

Everyday I walk into this building, I am grateful that I can simply come to work. Our clients dream of going to work, they are home bound and often times forgotten.  They are often times the invisible people of LA and we want them to know we remember them. We want everyone to know that, “you are not alone.” I think it is a message that we all need to hear.

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The measure of a life

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; There is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

Anais Nin

Last week we lost a dear friend to cancer, someone we had known since college who was not even 50. Sadly this was not unexpected but losing a friend so young and so full of joy was and still is beyond difficult. It is moments like these that make us all stop in our tracks and hit the reset button to think about what is truly important? I found myself asking how am I  using my precious time and what really matters?

 

I came home from the service a bit numb, sad and depressed. I decided to read to try to take my mind off the days events. I began to read an article about Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder who had also just passed away. The article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy talked about Paul Allen’s passion for life. It discussed his love of learning, of music, sports, exploring ideas and the world’s unknown. Paul Allen donated over 2.3 billion dollars in his lifetime and in addition to that he also took the Giving Pledge, vowing to donate more than half of his estate to charity.

When he took the giving pledge he had to write an essay and in it, he said, “My philanthropic strategy is informed by my enduring belief in the power of new ideas.  By dedicating resources that can help some of the world’s most creative thinkers accelerate discovery, I hope to serve as a catalyst for progress in large part, by encouraging closer collaboration and challenging conventional thinking. When smart people work together with vision and determination, there is little we can’t accomplish.”

Each life, whether our friends, Paul Allen’s or our own is ultimately only as good as the meaning we give it. We are the author, we have the pen and now to script that meaning, our individual plot, our novel, and our book. The meaning is for each of us to find and to live.

 

Charity Matters.

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My Hope Chest

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

Author unknown

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had a friend who has recently undergone a mastectomy. Well sadly, since I wrote those words, yet another friend has experience the same loss and this time a double. Breast Cancer isn’t something that only happens in October it is something that happens every two minutes every day. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer does not discriminate from the rich or the poor. To be honest I had never thought about what happens when you get breast cancer and have no insurance? I assumed that Medicaid and Medicare covered everything. Well, I was wrong.

Last week, I had the most inspiring conversation with nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, a women who lived this journey of having a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, the only national nonprofit in the country that takes these women and helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation and I left feeling inspired by this amazing warrior who fights for women who truly need one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Charity Matters

 

 

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Breast Cancer Research Foundation

In my world, the more people you have helped the bigger the celebrity you are. So last week when I had the privilege to talk to Myra Biblowit, the President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) I was everything you would be when meeting your hero…nervous, anxious, excited and truly thrilled to share her remarkable journey to change the lives of millions of women around the globe.

Our conversation was timely because just two days before we spoke, a friend of mine had a mastectomy. Myra was beyond lovely, compassionate, soulful and truly inspirational in her commitment to prevent and cure breast cancer (the second most common cancer) by advancing the world’s most promising research. Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, this disease doesn’t care what day or month it is. Every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Myra, her team and a remarkable group of people are all changing the game and after our conversation I can see that cancer doesn’t stand a chance with this beautiful lady starring it down.

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

Myra Biblowit: We want to put an end to breast cancer and our goal is to have no more fear, no more hospital visits, no more side effects, no more needless suffering and no more loved ones lost to breast cancer and the only way to achieve our goal to prevent and cure breast cancer is through research. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment that The Breast Cancer Research Foundation began?

Myra Biblowit: BCRF started in 1993 but I met Evelyn Lauder in 1985 and we forged an incredible friendship. Evelyn called me and said that she had an idea to create a foundation that focused on breast cancer research after seeing the pace at which breast cancer research was moving. Evelyn had looked around the country and there was not one organization that was doing research with a laser-sharp focus.  Evelyn said, “I can do this and if I can do it and I don’t it, it would be a sin. Will you help me?” Evelyn had a soul and a heart that was enormous. She was working on the pink ribbon symbol and knew she could make this an ubiquitous symbol of the cause and get this issue out of the closet.

The story doesn’t end with creating awareness , it extends to harnessing dollars towards research to change the future. I told Evelyn, I would help her find an Executive Director and help her get BCRF off the ground. I was working at the Museum of Natural History at the time. In 1993, BCRF began at Evelyn Lauder’s kitchen table with our dear friend Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Seven years later when I was working at NYU, I had had a few job opportunities arise and I reached out to Evelyn and Leonard Lauder for their advice as friends and Evelyn said, “Well this is a slam dunk, this is bashert (yiddish for meant to be)….last night the Executive Director told us she wanted to stop working.”

By Monday, I was the President of BCRF. Evelyn gave up the Presidency and became Chairman and Founder and I went to work for my darling friend. I started April 1st, 2001 and I told her I would take the organization international, I would raise a lot more money and I would create a strategic thoughtful grant program to ensure that the dollars we are raising are wisely meeting the organizations targets.

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

Myra Biblowit: We lost Evelyn in 2011, and I do what I do in her memory and in her honor. BCRF is her legacy and I work hard to make sure that we are the gold standard. Our work stands as a tribute to her vision. Today we  are the largest global funder of breast cancer research. We are the most highly rated breast cancer organization in the country. Evelyn had such vision and clairvoyance, breast cancer was in the closet when we started and thanks to pioneers like Evelyn breast cancer and women across the globe, it is out there now.

The dollars that we are investing at BCRF are not only answering questions about breast cancer today but a multiplicity of other cancers as well. Evelyn would not have envisioned the relevance that BCRF would have.

Myra Biblowit and Dr. Larry Norton, photo credit Suzanne DeChillo

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

Myra Biblowit: Since BCRF was founded there has been a 40% decline in breast cancer deaths worldwide. The proof is in the pudding and truly we can tell you that BCRF has had a role in every major break thru breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship as well as an advancing knowledge about other metastatic diseases. 

When Evelyn and I were working together we were mainly talking about diagnosis and treatment. We knew then and know even more now that research is THE reason.  Today that continuum begins with prevention and extends with survivorship. The connector is that research is THE reason, it is the glue.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had at BCRF?

Myra Biblowit: I think it is important for people to know that breast cancer is rapidly transitioning to a manageable chronic disease. People need to not be fearful of the stories of the past from their mothers and grandmothers. Treatments are much more targeted. When a woman is diagnosed today they can try to find what type of tumor she has and then find the right treatment for that tumor type, which is huge.

We now know that breast cancer is not one disease but made up of four or five different diseases in terms of tumor types and each one has more in common with other forms of cancer than with each other. Today’s treatment has a far greater likelihood of success and they are far less toxic.

One study that BCRF was involved with was the TAILORx, a major multi-year and multi-country study to determine what women needed chemo who had early stage estrogen positive breast cancer. We knew women who had a high score needed chemo and women who had a low score did not need it. We didn’t know for the 70,000-100,000 women in the middle range if they needed chemo or not. Today we now know that those women do NOT need chemotherapy.  This study proved the power of research. These are the advances that change the future for our mothers, our daughters, and our friends.

 

Charity Matters: What is your vision for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation going forward?

Myra Biblowit: In the current year we raised $80 million dollars and we awarded grants of $63 million dollars to over 300 researchers across 14 countries. We could have funded more had we had more funds. We are one of the few engines that give resources to cutting edge researchers. We are the engine that tells researchers to take that chance. We are a rare funder in our flex-ability taking research down the path of greatest opportunity because the stakes are so high.

We devoted a fund to metastatic disease when Evelyn died by creating a Founder’s Fund. We want to use that fund to find more about metastatic disease, we want to invest in young researchers and the more dollars we can give to our researchers the more breakthroughs we can make.

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

Myra Biblowit: You know Evelyn gave me an opportunity to do something professionally that touches peoples lives profoundly. How lucky am I? Evelyn was grateful for everything that came her way. She was a child of the Holocaust and her family fled when she was an infant. Everything that she and Leonard achieved was a partnership. She was magnetic and wonderful and when we lost her, Leonard stepped in. I am filled with gratitude every day and for the opportunity to learn from the extraordinary Lauder family. What fed their soul was to make the world a better place and it was infectious. 

 

Charity Matters

 

 

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The Clarity Project

 

Earlier this week I posted about losing legends, well it appears that on Monday, we lost another one. Her name was Claire Wineland and she was 21 years old. Claire was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that creates an overabundance of mucus and ultimately results in respiratory failure. She grew up knowing that she was terminally ill and what we would think of as tragic, she simply used as fuel. Her message and life were truly remarkable.

Claire endured over 30 surgeries in her short 21 years and spent an incredible amount of time in the hospital. About six years ago, after being in a coma for over 20 days, flat-lining twice and being given a less than 1% of survival, Claire survived. She came out of the experience determined to help others with Cystic Fibrosis. From that near death experience began the creation of the Claire’s Place Foundation,whose mission is to relieve families financially with CF, to help with their rent, mortgage, car payments, etc.

The foundation became a way to celebrate Claire’s life. She once said,”It is important for people who are sick to feel empowered. It gives them a reason to take care of themselves.” And if that wasn’t enough, Claire decided shortly after in high school to begin a YouTube series called The Clarity Project, where she talks about topics such as how to talk to a sick person or even what it is like to live like you are dying.

Claire moved out on her own, decided not to go to college because she was not sure she would live long enough to graduate. She spent her time sharing her inspirational message doing Ted talks, running her foundation and recently partnered with Zappos to take on project similar to Once Upon a Room by decorating children’s hospital rooms in Las Vegas.

Claire’s message is a reminder to us all. If you give yourself one gift today, listen to Claire’s talk (above). She was a reminder to each of us how precious life is, how blessed we are to have our health and regardless of our circumstances, that someone always has less than we do.

Claire lived her life as an example to each of us. Even in her death her organs were donated to help over 50 people. In her last video Claire said, “Go enjoy your life. I mean really seriously, go enjoy it, cause there are people fighting like hell for it.” Claire’s legacy tells us that we not only have the power to help…. but more than that…..to live our lives fully.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2018 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Alzheimers

There is nothing I enjoy more than connecting friends and colleagues, especially when there is a good cause involved. So a few weeks ago when I connected two remarkable women, one a fundraiser for USC and the other a well known wealth strategist for Northern Trust, I was thrilled when I received the invitation for an event on Alzheimers the two partnered to put together.

It was a fantastic morning conversation with  Dr. Helena Chang-Chui, a world renown researcher and a top Alzheimer specialist. She is the chair of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Department of Neurology and has authored over 182 publications on the topic and was fascinating to learn from, which is why I wanted to share.

Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimers and chances are each of us knows someone who has been affected by this devastating disease. We learned that Alzheimers disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and according to the Alzheimer’s Association there are currently about 5.5 million people currently living with the disease. Without successful treatments that number is projected to rise to about 13.5 million by 2050! The longer people live, the more Alzheimer’s disease there will be.

So that’s the bad news. Here is the good news:

The National Institute of Health recently allocated $1.3 billion to Alzheimer’s disease research which was $884 million more than ever before! Now the top researchers in the country Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute will be working together with some of this funding to find a cure. In the meantime, Dr. Chui shared with us a few things we can all do to protect our mental health.

  1. Diet– A Mediterranean diet based on nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, coffee and coconut oil has all proven to activate the brain’s metabolic function and may prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimers disease.
  2. Exercise– The brain’s processing speed can begin to slow down as early as 25 but exercise bulks up existing neurons and improves communication between brain cells. The Doctor said it is like a bank account where what you do now strengthens cognitive resilience later.
  3. Quality Sleep- Six to eight hours of sleep for adults is critical so that toxic proteins that are implicated in Alzheimers disease are flushed out during sleep. It is the bodies time of rebooting and sleep gives the body time to restore.
  4. Connect with Others-Relationships are good for the brain and the heart and current research suggest that there is a connection between social interaction and brain health. Being social connects neurons and activities with friends can give the brain added benefits.
  5. Managing Stress-High stress encourages behaviors such as poor eating habits, isolation, or decreased exercise all which increase the risk of dementia which could lead to changes in the brain.

The take away from this fantastic conversation with Dr. Chang-Chui was that we all need to proactive with our health and that includes our mental health as well. We can all take steps today to make tomorrow better for ourselves and our loved ones.

charity matters.

 

 

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