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826Valencia

826-valencia

There is something magical and cathartic about writing. For me, it is a time to hear my inner voice and explore the outside world, as well as a gift that I cherish. That is why when I heard about 826National.org I was smitten with their mission and story to encourage the gift of writing.

Their story began in 2002, when author Dave Eggers and educator, Ninive Calegari were looking for a solution to help overburdened teachers, while connecting talented working adults and students who needed help. They located a store front in the Mission District of San Francisco, aptly at 826 Valencia Street, where they opened a pirate store in the front and built a writing lab for kids in the back of an old gym space.

Word spread quickly and before long 826 Valencia was serving 6,000 students, between the ages of 6 and 18, annually with over 1,700 volunteers.


Only two years later in 2004 a second chapter of 826NYC, opened in New York City and the following year chapters opened up in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor and Boston. By 2008, 826’s fifth anniversary the non-profit had published its first book with their students work and opened their national headquarters called 826 National with a mission that believes great leaps in learning can happen with individual attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Today, 826 National.Org serves over 30,000 students across the country with over 5,300 volunteers, the organization has been a part of over 886 publishing projects and currently has seven chapters nationwide.

Now that is something to write about!

 

Charity Matters.

 

 

 

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Thread

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” 

Friedrich Nietzsche

threads

A few weeks back, a dear friend sent me a New York Times article on a non-profit called Thread, and I was instantly sucked into this beautiful storyPerhaps, a tale as old as time, but one that never gets old, the story of amazing people who take their own tragedy to make someone else’s journey better.

This story begins with a young man named Ryan Hemminger, who was a straight A student in high school in Indiana, when his mother was in a bad car accident. Her injuries resulted in her no longer being able to work, a subsequent pain pill addiction and a downward spiral into poverty. What happened next was that a community of teachers rallied around Ryan and provided clothing, bus fair and mentoring, to save him. The support resulted in transforming Ryan into a varsity athlete, an A student again and he was admitted to the US Naval academy.

This however, is not the happy ending, but the beginning. Flash forward to 2004, when Ryan, now married to Sarah, a John Hopkins biomedical engineering grad student, was driving by a local high school and saw a group of students. Sarah, realized that many of them could be like Ryan,”Exceptional individuals with extraordinary situations.” Sarah realized, that she and Ryan needed to be a part of community that could pay forward the gift that was given to Ryan. It was out of that moment that Thread began.

Thread’s mission is to thread people together, regardless of socioeconomic and racial barriers. It is their belief that by building new families, not defined by DNA, but rather love and support…that they can change the world. Since 2006, that is exactly what they have done.

This year alone, over 255 students have been touched by the Thread family. Ninety-two percent of their students graduate from high school and go onto college and 80% have completed a college degree or certificate program. It is these invisible threads that create the connection that changes another’s life forever, the best ending imaginable.

 

Charity Matters.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 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.

Full circle moment

Full Circle

Have you ever had a full circle moment? A moment when you can’t believe that your life started at one point and somehow came all the way back around? Last week, I had that moment. I was invited back to speak at my alma mater, USC’s Annenberg School of Communication, as a guest lecturer.

As I stood in front of the class full of freshman Communication majors, I really couldn’t believe that I was no longer the student. How was I standing here? When what seemed like moments before, I had been working full-time to put myself thru USC. Trying to hold down a job, my full class schedule, a social life and find direction in my life.

Now, here I was sharing my journey of life, loss, growth and philanthropy with the class. It was surreal. I spoke about failing, struggling, not knowing what to do, which way to go and trying on so many things until I found the right fit. My message was the biggest roadblocks, were my greatest gifts.

The students asked me about so many great things, but one question that I loved was, “How did you find your voice?” They were referring to Charity Matters and I almost laughed at loud when the professor rephrased the question as, “your journalistic voice”. It took everything I had not to look over my shoulder to see if a journalist had entered the room.

After a pause, the answer to the question was, listening to myself. Giving myself time to reflect on what was true, honest, what fit and felt right. As I sat in that class room and looked at those fresh faces, I realized that it was that gift of listening and knowing what felt right that brought me to this moment. Full circle.

Charity Matters.

 

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Rachel’s First Week

Rachels first week2

As thousands of us packed up our children and sent them off to college this past week, I thought it was important to share the story of a young college coed named Rachel Fiege. A story, which is every parents worst nightmare, one that we hear every year and sadly one that continues to be told over and over.

The story of a young girl Rachel, an incoming freshman at IU, who goes off to her first week of college full of hope and promise until a night of drinking ends in tragedy.

While the story is tragic, it is the message of hope that comes in taking this senseless tragedy and turning it into a mission to avoid it reoccurring in the future. Taking this devastating loss and empowering these new college freshman to mentor high school seniors to avoid this story from ever being told again.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

What is summer without camp?

Spirit rally 2013I never went to sleep away camp as a child. I have to confess, I was really happy hanging out with my friends and being at home. However, whenever my friends who went to camp returned, they always seemed different, more grown up…as if something had shifted in them in the short time they were away. It did make me wonder, what really happens at camp?

Flash forward a few decades and finally it is my turn to go to camp. No, not just because its summer, but as many of you know, I run a non-profit summer leadership camp. A crazy wonderful twist of fate that gives me a summer full of camp and answers all those questions I pondered so long ago.

This past weekend, as I watched the counselors arrive, most alumni of our camp, their excitement to see one another, their life long friendships and deep connection to one another and our camp….I realized that if these amazing individuals were the product of what we do, then I had really missed out.

Its taken time to now know what camp is……. showing up afraid, alone and making a friend. Camp is arriving as a blank sheet with no prior history, labels or expectations and re-writing your story, any way you want. Camp is being able to find and be your best self with a group of like-minded students that are simply trying to do the same. Camp is independence away from your family and proving to yourself that you do know what your toothbrush is without being told. Most of all camp is really, really fun. The games, the dances, the talent shows and competitions.

So, this summer as I prepare for camp, I am excited, nervous, happy and hoping that your never too old for camp and that just maybe I will seem a little more grown up when it’s over.

Charity Matters.

 

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The Progress Continues

Operationprogress

Last friday I was invited to an event at City Hall, in Los Angeles, celebrating the amazing success of a non-profit organization called Operation Progress, in Watts.  The success is due to the inspiring story of one police officer, and the partnership and community he created fifteen years ago.

Its founder, an unlikely source in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles, a police officer in Watts. His name is John Coughlin, Boston born and bred from a nice family, who moved west to join the LAPD in 1995. Five years later he was tired, frustrated and sad from the violence and hopelessness he saw while on patrol. So he decided to do something about it.

In 2000, Officer Coughlin decided to turn his frustration into something that could help break the cycle of inner city  poverty.  This time his weapon was education. His idea was to mentor and provide scholarships for the “good kids” to help them to escape their violent surroundings by partnering the LAPD and the kids. With that idea he founded Operation Progress  and the motto, “Helping good kids get out of bad places.

Operation Progress’s mission, ” a thread that will weave together the Watts neighborhood under the common goal of using education to empower the community’s youth.” 

Today, Operation Progress is thriving. What started out as a few scholarships ($2,000) to inspire and help get kids heading on the right path has morphed into a model program for the community. OP has brought the LAPD and the community together, to help the children of Watts and has become a national beacon of hope for community policing.

Currently, Operation Progress has 31 students that will be sponsored from Kindergarten all the way through college with scholarships, mentoring, tutoring and everything needed in their 10 pillar program. The motto of the LAPD, “Is to protect and serve”  and LAPD officers and John Coughlin truly live that motto daily.

Charity Matters.

 

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The Moral Bucket List

People hold up candles and sing a song honoring King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Yesterday, I was asked to speak to the high school volunteers and their parents at our annual Staff Recognition Day. I sadly had procrastinated on what to say and I found myself on Facebook…where I believe most of us procrastinators eventually end up. Before I knew it I found myself reading an article from the New York Times called The Moral Bucket List. 

Upon reading it, I knew exactly what to share with our group of extraordinary volunteers and I thought it was worth sharing with you. The article talked about “resume virtues versus eulogy virtues.” It was written by David Brooks, who was more or less in search of enlightenment after finding career success, he began to ask what really mattered? He wondered why do some rare people emanate that light, joy, radiance and others do not.

Brooks goes onto say, “ Our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success rather than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character”.

The more I read the article, the clearer it became to me that everything he was searching for was in fact exactly the skills that our non-profit teaches to its 5th, 6th and 7th grade students. More than that it was what we ask our high school staff to pass onto their younger mentors.

The author posed three questions:

  1. What values bring happiness and character?”
  2. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good?”
  3. Lastly the author asks, “People on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

I know these seem to be deep questions to ask to teenagers. Yet, as I spoke to them about finding their gifts and sharing them with the world, I looked at an audience of nodding heads. They already understood what “radiating light and joy” was that author was so desperately in search of ……because each of them was already aglow.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

 

VolunTEEN Nation

photo via: Traditional Home
photo via: Traditional Home

Teenagers get a bad wrap. I love working with teenagers. They are energetic, creative, passionate, full of life and eager to learn and give. The teenagers that I have the privilege of working with, are what I love most about my job. If they believe they can accomplish something, they can.

I recently came across an amazing story about a 12-year-old who wanted to work for a non-profit and was rejected multiple times. Her solution? To start her own non-profit organization and one that was powered by kids for kids. Her name is Simone Bernstein and in 2009 she did just that. She created a non-profit database where middle and high school students across the country can find volunteer opportunities in their neighborhoods, called VolunTEEN Nation.

Today, Simone is 22 and a Fulbright scholar at the University of Toronto. VolunTEEN Nation, which started in St. Louis is currently nationwide and has connected over 78,500 volunteers and funded more than 500 grants and service projects, since its inception. Simone and her brother Jake, plan to take VolunTEEN nation worldwide next year. As Simone said, “I realized that many people fail to understand that youth can make a difference.”

As someone who works with our youth, I couldn’t agree more. 

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Living your purpose

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

living purpose Spirit rally 2013 copy

As I mark my one year anniversary as the Executive Director, of a non-profit youth leadership organization, I find myself full of gratitude. I know it is Thanksgiving week, but this is more than being grateful. I am in awe of the path that lead me to this place where I am in a position to inspire, engage and motivate hundreds of middle and high school students each year. In turn, they are in the position to do the same to me and have.

More than motivation or leadership, what I find brings me the greatest joy is living a life of purpose. I was telling a girlfriend about my job the other day and she responded, “Wow, I didn’t realize you could get paid to make the world better?” Her reaction surprised me a bit. More than that, it made me think that my “payment” is so much more than a check (don’t get me wrong, raises are always appreciated).

Of course this past year has been full of challenges and road blocks but what great adventures aren’t?  Life is journey and when you get to a place on your path, when you get to be your best self and show that to others…..well there is simply no place else I would rather be.

Charity Matters.

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Write Girl

WriteGirl

A few years ago, I did a post on an amazing organization that gives girls a voice. No, it wasn’t about public speaking or singing but rather, writing. Writing for me is the place when my voice comes alive and my soul speaks. It is the purest connection of who I am.  Writing is the way I articulate my path and purpose, and I’m obviously not alone in my passion for expression.

When I discovered the New York City non-profit called Girls Write Now that gave girls their voice through a writing mentorship program, I found myself wondering why this didn’t exist in other parts of the country? When I decided to revisit the topic this week, I discovered an amazing woman here in Los Angeles named Keren Taylor who has done just that with her non-profit WriteGirl.

In December 2001, Keren Taylor wanted to partner girls with writers to help them find their way through pain, adolescence and provide them with a tool to improve their lives and move forward. That tool was a pen and a mentor. Six months later, after a handful of workshops that began partnering girls with writers/mentors, WriteGirl had published its first book and that was just chapter one.

Thirteen years later, WriteGirl has received over 58 Book Awards, in 2011 they received the prestigious honor of Non Profit of the Year and last year, the First Lady awarded WriteGirl with a National Art and Humanity Award. As their slogan says, “Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen!” I couldn’t agree more.

Charity Matters.

 

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Girls Write Now

Girls write nowThe echo of Steve Job’s graduation speech is still in my ears, “connect the dots of your life.” Somedays, I stare at the blank page before me and simply do not see the dots. Today is not one of those days. The dots begin to connect.

My head swirls with the multiple graduation ceremonies I will attend this week, some for friends, others for schools I am involved with. These thoughts of graduation bring so many dots to the forefront. How did these young men and women get from freshman year to this moment of graduation? How did they connect their dots?

Chances are they had mentor to guide them. A teacher, parents, a counselor or perhaps even a volunteer who showed them the way.

As I stared at my blank page looking for a story to share, the dots began to come together when I came upon the story of Girls Write Now. A non-profit that does just that, mentors inner city girls by connecting them with television writers, Pulitzer prize winners, school principals and other women writers.  These connections provide the singular purpose to guide these girls through the four years of high school, to find their voice and to get into college.

In 1998, Maya Nussbaum set out to create an organization where girls could have ” A real live role model.” Her mission was to provide guidance, support, and opportunities for at-risk and underserved girls from New York City’s public high schools to develop their creative, independent voices, explore careers in professional writing, and learn how to make healthy school, career and life choices.        

Today, fifteen years later, Maya has done that and so much more. Girls Write Now has served over 4,500 girls and 100% have gone onto college. Which brings it all back to graduation and the dots. As a woman, a writer, a non-profit founder and someone who believes that education changes lives, this spoke to me. My dots came together today on this page for you, just as I will proudly sit and watch all those dots come together in that singular moment for all those graduates this week.

Steve Jobs was write 🙂 …… Connect the dots of your life.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2013 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.

SOS Outreach

arn menconi sos outreachSince this week finds me in Colorado looking at colleges and making a few glorious turns on that magical white powder I wanted to share the amazing story of one snow boarder who has created change for thousands of underserved kids. Yes, even snow borders can create more than turns.

His name is Arn Menconi and he grew up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago’s south side in the 1960’s. A trip to Colorado with high school ski club changed everything.  In 1991, Arn moved to Vail, Colorado and decided to replicate his experience for other underserved children by using skiing and snow boarding as the “carrot” to get them going.

In 1993, what started as a way to get underprivileged kids to see the mountaintop turned into a non-profit called SOS Outreach. A non-profit that is much more than skiing and snow boarding but really core values training and mentoring, with a little winter fun mixed in.

SOS teaches courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, and compassion.  The goal is to keep kids in year-round, multi-year outdoor programs with service projects, peer mentoring, and leadership workshops.

Today SOS Outreach, is the country’s largest winter sports based youth developmental agency teaching over 5,000 kids each year at 30 ski resorts with 500 adult volunteers in 15 states.

Arn told Mountain Online, “I started SOS because I saw injustice and wanted kids to have fun. What matters is that something is happening that positively affects the lives of kids growing up in neighborhoods like the South Side, where decades of crime and poverty make it seem like there’s no way out; like there are no mountaintops.”

You don’t need to be a skier or a snow boarder to create change, but simply someone with a passion who cares.  Goodness is everywhere and each encounter I have with a snowboarder this week will remind me that Charity Matters.

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Giving of yourself

mentoringA mentor, sometimes its a parent or a teacher or someone in your life that you look up too…. most of us could name the people who mentored us along the way. Some of us are mentors and don’t even know that we have been role models for others.

But what happens to those children who don’t have a positive role model in their life? According to Mentoring.Org there are over 15 million children still in need of caring adult in their lives. There are mentoring opportunities everywhere, it is a way that you can give one on one and make a significant difference in a child’s life with the gift of an hour per week.

There are so many mentoring stories but I found one on Steve Harvey, I thought worth sharing.

So if you are looking for a way to make a difference, become a mentor. You can lift someone up at work, at school or through an organization (like Mentoring.Org) in need of someone special like you. The greatest gift you give is yourself. Share that gift with someone today. The world becomes a better place because of you.

Charity Matters.

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January is National Mentoring Month

mentoring worksHave you ever had someone who changed your life? A teacher, a mentor who guided you to a different place? If the answer is yes, then perhaps this month is the perfect time to pay if forward. January is National Mentoring Month. Here are few ways you can make a difference from National Mentoring Month.Org

10 THINGS TO DO IN JANUARY

You don’t have to do all 10 but take a peek at maybe just one? You are amazing and have so much to share, its a shame keeping all of that goodness to yourself. What lucky person are you going to help?

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2013 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.