I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and discussing the concept of Charity Matters. More specifically the fact that kindness and goodness can spread quickly once people can see it in action. The gentleman I was talking too asked me if I had heard of The Blessing Box. I said that I had not, but it sounded interesting. His reply was that The Blessing Boxes that are now popping up all over his neighborhood in LA are a perfect example of the concept that goodness is contagious.
Being curious I tried to track down the original roots of The Blessing Box, which are typically home made boxes where people donate food for those in need. Almost like a miniature food pantry filled with everything from laundry soap to canned goods. In turn, those in need do not experience the shame of asking for food or help. The heart of the Blessing Box is that small random acts of kindness and generosity are contagious.
In Watertown, New York, Ramon Espinoza, a 46 year old Army Veteran decided to build a Blessing Box in front of his home and proved that giving is contagious. Watertown now has over 20 Blessing Boxes and even Home Depot has jumped in to help with the project.
Alex Martinez, pictured above, grew up homeless the first five years of his life. Now safely living with his father in Florida, this fourth grader wanted to do something for the homeless and built his Blessing Box two years ago. He has almost 50 homeless visit his box each week and neighbors come from all around to help keep it stocked. While these boxes have popped up everywhere from Texas, to New York, to Florida and everywhere in between….no one seems to know the original designer of this beautiful concept.
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter whose original idea it was. What matters is the fact that people all over the country, young, old, rich, poor and everything in between are simply helping one another. Even more importantly, the idea keeps spreading. Kindness and goodness are contagious and I would like to believe at the core of who we all are. The Blessing Box is just a perfect example of the goodness that exists in each of us.
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Last Friday, was the most amazing and unexpected day. It wasn’t because it was 85 degrees in February that made it so glorious, but rather the invitation to celebrate Rosalynn Carter’s 90th birthday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena that made it unforgettable. This wasn’t just any invitation, it was a love letter from one friend to celebrate another’s birthday in the most spectacular way.
These friends were not just any friends, but a remarkable man, author and school principal named Dan Horn and his dear friend, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Dan wanted to celebrate this special friendship in an exceptional way. A morning filled with performances from his amazing students at St. Genevieve’s School at the Rose Bowl and his special birthday gift, a documentary film made by his students for over four years of Rosalynn Carter’s truly extraordinary life. It was a love letter to a woman who has quietly changed our world.
The story all began with a letter written over 30 years ago from a young man named Dan Horn, who had read Rosalynn Carter’s biography and reached out to her via a letter saying that he would like to meet her. To his surprise Rosalynn replied, the two had lunch and as Dan said, “Lunch was life changing and I just had a hunch that we were going to be friends.”
Flash forward a few decades and here we all were in the Rose Bowl watching the world premiere of this documentary about this beautiful friendship between a former First Lady, one very special school and a principal. In the hour hundreds of us sat and watched the story together, we were inspired, elevated and simply blown away by what the Carters have accomplished in their lives.
This soft-spoken mother of four has truly had a remarkable life. Helping her widowed mother raise her younger siblings at age 13 and putting them all through college. Supporting her husband in her roles as First Lady of Georgia and of the United States. It was learning about the depth of her humanitarian efforts that were truly inspirational. Her tireless work for Equal Rights, the creation of the nonprofit The Carter Center, whose mission is to promote human rights the alleviation of human suffering. Rosalynn’s passionate work in eliminating the stigma of mental health, the couples work with Habitat for Humanity that put the organization on the world’s stage and the creation of the Rosalynn Carter’s Institute for Caregivers, to name a few.
One post is not enough to cover the tireless, bold and beautiful work this First Lady and author of five books has accomplished. In her words, “we just planted a few seeds.” but as the film and students of St. Genevieve said, so beautifully, “Thanks to the Carters we know we are all capable of changing the world.” Based on what we all saw last Friday, I do believe they will.
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Have you ever heard of Annie Cannon? She was a pioneer, who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century. Annie Cannon and a group of women discovered the very categories that stars fall into. If ever there was a more perfect name for an organization about two stars who are truly pioneers, it is Laura Hackney and Jessica Hubley’s nonprofit organization Annie Cannons.
Truly one of the most innovate organizations tackling one of the most horrific problems, human trafficking or slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally. Sixty-eight percent are trapped in forced labor, twenty-six percent are children and over fifty percent are women and girls. According to the nonprofit organization Polaris there were over 8,000 reported cases in the United States in 2016. I truly had no idea and was shocked by these statistics.
What was even more stunning was two Stanford graduates (one a Masters from Stanford and the other Stanford Law) who were determined to find a solution to empower these victims by teaching them skills, earning income and building solutions to empower them to break the cycle. Last week I had one of the most incredible conversations, I have ever had…. with Co-Founder Jessica Hubley.
Charity Matters: What is the back story to Annie Cannons, your nonprofit is pretty unique?
Jessica Hubley: Laura was the manager of the Program on Human Rights on Stanford and had worked as a Senior Research Associate for Stanford’s Anti-Trafficking Project. I was an attorney, we had both gone to Stanford and in September 2013, I was writing a nonfiction book about human trafficking. Laura was going to Myanmar for work and asked if I wanted to come along. We met and interviewed nine people who were victims of human trafficking and they all said the same thing. That they were desperate for work, they were poor, vulnerable and trusted someone.
This was shocking to me, but not to Laura who had been in this space for much longer. I asked Laura, “What if we got these people a job?” The answer wasn’t as simple, but we knew that if we could find away to address the financial piece we might be able to impact change.
When we came home, I was a successful attorney working with digital media companies in the technology industry. I was seeing so many people in software development making $400 an hour writing code and couldn’t help but wonder what if we taught these women victims of human trafficking how to do this?
Charity Matters: What did you do then?
Jessica Hubley: First we spent an enormous amount of time talking to people who ran nonprofits, shelters here in the Bay Area that housed women who were victims of human trafficking, we spoke to Fortune 500 companies and gathered a lot of information.
We are self-proclaimed huge geeks. That being said, we taught ourselves to write code. Laura taught herself, then she taught me, we began essentially putting a school together for these women and kept refining our curriculum. We knew the market and need for coders and believed that these women who had escaped unimaginable past had what it took. They were good problem solvers, they were survivors, hard workers and they had grit. It turns out that is exactly what it takes to be a perfect coder.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work? You are running a nonprofit and a school, essentially and then you are helping these women get jobs writing code? It is an enormous undertaking, how do you do it?
Jessica Hubley: I think there are three things. One, I still feel I have something to prove to the world. Two, we built the kind of work place that we both always dreamed of that is supportive and collaborative, where we all learn from one another. Lastly, Laura understands and having a partner to lift me up ….and we keep each other going.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Jessica Hubley: When I see one of our students thriving and being successful. When I receive a card or note saying you changed my life and my children’s’ lives. When our customers love their apps and websites and when we have found hidden figures in the world that no one is looking at and have given them the economic power to break the cycle of human trafficking. We have helped people build solutions.
Charity Matters: What have you learned from this experience?
Jessica Hubley: I have learned that most people are good but more than that, I have learned that what really matters is the mark we leave on the world.
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In the recent weeks following Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma we have watched the citizens of Houston as they struggle with the most basic of needs, food, water, shelter but one thing we often forget about when discussing basic needs is toiletries. Something as simple as a toothbrush, deodorant or a bar of soap and more importantly the huge effect that not having these basic essentials has on our self-esteem and life.
I recently had a fantastic conversation with a remarkable man named Jeff Feingold, who identified this need in 2010. An unlikely nonprofit founder, with an MBA from Harvard business school and over 20 years working as a portfolio manager at Fidelity, yet his huge heart and overwhelming gratitude inspired the nonprofit, Hope and Comfort in 2010. Their mission is to improve the health and self-esteem of school age children and young adults in the Boston area. His story is one of gratitude, inspiration and hope….
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start a nonprofit?
Jeff Feingold:It started in 2010 when my daughter was having a birthday party, and my wife and I decided she didn’t need anything but so many other children did. We asked people to bring items needed by a local nonprofit. We were overwhelmed by the toys, toiletries and clothes that friends brought to donate. In delivering these items, I met a social worker who shared with me a statistic that 58% of low-income families are unable to buy personal care items. She said, if you don’t have a bar soap it is hard to go forward.
We knew then that we needed to do more and began sourcing toiletries out of our garage. In 2011, we applied for our nonprofit status for Hope and Comfort.
Charity Matters: You have a full-time job and run a nonprofit what fuels you to keep doing this work?
Jeff Feingold: I think the realization that life is short and fragile and there is so much need. We have been blessed but there are so many kids who are not. Children who do not go to school because of their hygiene, that are afraid to smile because they haven’t brushed their teeth, students being bullied because their families can’t afford soap or shampoo, who are refusing to go to school. Knowing that we are able to bring resources together to change this for so many kids is what keeps us going. That and the need seems to keep growing.
Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?
Jeff Feingold: I know we have made a difference when we hear that children are going back to school, when they send us notes saying that they are smiling again. I know that we have been able to thrive in a crowded nonprofit landscape by partnering with food pantries, human services, children’s organizations and bringing everyone together in partnerships creating a distribution network to get these toiletries to those who need them.
We have made a difference in inspiring hundreds of volunteers, young families and young children, including our own on teaching them how to give and make a difference.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
Jeff Feingold: In May 2010 we started with a donating a few items from our daughters birthday party and within the first year of working from our garage we distributed over 1,000 toiletries. By 2014 we partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Mass General Hospital to provide products and hygiene lessons, distributing over 50,000 toiletries. Today, only seven years later we have distributed over 375,000 toiletries to close to twenty thousand children in need.
As Jeff said, Hope and Comfort has gone from soap to hope…..a shinning example of what love and gratitude can do!
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Summer’s end is bittersweet for me. It is not just the long days, the sun, and the inevitable back to school but it is saying goodbye to the remarkable students that we are privileged to work with all summer long through the youth leadership organization I work with. These students are beyond inspiring and we give them the skills to change the world and it is amazing to see what they can do.
The other day I was looking into other organizations that do similar work and I came across the most remarkable story about a young man named Craig Kielburger and his older brother Marc. Craig, at the age of 12 saw a news story about a young man his age, that changed his life, ignited a fire within and sparked a generation of youth to give back.
That moment was the beginning of the nonprofit Free the Children, whose mission was to free children and families of poverty and exploitation but that was simply the beginning of a remarkable journey and story. Free the Children grew and expanded into ME to WE, the WE Movement and a remarkable organization that empowers youth to change the world.
More than twenty years later, their vision and scope has expanded into empowering youth at home, connecting them with global and social causes, partnering with schools, service oriented travel programs for youth and families, along with a social enterprise that provides products that make an impact with their everyday consumer decisions.
These two brothers, used a spark to ignite a flame of service that has inspired hundreds of thousands of youth to be the change. In Craig’s words,” Over the years, we’ve discovered that it’s far more important to reach as many people as possible-especially our youth-empower them with the knowledge that it’s not up to anyone else, it’s up to them to make a difference.”
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This past week I had a long over due catch up with my friend Theresa Gartland of Operation Progress. Theresa who is originally from the Washington DC area came to Los Angeles, more specifically Watts, right out of college. Watts is still considered one of the most dangerous places in Los Angeles, but Theresa fell in love with the children and families in Watts. In the past decade plus, she has worked for a few different organizations, all with the same mission of making Watts a place for children and families to thrive.
Today, I am handing the handing Charity Matters over to Theresa to share her remarkable story of service…she is a true inspiration to us all.
As I am embarking on my 15th year of working in Watts and serving the youth of the community, I cannot help but reflect on what keeps me energized and going, of course two words…the kids! Everyday, I’m so grateful that I get to fulfill my life purpose by provide the most incredible, life-changing opportunity for some of the most deserving youth.
Attending Holy Child High School in Potomac, Md, I was taught the values of giving back through action not words. This rang true for me during my high school service trips to an afterschool program in Southeast DC. During my service, I would play with the children, help them with their homework, and spend time getting to know they. I quickly learned that they only difference between them and me was our neighborhood, and they were just as deserving as all the opportunities I was given. It was my actions that were making an impact. Through service and volunteering I had found my voice, it sparked my passion but I no idea it would ignite my career.
One of the biggest lessons that I have learned through my work is that each child deserves to feel safe, validated and know that someone is proud of them. This has become my mission, to make sure every student feels apart of something bigger than themselves, to feel validated, nurtured, and empowered.
My biggest success thus far, has been watching two girls that I have known since they were in 2nd grade, now sophomores at an all girls catholic high school, flourishing and succeeding. To be apart of their journey and see how OP has literally changed their life trajectory has been of the biggest rewards of my career.
It’s truly been a joy, honor and privilege to work at amazing schools and organizations in the Watts community that are so committed to inspiring, fostering and developing the youth. Being able to be there for a children, to motivate, challenge, and encourage them is no short of a miracle.
Thank you Theresa for reminding us what it means to serve, you are an amazing example to all.
Regardless of where you live, you have witnessed homelessness. It seems to be an epidemic on the rise and a problem with so many layers, that many of us simply don’t even know where to begin? In communities across the country people are coming together, as Americans do, to roll up their sleeves to support those in need.
Last week a dear friend of mine, reached out to tell me about his amazing aunt, Norah Miller, and the work she is doing in her community to help the homeless. Norah lives in Pennsylvania where the economy has struggled, the opioid addition has skyrocketed and Veterans are unemployed and facing homelessness. It would be easy to turn a blind eye, but Norah simply couldn’t look away. Instead she decided to act.
In 2009, Norah and four friends came together to do something and founded Cornerstone, to support the homeless in their community and by 2016 these five received their official nonprofit status.
Here is what Norah had to say last week:
CM: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your non-profit?
Norah Miller: It was a bitter cold morning in western Pennsylvania, January 2012, when a young man called me. He identified himself as a veteran who had lost his job and his home in Akron and was doing temp work at a steel mill. His take-home pay wasn’t able to cover the $40 a night charged by the motel. When he called me, he didn’t have enough money for gas to get his family to a relative’s home in Ohio. I met him in a parking lot and gave him $100 in gift cards for gas or food. The windows in his old car were steamed up and he looked toward his wife, three children and their dog. I told him I could help him with housing. He said, “It’s too late.” Then he thanked me profusely and said, “I wish I had met you sooner.” That’s when I knew.
CM: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Norah Miller: Committed colleagues, support from the faith-based community and a lobby full of people including a 10 month old baby girl in an old stroller, extending her arms to me last week.
CM: When do you know you have made a difference?
Norah Miller: When someone – a recovering addict, a disabled veteran, a family with children – is handed the keys to their very own apartment.
CM: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
Norah Miller:Prior to its 501c3 designation, The Cornerstone was already recognized as the single point of entry to the county’s homeless and housing stabilization programs. $64,000 in private funding was raised in the first 9 months, $450,000 in government funding was allocated and more than 100 people a week receive assistance.
Norah and her team are working to make a difference. They spend every penny they raise on helping others, they do not have a web-site, a logo or a marketing budget. When I asked her what she needed she said, “Our vote.” The Cornerstone is one of three non-profits chosen to win a website. If you are so inclined to take three seconds to click this link, https://digitalboostvoting.isynergy.io to help an amazing woman who is helping others, then you too will be making a difference.
Every decision we make with our time is a choice. Thank you Norah for inspiring us all.
I am not a stalker, but lets face it…we all like to follow certain people, whether on Instagram or in the media, it could be a top chef, an author, or a celebrity. What these individuals all have in common is that they intrigue us, they seem to be living their purpose. They know who they are and seem to know where they are going.
That person for me isn’t Victoria Beckham or Oprah, while I’m sure they are lovely, the person who I have loved to follow is young man I met in Watts at Verbum Dei High School five years ago and his name is Caylin Moore. He is the one I am following.
As a young man he was a student athlete, a stand up young man with a deep faith. I have followed him via the media, when he headed to Marquette on a full scholarship. I watched when he became a Fulbright Scholar, and then when he landed in my literal path at TCU in February, I was stunned.
I followed Caylin as he created SPARK at TCU to inspire young underserved youth to follow their dreams and to become whatever they dream of. I sat in front of him as he said he had to give back to those that helped him along the way.
Now, I will watch from a far, as he graduates from TCU and heads off to Oxford, England to become TCU’s second Rhodes Scholar. We all need heroes, people to look up to and to inspire us to be our best…Caylin Moore is mine….and one to watch!
I often find myself mindlessly scrolling Facebook, when I’m standing in line, bored or looking for some type of meaningful distraction. The key word being meaningful. So as I sat down to write and came across this video from the other say, I knew my writing direction had taken a swift turn.
The story is about a young Muslim man, named Ibn Ali Miller, who came upon two young men who were beginning a fight. A crowd was gathered to watch the neighborhood street fight, when Ibn interrupted to talk to the two young adversaries. He calmed them both and drew the crowd’s attention, who naturally, filmed the entire thing.
It was not the words he spoke to the boys that touched my heart but rather the words he shared with the press, about growing up in poverty, his mother, staying on the right path and the best way to use his 15 minutes of fame.
Every week I bring inspiring people to your attention. This amazing soul reminds us all that charity starts at home, in our neighborhoods and most importantly inside our hearts.
This past week, you would have to be hiding under a rock to know there has been a lot of talk about empowerment, but today I would like to share with you an inspiring non-political, good old-fashioned kind of empowerment. It’s the story of a young woman named Veronika Scott, who in 2010 found herself in a college class with an assignment to create a product that would fill a need in her Detroit community. An assignment that would change her life and empower so many more.
Veronika was the daughter of parents who had struggled with addiction and unemployment. So she found herself in a warming center for Detroit’s homeless with an idea to create a coat the could also become a sleeping bag. While she was working on her design, a homeless woman angrily confronted her and said, “We don’t need coats, we need jobs.” It was that moment that Veronika realized she could do both. She said, ” I wanted to create an opportunity, that I wish my parents had when I was a kid.”
In 2012, she created the Detroit based non-profit The Empowerment Plan, to elevate families from the generational cycle of homelessness. Veronika began hiring single parents from the local shelters, trained them as seamstresses to make the coats to meet the needs of the homeless community. More than that, she gave these women a purpose, a job, education, full-time employment and a chance to regain their independence.
Today, Veronika at age 27, has founded the non-profit The Empowerment Plan, employed 39 homeless women and made and distributed over 15,000 coats since 2011. As C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Veronika is a living example when she said, “No matter what you’ve gone through, you still can do a lot with what you have.”
Don’t you love it when your worlds collide? As many of you know I have been a passionate supporter at an all boys school in Watts, called Verbum Dei, also referred to as “The Verb.” The Verb is a school where young men come from poverty, are given a white-collar job one day a week and attend school the remaining four days. One hundred percent of these amazing young men are accepted to four-year colleges.
Another school, that I am a passionate supporter of is Texas Christian University, also known as TCU. A school that has incredible connection culture and a spirit of kindness. The other day, it was brought to my attention that one of our Verb boys is at TCU playing football as a Quarter back, his name is Caylin Moore.
Caylin was raised in poverty by a loving single mother. He went to Verbum Dei High School, where he was a star student and athlete. This past week he was recognized for his community service work as the founder of SPARK, which stands for Strong Players Are Reaching Kids. A TCU Student organization whose mission is to, “Inspire the youth to rise above their circumstances, build bridges to success and ultimately spark a change in their communities.”
Caylin and his fellow TCU athletes are traveling around the Fort Worth community inspiring children to reach for their dreams, regardless of where they are starting. Caylin uses his own story to encourage others. As he said, “I’ve seen how important education is and how it can change a life.”
One amazing young man and two incredible institutions collide to create a SPARK of goodness for so many.
The last two weeks have been crazy ones, filled with meetings, deadlines for non-profit I work for and many fun non-profit events. One of the fun nights out was a wonderful event welcoming the Rams to LA. In return the Rams brought their philanthropy partnership with regional food banks, a Taste of the NFL, from St. Louis to LA, all to support those in need.
Many of you may remember a post from long ago, about the beginnings of the LA Regional Food Bank, which started with a man named Tony Collier. He was a cook who saw leftovers going to waste and decided to do something about it.
Sound simple enough? As a cook, for a Los Angeles based non-profit, Tony received more donations than he needed. So, he decided he needed to share his leftovers with other charities that were trying to feed the hungry as well. Tony had heard about a food bank in Phoenix that had done something similar and decided to bring that model to Los Angeles and founded Los Angeles Regional Food Bank in 1973.
From the very beginning the 200 square foot garage quickly filled up and soon had to move into a converted 2,600 square foot dry cleaning facility in Pasadena. By the early 1980’s Tony’s simple idea was distributing more than 3.5 million pounds of food to over 70 different agencies in LA.
Today, The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes 65 million pounds of food or the equivalent of 42.4 million meals. The LA Food Bank served over 320,000 peopleper month with the help of 32,000 volunteers.
One man’s simple idea is no longer housed in a garage but now resides in a 96,000 square foot facility that distributes the food to over 653 different agencies throughout the LA area. One man, one idea and a legacy of compassion that continues to inspire.
Have you ever heard a speaker who left you thinking? Really thinking? Two weeks ago, I attended an event down at USC that left me deep in thought. The talk was given by a local priest who had worked with Mother Teresa years ago in Calcutta, when he was on a year’s sabbatical. The Monsignor spoke about being lost and shared his journey of self discovery during his time in India serving the poor.
He spoke about feeling, ” so alive and on fire” about his time there and the work he was doing with the poor, the sick and the dying. This feeling had him, at times, contemplating staying permanently in India. The priest shared this idea with Mother Teresa, who told him to, “Go home.” The priest in turn told each of us,” that we must all findour own Calcutta and that love is a decision.”
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
This weekend we lost a great one. A man born into a family of pre-Civil War era American slaves, who experienced the segregated South first hand and was determined to use his life to help others, which is exactly what he did.
Muhammad Ali devoted his life to helping promote civil rights, cross cultural understanding, interfaith relations, hunger relief and world peace. He did this through a variety of actions and causes. According to the National Constitution Center, he has been responsible for providing over 232 million meals to serve the hungry in such countries as Indonesia, Mexico, Cuba, Morocco, and Cote d’Ivoire, to name a few.
In addition, to his work abroad as a Goodwill Ambassador he also used his fame and success to bring attention to causes such as Make A Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center and the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
The Muhammad Ali Center’s mission sums up the legend’s life and legacy best, “To promote, respect, hope and understanding and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be.”
He was great and continues to inspire us all, to do the same.