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Charity Matters. Heidi McNiff Johnson

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Unforgettable

There are days, when I really wonder what is going on in our world? I turn on the news and get seriously depressed, last week Charlottesville, yesterday Barcelona and I could go on and on. Yet, everyday I am privileged enough to meet, interview and learn about remarkable people who inspire, lift us up and show us the sunny side of humanity. These are my people.

Yesterday, in the shadow of the Barcelona attack, I came across this piece from an unlikely source but the perfect messengers of how love must overcome. These women are truly unforgettable.

 

This isn’t about religion, or race… it is about being human. It is about being kind and good, which if you are reading from a site called Charity Matters, chances are high that you are already amazing. So in the spirit of that goodness, we all need to #WeRemember and spread our love to all.  Love will always over come.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

Service comes in many forms

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

I honestly don’t think there is a single person on this planet who enjoys moving, at least I have never met  one. This past week I flew to Texas to unpack my son and get him settled in his new college “home,” a process thousands of parents across the country are all getting ready to do. A messy chaotic time, but a rite of passage for sure, making sure our chicks our settled in their new nest.

Rather than stop with that move, I continued on across the country to help a very dear friend with a very big move. She is moving from the home she raised her children in and now that her nest is empty, she is simplifying. Since I recently went through this painful process, I realized I could actually be of service. More than that, I wanted to be there for her as she has been there for me, so many times.

While it seemed like an odd way to spend my vacation, it really wasn’t at all. Because at the end of our lives there is no possible way to express the joy and love that both my son and friend have given me. Both of these humans have enriched my lives in immeasurable ways and if serving them, in even the smallest of gestures, expresses an iota of my love…well then it was time well spent.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

Guest blogger: Theresa Gartland

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.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

 

Well hello August…

Well hello August!

I am so very happy that you are here, one of my favorite months of the year. Summer in full swing, long hot lazy days, camp season has come to a close…for me at least, and I think most of us have actually began to relax…

August is a gift for sure.

Wishing you all a magical month of sun, sand, water, reading, amazing summer fruit and all the goodness that comes with this special month.

Enjoy and savor every moment…

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

 

Pedaling joy

I love summer and everything that comes with it….Sun, longer days, a change of pace and especially camp, otherwise known as, my day job.  I also love inspiring, connecting and uplifting others…however, the challenge becomes interviewing and tracking down my heroes while running a summer leadership program…which is exactly what happened this past week.

Since I was away last week, I am going to have to import someone all the way from Scotland to inspire you this monday morning. If anyone should brighten your day, this is the person to do so. His name is Fraser and he is a 20-year-old medical student with a huge heart and strong legs. His story simply made my day and I hope it does the same for yours.

Fraser, at only 20 years old, has already discovered that it just takes the smallest act of kindness to change someone’s day, brighten your own and make our world a better place.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

 

Charity Matters: Summer Reading

A few weeks back a girlfriend sent me a book for my birthday. Now that summer is kicking into high gear, I am thrilled to be diving into a great book. When something is inspiring, heart warming and fills my soul…well I simply have to share.

The book I am reading is called The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The two icons decided to spend a week together to celebrate big birthdays but their gift was not only to each other but rather to the world. They wanted this book to be an invitation  to more joy and happiness.

There is more wisdom than I have space to share, but with one voice these two said, “No dark fate determines our future. We do. Each day and each moment we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.” 

They go onto say, “Lasting happiness cannot be found in pursuit of any goal or achievement. It does not reside in fortune or fame. It resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it. Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday.”

So as your summer hits mid-way, I hope you find time to rest, relax and read this inspiring book. It is such a gift and I hope one that you enjoy as well. Happy Summer!

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

Two blind brothers…

While the post name sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, it is the reality for two New York City brothers Bradford and Bryan Manning who were diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a form of macular degeneration at the age of 7. Growing up they knew that their eye sight would continue to deteriorate over time, potentially leaving them both blind.

Rather than having that as a disadvantage both brothers pursued their goals attending University of Virginia and began careers in finance and sales. The two decided to quit their day jobs and begin a clothing line that would raise funds to cure blindness. Bradford, who is on the board of the Foundation Fighting Blindness believes that the science is there and that the research funding can cure their disease. The result is Two Blind Brothers.

These two brothers have made it their mission to help cure blindness. Their clothing is soft, has braille tags, which the brothers were taught to use as children for the pending loss of their eyesight and is flying off the racks. More than that, all of their proceeds go towards finding a cure. They do not take a salary and donate everything towards their mission.

They both believe the cure is with in sight. As Bryan said recently,”Call me optimistic but there is a cure in there.” Something we all want to see.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

A birthday present to present

The other day I shared the fact that this week Charity Matters celebrates its 6th birthday. Over 800 posts, hundreds of interviews, nonprofits profiled, inspiring people met along the way and countless hours logged sharing this crazy journey with you.

Well it seems that it just wouldn’t be a proper birthday without a birthday gift. So, Charity Matters will be getting a new website and updated look for its 6th birthday. Truly the gift is for you, because without you there would not be a Charity Matters.

My hope is that the new site will be easier to read, to enjoy, to share and most of all to inspire a mission of love, compassion and service. So stay tuned…..because all good gifts are worth waiting for!

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

 

Turning a dream into reality

Have you ever had one of those dreams that was so real that you woke up feeling like it had really happened? Six years ago I had one of those dreams…..the dream was about a television show that made a difference in the world and created a national movement of service, the TV show was called Charity Matters. This dream terrified and inspired me to write it all down in a journal in the middle of the night.

The next day I wrote the first episode of the show, I reached out to some friends in the industry, registered the show with the Writers Guild and then thought… what am I doing? It wasn’t fear but rather the thought of …who just dreams something like this and then actually does it? I then thought maybe my dream was too big and I needed to back it down a bit and take a baby step first…that baby step was six years ago today…. and was the birth of Charity Matters.

At the time, I honestly couldn’t copy and paste a link, and knew nothing about blogging but as my husband said, “You knew nothing about starting a non-profit either, you just have to dive into the deep end of the pool and figure it out.” And so began the journey of tracking down my heroes, non-profit founders and people who are making our world better every day.

Charity Matters has connected me to the most inspiring people, taught me more about myself than I thought possible and has given me enormous joy shining a small light on beautiful people and their causes.

None of that would be possible without each of you. Thank you for inspiring me, sharing great stories, making introductions, lifting me up, cheering me on, stopping me and tell me how much a post meant to you and for that, there are not words to express my gratitude.

More than any of that, thank you for believing in me and reinforcing my belief that dreams do come true.

 

Happy 6th birthday Charity Matters!

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

A Passion and a purpose…

Passion for life emerges from clarity surrounding our purpose.”

Matthew Kelly

Photo credit Robin Skjoldborg

 

A dear friend of mine occasionally shares weekly inspirations every so often that she thinks I will enjoy. This week I am sharing one of them with all of you.  Last Saturday, we unexpectedly lost a friend of ours and for obvious reasons I find myself reflecting on what is important…really and truly important. As a result, this quote about passion and purpose seemed so fitting.

As I listened to the eulogy the other day, I heard about a man who followed his passion. A man who loved to learn, loved music, culture, food and made it his life’s mission to spend his time enjoying these passions with his family. Our friend was not here on earth long enough, but his legacy is one of a life beautifully lived every moment. He knew his passions and purpose.

As we get ready to roll into another hot summer weekend, I am determined to have a renewed zest for all I do and the things I love. My hope is to continue to eliminate those things in my life that take away from that clarity.

Each moment we spend and how we choose to spend it, is a choice. As I say to my sons, “Make good decisions….” Today I am taking my own advice to heart and making a few of my own…..and as the quote says, “Passion for life emerges from clarity surrounding our purpose.”

We can only hope and work towards such clarity.

 

Charity Matters.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 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 Clarity Project

 

On the heels of last week’s post about Once Upon a Room, a friend and follower of Charity Matters reached out to share this amazing story with me about a Southern California girl named Claire Wineland. 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 is terminally ill and what we would think of as tragic, she simply uses as fuel. Her message and life are truly remarkable.

Claire has endured over 30 surgeries in her short 20 years and has 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 recently 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 recently moved out on her own, decided not to go to college because she is not sure she will live long enough to graduate. She is spending 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 with children’s hospitals in Las Vegas.

 

 

I do know how precious and unexpected life can be but Claire’s message is a reminder to us all. If you give yourself one gift today, listen to Claire’s talk (above) at a recent Zappos event. She is 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’s life is an example to each of us, that we not only have the power to help…. but more than that….. to live our lives fully.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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 number of years, and last week we not only sat down together to catch up, but my son and I were invited to help Jennifer, her daughter Josie, and best friend Sienna, with their incredible cause called Once Upon a Room. A non-profit organization that decorates rooms for children who have long stays in the hospital.

Rather than me continuing this fairy tale, I think the conversation tells this story the best.

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 years 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 everyday 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 I 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 we 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 were in active 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 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 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 © 2017 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.

Let Freedom Ring

“I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”

Abraham Lincoln

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I truly love the 4th of July and all it brings. A holiday without stress that is full of friends, family, and summer fun. It is Independence Day and it usually feels that way. We feel free to simply be.

For years we lived across the street from an amazing park that thousands of people would descend upon each 4th of July for their incredible firework show. Our home was up on a slight hill above the park and we had a front row seat to the fireworks. Each year we would have a crazy fun 4th of July open house with people coming and going…it was just the best.

When I think about what made our 4th so special, it was our community. People coming together to celebrate. Community is what built our country. People coming together to work hard to create a place that is free. I write about incredible communities each week that are created by individuals coming together for a purpose greater than themselves….our country was founded the exact same way.

This year, my dream for our country is that we can all create a movement of service towards one another. I dream that we can all come together in community, regardless of our politics, for the country we love….something greater than ourselves.

Just as Abraham Lincoln said, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2017 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.

A significant life

“Striving to be of service is not only a noble thing to do, it’s the best way to lead a truly fulfilling and significant life.”

 Michael Josephson

The other day, a friend of mine who started a non-profit called Once Upon A Room.Org and I met for a quick catch up. I told her that I really wanted to interview her for Charity Matters and she said, “Don’t interview me, come and join me….and bring your son.” 

I came home, thrilled about the invitation, my 16-year-old son….well, not so much. I heard a variety of excuses, his summer job, things he needed to do, etc….however, I persisted. Without having a full spoiler alert (the story is coming next week) he relented, as you can see from the photo above.

He was late for his job, his first job ever, and very stressed when he left our work at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Our service had made him much later than I had told him. I love serving others and this experience was magical and yet, I felt guilty that he was late for work and thought that perhaps….maybe…just maybe, service isn’t for everyone and had I pushed too hard?

It was about an hour into his job, that I received a text. It said, “Thank you Mom. Today was so much more than I expected. Even though I was late for work, it was worth it. I had fun and thank you for bringing me with you.”

His text said it all. Leading a significant life is not about looking at the mirror, it is about turning the gaze in another direction. Service heals us all, only if we let it.

Charity Matters.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 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.