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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 theperson 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.
As Father’s Day is quickly approaching, I begin thinking about my dad. A wonderful man, with a big heart, heart disease and a history of heart problems. My Dad and I still spin together at least twice a week and he will be 78 this fall. However, a few years back, while in spin class my Dad’s heart stopped, while he was on his spin bike. Technically he died. Thankfully, due to the gym’s quick response and having a defibrillator (think the paddles on medical tv shows) close by, his life was saved.
The other day I came across the story of Michael Salem and it reminded me so much of my dad. Mike Salem was also a great guy beloved by all and in 2002 he was playing golf with friends when his heart stopped. Sadly, there was not a defibrillator near by and he did not survive. His company and co-workers wanted to do something in his memory, the result is The Mikey Network. A non-profit whose mission is promote healthy heart living and to provide public access defibrillators, which they call Mikeys.
Since 2003 the Mikey Network has raised millions of dollars, trained thousands on how to use defibrillators, placed hundreds of defibrillators in schools, camps, police cars and in public transit. More importantly than that, they have saved over 15 lives (that they know of) and counting, all because of one man’s legacy.
We never know when our time is up, that is something I have witnessed with both my parents. As a result, everyday when I exit my spin class with my Dad, I say loudly (in front of the entire class), “I love you Dad.” It just takes one moment to change everything….and it is people like Hugh Heron and The Mikey Network who have changed that moment for so many families.
I can no longer take moments for granted….and the beat goes on…
“Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”
Graduation season is in the air and with it come all of the inspiring pearls of wisdom that go along with the celebration. It is oh so easy to give advice and it is oh so difficult to use it. Every time I speak to a non-profit founder I hear passion, purpose, joy and gratitude in their voices, regardless of where they live or their cause.
The reason is that they have not set out to do something remarkable, they just paid attention to the signs, one thing lead to another, the knew they needed to do this one thing and then they reached out to inspire others to help them achieve that goal….which ultimately became a non-profit and something remarkable.
Each of us makes daily choices with our time. How will you use yours to do something that inspires passion, purpose, joy and gratitude? ” Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”
This upcoming weekend we will celebrate our moms for Mother’s Day. Last week, I had an incredible conversation with two inspiring mothers, who have taken their journey into motherhood and transformed the lives of hundreds of young mothers in the foster care system. These amazing women founded Alliance of Moms, a non-profit organization whose mission is to break the inter-generational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care.
Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Jules Leyser were both pregnant in 2012, along with three other girlfriends (Danika Charity, Emily Lynch and Kelly Zajfen) all at the same time. For some it was their first child, for others their second or third but the girlfriends all experienced a profound change in becoming mothers. Together they were determined to use that shift in each of them to help other mothers, the most at risk, those in the foster care system.
Yasmine:I was pregnant with my son, having a child makes your heart burst wide open and makes you see everything every differently.I wanted a part of motherhood to be looking out for all children, not just our own. From my previous work withThe Alliance for Children’s Rights,I knew we needed to explore more volunteer opportunities for children’s rights.
Jules: My mother grew up in foster care and was a teen parent at 17. I understood the need to break the cycle, 66% of babies born into foster care become teen moms. I also understood that my child had won a lottery that he didn’t even knew he entered, just by luck. We needed to help support all mothers.
Tell us about when you knew, your work had made a difference?
Yasmine: In July 2014, five of us began exploring this idea of creating an auxiliary group to support The Alliance for Children’s Rights but more than that we wanted a mother to mother, community to community event. Six weeks later, we had our first program, Raising Baby, inviting 70 youth in foster care and their children for a day of fun, educational parenting workshops. We were determined to be there for these moms, when so many have let them down.
While we set out to serve these young women in foster care, our members were also impacted by serving. The women we serve have changed all of our lives for the better because regardless of your circumstances, we all walk away stronger knowing that we all struggle as mothers.
What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Jules: Having a hands on relationship with our pregnant girls and seeing them on an upward trajectory. Knowing that these young mothers are now talking and singing to their unborn children, or reading to their children at bedtime, creating family rituals, and using the little things that we teach them, which have a big impact on their children.
These young parents are motivated to change their lives and their children’s’ and more than that, it is seeing people being kind.
Yasmine: My dream would be to create something sustainable and scalable that we could take outside of Los Angeles and to other communities of mothers across the country. We know and see the value of creating community and a village for mothers.
Jules: My dream would also be to see our program expand to other places and perhaps to help all teen moms. The real dream would be to have the public start seeing these young moms in a different way…with humanity and empathy.
As Yasmine and Jules both said, “We are all different and yet we are all the same. We all want the best for our children, we all get overwhelmed, stressed, worried that we are not doing the right thing. We are all learning about ourselves and our children as we struggle to do our best.”
Over 600 members, hundreds of families and young mothers served and countless lives forever changed by a group of mothers who know what it is to share the love, create an alliance and to inspire us all.
The beauty that is Charity Matters, is the incredible people who I have the privilege of meeting and telling their stories. Mark Brenner is one of them. A few months back, when I attended a non-profit seminar I was fortunate enough to be seated with this dynamic man, with a huge smile, a zest for life and an unlikely non-profit founder.
Mark told me that in the end of 2013, he had recently sold his recruiting business and attempted to play golf for a few months, but knew there was something missing. A life long connector and recruiter he knew he still had people that he could help with his skill set.
In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark served in Vietnam, and was a Veteran. When Mark came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said,”The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”
More than that, Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran’s unemployment and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” His help turned into a 501c3, non-profit called Veterans Career Xchange. His mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.
Today, Mark is working harder than ever. He and his team at Veterans Career Xchange have coached, mentored and gainfully employed hundreds veterans, with over 80% who have remained employed. His passion for helping these men and women who have served our country is simply contagious. Mark said, “When the Veterans you serve get a job and donate back to your cause and tell you that they have purpose and are happy again, it makes you just want to keep going.”
While I don’t typically do follow-up stories, I think we are just at the first chapter with this one and I can’t wait to share with all of you what is next for this remarkable man and organization. Mark is proof that regardless of where you are in life you, you always have something to give.