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Episode 16: Havens House Youth Services

I went to a school whose motto was “Actions Not Words.” This phrase was repeated my entire life in Kindergarten through high school and after a while, it does start to sink in.  A few weeks ago, I was speaking to the Alumni relations coordinator at my alma mater. She mentioned an incredible alumnus that I needed to meet, Abeni Carr. She went on to tell me that Abeni was not only a high school principal in Compton, CA but in addition had started a nonprofit when she realized a number of her students were homeless.

I am so excited to share our conversation about Abeni’s work helping high school youth deal with homelessness, her journey in founding Haven’s House Youth Services, and how she juggles it all. Actions Not Words definitely made an impact.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Havens House does?

Abeni Carr:  We really support homeless youth specifically and much of our focus goes for high school-age youth that are dealing with housing instability. We make hygiene packets, we also help with young people getting housing, we’ve helped with young women who’ve been trafficked, making sure that they are getting to safety and making sure they get lawyers, and we try to pay for some of their fees. 

We’re hoping to expand to have a community center where we can really have our clothing closet and be able to support high school-age youth, which I think is one of the most vulnerable populations. We started doing this work in 2018 and now we are in three different areas throughout LA County.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Havens House?

Abeni Carr:  I was adopted when I was three by my mom and I purposely waited until I was 30, to look for my biological family.  I found both my birth mother and my birth father about six years ago through a lot of Google searches on Facebook.  Immediately we were united and then about a year later, I just went through the process of meeting my siblings.  

My sister Miracle, from my birth mother, came out to meet me with her boyfriend. When I’d asked her a question, her boyfriend would answer it.  I thought it was very odd and so just through talking to her, and my mother I found out that my sister was being trafficked. 

 I ended up helping her and it really made me turn around and look at my students. Do I have students that are homeless?  We realized that maybe we did and just don’t know. So my school started doing the work.  We had to figure out how do we identify our students? Sure enough, I did have some students that I had no idea had been dealing with housing instability. Because people don’t willingly come to a school and say, “Hey, we’re dealing with homelessness.”

 One day I got like five phone calls for different needs. Some people needed, a hotel to stay at and another family that was living in a car. The school found out and asked me, “Do you know where they could get help? ”  I thought with the multitude of phone calls there’s a great need.  So I really just started reaching out to everybody I know. I have a great group of friends and we just came together and said, “Let’s help out as many people as we can.” That’s how Haven’s House got started.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Abeni Carr:  I know my dream.  I want to be able to build a campus that has a school, mental health,  a community center, and housing. Kind of like a one-stop-shop where we build a community and where students know it’s a safe place for them. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it’s really true, right? If we can build safety, the home, the access to food, then you know, that’s the first step to even get them to that next place. So I would love one day to be able to have our own little community on the same campus. A place where there’s schooling, there’s shelter, there’s a community center and we help them with job readiness. 

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

Abeni Carr:  I’m just very goal-driven. This work has really shown me how to slow down and really listen to people. Everybody really does have a story. Sometimes as a leader, I didn’t really take out the time when I was younger to really hear people out. I felt like my way was the right way. In time, I’ve really learned to slow down, delegate and trust people.  Just like I’m asking my young people, to trust me. You have to start trusting other people that they can get it done too.

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

Abeni Carr:  I got into education a long time ago, not because of the honors and not about what you’re going to get back from it. But I will tell you, this cohort that we have right now, every single one of them got into college.  We’re giving them the tools to learn, how do you advocate for yourself when you do go to college? Or how do you get a job? We are really trying to end cyclical homelessness. One of our board members actually was one of our clients. Now she’s 24 years old, has a job she’s living on her own. Every day she asks, “What can I do to help?”  I think that that’s what really reminds me why are we doing this.

 If you can help people with the tools to get on their feet, they will turn around and help somebody else out. Right?  You want to take it from cyclical homelessness.  So when there are those hard days, I remember Marie and the other young people that I’ve been able to help out.  They have turned around and now become amazing advocates for other young homeless youth that now they’re helping, and mentoring. Being able to share their experience and say,” This is temporary, you can make it through this.” 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

Episode 15: Infinite Strength

I have met so many people in a decade of interviewing nonprofit founders but a select few have left a real lasting impression and Roberta Lombardi of Infinite Strength is one of them. We hadn’t spoken in a few years and I wanted to touch base and see what she was up to, you may remember her remarkable story. As a breast cancer survivor, Roberta wondered about the women she sat with in treatment who didn’t have the same resources she did and was determined to change that.

Infinite Strength began to help underserved women with breast cancer with the financial costs associated with breast cancer. are astronomical. I recently had a chance to catch up with Roberta and talk about how Covid has impacted cancer, single moms, her challenges in trying to support all of the above with her incredible organization.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Infinite Strength does?

Roberta Lombardi: We exist mainly to help single mothers who are in active treatment for breast cancer by giving them grants for what we call basic human needs, mortgage, and rent, car, utility, and phone.  I think we’re one of the few nonprofits to do that recurring funding for women with metastatic breast cancer. These are early-stage breast cancer patients who come to us once in a calendar year.  A patient with metastatic breast cancer, who’s basically going to be in treatment for the rest of their life. Their average lifespan at that diagnosis is two to three years.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Infinite Strength?

Roberta Lombardi:  I was in the middle of treatment, and was getting more depressed from all the chemotherapy drugs and the steroids and the loss of hair. One day my husband walks into the kitchen and says, “Honey, we just got a bill for one of your chemos from insurance. But it’s $80,000!  Hon, how do people that don’t have money afford this?”  He throws the bill on the counter and it was like a lightning bolt for me.

All of a sudden, it really made sense to me.  How are these women ever going to be able to stop the cycle because it is a never-ending cycle? The woman we help, they’re already having trouble financially anyway.  How do you get off the roller coaster?

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

Roberta Lombardi: Every single time I have felt a little bit worn out that’s when somebody crosses my path. It reminds me that this is why I do this work.  And it’s the truth. It’s either it’s a patient who’s contacted me, and their story just touches me. It’s meeting their children and seeing what it does to the kids to have their mother ill.

 The women that we support with Infinite Strength, their whole life’s been a battle, they just don’t get a break.  Many of the women we help are black women and are underserved.  They don’t have the access to medical care and this disease hits them harder. Their death rate is higher than a woman that’s white. A lot of these women that I interact with, they’ve just not had a fair shot in life and a lot of things and they’ve struggled. Their kids are a part of this and that’s the heartbreaking part for me. I have to find a way to really make an impact and to give these kids hope that their mom’s going to be okay. Also to remind them that there’s kindness in the world that somebody cares.

Charity Matters: What has your impact been? 

Roberta Lombardi: For me, it’s the emotional impact of the peace of mind, we’re giving to these women. That’s how I measured it. The kind words that they write or when their child says something to me. That is when I know what I’m doing is very worthwhile. And that’s what spurs me on to keep going and to keep growing.

How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: I think that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is not to be so judgmental. You don’t know what somebody else’s life is. They show you what they want to show you and you don’t know what they’re going through. Right? You just don’t. The more somebody is maybe aloof or maybe not as kind, maybe the more kind I am because they need it. I’ve realized in my work, just that little bit of kindness or a smile, or doing something extra makes a person’s day so much better. And you don’t know where they were at that moment.  It’s little things of trying to be understanding.  I think that’s one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Connect with us:

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

Episode 14: Building families with Help Us Adopt

One of the many things I love about finding my tribe and interviewing these amazing humans is the friendships I have made over the years. One of those people is the remarkable Becky Fawcett, the founder of Help Us Adopt. You may remember our conversation from a few years back? We recently caught up and had a fantastic conversation about what motivates this wonder woman, our favorite candy, and her incredible mission to build families.

So join us today for a fun conversation that will have you inspired and remind you that one person can make a difference.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Help Us Adopt does?

Becky Fawcett:  Help Us Adopt began in 2007 at our kitchen table and an idea to help build families through adoption. Our platform was families combined with a commitment to equality, something everyone could believe in. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer. We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. Help Us Adopt does that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Help Us Adopt?

Becky Fawcett:  One of my favorite topics in this world is infertility and adoption. I tried to do IVF, we did five rounds of IVF. We got pregnant three times and had three miscarriages. It was not easy, it was awful. Everybody knows someone who’s been through what I’ve been through and they probably didn’t get the support they needed.

I never thought it wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to adopt it scared the living bejesus out of me. It then got to a point where it was like either you adopt or you don’t get to become a mom. Not becoming a mother was not an option. This was 15 years ago. No one wanted to talk about this and miscarriage and IVF. There’s nothing shameful about being infertile,  about miscarriage or about adopting.

photo credit: Classic Kids

I won’t lie to you. It’s also very expensive. In order to do the IVF, and then adopt twice my husband and I spent $190,000 and after-tax dollars in our early 30s. I never want to be misleading, I had help from my grandparents. But we spent every single penny in our savings account. We were probably one step shy of taking out a second mortgage on our house.

I had this idea of how lucky was I that I got to do all of this on my own terms. I had nothing left in as far as money goes, but that could be rebuilt. And how could I help people and with no money, being a loudmouth publicist?  So, I wrote a business plan in about 20 minutes and just knew what needed to be done. What needed to be done was an adoption grant program that was all in on the family quality period. That was it.  

We don’t care who you love or who you’re with. We don’t care about any of that. Don’t send us a picture of what your family looks like. We don’t want to know, that’s not why we’re helping you. We’re helping you because you want to adopt a child, you have a valid home study. And you need a little help.

Charity Matters:  What has your impact been? 

Becky Fawcett: How do you put a value on giving this child an opportunity to know you were worthy, right? I mean, that you were worthy, you deserved this family? How do you know?  

Well, my impact is all of the family pictures of the families we helped to build. My impact is the 2000 donors a year who are out of the box thinking who are ahead of the game and philanthropy. Donors who do believe in the nonprofit that came out of nowhere and who support us every year.  Last year, we built 56 families during the pandemic. What is more important than a family?

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

Becky Fawcett: Reading these grant applications. Talk about salt of the earth, good people. Are you kidding me?  I am inspired by our applicants, those who will let me into their life once they become grant recipients. I love staying in touch with them on Facebook, I love watching their kids grow up. Someone once wrote to me, one of the grant applicants, her name is Erica. She wrote to me and said, “Because of your story, I have mine.”

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
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Connect with us:

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

Episode 13: Her Smile, a lesson in divine time

It is a rare human that touches our soul. When my path crosses with these angels on earth there is something indescribable that happens. My conversation with Dena Betti was exactly that, one that had me in tears more than a few times. Yes, if you have ever wanted to hear me cry, this episode is for you. More than that was Dena’s message of love and resilience after losing her 14-year-old daughter, Jenna, in a tragic accident.

Dena took that pain and turned it into a nonprofit called Her Smile that funds programs to empower and inspire young people to thrive despite adversity.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation…

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Her Smile does?

Dena Betti: Her Smile helps families who have experienced the loss of a dependent child or the loss of a parent with dependent children. We did that primarily for the first five years. Just last year, with the pandemic and the severe fires, we thought we want to do more than what we’re doing. So we broadened our brushstroke so we could also help families going through really difficult circumstances. So not only death, which is the ultimate loss, and to lose a child is beyond measure, so we now are helping those who are in the throes of really challenging circumstances. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Her Smile?

Dena Betti:  But what brought me to this work is, tomorrow will be seven years, when I got this horrific call from my husband. It was a Sunday and, and he was screaming on the phone, Jenna, it was Jenna.  Jenna is my oldest daughter, and she was 14 at the time. And you know, we let her go out on a walk in our neighborhood. they took the like the short what would be the shortcut home. And that was along the railroad tracks.

What we know now is when they sat down on the railroad tracks,  Jenna had put her phone down.  When a train approached they got up and were able to safely get away from the train. But Jenna went back to grab her phone and she was hit and killed from the back. Her phone survived but she didn’t. What we think is that she probably thought the width of the train was the width of the train tracks, which it’s not, the train is wider.  

A moment like that changes you in so many ways that change you. What I want to share is something that leads into why we started Her Smile. That is all the love and support that came from family, friends, strangers, people descended on our home.  I remember the moment so clearly and  I thought if I shut this door and I do not let these people in my home, they might not come back.  I learned one of life’s great lessons, which was when you let people in they will love you and hold you up.  They will give you all of the strength that you need to get through whatever it is.

I have three daughters and they all had the same third-grade teacher, Mrs. Travis. Something very magical happened that she did, she started a Memorial Fund for our family. She started that to help with the burial costs for Jenna and to feel like she could do something for our family. So that raised a lot of money and it helped us put Jenna to rest. We had money left over and I thought you know I don’t want to keep this money. This money needs to go back out to help other people and that is where Her Smile was born. It was born in that spirit.

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

Dena Betti: Gosh, so those moments come in little moments for me.  They come when people reach out to me, and ask how do I help my friend who just lost their son or their daughter?  Or what can I say to them? Those are moments that make me feel like I can be of service. Even though it’s much smaller than I originally wanted, it’s as impactful. Those are the moments so they’re not grandiose. They are very humble, but they mean everything to me

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

Dena Betti: When Jenna passed away, that was big about the control in my entire life. I’ve just learned that there’s so much fear built into that statement. We want to control because we want to feel safe and secure.  And then when you realize when something happens, like, what I experienced, or other hardships, maybe we don’t have as much control as we thought we did?

 My biggest life lesson is divine time. That’s been my biggest challenge is being able to see it in my mind. feeling like I want it now and having the grace and patience to wait. Having the faith. You know, I’ve asked myself many times, and I prayed to my higher power. And I said,” Is this really what I should be doing?” And the answer has so far come back. Yes. And to have the patience to let divine timing play out has been my biggest life lesson. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dena Betti: I see life much deeper. Much deeper.  I’ve always been a much deeper thinker and tend to lean on wisdom a lot.  I didn’t really feel like I have anything to prove anymore. Like I feel like I’ve done the inside work. You know, I’ve definitely got to the top of the mountain when it comes to my internal resilience. So, for me, that’s how much I’ve changed or to the degree, I’ve changed is I’m at peace. And that, isn’t that the ultimate goal? Yeah, I think the ultimate goal is to know that you’ve done your best. You’ve carried that bucket You’ve worked your hardest. And you’re at peace with what you’re doing and what you’re putting out into the world and what you’re giving to everybody. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
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Connect with us:

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

Episode 12: Alexandria House

Join us today to hear our fascinating conversation with today’s guest, Sister Judy Vaughan. We discuss everything from her work in founding Alexandria House to her tattoo, her motto, her sheroes, their feature in Justin Beiber’s video (see below), and most importantly to her tireless dedication to the community. Just last week Tory Burch Foundation and the Upworthiest nominated Sr. Judy as their Empowered Woman and once you listen to today’s conversation you will see why.

I knew Sister Judy Vaughan was someone special the moment we began our email exchange and she did not disappoint. A third-generation Angeleno who has been on a mission to serve women, children, and families with transitional housing for 25 years since founding Alexandria House.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Alexandria House does?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  Alexandria house, really as part of our mission has three things.  One is to be a long-term shelter for single women and women with children who are homeless. The main focus in the two houses is to serve families, who are really searching for ways to break out of being without a house and into their own place. We’re a long-term transitional residence program, about 85% of the women who come here are coming out of situations of domestic violence. We also have folks who have escaped trafficking.  

The second thing is we’re a Neighborhood Center. We wanted to be from our very beginning in 1996, to be a part of the community. So we have an after-school program, that it’s really for about 35 kids. Right now, most of them were doing mentoring with the kids in our program, through zoom.

The third thing is it comes out in our awareness. We’re just we’re really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re the homeless capital of the United States. In no way do we think Alexandria house is going to shift that. But we are a base for doing systemic change work.  We really are committed to changing systems that are keeping women and children living in poverty. So that’s sort of who Alexandria House is. If I had to say this in an elevator, I’d say we’re about really focusing on what is to make a difference but also trying to be a demonstration of what it is to be a demonstration of the Beloved Community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A very good friend taught us about the burden of knowing or being willing to have your heart be broken because there are so many things that make it so difficult for folks to really get out of a situation. So that’s definitely one, how you stay true to our commitment to trauma-informed care.

That really means opening your heart and being as empathetic as possible, even though it’s not your own experience, but really listening.  Listening to the pain and the grief and the heartache of others, and being willing to share in that. So that’s one piece of it. But the other is, there’s just not enough resources. And we see that over and over again. We get 1000 calls a month from folks, we’re not able to house here. There are at least 80,000 folks who are homeless on any one night in LA and 11,000 shelter beds and there are not enough resources. 

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

Sister Judy Vaughan:  I could go down the list of how it comes back to us in words, you know, you saved my life, I wouldn’t be where I am without you all. And I have to say, you know, I get a lot of credit, being the founding person and being the one and a half staff that started the place. But really, we have an incredible staff that is all committed to this mission. I think one of the outstanding examples of our impact is of the people that have moved through the program 93% have remained in permanent housing.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Sister Judy Vaughan: So this is what we thought of back in 1996. This is what the vision was. So to continue the work we’re doing even as it grows, because we have more people who come to us now is living the dream. But we do have a dream because housing is so difficult in LA. We’re really working right now to purchase the apartment building behind us.

 It would provide 31 more units of permanent supportive housing. More and more, we are finding folks having such a hard time finding permanent housing. 

 

Charity Matters: Do you have a phrase or motto that you live by?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A really important one for me is that there’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God. And it’s in Romans and I believe this. So,  much so that I have a tattoo on my shoulder that has the glimpse of our hands connected, that there’s nothing that can separate us. It’s a really important thing for me. Because we all make mistakes in doing this work.

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

Sister Judy Vaughan: I definitely think I’m the same person and that I still have some of the same flaws and some of the same struggles. But I just feel so much more enriched and challenged as a person. You know, as a member of a religious community, we talk about living a life of simplicity.  I don’t even think I understood what that means, until living here at Alexandria House.

I have also learned about what it means to be generous.  Some people say that I get some credit for living and working here. But I have to say, this place saved my life in some ways because it enabled me to see who we’re really called to be, and what we need to do. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

Episode 11: Fotolanthrophy, Storytelling with a purpose

Have you ever read about someone and think, I need to know that person? That is exactly what happened with this week’s guest, Katie Norris. A while back I was reading through a People Magazine and came across the incredible story of Chris Norton. Chris had an amazing story and the article mentioned this incredible nonprofit founder, Katie Norris, who was determined to tell it. Katie did just that through her amazing nonprofit, Fotolanthrophy. A non-profit organization that combines photography + film + philanthropy to share inspiring true stories of people who have overcome adversity…and I wanted to meet her.

Image how thrilled I was when Katie and I were connected? We sat down for an inspirational conversation about her organization’s beginnings and her latest film project, 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.  Join us today for an incredible conversation with this very special human who will make your day. 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Katie Norris: A lot of people say they hope to feel called in life.  I actually got a phone call that changed the course of my life forever. Nearly 10 years ago, I received a phone call from a mother that was just sobbing. I could barely hear what she was saying. She’s finally said, “My name is Kara. You don’t know me, but someone said you can help me. My son is just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He’s eight months old and I really would love pictures of him.”

 I had my own photography business at the time. And little did she know that a few months before, it kind of was just put on my heart that I wanted to start my own nonprofit, which was a wild idea. I was in my young 20s and I just didn’t move forward with that idea and I just needed the courage to go for it. It all came together at that moment and that phone call. I remember just kind of taking a minute and thinking, this is it, this is my call for my life. I need to go serve people with the gift that I have.

And I got to say, “Kara, you know, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But yes, we’d love to serve you. Here’s what I’d like to do.” We got to surprise her with not only a photo session, but we brought in a videographer and captured the last moments of her son’s life. It was very, very challenging. I wasn’t a mom at the time, so it was hard. We got to serve her and that was the beginning of Fotolanthrophy.

Charity Matters: How did you go from photoshoots to becoming a nonprofit documentary filmmaker?

Katie Norris: Then things kind of continued to grow after that families would call and they would nominate families because sometimes when someone’s facing such a great tragedy, you don’t know what to do. And sometimes, you know, a casserole, you want to do more than that. And so it felt so good to say yes, we’ll be there. How can we help?

Then everything kind of went to the next level, when we were interviewing a young soldier, Travis Mills. He’s a quadruple amputee. And I came across his story. And my world kind of stopped when I saw a picture of him. And we made our way to Fort Bragg to meet him, we’re gifting his family Fotolanthrophy, which was a portrait session and a short film. And I’m sitting here interviewing this American hero thinking, why don’t we make him a full-featured documentary? 

Once we continued the mission and served many families we realized what it was going to take to produce these stories and that’s when we knew we needed to become a nonprofit. We received our 501 c3 status in 2012. It was a great day and it felt like a new start. We’re really doing this, you know, it was kind of an answer to a phone call. Then we continued to see people impacted and it was such a joy to serve these families that we just went step by step and they just kept coming.

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

Katie Norris: So when I’m tired, I think about those people that we could potentially serve and maybe bring a little bit of inspiration to and that, that keeps me going.  I’ve got that phone call, you know, I’m anchored in that phone call that this is what I was supposed to do. And that keeps me going.

Charity Matters: do you know have a Motto that you live by?

Katie Norris: Consistency compounds. I continue to say those two words because it does compound and it all adds up. And so if I can just stay consistent in who I am in what we’re doing in our mission, it all will continue to move.  And that’s really helped me from the day to day.

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

Katie Norris: You can never give up on your dream. I mean, there are so many times that I could have said this is too hard. This is too much. And I think about all those “miss moments” that would have never happened.  I think about all the people that are moved experiencing our film, 7 Yards. So sometimes when we’re in those moments of adversity, and we can’t shake it that day, and we want to give up because it’s too hard, and the sacrifices we make…just to never give up, just don’t.  

We’ve been given this mission and just to continue going.  I think that’s one of the biggest things that has taught me to see what I’m made of, and to see what’s possible. It’s nice, because each project we take on more, and I think some days are really hard.  I wonder what I would have said, what my life would be like if I didn’t say yes to all this?  I would have missed out on so much. So anyone listening, that’s following your dream just keep going, just keep going.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Episode 10: Ryan Seacrest Foundation Following the heart

If there is one common denominator in all the people I have interviewed over the years it is their humility. People who give their lives and talents to serve others do not want the attention on themselves ever. These incredible humans will lovingly talk about the work they do but do not want the attention on them. It doesn’t matter who they are.  Whether they are from a famous family or used to being in the media, these modern-day heroes consistently do not want the spotlight.

Today’s guest, Meredith Seacrest Leach is no exception. Meredith is the Executive Director of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. And yes, she is Ryan Seacrest’s sister. I’m excited to share our inspiring conversation about their families’ journey in service and the incredible way they are using their gifts to help eleven children’s hospitals and thousands of children and families across the country.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Ryan Seacrest Foundation does and how it all started?

Meredith Seacrest Leach:  Just over 10 years ago, Ryan would do a lot of visits to children’s hospitals through his various jobs. In particular, the radio show, where he would take his team down there and they’d set up at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, in California. They would bring in some special guests and broadcast live and he got so much feedback from families about the energy this brought to the hospital.

There was one visit that we were at the hospital and there was a little girl who hadn’t gotten out of bed in 72 days. But she got out of bed to be part of this broadcast and got to meet Selena Gomez. And it just moved all of us and the nurses had tears in their eyes. The power of creating this excitement in the hospital inspired this little girl to get out of bed.

 I know you’ve talked about this in your podcasts, that there’s this moment, and what is that moment that kind of triggers an idea of wanting to create something or do more? So after that moment, we road back in the car together, and Ryan just said, “What can we do that could live in the Children’s Hospital? I can’t broadcast every day. I’d love to but you know, I can’t.  But what could we create and do that could live in the hospital, to create this synergy?”

We sat down as a family and kind of talked about it. My brother reached a point that while he loved supporting other causes that he would love to create some into his own.  We really talked about rather than reinvent the wheel. He needed to do what he is good at, which is radio and television.

So, we decided through the relationships we have to kind of replicate his radio studio as well as folding some technical side for television. That evolved into what we now call Seacrest Studios. We decided to build the first one at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our hometown, where we were raised and born. And we really started with that first hospital and had a conversation with them about the idea. They took a chance to see you know what this would be and it evolved from there 

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach: We have parents just say, “You know, my child smiled today or laughed.” It feels like such a small thing but if that space we create can bring that joy or that moment for a family or create some sense of relief. That’s when we feel while we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach:  I had worked in the entertainment business before moving into the nonprofit space.  I think knowing that each day, what we do is really helping someone, I’m not just going to work.  But this really has meaning and to be able to say that your job, if you want to call it a job, but your passion is really helping people and you get these stories back.

The fact that we can be that connective tissue to bring, not only the Seacrest Studios to the hospital, but also bring in different opportunities, whether it’s entertainment or educational experiences, fun toys for the kids. It is just so important. I just realized that every day that I’m lucky to do what I do and have the ability to do it.

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach: Well, I definitely have learned that you never stop learning. I’m continuously learning as we go. One thing I think that this was something you could truly make decisions on what your heart wants to do.  This was what feels right and this is the way we’re going to move this.

Listening to that kind of inner voice of what felt right to do, actually led us in a way to build something special. We felt it unitedly as a family.  We really just listened to our hearts about what we wanted to build and how we wanted to help.  I think it led us in a great direction.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Meredith Seacrest Leach: Now that I’ve worked in children’s hospitals quite a bit with working with 11, and visiting, even more, it definitely changes you. I think I have a lot of perspective, more than I ever had before. I know it sounds so cliche, but health is wealth. Just to be so grateful, for what I do have and not focusing on what I don’t have. Seeing some of these families and what they’re going through, is hard.

Some of these young people have such a perspective on life.  I think it just really keeps me in check of what is important in life. Trying to focus on that and be present in all the positive things.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong. Listening to the call

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one.

Join us today for a fascinating conversation with Brian Mavis as he shares his family’s calling and journey in starting America’s Kids Belong. The remarkable story of what one family has done to change what family means for thousands and thousands of children.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what America’s Kids Belong does?

Brian Mavis:  Nationally, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care today. And a way to think about that group of over 400,000, is to then put them into two different groups. There’s a group of those kids about three-quarters of them, who are on a path towards reunification with their family and their parents. Then a quarter of those kids, so just roughly over 100,000, right now, they’re on a different path towards needing to find a new forever family. 

We work with both sets of kids because both groups, there is a deficit of families, a big one, between families who are willing to what we call, for now, families that will say we’re here for you, for now, to take care of you until your biological family can. And then forever families, the ones that will say, will be your new forever family. So we work on both sets.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start America’s Kids Belong?

Brian Mavis:  This story starts in my wife’s heart and began early for her as a teenager. She was living in Southern California, had gone on a high school missions trip with her church into Mexico, and they worked in an orphanage. While she was there, she said, she heard God tell her this three-word sentence. Care for orphans. She knew she knew as a teenager, her calling on her life.

 In 2005, Julie said, “I want to be a foster mom.” So we go to the orientation and so you’re learning about trauma and all that kind of thing.  One of the first things they let you know, is who are these kids? Why are they in foster care? Right? And so, right off the bat, they say, there’s a myth that these kids are in foster care because of what they’ve done.  And that’s a myth because what actually has happened is something has been done to them. 

Brian, his wife Julie, their two daughters, and their first foster child.

Keegan became our first foster child. Two years later, in 2007, I’m a pastor at a church in Colorado a child welfare worker called me and asked, “Can I meet with you to talk about child welfare in our county?” I said, “Sure.” So this woman Cindy comes to visit and says, “In the 27-year history of Child Welfare in our county, there has never been one single day, not one day, where kids weren’t waiting for grownups to take care of them. I have a challenge for you. So this was the three-word sentence that changed my life. My wife’s was “Care for orphans.” Mine was this. She said, “I have a challenge for you. Change who waits. Help me change who waits.”

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

Brian Mavis: Conviction and commitment and this sense of like, there’s an injustice that needs to get set. Right? And then it’s you got to look for the victories. You can look at the numbers and say we increased this by 40%, and all that. But that doesn’t move your heart as much as knowing that  Adrian now has a family. And he had been raised in institutions for the past seven years. And now he’s got a mom and a dad. It’s that kind of thing that says, Okay, I’m gonna fight another day.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

Brian Mavis:  We increased the number of recruitment of foster families by 40%. Statewide, within a year. That is an intellectual case. You know, the emotional cases sharing a kid sharing a story. The transformational case is when a kid goes into a home, and a family changes everything for them, it changes their future, which could be one that is bleak. And to one that is hopeful.

 And what when you come down to saying, Let me tell you the story of it, Adrian he was he went into foster care when he was eight, he’s 15. Today, he’s had no inquiries on his life, he feels unwanted. And we did his video, within three weeks of promoting it, we had 24 families asking about and being their son.  And if he had aged out of foster care, just on the financial side, it would have cost you know, throughout social services hard cost $300,000 of services as a young adult for him so there’s that side to it.

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

Brian Mavis:  I’ve learned a lot. I have a long ways to go still about learning the effects of trauma on people, especially on kids. There are different kinds of trauma, there’s acute trauma, something that happens once. There is chronic trauma, something that’s happened over a period of time. And then there’s complex developmental trauma, which is something that happened in reason it’s complex.

Those first two didn’t happen by the hands of somebody who was meant to love you and care for you. And so that kind of trauma is profound. On the other hand, when there, there are enough skilled people who understand that and understand how to help give hope and healing and love, a lot of that trauma can be healed. I wish people and churches would become trauma competent and formed. It would really help everyone to understand.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Episode 8: Rhonda’s Kiss, a Mother’s Legacy

We never know when life is going to change in an instant. Kyle Stefanski is one of five children who grew up with a big happy family in Cleveland, Ohio. Kyle’s mom Rhonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and passed away eight short weeks later. Their family was devastated but knew that their mom, Rhonda would want them to do something positive for others. The result and legacy is a nonprofit called, Rhonda’s Kiss. a nonprofit organization that supports cancer patients with the non-medical expenses that come with cancer.

Families experience loss all the time but not all families take their grief and turn it into something positive for others. I am excited to share the story behind Rhonda’s Kiss and more than that, the beautiful legacy that this mother has left her children and all those they serve through their incredible organization. Join me for an inspiring conversation with Rhonda’s son, Kyle Stefanski about his and his family’s work in creating this beautiful legacy in honor of their mom.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Rhonda’s Kiss)

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Rhonda’s Kiss does?

Kyle Stefanski: Rhonda’s Kiss raises money for the non-medical expenses tied to cancer.  It’s covering expenses like keeping your lights on, food in your fridge, wigs, childcare, rent, mortgage, and rides to and from the hospital. You see a lot of cancer patients either not going to the hospital because they can’t afford the ride, or stuck at the hospital for hours after their meeting with their doctor.  It’s just all these hidden costs that people don’t even think about because they’re just focused on cancer. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you all knew you needed to act and start  Rhonda’s Kiss?

Kyle Stefanski: So I think it really came about when the family came together maybe a month or two after my mom passed. We were trying to figure out what happened and trying to say that we needed to turn this into something. So we sat down and said there’s so much money going into cancer. Why not put some money into something that we can actually tangibly feel is affecting people? Once funds are donated, the money goes to that partner hospital, and the social workers immediately start executing grants right away to help these cancer patients.

Charity Matters: This is hard work, running a nonprofit, what fuels you when the days are long and the work is hard?

Kyle Stefanski: How do I keep going? That hospital floor, where my mom passed, at the Cleveland Clinic, has stuck with me so, so deeply, I will never forget that feeling. When I walked away from her after she had taken her last breath, and I  just walked by myself through the hallway. I just felt the energies of each room and wanted to remember every piece of it.  So that’s a huge piece for me to always, always, always remember. 

You don’t have to have it emotionally bring you down, but it will never leave. And so I go to bed, it’s a thought of mine. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thought of mine. That is something that I live with, and everything else circles around that.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Kyle Stefanski: In only five years we’ve been able to donate over $1.5 million through all of our partner hospitals.  The Cleveland Clinic, Cedar Sinai, and the City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic Florida, and we are coming to New York City this spring. When we started the Cleveland Clinic had only three social workers in their cancer department working with patients. Just three workers. Since we’ve started this program that has grown to 28 social workers and that is just one of our hospitals.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Stefanski: Well, this process has taken me on such a spiritual path as well. A lot of it has been opening my eyes because we live in this very capitalistic society. And that’s a big reason why we don’t see the people in front of us and we don’t connect.  There is no human condition to really feel because we’re moving so fast and worried about ourselves. And so when you feel that gratitude, our spiritual side of how we’re supposed to be there for others. You realize we’re all in this together.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Charity Matters Episode 7: The Ternans, Song for Charlie

There is nothing more painful or devasting than the death of a child.  When Charlie Ternan died last spring at age 22, just three weeks shy of his college graduation, from fentanyl poisoning it devasted his family and the community.  The pill he got online turned out to be a fake painkiller made of the dangerous opioid a fentapill.  Since Charlie’s death, his parents, Mary and Ed Ternan have been researching fake pills and fentanyl and have formed a nonprofit, Song For Charlie dedicated to warning young people about this growing danger.

Mary and Ed envision a future in which the casual use of prescription pills is considered socially unacceptable, and in which sharing random pills is uncool.  They are working to change the ‘quick fix’ mindset of self-medication in favor of more organic and sustainable strategies for managing stress and anxiety. To accomplish these goals, Song for Charlie seeks to break through the noise and communicate with young people on their terms – to go where they are; speak their language, and get them talking about the danger of online pills.

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Song For Charlie?

Ed Ternan: Song for Charlie is an organization that we started after our youngest son died in May of 2020 of fentanyl poisoning, and we found ourselves thrown into an issue that we’d never even heard about. Charlie died after taking what he thought was a legitimate prescription medication. The mistake he made was he went online and got a Percocet pill. And it turned out that it wasn’t Percocet. It was a counterfeit pill made of fentanyl. So we had the double whammy shock finding that our son had died and we couldn’t figure out how. And very quickly like the next morning, we’re told by law enforcement we suspect fentanyl. Then the question was, well, what is fentanyl? What’s going on here?

Charity Matters: When did you decide to start the organization?

Ed Ternan:  When we dug into the problem and went online, we very quickly became members of this club. And it’s not only the grieving parents club but then it’s parents like us, who are literally shell shocked to find out that their kid died from something that they didn’t even know was out there.

Then we had identified this kind of information gap so we thought, okay, is there something we can do? It’s a little bit of that feeling of, you know, if not us then who?  So we started networking a little bit and thought, you know, maybe we can add some value here. Maybe there’s something we can do.

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

Mary Ternan: Charlie and helping others to save lives.

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

Mary Ternan:  This is what we’re supposed to do. To share our love and care for others and take care of ourselves and be very caring to ourselves and listen to our intuition and our hearts and souls of what we need to do every day. You know you can change from day to day but the most important thing is just walking, walking the walk.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Charity Matters Podcast Episode 6: Alma’s Backyard Farms a lesson in feeding the soul

We are excited to share our inspirational conversation with Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia the Co-Founders of Alma’s Backyard Farms. In today’s episode, we discuss the origins of Alma’s Backyard Farms. The journey that brought Richard and Erika to Compton and to begin their nonprofit organization. What fuels them to do this work and the life lessons learned in the process of creating this amazing organization that exists to reclaim the lives of formerly incarcerated people.

Almas Backyard Farm  re-purposes urban land into productive urban farm plots and re-imagine disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles as a hub for transformation. Co-founder, Erika Cuellar is an LA native and first-generation Mexican-American. Growing up in Watts, Erika witnessed how her community has been fraught with challenges in education and food insecurity.  Erika’s co-founder is Richard Garcia whose passion to grow food comes from a long line of Filipino farmers. Before launching Alma Backyard Farms, Richard initiated garden programs for schools and restaurants.   

A few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us about the name of your organization? And who is Alma?

Richard Garcia: There is a lot in a name. Alma in Spanish means soul. Food is what we grow. Our programming and services are intended to nourish the soul. That being community, a place to thrive. kinship connection that’s why we chose Alma’s Backyard Garden because Alma is also the street where we first started our first backyard garden.

Charity Matters: Tell us More about how you began Alma’s Backyard Gardens?

Erika Cuellar:  I went on to work at Homegirl Cafe, shortly after my senior year of college.  And so, Richard had come back to Homegirl Cafe to work with us and help develop a few different components of the training program, including a gardening aspect.

So we started an experiment, the idea of the entire food process of growing, preparing, and serving and so a lot of the women (previously incarcerated) that we were working with had never grown vegetables or had much exposure to what growing food is like.  It was during that work at Homegirl Cafe, that the fire was was was was ignited in our hearts to really pursue to pursue Alma.

And so we really started looking at backyards, like, how can we utilize underutilized space?  How can we take backyards that are not being maximized in Los Angeles, and create these farms? With the goal to grow foods to really nourish people and provide opportunities for folks who are we serving. The first backyard that we had installed was on Alma Avenue. That’s Richard’s house, which still remains a backyard farm.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to do this work? Your work is physically demanding as farmers and running A nonprofit, How do you keep going when it’s hard?

Erika Cuellar:  Good sleep, a good spiritual life, good prayer. And eating well, like, I like those three things. And exercise four things that keep us grounded and going.

Richard Garcia: There is a discipline with love, where you have to choose it every day. So it may not always feel wonderful. But there is a edify, deeper, an edifying feeling of knowing that the choice to love happens. Someone wants to describe farming is you know, picking up picking things up, and putting things down and that sometimes feels like the whole day.

Yeah, you’re picking things up putting things down, you’re loading, you’re offloading. The other day someone picked up kale and they’re preparing this kale for a kitchen that serves homeless folks. And then she looked around and she said to me, “I could see you love what you do.”  And I thought that was one of the nicest compliments.  There is this meticulousness about how we orchestrate the space because our intention is for people to really have a sense of presence in the space. So that is also fuel.

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

Richard Garcia: I think, you know, there’s a life lesson, it’s that God works through the challenges, not apart from it, not a distance from it, but through them. And so, I’m anticipating that there are challenges ahead. And, and I think, growing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, has been one of the lessons that I’ve learned to appreciate.

Erika Cuellar:  The first word that came to mind when you said life lessons was the importance of honesty. To live a life that is honest.  I think there are many life lessons. But if you know we talk about what fuels and what motivates and what gets you going every day, and it’s that reminder to choose to be chosen and to choose love.

I guess it’s more than the lesson…. I think the lesson lies in embracing and accepting honesty. Being honest and all of your relationships and, as a business as a nonprofit business being honest in your transactions in stewardship. So I think that’s at the core of the values and lessons that I’ve learned. It is instrumental to really be able to live a life, not just for myself, but for others.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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  • On IG @Charitymatters

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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 a month!

Almost a decade ago I had a dream that I was to help the helpers. Since that time I have spent every spare moment trying to give voice to those who give their lives to serve those in need. Each story is a gift, a lesson, and a reminder that people are good. Each of you who have come along this journey with me in search of good news and good people know what I mean.

Last summer when more than a handful of people said I should share these conversations in a podcast, I was hesitant.    A new medium, technology which always challenges me and a host of obstacles in my path, I set out to do this. I want to thank all of you who have supported this journey this past month as we have released five episodes of The Charity Matters Podcast. Before we begin releasing new ones each week (starting this Wednesday) I thought I would share the four inspirational interviews again here, in case you missed one.

My hope is that while you are going on a walk, a drive, working in the yard, or doing laundry that you will leave feeling inspired, uplifted, and joyful. Have a great day and here you go…

Episode 2: Project Hope

Have you ever had an impactful conversation that stayed with you for a long time? That is exactly how I felt about the conversation I had with Rabih Torbay, CEO of Project HOPE. You may remember the Charity Matter’s post a few months back?  I am excited to share that very special conversation with you, as I speak to our very special guest, Rabih Torbay. When crises happen around the globe, hurricanes, floods, war, pandemics, Project HOPE is there. The news may tell you every night that the world is dark, but I can guarantee you there is hope and this conversation is a good place to find it.

Listen Here To Episode 2

Episode 3: Urban Possibilities

There are no words to contain my excitement about this episode of the Charity Matters Podcast. Eyvette Jones-Johnson is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Get excited as she shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to a successful television producer and now entrepreneur nonprofit founder. Eyvette and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit that provides inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Listen to Episode 3 Here

Episode 4: Danny’s Farm

I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Listen to Episode 4 here

Episode 5: Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation.  When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

Listen to Episode 5 here

Thank you again for making this month so special. I beyond appreciate all of the subscriptions, social media love, and five-star reviews. I am beginning to feel like an uber driver:) More importantly, thank you for the love and amazing feedback that keeps me going! Have a great weekend and we will see you Wednesday with a brand new episode!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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 Podcast Episode 5: Amel Najjar, Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation.  When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about the Children of War Foundation?

Amel Najjar: So as of 2020 Children of War Foundation has two priority focuses. And that’s health and education. Our mission is to make these two essential in really fundamental human, basic human rights accessible to anyone at any time, from anywhere. I also think that it’s really important to shed light on where we were 10 years ago and how the organization has really evolved since then.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start the Children of War Foundation?

Amel Najjar: So 10 years ago, I had an opportunity to save one child’s life. And that was a nine-year-old boy who was a victim of war. At that time, I didn’t have experience managing a nonprofit, my only experience was volunteering with small organizations and bigger organizations. And at that time, what I had to offer was that could help this boy. I knew the region because I had lived there off and on as a child.  I also had family and friends in the region who could help me.

More importantly, I had access to resources and organizations that could help in Los Angeles. And so Children of War Foundation was born for the sole purpose of saving an innocent child who was caught in the crossfire of war. And I helped that one child successfully get to the US, secured a medical visa, and ensured that he had almost nine months of surgical care. My husband is a pediatric surgeon, here in Los Angeles, and between the both of us, I had my international experience, and he had his medical network, and I used that to my advantage. I used that network to build on to do more.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Amel Najjar: Okay, so I’m the type that is either go big or go home. This may sound really ridiculous. And I don’t care because that’s how I started in the first place. When I said I’m going to Iraq to bring a kid to LA, which sounded ridiculous at the time. But look what’s happened?  

My dream is to be the organization that drives change and influences world peace. This would lead to less poverty, by providing that access to health and education.  Which is the ultimate key to better decision making, becoming more compassionate people, healthier people who want to contribute to their communities, people who have something to live for. Overall, this would contribute to raising a future generation that understands what it is to learn, to be knowledgeable, to have choices to be healthy. And to give back. That’s my dream.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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 Matter’s Podcast Episode 4: Cathy Gott, Danny’s Farm

I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy has always been a bright light, someone with amazing energy, and a person who makes things happen. She and her husband, (legendary baseball pitcher)Jim Gott have two sons, Danny and Nick. When Danny was diagnosed with autism Cathy and Jim went to work.

Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us today to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Danny’s Farm does?

Cathy Gott: Danny’s Farm is a labor of love, no doubt about that. It is a petting farm, that employs adults with developmental differences. We provide a lot of volunteer opportunities and vocational training. In addition, we go out into some of the most underserved communities and special needs communities in Los Angeles, either through our mobile petting farm and visit groups of kids who sometimes never even seen a farm animal.

I mean, it’s remarkable and is a really interactive, lovely experience. Then we also have hours at the farm where we host field trips and tours and individual visits depending on the needs of the individual. So it’s an inclusive nurturing loving place. We share the property with another organization called Special Spirit which provides therapeutic horseback riding. So, it’s hard to separate because you know, you can’t pass up a pig pen when you’re going over to ride your horse or a sheep or a goat or a bunny or you know, it’s just really fun. So we share a lot of that.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Danny’s Farm?

Cathy Gott: Well, when Danny was little as with many people with autism, there’s a number of sensory issues and in particular, sound sensitivity. And lots of different ways to take in the environment tactfully from touch to you know, just how we move in our body and space. He had a lot of difficulties navigating things like amusement parks or baseball games or things that a family would typically enjoy. It would be very overwhelming for Danny.

One of the few places that he loved to go, were petting farms, wherever we were because they’re quiet and they’re peaceful.  He got a lot of tactile input by petting and holding and squeezing and hugging and loving all those animals. Danny has always had a tremendous affinity for animals. So that’s the background story.

Then somewhere in the early to maybe 2010, something like that Danny was a teenager. I was attending a conference at this taskforce Blue Ribbon Commission for autism in California. I learned about some grants that were available to fund micro-enterprises or small businesses. That’s when the light bulb went off, you know because a lot of parents as their kids are about to exit high school or thinking what’s next? What is my child going to do and have meaningful employment in life? And it just all clicked together. That’s what we decided to do and it truly is Danny’s Farm. He has a lot of pride and works very hard. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cathy Gott:  We had some location issues but you know, they all turned out great in the end.  The first location we opened was an Altadena at a beautiful little horse stable. We used a lot of the grant money to build a barn that served a number of wonderful things.

What happened is we were a victim of our own success because once the word got out about Danny’s Farm we were very busy, very fast serving kids in and around Los Angeles County. And this poor little neighbor. Bus after bus come in and out and the neighbors were not happy. So we politely had to close our doors there and that was devastating.

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

Cathy Gott: I have learned so many lessons. I think the one that comes to mind is the saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I used to be such a planner. I had planned where Danny would live and work and I learned to let it go. We adapt to do the best with what we have. We learn to manage our expectations and disappointments. Being able to pivot is extremely humbling.

I feel closest to God now when I just listen. It is such a privilege to simply listen.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2020 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.