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Project Hope

Every day the news around the globe seems overwhelming. Where there is darkness, there is always hope. Never did I feel that sense of hope more than from my inspiring conversation with the CEO of Project HOPE, Rabih Torbay, earlier this week. 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.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Project Hope does?

Rabih Torbay: We play our role in making people’s lives a bit better. As you probably know, Project HOPE has been around since 1958. So we’re a little bit over 60 years old. And our focus has been mainly on training health workers. Because we believe that the solution isn’t the hand in the hands of the healthcare workers working all over the world, especially the first responders.

So when you go to any disaster area, or when you go to places in Africa, and you see who’s actually carrying the load is the health care workers. So we focused quite a bit on doing that through different interventions. disaster response is one of them whether it’s a hurricane or an earthquake or as We’re seeing now with COVID-19 as well.

We have doctors and nurses that are deploying that are helping other doctors and nurses that are training them. We’re sending supplies, we’re supporting them. We’re empowering those first responders on the ground to do a better job as much as possible. We also focus on infectious diseases, whether that’s HIV, tuberculosis, or COVID-19. We work at the community level because, at the end of the day, the communities have to own the problem. And our role is not to solve the problem for them, our role is actually to support them and empower them because they have the solutions.  We really take pride in, in terms of empowering and supporting those communities to solve those problems.

Charity Matters: Has Project Hope’s Strategy always been a community-based approach?

Rabih Torbay: It has been right from the beginning. You know, Project HOPE is people.  It’s people to people. That’s how we connect. And it has always been the community, it has always been the doctors and nurses on the ground. And for us, the last thing we want to do is replace them. Our job is to support them and working at the community level working at the clinic level, the hospital level.

We go and ask them, “What do you need? What kind of support do you need? How can we help you?” And that’s how we come in and help them whether it’s an infectious disease or chronic diseases, and maternal and child health, especially the newborn health, which is a focus for us. That’s, that’s what makes us different than that’s what makes us special.

The Back Story

Charity Matters: Tell us the journey that lead you to Project Hope and this Humanitiarn work?

Rabih Torbay: I wish I could say I planned it all but I didn’t. I’m a civil engineer by background. So I have no health, education, or health background. And I grew up in Lebanon during the Civil War. And after the Civil War ended, I ended up going to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Initially, the plan was to go for two weeks and I ended up you know, stretching that to nine years.

It was during the Civil War, and I was still doing construction work with my civil engineer. There was a cholera outbreak on an island. And somebody asked me if I would volunteer for their organization and represent them for a couple of weeks until they send a team. So I said, “Sure, I’ll help out, although I have no idea what I’m going to be doing because again, I’m not a health care person.”

And I ended up going to that island. We took a hand canoe with an outboard engine, it took us four hours in rough seas.  But we made it to the island. There are always those triggers that change people’s lives and this was mine. I got to the island which has about 10,000 people, very poor. They had one clinic and one nurse in that clinic. So I walked into the clinic and people were dying from the current outbreak. There was a sick baby by the door. The clinic had no roof, no windows. And frankly, the nurse was actually sleeping. He was drunk and sleeping.

So I walked in and I spoke to the nurse, and I asked him, I said, mean, people are dying. What are you doing? You’re sleeping and you could smell alcohol. And he looked at me said, I have no medicines. I have no medical supplies. I have no support. All I’m doing is seeing people die. What do you want me to do?

And for me, that was a wake-up call.  That baby was dead, the one that I saw at the entrance. So I went back, I went back to the Capitol and I said, “We have to do something.” With a little bit of money that I had, we bought some medicines, we bought some IV fluids, we bought some chlorine. And that’s when I used my engineering background to start coordinating the water and making it clean and we went back to that island.

And from when we went there, the first time there were about 100 people dying every day, within a week, it went down to two people, and within 10 days, there was no more death. Oh my god. And it showed me what a little smart investment could make in terms of an impact on people’s lives. So that’s an I never looked back. That was 1999. And I started doing this work. And yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing ever since.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rabih Torbay: I think one of the biggest challenge challenges is getting people to know what’s going on in the world. When people hear only bad news, they don’t react to the good news that’s going on. So one of our challenges is to bring what we’re doing in the field, whether it’s in Africa and Asia and Latin America, or here in the US, so they would know that there’s a lot of good still happening and that they can actually contribute to that they can do some of they can participate in some of that good.

And that’s why we’re holding the event on Wednesday (tonight). You know, to really bring what we’re doing in the field, to people’s minds to people’s eyes so they can see it and feel it and feel that this they can actually contribute to a good cause. Instead of you know, wallowing in the negativity that we have these days.

Charity Matters: How would you recommend people start getting involved?

Rabih Torbay: Sometimes we look at the problems around the world and it’s overwhelming and we think you know What can I do about it? You know, right, my $1, $5, one hundred dollars isn’t gonna make any difference with the huge problems that we’re facing. And the reality is everything counts every single penny, every single thought and action comes, even for people that cannot donate.

If they spread the word about, what Project HOPE is doing about the needs. And it’s not about us. It’s about the people that we’re helping, right. It’s about the women and the children that we’re serving. If people can spread the word or donate or volunteer, all of that has a huge impact. 

 We actually show them that the world cares about them. So we will present that hope that people need because at the end of the day if people have hope they can survive to the next day with the hope that something good is going to come. Right. And that’s what we do. So partnering with, with our donors, whether the $1 donor or the $100,000 donor, is actually what enables us to provide people with health care and hope, and hopefully a brighter future.

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

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

Rabih Torbay: People always ask what keeps you going? I mean, it’s that human resilience that we underestimate the human resilience is amazing. Whether it’s the people that I saw in Beirut when I went and visited after the blast in Beirut, or in Sierra Leone, or Iraq or Afghanistan.

People’s resilience is what makes us work harder when you see them that they’ve got nothing, but they still have a smile on their face. And they’re pushing forward. They’re trying to make ends meet, they’re still trying to provide that gets the same way we want to provide of our kids, put them to schools, make sure they’re not sick. I mean, when you see How can you give up? How can you sit back and say, okay, I’ve done enough?

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

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

Rabih Torbay: People think that we’re actually helping others when it’s very reciprocal. When you go to a place like Beirut during a blast, and you see the youth who came from all over the country to help clean up the streets, help pick up the pieces, volunteer, donate money, donate medicines, donate food, and they’ve got nothing themselves, but they brought whatever they can to help. I mean, how can you not fall in love with people like that?

People that are actually doing and it gives you an unbelievable sense of, you know, a humility.  They don’t need a hand up. Nobody wants a hand up.  People need a helping hand people and need to be able to help each other and help themselves with pride and with dignity. To be in a position where you could actually help them achieve that. It’s just amazing. It doesn’t get better than that.

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

Rabih Torbay: How can you put a price on somebody’s life? You know, how can you monetize that? How can you say, life is worth $2? That’s life is worth $100,000. Right? You start looking at that. But that being said, donors want to make sure that their money is going to the right people, and that you’re maximizing the impact of that money, and the money’s not being wasted. And, and for us, it’s critical. We take that very seriously.

We work hard for every single cent that we get from our donors. And we appreciate every single sound because we want it we you know, every cent counts and it saves people’s lives.  And one of the most impactful things that we do is actually training. Now, think about the multiplying factor of the training of doctors. If you go in as a doctor and treat 10 patients, that’s fantastic. You’ve just saved 10 patients.

But if you go in as a doctor or as a nurse, and you treat five patients and you train one doctor, who in turn will actually everyday treat 50 to 100 patients, look at the impact of your money, and put the potential of those doctors and nurses will train other doctors and nurses. So the model is the biggest return on investment that anybody could ever have, especially when it comes to health care workers.

And for us, that’s why everything we do, whether it’s during a disaster response or a program that deals with maternal and child health, or tuberculosis or HIV, or diabetes, training of healthcare workers is critical. Because that is the one thing that we leave behind. You can build a clinic, it could get destroyed, right? You can provide medicines and medical supplies don’t get used and they run out. But when you train people, that knowledge stays behind. And it’s a permanent knowledge. And for us, that is the most impactful work that any organization can ever do.

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

Rabih Torbay:  I don’t think it’s going to be achieved in my lifetime. And I hope it does, which is that Project HOPE and other organizations like project top are no longer needed. Because that means the world is in a much better place. Now more realistic and immediate The dream for Project Hope is that we really reach more people.

When you ask about, you know, what keeps me up at night, obviously the safety of our staff,  the next disaster that’s coming, can we actually respond? Can we get the resources to respond to those disasters? Can we actually make sure that we deliver training and we deliver services during COVID-19? The one thing that always keeps me up at night is who we could have reached that we didn’t? 

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

Rabih Torbay:  You know, as an engineer, you want certainty about everything you do, right? You want to know everything before you make any decision, for me, one of the most important things that I’ve learned,
especially stepping away from my engineering world is taking risks.

Take a chance on people take a chance on people’s resilience, take a risk, do something that your gut tells you. It’s the right thing to do. And your brains tell you No, it’s not. Listen to your gut instinct much more than you listen to your brains all the time. And taking a chance on people and believing in people’s goodness goes a long, long way.

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rabih Torbay:  I’m am a completely changed person from focusing on my company and making money to really focusing on how can we improve as a society. It is no longer about me, it’s no longer about my family. It’s always now about the entire society, how can we help each other?

And, you know, having grown up in Lebanon during the Civil War? I didn’t know that was in me because you grew up in a war and you always wanted somebody to help you. You always want somebody to stop the bomb, and you wanted somebody to make sure that you get food.  This was in me the whole time and I had no idea.

Suddenly, you know, it came back out. And I was like, look, it’s about people. It’s about that extra step. So for me, the one thing I choose is the fact that I can never get enough. I never stop. Whatever I can do. I want to do a little bit more. Some people think I’m crazy. Some people think I’m a workaholic. I just love it. And the second thing is, I love my job. I’m telling you doing seven years of engineering, I hated every second.

We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to help the next person and I’m forever grateful for Project HOPE to give me the support you need to actually work for such an organization. It’s just my dream come true.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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911 Day

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Virgil

 

Today is September 11th. A day that none of us will ever forget. We all know where we were when we heard the tragic news. The pain we all felt and the helplessness.  While this date will always be a day tinged with sadness it has been deemed by Congress as a National Day of Service and Remembrance since 2009 because of two remarkable men.

The Back Story

Their names are David Paine and Jay Winuk. Two friends determined to ensure that this day is recognized not as a day of evil but as a day of good. Jay’s brother, Glenn, was an attorney in lower Manhatten, as well as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. Glenn lost his life on September 11th. Jay said, “Glenn did what he was trained to do. He had the skills and courage to run into the burning World Trade Center, towards danger, to save lives. Glenn always put others ahead of himself, and he sacrificed his life the way he lived it, helping others in need.”

The Action

In 2002, David and Jay set out to start a nonprofit called MyGoodDeed.org and reached out to the 9/11 community for support. Their goals were to establish a nationally recognized day of service and then build national support for 9/11 Day. Their long term mission was to ensure that 9/11 Day was transformed into a day of service and an enduring tribute for those who were lost and injured on 9/11.

The Result

Nine years after beginning their journey they accomplished their goal of having 9/11 Day recognized as a National Day of Service and remembrance.  Today, eleven years later, 9/11 Day is the nation’s largest annual day of charitable engagement with nearly 30 million Americans volunteering, support causes they care about and performing good deeds in tribute to those lives lost that day. MyGoodDeed became 9/11 Day.org, a nonprofit that supports this day and provides resources (like these in the video below )for ways to volunteer and serve.

Your Action

David said,“Ultimately we wanted something positive to come from the loss of so many innocent people in such a terrible way. We didn’t want terrorists to forever define how 9/11 would be remembered. We wanted to focus instead on how our nation came together, the spirit of unity and compassion shared by so many.” 

Jay said, “As a 9/11 family member, I wanted to find a very special and significant way to honor my late brother, along with the many others who died with him.”

 What good deed can you do today?

Charity Matters

 

 

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Using Technology to teach children philanthropy

As millions of children will be staying home this fall and sadly not heading back to school many parents are looking for new ways to keep their children engaged. More than that parents are looking for resources that will help their children develop empathy, gratitude, and hopefully want to put those feelings into action. A number of people and organizations have reached out asking if there are some online tools to help children learn more about giving. So today I wanted to share a number of great resources for kids and families.

Connecting kids to causes

An organization you have all heard me talk about many times, Project Giving Kids, has tons of resources to connect children and families to causes. PGK has a host of nonprofit partners and a wide range of needs from these organizations across all age levels.

Apps for Service

Common Sense Media put out a fantastic list of Apps that help children learn about giving. One of their recommendations is Free Rice is an app where children learn about ending hunger a few grains of rice at a time. (Age 9+).

For older students, (13 years and older)  there are apps like YSA (Youth Service America). Youth Service America’s site provides information to facilitate teen community service and connect them with organizations and grants to help them be successful. It also incorporates an advocacy campaign called Global Youth Service Day in April. Teens can click on a number of projects and campaigns on the site to learn about the many service options.

Using allowance to teach giving

There are a number of allowance apps that also help cultivate giving. A few popular ones are Bankaroo, Rooster Money, Go Henry, and BusyKid. Each of these manages children’s allowance, helps set savings and giving goals in different ways. The age range for most of these is usually between 5-15 and all have some parental oversight.

The overall concept of the apps above is to begin to create healthy habits of savings, goal setting, and giving. With Rooster Money, when children decide they are ready to donate they can click on the apps “give pot” and search for a cause they care about or one of 25,000 charities hosted on JustGiving.

Some of these apps have a monthly or yearly fee so do your homework when researching which is best for your children and family.

Small Steps Add Up

At the end of the day, we all want to cultivate empathy, gratitude, and kindness in our children. Starting new habits at the beginning of a school year is always a good idea. The earlier we start planting the seeds of compassion the faster they grow. Be patient with your self and your children. Have fun and make this a family project. Remember the best way to teach anything is to model the behavior you want for your children yourself.

 

Charity Matters

 

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

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Tzedek America

I was raised to never discuss religion or politics, to respect everyone’s beliefs and to always be open to learning from others. Faith plays a large part in my life and in my nonprofit work. The nonprofit a group of us founded over seventeen years ago provided chaplains of all faith to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. That experience confirmed to me that believing in something bigger than yourself is something that will always serve as a life anchor, whatever that belief is.

I took my current job as the Executive Director at TACSC mainly because I loved being a part of planting the seeds of compassion in our children and teaching students about service. Right before COVID, I had the privilege of meeting Avram Mandell, who is doing similar work with youth but taking it to a whole different level with his nonprofit Tzedek America. Let’s hope that as millions of children get ready to begin school this month that they have access to the incredible experiences Tzedek America is providing.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what TZEDEK America does?

Avram Mandell: We engage Jewish teenagers through immersive social justice experiences. We try to teach empathy and not sympathy and we are trying to move the needle in the social justice world by connecting these teenagers to social justice issues and to people affected by these issues. The best way to do that is through stories and meeting people and coming into proximity with those who are dealing with these issues as opposed to watching a documentary or reading an article. After kids go on our trips they begin volunteering, donating their time, running drives at their school getting, and their parents involved. We are really seeing the impact of our work.

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

Avram Mandell: I have a Master’s in Education from Hebrew Union. I had worked at Jewish Summer Camps, been a youth group advisor, and had experiential learning in my blood. I ran school programs, adult learning programs, garden programs, video programs always acting as an innovator and creator. My attitude in life is that there is always a way to make things happen. 

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit I wanted to go and get my hands dirty and really do something about this national natural disaster. So I reached out at the synagogue and twelve teenagers volunteered. We had a contact at the Methodist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi and we set out to do flood relief work. We all had a powerful experience bringing hope to that part of the world. I remember when we went to our cots there were little bags for us with toiletries and notes from kindergartners thanking us for volunteering. I had never been a recipient and it was such a beautiful moment for all of us.

We came back from the trip and all of those students wrote their college essays about this experience which was transformative. Teenagers care about social justice but they don’t know what to do about it. So I wanted to create an organization that would engage Jewish teenagers in their Jewish values and that those values support their passion for doing good in the world. I wanted to give them the tools to do something about it. We began in 2014, as a gap year program and people started calling and asking for half-day trips and then four-day trips. We were taking kids to skid-row, the border, and giving them these incredible experiences and word started to get out.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Avram Mandell: I think one of our biggest challenges is staffing. How do you find someone to be part of a start-up and has that same passion that fuels you to do this work? It’s one thing when the founder is up until 1 am working but if I am just an employee I don’t have that same commitment.  As we grow you try to do it all and realize quickly that you can’t. So, how do you find the staff member that is fun, engaging, charming, a good educator, good with teenagers, organized to plan the logistics of all our trips and experiences? 

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

Avram Mandell: The feedback from our work reminds us that this is worth it. Knowing we are having an impact. I get the results I want from our students. I just got a text an hour ago of a picture of third-graders writing notes to people in detention centers.  It turns out that the 9th grader that went to one of our trips at the border was sharing her experience with this third-grade class and the third graders were so inspired that they wanted to write welcome to America notes. That is why we do what we do. 

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

Avram Mandell:  We brought a group of 6th graders to a recovery group. A 27-year-old woman shared her journey with our students. After her story, the 6th grader said to the woman, “You are such a strong woman, we have so much to learn from you.” The little girl went on to say that she struggled with her relationship with her parents and told the woman what a great example of strength she was.

We create these experiences for teenagers on a weekly basis that students would not ordinarily have. The students learn that we are all just human beings. We all have so much in common and so much more to learn from one another.

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

Avram Mandell: Our impact is the stories like the one I just shared. It wouldn’t be the statistics. When you show up at a nonprofit with a group of teenagers and recognize one of the volunteers and say, “Don’t I know you?” She says, “Yes, you brought me here three months ago and now I volunteer here.” Then you ask is she doing this for required community service hours and she replies, “No, this is just what I do.”

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for TZEDEK America, what would that be?

Avram Mandell: I would love to have our programming in different cities so we can affect other students with what we are doing. I would love to have more capacity to make that happen. There is a quote from a book called Ethics of Our Fathers that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”  We know the ripple effect of our work and those we impact is large.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Avram Mandell:  I have learned so much from our program. I know more about immigration than I knew before, I know more about homelessness than I knew before. I am more socially aware and socially engaged than ever before.

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

Avram Mandell:  I think about my eulogy a lot. Eulogies are about people’s relationships and about people being there for one another. I think about the educational concept called design with the end in mind and the creators of this concept who wrote a book about what do you want your end to be?  I think about my end.

What do I want the end to be? I want to see that my kids and students are volunteering their time and that they know they have an obligation to make the world a better place. You can not ignore the problem. That is my end.  When my students have kids and take them to volunteer somewhere. When my students live their life with meaning.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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.

Gordie, a story worth retelling…again and again

Gordie's story

Last week took our youngest back to his college in Texas.  He attends a big college football school where pre-COVID weekends included tailgates, football games, and the obligatory fraternity parties. This year our son will be a Sophmore and will be on the other side of the fraternity rush. With so many students heading off to college and parents concerned about COVID and so much more this year.  I was reminded that the 16th year anniversary of Gordie Bailey’s death is coming up.  I typically don’t repost but I have shared his story every year. The lesson is invaluable and sadly, needs to be told over and over to each new generation of college students.

Loss

So often we do not make discoveries or connections until it is too late.  We do not realize the value of a friend until they have moved away.  We do not appreciate our children until they have left for college or do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? Why is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? This story is perhaps no different, however, the beauty of it lies in the ability to take that clear vision and create something that matters.

This month thousands of college freshmen have left home, and many are beginning the process of Rush as they look to make new homes away from home in sororities and fraternities across the country. That is exactly what Gordie Bailey did in September 2004, as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gordie’s Story

Gordie, a fun-loving freshman who had been the Co-captain of his varsity high school football team, a drama star, a guitar player, and a walk-on at Boulder’s lacrosse team was adored by all. He pledged Chi Psi. On the evening of September 16th, Gordie and twenty-six other pledge brothers dressed in coats and ties for “bid night”, were taken blindfolded to the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest. There they were “encouraged” to drink four “handles” of whiskey and six (1.5 liters) bottles of wine.

The pledges were told, “no one is leaving here until these are gone.” When the group returned to the Fraternity house, Gordie was visibly intoxicated and did not drink anymore. He was placed on a couch to “sleep it off” at approximately 11 pm. His brothers proceeded to write on his body in another fraternity ritual. Gordie was left to “sleep it off” for 10 hours before he was found dead the next morning, face down on the floor. No one had called for help, he was 18 years old.

Turning Grief into Hope

The nonprofit Gordie Foundation was founded in Dallas in 2004 by Gordie’s parents as a dedication to his memory. The Gordie foundation creates and distributes educational programs and materials to reduce hazardous drinking and hazing and promote peer intervention among young adults.  Their mission is committed to ensuring that Gordie’s story continues to impact students about the true risks of hazing and alcohol use.

There has been at least one university hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017 according to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer. Over 200 university deaths by hazing since 1839, with 40 deaths from 2007-2017 alone and alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death. As Gordie’s mother Leslie said, “Parents more than anything want their dead children to be remembered and for their lives to have mattered.”

In almost sixteen years, the Gordie Foundation which is now re-named Gordie.Org has made an enormous impact on hundreds of thousands of students across the country through its programs and educational efforts. If you have a college-age student, think about asking them to take the pledge to save a life, possibly their own.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? Why is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? Why is it that we do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed? Perhaps more than a decade later, our vision is becoming clearer and we realize just how precious each life is……

Charity Matters.

 

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Someday has arrived

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss

With so many college send-offs this week, I thought this post from last year was worth a repost.

The moment you first hold your child you do not think about the moment that you will say goodbye. We never think that far ahead. Once our children are born we open a college savings account but we don’t actually really think about college. It is like a far off goal equivalent to someday I’ll have a (fill in the blank). It’s a someday thing.

As parents, we support our children, love them, encourage them to find what they love to do and hope they can someday put it on their college resume. We tell them that they need good grades if they are ever going to go to college…someday.

We go through the pressure of high school grades, college test prep, ACTs, SATs, college applications and even college acceptances and still it feels like a someday thing. In the last few weeks, we have been buying everything for the dorm room, enjoying college send-off dinners with different groups of friends and the reality has begun to come crashing down that someday is here. Someday is literally at the door and someday is this week.

You would think since this isn’t my first rodeo saying goodbye and sending off the last of my three sons to college would get easier? It’s not, it is actually harder.

It is not that I love any of our sons differently, it is just that this is the end of the road, the last one ever! Twenty-four years of being a parent to boys under my roof and poof someday snuck in and has taken my boys, my job and what’s left of my heart.  Someday arrived and this dreaded moment is really happening.

Someday doesn’t care that time went by in a blink. Someday doesn’t care if your child is ready to go, how fantastic they are, or how much they will be missed? Someday doesn’t care but tomorrow does. Tomorrow brings with it the reality and the tears, that won’t seem to stop. Tomorrow also brings the heavy heart that feels so proud and is beyond sad in the same breath. Someday doesn’t have to walk by the empty bedroom or see the empty seat at the dinner table every day. Someday doesn’t worry about the silence at the end of the school day when no one comes bounding in asking for food full of joy. Tomorrow does.

So as I cling to the last precious moments of someday and hold my son so tight, I am deeply aware of the privilege it is to be his mom. How blessed am I to have had eighteen amazing years with this incredible human? How lucky is the world to have him? He was born to fly and born for this moment to leave the nest. If you love them set them free and so I will…..My nest will empty but just like the Dr. Seuss books I used to read him said, “Do not cry because its over, smile because it happened.”

Charity Matters.

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Project Ropa

If you live in an urban area, you are aware of our national homeless epidemic. Los Angeles alone has over 66,000 people living on the streets of our city, according to the latest statistics. Nationally, 17 out of every 10,000 people in our country are homeless, according to the nonprofit end homelessness.org.  The problem is so overwhelming and huge that most people don’t know where to begin. Everyone except Caitlin Adler that is. Caitlin and I spoke last month about homelessness, COVID, and her incredible work as the founder of Project Ropa.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Project Ropa does?

Caitlin Adler:  We started Project Ropa in 2015 to address the challenges that homeless people face in obtaining and keeping clean clothes. Though homelessness is accompanied by many things, one of its greatest indignities comes from the absence of hygiene services.

Most homeless people literally have only the clothes on their backs. Access to clean clothing is essential to the overall well-being of a person and can be the key to opening doors to employment and housing. How you look affects how you feel about yourself and how others treat you. Now, because of the health threats posed by the coronavirus, the need to overcome those challenges has become ever greater.

Project Ropa provides a selection of new and gently used high-quality men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, along with personal hygiene products (donated by local manufacturers, retailers, and nonprofit partners). Each week we bring the clothing throughout the city in a retrofitted van that acts as a mobile walk-in closet. At the same time, the people we serve can take a shower offered by another service provider, called Lava Mae, that we partner with.

Charity Matters: Did you have a background in philanthropy or nonprofit Prior to Project Ropa?

Caitlin Adler:  No, I didn’t have any nonprofit background.  My background was in hospitality. I was a pastry chef for 15 years and had a bakery in Boston. When I moved to LA, I was really burned out and began doing restaurant design. I wanted my life to have a purpose and I had a heart for the homeless but really didn’t know how to make an impact.

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

Caitlin Adler:  I  began volunteering for a nonprofit called Chrysalis, which helps people transition out of homelessness. I helped them sort their clothing donations and quickly realized that they had surplus clothing of some items that they couldn’t use and a shortage of other items. I began to help them redistributing the clothing between six other nonprofit partners.

After talking to other charities it became clear that there was a gap in the system. In 2015, I started Project Ropa by redistributing unwanted donations from local charities with the goal of using the remaining clothes to one day stock a mobile pop-up shop for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Since 2016, we have taken the concept to the streets. Clean clothes and access to personal hygiene products significantly impact a person’s economic well-being, physical health, and emotional resilience. We received our 501c3 in 2017.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Caitlin Adler: We have a few challenges. Currently, with COVID we are the only organization that is handling clothing. The lack of education from other nonprofits on clothing distribution has been challenging. Maintaining good relationships with the city and county can be hard.

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

Caitlin Adler: At the end of the day, when you know that someone who is homeless can get a job because you have provided them access to a shower and given them something to wear. It is a great feeling. Once our clients get jobs they need to come back for more than one thing to wear to work but to stay employed.

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

Caitlin Adler: We had a gentleman come in recently and he literally was in tattered rags and had maggots on him. He had a shower and we gave him new clothes, new shoes, a face mask, gloves and he felt and acted like a new person. He had dignity and a smile. Those are the moments when I know we have made a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success and impact you have had?

Caitlin Adler: Since we started we have clothed over 30,000 people. All of that clothing was 84,000 pounds of clothing that did not go into a landfill. I think our biggest impact is the job that clothing helps people get. We have directly provided clothing for more than 800 people for job interviews. Once our clients have a shower, clean new clothes, and shoes, and dignity they are ready to get a job. When they come back for more clean clothes to wear to work that is a huge impact. 

The other impact is basic hygiene such as tampons and clean underwear that we provide. These small items make a huge impact on someone’s life. 

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

Caitlin Adler: I think if we could continue to franchise our model in other areas and build in a way that incorporates social enterprise. We would love to continue recycling as part of our model as well.

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

Caitlin Adler: I came into this experience naive and trusting looking out for the good of the community. I originally did this by myself and partnered with twelve other organizations. Over time I have learned so much more about the multiple facets of homelessness.

How has this journey changed you?

Caitlin Adler: I used to be so afraid of the homeless because I didn’t have any personal interaction. When you know people by name and care for them you learn understanding and compassion and we all need more of that.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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The Scarlet C of COVID

“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

The Scarlet Letter

My son and husband have COVID. By the time you read this “had” will be more apropos. Not to worry they are physically fine.  I am COVID free. They are only two of over four million people that have had this. The fascinating thing about COVID is not the physical ramifications but the mental. There is a Scarlet Letter C for COVID. For the first time in my life, I can relate to the character Hester Pryne from The Scarlet Letter. We have not hung a huge scarlet C in front of our house but it feels as if we might have one.

the Love-Hate Relationship with COVID Statistics

Every night for months the evening news covers the daily statistics of COVID. The number infected, tested, active cases, deaths, and the list goes on. These numbers are people. They are not numbers and there is a difference. At this writing, there have been over 140, 000 people in the United States who have died.   According to the LA Times, Floridians over 65 are dying every eight minutes, due to this horrific pandemic.

Before I begin my observations on the mental health of COVID, please note that I am in NO way stating in ANY way that being seriously ill or death is a comparison to the mental health aspects of this virus. It most obviously is not. What has been fascinating to observe is how people react and how people treat you when they know there is an active COVID case in your home.

The Human Experience and COVID

When you hear that people are all over the map with their thoughts about COVID. Pro-mask, Anti-masks, Pro-school-Anti-School. That is true. People are emotionally all over the place when it comes to COVID. Wherever you are on this is ok. I am not here to judge but here to tell you what this feels like on the receiving end. Every day for the past 12 days we have felt as if we are in the middle of a bad psychology experiment. When you tell someone your child has COVID and is safely quarantined (as are we) the reactions run the gamut. It doesn’t matter if is your family, dear friends, neighbors, or co-workers. I haven’t tried with strangers yet but maybe their reactions are better?

Our first encounter was with our neighbor who was walking his dog. My husband and I saw him from about thirty feet apart and we spoke telling him that our son has COVID. He literally ran away while suggesting a podcast for good information. His fear was real. Totally understandable but we have never had anyone run away from us before, so that was a first.

 

The Scarlet C

Dear friends have reacted with anger, shock, shamed us, questioned us, and rejected us. The anger, “How could you let your son go on a father-son boating trip in a pandemic? What did you expect would happen? You are an idiot!” For the record, every person on that trip has tested negative twice, so the source is still a mystery. Can you really get COVID from a gas pump? Think we know the answer.

Shock and awe.  Many friends are stunned and curious. Our son is the first person they have known and they have a million questions about exposure, symptoms, how we keep ourselves safe from him, quarantine, testing, and protocol. That is a whole different post on the misinformation of COVID that I will spare you all.

Shame and Shunned

To be told that we are not welcome regardless of testing, quarantine, following CDC, and doctor’s guidelines. Well, I have to admit, that one stung a bit. We have been very honest and open about the situation, obviously. Our medical advice has been excellent, all of which we have followed to the letter. Who knew that Zinc and a thousand milligrams of Vitamin C helps keep you COVID free?

However, being banned/shunned made me wonder if we actually had a Scarlet C on our home or our caller ID? It made me wonder about Hester Pyrene and truly understand how she felt. Just as the book said, “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”  It is bad enough to be away from your other children, your family, friends, and the world for 14 days. It is not fun. It is sad, lonely, depressing, and isolating. That is for us that are “healthy” and without symptoms. I can’t imagine adding being severely ill to how people with COVID must feel?

Kindness and Compassion

To end on a positive note we have had more than a handful of amazing friends who offered to get groceries, run errands, or bring anything we needed. We had one friend drop off beautiful vegetables from her garden. One family has face-timed our son every night just to check in on him and it was honestly the highlight of his day. All of these gestures of kindness were THE best medicine. Feeling loved, connected, and cared for is what we all truly crave in life.

I have to confess that I struggled with sharing these observations.  Knowing that I am opening myself up to a million more opinions and emotions that honestly, I’m not sure I can handle after the past two weeks. However, with all of the overload of information out there I could not find anything about the human reaction to COVID. These are our experiences, perhaps not everyone’s. My hope is that when you know someone who is quarantined (and chances are you do) that you reach out with kindness, compassion, and empathy.

 

Charity Matters

 

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

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How do you choose a hero?

Nothing is given to man on earth-struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible-the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

photo credit: CNN

I was recently asked who my favorite nonprofit founder or hero is? To be honest, it was as if someone asked who my favorite son is?  There is no favorite. Each person that I am privileged enough to interview brings a unique story and journey that has lead them to serve. These men and women use their lives challenges as fuel to help others’ lives. Honestly, there is no one better than another. They are all amazing! Their stories and life journeys are all lessons for each of us on how we can use our own gifts to the greatest good.

Each hero’s story and cause are different and diverse. Inspiring people like the Vegas dancer, who began My Hope Chest. A former supermodel who has committed her life to serve the homeless with I Am Waters.  Infinite Heros founder, Colin Baden, using his work at Oakley to serve our Veterans. How could you choose or vote because everyone you have met through Charity Matters is a hero.

CNN Heroes

CNN has also been profiling amazing humans for their show CNN Heroes for about the same time that Charity Matters has. They do ask you to nominate your heroes and this got me thinking. How do you pick a hero? I could spend days filling these nomination forms out with all of the incredible everyday heroes I have met. The world is full of amazing people but sadly we are not watching them, our attention is elsewhere.

VOTE

Here is one nominee from a few years back. So take a minute and think if you know someone who is making a difference in your community or world? Nominations are due July 31st, so you have a few days to fill out the application and help a helper. There is simply nothing better.

 

Charity Matters

 

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

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Camp in the face of COVID

Each year more than 14 million children attend camp in the United States according to the American Camp Association. Sadly, this summer most children will not be attending their camps due to the pandemic. In the United States, there are over 12,000 camps and 8,400 of those are overnight experiences. In the face of COVID, children are not getting the benefits of independence, self-confidence, and new friends which camp provides.

Leaders are Adaptable

As many of you know I run a youth leadership nonprofit and the highlight of our summer is our Summer Leadership program. Our students (6th-8th graders) leave home for the first time and spend a few nights in college dorms. They learn who they can be and where they can go…. college. However, this past March in the wake of the COVID we were unclear about the path forward. Were we going to be able to host our traditional overnight camp? The answers were not clear.

At TACSC, we teach that leaders are adaptable. So adapt is what we had to do. Throughout the months of March, April and May we planned for two programs, in-person and online. It was a bit like writing two term papers knowing that one would have to be thrown away. In mid-May, we made the decision that we were going to have to go with our new plan for camp online.

How do you provide an amazing experience online?

For thirty-eight years TACSC has taught leadership with peer teaching. College students teaching high school students and high school students teaching middle school students. Our program is a combination of camp meets classroom meets kairos.  How were going to provide this experience to three hundred students online?

First and foremost we realized that kids should not be parked in front of a screen on a summer day. They needed to be outside, riding bikes, swimming, and getting bored. So we decided that the camp would start at 3 pm and end at 8:30. That time of day when parents need a break and kids usually start saying, “I’m bored.” Our curriculum team went to work and we were off to the races.

We Did IT!

After months of planning, shipping camp in a box to 300 campers, we executed our plan. This week we took our 38-year-old program and took it online. I was beyond nervous but our college and high school staff worked for months to create a magical experience. Our students attended the equivalent of an online play (via Zoom) each day, went into their small group classrooms, played games, made new friends, and learned about leadership. At the end of the evening, students had reflection time and families came together for night prayers.

Is the online experience the same? No. Did we create connection, fun, and friendships? Yes. Did they learn? Absolutely! Most of all, we learned that in order to survive and thrive as a non-profit we needed to be adaptable. A skill not just for leaders but for all of us.

Charity Matters

 

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

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Town & Country Philanthropy Summit

photo: via Town & Country

Last week I had the privilege of attending Town and Country’s Philanthropy summit. The 175-year-old magazine highlights amazing people who are doing great work in their July Philanthropy issue and then brings them together for inspiring conversations on giving, social issues and ways to get involved. Sound familiar? Historically, the event is held in New York City. This year due to COVID the event was online. It was so fantastic to listen to incredible conversations.  So I thought I would share a few of the highlights.

Day one: Darren Walker

This year’s line up began with a conversation between Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, and Ava DuVernay of the ARRAY Alliance. The two spoke about race relations in the United States and ways to support causes that can impact change.  Darren Walker said, “What philanthropy can do best is to support people whose ideas change the world. Philanthropy seeks out change-makers and ask how can we help you do that?” Darren Walker went onto say, “Philanthropy can change lives and society together.” 

Photo via: Town & Country

Day Two: Robert E. Smith

The second day was an interview with Robert E.Smith, the infamous billionaire who donated forty million dollars to the Morehouse College Class of 2019’s student loan debt.  Robert came from humble beginnings and amassed a five billion-dollar fortune.  He said,” My wealth is to be used to liberate the human spirit.”  Robert Smith is founding a nonprofit called the Student Freedom Initiative to launch in 2021. The mission is to fund eleven historically black colleges’ students in STEM opportunities for a flexible, lower-risk to high-interest private student loans.

Day three: Matthew & Camila McConaughey

Day three of the Philanthropy Summit was an inspirational conversation with actor Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila. The couple spoke about their nonprofit Just Keep Livin Foundation that they began in 2008. Since that time they have served over 3,500 high students teaching wellness, fitness, and social-emotional learning.

photo credit: Town & Country

McConaughey went onto say that he believes, “It is selfish to give but it feels good.” And when asked, where can you start with philanthropy his reply was, “ In the mirror. We are giving back to ourselves when we give-not giving up.”

photo via: Town & Country

I think the real highlight of the Philanthropy Summit was when a young student (pictured above) from the Just Keep Livin Foundation spoke about her time in the program and her lessons learned. She said, “Giving is the best way to receive.”

 

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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3 Dollar Challenge

“I would so much like young people to have a sense of the gift that they are.”

John Denver

You are never too young to change the world. Those are words from my recent conversation with Jack Adler and his twin sister Kate, the founders of the 3Dollar Challenge. Jack and Kate are 19-year-old twins from Villanova, PA who reached out to me a few weeks ago via Instagram about their cause.

While they have not yet started a nonprofit, they have started a movement to inspire giving and action in the face of COVID. It all started in early April when Jack sent his sister a text asking her if she wanted to do something to support COVID relief. Her answer was yes and that was the beginning of the $3 Challenge. I hope these two inspire you as much as they inspired me!

Charity Matters: What was the inspiration behind the 3 Dollar Challenge?

Jack Adler: This whole idea really stemmed from us being forced to leave college early from Coronavirus and we were sitting at home for a couple of months in quarantine. We realized that we were lucky enough to be healthy and not have any of our loved ones struggling and fighting for their lives with COVID. We knew that there are people fighting every day on the frontlines fighting to save lives and fighting for their own lives and it felt selfish to act like just because we were safe we didn’t have to help.

One day and I came up with an idea to fundraise for Coronavirus relief and I called my sister into the room and we started brainstorming different ways. And together we came up with an idea to start an Instagram challenge.

Kate Adler: I thought an Instagram challenge was a good idea but none of the challenges had a donation component. We are both majoring in business, I’m at the University of Miami and Jack is at Syracuse University and we wanted to use our entrepreneurial skills to try and help. I felt like it’d be a really cool idea to make the Instagram challenges into something more like with this donation component for Coronavirus relief. So we brainstormed and we had a whole launch setup where we texted all of our friends that it was coming.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how the 3 Dollar Challenge works?

Jack Adler: The concept is simple. First, you donate $3 via Venmo @threeDC or through bit.ly/lemonadefund (select referred by 3 Dollar Challenge). Then post an Instagram story of something you cannot wait to get back to after quarantine. Lastly,  tag @3dollarchallenge and nominate at least 3 more people to do these steps.

Kate Adler: We used Venmo to make it easy and accessible and set up Go Fund Me to accept donations larger than $3. We partnered with a group called Makin Lemonade that was the same age doing the same thing and the result is over $117,000 raised for Feed America, CDC, and Direct Relief, all split equally.

Charity Matters: Did you have any idea what you were starting?

Jack Adler: Well, we originally were like, let’s raise a few hundred dollars for Coronavirus. Surely it’ll we’ll feel good about ourselves and we will know that we’re making a difference and within 24 hours raised over ten thousand dollars.

It started with us getting our immediate friends to tag their friends who weren’t in our mutual friend circle. It started there and it was just an exponential domino effect of them tagging three people then tagging three people and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of people around the nation who we didn’t even know posting for the three-hour challenge within 24 hours.

We had thousands of posts we reached people that we had, we obviously didn’t know. And it just completely blew our minds. It was so exciting. We had big thousand follower accounts posting for us just seeing it from other people was so cool.  It was really awesome.

Charity Matters: Had you ever done something like this before? What were your previous experiences with volunteering and charity?

Kate Adler:  We hadn’t had a huge background in philanthropy, our parents taught us to give back, and when we were little we did a lot of lemonade stands.  We mostly raised money for different children’s hospitals and our grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Then in high school, we became the co-presidents of a club called Jerry’s Box that supported kids with cancer. We lead a team of 200 students once a month, packaging toys, and then delivering them ourselves. So that was honestly our first big experience in philanthropy and giving back.

Charity Matters: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Kate Adler:  At first we were like, wow, this is so easy because you’re kind of just soaring and donations are coming in. Literally, like 10 donations a second, it was crazy. But then once it started to lose steam after only really only a couple of days, we said we need to figure out a way to keep it going. We don’t want to stop after one burst of Instagram stories. We had to reach out to literally hundreds of people.

We’re direct messaging everyone we knew from different schools, influencers, celebrities, news channels, really anyone we could. Anyone that could probably spread the challenge to their networks and that helped a lot.  After our $10,000 push, we ended up raising another $8000, just from reaching out to people we knew and getting news coverage and things like that. So I think the hardest part is definitely just keeping it going because we want it to keep going for as long as possible.

Jack Adler: Honestly, I think our biggest challenge was raising $10,000 in 24 hours and then knowing that inevitably, we’re not going to keep that same steam because we really had hit our peak of trendiness on Instagram for that one day. And it was really cool because we had to really push ourselves and find ways to keep the challenge spreading. We really got to learn from the experiences of the grind. We had to prove to people that we’re legit

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

Jack Adler: It just feels so good. It’s a really, it’s really cool for us to be able to mix our passion for entrepreneurship with our passion for giving back. We just love coming up with different ideas to help people and it’s fun, it feels good and it really is addicting.

I would say, our realization that we have to keep going with the Three Dollar Challenge is as much as it is a passion it is also a responsibility. At this point to use the platform that we’ve created to continue making a difference and continue helping people. It would feel selfish and wrong to not keep doing it. Because while we are having fun with it, it’s also helping so many people and we want to keep doing that.

Kate Adler:  I would agree, I just think it’s such a drive to keep going.  I think what really helps our momentum is aiming the direction in new ways. So we started a tic toc challenge because that’s been really popular. And honestly, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to. It didn’t really pick up momentum, which was like a great learning experience just because something worked and some things don’t. 

Charity Matters: When did you know you made a difference?

Kate Adler:  I would say a big wow moment was when a couple of accounts were created that are like the $4 challenge. People started other Instagram donation challenges and actually wrote in the comment of their pictures like we’ve been inspired by the $3 Challenge to start this organization.  At first, I thought they’re copying us. But then we actually realized that it is really cool to see other people kind of like taking what we’ve done to make a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us about the success and impact you have had?

Kate Adler:  I think besides the funds raised another huge impact was just on people our own age and younger too, because people kind of saw it and they’re like, wow, these kids are our age. We can do things too. And I think it probably motivated a lot of people to look for ways to give back.  I have noticed a lot of people reached out to us asking for ways to get involved and what more they can which was really awesome.

Jack Adler:  I think the realization of the power of social media to see that it can be used to spread a positive message and make a positive difference. And we kind of figured out a loophole, I guess you could say, of a way to use this amazing power and influence of social media and the ability to reach thousands of people so easily. And we used it, not to spread a comedy or entertainment, but to spread a way to help the world out.

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

Jack Adler: I mean, we’ve been working on getting on The Ellen Show, which would help spread the word around the nation. But in terms of like the actual growth of our brand, we really want to turn it into something where we can pivot towards different causes. Whenever we feel that we see a cause it needs our attention, and have the platform to be able to do that and raise thousands of dollars every time.

Kate Adler: I think another one of our big goals is to actually allow other nonprofits to use the concept of the $3 challenge. But we think it’d be really cool if a nonprofit said, “Hey, we love the $3 challenge. We would love to run a $3 challenge through our nonprofit.” 

Charity Matters: How has this experience changed you?

Kate Adler: I know I’m speaking for Jack, but I think our family was surprised that quarantine motivated Jack. He had this new drive and motivation.

Jack Adler: I did take the driver seat, which Kate usually does. We have changed from this real-world experience. This will be a story that will change our lives forever.

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

Kate Adler: It is never too early to start giving. College has taught us so many business strategies but it has been great to learn while doing. We have loved motivating other kids to follow in our footsteps.

Jack Adler: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that we are not too young to change the world, you are never too young to make an impact and we are ready to make a difference.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”

Anthony D’Angelo

I don’t usually repost interviews but with so much attention lately on policing and communities, I thought this conversation was one worth revisiting. A year ago, I was at the StageCoach music festival and got separated from my husband. Standing next to me was a former college football player, a big man with an even bigger smile and heart. This stranger, named Jason Lehman, is a Long Beach Police Officer and nonprofit founder of  Why’d You Stop Me? and he also found my husband in the large crowd that night. We exchanged information and spoke shortly after about his work and journey from law enforcement to nonprofit founder and his mission to bring people together.  Such an inspirational man and story….the world needs people like Jason and his team now more than ever.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about What WYSM is and does?

Jason Lehman: We are an empowerment educational organization that works to help build and strengthen relationships between the police and the community. We do that in scenario involved training by impacting six different aspects of a community. Not only do we provide education but we provide a three hundred and sixty-degree approach by bringing a police officer and an ex-felon to team-teach these incredible messages of peace to police officers, schools, and communities.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I had three Ah-Ha moments and two of them are the most valuable. The first one happened in 2009 when I was working undercover in Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team for the City of Long Beach. Working on this Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team we did a bunch of things and one of them was we bought drugs from gang members who were selling them. There was an undercover drug deal that went bad. That drug deal ended up with me having to fight for my life and at the end of the fight, only one person walked out alive. Immediately after this happened, I thought to myself something could have been done differently. I didn’t yet know what that meant but I really tried to figure out what that meant. I spent two years trying.

At the end of it, I was found to have used the force necessary in the situation and my name was cleared, but that didn’t completely help. I spent two years seeing psychologists, dealing with family issues, and trying to figure out how or why all of this was happening. I was found to have done the right thing and been fit of mind but this justifiable homicide was a horrible situation for me. That was my first AH-Ha moment. In December 2011,  some informants tipped us off that there was going to be a gang hit on my life. It turns out that the person that died in the drug enforcement situation was a gang leader and the gang had spent two years plotting how they were going to ambush and kill me.

In hearing this situation I walked into a classroom at a local high school knowing that there were students in that classroom that were affiliated with the gang trying to kill me.  I walked in and spent about an hour telling them how scared I was and how much I struggled with power. The kids were listening and they were with me, they knew me as Tiny, the gang cop that worked in their neighborhood.

One kid at the end of the program raised his hand and changed my world forever. He said, “Hey Tiny, you talked about how scared you are but you haven’t said a word about me? Do you remember me? Two years ago you arrested me with a gun in my waistband, you made me crawl through the rain and layout in front of you. Did you ever think about who was standing next to me when you made me do that? My girlfriend. Do you know how it made me feel when you laid me down and put your knee in my back in front of my girlfriend? Did you ever stop to realize that gun wasn’t for you but for a rival gang? Did you understand I was raised never to be disrespected in front of a woman? I have had visions of hurting you for two years but after one hour of listening to you explaining things and what police officers go through. This is the first time I can ever say that I respect you.”

I walked out of the classroom and the principal said, “What’s the name of your program?” and I said, I didn’t have a program, I am going back to being a cop. The principal said, “We have a new website and I want to mention your work on it what do I call it? I said, ” The kids always ask me why did you stop me? So why don’t you call it that, Why’d You Stop Me? That was how we came to be.

The second AH- Ha moment was on August 10th, 2014 when we had our first nonprofit event. We had 200 hundred plus people coming and we had just gotten our 501c3.  I had not been watching the news so I didn’t know that Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO by a police officer. We were the first organization of its kind in this country that could unite a police officer and an ex-felon to teach a message of peace. We knew that night that there was really something that WYSM had to offer and that is how we came to be.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: The biggest challenge has been funding. The grant process can be very frustrating. It is hard to measure the amount of change that your work is doing and grant funders want to see the measurement. When we first started the organization, I worked with my family to raise over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to fund this work. I did this because I care enough about this organization to try and grow this message.  The other challenge is scaling the organization. We can’t scale without the funding, those are two biggest challenges.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I have two fuel sources. The first one is the change that you see in the community members after they receive this training. We have a million amazing stories. One of them is about a young girl named Jasmine Simpson, she was placed in the foster care system for years and was dealing with some problems. Jasmine went to school two days in an entire semester and on the second day I had her in class teaching about positive outcomes to situations and in that messaging, I pulled her up on stage to re-enact a scenario to allow her to make some decisions. A few weeks later the school resource officer calls me and said you need to read what Jasmine wrote. She had submitted a poem in her English class that said, “I used to hate you but now I want to be just like you.”

The second fuel source is when we train police officers and talk about being kind for 2 minutes during every stop. Often times as police officers we don’t find time to be kind.  After a law enforcement presentation, I was approached by a Sergeant of 27 years and he told me, ” I just arrested someone a week ago and I vividly remember not saying a word to them. I remember them asking for air and to roll the window down, I remember them trying to talk about their problems but all I could tell them was to shut up. After your speakers came and spoke to us and asked us what it would be like if our own children were arrested and treated this way? How would we want our children to be treated by the police if they were arrested? He said to me after hundreds and hundreds of arrests I have never humanized one and I will never do that again after your training. More than that I will do my best to ensure that everyone I supervise in our department treats every person we arrest as a human being.” Those are the types of stories that fuel me to do the work that I do.

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

Jason Lehman: An individual is affected by our training when an organization brings us in. So a payday for me is when an organization wants to embrace the training. Whether it’s a school district, a police department or one of the county’s probation agencies., that is a payday for us. We want to change behavior and now we know we have an audience, a captive audience. We get on their level if we are talking to a group of prisoners we talk about their mind being free from the walls of a prison.

When I talk to police officers I talk to them about being kind to someone to make it easier for the next police officer that pulls someone over. They get that. Being able to see the organizations buy into the message and then being able to see the individuals shift, that’s when we know we are doing good stuff.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about some of the impact you have had at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: We are the only nationally endorsed program by the fraternal order of police. We have 380,000 police officers supporting our organization, we are the only organization in the state that’s been called the best practice organization by Senator Harris. Right now WYSM operates in 19 cities and five states.

More importantly, since we started doing this work that human beings see other human beings differently. When they see other human beings differently they have less opportunity to judge them for something they are not. We are now able to see more of the human being behind the condition in order to allow them to grow and thrive, the power happens when we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before. Our work teaches people to cooperate with the authority to achieve their greatness.

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

Jason Lehman: When starting WYSM I learned about myself. Back in 2008, I made a bad decision in my early years as a cop, that could have had me charged federally for excessive force. I am fortunate not to have been charged and having gone through this was horrible. In creating this movement and mission I have been able to hold myself to the highest accountability I can think of with WYSM. I am now in a position of leadership where I can model positive behavior for others and teach others to model behavior for those that come after them.

Charity Matters: If you had one wish for WYSM what would It be?

Jason Lehman: I have two wishes, one is for the community side and the other is for the police side. On the community side, I would like to replace the 7th grade home economics class with a class called, Cooperating with Authority to Achieve Greatness.

Police Officers take the lives of more approximately 1,000 community members each year is a big deal. Learning how to cooperate with the police and create safer contacts is more important than home economics.  I think the fact a police officer is dying in the line of duty once every 62 hours in this country is also too much.  Learning how to build safer police/community contacts is more important than learning to boil water. Police officers, our protectors, kill themselves at four times the level of a normal individual. If police/community conflict and violence were reduced, I believe we could reduce police trauma and ultimately see a reduction in police suicides.

On the flip side, I would like police officers to see value in what they typically view as hug a thug training. I hope that police officers see value in this training and that this training will spread across the entire country. Those would be my two wishes.

Charity Matters: Is there anything else you want to share about your work at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: I think one of the most valuable and important assets of this training is that my partner is somebody who is a college graduate, was 2016 Long Beach’s Hero of the Year beating out firefighters and police officers. This man whose name is Rodney Coulter spent 29 years of his life in prison or on parole or on probation. He has been arrested 39 times by the Long Beach Police Department and his cousin is the person whose life I took in that undercover drug deal. Rodney and I are best friends and we stand side by side in unity and team-teach. He is incredible. His line is, “I never thought a cop and a Crip could be best friends.”  Rodney teaches gang members why cops are good and I teach the police why people like Rodney are good. The power happens when together we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before.

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COVID, Caterpillars and Courage

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

Plato

 

As the world opens and we all slowly come back out of our cocoons like caterpillars who turned to butterflies navigating life from a somewhat different perspective than ninety days ago…I find myself flying above my former self in search of my mojo. The metamorphosis has happened to us all. A mere three months ago I was high functioning, multi-tasking, get it done sort of person. I could be on a conference call while emptying the dishwasher, texting, and juggle a multitude of tasks all of which made me feel successful, productive, and most importantly busy. Always busy.

COVID

Every pre-COVID moment from the 5:45 am wake up until 11 pm at night was scheduled, programed, crammed full of tasks, meetings, calls, and to-dos. Then after March 13th all of that changed. The first few weeks of quarantine were rainy, cozy, and almost felt like a holiday break with everyone home. I have always worked from home so that wasn’t anything new to me.

However, having the whole family at home working and going to school remotely was new. Making fifteen meals a day again was new. No early mornings at the gym and navigating new ways to manage exercise and stress were different. And as each little piece of my previously scheduled life eroded so did my mojo. Like sand in my hand, it just slipped away one grain at a time.

Caterpillar

The early morning dash to the gym became coffee in bed until seven. The online workouts became less about exercise and more about noticing every home improvement needed in the room. Once the “workout” was over, I stayed in my workout clothes until late in the day. Why not?  There was nowhere to go.

Lip gloss and makeup were reserved for Zoom meetings only. The days to do list became shorter and shorter until they didn’t exist. Time and urgency seemed to disappear. The cocoon became a safe harbor from all of the chaos outside.

Courage

Then suddenly, the announcement came that the world would begin to reopen. Little by little our cocoons were broken open. Now that we were “free” to go, I wasn’t sure that I wanted too. My former self, the one that made the cozy and now organized cocoon, would have boldly dashed out into this new world without fear and a to-do list a mile long. However, my post-COVID self was a fragile butterfly that came out ever so slowly was not the same creature pre-quarantine. The mojo and courage were nowhere to be found. A metamorphosis had occurred.

The fear lingered and my fragile wings slowly began to flutter outside of the cocoon. Ready to explore but there was no urgency or speed. Time had dissipated, what mattered before no longer made sense. Schedules, planning, and lists all seemed like things of the past.

The courage came to be, and stay in the present. Slowly, the new butterfly saw all the beauty around, the faces of her family, and the beauty of each moment. The mojo was gone and replaced with what matters….health, family, love, security, and faith. The butterfly’s voice said, “What good are wings without the courage to fly?” Ever so slowly the butterfly fluttered out into a brave new world.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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