It just isn’t summer without camp



Friday marks the first official beginning of summer.  Each year over six million American children participate in some sort of day or overnight camp each year. Many of these camps are nonprofit organizations. Camp is a summer ritual for many and for other young students an opportunity for reinvention. To show up without past labels, to be at a place where no one knows who you are but who they see. That reinvention also allows children to feel great about themselves, after being away from home and independent for a few days or weeks.  This generation is connected via devices but not authentically connected and camp gives these students a place to unplug and actually make real authentic connections.

As many of you know, I did not go to camp as a child but my day job is running a non-profit youth leadership organization, which also has a summer camp program. We have incredible high school and college students volunteering to serve as camp counselors and mentors. Many counselors are alumni of our program and want to give back to an organization that changed their lives.  Students teaching students to be the best of themselves. Showing one another respect, how to learn from different opinions, and how to work together towards a resolution. Ultimately, teaching students how to lead.


Tomorrow, I will happily be greeting hundreds of smiling faces as our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders arrive with their nervous parents. For some, it will be their first time away from home.   It is such a great feeling to bring everyone together. There is no greater joy than knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself and that your work makes a difference. This video below from one of our students a few years back, pretty much says it all.

Nothing brings greater joy than planting the seeds of compassion in these incredible students year after year.  When the world seems to get a bit crazier, these students give me hope. I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope. As one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world...”

Charity Matters.




Copyright © 2024 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 78: Words Matter

Many of us grew up with the childhood slogan of, ” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Hundreds of years later we now know that they actually can.  Words can cause long lasting scars on our children as nonprofit founder, Jessica Bondy shares with us with today’s inspirational conversation about the power of our words. Join us for an enlightening discussion from across the pond about this amazing new nonprofit, Words Matter.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Words Matter does?

Jessica Bondy: Words Matter is the first organization in the world focused solely on addressing the issue of verbal abuse of children by adults. It is so pervasive, it goes so unnoticed and not properly recognized. Yet it affects two in five children. And of that two in five children over half experienced verbal abuse by adults weekly, and one in turn every single day of their lives. Hearing words to blame, shame, belittle, criticize, and it’s not just shouting and screaming, it can be quite insidious, and subtle.

And I think that the thing that is most concerning about childhood verbal abuse by adults, is the life long damage it can do to children. Because words matter. They stick, they last a lifetime. They shape who we are and who we become. So we are on a mission to end verbal abuse of children by adults.

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

Jessica Bondy: I set it up having spent decades in communication, and working for some of the biggest brands in the world Samsung, British Airways, FedEx, Procter and Gamble, working as director and MD of some big firms and then setting up my own agency.  I also coached and mentored a lot of young people helping them realize their potential.  I did a course all about women finding their voices and speaking up and I had a eureka moment. This eureka moment came on when we were given a topic to talk about with this group of women all on zoom from around the world. The topic was if you are going to die in the next six months, what do you want your legacy to be?

This thing came from me out of nowhere.  And I said, “If I’m going to die in the next six months, I don’t want my legacy to be that I am a good aunt. I don’t want my legacy being that I’m a communication specialist. And I don’t want my legacy being that I coach and mentor young people to help realize their potential.” I don’t want it to be on the good old, I’m a communication specialist, or mentor young people, even though all of those things don’t too many people would be hugely worthwhile and satisfied, right? I looked down the barrel of the camera on my Zoom computer. And I said, “If  I’m going to die in the next six months, I want to end verbal abuse of children by adults, because words matter.”

Wow. And I said this, because of my own lived experience and was getting so locked in my head. So many of the people I coached had been so impacted by what they’d heard when they were growing up.

I think what’s so fascinating with what I’m doing now, and Words Matter, it kind of all makes sense. Because there I was communicating on behalf of businesses and brands, then I was helping young people communicate, and market themselves. Now I feel I’m almost the voice of children say, enough is enough words matter.  I feel it is my purpose, I strongly believe that the only reason I’m on this planet is to do this thing.  I just don’t want it to be that way for the next generations and generations to come.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jessica Bondy:  I think part of the challenge is when you believe something incredibly passionate yourself, and there are people that don’t necessarily believe in what your cause is.  And I found there’s a real dichotomy of people that get it. I’ve had people who’ve literally burst into tears and said, Oh, gosh, I haven’t spoken to my father since I was 14. It’s so brilliant, you’re doing something about this.

I think the other very challenging thing, given the environment we are in today is fundraising is very, very hard. Because particularly if you’re a new charity, because so many funders want to be reassured that you’re going to succeed. And if you’re new and different,  it’s hard. When I ran my own agency, and people were buying the services they were getting something in return. Philanthropy is very, very different. People are doing it because they believe in your cause. They believe that you’re gonna make a difference in the world.

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

Jessica Bondy: I think what fuels me is an absolute passion and belief in the need for this to happen in the world.  Actually, knowing  what I’m doing is changing people’s behavior. So that fuels me knowing that we can make a difference.

I think the other thing that fuels me is this incredible network of experts, supporters, and my fellow trustees, who have that belief, that you’ve cracked so many nuts, you’ll be able to crack this.  I feel like I’ve kind of got almost a rocket of support underneath me to try and make it a success.

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

Jessica Bondy: September 2023, our website went live.  We released the findings of our children survey and the most helpful and hurtful words that children said.  We have  three pillars, research and what we see is in terms of delivering outcomes, and outputs with data validation of the scale and impact. Then the next  pillar is about awareness. And that’s trying to change perception and increase understanding and awareness.

Then the other thing we’re developing is training, education and information. We developed some resources on how to talk to children, from adults, for parents, for teachers, those with lived experience.   We had the first international conference on childhood verbal abuse with University College London and the World Health Organization, we had over 1300 people registered to attend and actually 98% said it had made them they’d found it useful, and they would apply the information to their learning to their jobs. Over 90% said it would change their own their own behavior.

It’s called Words Matter, impact and prevention of childhood verbal abuse.  So we’ve developed this program, we’re piloting it.  Hopefully, it’ll be extended through our network of partners. So we’ve got a number of different leading charities supporting our mission, who are service providers, and we’re hoping to do the training through them and their networks.

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

Jessica Bondy:  if I could dream, any dream it would be that in everybody’s public consciousness, they would think about, be aware of, and acknowledge the harm that words adults say to children can have. They don’t understand it. What I think is so interesting is, as soon as you ask adults themselves to think about what they remember, when they were a child, so many, the vast vast majority can remember what was said to them that built them up. And what and who said it to them that knocked them down. But they don’t somehow apply it to their own lives when they are an adult. Right, that kind of disconnect. So I’d like widespread acknowledgement of it.

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

Jessica Bondy: So often in life one tries to mold oneself into something to be liked, approved or understood by someone and it just it never feels comfortable. One should  surround oneself with radiators, not drains.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jessica Bondy: I’m somebody that is a survivor.  I think I’m quite a resilient person. And resilience is so important.  I just think it’s about somehow dusting yourself off if you have a knock back. It’s not easy to do. People who experienced verbal abuse or any form of abuse is that you just need one or two people in your life that really build a venue that really believe in you that you can talk to, and get that support for.

We all know it’s so important to have that connection and support from a very, very young age.  I’ve had a few people in my life who I feel have really been there for me and who really believed in me. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen and heard, for who we are and valued for who we are.




Copyright © 2024 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 77: Filling In the Blanks

Did you know that there are over 13 million children in the United States who live with hunger? One in five children does not know where or if their next meal will come. Those facts are shocking to anyone who hears them. However, it is the rare person or people who actually act when hearing those numbers. Today’s guests not only experience food insecurity they have acted to create a nonprofit called Filling In Blanks.

Tina Kramer (left) and Shawnee Knight (right) Founders of Filling In the Blanks

Join us for an inspirational conversations about two next door neighbors who are changing lives and the face of hunger.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Filling In the Blanks does?

Tina Kramer: Shana and I started Filling In the Blanks 11 years ago. And what we do is we provide food on the weekends to children that are struggling with food insecurity. So we provide a bag of food for the kids ages preschool through high school, that receive meals during the week at school, but don’t have anything over the weekend. So we’re covering that weekend meal gap.

Charity Matters: Did Either of you grow up in families that were very involved in their communities?

Shawnee Knight:  My family was always thoughtful of other people, but we didn’t do a lot in terms of being out in the community as much as Tina and I are now. I grew up in a single family household and so I kind of understood.  I was on the free and reduced lunch and so I understand the pressures that these families are facing. I think that really was kind of one of my main motivating factors for starting Filling In The Blanks. Being in Fairfield County, CT there’s so many different volunteer opportunities and ways to give back. 

Tina Kramer: I grew up in a similar household as Shawnee with a single mom who works all the time. My grandmother pretty much raised me. So there wasn’t really an opportunity to give back to the community at that point in time. When we moved to Connecticut, there are so many volunteer opportunities and that’s where I really learned about volunteering.  We decided that we wanted to do something together and  that’s how we founded it Filling in the Blanks. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Filling In the Blanks?

Shawnee Knight: We were riding with a friend into the city,  and we were just talking about sports and our kids. And my friend was saying,” The other students on the opposing team don’t often have snacks. So they would bring snacks for the other team.” I was kind of like,” Wait a minute. There’s kids in Fairfield County that don’t have food. Like how I don’t understand that? That can’t be possible. Look at where we live?”

I think Tina and I were at the age where our kids were getting a little bit older. So we were both trying to find something to do, we were next door neighbors.  We did some research and learned that there really are food insecure children in our community. And for us, the thought of a kid going without food is just shameful. It’s just wrong.

Tina Kramer: So we saw an article in a magazine about a nonprofit that was a national organization that provided food on the weekends to children. So we became program coordinators. That was our first step and we did the fundraising. We did all the purchasing, but the national organization was more of the parent company.

We would give them our fundraising efforts and they would reimburse us. And we are very type A, we are very gung ho about projects we work on.  We decided after probably two or three weeks to use the information from the national organization structure on how to run a nonprofit because neither one of us had ever run a company or any kind of nonprofit before. So that was our stepping stone to the blank.

So we learned how to incorporate our trademark, our logo, articles of incorporation and bylaws. We surround ourselves with good people to help us structure all these things. We started packing bags in my house for 50 kids. We’re tying grocery bags, going to the dollar stores, Costco and loading our Suburbans up which we’re dragging on the floor. And we just learned as we went, and it was so very grassroots in the beginning. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Shawnee Knight: I think definitely finding food suppliers and finding families. and reaching more families. We needed to get a warehouse because we had outgrown Tina’s living room. We had too many kids, and you have to store these bags. We just needed more of a structure for that. And so I think there were challenges, just in doing and getting things done. Realizing people don’t get things done as quickly as we wanted them to get done. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face now are reaching more parents.  There’s definitely still a lot of parents who don’t know about us and our services.. And I think procuring food, and food costs rising because we purchase all of our food. So we’re fundraising to buy food and with food costs going up,  we have to fundraise even more.

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

Tina Kramer:  I don’t think we mentioned this earlier but Shawnee and I are both volunteers. We don’t get paid to run Filling in the Blanks.  We have a real desire to help the kids because we both at some point in our lives dealt with food insecurity, one of us in our childhood, the other in our adult life. That really fuels us because we know what these parents are struggling with, and how hard it is. Just to wonder, can I feed my child today? Or do I have to pay the electric bill? So it’s really ingrained in who we are.

We have a great staff that surrounds us and a great group of volunteers. We have a leadership committee of about 10 people, mainly women. Then we have 11 full time employees that really help with the day to day. Besides the bags were packing, we have 7000 volunteers come through our doors on a yearly basis. Wow. So it’s not just Shawnee and I, and our desire, it’s our community. We’re all lifting up our community and the surrounding communities. And that’s really what fuels us. 

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

Shawnee Knight:  We do a lot of surveys, to the families,  the children, parents,  the social workers and teachers at the schools. So we’re able to measure some of those outcomes for students. Then we track the number of meals and we’ve served over 3 million meals. Every week we have 7500 kids that get our weekend meal bags. We’ve launched our Mobile Food Pantry, fresh food on the move. We’ve been distributing about 20,000 pounds of food at each site, which they operate twice a month.

We’ve partnered with Stanford Health to provide various health and wellness wraparound services, so we’re able to see how many people they register for or how many flu shots they gave out. It is really hard because we don’t have access to kids grades, so it’s hard to measure that. But we do measure things like the teacher saying that the child is less disruptive in class.. We’ve had a teacher tell us a story of this. One child she had that just was out of sorts at school and she kind of made him in charge of helping her with the backpack club as they call it, which is when they get their bags. And she said, that she noticed a change in his personality and his self confidence was improved. So we hear little antidote or things like that. Then from our pre-programmed surveys and post-program surveys, we see an increase in happiness or of the child’s well being.

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

Tina Kramer:  It’s a simple concept that everyone should have access to food and healthy food items. Our volunteers are little kids to adults. We make sure that we can create volunteer opportunities for them to create an impact within Filling in The Blanks.. We’ve created snack bag programs, in addition to our regular weekend meal program. So the younger kids can have a packing event at their home and pack little snacks in a little brown bag that gets distributed to the kids too. So we’re trying to make sure that our volunteers feel the impact that they are creating.

As Shawnee mentioned, we just started a mobile pantry back in October, and we’re serving 1000s of families through that initiative. Through that we’re able to communicate directly to the families and the parents. They tell us the impact that the 50,000 pounds of food they get at the mobile pantry has on their family. Many turned around and now want to know how they can volunteer with us, and how they can give back and how they can help. And that’s just so rewarding. It comes full circle.

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

Tina Kramer: This year alone we will serve over a million meals and the need is not not going away. We’ll probably serve about 10,000 kids this year, every weekend. We created a year round program for all. Our big dream is potentially it’s on the back burner  but I’ll put it out there. We would like to franchise to other states or communities, or do some drop shipping/fulfillment centers to have food delivered directly to the schools. We  would take away the need for additional trucks and drivers. We’re trying to figure out how do we replicate or duplicate our program outside of our like immediate area. 

Charity Matters: Do you have a Phrase or Motto that you live by?

Tina Kramer:One of our board members always said, “If you can, you should.” And that  kind of really encompasses Filling in the Blanks. Because really, anyone, a little kid to a senior citizen can make a difference here, it’s packing the bag, spreading the word, liking something on social media, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it could just not just it can be your time, even if it’s five minutes. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Shawnee Knight:  I think so. I think we were nervous when we first started this. We didn’t know what to expect. You never know how much pressure you can take or how much weight your shoulders can hold. So I think we’ve grown a lot in that sense. I mean, we’re running a really big nonprofit with a big operating budget and expenses. You never know how much of that stress you can take and I think we’ve learned to stomach quite a bit of it.

Tina Kramer: We’re the perfect ying and yang. I think it’s given me a lot more confidence than I had before. I never thought I could run my own business and didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet. And now we’re dealing like Shawnee said, with a multimillion dollar budget. It’s given me confidence in who I am, not only here, but in normal life and at home. It’s just been a great learning experience over the past 11 years.

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

Tina Kramer: That people are good. And they want to do good.  I come from nothing and I’m not used to being encompassed or embraced by our community. This community that we’ve created together, really has shown me how good people are and how they’re always willing to help. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Shawnee Knight:  If you build it, they will come.





Copyright © 2024 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 75: Calibrate

Life is full of serendipity if you pay attention. A few weeks back I went and visited my old grade school. When I was talking to the Principal, Joe, something came up about Charity Matters. Joe said, “You should talk to my wife. She has an amazing nonprofit.” And so I did and I can’t wait for you to meet the incredible Marcie Gilbert. Marcie is the co-founder of the nonprofit Calibrate.

The serendipity didn’t end there, Marcie’s beautiful work is very similiar to mine, working with youth leaders who in turn mentor other leaders. So join us today for an inspirational conversation to learn about Marcie’s incredible work with Calibrate. She is a ray of sunshine and will leave you feeling warm and inspired.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Calibrate does?

Marcie Gilbert:  Calibrate’s mission is to transform the lives of young leaders from under resourced communities to make them feel valued and prepared to reinvest their time back into their community. We have three primary activities of focus. One of them is we want to provide the social emotional foundation for our youth in under-resourced communities to be able to thrive. We do that through a program we call Connections,that has been in Los Angeles schools since the mid 1980s.

Our second activity is we are interested in creating a virtuous cycle of generational health. We are training young adults from our communities. Typically, these are alumni of our Connections programs, to go back and reinvest in their communities.  Calibrate raises money in order to pay those young adults to go back and reinvest in their communities by leading the Connections programs. And then the third activity that we have is coalition building, because we know that to have impact, we need to all come together as a village.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic family?

Marcie Gilbert:  Both of my parents were intensively philanthropic, constantly volunteering on a weekly basis. My mom was always involved in so many different things. One of the things that I always thought was really cool is that she took children’s books, and she transcribed them into Braille. That was those of the days before the Braille typewriters. And so you had to actually literally pinprick each of the letters and I just remember her doing that. What might be a very tedious task, for pages and pages. And so it was everything. It’s part of my DNA. 

Charity Matters: Tell us how Calibrate started?

Marcie Gilbert:  There used to be a place called the Ojai Foundation that was a mecca for all kinds of philosophical and spiritual leaders in the 70s. There was a man named Jack Zimmerman, who created a program which was called Counsel. There was a school in Santa Monica that was started by a man named Paul Cummins called Crossroads.  Paul and Jack were friends.  Jack said, “Let’s bring this program to Crossroads.”Crossroads implemented this program.

In 1994, when I graduated college, I became connected with Paul and Crossroads.  I was trained to be able to deliver this program, which we call Connections.  The following year, Paul started a new school called New Roads. He recruited me as part of the founding team. Everybody was trained and this was the social emotional foundation for our school. I went to my professor and I said, “Can I make Connections my focus of my thesis?”  Over the course of the year I surveyed all these alumni, and everybody said that Connections was the foundation that allowed them to thrive.  95% of those students went on to have post secondary degrees as  compared to 17% of their local peers.

One of Paul’s missions was to bring private school education to communities that had not been exposed to those kinds of whole child’s social emotional enriched environments.  Charlotte Johnson, who was my principal and my mentor, is one of the co-founders of Calibrate. And she said, “You need a nonprofit.” and I said, “No, I don’t.”

We started programming in August 2019. We should have been shut down March 2020.  But instead it had the opposite effect to the pandemic because suddenly everybody became aware of the term social emotional learning. The reality is everybody became in touch with the need for connection.

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

Marcie Gilbert: The Anthonys, Murenas, Becky, Chris,  Alana or Tina,  I could name all 120 people who I work within our collective Calibrate cosmos. I work with the most extraordinary individuals and the moments that I get to go and visit our sites. A little fourth grade girl named Ari and her hugs and smiles. Her mom named Brittany who has the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met.  I think about volunteers, like Lynn, who basically retired and made Calibrate her job.

 I think about our community of alumni who just really get this and just really are the heart of Calibrate pumping all that understanding into the rest of the organization. Our board is miraculous, our community partners Mark and Trey, and our program partners. When I opened my eyes in the morning it’s that whole entire vibe of people that spread that feeling of good. 

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

Marcie Gilbert: The testimonials and the feedback from those who write to me to sit into Connections.  When I hear a teenager say literally this program kept me from committing suicide.  We know we have made a difference.

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

Marcie Gilbert: it’s the qualitative testimonials that are the most important. Last semester, we had students who were seniors at Cal Poly Pomona who partnered with us. They took a random sample of thirty-five 8th graders, who had received between eight to 10 connections over a five week period. What they did was honed into the qualitative data, where children were able to articulate specific, observable behaviors in other environments outside of connection.

For example,I’m no longer fighting with my mom to get my homework done. I am raising my hand in class. I’m not afraid to ask my teacher for help. So those kinds of things where they were able to show what we call an education, a generalization of behaviors, and 67% of those that random sample were able to say things like,” I feel more confident, I’m a better listener.”  

We have a unique insight because we sit in these Connections to circles, which are living storytelling circles. And so we get those opportunities to hear the things like the suicidal ideation or the decision to go back to college. You know, we had a bunch of kids graduate high school and they were going to be first generation kids to go to the east coast to different colleges.  I was panicked to create a Connections program for them virtually. The rate of attrition can be very high for them to stay in college and finish.

The students told me, ” We don’t really need this because actually, we’re doing it on our own. We take the train, and we meet each other at least two times a month. And when we sit together we’re checking in, and we’re asking each other and we’re soliciting in each other equal chances to tell each other stories. It’s not a formal Connection, but we’re using tools from Connections, to keep ourselves to connect it to keep ourselves supporting one another.” Those kinds of comments are gold.

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

Marcie Gilbert:  The reason why is if we’re really creating an organization that’s of the people for the people, and we’re really fulfilling our mission of elevating these young leaders from our communities to come in and take over.  I just really want our young adults to be able to have their own dreaming, and not be just mired. I know that the community of alumni want a school again.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marcie Gilbert:   I have stretched and grown. I had to learn how to not take things personally. Not to trip,  not to overthink, to set boundaries on self care. That weight of the world feeling that you described earlier. When I was a little girl, when I would get anxious my sister would say to me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” What’s astounding to realize is that’s not true with Calibrate.

God forbid, we didn’t have a penny in the bank, we’re not going to stop. This is a community of people who believe so deeply in the programs and the mission that it will just keep marching forward until we get the next infusion of cash. Right? So you just know it’s going to be okay.

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

Marcie Gilbert: I feel like what I have learned along the way is about leadership.  I’m the person that so many people are looking t0o. And as I said to you before we started this podcast, I am an introvert. So it’s doing a great job of hiding. Something I’ve learned is that you can actually lead from behind.  What I have to lean on is the organizational culture that we’re creating. Because it is one of shared leadership.

We are the circle, we want to be the principles and values that we espouse in connections that we’re all holding this up, we all have equal voice. I have a lot of amazing people who can independently and successfully go and take a ball of something and run with it. So really,  what I’m doing is steering the ship and  keeping us tacking north.




Copyright © 2024 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 60: Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund

Years ago when I lost my mom, someone said to me, “The greatest gift you can give the world is a life well lived.” Today’s guest is a fantastic example of just that.  In full disclosure, I have known our guest Dana Bouton for probably twenty years. We have raised our children in the same community. Dana sent me an email explaining that her cancer had returned and was now terminal. She was determined to use the time she had left to leave a lifetime legacy to the City of Hope. The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will help families financially devastated by cancer.

Join Dana and June Penrod from City of Hope to learn how one person can make a difference for so many living with cancer. Dana’s humor and insight will inspire you and make you think about how you live. She is a true example of the quote above and what really matters. During our conversation I made Dana a promise that I would re-publish her podcast on her birthday each year as a reminder and a legacy of her work, so Happy Birthday Dana! Cheers to another amazing lap around the sun. Thank you for reminding us all how to live.



Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will do?

Dana Pepper Bouton: The idea of the fund was set up to help families who are navigating the difficult diagnosis of cancer to have resources for support.  They want world class care in hospitals and need to get transportation, gas,  child care, groceries, and a multitude of other things. So this fund is set up to kick out money in the form of gift cards, to help these families get to City of Hope. More than having the best possible care but receiving some supportive care on the side of having to deal with their loved one being a patient. 

June Penrod: What we do is provide state of the art treatment.  So we are really the champion when it comes to precision medicine of being able to fight cancer.  Not only at the cusp of when it’s worst in your body, but also in the beginning phases of helping our population screening for cancer. So we really did the entire gamut from A to Z on cancer treatment for all patients in Los Angeles and Orange County.

We are really proud of the impact that we are having on cancer patients in the nation. The role that I specifically play is acquiring resources for what we call our Department of Supportive Care Medicine. It is one of the unique elements of City of Hope that make it so special. Supportive Care is basically the emotional and spiritual arm that comes out of the cancer journey that patients go through. So while they can focus on the treatment with their doctors, Supportive Care medicine wants to focus on their emotional care journey.  Then they are really focused on their cancer treatment and not having to worry about any of the external factors that might get in the way of that journey.Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start this endowment?

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I was diagnosed with stage four non Hodgkins lymphoma in January of 2018. And here we are about  five and a half years later.  I’ve had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, back to back bone marrow transplants, a few operations, infusions, and transfusions. Now I’m terminal after all of those treatments.  You know, I can’t can’t control the fact that the doctors say, “there’s nothing more we can do for you, except try to keep you alive a few months at a time.” 

So I’ve lost the ability to kind of control how long I thought I would live. I came to the conclusion that I haven’t lost the ability to create a legacy for other people. Even though I’ve had basically what I simply call very bad luck because there’s no genetic component to how sick I’ve been. I’ve also been very blessed. And I’ve had multiple resources, in terms of financially supportive community to help me along the way. 

After spending so much time in the hospital, and listening to June and others talk about the supportive care that City of Hope offers. I can create a legacy after I’m gone to help hundreds of people and that makes me feel really good. In fact, being terminal is really not that big of a deal in terms of how many people I can impact during the few months, maybe six months a year that I have left. This brings me such great joy and working with June and seeing her enthusiasm and the people around me who want to give. I just want to work as hard as I can to reach out to as many more people as possible. And I do have a tendency to accost people in the market.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton: I would say number one, I’ve had incredible support at City of Hope. And I also think, knowing that I have very limited time left, I see and feel and touch and smell in here so acutely. But I’m just really inspired by my enhanced senses. And so I love to capture what’s around me from macro to landscape, and put that on my website and share that in the form of wall art or greeting cards, postcards, and sell them, and how those proceeds go to my fund. 

 I’ve laid in bed for sure, and had had some really hard days. But seeing, feeling, talking to people and really hearing and really listening just propels me to keep going.  I know that when I am dying, I’m not going to regret being so tired. While taking pictures, or being with people, I would only regret that maybe I just stayed in bed and felt sorry for myself.  After I die, I want my fund to continue. So I’m pushing to get the word out.

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

June Penrod:  Dana is a great example.  I think she doesn’t mind being the dramatic story of philanthropy, of this woman who should be taking care of herself but instead she’s taking care of others. Even though she received a terminal diagnosis, I mean, look at what she’s doing now.  We have folks who say, we have a great life that we’re living now, thanks to City of Hope and we want to contribute more. 

But we do also have folks who say, “My loved ones are not here with me anymore, but I love the compassion and the care they received.”  And so we want to give.  Then there are folks who have never stepped foot into the hospital but they know the great work that we do. And they want us to be their charity of choice. That blows my mind as well. 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  My dream is that after I die, I want this fund to continue in perpetuity. So my dream is to keep spreading the word as long as possible. Then have my family and other people give money once or twice a year, in perpetuity.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I appreciate when people talk to me out of just accepting where I’m at, and not trying to tell me that I don’t have hope. I have hope. And I also know that I’m going to die. Maybe within a few months, or perhaps, you know, a year. I think that the biggest life lesson is to listen to people in terms of where they’re at in their head. And don’t try to talk them out of something that might be their actual reality. I know that people have their own fear, but set that aside and try to put yourself in somebody else’s place.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dana Pepper Bouton: There are two big changes. One is that I had the arrogance of aging, I thought I would live as long as my grandmother, who lived almost to the age of 102.  I assumed it would be just like that. And that was very arrogant on my part. I’ve learned in the last six years or little over five years, I guess, that was just very presumptuous of me. And I’m quite humbled and I find that now to be a blessing. And I also think it’s funny. 

I think my sense of humor has gotten quite rivaled.  The other thing is that I’ve had to learn to slow down and not be busy, which I really liked. But I’ve  accepted the fact that I can slow down. If I’m in pain, it’s okay to lay back down and listen to podcasts like your podcasts, and audiobooks and dream. My imagination has become so acute because I’ve been forced to lay down, forced to take a break. I willed myself to pivot and it took a while. And I’m proud that I had the strength although it took a long time to finally accept, don’t find it pivot. Find those blessings, and there’s new magic.





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Episode 74: 4GIRLS

A few weeks ago a friend reached out and said, “Heidi, you need to know Claudia.” She was right, I did. You do too. So I am excited to introduce you today to the founder of 4GIRLS, Claudia Copely. Join us for an empowering conversation about her amazing work helping young girls to identify themselves as authentic, confident and resilient preparing them for real life success.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 4Girls does?

Claudia Copely: Our mission is to empower and inspire middle school girls so that they identify as confident, authentic and resilient. Preparing them for real life success.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up Giving Back? 

Claudia Copely: I did not learn philanthropy or giving back in my household. I grew up in a household that was very dysfunctional, and there was a lot of trauma. It was more about let’s just survive,  let alone do any type of philanthropic work. There was a piece of me that helping others is innate.  I think all of us know to our core what is true.  I think my one of my core values is generosity and connection.  I love meeting new individuals and connecting. So I think for me it was a drive that was big for me.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 4Girls?

Claudia Copely:  So I was at a women’s conference and there were 100,000 people there.  The central theme from the host, Maria Shriver, was what are you gonna do for your community? How are you going to be an architect of change?  I was so inspired, empowered, and I left there driving home thinking what am I gonna do? I can be an architect of change. Then all of a sudden, this voice crept into my head, and it said, ” What are you gonna do? We’re gonna want to be part of anything you do.”  It stopped me in my tracks.

 I followed the thread. And I thought for me it was middle school, that tough time where I just didn’t know what to do with myself.  I just felt lost, not just because of the trauma and dysfunction in my house but I just felt so alone. I’m the only one experiencing all this. Driving home from the conference,  I thought why not have a conference similar to what Maria Shriver has done brilliantly?  Lets focus just on empowering and inspiring middle school girls, just that target. 

 I polled all of my friends and everybody across the board said Middle School was the hardest time.  I decided that I’m going to create a community. I had to read Nonprofits for Dummies because  I was coming from the corporate world.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Claudia Copely: I think the biggest challenges were at that time and still are visibility and outreach. We are a 100% volunteer organization. With what I get paid I could not buy a loaf of bread. But I could light up a room. Being a 100% volunteer organization  is a good really good thing, or a really bad thing

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

Claudia Copely:  A few things, first the communit.  The connection to some really great amazing humans that are really talented, hardworking women that I’m surrounded by. It’s beautiful to see what we create for these girls.  At the end of the two day workshop, we invite girls to come up to the stage and to share their empowering word. We have words all over the room, so they can pick one. But some of the girls that come up are thinking, “I would never come up and speak in front of a room full of people.

By Sunday, there’s a line to come up and share their empowering word. And we ask them to do that in order to give them a sense of identity.  They can have this word that they can grow into and see how it feels. There’s been many girls throughout the 13 years. But there was one in particular, who said,” My word is valuable. Because before this workshop, before today, I didn’t realize how valuable I was. Now I know that I’m valuable.” It gets me every time. 

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

Claudia Copely: You can’t put on a grant paper or proposal, a parent coming up to you and saying, “Oh, my gosh, what did you do to my child? They are a whole different person, they believe in themselves, they have more confident, they’re engaging with us.  Thank you!” The mother will tell me with tears in her eyes. Thank you.

Then the second, which I’m seeing it right before my eyes. So we now have a few girls that had gone through the program when they were in sixth grade, seventh, and eighth grades. Then they became high school as mentors all through high school. Now they’re in their first years of college and they’re sitting with us at the board table. They are being part of the workshop team, which helps us to create the agenda, the curriculum, and stay relevant to what the girls need. They’re there with us in the trenches, creating this, this workshop and forming it to the next generation. That impact is that the seeds that were being planted are now going to be harvested.

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

Claudia Copely: I would say visibility and outreach.  I think because we still are like considered a grassroots organization.  I’d love that broader reach. 

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

Claudia Copely: I’ve learned that we are more common than we are different. That’s for sure. I’ve learned that we really want to be seen, heard and validated. Most of us really want to connect with other people. And I really enjoy making those connections and working with individuals that have different perspectives.  I get to learn from all these amazing humans. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Claudia Copely:  The journey has  provided me with a strong sense of my purpose.  I know I love empowering individuals. While my degrees are in international business, but I’m now trained and accredited as an empowerment coach. That fulfills me so much and fuels me. I’m definitely more purposeful, more mindful, more aware. Everybody gets to participate on this earth. We’re here at this moment and that’s all we got. Let’s give each other room to create and be who we want to be 

In order to do this work I had to change my life.  I had to let go of those limited beliefs in order for 4GIRLS to be born and to help it. If I would have stayed with those limited beliefs and my self sabotaging behavior this would have never happened.  So I just I love helping individuals  letting go of those beliefs. We all have them. Let’s do what we can get rid of them. When we can move the inside, beautiful, magical things happen.




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Episode 73: Heroes Voices Media Foundation

I hope everyone had a great President’s Day. We are now on the short end of a week and that is always a great feeling. On Monday, we celebrated leaders who served our country. Today, I am thrilled to say we are doing the same by celebrating an amazing organization that serves those who have served, our military. Donald Dunn was a veteran suffering from PTSD when he and a fellow veteran began a podcast to talk about whatever was on their mind. The surprising result was that when they began sharing on their podcast, they began healing.

The result of that healing was wanting to give that experience to other veterans who were suffering and the creation of the nonprofit Heroes Voices Media Foundation. Join me for an inspirational conversation that literally brings me to tears of how one veteran is on a mission to help. Truly one of my favorite conversations!


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Heroes Voices Media Foundation does?

Donald Dunn:  I was podcasting when I realized that I was using podcasting as therapy. And I didn’t realize this until about three quarters of the way through season one. At that point, I just no longer cared whether one person was watching my show or 10,000 because I was starting to feel better about myself.  I was starting to be able to get stuff off my chest that I didn’t talk to anybody else about. As a result, the Foundation came from the podcast.

It started  because of some musicians that came on the show.  I saw how they were struggling getting known, getting views and for me, it didn’t matter. But for them it did, because that was also their income. That’s how they paid their bills.  They were using their songwriting as therapy. The songs that they were singing were about the events that had happened to them in the military. So we started this nonprofit, in the hopes that we could get veterans to continue to keep using these forms of media to heal. There’s a lot of people that think podcasting is simple and easy. And then when they start they realize real quick that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. 

We know that when veterans get frustrated, they walk away from something and either deal with anger, or just try to go find something else.  So our goal is to help them continue to keep podcasting, whether that’s a little bit of education, and or the cost of some of the equipment. . The same goes with our veteran musicians. We’ve got a radio station that is underneath our nonprofit called Gunroom Radio. There’s three different stations: country, a rock channel and folk music. 

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

Donald Dunn: So some of it is just a little bit of luck. I’ve always been one of those guys, that when I get an idea in my head, and I decide to move forward, I don’t change my mind. And so I’m sitting there talking with a few of these veteran artists. And I said, “You know, what we really need is a radio station for veterans. “And they told me about an organization called Operation Encore. And I reached out to them. About that same time, the good old trusty Facebook,  started showing me an advertisement that said, start your own radio station.  And I was like, “Well, that’s it.” It was meant to be, you know, so I signed up and set it all up. Then I realized that it’s a lot more to it than just setting up a radio station.

There’s a bunch of nonprofits that help with PTSD. And I’m not under the illusion that if you’re a podcasting, you’re going to be healed and that’s therapy. But it’s a starting point, it’s a starting point to get you talking. It’s a starting point to get you associating with other like minded veterans, people that you might be able to reach out to. And it’s also integrating you back into society to where you are able to deal with people, because you will have some frustrating moments as a podcaster. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Donald Dunn: The hardest part for me figuring out is how to reach donors because we have a vision that nobody’s ever done.  I knew when I was setting this up that it was going to be an uphill battle. The reason why I knew that is because one of the things that Operation Encore said to me, that made me decide I was going to do this. When they talked to me, it became evident that the only way you were going to get the licensing and everything you needed was it had to become an actual business.

I had just closed my trucking company, and I really wasn’t looking for another business. When I talked to them, he had told me that he has spent two years talking to radio stations, and trying to get them to donate one hour of airtime to just the Operation Encore veteran artists. Wow. And they all told him no. Well, that’s the one thing that stuck in my mind.  

The radio station just grew so fast. I had one veteran artist in May when we launched and we’re now there’s probably 70 to 80 artists on there with 500 songs.  I’m trying to put together a way for everybody to hear their music. And now we need to start breaking up and adding some channels and having different genres.  I wasn’t thinking we’re going to be the next Sirius XM. I was hoping that maybe some guy from the American Legion, or something like that was listening  and could reach out to these artists and book them. If that helps put a little bit of food on their table, and keeps them driving, then that’s a win. I love that it has already done so much.

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

Donald Dunn: The thing that keeps me driving is I want to get to the point where the veterans are being known for their talent.  Veterans have a very unique way of looking at things. We’re very good at being handed a task and just said, figure it out, and they figure it out. I think that’s why a lot of veterans become entrepreneurs  because they do have that skill set. They don’t necessarily work well with others but they can figure things out on their own. 

When I started looking at this, I already knew there’s all sorts of different PTSD type nonprofits out there. But there’s not a whole lot that highlights the veteran  that succeeded from dealing with all their traumas, and everything else. I want veterans to think I’m gonna go back and live my dream. My dream was to become a musician, a podcaster or whatever their dream is. But they put those dreams on hold for the first 10 to 15 years, whatever they served. And now that they’re at the end of their counterparts careers and they’re trying to start their dream.

And you know, there’s not too many record labels, it’s gonna say, “Hey, you’re 45, I think you’re now ready to become a musician.” Right? And so what fuels me is I want to change that. And I want to change it to the point where there’s not just a CMA, but there’s a VMAs, there’s the Veteran Music Awards, there’s the genres for podcasters. You know, if you look up military podcasts, it’s going to fall under one of two categories, either mental health, or government and politics. And I don’t really think that’s, that’s the way that it should be.  I think that’s what fuels me is I want to get it to where the veteran community has a recognition and a voice.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Donald Dunn: Absolutely. If you went back two years ago, I was that veteran that we were just talking about.  I did not want to leave the house, I did not associate with people.  I didn’t go into Walmart and I had a hard time just functioning as a happy person. I went to the VA, I did get some help. I still did not do well with the therapy, as far as talking, and stuff like that. I just could not relate to that person. And that person definitely did not understand my situation.

When I started this podcast, and as it went through the steps, I kind of hit levels as well. You know, I went from that guy that didn’t want to talk about stories, you know, who was drinking a lot to now I’m that guy that drinks maybe three drinks a week.  I drink when I want to not because I’m trying to go to sleep because I haven’t slept in two days.  And so, and I do credit a lot of that to the getting stuff off my chest and opening up that powder keg and taking some of that stuff out that I have pressed down in, in me.

Then I got to that point where I was able to understand other people’s situations. And I was able to figure out some of my problems. One of the other things that I’ve done is I wrote a book for my kids. I have not published it yet. I’m letting them read it. I just sent it to them a few weeks ago, but it answers all the questions about  why they had this laughing happy go lucky dad. And then by the time they were teenagers, they had another guy that would come home, eat dinner and go straight to the bedroom and stay there until the next morning.

I never thought about the damages that you are also causing when you think you’re protecting your family by not talking about the stuff that has happened. You think you’re shielding them from that. But what you’re really shielding them from is understanding what you’re going through. My wife, for the first two years of this stuff, she didn’t sleep with me for the first two years, because you got tired of getting elbowed and me yelling and screaming for bad dreams. And then she would ask me what I was dreaming about. And I would lie and say, I don’t remember.  I credit the podcast and opening up to where I couldn’t get it to where I felt like, I wanted to share it, so I put it in a book.

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

Donald Dunn: Personally, my life changed when I got to the point where I could  embrace the words, it is what it is. And it’s a fine line, because that phrase can also be a crutch and force.  You to just say, well, there’s nothing I can do to change it. But for me, the part that is helped is when you’re holding on to all this baggage.  This stuff that you can’t change, I can’t go back in history and undo the damages that I’ve done. I can’t go back and not go to these deployments and not have all these memories. And for me, when I finally got to that point where I can say,” it is what it is”  and just let it go.

That’s where I started seeing recovery. That really came through from  podcasting when I was talking to other people. And when you get deep into a conversation with another veteran that I didn’t meet until that day, and you’re talking about stuff that I hadn’t even told my wife about. And I completely forgot that it was being recorded, or that it was live or anything, right? Those are the moments.




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Episode 70: Focusing Philanthropy

What does a private equity firm, a role in President Jimmy Carter’s White House and philanthropy have in common? The answer, today’s guest. Larry Gilson had an exciting career, instead of retiring he founded a nonprofit, Focusing Philanthropy.  His organization is taking his skills of investing in people and businesses to the nonprofit world and  changing the way we look at philanthropy.

Join us, for a really interesting conversation about investing in people, making a difference and hope.  Larry is pure inspiration.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Focusing PHILANTHROPY does?

Larry Gilson: We start with the observation that Americans are the most generous people in the world philanthropically.  Our experience is that philanthropic activity hasn’t always been the most fulfilling, rewarding or confidence inspiring. People have the impulse to be generous, but they also want to be confident that what they’re contributing actually makes a difference.

The more people give, I think the more they have a series of questions that are in their heads.  But I think they want to know, if I give dollars to such and such an organization, can I be confident that it’ll actually be used in the way that I intended that they promise? Will I get good feedback on what’s actually happened?  Will more dollars just result in more activity, but not necessarily more meaningful impact? How do I choose among organizations that are all announcing themselves as being active in a particular space?

These are challenging questions. But the answers take quite a bit of time and effort to come up with and most people are busy doing other things. So we’re trying to fill that gap to answer those questions. We want to give people the confidence to make informed choices, and to have the sense of satisfaction that comes from getting good feedback. So that’s the niche that we’re trying to fill.

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

Larry Gilson:  After 20 years of having founded and run an investment firm, I sold the firm. My wife and I both felt that that was a moment when we had some more money and also some more time. And  we wanted to be more thoughtfully philanthropic than we had the time to be previously. So I thought, with all of the philanthropic activity that takes place in the United States, there will be lots of resources available that we could tap into that were  identifying compelling, giving opportunities in a professional confidence inspiring way.

So I spent almost a year looking for this hypothetical resource. And I kept looking because I couldn’t believe I wasn’t finding it.  But my expectations were high, because I was looking for something for the same lens as the investment decision making tools that my firm had built over a span of decades. And when I wasn’t finding what I was looking for, I started asking friends who were  in a similar situation. And they had a similar lament about their own experience and asked, ““Can we ride your coattails and get the benefit of their research?”  And so I said, “Okay, maybe I should do something more ambitious. And that became the genesis of Focusing Philanthropy.

For the past 11 years we’ve been a version of what it was I was looking for. We now have a team of eight people that do they research, the exploration of potential giving opportunities, the ongoing monitoring, the crafting of giving appeals and an accurate and timely reporting. What we do for our own family, we now do for about 450 other families around the world, most of them in the United States.

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

Larry Gilson: We have only 14 or 15 nonprofits in our roster at any one time. About half of our nonprofits are domestic and half are international. One international partner  is called One Acre Fund. half of the world’s extremely poor people have something in common aside from poverty, and that is they’re farmers. They’re planting their crops, they’re harvesting what they plant and their family is mainly eating everything that they harvest. So they’re really not even creating a surplus that allows them to, to sell into the market and generate cash profits.

When we started with them, in 2012, they were working with about 40,000 farmers in Western Kenya and they had jumped the border into Rwanda and Burundi. Now, 11 years later, we’ve been a catalytic partner of theirs for all the intervening period, they’re now working in nine countries, working with one and a half million farm families, where the average farmer has six relatives that they support. They’re doing the hard work and they’re learning the skills. We’re giving them the tools,  the support and the network of resources that enable them to be successful.  So you do the math, that’s 9 million people who are permanently out of starvation, poverty as a result of this impact.

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

Larry Gilson:  We’ve been at this for 11 plus years. During that period, we raised and deployed about $135 million. That’s not the most important scorecard, the most important thing and the reason why we’re all doing this kind of thing is to help people. And we conservatively estimate that we’ve changed the lives through the programs, we’ve supported over 13 million people around the world. Wow, for the last 11 years, and the trend is great. So that’s year over year, significant growth in people helped, dollars raised, and donors participating. All of the metrics are encouraging.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep going? This isn’t always easy work.

Larry Gilson: I really appreciate how incredibly fortunate I am. To be born into the family that I that I grew up in, in the United States. And I had nothing to do with any of that.  I hope I’ve capitalized on the opportunities that have been available to me.  I’m alert to the fact that the opportunity set for most people in the world doesn’t look like mine. And, the ability to be helpful, not to solve everybody’s problems, not to deliver the results, but to create the opportunity for people to be able to maximize their potential, and to pursue things that are interesting to them and worthwhile and rewarding, and to see a prospect for a better future for themselves and for their families and their communities. This is pretty motivating. 

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

Larry Gilson: Reading the morning newspaper can be a little bit discouraging than a typical and it can affect your worldview, and your sense of your place in the world.  So a very important antidote to that, I think, is what comes from my involvement in the philanthropic world.  There’s a couple of quite dissimilar populations of people who I now interact with who I wouldn’t have otherwise, that give me a basis for genuine hope.

I don’t mean a bunch of wishful thinking.  I mean, evidence based basis for seeing some real upside. One is the people who are being helped. These are not folks who are sitting back looking for a handout. They are people who want to work, to prove themselves, and want their children to be able to go to school.  They want to be safe, they want to be healthy. Those are traits which I see evidence of every place we go. So as a population that is hopeful.  The other group of people who I find motivating and encouraging are the young people who founded but often run these nonprofits. These are people who could be successful in anything that they chose to do. And they are not choosing to maximize their personal income. They are choosing to serve.




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Episode 68: Driving Single Parents

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a terrific Giving Tuesday! I’m so grateful to have today’s guest to remind us why we call this the season of giving. Join us as Cindy Witteman shares her journey from fleeing domestic violence, becoming a single parent then a nonprofit founder, author and tv show host of The Little Give. 

Cindy is a bright light, a survivor and someone who will inspire you with her purpose for giving back and the incredible story of her nonprofit, Driving Single Parents. 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Driving Single Parents does?

Cindy Witteman: What we do at Driving Single Parents is we really get people back in the driver’s seat. So since being a single parent is one of the hardest jobs you can possibly have, and doing so without a car can be very difficult. So our mission is really to get those single parent families back in the driver’s seat.

We actually give single parents a free vehicle at no charge to them, including tax on license. Everything is taken care of the only thing that single parents are responsible for is to obtain and maintain car insurance. And that’s not our role. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Driving Single Parents?

Cindy Witteman: I came from a single parent home. We had a lot of challenges financially, my mom was disabled, she was unable to work. So we were limited by some child support,  government assistance and my mom also got a disability check. So we really didn’t have a lot of fun growing up.

I decided to escape that situation and start a family my own with a white picket fence. Well, unfortunately, that didn’t happen the way I had planned. I ended up in a domestic violence marriage. That was a really hard time.  The hardest time was feeling trapped.  Being a single parent was the last thing on my list of things to do.  Well, I thought since the abuse was only happening to me,  that I could make it work.  I could cook a little better, clean a little better and do things a little better.  And if I did those things, then everything would be beautiful and wonderful. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

One day, I was a stay at home mom  folding a load a load of laundry and Dr. Phil came on and he said, ” It’s better to come from a broken home than it is to grow up in one.”  The minute I heard those words, it was almost like as if he was speaking directly to me. I literally stood up, I got a basket of clothes, a bag of diapers, my daughter’s and we escaped that situation.  I distinctively remember strapping my daughter into the car seat, who was five months old at the time, and thinking, “Wow, am I really going to do that? How am I going to do this? This is going to be so hard.”  I did it. I worked two jobs myself through college.

 I had this nagging tug on me to give back and I always thought, one day when I get a better place, I’m going to find a way to help single parents succeed. And I went through a lot of struggles with childcare. It’s just really hard to be a single parent especially when you don’t have that support from the other parent, that child support, or any financial support. If a kid is sick at school, they don’t have anybody to go pick them up but yourself which means you miss work. So I just really had this passion to really want to give back.

Once I was in a little bit better place, I got out of school and had a stable job.  I said okay, now I can start  thinking through how I’m going to give back. So I thought I’ll start a nonprofit. At first, I wanted to focus on childcare.  I wanted to do childcare. Well, I ran a poll here in San Antonio, Texas where I live, and nobody could get excited about a nonprofit that helps with childcare. There’s this misunderstanding that it’s government assistance already takes care of that.  There’s lack of funding, there’s long waiting lists. And so it’s not not the easiest thing to get.

But again, what is a good nonprofit if you don’t have anybody to donate to it, right? So I knew I had to pivot. So I started to think what was my second need? And I distinctively remember, I was actually at dinner one night, and I literally stood up at the table, and I was like,” That’s it! I’m gonna give away cars to single parents.” My fiancee said, “Oh, Cindy, now sit down, you are not giving away anything. Are you crazy? That the liability is just like outrageous.”   I listened very intently to all of his concerns. And then I woke up super early the next morning, I wrote a business plan. applied for nonprofit status, built the website, and we’ve been giving away cars at Driving Single Parents ever since.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cindy Witteman: Who would have thought it’d be so hard to do something so good? Well, it can be  pretty challenging. So me being somebody who didn’t have any background in nonprofits. And I didn’t know anybody else who had founded a nonprofit. In fact, I don’t even think before that I had much money to give to a nonprofit. So I didn’t really know a lot about it, or how to do it. So I had to read audible books,  I read a lot a lot of books and figured it out

Oh wait, I need a board of directors? Wait, I need to pick a name?  So many things that I didn’t know that I needed in order to really get myself in a position to where it wasn’t gonna fail. You talk to a lot of people who have founded nonprofits, and they fail, oftentimes. It’s a small percentage that actually can keep it going long term. So I knew I had to find ways to make sure that driving single parents wasn’t going to be one of those. I worked really hard to learn everything I needed to know, and gather all the people around me who were able to get on board and really helped me grow it.

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

Cindy Witteman:  The very first car we gave away was less than a month after I had the idea. The person who received the vehicle was actually a single  dad named John Cano. He was unfortunately, hit by a drunk driver. In that accident, not only did he lose his car, but he lost his wife, and he left lost his right leg. He really became a single dad overnight, and then also had these major handicap needs that he had to overcome.

The vehicle really served as that tool he needed to not only help him get his kids to and from where they needed to go, but also himself to get himself back in the driver’s seat and get that independence back. Because when you  end up losing a limb, you’re reliant on everyone else. To be able to have healed enough to get behind the wheel of your own vehicle and to have that freedom can be really transformative.  He has sent me pictures of his kids, graduating, doing band practice, or him and that was six and a half years ago. He still drives it to this day to this day, that very same vehicle. He’s just doing wonderful and his kids are flourishing. And so I’m just so grateful. 

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

Cindy Witteman: I want to amplify our efforts,  to help more people and to expand. I think a lot of misconception out there is that a vehicle is a luxury item. It maybe in some places but I’ll tell you here in San Antonio, Texas, it’s not. Oftentimes I get applications from individuals who have lost several jobs because they have to rely on public transportation. That public transportation doesn’t get you there where you need to be in a reasonable amount of time. It might take two or three hours for them to get on all the bus transfers, to get their kid to school, to get their kid the babysitter and then to get to work.  It can really put out the single parents who ended up being unemployed. Dispelling all of those misconceptions are really one of the big missions 

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

Cindy Witteman: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. That’s a quote by Henry Ford and it’s so true. Because if you believe you can do something you can and if you believe you can’t do something you can’t. And it really comes down to you and your beliefs. I’ve learned that I am not a product of my circumstances. I’ve learned that my past doesn’t define me.  Sometimes I didn’t have groceries or food when I was a kid but that didn’t define me. I ended up in a domestic violence situation situation. And I realized that I could easily just say,” Oh, poor me.” Or I could say when nothing goes right, go left. As a result, I could build a life that was everything I ever wanted.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Cindy Witteman: I think I change every day. You know, I think every single day I wake up, I don’t compete against anybody else in my life. I compete against myself. And I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday. And that’s something I work on every day. So I’m constantly changing. I’m constantly learning, I’m constantly growing. I’m constantly expanding my impact in whatever ways I possibly can.




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A decade of leadership

today is National Philanthropy Day and it seems only fitting that it is also my ten year anniversary as the Executive Director of TACSC, a youth leadership organization. It is amazing how fast a decade can fly by when you are having a great time. These past ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye. It is hard to fathom that our sons were in middle school when I started at TACSC in November of 2013 and today they are grown men who are launched. More than my actual children, it is awe-inspiring thinking of the 22,789 students that I have been privileged to serve over the past decade. Students who were also in middle school in 2013 and today are in their twenties. To witness these young leaders’ development has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

My first summer at TACSC, I sent our youngest son to Summer Conference as a 7th grader. To be honest he went kicking and screaming saying that he wasn’t going to go to “Crazy Catholic Council Camp.” What he wanted to do instead was to go to surf or lacrosse camp that summer, not a leadership camp. Well, he went, and within five days he identified himself as a leader. Once he did that, he truly became one. The transformation I saw as a parent was unbelievable. That experience and so many others had me hooked at the beautiful positive and transformational experience TACSC is.

It is this same transformation that I see year after year, generation after generation, leader after leader of young students changing the world that has kept me doing this important work for ten years. It gives me hope to see our students learn about goal setting, communication (the old fashioned in person kind with real handshakes), becoming mentors and serving others. It all sounds so simple and basic, but it is so much more.

Each student  inspires the next generation of leaders and does so much good for our world. As I wrap up this decade at TACSC, I am grateful for the gift of this work.  It has been a gift to witness kindness, empathy, faith, compassion, and leadership. We have never needed kind good moral leaders more.  I continue to be grateful for the tens of thousands of TACSC leaders making a difference in our world each day.





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Episode 67: When We Walked By

The beauty of Charity Matters is meeting the most incredible humans and then being able to introduce them and share their stories.  More than that, so many of the people we have interviewed have become friends and today’s guest is most definitely one of them. You may remember Kevin Adler way back from episode 36 when he shared his journey of starting Miracle Messages. A organization that reunites the homeless with their families and builds social infrastructure around them through human connection.

Join us today to hear what Kevin is doing every day through his beautiful work with Miracle Messages.  Take a moment to hear about his incredible new book, When We Walk By, which comes out today . I have been reading it and can not say enough about how Kevin’s personal story, work and journey to help our unhoused neighbors is beyond inspirational. He is truly one of the most fun and interesting people to learn from.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Miracle Messages does?

Kevin Adler:  Miracle Messages is a nonprofit organization that I started about 10 years ago, in honor of my uncle, who had been experiencing homelessness for about 30 years in Santa Cruz. Our work really is focused on what we call relational poverty as an overlooked form of poverty. Meaning isolation, loneliness, disconnectedness, and often a stigma and a shame that accompanies that.

And so what we do at Miracle messages is we help our neighbors experiencing homelessness, rebuild their social support systems, and their financial security. And the three ways we do that. So first, we offer a family and friend reunification services. So many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness are disconnected from their loved one. And sometimes that’s not by choice, but because of digital literacy, or phone numbers change but biggest of all reason is the emotional barriers of shame, self loathing and stigma.

So we have through our network of volunteers, digital detectives finding the family delivering messages and helping them reconnect. And then our second program is because we do know that for some people, family may not be part of the solution, but maybe part of a problem. So that’s where we launched our volunteer phone buddy program, where we have volunteers now all over the world.  And so we connect them with our unhoused neighbors in the US for 30 minutes a week phone calls, text messages.  It is kind of like a Big Brothers, Big Sisters, for unhoused individual.

Then through that program and the relationships and the trust that was really built. We launched our third and most recent program, and that’s our direct cash gifting program. Where we picked individuals in our phone buddy program, who had been nominated by their friends volunteers to receive $500 a month for six months, no strings attached.  They use the money better than I could have used it for them. Two thirds of people who were unhoused were able to secure housing from $3,000 over six months. So that basically blew our mind and expectations. And we now have raised $2.1 million to give out more than a million and direct cash transfers $750 a month for 12 months to over 100 unhoused individuals throughout the state of California as part of a randomized control trial we’re doing with USC and Google.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face working to help the unhoused?

Kevin Adler: So things that come top of mind that I think have shifted homeless services on the whole gets a very bad rap. And part of it is deservedly so. There’s a lot of money but there’s not much to show for that money. And it can be very frustrating, and infuriating, when elected officials when department heads when major homeless service agencies are saying, trust us, we know what we’re doing. When the reality of what you see is so disparate.  And that’s true that there is some inefficiencies in the system, a lack of coordination.

I think there’s a lot to be fixed within homeless services. And a lot of my critique in the book relates to a paternalism in the system, where we assume we know what’s better for our unhoused neighbors, then they know for themselves. And I think basic income is a great way to restore dignity and bottom up human centered.

I also think it’s critical that we have a conversation on the sources of homelessness in our country. Every one person, in the city of San Francisco gets off the streets, three more end up on the streets. And the vast majority of those people who get on the streets from San Francisco, have lived in San Francisco as housed people before they were homeless.  So then you have to start talking about the affordable housing, the lack of affordable housing, how wages earning, have not kept up with housing. 

So you have that you have income inequality, you have the criminal justice system, where there’s a revolving door where it’s illegal to be homeless, and it becomes that much harder relationship. And then you have and you have to talk about the substances that are on the streets. though, it’s not nearly as much a causal factor of homelessness. But if you’re in a vulnerable situation, unsheltered homeless and you’re struggling with the ongoing trauma, you’re having physical sores on your body from sleeping out, you’re terrified of the elements. Very easy to try to numb the pain and self medicate.

Charity Matters: What is one small thing that we can do to help the problem of the unhoused?

Kevin Adler:  I think we have to get relational, we have to be in a relationship. Unless you know someone who is currently experiencing homelessness, you will never have enough insight into the problem of homelessness to be able to make meaningful change. So I think the first thing is to get to know someone who’s currently experiencing homelessness. Hear their story, see their humanity, share some of yours. That’s what taught me everything I know about this issue is just through relationship. There are ways to do that as a phone buddy, visiting a shelter. It narrows what’s possible and narrows our own humanity if we narrow how we see them as human. 

Charity Matters: What inspired you to write the book?

Kevin Adler: I can share what what inspired me to write the book. In one word were stories. I have heard so many stories that have transformed my heart on this issue. I could not imagine  having those story just exist in social media posts on local news coverage that comes and goes without not only the story being honored, but the context being honored. Really the broader perspective of how that story tells us a bigger story that we may not be listening to. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you and writing the book?

Kevin Adler: I don’t want to say I’m a different person having done this work, I think I’m a fuller person, having done this work. All the ideas and concepts I had about right and wrong, my values. Pain, suffering in the world, travesty on the unjust. As well as the beauty and the resiliency of the human spirit.

 You know, it’s not just an idea. It’s not a concept, they have names, and they matter. And they’re friends of mine, many of whom we’ve lost. The average life expectancy on the street is like 53 years old, 30 years less than if you had housing. And so, you know, Timothy and Ronnie and Jeffrey, and Mark, and so many others that are no longer on this earth that were wonderful people. I think what I take with me is the friendships and the relationships.

 The life that they live and the travesty of a system where someone like Ronnie, who wanted to get into housing, never got access to housing.  The housing that was offered to him was in an area where drugs were present 24/7, and he declined to move into the housing because he didn’t want to relapse on his addiction. Someone like Ray, who was working as a sales person and had some serious heart problems and breathing issues, could no longer work. Then because of his pride, because of his dignity, he did not want to bring shame to his family. So his family didn’t know he was experiencing homelessness, and he just wandered the streets.

 I’m a better person for having done this work. And I am also a more hopeful person on this issue. I think the people who are closest to actually doing the work and knowing our unhoused neighbors are doing innovative work.  Like what we trying to do at Miracle messages, I have more hope that we can actually end homelessness in our lifetime. It’s going to take a lot of work. But it’s not an inevitability there was a time when homelessness did not exist in the way it does now. And there will be a time where it will be rare, brief and non recurring.  I think it’ll just take all of us to make sure that happens.




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Episode 66: You, Me and Neurodiversity

The power of inspiration and motivation can come at any age and anytime in life. Today’s guest is an old soul doing remarkable work for the Autism community. Inspired by her younger brother, Alyssa Lego set out at age 14 to help him by creating lesson plans. Before long that work turned into creating her first nonprofit.

Today, Alyssa is joining us to share about her latest work with Autism and her new project called You, Me, Neurodiverstiy. Join us as Alyssa shares her inspiring journey from big sister, college student and nonprofit founder.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what You, Me, NeuroDiversity does?

Alyssa Lego: Our mission is to embrace neurodiversity and autism acceptance in ways that really haven’t been done before. I am such a firm believer that education creates change. And I’m such a firm believer in the fact that that starts with our youngest generations. 

So when I was 14, I actually started a lesson plan program with a fourth grade teacher of mine, it was called Friends Who are Different and it was in all the school districts in my area. And it was all about autism acceptance and inclusion. But a lot of things have changed since then. You, Me Neurodiversity has really brought me back to creating content, visiting classrooms. And again, starting with that sentiment of motivating our younger generations to accept autism, embrace neurodiversity, and really become catalysts of change. So the human neurodiversity movement donates 100% of our proceeds to autism focus charities, with each book purchase, each purchase that somebody makes is making a difference. 

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

Alyssa Lego: This really all began from my relationship with my younger brother.  I learned pretty early on that the world just was not designed for autistic people. We have a long ways to go in terms of true autism acceptance, rather than just awareness. And there were so many moments that just broke my heart as a young girl. I remember instances of sheer bullying because my brother couldn’t communicate. He communicated in a different way just because his brain was wired a certain way. He was discriminated against in school and in the community.

As that older sister, I wanted to do whatever I could to make the world a better place for my brother and people that were experiencing the world in a similar way to my brother. And for me, I love to write and I love to speak. So that’s how the lesson plan program started all those years ago.

Charity Matters: what or who influenced you to start giving back at such an early age?

Alyssa Lego: I was raised in a home that really embraced volunteerism and giving back to your community. My earliest introduction to volunteerism was with the Special Olympics.  I volunteered as an ambassador with the Special Olympics from I think the time I was nine years old  until I was maybe about 14. So I would fundraise for the organization and I got the chance to attend events. 

The Special Olympics was the first time where I actually delivered a motivational speech. I was 12, at one of the Special Olympics events, and I remember just thinking to myself, this is a space where I can use that force for good.  I believe that is really where it all started. I remember I hosted, with a lot of help from my parents, an ice cream social to benefit the Special Olympics when I was in the fifth grade. Everybody came out my whole school came out all my teachers.  But I think even at that young age, I realized wow, I am part of something so much bigger than myself. Then as I got older, I started to realize that I really want to see what these proceeds and what these funds are doing. That’s what led me to create things like You, Me and Neurodiversity. I could really see where that money was going, and feel that impact and continue making those connections firsthand.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Lego: I think I’ve really seen ageism in action a lot. Being 14, my mom was in the back because I was a minor, pitching to the Board of Education for why they should put my lesson plan in schools at that young age. So I really, I have seen a lot of ageism, and people just just not understanding that young people can be the change. Young people can start great things and be a part of great things. And unfortunately, I think that’s something that deters a lot of young people away from volunteerism or starting their own organization. They think that’s for people who already have established careers or who already have X amount of years doing certain things.

I think another challenge that I still face day to day is just time management. Being a full-time college student, the creator of You, Me, Neurodiversity,  being involved in school,  reserving time for family and friends and of course taking care of myself it’s definitely not easy.  By being disciplined with myself, and taking care of myself allows me to kind of fill all of those buckets.  I’ve really learned the importance of teamwork and communication. Time management is a skill that I’m continuing to develop as I get older. It’s just been such an incredible journey and I’m so grateful for all of the people that have really helped me get to this point and inspire me to continue on.

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

Alyssa Lego: My brother, it just goes back to the initial inspiration.  I actually just became one of my brother’s legal guardians because he just turned 18 years old. That is one thing that certainly keeps me up at night but also continues to inspire and motivate me.  Just the prospect and the idea of my brother, being able to live a thriving, a fulfilling life in a community that supports him is what inspires me. This is what motivates me to write that social media post when I don’t really feel like doing it, or change the dimensions of the book for the 7,000,000th time.

I think that’s the most magical thing about founders and about the nonprofit space because everybody has that story. Everybody has that. It’s almost like a duality between the vision, and what makes you tick. Seeing the present, seeing the past, but then knowing what the future can be and knowing that you’re a part of that. Knowing that you’re writing that story,  in my case, literally writing that story is just incredibly inspiring. And then of course, knowing that I don’t walk alone is another thing that really inspires me as well.

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

Alyssa Lego: I would love to turn You Me Neurodiversity into a household  name for reading about autism acceptance. I really would love to continue developing our interactive activity books and  just taking all of these great experiences that kids have in the classroom and making them inclusive.  I really do believe that we could do that with our books and programs. And I’m hoping to partner with more schools, speak with the children and really have them understand what it means to be an ambassador of acceptance. Then one day pass the torch on in the hopes of creating a more inclusive world.

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

Alyssa Lego: I think listening as much as you speak is one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.  I think I’ve really learned the great power of teamwork and of listening as a tool for leadership.  It’s really not about having the loudest voice in the room, but making sure that everybody else in the room feels like they have a stake in the conversation and feels like they’re being heard.

 I think another great lesson that I’ve learned is listening to the communities that you serve. I am  big on self advocacy, and amplifying autistic voices. It’s in itself, it’s such a powerful tool. That is one piece of advice that I would give to any founder. Really listen to the communities you serve to understand those nuances. Because if you’re in a space where you can really affect change, you want to make sure you’re going you’re using your passion for a purpose. One of the most important things that really guides everything I do is listening to the communities that I’m serving.




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Service and leadership

Last week  I was in DC to speak as the keynote speaker for the National Christ Child Society. The organization’s mission is to serve children in need. My grandmother was a member and I joined our local chapter about twenty years ago. So it was such a privilege to speak to all of the chapter presidents from across the country on two of my favorite topics, leadership and service. I thought I would share some of the highlights which included much of what we have all learned here together about amazing leaders.

Here are a few snippets……I’ll spare you all the 30 minute version.

If you could change the world, would you? Of course, we all would say yes. But how? How would you change the world? It is a daunting idea and one so big that it almost shuts us down. Who me? What could I do that would possibly make a difference? I’m just one person. I’m not a leader or someone who aspires to greatness. I’m just one person who cares.

After interviewing hundreds of nonprofit founders since 2011, I can tell you this is what I have discovered that all of these leaders have in common. 

1. Everyone was motivated by one person or something that happened to them personally.
2. Everyone I interviewed truly thought if they could just help one.
3. No one knew what they were getting into

Here is the thing, every single one of these people changed the world. They have literally changed the world. How? Simply because they cared.

We are all here to serve one another and here on a mission to find out what gifts we have to give. Our lives are serendipitous journeys that teach us lessons along the way. My journey took me from caring about children, to having an enormous loss, a rebirth, was healed through service, met leaders, and through it all learned to lead. Now teaching young leaders. How wonderful the journey is when we open our hearts to serve.

Now it’s time to go out and know that you are a leader, you are a person with connection, purpose, and community. Most of all you are a person who cares and that is an invitation to change the world.





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The Aloha Spirit

I sat down this weekend to write about National Nonprofit Day which is today. However, with all that is going on in Maui it somehow just didn’t feel like the right thing to share. So rather than talk about National Nonprofit Day, I thought I would take this time to share a few amazing nonprofits that are doing all they can to help those families in Maui who have lost everything.

When tragedy strikes we see the best of humanity. People coming together to help and support one another. In the nonprofit world this is simply a day at the office. Organizations working tirelessly every day to help one another. At this moment in time there are many great organizations that are working to help. I thought I would share a few of them here…

The Maui Strong Fund –We have dear friends who live in Maui and this seems to be the local favorite fund. The Hawaii Community Foundation is providing rapid response to families in need.

The Maui Food BankThe Maui food Bank has been helping people for decades on the island of Maui but now their need is overwhelming with thousands of people in need of food. 

United Way Maui  The United Way Maui was named the nonprofit of the year in 2022 in Maui and serves the Maui community in a multitude of ways.

Maui Humane Society – The Maui Humane Society is working hard to keep lost pets safe and trying to reunite many pets with their families. They are overwhelmed as are so many on Maui. If furry friends are your passion than maybe a small contribution to the humane society might be for you.

Salvation Army Hawaii– The Salvation Army is feeding people, setting up shelters and providing kits with basic necessity’s to people who have lost everything. 

World Central Kitchen– The World Central Kitchen has already supplied over 16,000 meals to first responders and families in Maui within the first five days of the fires. They continue to arrive and set up meals when and where disaster strikes. 

In addition, there are so many great places all over this country hosting fundraisers, collection drives and Go Fund Me pages, I am including a friend of mine’s Go Fund Me link here as well. There are opportunities for all of us to pitch in ways big and small.

So as we acknowledge National Nonprofit Day and all that these incredible organizations do everyday to help, it seems like a good day to lean in and do just that. The people of Maui need us now.




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