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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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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 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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 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 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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

A 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.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 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 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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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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.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 62: Mitchell Thorp Foundation

There is nothing better than meeting a total stranger and feeling like you could be old friends. That is exactly the warmth and graciousness that today’s guest Beth Thorp brought to this week’s conversation. Beth is a ray of sunshine who shares her incredible story of loss and purpose.

It is always challenging talking to parents who have lost a child.  Beth and her family have taken their loss and turned it into incredible support for families whose children suffer from life threatening illness with their organization the Mitchell Thorp Foundation. Join us today for an uplifting, inspirational conversation of love, family, faith and purpose.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Mitchell Thorp Foundation does?

Beth Thorp: We are a public 501 C3  organization and we support families with children with life threatening illnesses, diseases and disorders by providing financial emotional resource support to them.  The foundation is in honor of my son’s name. That’s why it’s titled Mitchell Thorp Foundation. His name was Mitchell. He was my firstborn son and beautiful young man. A 4.0 students who loved to play baseball. He was known for that and his father played the Dodger organization at one point before he succumb to an injury. We are a little nuts when it comes to baseball season around here.

 

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

Beth Thorp: My son at the age of 13, came home from school with very severe headaches.  As any parent, you think maybe you’re coming down with the flu or something. So you do next indicated thing, give him a pain reliever go lay down. As days went on, he kind of got a little better, and then went back to school, but the couldn’t concentrate with  head pain. Until one day he came home and he just kind of collapsed in the front yard, which just totally frightened me.

 I’m  crying out to my husband come quick, something is seriously wrong.  We go to the doctor, and then it was really a rude awakening to our medical system. We checked off the boxes going to the doctors, and then it gets worse than he ends up in the hospital.. At his first hospital stay, he was there for three days running tests and things kept coming back negative normal. So then you’re trusting the doctors going down this path. Fast forward we had a five year journey of chasing pain, chasing trying to find a diagnosis and doctors scratching their heads trying to figure out what it was. It was a season of chaos, fear and anxiety and all those emotions that were watching your child suffer.

 This was also a  season of testing your faith.  We all go through it at some point in time in our lives, where the rug gets pulled out from underneath us, and things change on a dime. And you’re not expecting it at all. Where is your strong foundation? Because if you don’t have one, you’re going to crumble. We’ve seen so many people who fall into situations like us.  Statistically  close to 75% of families end up  in divorce or separation because the stresses of dealing with a medically critical ill child or a child with severe disabilities.

In 2008, a story ended up in the Union Tribune, about our family.  People really wanted to help us and they created a walkathon to help us pay off our huge medical bills that we had even with great insurance.  That experience totally changed us and humbled us and it really was also in my deepest pain and grief from losing our son.

As the faithful woman,  I heard something deep within my spirit resonate.   I knew it had to been God’s speaking to me because he said, “This is not the end, this is the beginning.” And I just sat up in my bed looked up or the heavenlies and said, “Oh, this feels like the end. What do you mean? What do you mean by that?”

So I’m looking up there and asking where did that thought come from? Why would I think that? Where would that have come from? That same week, my husband was at the local church and there was two boys he coached in baseball.  Both boys unfortunately had cancer.  Again, families trying to make ends meet and he really had that strong calling. He thought, we should form a foundation to help many families going through what we went through. So he comes home to tell me that.  And I said, “You want to do what?” Then I really had to realize, Oh my goodness maybe that’s what he meant by that this is not the end, this is the beginning.

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

Beth Thorp: It takes so much drive and that entrepreneurial spirit to make this work happen. The perseverance you really have to have is strong. And for us, it was a God given vision that we could not let go. This vision was driving us forward, like a steam engine.

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

Beth Thorp: We’ve actually given back over $3 million already back into the community. So that’s like, oh, wow, we’ve helped 1000 plus people and children and counting.  That’s a huge!  We just started with one child and one family at a time. And that’s how it started. And you just kind of kept one foot in front of the other.  Seeing these families scared out of their minds and just being that light in the dark for them is is huge for us. But yeah, the impact was huge.

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

Beth Thorp: I thought about that question and the big dream. Well, the beautiful thing was since the release of the book, my publisher now put me in touch with two film producers, who are we are writing a screenplay. Yay! We wanted to take the organization worldwide, because right now we’re just California based. We we want to build different chapters throughout the United States.

We do see ourselves what we call scaling up for that and we’re getting ready for that.  And we’re in the midst of taking it and the book into an adaptation into script. So we’ll see what happens? That would be my my dream. To see it on film, the story out to those who need to hear it, to see it.  And that’s going to be an inspirational story.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Beth Thorp: I think what changed me the most is learning that I have no control over anything. If you think about it, we really don’t have control over anything. Especially my type of personality, we want to control and make things work the way it should work.  So the big lesson was surrender.

I keep having to surrender every day. It’s not my will, but his.  And when you can learn to do that it’s a beautiful thing to see how people come into your life, serendipitously. Those divine appointments, keep surprising me. So that is the one thing that has changed me, giving up the control and keep surrendering. 

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

Beth Thorp: There’s a lot of lessons that I had to learn. Well, I think for me was to stay strong in my faith, because faith doesn’t always take you out of problem. They’ve taken you through it. Faith doesn’t always take away the pain but its going to give you the ability to get through it. And then faith doesn’t always calm the storms of life but it gets you through the storms. So it’s really for me, it was just hanging on. I’m like a cat with the claws when I felt like I wasn’t hanging on. But just staying strong in that and to just persevere and never give up.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 61 : Dignity Defense Institute

It’s been a minute since we have put out a new episode of Charity Matters and it’s hard to believe we are already at Episode 61! Thank you to all our amazing subscribers and listeners. It is so fun meeting new people and telling their stories. More than that, learning what interesting ways people are changing the world.

Today’s guest, Nicole Smith is the founder of the Dignity Defense Institute, a nonprofit that is setting out to educate humanity on human value. Their mission is to become an amplifying force for the defense of human dignity.  Join as Nicole shares her story about working on the PR side of human crisis and how that work and the birth of her daughter inspired her to use her voice to help create change.

 

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Dignity Defense Institute does?

Nicole Smith:  Our primary focus is on educating on the foundation of human value. In order to transform culture so that the offenses that we see within cultures across the world, typically is found within this idea that we can measure human value by another criteria other than simply being human. So if we were to educate culture on the inherent value of the human person, we change the course of offenses against the human person. 

We base our organization around action committees. So these Action Committee committees are in all the different what we call symptom industries. So trafficking, disability community, orange culture, drug culture, those are different,  fronts to the human person, they’re all really interconnected.

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

Nicole Smith:  Yes, my father by trade was an entrepreneur and inventor. But by service, they were youth ministers that founded churches across the US. So I grew up with a lot of at risk youth in our home. My mom was a counselor for Judo, juvenile detention center for girls in our community. So exposure to a world beyond just four walls of a home that was very instrumental in forming what I would do in the future.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Dignity Defense Institute?

Nicole Smith: I got an undergraduate in political science and a master’s in law and public public policy. With the intention of going forth being an attorney in the public space. I ended up sort of landing on the communication side of the public policy world. It wasn’t intentional, but I graduated during the recession and attorneys were a dime a dozen. So I sort of took a different track.

 I had a job at a constitutional law firm controlling their communication, and we called it the court of public opinion. We had a lot of affiliates across the world, in which we would advocate on their behalf of different cases. For example, it could be a child bride of Uganda, or a sex slave of Afghanistan. We did a lot of cases of imprisonment in prison. Religious minorities, Turkey, Sudan, like Iran, we did a lot of different varying cases. 

I was going into places in the world in which justice wasn’t often seen. So if you were going to go into Iran, justice is not what you would come out of the court systems finding. So we would go to the court of public opinion, we had one of the cases where  he was a joint American Iranian citizen, but we advocate on his behalf. We got over a million signatures on his behalf, Obama included him on his Iranian deal.

 In January of 2020,  I got to DC to sort of launch this concept with a group of individuals. It was interesting to watch the world at that time. By consequence, I was pregnant with my second little daughter. And she would be born in distress and sustained brain injury during that process. And she now has cerebral palsy as a result.

I mentioned her birth because I say it’s when the mission was given flesh and bone.  So I had to help these little girls across the world, and I could never hug them, I could never give them a kiss and say they were special, like they deserved. But now I could do that to my own daughter. 

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

Nicole Smith: I call it the short term and the long term goals.  You have to be focused on that short term, because that’s the climax, the shift and perspective of the impact for that individual. And then to be patient enough for what that long term goal is beyond it is really important.  It takes time to change culture and it’s not going to just be overnight. So we have to look at those metrics, and internally of the impact that we’re having. I say the epiphany point is where the individual that you  speak to gets it.  I can’t tell you the rewarding feature of that, where the light goes on their eyes. 

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

Nicole Smith:  Increase our reach obviously. We want to have a greater reach within our communities so that we can really creatively educate through stories and thought provoking ideas of questions. That’s the big dream is just the growth and influence because that’s how we educate people. We want to have more of those stories of victory with  people that have had their climax moment. And they’re on the other side of it and they’re living their new normal.

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

Nicole Smith: The funny thing is my 10 plus year career has been around nonprofits and nonprofit leaders and nonprofit volunteers. But it’s a different perspective. When you’re on the other side of that it.  I’ve grown millions of dollars and donor money. But I’ve never been on the other initiating part of that journey where I’ve always built amplified off of a starting point. And to take responsibility for that has been just really very challenging. We’re still a new organization, we’re still running and there’s been more delays and I ever wanted to because my daughter is my priority. There is victory in those lessons that I can’t and would never want to take back.  Even if this didn’t grow into this massive idea that just changed the face of our world. I can’t take back the lessons that I learned and I’m a different person because of it.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 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. A few weeks ago, 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.

 

 

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 to hospital 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 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 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 ofCity 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 what 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 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 financial 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 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 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 the folks who say, “My loved ones 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 to this fund to continue in perpetuity. So my dream is to keep spreading the word as long 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’s the biggest life lesson is 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 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 that 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 had to learn to slow down and not be busy, which I really liked. But I’ve 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.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 
YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
 

Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

 

Charity Matters: 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 to hospital 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 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 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 what 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 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 financial 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 to accost people in the market.

June Penrod:

 

 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dana Pepper Bouton:

June Penrod:

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 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 59: Project Libertad

I was recently having a conversation with friends about what our grandparents and great grandparents went through coming to America. I love these conversations for a few reasons. First because we all have these stories. Secondly, because they remind us how strong and resilient our ancestors were and what they sacrificed for us. The immigrant story is the story of our country.

While immigration has been a hot political topic these days, regardless of your stance, there are still people coming to our country who need help. That is where today’s guest, Rachel Rutter comes in. Rachel is the founder of Project Libertad, an organization that helps immigrant youth in a multitude of ways. Join us for an inspirational conversation about some of the challenges these children are facing and how she and Project Libertad and making a difference.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Rachel Rutter: We are a nonprofit organization serving newcomer immigrant youth. So we’re working with kids who have recently arrived in the US and their families. The people we primarily work with arecunaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico. In addition, we also work with a lot of families from Brazil.

There are fewer services in the counties outside of Philadelphia, so we’re providing legal services,  helping kids with their immigration process, and trying to address the other needs that they have. For example, we have kids who struggle with housing insecurity, food insecurity, mental health support, and all those sorts of things. So we’re trying to not only meet their, their need for immigration status and help them with that process, but also all these other challenges that they face as they’re adjusting to being here in the US.

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

Rachel Rutter:  When I was in college, I had this idea that I wanted to start a nonprofit someday.  I was very naive about how hard it would be. So I started all of the paperwork, and incorporating and 501 C 3 status in law school.  Then at the same time, I was working with all these clients who had legal needs, needed asylum, or they needed to apply for immigration status. 

Then they always have all these other needs. For example they don’t have a safe place to live, have family issues, trauma, and need food. There are any number of different issues that they have.  I just wished we had a social worker that we could partner with and have like a wraparound approach. A place where we are meeting all the needs, not just this legal needs.

So the idea came to create an organization that does try to do all those different things in a one stop shop.  We are doing that now, and we had just hired a case manager to connect kids to resources in the community and social services.  I’m obviously doing the legal part. And we hope to continue replicating that and growing in new areas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Rutter: One of the biggest things I remember getting really frustrated with was applying for different grants.  It’s really hard to get your foot in the door as a new nonprofit. Nobody wants to take a chance on you, you’re tiny, and they want to see that you have money before they give you money. But you can’t show them that unless someone gives you money. It’s just kind of like a chicken and egg problem. So that was really frustrating.

We took classes on grant writing.  I just practiced and got better over time. Eventually, we did a grant in partnership with HIAS which was the first ever grant that we got. Just being able to say that this other foundation gave us a grant went really far. Being patient, learning how to talk about your mission in a way that people want to fund it. Because it’s really important. It’s like writing a thesis in college where you have to structure it the right way so that people want to support it.  That was a big learning curve for us.

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

Rachel Rutter: It can be really hard, but the most important thing for me has always been like the relationship that I have with the kids that we work with. So that’s definitely like the biggest motivator for me. I also have like a very supportive family, husband, and friends who work in this industry as well.

So I feel like I have not only my team, my project like that, but also my colleagues from other organizations  who are always supportive. We can always like work together to solve problems.  It can definitely be challenging, but I feel like I have a good support system. Working directly with the kids is what gives me energy. Usually, that’s what I’m trying to focus on. If I need to push through, I’m thinking about the kids and that connection that we get to have with them.

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

Rachel Rutter:  In terms of our impact, we served over 1000 people last year. The times I think when I feel like the most impactful are when a student shares some things that were going on in her family.  After hearing this we were able to provide support with that. There was food insecurity in the household and so we went grocery shopping. It doesn’t always have to be complicated. This kid said I need food and we went to the store and we got food and like that was that. My colleagues and I do stuff like that all the time.

I think those are definitely the moments for me that are the most rewarding when you can just help somebody in such a concrete immediate way. So I love that we have the ability to do that. Sometimes those kind of moments don’t necessarily get captured in the numbers you put in a grant report. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I have two thoughts about that. One is to continue expanding and replicating what we’re doing now in our current locations. Having the combination of lawyers and social workers reproducing that in new counties as we grow.

Then the other thing I would love to do is to have some sort of shelter for youth who are 18 to early 20s. Something that we run into a lot is youth who have housing insecurity. They don’t either have anywhere to go because the foster care system doesn’t help them once they are 18. We run into cases like that where kids don’t have anywhere to go. There are really limited options currently for them. We would really love to do is eventually have some sort of space for kids like that. So that would be  another dream that I would have for the future. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I think one thing is just like the importance of these relationships with the kids.  So I think just the value in those long term relationships is so so important, and like sustaining for me. I’ve definitely been learning to delegate more, now that we have more staff.  It’s always hard for me to kind of let go of things because this is my baby.

 I also realize when I’m feeling burned out that having a good team that you can trust to do things so that you aren’t trying to do everything as one person is really important. I’m learning to  relax a little more. A lot of things work themselves out if you if you wait long enough. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Rutter:  I think when I started this out, I was a little bit naive about how difficult it might be to get funds. So like I mentioned, I’ve learned a lot there. I just think I have more confidence in myself and my knowledge as an attorney.  We’ve really developed our niche where we are the local the experts working with this population.

I think that took me a long time to kind of see this as like a real thing and now other people seeing it that way too.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2023 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.

Traveling with a purpose

“Some travel to see the difference, others travel to make a difference.”

Author Unknown

As we begin to prepare for summer vacations many people have asked for suggestions regarding vacations with a purpose. We are just beginning to dream of travel. Our youngest son is graduating college in a few weeks and I hope that means we get a raise? If so, I am looking forward to planning some of these excursions for our family and began the research which I wanted to share with you.

Like any trip the questions of who, what, where are always good places to start. Are you taking young children or elderly parents? What do you want to accomplish through your volunteering and who do you want to serve? There are so many fantastic organizations in need all over the globe but thinking about this helps you narrow down the hardest question which is where should we go and who do we want to serve?

Step one: Research

For me, the starting place was visiting websites like Responsible Travel. Since 2001 they have been planning vacations and have served over 150,000 people in that time. They have a huge team even though they are based in England they have amazing programs that also give back to other organizations when you work with them Their site is great looking and easy to navigate. For sure this should be your first stop in researching your travel with a purpose.

Another great place to continue to explore and research is Volunteerforever. com Since 2015, Volunteerforever.com has compiled some of the best volunteer abroad programs around the globe with over 900 international volunteer abroad programs and thousands of reviews on all of them. Their goal is to take the guesswork out of choosing a program.

You also want to take a look at  International Volunteer HQ if you are searching for another place to begin to vet meaningful volunteer work and experience a life-changing vacation this is a great place to get information about programs and volunteer opportunities abroad. They offer some of the world’s largest volunteer abroad projects in over 40 destinations across Africa, South America, Central America, North America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. International Volunteer HQ has helped over 102, 000 volunteers since 2007, so they certainly know what they are doing.

Step Two: Consider an Eco-Tourism Trip

Eco-tourism is another way to make your travel this summer meaningful while also helping the environment. There are so many options whether you want to do a trip like we did a few years to the Galapagos that focuses on endangered ecosystems and habitats or you want to explore endangered wildlife there are a number of organizations that can help you with both.

If you think you want to do something to save our oceans or that focuses on marine habitats then GoVoluntouring.com is a great place to start exploring a way to mix your passion with a great vacation. Their goal is to turn one million travelers into one million volunteers. They offer everything from eco-biology to wildlife volunteer programs for a host of ages and in countries across the globe. Goecocom also helps the vetting process if you are looking for something more environmental, marine and ecology based.  Another option is to go straight to the source of an organization you want to serve like the WorldWildlife.org They are a nonprofit that has been connecting their own supporters and volunteers to their cause and they have a number of ways you can get involved.

Step Three: Set your goal with who you want to serve

Serving people in need can offer so many opportunities to not only learn about other cultures but also ways to teach your children empathy and use your time to truly do something meaningful. Opportunities can be anything from building homes, feeding the hungry, bringing water into areas without fresh water and the list goes on.  Again you can go directly to a nonprofit that you already know and love like Habitat for Humanity, One World, Pencils of Promise or a host of other large nonprofit organizations and have them connect you to a project. You can also look at Projects Abroad and Pack for a Purpose as well for suggestions. So many of these opportunities allow you to really get to meet new people, work with them and learn so much about how others live.

The bottom line is no matter how you choose to spend your summer vacation there is a way to include even a small portion of service into your trip. So consider looking into a few of these resources and let me know if you have any others?  Like all good trips, it takes time, careful planning and getting tips from multiple resources to plan a memorable experience that will enrich your life and someone else’s as well. Just imagine how great your summer travel could be with a fantastic destination, a cause, a purpose and an opportunity to be more compassionate, empathetic and giving. It sounds like a perfect recipe for joy. Happy planning and safe travels!

 

Charity Matters

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Episode 57: Mission Launch

Did you know one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record? That means almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. Today’s guest is no stranger to these numbers, she is actually part of that statistic. Since April is Second Chance month there seems to be no better time to talk about new beginnings than today.

Join us to learn the incredible story of one woman’s journey from prison to nonprofit founder. Teresa Hodge is an absolute inspiration. Learn about Teresa’s tireless work to help those who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives with her organization Mission Launch.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Mission Launch does?

Teresa Hodge: Mission Launch is focused on helping the men and women who have arrest or conviction records get back on their feet. The reentry process is where we focus. Reentry is that period of time right after they come in contact with the legal system. It is when they’re just trying to get back on their feet and reintegrate back into society. We  focus on helping people with jobs, housing and getting into higher education. 

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

Teresa Hodge: One of my dad’s favorite statements was when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I was an entrepreneur and  part of a group of other entrepreneurs. The company we founded was investigated by the government. From the moment the company was investigated, my life just drastically changed. I spent about five or six years, fighting the charges. When I went to trial, I knew very little about our criminal legal system.  I went to trial and  lost.  As a result of that, I was given an 87 month federal prison sentence or seven years and three months. I was the first person in my family to be charged and I was heartbroken and devastated. 

I just knew that there had to be meaning and a greater purpose. In hindsight, it was as if all seeds have been planted. One of those seeds was  how was I going to use my time in prison? When I looked at the time, I said, “God, when I come out, what I’m going to know the most about?  What will be the most relevant from going to prison?” 

It was about 10 days after I was convicted, that I began writing a version of the work that I’m doing now.  I had experienced about five years of fighting on the front side. I was scared to death, quite frankly. Seven months felt like a life sentence, but seven years, three months was unimaginable. So it was just a really difficult time. What I knew was that if I could survive it, that I was going to bring good out of it.

The reality is I actually had to endure the long journey of incarceration. That was the lemon and it was a long time sucking on those sour lemons. I was already as an entrepreneur and knew how to write business plans.  As you know,  I was a part of a captive audience in prison. So I was able to ask questions and do market research.  I watched women leave prison and then I watched come back.  Why would someone return? I didn’t understand and was baffled.  

The thought is prison is supposed to do some level of correcting while people are incarcerated.  And yet, when people return, there’s often no pathway back. While I was sitting in prison I just felt like I’m going to create the pathway that I need to go back. And I’m going to bring all of those experiences and all those stories into my design so that we create enough pathways for people who were trying their best. 

I came home in 2012 and we started Mission Launch in 2012.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Teresa Hodge:  The challenges were I was underfunded. I knew a lot about prison but I knew nothing about a nonprofit. We were new entity and were unknown. And we had this huge vision for how we could disrupt and change and make life and society better for all of us. In the end, I had the ability to stick to something. And so and to learn and to evolve and to grow,  I’ve been able to navigate to a good place. 

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

Teresa Hodge: We measure Deep Impact, the stories and the people that we can talk about.  I can tell you a story of a young man who came into our hackathon just a few days after being home from prison, and he just had lots of potential. He didn’t want to work at McDonald’s and he had the ability to do something different. And he was inspired to start a business and struggled to start the business. Long story short, today, he runs a National Cooperative. He now hires other formerly incarcerated people. That idea and  the ability to build that was birthed inside of a space that we hosted. I served on his board for a while. We validated him, incubated him and were his fiscal sponsor. So it’s that level of deep impact 

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

Teresa Hodge: I want to shorten the time it takes a person to come home and get back on their feet after incarceration.  The big dream is for us to have a national strategy with a localized approach. Reentry is hyperlocal. Right? The statistics are one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record. That means over 70 million, almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. It’s staggering and not a small number.

I am on a mission to normalize the fact that we have so many people in our country with an arrest or conviction record. If we normalize that as a fact, then we can move beyond the fact that a person has a record. Then we can create all the pathways of opportunities for 80 million people.

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

Teresa Hodge: I think the greatest life lesson is for me was in prison, when my life became smaller.  It’s had so much meaning when my life in prison was the great equalizer. When you think of one in three Americans who have an arrest or conviction record, prison is a microcosm of the United States. It’s a microcosm of society. It’s disproportionately black and brown. People who go to prison are gay and straight,  black, white, brown, yellow, Native American and all religions. In that moment, we all just wanted the same thing to endure and get back home.  I learned to be so accepting of so many people and cultures  that maybe I would not have been. So I think the greatest lesson is we’re just more alike than we are not.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Teresa Hodge: I have and I am currently on a mission to restore some of the joy. I have been heads down doing this work for 11 years. So it’s changed me in the sense that I’m a workaholic and I’m too focused on it. Now I’m on a mission  to let up a little bit. You’ve done your part. It may or may not be fixed in your lifetime but you’re going to do your contribution. And that’s all you can do.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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