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Happy 11th Birthday Charity Matters!

It seems like yesterday…..over eleven years ago I had a dream. A dream to tell the story of my heroes, remarkable people who take their pain and turn it into incredible organizations making a difference for others by creating non-profits. That dream became Charity Matters.

Like most dreams it wasn’t crystal clear where it would lead or why it appeared. This dream was loud and clear that this was what I was supposed to do. So, the journey began. Like all journeys, there have been challenges along the way, most of them technology based. Facing fears head on is what founders do. While technology and I are certainly not a dynamic duo, we are getting along much better these days.

From the hundreds of  heroes we have met here there have been so many life lessons.  I have learned the power of love, kindness, tenacity, passion, commitment and sacrifice. Every story shared about these remarkable humans has the same common denominator and each time I am inspired all over again.

Most importantly, you have been my greatest teachers.  I am humbled by your dedication, thrilled when you suggest a favorite cause and always so touched to know that you are here on this journey and for that I am so grateful.

Birthdays are for celebrating and I am happy to continue celebrating Charity Matters birthdays  with you. So thank you for all the gifts you have given us. Receiving our weekly emails, subscribing to our podcast, leaving podcast reviews, sharing a post that touched you with friends or just telling me what action you have taken to make Charity Matter in your life. You are all remarkable and each life you touch through kindness matters.

Thank you for touching mine so profoundly.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

 

 

Looking back at West Coast Sports Associates

Summer is in full swing and it is a season when we all what to go outside and play. For many students who live in the inner city playing, sports more specifically isn’t an option. Twenty-five years ago four college buddies who loved sports decided to change all of that for thousands of kids across Southern California.

Join us today as we look back at a fantastic conversation with one of the founders of West Coast Sports Associates, Mike Gottlieb. As Mike shares the journey of turning a passion for sports into an incredible nonprofit organization that has raised millions for inner-city youth.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what West Coast Sports Associates does?

Mike Gottlieb: It’s not like a lot of other charities out there.  We found kind of a gap in the youth sports world that we’re hoping to fill and grow. Our niche is lower and middle-school-aged children who live in underserved areas, getting them access to team sports.  We all have such great experiences with youth sports growing up, that we just can’t imagine what things would be like for kids if they couldn’t afford to play sports? And there are so many benefits to youth sports.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start West Coast Sports Associates?

Mike Gottlieb: It all started with three really good friends of mine that I’ve known since college, Chip Eggers, Alan Lynch, and Mike Rosenberg. What we all have in common was a passion for sports. We didn’t necessarily have the end result of what West Coast sports Associates was but we knew we had something. A few morning breakfasts and we finally kind of came up with the concept.

We all have had such great experiences playing team sports growing up and we want to make sure that all kids had the same access. To start, we didn’t know what to do. So we decided to have an event where we’re each going to invite five or 10 friends of ours. We would host it, and tell people about our plan. And honestly, we’re not expecting anything.

Meanwhile, Alan was good friends with Steve Soboroff, who at the time, was the head of La Parks and Rec. Alan worked with Steve who identified a park in South LA called Jim Gilliam Park. They had a lot of at-risk kids who were foster kids and or their parents couldn’t afford to pay the entry fee to play flag football, soccer, basketball, or whatever sport. So we decided whether we put up $10,000 to support their programs for the year and let the park director pick the kids. He focused on kids who stayed out of trouble and went to school.  We put them all on scholarship.

We started in 1994 with just four of us committing $10,000 to today giving out about $200,000 a year. And it just happened because we all had this same passion for sports.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mike Gottlieb: Well, I would say when we first started, we grew slowly.  We were all volunteers for maybe the first 10 years. We had no, literally no help and we just did it all ourselves.  I think during Mike Rosenberg’s term, he finally brought on a part-time executive director. Over time the part-time Executive Director evolved into a full-time Executive Director.  Our treasurer and board members we’re all volunteers.

All of the founders have all taken turns being President. Between the four founders, everyone in our group, there’s a connection to one of the four of us. We all have this passion for sports. I guess you could say we turned an addiction to sports into something positive.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’re not here, because we’re searching for the next professional athlete. We’re just here to help the average kid just participate in sports. We want them to get the life lessons when you play sports, you have to be more organized with your time, learn time management, learn how to listen, follow directions and learn how to be a leader. The statistics about the future health of these kids that do and don’t participate in sports are really mind-boggling. Students who participate in sports have better grades, stay out of trouble, form friendships, have more self-confidence, are healthier and the list goes on. We are just trying to help the average kid and there are so many benefits that we know we are making a difference.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’ve been doing this so long. I read the other day that Russell Westbrook used to play sports at one of our parks. And there’s Tony who played for the Dallas Cowboys who played another park. So we do it enough, we’re going to get some success stories. Those success stories are, are pretty exciting, because you just you never know, the kid who can’t play, he’s going to do something else. In those underserved areas, that’s something else that may not be good. I think we all know in our hearts, that there are kids we’ve saved because they’ve been able to play sports. How many I don’t know that. I know for a fact that that happened.

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

Mike Gottlieb:  I would say, half of our programs are different parks in LA City Parks and Recs. The other half are nonprofits that directly do different sports like Heart Harlem lacrosse or Beat the streets for wrestling. We not only support the Parks and Recs departments but then, in addition,  give funds to nonprofits that are supporting work with special needs kids.

We did actually, the first-ever public-private partnership between The City of LA, twenty-some years ago with youth soccer. When you understand how AYSO works, they’re all volunteers and they don’t have a big budget, like the clubs. So they really have to just kind of scrap to get facilities to get fields. So we put together the first-ever partnership with LA. and have done more of those public-private partnerships since.  We’re trying to do more to empower a nonprofit or the parks.  The idea is that we hope when we start with a particular location, that we can get them off the ground, and ultimately they can become self-sufficient in raising their own funds. Then we can take that money and find someone else and that’s what we tried to do.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We have thought about expanding,  so we are doing more in Orange County. That was kind of a test model and we’ve sponsored some programs down here. Can we do something in San Diego, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Portland, and Seattle? Then we’re really on the whole west coast. I would love to be able to see this happen in other cities and there are other groups that do things like this. Not exactly, but in every major city there is some group that’s helping with youth sports. In theory, we could franchise. It would be great to see this adapted in other cities and help welcome.

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

Mike Gottlieb: Oh, gosh you know, you look back and realize we didn’t know when we started where we were going. In looking back on it I feel really good that not only have we helped the kids, but we’ve energized people in our group to go out to help our mission.  They’ve also expanded into other youth helping other youth out whether it’s sports or academics or other at-risk kids.  I think we’ve created an inertia that and we’re examples to other people. I think, “Okay, we’ve energized hundreds of people. And we’ve raised probably $5 million-plus but it’s just I think it’s the domino effect. A really positive domino effect.  We know without our work and without us, that doesn’t happen so that that feels good.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mike Gottlieb:  The other hope is that whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Whether it’s sports or a cure for a disease, whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Our hearts just happened to be sports and kids, because that was just pure.  Whatever your passion is, all you got to do is find one other person, and then talk about what you’d like to do. Don’t have any ambitious plans about how fast you grow, it can be small, if you just affect one other person, you’ve done something positive. That’s why I love what you’re doing, getting the stories out of the founders, in hopes that it’ll encourage other people to do the same thing.  You know, at the end of the day, give more than you get.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Looking back at Girls Leading Girls

As summer camps are in full gear everyone is looking for great ways to engage their children this summer. Since we are looking back at some fantastic conversations we had earlier this year, it seemed like a great time to revisit our conversation with Bre Russell.  Bre is developing the next generation of women leaders through her amazing nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls.

Join us as Bre shares her inspirational journey from a student-athlete to a nonprofit founder teaching thousands of young women how to lead. So if you haven’t heard this conversation, treat yourself with a long summer day and listen  to this amazing human.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Bre Russell: We are a nonprofit that trains girls and women in leadership advocacy and life skills through soccer. We are the first-ever all-girls soccer organization with all-women coaches. Every year we serve over 700 girls ages five to 17 in the Bay Area.

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

Bre Russell:  I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That was always something that appealed to me.  I worked at a young age because we were just trying to survive my family. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I relied on a lot of people to help.  My coaches making soccer even possible for me was huge. As a result, seeing other people helped me made me want to pay it forward and help others.

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Soccer was the game that I fell in love with it. It was a place where I was recognized, I could just be myself, and I could escape the struggles that I was facing at home or in school. During my time at Sacramento State, I played soccer and then after college, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. I was living in a village on a really small rural Island. A place where women didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Some girls saw me playing and then asked if they could play with me. After that,  we formed a team.

I found out FIFA was hosting a tournament nearby on another island and I organized to get us fundraising for uniforms. We went to the island and played on this hot volcanic ash. Three days into this tournament, we ended up winning first place. It was one of the highest moments I ever felt from such a big challenge. We won this huge Wimbledon size trophy. When we came back to the community they were waiting for us with flowers on the beach, to congratulate us. They were so proud of us! The team wanted to run around the community with the trophy.

A light bulb went off that soccer is not just a sport, it’s a vehicle for women’s empowerment, economic opportunity, equality, and community change.  These women were now seen as winners and that was all that I needed. When I came back from that experience, I knew I needed to start Girls leading Girls.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Bre Russell: Well, it’s definitely a grind, I think all entrepreneurship starts as you are grinding, you’re hustling. After Peace Corps, I was working full time for another nonprofit and building this on the side.  I was also coaching soccer in the community and that’s really what helped me get it going.  People in the community here in San Francisco, saw me coaching and said, “Can you coach our daughter? Because there are not enough women coaches.” This was in 2014 in San Francisco.

There’s definitely a lack of representation of women in sports at all levels. Eight years later, we’re starting to see that change.  When will we have women as not just referees and athletes, but owners of these higher-level clubs and teams? The challenge is there are not enough women coaches. We are essentially trying to change something that is also making it hard for us to do what we do.

We are recruiting, training and mentoring women to become coaches, which most never think that they can. So there are psychological barriers there. And we’re going up against male-run the old traditional model of coaching.  This is why we are trying to create something different because the old traditional model really was a disservice to girls.  Girls dropping out of sports at young ages, the statistics are there. Did you know that girls drop out of sports by age 12? That is over 50% rate that boys do.

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

Bre Russell:  There are a couple of things that fuel me. One is the girls in the program. Some of them I’ve known for eight years. To see them start with me and then to see them develop from a young age into confident, strong, young women on and off the field is just amazing. I mean, this is the beauty of kids that grow so fast. You can see that growth right before your eyes.

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

Bre Russell: We serve 736 Girls.  That was our biggest year yet and that was amazing coming off a COVID. As I said the demand is higher because of health issues and the stagnation of being home. It’s all come out in the surveys we put out to the girls and their parents. To hear things like, “Oh, my daughter lost her joy for life during COVID, when she came to your summer camp, it was like, she was a new person.”  Or,” I’ve never seen her smile like that once. ”

Hearing those stories are really an impact. That’s the depth. It’s not just soccer, we are teaching these girls confidence, self-esteem, and positive peer relationships, and we’re building them up, because, there is this huge confidence gap for girls. For me, it’s seeing this organization grow and how many girls we serve, but then also seeing the impact.

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

Bre Russell: When I was coaching, one of the key things I would say is,” What’s the most important play on the field?” They would say,” The next play.” So whatever just happened, let that go. Now you are focused on the next play.  I think we can apply that to life too. Because things happen to us and it can help you see that moments are temporary. It can help you really savor the positive wonderful moments too because you know, it’s not going to last. Then it also gives you the action of okay, what am I in control of? What is important to do next?  So it’s teaching many different things.

With my staff, we say,” Done, is better than perfect.” This is particularly important for women because perfectionism is a problem. We want to be so perfect that no one can criticize us. That’s what it stems from. I tell them all the time,”Done is better than perfect.” Perfectionism doesn’t exist.  We’re here to learn, right? I’d rather see something than nothing.  I’d rather you take a risk than not at all because you’re waiting for it to be perfect.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Bre Russell: I’ve definitely changed. When I went into the Peace Corps, I was 25 wide-eyed, and hopeful. I think I’ve changed in a variety of ways. Growing this organization, I’ve definitely learned to be more patient. In the process, of working with people in growth being more patient is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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

Bre Russell:  The dream is to expand and open branches of our program all over the world, starting in the US, and then having that impact worldwide. That would mean serving hundreds of 1000s of girls and women, empowering them to be confident and be leaders on and off the field.  It would give them the tools they needed to succeed whether or not they continued in the sport. We’re teaching them how to take risks, how to speak confidently, and how to go after what they want. So when they are older, they can have that conversation about a pay raise with their boss, or they can ask for that promotion. The goal is to just help the girls we serve to live the best life and go after what they want with confidence.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Looking back at Miracle Messages

I have had some pretty amazing conversations in the past ten years. Conversations that really made me think and look at the world around me in a totally different way. The conversation I had earlier this year with Kevin Adler, the founder of Miracle Messages was game-changing for me. It’s my hope that it is for you as well. I will never look at the homeless the same after this eye-opening exchange.

Join us as Kevin shares the story of his uncle who lived on the streets and how his uncle’s death inspired the creation of Miracle Messages. A nonprofit that not only reconnects the homeless to their loved ones but also provides a social connection through a phone buddy system and provides cash for rent once the unhoused person is ready.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Kevin Adler: We help our unhoused neighbors rebuild their social support systems and financial security, primarily through family reunifications, a phone buddy system, and direct cash transfers.

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

Kevin Adler: This work begins really with my own family. I had an uncle, who was very beloved to me. Uncle Mark was his name and he suffered from schizophrenia. He lived on and off the streets of Santa Cruz for 30 years. One day I was in college and I got a phone call from my dad telling me that Uncle Mark was found deceased at a halfway house at the age of 50.

I never thought about the life he was living on the streets. It wasn’t until years later that I was in San Francisco, that I found myself walking by our neighbors experiencing homelessness. I said, Gosh, everyone I’m walking by that’s someone’s son or daughter, brother, sister. So it got me thinking, what would it look like to help neighbors experiencing homelessness, people like my Uncle Mark, maybe share their stories, the stories that I didn’t know.

It wasn’t trying to solve a problem and create an organization.  I started a side project storytelling project called The Homeless GoPro. For one year, I invited 24 individuals experiencing homelessness to wear wearable cameras around their chests and narrate their experience of what life is like. When I got the footage back I was just shocked by what I heard and saw. One quote really stood out. It was,” I never realized I was homeless when I lost my housing. Only when I lost my family and friends.”

Long story short, I approached everyone I saw who was experiencing homelessness and asked, “Do you have any loved ones you’d like to reconnect with?” That’s how I met a man named Jeffery. He told me he hadn’t seen his family in 12 years. Jeffery recorded a video with his niece and nephew, his sister, and his dad. I went home and I got on Facebook and found a Facebook group connected to his hometown.

So I posted the video there and within one hour, that video got shared hundreds of times. It made the local news that night the leading story. Classmates started commenting, I went to high school with Jeffrey, I work in construction. Does he need a job? And in the first 20 minutes of the post, his sister got tagged. We got on the phone the next day and it turned out Jeffrey had been a missing person for 12 years.

The starting point of Miracle Messages was when Jeffrey reconnected with his family. I asked sister Jennifer, “This thing that seems to be bigger than just Jeffrey and your relationship. There seems there might be others, who are experiencing this issue. What should we call this, this initiative?” She said, “Well, we’re in this small town and people have referred to it the story as the miracle of Montoursville. And it’s Christmas, maybe it’s called the Miracle message.”

That’s the name and the vision from day one, which no one should go through homelessness alone. Hard to believe that was December 2014.

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

Kevin Adler: An impact is a person who’s experiencing homelessness, potentially getting off the streets. About 20% of the reunions lead to housing. Impact involves the cost savings that generates. When it costs us thousands of dollars compared to cities spending between $40,000 to $60,000 per unhoused person per year to maintain them on the streets for one year. The impact can be measured in the lives and the perspectives of the volunteers, who say, “I never knew I could do anything on the issue of homelessness, I felt a very low sense of personal efficacy in making an impact. But now I feel empowered.”

An impact can also be measured in the fact that we’ve received over 100 million views on our videos on Facebook. We’ve had over a million shares, and over 700 articles written about us. These all change the hearts and minds of people. When you see a video about a person experiencing homelessness, reconnecting with a loved one or being in a phone Buddy Program, or getting $500 a month towards rent then it changes your perspective.

So you know, we take impact seriously. I also think anyone who listens to their unhoused neighbors and or volunteers and has their heart or mind shifted or opened as a result, that’s an immeasurable impact that we’re very proud of as well.

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

Kevin Adler: For us, that dream is that no one goes through homelessness alone. I would love to end that sentence one word early. No one goes through homelessness. People generally have the knowledge and wherewithal of what is best for them but they just aren’t given the agency. They are not afforded the same opportunities that we all expect in this country. So just giving people the financial support, they need to make ends meet, and the social support, they need to get through tough times and be celebrated at good times. That’s really what we’re committed to at Miracle Messages.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kevin Adler: My values are the same. What drives me as a person, my faith, and how I look at people have not changed.  I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve realized that my story is about one story and the importance of really hearing other stories.  I’ve realized how much harder this work can be, but also how it’s so so important to keep the core foundation in mind to keep the perspective. So yes, I think I’ve grown a ton as a person. But I also think fundamentally, I’m still the precocious kid who was just comfortable walking around the neighborhood talking to my neighbors.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Where are the heroes?

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

When I was growing up heroes were everywhere. All our movies had heroes whether they were cowboys, astronauts, war heroes or Superheroes. Our television shows were full of people doing good. The TV shows were families that were working it out whether The Brady Bunch, The Cosbys or Roseann. Even those family shows depicted parents as heroes helping their families overcome. Even sitcoms like Cheers where people supported one another at the local watering hole, the bartender was somehow the hero. Our athletes were heroes for overcoming obstacles and showing us all what happens when you perservere. Where are the heroes today?

Where are the people doing good anywhere in the media? The only place I see any good, and its not much,  is the last five minutes of the Nightly News, if I can even stomach the news. Whether the media is showing the heroes or not, I refuse to believe they went away. I actually know for a fact they didn’t because I interview them each week. Real Heroes.

What is a real hero? A real hero is someone who overcomes adversity and then decides to help others do the same. That is what every single person I have ever had the privilege of interviewing does. Real heroes are in front of us everyday as doctors, nurses, firefighters, policemen and women, teachers, parents and yes, even nonprofit founders.

When I heard last week that the new Top Gun film (which I have not seen yet) was a box office smash, I knew it was because of the hero. We love them for so many reasons. Maybe, its nice to think of being rescued from time to time but I don’t think that’s the real reason we love them. I think we love them because they sacrifice for others and ultimately they show us who we can be. Heroes are good and we always want the good guys to win. I hope Tom Cruise brings back the heroes in our films.

Until then, Charity Matters will keep bringing you stories of everyday heroes. I challenge you all to continue to look for the heroes all around you because they are there, helping, sacrificing, doing good and showing all of us who we can be.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 40: Girls Leading Girls

These days when the world thinks of soccer Ted Lasso comes to mind. The loveable soccer coach from TV.  Today’s conversation is equally inspiring because that is exactly what our guest, Bre Russell does, coach soccer and SO much more!  Bre is developing the next generation of women leaders through her amazing nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls.

Join us as Bre shares her inspirational journey from a student-athlete to a nonprofit founder teaching thousands of young women how to lead. So join us for Episode 40 of our podcast! It truly makes me so happy sharing these incredible conversations.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Bre Russell: We are a nonprofit that trains girls and women in leadership advocacy and life skills through soccer. We are the first-ever all-girls soccer organization with all-women coaches. Every year we serve over 700 girls ages five to 17 in the Bay Area.

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

Bre Russell:  I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That was always something that appealed to me.  I worked at a young age because we were just trying to survive my family. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I relied on a lot of people to help.  My coaches making soccer even possible for me was huge. As a result, seeing other people helped me made me want to pay it forward and help others.

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Soccer was the game that I fell in love with it. It was a place where I was recognized, I could just be myself, and I could escape the struggles that I was facing at home or in school. During my time at Sacramento State, I played soccer and then after college, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. I was living in a village on a really small rural Island. A place where women didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Some girls saw me playing and then asked if they could play with me. After that,  we formed a team.

I found out FIFA was hosting a tournament nearby on another island and I organized to get us fundraising for uniforms. We went to the island and played on this hot volcanic ash. Three days into this tournament, we ended up winning first place. It was one of the highest moments I ever felt from such a big challenge. We won this huge Wimbledon size trophy. When we came back to the community they were waiting for us with flowers on the beach, to congratulate us. They were so proud of us! The team wanted to run around the community with the trophy.

A light bulb went off that soccer is not just a sport, it’s a vehicle for women’s empowerment, economic opportunity, equality, and community change.  These women were now seen as winners and that was all that I needed. When I came back from that experience, I knew I needed to start Girls leading Girls.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Bre Russell: Well, it’s definitely a grind, I think all entrepreneurship starts as you are grinding, you’re hustling. After Peace Corps, I was working full time for another nonprofit and building this on the side.  I was also coaching soccer in the community and that’s really what helped me get it going.  People in the community here in San Francisco, saw me coaching and said, “Can you coach our daughter? Because there are not enough women coaches.” This was in 2014 in San Francisco.

There’s definitely a lack of representation of women in sports at all levels. Eight years later, we’re starting to see that change.  When will we have women as not just referees and athletes, but owners of these higher-level clubs and teams? The challenge is there are not enough women coaches. We are essentially trying to change something that is also making it hard for us to do what we do.

We are recruiting, training and mentoring women to become coaches, which most never think that they can. So there are psychological barriers there. And we’re going up against male-run the old traditional model of coaching.  This is why we are trying to create something different because the old traditional model really was a disservice to girls.  Girls dropping out of sports at young ages, the statistics are there. Did you know that girls drop out of sports by age 12? That is over 50% rate that boys do.

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

Bre Russell:  There are a couple of things that fuel me. One is the girls in the program. Some of them I’ve known for eight years. To see them start with me and then to see them develop from a young age into confident, strong, young women on and off the field is just amazing. I mean, this is the beauty of kids that grow so fast. You can see that growth right before your eyes.

For example, there’s one girl, I’ll say her name is Melinda, not her actual name. She was not having great experiences at other organizations that were soccer-focused. She’s a very talented athlete and she took a year off from playing because she was not thriving on these other teams. Her friend who was playing with us encouraged her to join our organization, which she did.  I felt an instant connection with her because we had similar backgrounds.  Her family was just trying to survive, she was often having to take care of and be responsible for her younger siblings at a young age. And she didn’t have a lot of resources or support.

I would pick her up and take her to practice.  For the last two years, she improved so much in her soccer skills, and in her leadership, and she was awarded goalie of the year.  Today, she’s now a paid coach for us and she’s playing soccer at SF City College.  I just made it my job to support her and see her through this and be her mentor. Obviously, I can’t do that for all the 700 Girls we serve but I can model it and be an example. So other coaches want to do it too.

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

Bre Russell: We serve 736 Girls.  That was our biggest year yet and that was amazing coming off a COVID. As I said the demand is higher because of health issues and the stagnation of being home. It’s all come out in the surveys we put out to the girls and their parents. To hear things like, “Oh, my daughter lost her joy for life during COVID, when she came to your summer camp, it was like, she was a new person.”  Or,” I’ve never seen her smile like that once. ”

Hearing those stories are really an impact. That’s the depth. It’s not just soccer, we are teaching these girls confidence, self-esteem, and positive peer relationships, and we’re building them up, because, there is this huge confidence gap for girls. For me, it’s seeing this organization grow and how many girls we serve, but then also seeing the impact.

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

Bre Russell: When I was coaching, one of the key things I would say is,” What’s the most important play on the field?” They would say,” The next play.” So whatever just happened, let that go. Now you are focused on the next play.  I think we can apply that to life too. Because things happen to us and it can help you see that moments are temporary. It can help you really savor the positive wonderful moments too because you know, it’s not going to last. Then it also gives you the action of okay, what am I in control of? What is important to do next?  So it’s teaching many different things.

With my staff, we say,” Done, is better than perfect.” This is particularly important for women because perfectionism is a problem. We want to be so perfect that no one can criticize us. That’s what it stems from. I tell them all the time,”Done is better than perfect.” Perfectionism doesn’t exist.  We’re here to learn, right? I’d rather see something than nothing.  I’d rather you take a risk than not at all because you’re waiting for it to be perfect.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Bre Russell: I’ve definitely changed. When I went into the Peace Corps, I was 25 wide-eyed, and hopeful. I think I’ve changed in a variety of ways. Growing this organization, I’ve definitely learned to be more patient. In the process, of working with people in growth being more patient is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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

Bre Russell:  The dream is to expand and open branches of our program all over the world, starting in the US, and then having that impact worldwide. That would mean serving hundreds of 1000s of girls and women, empowering them to be confident and be leaders on and off the field.  It would give them the tools they needed to succeed whether or not they continued in the sport. We’re teaching them how to take risks, how to speak confidently, and how to go after what they want. So when they are older, they can have that conversation about a pay raise with their boss, or they can ask for that promotion. The goal is to just help the girls we serve to live the best life and go after what they want with confidence.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Pick up the Six

Ten years ago when Charity Matters began there were not many people telling the stories of service. At that point in time, I didn’t think there were any. It turns out that across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina there was someone else who had a similar idea. His name is Brian Jodice and he is the creator of the Pick Up The Six Podcast.

Brian and I were recently connected and I learned about his work at Pick Up the Six. In the military, the  term
“six” refers to behind you. In a group of runners picking up the six means to turn around and get the person trailing behind you. Brian’s mission is service before self and he uses his platform to tell the stories of men and women from all walks of life doing just that. Last week, it was a privilege to be a guest on his podcast talking about service and just how good people are.

So today, I thought I would share our conversation above and introduce you all to a new audience of amazing humans who serve. Brian interviews everyone from police officers, first responders, community heroes, and occasionally nonprofit founders too. So if you get a minute, please take a few to check out his podcast Pick Up the Six here. As Brian and I discussed the more people like us who focus our attention on all the good happening in the world, the greater the positive spiral up will be. 

When we all come together and put service before self, we make the world a better place. One person, one podcast, one conversation at a time.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Episode 37: Empty Frames Initiative

Online dating happened well after I was married. Swiping left or right is completely foreign to me. However, when someone suggested I go to Podmatch to look for podcast matches I was intrigued. I am incredibly lucky that our guests always land in my path organically, the old-fashioned way. Curios,  I completed my profile to be a podcast guest and to find them.  Imagine my surprise when I received the sweetest note from today’s guest, Miriam Cobb the founder of the nonprofit Empty Frames Initiative.

The Empty Frames Initiative is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower orphaned and vulnerable youth as they transition out of state foster care by providing community, training in life skills and counseling. Join us today to meet Miriam and learn about the beautiful work she is doing to help our young adults as they age out of the Foster Care System.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Empty Frame Initiative does?

Miriam Cobb: What we like to do is empower orphaned and vulnerable youth as they transition out of state care. We do this by providing training and life skills, community, and counseling. We’re working with youth who are coming out of the foster care system and that can happen between ages 18 and 21. 

 

Charity Matters: Tell us about your name?

Miriam Cobb: When I was originally pitching the idea of this nonprofit, I was with a group of entrepreneurs. They asked, “What is something you would really love to do?” I replied that I would really love to photograph adoptions.  Many of these orphans don’t have a lot of baby pictures.  I wanted to honor their story, and there’s this synonymous idea of your picture being on the wall, meaning that you’re part of someone’s life and family. And it’s important. That was something that was really important to me. After I pitched this idea, the entrepreneurs in the room, decided they only liked the name.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start The Empty Frames Initiative?

Miriam Cobb:  After crying. from the entrepreneur’s comments there was this other piece of this that I hadn’t really considered. The more I dug into it, the more this image kept coming back to my mind. I had served with an organization in Eastern Europe. While I was over there, I saw these really old, abandoned Soviet buildings that are just completely empty in the middle of nowhere, not being used.

I thought that seemed so strange because organizations could use the space. The person I was with said, “No, it’s just abandoned.”  I asked, “Well, are they gonna at least tear it down?” It like stuck with me for some reason. There was this merging of ideas of these places that people saw no value in? That these children were these big, empty frames that could be filled with purpose.

 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Miriam Cobb:  There are challenges. And it mirrors life.  There’s an up and down cycle for each nonprofit and you have those really great moments, then you have those moments that just feel like it’s a down cycle. Some of the challenges that I feel personally that have been kind of hard is learning how to really equip volunteers and provide them with meaningful roles. 

It’s an entrepreneurial venture and this life isn’t for everyone. When you pitch what you’re doing, there are so many wonderful and well-meaning people who want to be involved. And  I need people on the board. I think perhaps my age was the negative factor was trying to figure out how to really equip volunteers. Really learning how to manage volunteer roles and make it something that’s worthwhile to them. Because this is something that should be a beneficial experience that builds on your life too.

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

Miriam Cobb: Personally, my faith does play a major role in this. It does. It’s absolutely what I’m called to do as a person.  To walk away from it is to walk away from something that I’ve been shown on purpose.  Trials and setbacks are challenging, but there’s this really wonderful motivation knowing that this is what you’re called to do. That’s how I feel about it. I’ve been really, really fortunate to have a family that supports me while I do this work that helps me with that load you’re talking about. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family’s support and my community’s support. Ultimately, the answer to that question really is, God. That’s what I feel I feel completely called. This is what I meant to do. 

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

Miriam Cobb: The big dream is taking our program throughout the US and then internationally. Equipping communities to have multiple sites that are serving these youth.  I think if more people knew about what would happen when these young adults aged out, we would have more people stepping into the role beforehand to be parents, mentors, and give a sense of community.

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

Miriam Cobb: Life comes in seasons. As much as we’d like to kind of bypass some, they all build on each other. Each one gets us to the right place. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Miriam Cobb:  There are things that it hasn’t changed. It has not changed my personality.  I’m not a really extroverted person but I’m not scared to talk to people.  I’m not shy, I’m quiet. There’s a difference. So I’ve been talking to more people and it has stretched me in ways that I wasn’t really expecting.

Building on that same thought from before about the seasons, I had some really specific plans for my life. I was like, this is gonna work just like this and then it didn’t.  Working towards something that I feel passionate about really changes the way that those things happen. You know, it’s like what it felt like to be complete. Derailment gets put into a different perspective of walking in your purpose. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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The state of things

I know it has been a while since I have shared my thoughts. The podcast has been so well received that I haven’t stopped in a while to reflect on the state of things. I don’t know about you but turning on the news lately scares me. The state of things does not seem terrific these days. This is not a political statement but simply how I feel.

When there is war, there is fear. That fear can erode so much goodness. We lose faith in one another and distrust becomes a cancer that destroys connection. As humans, we are meant to be connected, to support one another like bees in a hive. We all have a job and a role to make our communities stronger by working together. Fear robs us all of the honey and the sweetness of feeling connected.

The pandemic did a lot to destroy connections and break down our hives. The election before that didn’t do our communities any favors either. We talk about our friends and families differently now because of their politics. Something that has never happened in my lifetime. Rather than coming together to discuss where we are similar, we write people off because they believe differently.

If bell curves are a real thing, and I believe they are then we are all actually in the middle together. Somehow, the media has us all playing tug of war at the bottom of those bell curves with CNN on one side and FOX on the other. We should be working together not pulling ourselves apart.

We are afraid. The thought of a nuclear war is seriously scary. We are nervous about gas prices, inflation, crime,  our safety and these are real and valid reasons. These fears are reasons to lean into the hive because we need each more than ever. The fear is an opportunity for each of us to help one another not pull away.

Last week at dinner with friends, our waiter asked us if we would be open to rounding our bill up to four dollars more because the restaurant was matching up to one million dollars for a nonprofit supporting Ukraine. We were splitting our bill three ways and asked if he could add fifty dollars apiece. The waiter got on his knees at table height and looked like he was going to cry and said, “Thank you.” I asked him where he was from and he replied, “Kyiv.” He told us his father and brother were fighting and his sister and mother were trapped and trying to get out. Our waiter was so touched by our little gesture and said, “Thank you for reminding me how good people are.”

He is right, people are good. We see it in the brave Ukrainians, in the Polish people’s generous welcome, and in the generosity of so many supporting the millions of refugees. When the state of things is bad, it is our time to rise up and be good. To help another, whether a neighbor a friend, or a stranger in Ukraine. It is the only way the state of things gets better when each of us becomes our best. When we come together we can all make life sweeter in our hives.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

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Episode 36: Miracle Messages

I have had some pretty amazing conversations in the past ten years. Conversations that really make me think and look at the world around me in a totally different way. The conversation I had a few weeks back with Kevin Adler, the founder of Miracle Messages was game-changing for me. It’s my hope that it is for you as well. I will never look at the homeless the same after this eye-opening exchange.

Join us today, as Kevin shares the story of his uncle who lived on the streets and how his uncle’s death inspired the creation of Miracle Messages. A nonprofit that not only reconnects the homeless to their loved ones but also provides a social connection through a phone buddy system and provides cash for rent once the unhoused person is ready.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Kevin Adler: We help our unhoused neighbors rebuild their social support systems and financial security, primarily through family reunifications, a phone buddy system, and direct cash transfers.

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

Kevin Adler: This work begins really with my own family. I had an uncle, who was very beloved to me. Uncle Mark was his name and he suffered from schizophrenia. He lived on and off the streets of Santa Cruz for 30 years. One day I was in college and I got a phone call from my dad telling me that Uncle Mark was found deceased at a halfway house at the age of 50.

I was 19 at the time and had never thought about the life that Mark lived when he wasn’t at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner table. I never thought about the life he was living on the streets. It wasn’t until years later that I was in San Francisco, that I found myself walking by our neighbors experiencing homelessness. I said, Gosh, everyone I’m walking by that’s someone’s son or daughter, brother, sister. So it got me thinking, what would it look like to help neighbors experiencing homelessness, people like my Uncle Mark, maybe share their stories, the stories that I didn’t know.

It wasn’t trying to solve a problem and create an organization.  I started a side project storytelling project called The Homeless GoPro. For one year, I invited 24 individuals experiencing homelessness to wear wearable cameras around their chests and narrate their experience of what life is like. When I got the footage back I was just shocked by what I heard and saw. One quote really stood out. It was,” I never realized I was homeless when I lost my housing. Only when I lost my family and friends.”

Long story short, I approached everyone I saw who was experiencing homelessness and asked, “Do you have any loved ones you’d like to reconnect with?” That’s how I met a man named Jeffery. He told me he hadn’t seen his family in 12 years. Jeffery recorded a video with his niece and nephew, his sister, and his dad. I went home and I got on Facebook and found a Facebook group connected to his hometown. So I posted the video there and within one hour, that video got shared hundreds of times. It made the local news that night the leading story. Classmates started commenting, I went to high school with Jeffrey, I work in construction. Does he need a job? And in the first 20 minutes of the post, his sister got tagged. We got on the phone the next day and it turned out Jeffrey had been a missing person for 12 years.

The starting point of Miracle Messages was when Jeffrey reconnected with his family. I asked sister Jennifer, “This thing that seems to be bigger than just Jeffrey and your relationship. There seems there might be others, who are experiencing this issue. What should we call this, this initiative?” She said, “Well, we’re in this small town and people have referred to it the story as the miracle of Montoursville. And it’s Christmas, maybe it’s called the Miracle message.”

That’s the name and the vision from day one, which no one should go through homelessness alone. Hard to believe that was December 2014.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kevin Adler: It’s always been a privilege to do this work, but it has not been without challenges. There was a point that I got down to $600 in my savings account doing this work in San Francisco and it wasn’t sustainable. As a person of faith, I prayed at times. The first prayer was, please let someone else steal this idea and run with it because I don’t know if I’m up for it.

I had to come to a realization a few years ago, that I could not make myself the first casualty of a good cause. I was en route to doing that and was just working nonstop.  The work left me feeling isolated and lonely. So for me, the beginning of being able to sustain this work in the tough times was by making sure my own foundation was in order.  You need to put your oxygen mask on first and if you don’t do that, you can’t be of service to others.

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

Kevin Adler: An impact is a person who’s experiencing homelessness, potentially getting off the streets. About 20% of the reunions lead to housing. Impact involves the cost savings that generates. When it costs us thousands of dollars compared to cities spending between $40,000 to $60,000 per unhoused person per year to maintain them on the streets for one year. The impact can be measured in the lives and the perspectives of the volunteers, who say, “I never knew I could do anything on the issue of homelessness, I felt a very low sense of personal efficacy in making an impact. But now I feel empowered.”

An impact can also be measured in the fact that we’ve received over 100 million views on our videos on Facebook. We’ve had over a million shares, and over 700 articles written about us. These all change the hearts and minds of people. When you see a video about a person experiencing homelessness, reconnecting with a loved one or being in a phone Buddy Program, or getting $500 a month towards rent then it changes your perspective.

So you know, we take impact seriously. I also think anyone who listens to their unhoused neighbors and or volunteers and has their heart or mind shifted or opened as a result, that’s an immeasurable impact that we’re very proud of as well.

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

Kevin Adler: For us, that dream is that no one goes through homelessness alone. I would love to end that sentence one word early. No one goes through homelessness.  I don’t need to dream bigger, to know how that’s not going to be happening in the next few years.

I have been around enough where I see five-year plans, we’re gonna have homelessness by this year. Those years have come and gone and the numbers are increasing, right? And it’s only getting worse.  So, I don’t think we’re ending homelessness anytime soon. What we can do in a step towards ending homelessness, is making sure every single human being…. all 550,000 people who go to bed every night and wake up in the morning, homeless without a stable home in this country in 2022… that they have at least one person, they’re connected to either a family member or friend social support and that they know they’re not going through it alone.

To me is something we are able to envision and realistically achieve through Miracle Messages with our partners on the ground. You know, and I think giving people money so that they can resolve the issues that are in front of them. People generally have the knowledge and wherewithal of what is best for them but they just aren’t given the agency. They are not afforded the same opportunities that we all expect in this country. So just giving people the financial support, they need to make ends meet, and the social support, they need to get through tough times and be celebrated at good times. That’s really what we’re committed to at Miracle Messages.

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

Kevin Adler: Hearing the stories of our volunteers and why they commit their time, why they donate and why they show up. I get so much joy and gratitude, just being able to give and be there for someone else. We can all envision bank accounts with a couple more zeros at the end of them. Once you’re at a certain, baseline level, what do you need? What else are you really lacking? I mean, how many more square feet do you need in your house? Who cares? So just being able to see the joy of doing good with the time that you have on this earth and helping others unleash the good that’s within their hearts that they just don’t know how to share. That’s, that’s really what drives it.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kevin Adler: My values are the same. What drives me as a person, my faith, and how I look at people have not changed.  I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve realized that my story is about one story and the importance of really hearing other stories.  I’ve realized how much harder this work can be, but also how it’s so so important to keep the core foundation in mind to keep the perspective. So yes, I think I’ve grown a ton as a person. But I also think fundamentally, I’m still the precocious kid who was just comfortable walking around the neighborhood talking to my neighbors.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 few ways to support Ukraine

The world is still in shock and awe from the past week’s events. It still seems surreal the human tragedy that we are watching unfold in Ukraine. Most of us feel incredibly helpless so today I thought we would share a few incredible vetted nonprofit resources that are working tirelessly to support the people of Ukraine. Any contribution to any of the below organizations will help.

Project Hope

You may remember my incredible conversation with the CEO of Project Hope, Rabih Tornay. Project Hope is a humanitarian relief organization founded in 1958. They currently have emergency teams in Europe sending medical supplies and health care for refugees. 87% of every dollar goes directly to providing care and hope for those in need. With Rabih at the helm of this organization, your donations are in the best of hands.

World Central Kitchen

World Central Kitchen was founded by Chef Jose  Andres in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti. Chef Andres is already on the ground in Ukraine doing what he does best, feeding people. The World Central Kitchen has been providing meals to the hungry all over the world. As Chef Andres said,” Nothing sends a bigger message of hope than a humble plate of food. And that’s the only thing we know how to do.” 

Save The Children

Save the Children has been working in Ukraine since 2014. They estimate that out of Ukraine’s population of 44 million people there are currently 500,000 people displaced from their homes and 7.5 million children are in immediate danger. Save The Children is providing immediate aid such as food, water, hygiene kits, and cash assistance to protect children and families.

Global Giving

Eight years of conflict in Ukraine has taken a toll on the country. Global Giving has created a specific fund called the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. This fund and donations to it will support humanitarian assistance in impacted communities in Ukraine and surrounding regions where refugees have fled. The funds will provide shelter, food, clean water, economic assistance, and health care. They need your support to make this possible.

If we have realized anything in the past week it how small our world is. We have seen the best of humanity in the Ukrainian people coming together and the worst as bombs are launched. In these moments we all make choices on how to support one another. Thank you to all of you who do so so much to help another. We are grateful for you.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 35: Beverly Hills Community Farm

When you think about nonprofits the words Beverly Hills and farm usually are not top of mind. However, after meeting today’s incredible guest, Jennifer Levy you will begin to think differently. Join us for an educational and fascinating conversation about the exciting new ways Jennifer and her nonprofit organization, The Beverly Hills Community Farm is educating and feeding her community with her innovative work.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Beverly Hills Community Farm does?

Jennifer Levy: There’s definitely not a ton of nonprofits who start with the word Beverly Hills. And so we’re hoping to change the narrative a little bit. The three co-founders, myself and two other women, grew up together in Beverly Hills.  We are super excited to be bringing something back to the city that we grew up in.   Beverly Hills is a small town, both population-wise and geographically. So having an urban farm that can grow local food for hopefully a significant portion of the residents, the restaurants, the community was super important to us.

We can make a pretty big impact in a small space by the work we’re trying to do. Our mission is really to be an educational, urban farm, and to cultivate health and well-being while growing local food with hands-on community involvement. So we see ourselves as way more than just a farm, the food is definitely one piece of it. But really, as a space, a gathering space, an event space, an education space, to really provide tips and tricks and education on sustainable ways to grow food. So we don’t get enough of that in the city. Farming is a big part of what we’re doing but education is really at the core of what we’re doing. 

More specifically, we really are passionate about intergenerational education. Including so many different members of the community to learn and grow and be able to teach other members of the community. So we’re kind of all-encompassing. Growing local food is really one of my passions, but equally one of my passions is education. So really, we wanted to figure out a way to kind of combine all those things in the city we grew up in.

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

Jennifer Levy:  I learned a lot from it from my family. Giving to different organizations that they were passionate about, or going to fundraisers things with my family.  And also, through my religious school upbringing. I remember being in kindergarten every Sunday going to Hebrew school and having to bring leftover change or cans for a food drive or coats or shoes or things like that. So I think both between my family and my upbringing from a giving backside, it’s always been a part of what we do.

 I  have always loved volunteering. I started volunteering in high school at both Cedar Sinai Hospital UCLA hospital and I volunteered at a summer camp, Camp Harmony. That’s always been part of kind of my journey. To this day, I think that volunteering is kind of the best job on the planet, right? You get to pick and choose who you want to help out. And there’s no pressure and you just get to go support amazing people doing amazing things. In my later life, I spent a few years in Ohio and I volunteered for a water nonprofit, which led me to my first trip to Africa. So you never really know what’s gonna happen when you kind of put yourself in situations to learn new skills and meet new people.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Beverly Hills Community Farm?

Jennifer Levy: We launched in January 2020. I am an educator by trade and was a classroom teacher. Then I started a school garden program and got really into gardening and have always been pretty passionate about the environment, specifically water usage. That led me to spend a summer in Ohio working on a farm summer camp there. It was in Ohio that I met all these farmers and all these people doing pretty amazing work.  I finished the next year of teaching here in Los Angeles, and then I moved to Ohio. So I could learn how to farm essentially.

Sometime between coming back from that summer in Ohio, and going back to my job teaching, I realized that I wanted to do more. I wasn’t getting the same fulfillment of education as I thought I could from combining education and farming. I just didn’t know how to farm and had never done it.  So I quit and I moved to Ohio really working and learning to farm.  That brought me to Colorado, where I worked on an urban farm for two seasons.

But knowing that I kind of always wanted to be back, not necessarily in Beverly Hills or Los Angeles, but closer to Southern California. Then trying to think about how I could create a space where I wanted to do all of these different things? It just didn’t really exist here. So clearly, the rational decision was just to start it on my own. Why not?  I never in my wildest dreams had imagined I’d be a business owner or start a nonprofit or kind of even a farmer for that matter. Life definitely took me on so many different kinds of paths. Once my co-founders were involved and we had these conversations, it just felt like we were going to do this.  I couldn’t have predicted any of it.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jennifer Levy: We launched in January 2020 and then COVID happened.  So we just stopped literally.  We didn’t get accepted from the IRS till 2021. So there were lots of things we thought were gonna go smoothly that did not.  It just took a long time. We worked with an amazing fiscal sponsor, so we could at least start fundraising and kind of get up and running. That was a whole set of different things we had to learn.

We were reading for months, how organizations weren’t getting fresh produce, and there was such a need right now. So January 2021, we opened in a commercial space in Beverly Hills, with 15 hydroponic towers. Since January, we’ve been growing food and donating to three main partner organizations. That has been like the biggest joy for everybody. We’ve just been allowed to use this beautiful space. We get foot traffic, and people are there and they get to see what we’re doing.  I get to teach every day, people who come in and want to hear about hydroponics. More than that, we’ve donated almost 150 pounds of lettuce and herbs, which don’t weigh that much. Actually volume-wise, a lot of lettuce. We’ve impacted over 600 people and we really have formed these relationships with some really amazing partners. So it’s kind of been like a lifesaver.

Charity Matters: Can you explain what Hydroponics is?

Jennifer Levy: We’re using vertical hydroponic towers. So in these towers, essentially, there is a reservoir at the bottom where the water stays and the nutrients go. And there’s a pump that essentially pumps the water to the top, and then it kind of rains down onto the root systems of plants. It’s like this self-contained tower. They’re only about three feet wide by six feet tall, and ours grow 28 plants. Since we’re inside in a commercial space, we have LED lights, but you can have them outside. It’s allowed us to grow and donate this whole calendar year, which has been amazing 

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

Jennifer Levy: There are a few moments like getting to harvest and deliver hands down is always so fulfilling and everyone is so beyond appreciative. The wins are kind of the education piece, right? So because we’re in a storefront in Beverly Hills, we get a lot of foot traffic. Anytime someone comes in, I get to have these very organic conversations with them about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how they can get involved.

Just over the past couple of months, I’ve been able to go into schools, which is really amazing.  Education is at the core of everything we do. We have a tower in one of the elementary schools locally in Beverly Hills and we actually have two towers in a school in Ohio. Nobody’s seen this technology before.  A lot of people have kind of heard about it,  but really showing people that there are sustainable ways to grow food grow delicious, healthy, like nutrient-rich food. 

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

Jennifer Levy:  I think definitely our vision and dream are to have an outdoor far educational farm. We’re just starting a big campaign to purchase our first shipping container farm, which is hydro-powered built inside a refurbished shipping container. The impact of that is we can harvest over 1000 plants every single week. So the goal is to be able to provide for local restaurants, local grocery stores and start a community-supported agriculture program. Then residents or non-residents can purchase farm-fresh produce directly from us.

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

Jennifer Levy: Having passion and being excited is great, but there’s gonna be bumps in the road. So just trust the process. I’m learning as I’m doing this. So just having faith and trusting the process. I’ve learned that you do need a team around you, you need community. Not just the co-founders or our board or kind of our big supporters, but you need people you can call to ask for marketing help or social media help or just to complain to because you can’t do this alone.it won’t work.

Really be committed to what you believe in.  I think that what you believe is important enough for you to start a business then other people will too. Have faith in what you’re trying to do. The work we’re trying to do is going to help so many people in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s harder to remind myself of that. I do trust that what we’re doing is for everyone’s good.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Episode 34: Saving Tiny Hearts

February is heart month. Heart disease kills over 659,000 people in the United alone each year. In addition to that 40,000 children will be born with congenital heart disease (CHD) this year alone. When Francie Paul’s son Joshua was born with CHD she and her husband Brian decided to make a positive impact for their child and so many others. They founded the nonprofit Saving Tiny Hearts. A nonprofit organization that is determined to put an end to Congenital Heart Disease, which is the number one birth defect of children

Francie was one of my very first interviews over a decade ago and her story and work have continued to inspire me. I recently had a chance to reconnect with Francie and her board chair Dr. Larry Kluge to discuss the incredible work Saving Tiny Hearts is doing. If ever there were two humans with huge hearts to mend all the broken ones it’s Francie and Larry.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Saving Tiny Hearts does?

Larry Kluge: Every day, we’re looking to raise as much money as we can to fund as much research as we can. Nearly every dollar we raise goes to support research. Recognizing how important it is that difference in raising money for research makes in the lives of children. We’ve already found that that was the case, in terms of many of the projects that we have funded have actually changed and improved the lives of children born with congenital heart defects. This is what Saving Tiny Hearts does.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Saving Tiny Hearts?

Francie Paul:  On August 11, 2005, we had our first child, a beautiful baby boy named Joshua Bennett Paul. My pregnancy was “normal” and the doctors reported nothing “remarkable” about it.  Four hours after his birth, Joshua was rushed from the local hospital to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Joshua was diagnosed with Severe Complex Congenital Heart Disease.

Like many parents in the same situation, we became very angry and considered litigation as a course of action. After meeting with high-profile medical malpractice attorneys, we decided this course of action was not for us. In the elevator on the way out of the attorney’s office, we called Brian’s corporate attorney to find out how to start a public charity. We wanted to channel our energy into something positive instead of negative.  On September 1, 2006, the United States Internal Revenue Service officially recognized the Saving tiny Hearts Society as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Francie Paul: Our challenges.  I have a good friend who said it’s her first instinct not to talk about it. And I always say, if we don’t talk about it, the world won’t know that our kids need help. Right?  They cannot yet fix what Joshua has. So I need medicine to catch up faster than what we’re doing.  I wish people knew that the research we fund could save their aunt’s life,  their mother’s life, and could save their life

 Joshua’s heart surgeries are a direct result of ongoing research. There are not yet adult survivors that have had his heart surgery versions. So like every year is a blessing and every year is also a race against the clock for me. I feel like I could shout to the world and say, “Everybody if you knew how much of your money directly goes to the scientists that our medical advisory board decides?” They only pick what is most worthy for Saving Tiny Hearts grants.  If people knew that their money went to actually change the world, by changing medicine and science. How remarkable the future could be.

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

Larry Kluge: Our motivation remains the same year after year, month after month, day after day, as we struggle to get the word out and raise those urgently needed funds to support more and more research that will ultimately save the lives of children born with CHD.  Our work has just begun and will continue until we can eradicate CHD.

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

Francie Paul:  I can but I can share a quick story about a boy. His name was Gray. He collapsed on a hockey rink, and from sudden cardiac death. And it just so happens that one of Joshua’s CV surgery nurses was there. So she ran and people were trying to do CPR. She said,” Call 911 Get me the AED.” She did CPR on him using the AED and saved his life.

We had Gray come to our gala and it happened to be his high school homecoming, so he brought his date. Gray got up there at our gala and said, “You know, I’m one in a million kids this happens to.”  That night we also had a doctor come up whose research we funded. And the doctor said to Gray, ” You’re not one in a million. This happens more than you realize. But I’m coming up with a study that will prevent it from happening to kids just like you.” 

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

Larry Kluge: Success is continuing since 2006 on our mission to fund life-saving research.  Sixteen years have gone by and we are still here committed to raising funds to support life-saving research.  Our Medical Advisory Board continues to review and evaluate all the grants that we receive year after year and determines which ones are most worthy of our funding efforts.  We have raised over 6 million dollars and funded 60 research projects.  Many of the research projects funded have already made a difference in the lives of children born with CHD.  Not only children but today after funding the development of a heart in a lab, an adult has received the first heart transplant from a pig which stemmed from research we have funded.

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

Francie Paul: To eradicate CHD.  To have a world filled with healthy children never to be born again and suffer from CHD.  Live long and healthy lives without fear or restrictions.

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

Francie Paul:  It’s been a humbling journey. And I think, through those moments of heartache, you see the goodness in people.  I think you see the goodness and the true heart and passion in people.  When somebody raises money for research for us, and my baby was given a chance… And I can only dream about what the future will be like because of everybody’s helping everybody.  Really when everyone comes together it is just the best. And just, I feel like the best is yet to come. And for lack of a better way of saying it, I only dream for it to only be bigger and better.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Larry Kluge: Recognizing how fortunate we are and how we can be of help to others is what we strive for day after day. My personal commitment is to make a difference in someone’s life every day.  To put a smile on a child’s face, to make someone laugh, or just bring some cheer and hope to another individual is what life is all about.  Making a difference.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 33: Matt Kamin Nonprofit On the Rocks

Each of us walks a path in life that takes us with a multitude of twists and turns. Today’s guest, Matt Kamin is no exception. Matt has lived a life full of philanthropy in so many ways. Before Matt became the host of the popular podcast, Nonprofit on the Rocks...which is how we met and Co-Founder of Envision Consulting, he was a two-time nonprofit founder.

I am so excited to share this incredible conversation with Matt about his multitude of experiences in the nonprofit space. Matt’s story is the perfect example of how one seed of compassion turned into an inspiring life full of service. Matt is truly a ray of sunshine and you won’t want to miss our joyful and uplifting conversation.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Your early philanthropic experiences?

Matt Kamin: So that is a really good question. And I also agreed, where does that come from? Why do we take on jobs that pay nothing for more stress and more pressure at work? So I think that my nonprofit passion, the love that I have for this space comes from my grandma.

My grandmother was born with polio, and she moved to LA on her own with two kids. In the 1940s, she put together a booth at Santa Monica Pier. It was like a nickel and a dime machine and she saved her pennies.  She saved and started investing in real estate. This is a woman in the 1940s in LA on her own and she grew this empire, this actual real estate empire. So first off, I’m just beyond impressed by this woman who, who was able to go and make all this happen for her family. right. And as a huge part of that, she gave back.  I would tell you, like 25% of whatever it was that she made, she gave back to nonprofits.

As a child, she used me to raise money. I remember I think the first thing that I ever did was I helped auction off a car. One of her nonprofits was selling a donated car and she used me a six-year-old to sell tickets. That was my first taste and watching her do it and that was it. She also inspired my mom and my dad to also give back they chaired nonprofits as well. So in college when I came out, that was the time, and it was like, Okay, this is time for me. 

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

Matt Kamin:  I volunteered at the time it was called the Gay Lesbian center.  What we did was we went out on the weekends and talked to kids who were basically selling themselves in the park. The first kid that I talked to, had been kicked out of his home.  I remember looking at him, he was my age and he was on all the drugs you can possibly be on. He had a pimp and he was trying to make money in prostitution.  I  remember saying to myself, how did I get so lucky?   And that was it. That was the switch and when I said this is my life. And so I started a nonprofit at UCLA to bring support networks for gay kids at college. And that’s how my nonprofit career started.

I’m very proud of that college nonprofit because it still exists. They have a multi-million dollar budget, and it’s an international nonprofit.

Charity Matters: Now that you are helping nonprofit Founders, What are the biggest challenges you see?

Matt Kamin: Envision Consulting does both strategy and searches for nonprofits. That’s all we do. So it’s half strategy, half recruiting. On the strategy side, strategic plans, board retreats, mergers are huge things right now. Then on the search side, it’s recruiting for C suite individuals.. I’ll give you an example.  I have a friend who started a nonprofit. And, she has over the last few months, been losing faith in her organization, because she was not able to find the people to fundraise period.  She’s been like beating her head against the wall trying to figure out what to do. And so we’ve, we’ve had many conversations about what she can do.

 What I will say is most important is when you run a nonprofit is that it’s lonely at the top. You have to fundraise, you have to meet the budget, you have to report to your board of directors who are all volunteers. You have to deal with your staff, you have to deal with all kinds of things and especially in COVID, it’s been impossible. Loneliness at the top is what I will tell you is the most challenging part of being an executive director and a founder. 

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

Matt Kamin: We’ve been talking about this whole year. How do we keep going? How do we stay motivated? It’s hard and the honest answer is there are days that I just want to be done. But it’s really remembering why I do this at the end of the day, why it’s worth sometimes being yelled at by a client, right?

I’ll give you an example of what makes me so happy. We placed a CEO at a domestic violence shelter. We found her. She not only grew the organization but also received a grant for $5 million and just acquired another domestic violence shelter. So now they’re serving that many more victims of domestic violence. Big Wow. She is spectacular in every which way, but that is something that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for us.  So I may not be running a homeless shelter anymore. I may not be making those direct impacts on people’s lives. But she is and she wouldn’t have had that job and be doing this great work if it wasn’t for us.

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

Matt Kamin: This country’s become like the rest of the world, we’ve gotten ugly and we’re all politically just so divided. We can all get together no matter where you are, no matter who you are and we can volunteer at a soup kitchen to give out food to people who are hungry. Right, we can all do that?  I think that it’s really important for us in the nonprofit space and for us all to think about giving back.

The thing to remember is, there’s always going to be somebody who has more, but there’s also always going to be somebody who has less. And so what gets me going is remembering that and giving back.  I can always work harder to get the nicer car,  or whatever it is, but I always try to remember why I did this, to begin with.  I think that’s really important.

At the end of the day, that’s what my grandmother has taught me. You get to where you need to be in life and then don’t forget it.  Don’t forget.  Remember how lucky you are to give and give back regardless of where you are.  

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.