Charity Matters Inspiration


Episode 78: Words Matter

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


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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




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The Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Have you ever picked up an old photo album and come across memories and before you know it you have been transported down memory lane? Last week that happened to me when I went looking for interviews to include in my book. Before I knew it I was years into Charity Matter’s post and it felt like finding old friends.

This post from 2018 struck me because the past few weeks, I have been speaking to hundreds of school principals for TACSC. My message for all of these schools is that when we tie a child’s shoe, we don’t help them, as intended. Instead, we tell the child by our action that they can’t tie their shoe. That they are not capable. Our mission at TACSC is to empower these students and tell them they can be anything and do anything they set their mind to. So when I came across this old post it felt just as relevant and worth a re-share. I did update the numbers served, so those are current.

A few years ago, a young lady that has helped start and run a local nonprofit asked me to write her a recommendation for The Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I happily did. This high school girl is extraordinary and I was thrilled to help.  More than that, I was  excited to learn about this incredible award and nonprofit that inspires and encourages students between the ages of 8 and 18 to use heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance to make a positive and significant impact on the world.

The prize was started by New York Times best selling Children’s author, T.A. Barron seventeen years ago and named after the author’s mother. His hope was to inspire children that could make a significant difference in the world. The founder’s fear was that  perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find these children. However,it was just the opposite, hundreds and hundreds of applications would begin to come in.

Twenty-three years later, the Barron Prize for Young Heroes has honored over 575 young heroes who have  all done remarkable things. One prize winner is Alexa, who created a nonprofit called Bags of Books, which she started at age 10. Her organization distributes gently used and new children’s books in free pop-up stores in underserved communities. She has donated more than 120,000 books and inspired hundreds of volunteers to distribute books in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and after school programs.

One  young prize winner founded NY is a great place to Bee! to educate the public about bees about the importance of healthy bee populations. She built a team of volunteers and they have educated over 14,000 students about ways to protect bees through her advocacy.

Another inspiring change maker,  Jahkil, founded Project I Am to help the homeless in Chicago. In one year Jahkil and his team distributed more than 3,000 Blessing Bags filled with toiletry items, towels, socks and snacks through his drop off sites and bag stuffing parties all at the age of nine!

While I could go on with hundreds more of these incredible young nonprofit founders and budding philanthropists, these 575 Barron Prize for Young Heroes winners have combined raised over 28.5 million dollars for their causes in the past twenty-three years. The real winners of this prestigious award are the incredible communities served by these extraordinary young leaders and their enormous compassion to serve. Each of them give us hope for a brighter future of kindness, caring and service.


charity matters.


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Charity Matters Episode 7: Song for Charlie

Last year over 70,000 Americans died from fentanyl. The drug  is now the leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 18-40. Today, May 7th is Fentayl Awareness Day .It isn’t just numbers but these are people, fathers, mothers, sisters and children who are dying every day. So today, we are re-sharing this very important episode and conversation with my friends the Ternans.

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

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


Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Ternan: Charlie and helping others to save lives.

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

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



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Is it all in the title?

I need your help. Having never written a book, I thought that the title would just come to me somewhat like naming a baby. Like pregnancy you kind of figure things out as you go, you think you all this time to come up with a name. Afterall you have almost nine months, in the case of the book I have eight. The draft is due at the end of July. Just for a reference we didn’t have a name for our youngest son. The night before he was born we went to our favorite restaurant  and the bartender, a friend of ours, asked us what the baby’s name was going to be? We didn’t have an answer, so he named the baby Ford. True story. So if this is any indicator, well I  might need the bartender’s help too!

At our last update, I was having a really hard time starting. My procrastination skills were beyond impressive. When my husband left for a boy’s weekend, I was sure I was going to at least bust out a chapter. Instead, I headed to Target buying organizing containers and organized under my kitchen and bathroom sinks. Who does that? That’s how hard it was to start. I equate it to training for a marathon, which of course I have never done either. From what I hear, you have to start out slow and little by little your pace picks up.

Believe it or not that is exactly what’s been happening. The publisher gave me three months to get the first three chapters done. I was incredibly proud when I turned them in two weeks early, despite all the procrastination. I thought I had found a rhythm and so I rewarded myself with two weeks off after submission. In hindsight, that was  probably not a great call on my part.

The reason that wasn’t a great idea is that our next publisher “check-in” my darling publisher, Michael said, “Ok, great that the first three are in but now we need chapters 4-6 and the title by the end of April.” Wait, whaaat? How did I have three months for three chapters and then one month for three chapters?’ Sweet Michael said, “That most authors begin to hit their stride by the middle of writing.” Since I’m not officially in the middle I am waiting for that moment to just take off.  I am, however, happy to report that it is the third week of April as I write this post and I am starting chapter six and might, just might make my deadline….with one exception, the title.

When the initial panic ensued on the title, I thought who can I possibly ask for help? Who understands what I am writing about? Then I realized that you do! You have been following my crazy journey for over twelve years. You know my story of loss, of starting a nonprofit with a group of friends and my mission to help the helpers by amplifying the amazing nonprofit founders’ voices and work.

The book is my story of stumbling into this work after the loss of my mom. The lessons learned from loss and service and even more the lessons learned from the hundreds of interviews I’ve done this past decade, the ones you read each week. The thesis is that service is the silver bullet. If you want to heal yourself, your family, your community and your world then do something for someone else. It’s pretty simple. The untitled book is a little inspiration and a little self help.

I like to think of Charity Matters as a patchwork of stories and the book will be the quilt where they all come together. More than a few people have asked why not just call the book Charity Matters? My answer is that I wouldn’t buy a book called that. Would you? However, I do think you can give the book a short title and then as the byline say: Why Charity Matters.

We made it easy with a poll you can click here and take the survey and make sure to pick one choice to get to page three to suggest your own idea. So here are a few of the tentative titles and I would be beyond grateful for any suggestions you may have or your vote. My list is even longer and maybe your idea is even better?

  • How to become your own hero- Changing your world and ours
  • Help yourself by Helping others
  • We before me: Why Charity Matters 
  • The healing lessons of helping
  • The secret of living is giving 
  • Helping is Healing

If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be a Charity Matters with thousands of followers and subscribers.  Let me know what you think? And thank you for going on this journey with me and for helping us get the word out that there is SO much good in our world if we just look.




Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 77: Filling In the Blanks

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

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

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


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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





Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Becoming a force for Good

You may remember that in February I went to an incredible event hosted by the publisher of my upcoming book. At that event, I was thrilled to finally meet Cindy Witteman in person. Cindy is the nonprofit founder of Driving Single Parents. We had already connected in so many ways so it was a treat to be in person together. In addition to being a nonprofit founder, Cindy has already written a number of books, hosts a TV show called the Little Give and is now launching a magazine called FORCE. There is no better word to describe my new friend than a serious force.

I was incredibly flattered when Cindy asked me to write about my thoughts on “force” for her premiere issue.  Even more exciting, is the fact that Cindy has asked me to become a regular columnist for the magazine contributing monthly and having a Charity Matters column. FORCE Magazine will be available in 13 countries and sold in over 10,000 retailers, so you can imagine how excited I am! For the first issue, I was asked to write in third person which isn’t my usual voice and was actually difficult becaise I am so comfortable talking to you in first person. Here is a little of what I shared about what it means to become a FORCE for good.

In a world often marked by individual pursuits and ambitions, there exists a powerful force—the act of giving back. It’s a force that transcends personal boundaries, offering the potential to create lasting positive impacts. The ability to harness one’s own personal force for good, by serving others through involvement with nonprofits and charities, becomes a formidable tool in shaping a better world.

Within each of us resides an innate force—a unique blend of skills, resources, and passion. While this force can certainly be directed towards personal gain, its true potential lies in its capacity to contribute to the well-being of others. By recognizing and embracing this inherent power, one can become a force for good, driving positive change and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

In the United States alone, there are approximately 1.6 million nonprofit organizations, each serving as a powerful vehicle for channeling personal force towards societal betterment. These nonprofits were all founded by individuals who recognized a problem and were determined to find a solution. They are remarkable individuals dedicated to addressing various social, environmental, and humanitarian issues. Each nonprofit founder is a living example of being a force for good. By understanding the impact of nonprofits, we can strategically engage with these organizations to amplify their force for good and our own.

One poignant example of the transformative power of collective giving is Meals on Wheels. Founded by Enid Borden and supported by a volunteer army of 2 million, Meals on Wheels is the largest hunger-relief organization for senior citizens in the United States. Every day, they provide meals to over a million elderly individuals across the country. Enid Borden aptly summarizes the essence of giving back, stating, “The biggest problem we have is that there are many charities… So which one is more valuable than another? The answer is they’re all valuable, they’re all worthy, and they all need help. My message is just give. I always tell people: Once you give something back, whether it is a meal or something else, you’re hooked. It doesn’t pay monetarily, but it pays spiritually.”

While Meals on Wheels exemplifies the impact of large nonprofits, it’s important to recognize that every nonprofit started with one founder. The power of giving back extends beyond financial contributions or organizational affiliations; it encompasses individual efforts that, when combined, create a significant force for good. Volunteering time, skills, or expertise to local charities or community initiatives amplifies the impact on a smaller scale but with no less significance.

Charities, regardless of size, often rely on the dedication of community members to address specific needs. Whether it’s assisting at a food bank, participating in neighborhood clean-ups, or mentoring youth, individuals contribute to improving their communities. The collective force of these small-scale efforts enhances the overall well-being of their communities.

Most nonprofit organizations benefit from individuals offering their specific skills and expertise. Professionals in fields such as marketing, legal services, or IT can provide valuable assistance to organizations that may lack these resources. By leveraging their unique skills, individuals become a force for good, enabling nonprofits to operate more efficiently and effectively. Organizations like serve as terrific resources to connect skills to a nonprofit’s needs.

In harnessing the power of giving back, individuals become agents of positive change. Nonprofits and charities provide structured platforms for directing personal force towards addressing pressing societal issues. By contributing time, resources, or expertise to these organizations, individuals amplify their impact and collectively shape a better world.

When we acknowledge the inherent goodness in people, it becomes natural to want to be of service to them. By providing value to others, not only do we help them, but we also enrich ourselves. This cycle of giving and receiving fosters an upward spiral of positive energy and change, strengthening the force for good in the world.

This force for good resides within each of us, waiting to be unleashed. As individuals recognize their unique abilities and align them with the missions of nonprofits and charities, they not only improve the lives of others but also experience the profound fulfillment that comes from being a force for good.




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Wishing you a very Happy Easter!


“Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and a new life.”

Janine di Giovanni

It is hard to believe that Spring break has arrived and Easter is this weekend. Easter means time with family, a small pause for gratitude, the beauty of Spring….and of course chocolate!

I hope this weekend finds you with the ones you love, with time to relax and to think about what spring renewal means to you. March has been a wonderful month with a lot of excitement but a little rest and reset is in order.  Here is to a joyous Easter filled with hope, renewal and new life.




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Episode 75: Calibrate

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

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


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us how Calibrate started?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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




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Episode 60: Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund

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

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



Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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





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The Write Stuff

As I shared with you at the beginning of the year, I am writing a book. A lifetime goal, a dream, and a bucket list item for sure. Along with that dream comes the vulnerability, the fear, the procrastination and the reality of deadlines from publishers. All of it is new, all of it is exciting, terrifying, exhilarating  and a little overwhelming all at once.

I write to you every week and thought how difficult can this be? It can’t be that much harder. Believe it or not, it is. What is difficult is the voice in my head and the million new ways I have found to procrastinate. I don’t think I have procrastinated like this since college. It is the same feeling of an impending deadline that feels so far off and then you blink and its March and three chapters are due. Terror strikes, the brain freezes, panic sets in and then you have to get to work. You have no choice.

In January, I was walking with my girlfriend Sue and sharing some of these feelings. She turned to me and asked me the most beautiful question, “Do you want an accountability partner?” A resounding YES! was my answer. She then asked me what I needed to do first and by when. I went on to explain that if I could just have a detailed outline to write from by the third week in January, it would make me feel better. True to her word, she texted me, checked in and sure enough, I made my self imposed deadline to my new accountability partner. One item off the checklist down and just a book to go, no problem.

Next, I told myself once I attend my publisher’s event in mid February, then I will have a better sense of things. I did attend an amazing day where they hosted The Voices of 100 Women which is a documentary that they are filming and I am excited to be a part of, more on that later. The time with fellow women authors, many first timers like me, was amazing! I came home energized and ready to go. I wrote the forward and the first chapter and felt great.

Then life got in the way a little bit and rather than writing, I found myself listening to a podcast about writing a book. Next, I found myself joining writers groups to learn ways to create writing schedules. Simply another clever procrastination technique. I’m learning so many new ones it’s hard to know which one to use instead of doing my work. When I asked one of the amazing authors, Cindy Witteman, what she does when she is stuck. Cindy replied, ” I write a handwritten letter to the person I’m trying to talk too and I tell them my message in my handwritten note.”  The light bulb went off. By the way, you may remember Cindy from our recent podcast about Driving Single Parents and the nonprofit she founded. Once again, a nonprofit hero to the rescue! Cindy is in the photo above.

I have to confess that I am writing to you instead of working on the book right now but for the past twelve years we have done everything together. I am grateful that you are coming on this journey too. If a week goes by and you don’t hear from me, don’t worry, just know that I’m doing my work and making those deadlines!




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A different type of love letter this Valentines Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know this isn’t a typical Valentine’s Day post but it is a love letter of sorts. Last week I attended my aunt’s funeral. Most of us have attended more than a few funerals but there were some things that struck me about this one that I thought were worth sharing. My Aunt Sue’s funeral was a reminder of how to live.

While listening to the eulogy, I couldn’t help but think of the Netflixs show The Blue Zones.  In case you missed it, the “Blue Zones” are areas with the highest rate of people living beyond the age of one hundred. They studied these centurions and discovered some things they have in common. My aunt seemed to have the Blue Zone secret by living a joyful, loving, productive and happy life. Hearing about her life reminded me what a real legacy is. 

What struck me the most about my aunt’s service was how many people were there. She was 87 years old when she died and she filled the church….and you can see it wasn’t a small church. Of course her large Irish Catholic family of siblings, children, grandchildren, a great grandchild, nieces and nephews took a few pews but it was her friends and a whole lot of them who showed up to remember my terrific aunt that was so inspiring.

When you are raised in a wolf pack of seven you always belong to a tribe. Coming from a tribe of seven children you go out of your way to make sure everyone else feels like they belong to the pack or at least she did. There was always room at the table for one more. Family and community were everything to her. She made family and friends her priority.

My aunt cared about people. She sent cards, wrote notes and she showed up for you in life. She was there for everything important no matter what. A few years ago, I was giving the commencement speech at the high school she and I both attended, she was there. I live in Southern California, she lived in Northen California, it didn’t matter. My aunt was there and was eighty at the time. She cared and showed up.

It was more than showing up it was giving. At eighty something my aunt took on a new language, Spanish. She wanted to learn Spanish so she could be a better volunteer at one of the many places she gave her time too. Her Spanish teacher offered to host the funeral reception and not because she was a great student but because she was great. My aunt was a helper and a giver. She worked her whole life and in her retirement she worked even harder as a volunteer. It was her purpose to have a sense of community and connection. She never stopped giving or learning.

My aunt was a gardener. She loved her gardens and was always joyful, practical and so happy that everyone could enjoy the beauty she created in her gardens. I’d never thought of it before but people who gardeners are natural caretakers. They have patience, they nurture, appreciate beauty and they strive to make life around them better for everyone. She made life beautiful.

The only thing that wasn’t mentioned but I will mention it here. My aunt got up at 5am everyday and worked out and this was way before Jane Fonda. She exercised long before it was trendy and her dedication to her health was beyond inspiring. My aunt knew that you can not take care of anyone if you haven’t taken care of yourself.  She made health and exercise a priority. 

While I will dearly miss my Aunt Sue I am beyond grateful for the legacy she left us in how to live. That is the best love letter and Valentines Day gift of all…a life well lived.




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.

How to serve up community service

I get asked all the time, “How do I get my children involved in service?”  It is a question that has more than a few answers because it is a process and not always a simple answer.  I was so excited when my friend, author and college admissions expert Dr. Cynthia Colon, asked me to join her podcast to discuss the topic on her podcast Destination Youniversity about the topic. You can listen to the conversation below or share with a friend who has high school age students or anyone looking to volunteer and doesn’t know where to start.

Dr. Cynthia Colon and I met a decade ago when she was a high school principal after leaving her job as head of admissions at Vassar. During her years running high schools she watched many families being overwhelmed by the college admissions process and as a first generation college student in her own family, she decided to switch gears to help.

Since that time, she has authored two books on the process: Tips, Tales and Truths for Teens and Be Committed, Get Admitted. Cynthia is a dynamo who is on a mission to help families and students navigate the very challenging college admissions process. Today, Cynthia helps families, students one on one with their college applications and hosts workshops on the topic. If you are beginning the college search process definitly check out her website here.

Dr. Colon tells her families and students that one of the things that schools look for in applicants is volunteer and leadership experience.  So I loved sharing a few tips on where to begin with your teens. Finding your child’s gifts and interests and pursuing those in the nonprofit space. We also talked about a number of amazing resources for starting out your volunteering experience and the best way to maximize those opportunities for your child and the organization they are serving.

There are so many resources today to connect you or someone you know to a cause they care about. It is just about knowing a few great places to get started. Connecting people and causes is truly one of my favorite things to do, so I’m excited to share this conversation and hope you enjoy it as much as we did!





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Episode 72: Praline’s Backyard Foundation

Did you know that there are over 10 million survivors of domestic abuse in United States and that one in three households of those survivors have a pet? When a person is making a decision to leave an abuser often times they stay because they do not want to leave their beloved pet.

Join us today for inspiring conversation about how Orazie Cook came up with a solution to help both our furry friends as well as survivors of domestic abuse heal with her nonprofit Praline’s Backyard Foundation.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Praline’s BackYard Foundation does?

Orazie Cook: We house pets of domestic violence survivors anywhere in the country, be a pet boarding facilities and pet foster homes. One of the barriers for a survivor leaving an abuser is lack of housing for their pet. So we want to eliminate that barrier. So they do not they have to worry about housing for their pet and they feel secure.

What a survivor does is really try to assess what resources are available to them when they do leave. One thing the person is trying to assess is what services are available for their pet.  We recognize that one in three households have a pet. What that means is that almost half of all survivors have a pet as well. When they enter into a situation where they need to leave an unhealthy living situation the victim wonders, do I leave my pet with this abuser? We recognize that a person who abuses a person often will abuse a pet as well.

This person battles with the dilemma  am I going to leave my pet with this person who may harm the pet, or do I stay because I want to protect my pet? Pets are a huge source of comfort to a person trying to leave an abuser. We want to eliminate that conundrum that a survivor has to go through. We hope to empower them by knowing that when they’re ready to leave their pet will be taken care of when they are ready to leave.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Praline’s Backyard Foundation?

Orazie Cook: I couldn’t have told you five years ago that I would be leading a nonprofit. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have told me that I would own my own company either. This all started with the idea that I wanted to have a facility to foster dogs.  I had volunteered with domestic violence shelters and at the Humane Society. I knew that I always wanted to house pets of domestic violence survivors because of my experience at the shelter and humane society.

When I was at the women’s domestic violence shelter a lot of survivors would go back to be with their abuser because they want to be with their pet, not to be with abuser. The shelter I had that I volunteered at did not house pets or make any level of accommodations for pets. I have a graduate degree but I never thought about how do we solve this problem?

 I volunteered at the Humane Society and saw survivors come and relinquish ownership of their pet because they were going into a living situation that did not accept pets. However, that’s not what they wanted  to do so they made that a very difficult choice. I knew there there has to be a better way but just didn’t know what that way was.  During COVID we saw the rise of domestic violence. I started sharing pet fostering stories on social media and then was trying to build a pet facility at the same time. People started saying, you should become a nonprofit. I ended up applying to become a nonprofit and we became a nonprofit.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Orazie Cook: The biggest challenge I faced and I continue to face it is raising awareness on this issue.  Honestly, I feel like if people knew that lack of housing for pets, keeps us a domestic violence survivor with an abuser, they would help.  In my experience, people are so generous.  People would open their hearts, their minds and their wallets to assist a person because we either like people or we like pets.  

My goal is to educate 10 million people, hence why I’m on your podcast to really educate 10 million people. And I feel like that 10 million represented 10 million people each year who experienced domestic violence in the United States alone. We  recognize that less than 20% of domestic violence shelters make accommodations for pets.  So we need more resources available for survivors with pets. I don’t want any survivor today in 2024 to leave their pet with an abuser when we have provision for them through pet boarding facilities and pet fosters across the US.

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

Orazie Cook: When I first started this, I would get so entrenched in people’s lives. I had to really, almost disassociate because I would just get so emotionally wrapped up into this person’s life. Especially when they didn’t leave an abuser, it just hurts. But I had to recognize people move at their own pace.  I want to support them in that movement because I don’t want them to go back. We are at the beginning of their journey.   That’s when I recognized I really needed somebody to debrief with this, so I could keep making this happen.

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

Orazie Cook:  In terms of impact, there is the survivor, their children and their pets.  There are multiple levels of our work. We can put a pet into a pet boarding facility to provide emergency housing for a pet for seven days until we find a long term Foster. So that’s a level one level of impact.

We currently have 47 pets right right now that are being fostered. And there are about 20, something that are currently being boarded across the US. Those are small numbers. These 70 families that have  left an abusive situation. And they’ve got the empowerment to know that their pet is okay. And they can seek safety and assurance for themselves at a shelter or during this transition period without their pet.

We’ve changed I’ve helped change the destiny of that person’s life. They have left an abuser, that their children have left that abuser so their children are less likely to become abuser. The real impact can never be measured in a sense, but to know that I’ve impacted that just one person is enough.

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

Orazie Cook: I would love to have a mobile app where survivor could go into this app and say, My name is Susie and I have a 50 pound lab and someone that’s in Susie’s area  can say oh, we’re available to house Susie’s pet.  The app would  provide resources for that survivor in terms of what shelters are available,  what other resources they may need as they leave their abuser. And so if I had an app, it’ll make it it was a really a succinct process on your phone. They will get alert that somebody in their area needs a place to for a pet or wants to help someone in their community.

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

Orazie Cook: I believe in the community and I believe in partnership. I’ve worked around the world, I worked in public health for over 20 years. I think I’ve continued learning about myself. I never thought I would be this leader or thought I would be on a podcast.  I wasn’t a social media person before the foundation. My life is pretty private.

However, my goal is to raise awareness to 10 million people. So 10 million people will eventually see my face. When I see the number of followers, and I hate the word followers, because I’m not God  but its my job to be a messanger and get the word out and help.




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Season Seven Premiere: The Posse Foundation

Welcome to Season Seven! We are SO excited for all of the amazing conversations we have scheduled for you this season. This is our 71st podcast and there is nothing we love more than introducing you to remarkable humans who use their lives to improve others. Today’s guest, Debbie Bial is no exception, she is simply remarkable. Join us as she shares her journey as a 23 year old nonprofit founder to what she has built today with her national organization,  Posse Foundation. 

Debbie is a ray of sunshine who for the past thirty plus years has been on a mission to identify and train gifted young people who might be missed by elite schools.  Posse Foundation places these scholars in supportive multicultural groups of ten students or posses. These students are mentored, prepared and positioned for success. After listening to Debbie’s passion you will understand why.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Debbie Bial: We started in the 1980s when a student who had dropped out of college said, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” And we thought, well, that’s a brilliant idea. Right? Why not send a team of kids together to college, back each other up?

The idea was that if you send people together in a team, they can not only back each other up when times get rough, but they can begin to form critical mass. Send ten students in every class, you get 40 students on a campus. That’s a model of integrated diversity, a catalyst for positive change in a community.

We are a national college success and leadership development program. The ultimate big goal is that we’re building a Leadership Network for the United States that more accurately reflects the real diversity of the American population. So Posse is trying to contribute to a more diverse leadership.

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

Debbie Bial: I was 23 years old, I was only out of college for a short amount of time. And here I am with this big idea. It wasn’t my idea but I was helping to bring it to life.  Vanderbilt University was the first university to take a chance on this idea.  Luckily, there were people at Vanderbilt, who saw that this could be a really valuable thing for their institution. Right in the 1980s. Vanderbilt was very white, very southern, very wealthy, and all the women wore dresses to the football games. How are they going to get kids from the Bronx to want to go there and stay there? So they tried it.

Charity Matters: What Were some of your earlier challenges?

Debbie Bial: I think people devalue the work that goes into creating a nonprofit that’s trying to do good in the world. For some reason, we don’t see it as an enterprise that you would invest in the way you would invest in a for profit business. If you want to succeed you have to do everything well which includes building a board of people who are experts,  building a network of donors and building an infrastructure that makes sense.

What I always say to other people who are starting a nonprofit is know your non-negotiables. And if you can stand behind your mission, and not compromise, understand where you draw the line. What are your non-negotiables? Then you’re much more likely to succeed. Honestly, I think that’s about integrity. If you  just follow the money, or you’re not strong in front of people who have big opinions about what you’re doing, then you end up diluting the work.

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

Debbie Bial: Every day that I walk into the office, I walk past a row of posters that are just our graduates on the day they graduate. They’re in their caps and gowns, it’s portraits, one after the other, and they’re smiling. And they’re the most beautiful photographs that I’ve ever seen. And it makes me so happy every day that I walk past those photographs. I know all their names and I feel like this is why we have Posse.

They’re becoming doctors and CEOs, they’re running for office, they’re  in government, they’re starting their own nonprofits.  And that motivates me now.

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

Debbie Bial: I always tell this story because it’s an important origin story. And it gives you this sense of Oh, there’s the impact. It’s a story of somebody who is in the very first Posse that we ever had in 1989. Her name is Shirley, and she was this Dominican kid from Brooklyn. Her dad drove a Yellow Taxi and she was going to be the first person in her family to go to college. And she goes to Vanderbilt University. She graduated with honors, she got her doctorate in clinical psychology from Duke University. Then she becomes the Dean of the college at Middlebury, and my god, she becomes the President of Ithaca College. She is the first Dominican American to be president of a four year college in the entire United States.

I tell that story because it captures the idea of impact. Right here, you find a student who maybe never would have thought of going to Vanderbilt, maybe ever would have shown up on their radar screen. And yet she goes, and now she’s a first.  She’s building something that’s making our world better for all of us. 

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

Debbie Bial: Since 1989, we’ve sent over 12,000 students to college. They have won $2 billion in scholarships from our partner schools, with graduation rates of 90%. Our students go on to be the leaders that we so need. What makes them different as leaders is that you’re thinking about equity and inclusion in a way that we sometimes miss in the boardroom, or in the rooms where decisions are being made. And we have a very polarized society right now where all we do is fight. We can’t agree we were attacking each other. And how valuable is it to have someone walk into the room? Who knows how to have conversations that are productive? Who knows how to build community? We don’t have that and we’re trying to do that.

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

Debbie Bial: We’re already a national program. We operate out of 10 brick and mortar cities, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York big cities. We expanded when the pandemic hit, and we all went home.  Our staff, who is amazing, turned the program into a program that we could deliver on Zoom. So now we have a virtual Posse program. I woke up one morning and I thought, oh my god, we just interviewed 17,000 students on Zoom. And I thought, we could expand our reach, in cities that we’ve never been able to be in before. And so The Posse Foundation more than doubled the number of cities from which we now recruit students. We have 92 partnerships, all taking 10 students a year, which means 920 new students a year. We’re going to get to 1000.

If you really want to know my dream, my dream is that one day, I can create a fund like a half a billion dollar fund.  It will generate enough money so that I could provide grants to 100 college and university partners every year in perpetuity for Posse scholars. We’re calling it the century of leaders fund.  If every year we had 1000 students, and every decade 10,000 Posse scholars, that’s 100,000 leaders for America over the course of a century. This would be supporting 100 of our best colleges and universities in the United States. That’s what I want to do before I leave. I think I can do it. 

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

Debbie Bial:  A number of years ago, I was in a room with the CEO of Deloitte, Cathy Englebert. She was speaking to 50 Posse alumni about her life and her career. And one Posse scholar raised her hand and she said,” You’re a woman and you’re a CEO. How did how did you do it? How did that happen?”

And Cathy said, ” There’s three things you need to know. One, you need to work really hard.  Two, you need to find great mentors. And three, there needs to be someone who will pound the table for you. And let me tell you what I mean by that.” She said, “I worked hard and I had great mentors. But there was this one executive who when the door was closed,  would say to his colleagues, have you thought about Cathy? You know, Cathy’s pretty amazing, Cathy’s great, Cathy’s outstanding. Cathy, Cathy, Cathy, Cathy.” Well Cathy became the first female CEO of Deloitte, not because of that person, but in part because of that person. We have all had someone who’s pounded the table for us.  But more importantly,  can we pound the table for someone else?  That’s what I do, and if we all did that, even just for one person…that makes the world better for all of us.




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