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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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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!

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

2024 the year ahead

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year when we catch our breath and begin to really think about what we want in the year ahead. I’m guessing that you have been pondering this, consciously or subconsciously, for the past week or so. I know I have. Honestly, just getting through the holidays and taking it all down felt like a victory. For some of us we are too tired to think about  what we want for the year ahead. If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that those list and intentions become real and it all starts with the dream.

My sons call me Dharma, like the old TV show Dharma and Greg. You know the one, where the kooky Dharma is all about manifesting and the universe. I have to admit that I do have a solid Dharma side to me. The reason isn’t just faith, although that is a part of it. The main reason is that I set goals and that I can begin to see myself making that happen. Some people think this is odd, some call it manifesting, I like to make plans and make them happen. Call it what you want. My oldest son and I were recently on a podcast called Is Manifesting Bullsh**?  discussing our differing views on making intentions.

Last year one of my New Year’s resolutions/intentions for 2023 was to write a book.  I talked about it all year and I didn’t do much about it. A number of my friends have written books and I talked to them about their writing process. I listened to a few podcasts on how to write a book. Somehow I didn’t see the path forward on the goal. Then, miraculously I was introduced to a publisher in early December. The great news is I signed a contract to write a book to come out fall of 2024. Definitely cutting that 2023 New Year’s resolution a little close but I made it just under the wire. It took a nudge to pull the trigger and now that I am setting 2024’s goals, writing that book is at the top of the list..

While writing a book is one example of moving something forward in my life, it gives me such joy and a sense of accomplishment. Those are the feelings that I want to bring into the New Year, joy and accomplishment. So this year, I am taking a little extra time with the 2024 goals. I am breaking them down again this year into categories. Goals for health, relationships, career, our home and travel. Will I achieve them all? Absolutely not. Looking at my 2023 goals, Christmas in Bali didn’t happen. Not even close. Will it get pushed ahead to 2024, absolutely! I will get there eventually.

The goals for Charity Matters are also something I am really thinking about. Charity Matters, each of you and the people we  interview fill me with joy, always.  What is challenging is the expectation I place on myself and our team to create content each week. More often than not, amazing nonprofit founders cross my path and it is an organic process, which I love. There’s Dharma again:) Tracking people down, scheduling interviews, and all the time that goes into each episode is a huge commitment. Finding the right balance of posting/creating every other week or every week is challenging. So this year, with the book added to plate I am going to try to do what I can and be kind to myself.

Thank you all for helping by being beacons of light and believing in goodness. you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. Each of you sharing these posts, subscribing to our podcast, and sharing our work on social media validates Charity Matters mission of connecting people and causes. So thank you for cheering us on and joining in this quest to be a messenger of goodness. I am running into 2024 with my heart wide open and full of optimism, ready to serve and receive.

Wishing you a magical year ahead filled with love, joy, abundance, fun and much goodness. I know your going to achieve all of this and more with you’re intentions!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

2023 A Year in Review

I am a planner. There is nothing I love more than making a plan. Along with that comes the joyful process of looking back at all that was accomplished in the past year before looking ahead to make plans for the next. Each day we all get into our routines and habits and some days and even weeks feel like the movie Groundhogs Day. You know the one, where every day feels the same as the day before.

However, when we look in the rearview mirror we see that each small step lead to something bigger. That is exactly how I feel about 2023.  There were so many days that felt isolating, repetitive and flat and yet, when you look at the amount of work our team produced ….well, it is pretty impressive. When you look at the small steps the year breaks down like this: 826 minutes recorded, 14 hours, 19 episodes and 48 post. It’s that rearview at this time of year that makes me proud of our work.

I don’t think of this as work but a mission and a movement towards good. Each week we to continue to show the world the best in humanity. I thought we would look back at some of the amazing humans we met this past year.

We met so many incredible people and all of them are amazing. These are just a few of the conversations that were fun, insightful and memorable for me, so if you missed them, make sure to listen or read their story.

Susan Axelrod: Cure Epilpsy

I loved meeting Susan Axelrod, the founder of Cure Epilepsy. Susan shared her remarkable journey of raising a child with a diagnosis know one really understood. More than that, she was determined to change the trajectory of the disease for others and she has done just that. What Susan has done and how many people’s lives she has changed is truly beyond inspiring.

Dan Zauderer: Grass Roots Grocery

We have all seen food prices go up and up and up. Have we thought about what that means for so many children whose only meal comes from their school lunch? One New York school teacher did when he realized 1 in 4 students were going hungry. Join us for the incredible story of a teacher turned nonprofit founder of Grass Roots Grocery. Dan has become a food distributor, motivator for thousands of volunteers and teaches each of us what really matters.

Kurt Kandler: 410 Bridge

Kurt Kandler’s story is one of resilience, passion, and dedication to improving the lives of those less fortunate. His organization, 410 Bridge, has faced numerous challenges in its mission to provide aid and support to communities in Africa. But despite these obstacles, Kurt’s unwavering commitment to the cause has led to tangible changes and a glimmer of hope in the lives of those who have been forgotten by society.


Ian Sandler: Riley’s Way

Ian Sandler is not your typical nonprofit founder, not that anyone who sets out to make the world better is average. It is unusual for most of our guests to have a full time day job in addition to a nonprofit. When you hear his remarkable story and his mission to create the next generation of kind leaders honoring his daughter’s beautiful legacy, you will understand. Riley’s Way is a magical example of turning loss into love.

Rachel Doyle: Glamour Gals

Rachel Doyle, started her nonprofit in high school and twenty years later has over ninety chapters nationwide connecting teens and senior citizens through GlamourGals. Join us for an inspirational conversation about what we can do for our seniors, ourselves, the power of connection and coming together over something beautiful.

As we get ready to say goodbye to 2023. Remember all of the good. As we look ahead to 2024, look at some of these remarkable leaders for inspiration to put towards your New Year’s resolutions. Wishing you a joyful, healthy and very Happy New Year!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 70: Focusing Philanthropy

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Episode 69: GlamourGals

One of the things that I think has changed over time is our belief in teenagers and what they are capable of and I mean that in the best of ways. When I was growing up our parents barely knew where we were but with that freedom came responsibility. Teenagers had jobs, got themselves to work and rode their bikes to appointments on their own. These experiences gave them confidence to try and do new things. I am lucky to be reminded daily from my work at TACSC at just how capable and amazing these young students are.

Today’s guest, Rachel Doyle, started her nonprofit in high school and twenty years later has over ninety chapters nationwide connecting teens and senior citizens through GlamourGals. Join us for an inspirational conversation about what we can do for our seniors, ourselves, the power of connection and coming together over something beautiful.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Rachel Doyle: For over 20 years, we’ve been empowering beautiful connections between generations. We do this by organizing teen volunteer chapters in high school and college to visit local senior homes to provide companionship, conversation and our signature programming of complementary beauty makeovers. Our real vision is of course to end elder loneliness. Sadly, over 50% of seniors in care are not visited.

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

Rachel Doyle:  I created GlamourGals When I was a teenager. It was an idea to honor of my grandmother who had passed away and I wanted to do something that honored her. Being a teenager, I wanted to do something I enjoy. I think where the success comes in, is this idea of tapping into what’s relevant to your audience.  I loved fashion, beauty and makeup, so I thought why not? Take the things that I love, my friends love and use it as a tool to make someone smile.

I remember it was August of 1999 that I was thinking of the idea. In January of 2000. I held my very first GlamourGals makeover and I invited or begged two friends from home room. Basically saying, “You need this for college, don’t you?” And I dragged them into the senior home that day. And I remember I was unprepared for the next question, which after the experience, they turned to me and said, “Hey, when are we coming back? “

So the GlamourGals makeover experience, it’s just a vehicle for conversation that’s familiar. When you can tap into things that are relevant and provide opportunities for teens to do something and put their own spin on it. I think that’s what I’m most proud of is how we built the organization through this chapter system.

 Yes, it starts with the manicures and makeovers the GlamourGals signature programming, but then we give the team leadership of the chapters, flexibility through our chapter creativity fund.  There they have an idea and we encourage them to pitch us their idea. Then we’ll give you the materials to go and do that. As a result, they can own a little bit of their local ideas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Doyle:  I think, in any entrepreneurial journey, they’re consistent. You always need resources, but you need the right resources at the right time. You need the right people at the right time. I think it’s not necessarily the challenges. It’s how you move through them. Because challenges will come up daily.

 I think that as a person, I’ve discovered that I don’t mind a challenge. I lean into it, I see it. There’s a positive to it, even if it’s not the outcome that I want,  it keeps you moving forward.  You can manage your way through them or your reaction to them. And that is the entrepreneurial experience where you have fires all the time. It’s that firemen model. How do they get out of a burning building? They look down at their feet and they go one step in front of the other and before you know what you’re out.

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

Rachel Doyle:  In our leadership model for our teens, we give them the opportunity to reflectively journal. The idea is that  they go out and do this incredible intergenerational experience and they come back and get training and mentorship from us. Then we give them the chance to write about it and reflect about it. We prompt them to do that all the time and we’ve collected  over 10,000 reflective journals.

We share them as an office, on social media to inspire others. Receiving those is really what drives me. On the days where I’m like, “Am I doing something that still makes an impact?”  When that girl in Ohio or that guy in Texas, writes about how much GlamourGals has transformed their life, personally and academically. Our alumni who write professionally about it, or come back to volunteer . It is all these stories that we amassed that it’s not my journey anymore. It’s thousands of other people’s journeys. That is just so cool and just so inspiring to me.

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

Rachel Doyle: GlamourGals has always been about creating human connection for 20 years.  During the pandemic, we had an AI group, run all these like fancy technology tests on the Reflective Journals and look for key words and we found actually the most popular word in the selective journals was hope.  To us this signaled something really incredible is that during the largest mental health crisis for teenagers, they were coming onto our site and talking about hope. And I think there is something really transforming there. Going back to the core of our program, is human relationships, creating for teens transformations that inspire their personal, academic and future professional success. 

The last couple months we have started 20 new chapters. We’re in a growth period right now with 89 chapters across the country.  When everything shut down one of the programs we launched was called My dear friend.  It was a kind card writing program that allowed us to write cards to the seniors in the senior homes and for them to receive something tangible, slipped underneath the door, because there was 100% isolation. Since the launch of that program, we have distributed 100,000 cards around the country and even in foreign cities around the world. This holiday season we hope to reach 30,000 seniors isolated seniors in all 50 states. We hope that everyone will go online to help us send cards to seniors for the holidays. The Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation is going to match what we send. 

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

Rachel Doyle: I think the big dream for me and the thing that would make me the proudest for GlamourGals is having the vision realized in rooms where I’m not present.  I think you know you can talk about growth or replication or that you want to be in all 50 states or you want this to be there. But it goes back to the people who are building it and meeting those goals. And when those people can perform their their tasks or their goals in a way that embodies your belief system and your vision without you and without your direct direction.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Doyle: I think I had to recognize that it’s okay for my role to change.  I’ve done this for over 20 years. So I started off as a volunteer doing the direct service as a team,  going into multiple senior homes going and to different classrooms to convince other students to do the same thing. Later on in college having other chapters of young people replicate the service in different communities.

I remember sitting in a professor’s office. And she said, “This is a moment where your role has changed and you have to accept it. And you either have to move forward in it.  Just reflect on this for a moment. You are allowing maybe a thousand other people to do the service by your actions. So you’re one action of going into the senior home, by not doing that you’re putting the time towards inspiring and organizing a thousand others. You have to see the value in that .”

 So it was then that the next evolution of leadership came along and it wasn’t just me alone.  I had to welcome other people in and be okay with sharing that  delegation of power and responsibility. Again, it was allowing and embracing those changes in my leadership role and understanding how I fit into the organization each step each step of the way.

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

Rachel Doyle: I’ve learned is how to build a team or building the right team.  At the end of the day, if something went right or wrong, you can blame it on me. When you want to grow, you have to bring people on who have expertise you don’t have and not be threatened by it. Bring in people who complement you that are different from you, that challenge you. So being able to build a team because at the end of the day if you want something to grow or make a larger impact, you can’t do it alone. 

The most important lesson is to be a good listener. As a founder I’ve been at plenty of meals with people who just talk about themselves. Who wants to be around somebody who just talks about themselves? I think I learned it from when I volunteer alongside my volunteers to remember to sit down and listen to someone else. Whether it’s a senior citizen, a volunteer,  a peer colleague or a friend you just sit and listen to someone else. And get to know what they need. When you can understand the needs around you, you can better serve those needs.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 68: Driving Single Parents

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

A decade of leadership

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 67: When We Walked By

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What inspired you to write the book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten

Do you remember that book called Everything I know I leaned in Kindergarten? I was thinking about that book title the other day after interviewing one of our guests for the podcast. I was asking our guest about growing up with role models that gave back.  It is always fascinating to discover people’s earliest acts of kindness. Who they modeled? Where they learned the importance of helping others.

As the interview ended, I found myself trying to answer the question myself. What were my earliest memories of charity? Actually, it is one of my most vivid early memories. So I thought I would share it here. Let me set the scene first. The year is 1971, I’m five years old and in Mrs. Thompson’s kindergarten class.

Mrs. Thompson, who might have been 100 at the time was the sweetest kindest woman. She asked all of our class to bring in pennies for the poor. I know poor is no longer politically correct but it was the seventies. I vividly remember going home and emptying my own piggy bank and cramming a handful of pennies into my chubby hands. Something  about this made me so happy.

The next morning Mrs. Thompson asked the class of twenty who had brought in pennies. I raised my hand along with five other students and she called us all up to the front of the class and gave us a sucker for every penny we brought in.  It was amazing.  I felt so excited to be getting rewarded but still didn’t understand why we received lollipops.  Mrs. Thompson didn’t say anything else but thanked us for caring for others. I remember feeling very proud and excited about the bonus of candy.

The next day the remaining students brought in way more pennies than the six of us had the day before. A boy in my class asked Mrs. Thompson when they were getting their suckers for all their pennies. Mrs. Thompson very calmly explained, “The first group of students brought in their pennies because they wanted to help poor children and they didn’t expect anything in return. They just wanted to help the poor. Those students didn’t know about the suckers and gave just to give. All of you brought in pennies to get something for yourselves and that isn’t real charity. Charity is when you help someone and expect nothing in return. I want all of you to learn that when you give for no reason, then you are always rewarded.” 

I remember a few of the boys saying that wasn’t fair. To be honest,  I’m not sure that I really understood exactly what Mrs. Thompson meant. What I did know is that I felt really proud to give my pennies and really excited to get a bunch of candy I didn’t expect.  Somehow knew this was a feeling I wanted again. Mrs. Thompson empowered me in a way I had never felt before.

It is amazing that over fifty years later I can remember that moment like it was yesterday. We are all made up of so many moments and life experiences that shape us and set us down certain paths.  We never know when once seed that was planted long long ago will sprout and grow. While I’m not a kindergarten teacher, I do have the privilege of working with thousands of students each year and one can only hope that we are all planting many more seeds of giving.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 65: Curiosity 2 Create

The world gets scarier each week. You are here to be reminded of all of the goodness that exists all around us. These days teachers and educators are being vilified and under extreme microscopes as our world becomes more polarizing each day. Today’s guest is a bright light in a dark world, as she strives to invigorate and inspire thousands of educators to rediscover their love of teaching, inspire and foster creativity and critical thinking in the classroom and ultimately help our children.

Join us today for an inspirational conversation with Katie Trowbridge, the founder of Curiosity 2 Create. A nonprofit that is on a mission to help our teachers and ultimately our students. Their mission is to equip K-12 educators with the skills needed to embrace their innate curiosity and encourage critical thinking by providing leading edge resources for our teachers.  Like Charity Matters, Katie is on a mission to help the helpers. If you have a student, know a teacher or care about education in our country you are not going to want to miss this conversation.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what CURIOSITY 2 Create does?

Katie Trowbridge: It’s amazing what we do. And as we work with the teachers, and that the educators, administrators to help build in and infuse creative thinking, critical thinking into existing curriculum.  A lot of teachers today have very scripted lessons that they have to teach or they have an outline that they need to teach. And they think  I can’t put any creativity into that. And yet, there’s so many possibilities and ways that we can use what you’re already doing in your classroom to promote that way of thinking.

If you look at any of the research right now they’re all saying that out of the top ten skills that people need to be successful in the future. One is critical thinking and two is critical thinking. We’re in the schools and our teachers don’t really know how to teach these skills.  I keep hearing I don’t know how.  So we really are passionate about helping teachers make sure that when their kids leave the classroom, they’re thinking about things.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Curiosity 2 Create?

Katie Trowbridge: So Curiosity 2 Create is only about two years old. So we’re still babies.  We have been working in education for a while after school programs. But about a year ago, I was at a board meeting and someone said, “You know what would be really great is if instead of just having these after school programs, we really reach out to teachers.  Because if you can impact one teacher, you’re impacting 1000s of students.” And that’s when they looked at me and said, “Great, do you want to run that?”  And now this is my full time working in a nonprofit.

It was a big decision for me to make this move and I thought about it a lot, obviously. I love teaching, it’s in my heart. Over the last couple years, not only was I not happy but my coworkers weren’t happy.  My students weren’t happy and there was the lack of engagement, the lack of thinking for themselves. This idea of just give me the A. What’s the right answer?

  I saw that this excitement that used to be in schools of curiosity was just disappearing. Sometimes you can’t get the kind of coaching that you need on a teacher’s salary.  A lot of schools don’t have the money that they could to put into this kind of development. So I went to the Driscoll Foundation and they were very gracious and giving me a grant to make sure that this is able to be offered to everyone.

So no matter what, what size district, no matter where you are we can help. I was at a conference speaking, and a woman came up to me and said, “I’m in the middle of Nevada, and I teach, four different subjects, we have a really tiny school, could you help us?” And I said, “Absolutely.”

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a family that was involved in their community? 

Katie Trowbridge:  I was a pastor’s kid and I was an only child. So if I wanted a youth group in the school in the church that we were currently ministering in, I would have to create it. My dad would go into these churches that were dying, and he would raise it up and make it work. And then he’d leave. So a lot of times, as a kid, I was like, wow, I want a youth group, there is none. So I’ll just start my own.

Then I’ve always worked with teenagers and had a passion for teenagers and for children. I was in marketing for a while and went in to get my teaching degree. A couple of schools wanted to start looking more at character traits, or SEL before it was SEL and so I started a nonprofit called Kids Matter. And that is still going. I always want to be helping and doing things when I was young to make sure people are happy and getting along.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Katie Trowbridge: I would absolutely say fundraising. I would also say that raising awareness since we’re a new nonprofit. For example, on Giving Tuesday, we thought, Oh, we’re just gonna flood social media and on Giving Tuesday, we’re gonna get all this money. And it didn’t work. Because we’re new, and we’re middle and people are giving huge organizations not just like us. So I think raising awareness is a big one. Once people understand what we do and believe in what we do. They absolutely will be more willing to invest in what we do.

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

Katie Trowbridge: Getting your mind off of everybody’s you. I was sitting here,  thinking oh, man, what do I need to do next this week? I’ve got to make sure that my staff is okay. Then I have to make sure that I’m helping change education. That’s a huge goal.

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

Katie Trowbridge: One of our challenges is how to measure something that takes years to measure. We are measuring our impact by giving the testimonials saying look at this teacher said that this has absolutely changed the way she envisions teaching in your classroom. Another teacher who said, “My classroom is so much more fun. So I enjoy teaching much more.”

Well, how do you measure that? Right? That’s awesome. So maybe that teacher was going to quit, which we know a lot of teachers are right now and now they found joy, through teaching creatively and critically. You know, putting in a graph for a donor to see is nearly impossible. I think  that’s part of when you talked about some of the challenges.  Part of the challenge is how do we have the data to prove that this is working, besides stories from our teachers who say that it is.

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

Katie Trowbridge:  I think one of my biggest lessons that I’ve learned is patience.  I want to go go go as a visionary as an implementer. I want I want to be speaking at all these districts I want to have my curriculum all over the place.  I want it now.  So patience has been a real life lesson for me lately. I also think asking for help, has been something that I’ve learned.

I think that that is a major life lesson that I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. And a little bit of chaos is a good thing, because that’s where some of the the learning really takes place. But you know, being patient has been a really big one for me.

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

Katie Trowbridge:  My biggest dream is that students and teachers and schools start seeing the importance of these soft skills and see them more as essential skills. So it’s not just the Common Core standards,  but it’s how do we get kids to start thinking. A huge win for me is when we hear from teachers saying, my kids are actually asking better questions. My kids are actually thinking, because they’re excited about what they’re learning.  So my dream is that we’re writing the curriculum across the nation and that people start really embracing the the way to think for themselves.

What a better way to solve social issues, but then being a creative and critical problem solver. So when we have these issues in our society, our kids know how to think for themselves and how to solve these problems. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Service and leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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