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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.

 

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 76: Claim Your Potential

Working with young people everyday I know that they are capable of great things and are often underappreciated for all the good they do. Today’s guest is a perfect example of that. Sofie Lindberg started a podcast at age 17 to help her deal with challenges she was facing in her life.  What she didn’t expect was young women beginning to reach out for more and more support. As a result, she turned her popular podcast, Claim Your Potential into a nonprofit.

 

Join us today for a fun conversation about what one inspired young woman has done to use her challenges to help serve others.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Claim Your Potential does?

Sofie Lindberg: Claim Your Potential is a women’s empowerment organization. We serve primarily women between the ages of 15 to 24 years old, across the US.  We have a bit of a different model, because we operate 100% virtually.  All of our programming is focused on four different pillars; academic, emotional, financial, and professional empowerment. Currently, we have three active programs.

Charity Matters: Did you have a mentor or role model growing up that was philanthropic?

Sofie Lindberg:  My mom was definitely my role model growing up. She was a single parent who did everything. She would participate in whatever the community was doing, whether it was a fundraiser concert that she was singing in, or it was a clothing drive. My mom was always just in this community mindset of what can I do to help my community.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your nonprofit organization?

Sofie Lindberg: When I entered university, I was going to go into politics.  My first job was at this local DC nonprofit that does capacity building for other nonprofits, focusing on organizations that served impoverished children in the DC area.  I had no idea what the nonprofit world was and I fell in love with it.

Around that time, I had my very first relationship which was very turbulent. Looking back on it was something that I shouldn’t have been going through, that was by any textbook definition, emotional abuse.  I remember getting out of it and the amount of days I would just sit on my floor and cry and not know what to do. I wondered why I waited so long to get out.

And from there, I said, “Alright, I need to share this with people.”  Claim Your Potential started as a podcast with me sitting in my college dorm room, sharing stories, connecting with guests about everything from navigating grief, to financial wellness, to getting your first job, and even dealing with toxic relationships. All of these things that I was going through in my own life, I got to share and also be able to listen to experts tell me that everything I was doing was not right and how to fix it.

Then about a year into podcasting, all of these people were pouring out on social media saying, we want more. How can we get more from this podcast? So we started slow, and pushed out articles, stories, and workbooks. Still people wanted more.  I sat down one day and said, “You know what? I should probably use my nonprofit experience for something. So let me see what I need to do.” A week later, I was interviewing founding board members. It was quite the process from we’re a podcast, too, all of a sudden, holy moly, we’re filing for 501 C 3. I was 17 when we filed for our 501C3.

Charity Matters: What Have been your biggest challenges?

Sofie Lindberg:  I would say the biggest one was getting that 501 C3 status. For a little bit of context here, we had operated under what DC has is called nonprofit corporation. So you’re a registered business. They register you as a nonprofit corporation, but you’re not federally a nonprofit.

I would say our biggest hurdle was waiting for that to come through because you can’t do it but you can’t do anything to fix it. There’s nothing and you just can’t take on all of the stress of  I have 25 different things that I need to get done. But I can’t do any of them until I have money. And I can’t do that until I have my 501 C 3, which I can’t get because the IRS has to approve it.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I love everybody that I work with my board and everyone that’s on staff. The time and love they’ve put into everything just kind of makes the stress disappear in a way. I would say the other big piece is when we do workshops and collect feedback after.

When I get to read people’s responses and someone had said that they had no idea that they could even get a job. Then they went to our workshop, then they realized that wait a second, all of these other experiences that I’ve had,  I can get a job. I know that I can do it. Reading  those responses just makes you want to keep going, it makes you want to change someone’s life every day.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I think I definitely would say we’re not in this stage where our impact is measured in numbers.  I see our impact in the stories. And for me the story is our pilot program The Empowered Women’s Network, which is our mentorship program.

I’m still part of that program, where I get to mentor someone.  My mentee leaves the sessions feeling like they can take on the world, get a new job, they can go to university, and figure out what they want to do with their life. All of our programming is so tailored to the individual.  I feel like that’s kind of been my big success story to tell people is that people say, “I don’t know where I’d be without this program.”

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

Sofie Lindberg:   Claim Your Potential is our launching a career coaching program with career coaches, so that is super exciting.  I am also really pushing for getting financial advisors to come on to have  one on one individual sessions with clients to make sure that they can build a future.

We are in the process of building out our content writing team. We are bringing on young women to essentially write what they see the world as. Opinion pieces, research based pieces, advocacy pieces, it will be a digital magazine. My big vision is to always give  space for young women to think and to lead.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I’ve learned three really good ones about myself and how I lead. First, don’t let age get in the way. When I started, I was so nervous to go into my own meetings, talking to my own staff, and talking to the board. Because all these people are 10, 15, 20, sometimes even 30 years older than I am. I learned to embrace it. I’m the perfect person for this job, because I’m in the demographic that we serve. It’s easier for me to connect and I get it. It might seem to be a weakness, but for me that has become my biggest strength. Exactly what I always was so insecure about.

My other lesson was that nothing was going to happen overnight.  I really had to get reminded from my mom, when she said, “Sophie, one day at a time, nothing is overnight success. It’s those incremental everyday steps that get you there. So focus on the bigger picture.”  Being able to put it in perspective of if I  do it right, we could be in a very different place a year from now. What if everything goes right?

I would say the third piece is really understanding when it’s time to let go of something.  I’ve found that founder syndrome of I built this and want to hold on to this for dear life. But then there’s a time where you have to ask, “Is this actually serving people? ” It took me a very long time to get there because I wanted everything to work perfectly. So being able to make those tough decisions was the hardest lesson of them all.

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

Sofie Lindberg:  I think I saw this when I was maybe 10 and it never left me. It’s an Audry Hepburn quote and she said,  “Nothing is impossible.” And I feel like in the nonprofit sector especially, you get told no a lot from board, from donors from grant makers, pretty much anybody.  But I feel like being able to be in the space where you can say,” Alright, this might not be possible now. But it is possible, right?” We are going to find a way to implement this or to advocate for that.  I think that’s always stuck with me that nothing is impossible, because the word itself says I’m possible.

 

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.

Episode 70: Focusing Philanthropy

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 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:

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Season Six Premiere: Riley’s Way

Welcome to the Season Six premiere of the Charity Matters Podcast. I am thrilled that Season Six is here and with it comes an entire new group of modern day heroes that we can not wait to introduce you to. Today’s guest is not your average 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 you will understand.

Please join us for an inspirational conversation from our guest Ian Sandler. Learn as Ian shares the heartbreaking story behind the creation of Riley’s Way and the beautiful lasting legacy he has created to honor his beloved daughter.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Riley’s Way does?

Ian Sandler: Riley’s Way is a national nonprofit that invests in supporting the next generation of confident leaders. We provide young people with leadership training, coaching, funding and the community that they need to thrive, to develop into kind leaders and to make a difference in the world. So we work with emerging leaders, ages 13 to 22, who’ve started Social Impact organizations in areas like food insecurity, homelessness, equity, and education and environmental justice all through the lens of kindness, empathy, and human connection. And to date, we’ve supported more than 3000 young people across the country with over $2 million in grants and programs.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Riley’s Way?

Ian Sandler: Riley Hannah Sandler was our first child or our eldest daughter.  She was a magical young girl who loved more than anything to connect her friends. Riley would get excited when we would go out for dinner because that meant a babysitter and a chance to make a new friend.  She would talk about her friends accomplishments, you know, my friend got second place in a swim meet or got a lead role in the play as if it was her own accomplishment. She was so happy and so proud.

We found ourselves in a horrible situation where Riley had gone off for her first year of sleep-away camp.  She was having the summer of her life.  We ended up getting a phone call in the middle of the night, the night before she was supposed to come back from camp. And you just can’t make this stuff up, got a phone call, saying you need to get to the hospital. We took a four hour Uber and by the time I’d gotten to the hospital, Riley was gone.

It was just a case of her being too far from a hospital when she had gotten sick, and her throat had closed on her. We found ourselves in this just unfathomable situation. We just weren’t prepared to let this little girl who was gonna have a huge impact on the world…. we weren’t in a position to say we’re gonna say goodbye and we’re gonna let her light go out. And so we started Riley’s Way that day. So on August 18th, nine years ago, we actually started Riley’s Way in the hospital that day.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in A family that modeled charity or volunteered?

Ian Sandler:  My late father was from South Africa. He came over here to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics, and came over with nothing. He started companies his whole life and was very, very involved in philanthropy from an early time in this country.My father was one of the people who created the Birthright program.  I actually think the numbers like 800,000 people have actually participated in The BirthRight program.

I lost my dad when he was 64, to stomach cancer. Before this whole notion of kind leadership, my dad was the guy  we couldn’t get home for dinner because he was stopping and talking to everybody at this company about what’s going on with them. He always taught me you can learn something from someone else. What I was able to take from seeing the impact he had between his philanthropic work and entrepreneurial work,  it really taught me the impact you can have, if you just kind of go at something, and you don’t stop.

And so the really amazing thing about Riley’s Way is we started it nine years ago, we didn’t know what we’re gonna do. We had just got a great group of people who loved Riley and my family. And we kept going at it. For us as a family,  it’s just our way to show our daughter how much we love her. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ian Sandler: I’m lucky that my career has always been as a business builder. I’ve been a chief operating officer for technology at Morgan Stanley, and then at the Carlyle Group. So what I’m good at is finding people who are really good at things and putting them together. What I truly love doing is building and scaling. We just found great people, each individual is more spectacular than the next. We have now nine full time staff which would have given me a heart attack in 2016 or 2017 when we were starting.

Riley’s Way is a youth led organization. What that means is we have our teams on our board, they do the bulk of our interviewing when we hire people, they do the bulk of our judging and so the very work we do on a day to day basis. And what we found is if you just give our youth teams this opportunity to work with one another, give them scaffolding and support, and let them figure things out.

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

Ian Sandler: When you ask what fuels me, it’s a combination of things, right? It’s being a dad and Ruby knows so much more about her sister Riley than she ever would because of this work, so that’s super meaningful to us. Then you get exposed to these incredible teams, and you see what they’re doing. And you’re able to see the beauty of the work we do in nonprofit land.

When one of our team’s programs is successful, that is joy. And that is our overarching goal, taking the world out 30 or 40 years, and just instilling kind leaders everywhere. So  that’s it. It’s fuel from all this time with these incredible change makers and seeing the way they’re going to go out into the world and look at everything in a different way than they perhaps otherwise would. It just instills in this theory of change, which is Riley’s vision of  having kind friends everywhere. So that’s what we’re shooting for. And we’re gonna keep going.

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

Ian Sandler:  We have served 3000 students in terms of our programming and given out more than $2 million in grants and programs and that’s that’s really powerful. And yet it’s a lot of  very individual stories. 

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

Ian Sandler:  I want Riley’s Way to be synonymous with the most impactful philanthropic organizations on the planet.  We already think we’ve got it right with these next generation of kind leaders. We think we have the next fortune 500 CEOs, the next the senators, the next teachers, the next doctors, we need these folks everywhere. You need this approach to kind leadership so that you can really counterbalance this incredibly divisive landscape.  We need to get back to this notion of community that we look out for one another, we look out for our planet and we really have to think about this in a much different way. 

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

Ian Sandler: I lost my dad and I was like well, this is gonna be my life’s challenge, and I’m gonna rise above it. Then losing Riley. And I was like I don’t know how I’m supposed to do all of this. And yet the paradox in everything is, I feel like I’m able to just recognize what really does matter.  Being surrounded by people you love and making an impact in people’s lives. 

What I’m able to realize nine years into this is just what matters in life. All these things that I used to think were worries, were not. Don’t overthink it, because life’s gonna throw so much stuff at you. And by the way, that really starts with yourself. You can’t be good to your family, to your friends, to your colleagues,  if you’re not in a good place.  You have to figure out what that recipe is so that you can then go out and shine for others.  I definitely try to do one thing every day that is just purely joyful for me. And I kind of just float through life as a result of all this. So much of it is just the love and the joy we get from this work and community.  And knowing that you’re working for a purpose…I really do feel like I’ve found my life’s purpose.

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 63: Girls for a Change

A few months ago when I was in DC, a friend introduced me to a terrific philanthropist. He in turn introduced me to today’s guest, Angela Patton. Friends connecting friends is simply THE best! Angela Patton is a remarkable human who wanted to help her community, more specifically the girls in her community. What began as giving two weeks of her vacation to start a camp for girls is now twenty years later a movement with her nonprofit Girls for A Change.

Join us today, for a motivational and inspiring conversation about passion, resilience and what happens when we lift others up. Angela is sunshine in a bottle and making the world better one girl at a time. This is the perfect episode for a summer day and the best way for us to wrap up Season Five of our podcast, so enjoy!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Angela Patton: Girls for a Change is a nonprofit organization based in Richmond, Virginia. We prepare black girls for the world and the world for black girls. That just means that we visualize a world where black girls are seen, heard and celebrated. We are always working towards affirming black girls.  That means, making sure that we stand in the gaps that they face as early as third grade until their secondary years in academics. Sometimes their secondary years in their careers. What we tend to find out is that a girl stopped young. As they grow into womanhood, those doors still tend to slam in their face because of their color, because they’re young women. And so again, we close those gaps that they face, by  providing opportunities, programs, services, as well as social change advocacy work.

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

Angela Patton:  I was working for another nonprofit, and really enjoyed my work. But I consistently saw that girls were not fully participating, or they didn’t feel like they could. They were uncomfortable using their voice. I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit. I just I just knew how to do programs. So I decided that I was going to use my vacation time from the nonprofit organization I was working with, and just do a small two week camp for girls.

I just wanted to teach them how to work in the garden, to play sports and to find their sacred space. And, I called up a friend and asked, “Can I use your house? ” I had no idea like what I was doing. But I knew something had to be done. Because I could also hear community having conversations about what black girls were doing and not doing and it was always negative. And I wanted to tell them that that wasn’t true. They just didn’t have opportunity.

So I did this first year of a two week camp and a nonprofit leader in the community said,” Angela, you know you’re doing nonprofit work?” She told me how to start a 501 C3, how to get a board and she walked me through a journey. That was very scary. But I knew that if I really wanted to make true impact with my community that I was the best one to do this work.  So I leaned into it and that’s how I kind of got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Angela Patton: Well, one of the challenges was that I was young. Next year, our organization will be 20 years old, I was a much younger woman. So people don’t believe in you when you’re young. But one thing about startups, whether it’s a for profit or nonprofit, we’re always solving problems. You know, I actually don’t like that I have to do the work that I’m called to do all the time, because it is challenging. Also being a black woman saying that I am intentional about supporting and advancing black girls. That was considered offensive and being a troublemaker in South, especially in Richmond, VA  twenty years ago.

You’re black, and a woman, and you don’t know what it means to run a business. Definitely a nonprofit. And you also don’t have access to people with money. So you can not sustain this nonprofit. There also comes challenges dealing with the community that you want to partner with as well. So because of these challenges you know, it made me wake up every day with strength to continue to fight the challenges of the people who did not see their worth.

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

Angela Patton: For me, I’ve been very fortunate. And I shared this with other nonprofit leaders that I have coached in the past, is that you gotta find your village. Because in order for me to be able to go out and pay it forward, I have to take care of myself. I had to make sure I am healthy; mind, body, and spirit first. This includes who is my village, who are the people who know when I may need to call them to talk about what’s going on with the nonprofit and how they can support me.

So those are the things that I kind of pull from our fruit tree that keeps me alive. I feed myself with that almost on a daily basis. I’m reminding myself of my why acknowledging that I have great people beside me.  I’m so fortunate and that’s why I can continue to show up for girls the way that I do every day.

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

Angela Patton:  When the girls discover who they are. When they come back to us and say, I am happy with these
decisions. I have discovered who I am and I have clarity. And I am so clear about the fact that clarity is the key for us. So when I have girls find themselves despite what’s kind of going on. 
And my girls have all of the skills, the strength, the compassion, the awareness, to block all of that foolishness, and they come in to share their story with me is how I evaluate it.

She had she get it because there is no school, there is no field trip that makes someone just say I get it now. It’s their own lived experiences, and how much they take in and when they truly make the decision that this is going to be what gives them joy. Because all that we can do is give them access and exposure and opportunity. At the end of the day, it is up to her to say her yes or no. And that means she is clear. And when you say that, you know what a role model that that can be to the girls. That is it.

When I even share with them how I started the organization, why I started, my story, my journey. One of the things that I’m clear about saying to them is that I’m clear about why I’m here with you all. I’m not a person who applied for job or a person who’s waiting to do something else.  I received a calling to do this work. And one day you’re going to receive that call as well.. That doesn’t mean it’s a nonprofit, maybe you will be an athlete. It’s whatever that is for you.  When you are happy and joyous in that, no one can say, or do anything different, that can make you change that. And if you do change it is because once again, that’s what gave you joy. 

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

Angela Patton: . The one that comes to me today is the lesson I’m really excited about being able to pay it forward in the high school, in particular that I graduated from. I didn’t have the most rewarding or exciting school years.  I remembered when I was called to speak at the school that I graduated from, I really hesitated.  And I didn’t even realize that I was having like a moment of anxiety and I’ve had a TED talk. 

I went in, and I spoke to the girls. The children shared with me some of their experiences in the school and it saddened me, because it was 20 years later and experiences were the same. Even though the school looked different, it still was some of the same stories. I was just blown away.

So I ended up making sure that Girls for A  Change had a presence in the school.  I felt it was my responsibility and  I felt that I was put in this space purposefully.  Now, I have won a grant to do work specifically in that school and so I’m really excited about that experience. As we know, systems are hard to break. Even when new people come with new ideas, it doesn’t happen overnight. So it has to be people that go in and say these experiential learning opportunities have to be put in place.

My uncle was one of the first black students to enter that school after segregation, he was that first class. I realized because someone came before me, that I stand on the shoulders of  others who made it easy for me to be able to walk into the same school.  Today, that same school now gets me excited about being there. What’s really, really crazy about being able to do this work is that my daughter is now at that school in ninth grade. I’ve heard my girls say, thank you for making it net so hard for me. And so the question around with what lessons I learned, is go back and face your fears. Understand that you can help make it easier and less challenging, and create a new experience, that’s a lot happier for someone else.

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 62: Mitchell Thorp Foundation

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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 61 : Dignity Defense Institute

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

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

 

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 58: 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.

410 Bridge began as a humble effort by Kurt to make a difference. After a trip to Africa, Kurt was struck by the poverty  he saw in the communities he visited. He knew he had to do something to help. And so, 410 Bridge was born, with the mission to provide aid, education, and healthcare to those in need.

Join us today to meet Kurt Kandler, the founder of 410 Bridge. I’m so excited to share our incredible conversation about taking on one of life’s greatest challenges, global poverty. I think you will be inspired, educated and fascinated about one man’s unexpected journey.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 410 Bridge Does does?

Kurt Kandler: We exist because we believe we have to redefine this war on poverty. We have to redefine not only the war on poverty, but what it really means to win it what it means for the people living in extreme poverty. And we have to redefine, you know how we fight this battle together. That’s our that’s kind of our why statement.

What we do is holistic community development in rural communities in the developing world. We’re in four countries. Today we’re in Kenya and Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala. Essentially, what we do is we adopt and walk alongside an entire community and entire rural community of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 people.  We walk with them over a number of years, helping them with all areas of need, and ultimately getting them to a place where they can graduate from a relationship or partnership with 410 bridge. And they can continue their journey of development long after we leave. So we are a holistic, all areas of need community development organization.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 410 Bridge?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial in my career. And then right after 911, the business that I had at the time failed.  That was a very difficult time for our family.  It was our dark times and what happened in those times that changed everything.

Our kids were going to a small private school here in Atlanta. They were presented with this opportunity in Uganda. The kids in the school were sending shoeboxes full of toys and school supplies.  A family went over there to take these school boxes to Uganda.  They came back and I was looking at pictures of their trip.

I came across a photo of a school building that was made out of mud, sticks, cow dung and dirt floors. Kids sat on rocks and there was no teachers. And I just was fascinated by this idea that they had to repack the walls of this school building every time it rained.  It just captured me and  captured my heart. I decided what I’m going to do is I’m going to go over there and I’m going to go build them a brick building. 

We went over there to build this brick building school block. And we did that.  I thought, what we were coming over here to make a generational impact. We had raising money for a school building, for a water project, textbooks and all of that. In my view, it wasn’t solving a problem. 

I just was captured by the real problems that contributed to extreme poverty. It’s my first exposure to extreme poverty. And I had more questions certainly than answers. But I came back and had became a bit of a student and read a lot about it. And I found very early on that there was a lot written about the problem and why it existed.

 I really felt compelled and I had an idea of how to go execute on that. Which is really crazy, because it is a big, complicated problem, a huge problem. And I felt like what if we could focus on a place? Rally go deep into that place for an extended period of time? Could we move the needle in that place and really begin to solve this poverty problem for that place?

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kurt Kandler: We started in in Kenya. So we were very focused on three communities at the very beginning. Two of those communities ultimately graduated, one of them did not.  I understood that we were going to rise and fall on solid leadership. And so we needed we needed leadership inside our communities, of Kenyans in the community, leading the community toward this self development objective that we were undertaking.

And because we were holistic, it’s all areas of need its water, education, health and economic empowerment. There are spiritual aspects to what we do, that are super fundamentally important. And so we had to undertake all of that. My philosophy has always been in times of difficulty, confusion, chaos, disagreement, just do the next right thing.  It means you know what the next right thing is, it could be a big thing. It could be a small thing more often than not, it’s a really small thing, but take that next step. Because it’s small, incremental steps toward a goal that get you there. It’s not one giant step all the time. And so that’s what we did.

We were trying to solve one little problem after another and started with leadership and then staff over there. I’m a firm believer in 100% indigenous staff. We want Kenyans helping Kenyans, Guatemalans, helping Guatemalans.  So that’s how it began. And I think though you asked about the challenges I think the biggest challenge that I learned very early on was that we couldn’t be successful. And we still can’t be successful in the communities where we work without support from the west. But we also can’t be successful in that work until we change the paradigm of how the West engages the poor. Because we more often do more harm than good. Engaging the global poor, we have been a little ethnocentric about the problem. 

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

Kurt Kandler:  I think that there’s some things that make what we do a little bit easier, in that we don’t carry the burden of our communities. The communities where we work in are struggling in extreme poverty. This is this is less than $2 per day per household kind of level. So it’s really heartbreaking. But there is a there’s a difference between relief, rehabilitation and development.

 How do you define partnership and development? We define it as that which people do for themselves. So we’re a development organization. We’re not a relief organization. So we are very clear when we come into the community and talk to leaders and we are here to do with you. And so your job is to mobilize and unify your community around this development effort that we’re going to walk with you.

So that eliminates a tremendous amount of this emotional burden that we feel that we have to go solve problems for people that that, because they can’t solve it themselves. We don’t believe that the poor are a set of problems to be solved, we believe the poor are the solution to their poverty problem. And we’ve seen that manifests itself successfully so many times. It’s amazing.

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

Kurt Kandler: When we think about impact, our ultimate goal with a community is to work ourselves out of a job as quickly as we can. This is a very long term walk that we walk with the community. I was in a community last week,  that will graduate will be our 13th graduating community. We’ve been walking with them for 12 to 13 years. So it’s a long time. But we’re moving them we’re trying to move communities toward graduation.

Well, what does it mean to graduate? In order to graduate, we have to reach certain outcomes. With the leaders in the community, we outline outcomes that they want to see happen. And before we begin, we decide that we finished with water when we finished with education. When we finished with economic empowerment, what are the outcomes we’re looking for? What I want to know is is this program that we’re running in this community going to achieve the outcome that we set that the leaders of the community set forth?

So if you think about household income, an outcome for us is we want to move people from whatever they’re making today, call it sub $2 a day to $12 per day. So they have choices that they can make about their their quality of life. We set up outcomes. And as we start achieving those outcomes, and we get to maybe 80% of the outcomes achieved, we’ll start teeing up and introducing the idea of graduation to the leaders. Probably within a year or two, they will end up graduating have a huge celebration in the community.

A huge celebration at the end of this year with that community and partners and donors will come and the whole community will come out. And we’ll celebrate not what we did. But we’re gonna celebrate what the community has done on their own because we don’t measure our success by what we do. We measure our success by what the community does on its own. And when they do that, it is amazing to see people have this aha moment that say we will never go back to being poor again. 

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

Kurt Kandler: I don’t think that our dream is to continue to add communities until all of a sudden, we’re in thousands of communities around the world. What I my dream really is for other organizations, working with the poor, to think a lot more critically, about what they’re doing and how they’re helping. And if 410 Bridge can be an example of a model that works. It’s not the only model. But it’s a distinctive model. So my dream is to scale it through other organizations, looking to adopt a better methodology of engaging the poor.

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

Kurt Kandler:  Well, if we’re going to solve this poverty problem, we better define it well.. So with poverty, we don’t define poverty as a material problem. We define it as an issue of worldview. How people think, and this word worldview gets often misunderstood. So we are always trying to help people think differently about their quality of life, their perspective.

And when you can help people shift their worldview they’ll do more to solve their poverty problem and continue their journey of development without you than they will with you. I’m all about this idea of worldview driving choices that we make.  And so, that’s a that’s a big, big life lesson for me.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve become way more humble. And I think there’s nothing that will humble you more than working in extreme poverty environments. I mean, it’s a humbling experience. My wife  told me the other day, she said, “You know, you are you are way more purpose driven in your leadership than emotionally driven.” I think that all sounds pretty good.

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 57: Mission Launch

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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