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My Friend’s Place

So often in my life, multiple people point me in a singular direction and if I pay close enough attention I get the clue. A girlfriend of mine has been telling me about My Friend’s Place, a youth homeless organization, for years. A girl I work out with at the gym and her husband are very involved and have mentioned My Friend’s Place to me a number of times. Then over the holidays, I met a board member from My Friend’s Place who introduced me recently to the lovely Executive Director, Heather Carmichael. We finally connected and I am so thrilled we did. Heather’s insight and perspective on what is happening to these young people who are experiencing homelessness was so insightful and inspiring. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what My Friend’s Place does?

Heather Carmichael: My Friend’s Place is a 32-year-old organization that is a change maker in young people’s lives who are in the throes of experiencing homelessness. We are about creating a connection so that young people might begin to trust this community of support. We are a safe place to be in their crisis and a place that can help them stay connected to themselves, who they are and who they want to be in their future.

We want them to see that their current situation is hopefully circumstantial and that when their homelessness comes to an end that they are still who they are and want to be. If these young people can survive the trauma, make meaning and find opportunity then what they can contribute to our community is profound.

We try to help these young people to craft a whole identity. Developmentally, at 18 they have little or no training, minimum wage jobs do not resolve their problems. Living on the streets can be a very hostile experience trying to navigate life at age 18, 20, or 24. We do everything that a family or a friend would do to support someone at that age to find their way.

My Friend’s Place Founder Steve LePore and Executive Director, Heather Carmichael

Charity Matters: Tell us about how My Friend’s Place started?

Heather Carmichael:  In 1988 Steve LePore and Craig Scholz saw a rise in youth homelessness in Hollywood. The draw of Hollywood and the entertainment business has always made Hollywood a lure for many. In the mid-1980s Steve and Craig started to address the issue with a very grassroots organization originally called The Lighthouse.

They were scrappy opening up the back of their trunk to give kids something to eat, someone to relate to and listen to them and then eventually a place to stay. Hunger was one of the main issues then. Today we have taken the work that they began and expanded to a staff of thirty that provides legal aid, mental health, a host of outreach programs to create a one-stop community center. 

We now serve 1400 youth a year with about seventy-five to eighty coming in each day to eat, rest, shower, receive clothing and programming. We address both the immediate crisis and their long term goals and needs. Doing what any family would do for one of their children who was trying to get on their feet. We want to help these young people with their pain and find their potential of who they can be.

Charity Matters: How did you get involved with Mt Friend’s Place?

Heather Carmichael:I arrived at My Friend’s Place over twenty years ago, in the mid-1990s. I was working with youth runaways in San Francisco and doing a suicide assessment of programs with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and saw first hand the work that was being done for youth homeless and how young people responded to different environments. An opportunity surfaced when Steve LePore stepped away and a Clinical Director position opened up at My Friend’s Place in 2000 and I came on board and have been here ever since.  I knew that I loved the way that My Friend’s Place engaged with the young people but what I didn’t understand was that this would become a place where who I am as a human being would match my professionalism in such a deep way.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Heather Carmichael: There are so many. The landscape around addressing homelessness is under such dynamic change. For years, no one spoke about homelessness and now we have an epidemic crisis. Communities are overwhelmed and LA is in such pain about this. How do we continue to engage communities in meaningful ways so that we maintain momentum towards a solution? 

I feel very grateful to be doing the work at My Friend’s Place, where our main priority is to resolve these young people’s homelessness while continuing to create meaningful opportunities to see the impact and to feel involved. How do we scale to that in a meaningful way? A multitude of things got us here and it will take a multitude of things to fix this. We need to create meaningful opportunities to get our community and supporters involved in understanding and being a part of the solution.

There needs to be advocacy to ensure that these young people are not lumped in with adults.  How these young people entered into this horrific situation is hopefully just a moment in time and very different for each person. We have folks with jobs and young intact families but with rent increases can no longer afford a place to live, if you can re-stabilize a family like that they will probably be able to continue on with a healthy stable life. Then you have folks with mental health issues and the intervention is different than with that intact family. Then you have someone experiencing domestic violence and that intervention is different. The Foster Care kids come out ill-prepared for adulthood without family, or any community support to manage their transition into stable adulthood. There are so many issues and what is the right intervention for one person is always different. for another. We really have to be thoughtful about what is the right way to support and help these individuals for their particular crisis and not approach this only as a housing crisis.

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

Heather Carmichael: I think understanding that I can be a part of a community that can create connection and opportunity that can be a game-changer for one young person, a hundred or thousands…it just blows my mind. To be a part of that moment in time when a young person makes a connection. It is like watching your child take their first steps and watching that is what it feels like. The only difference is bringing the community in to watch it and to be a part of it.

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

Heather Carmichael: My primary interaction with our young people is my foundation for this work. I yearn for this work but now I feel that my role is to bring the community in to witness the work we are doing. Recently we had a young woman, in her early twenties, who was in great distress. To be there to witness, the vulnerability, to hold the pain and the possibility of something different. This is really about being a part of a community, keeping us connected to beholding one another. I think this is a role that both faith-based communities and nonprofits share, keeping us connected and beholding one another.

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

Heather Carmichael:  The 1400 youth who come to My Friend’s Place each year are impacted by feeling safe, cared for and by the opportunity to partner with us to change their lives. The thousands of people who come to be a part of a transformational community. Both are super valuable impacts. We are all the same in our desire to feel whole and to contribute. Every day we work to make the ordinary extraordinary.

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

Heather Carmichael: I have had to challenge myself to be seen, to step on stage, to walk that carpet, that goes on the radio or television and to develop an extroverted part of myself. That being seen does not drive me but I have learned to express my love and confidence in what happens at My Friend’s Place. Our mission and our youth. fuel me but being out front does not, I want the spotlight on this mission.

How has this journey changed you?

Heather Carmichael: I am so steeped in this work. Who I am as a person is who I am in all parts of my life. I feel very grateful to be where I am so I can be who I am. My intention was never to be the Executive Director and I stepped into this role with great hesitation but my love for these young people won. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for My Friend’s Place, what would that be?

Heather Carmichael:  My dream for My Friend’s Place is to be resourced in order to resource the staff and to swiftly resolve the crisis of youth homelessness. My dream for our young people is to achieve their dreams.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Dream Kit

The founder of my elementary and high school knew what she was doing over a hundred years ago when she made the school’s motto Actions Not Words. That motto has defined my life along with thousands of alumni over the years. It is always so exciting to meet a fellow alumna and someone who grew up with the same philosophy of using their gifts to make the world better. Earlier this week I sat down with Marina Marmolejo, a recent graduate student from Yale with a Masters in Public Health, who decided to stay in New Haven to start a nonprofit to help homeless youth. An inspiring conversation about the launch of her nonprofit and App, DreamKit and beyond amazing what someone so young can accomplish to impact so many lives in such a beautiful way.

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

Marina Marmolejo: We are reinventing technology to end youth homelessness. DreamKit is a web-based App for youth homelessness that supports youth professionally, financially and socially. Specifically through two main functions. The first is to motivate homeless youth, ages 12-25 to attend events, classes, and activities that will help them to escalate out of homelessness. We pay them for their efforts in DreamKit points that can, in turn, be used to “purchase ” gift cards. The youth are essentially earning money to meet their basic needs such as food, clothes, hygiene products. This is our short term solution.

The second part of the App is the long term solutions that are created from the profiles and information gathered on their Dream Kit App that will directly reflect the activities that the youth are attending and track their progress. We then share this information with potential employers, with landlords, mentors in the community to show their positive behavior and the steps the youth are taking to move in a positive direction. The third piece is to engage and connect them to society and the community in trying to reduce the stigma associated with homelessness. Dream Kit is a platform to showcase progress transformation and resiliency among a very at-risk and marginalized population.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Living in Los Angeles homeless is so in your face. People become callus to homelessness because it is so overwhelming and we feel helpless because there are no clear solutions. Living in LA people cannot help to feel guilty. Something inside of me that made me want to use my skills to make a difference and I honestly had no clue how. Then I took a course when I was at Loyola Marymount University on homelessness that spoke to the problem of homelessness from a mental and physical health perspective and public policy perspective.

Part of the class included living homeless for 3 days and 4 nights on the streets of Skid Row and in shelters. I remember the fear, the fear of being so alone, fear of checking our bags and not knowing about our belongings, which was normal shelter protocol. Fear because we were woken up one night and told to leave the shelter because there were too many registered sex offenders in the shelter and the street would be safer. I remember seeing shelter students my age doing their homework and for the first time seeing the juxtaposition between me as a college student, who has been so lucky, and then to witness youth who just were not as lucky as birth. This experience was my tipping point and Ah-Ha moment when the light bulb went off. You don’t really get it until you are in it and I was barely even in it and it was shocking.

So I started doing research at SPY (Safe Place for Youth) in Venice while I finished my undergraduate degree and decided to get my Master’s at Yale in Public Health. When I got to New Haven I got a job at an organization called PAWS (Poverty Alleviation through Washing Soles) where we provided shoes, socks, foot care, hygiene for the homeless. Professor Yusuf read the article about our work and reached out to me. From our conversations, DreamKit was created to track the progress of the homeless much like a Fitbit giving behavioral nudges and creating a points-based economy for homeless youth. We hired a development team and launched our App last week.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marina Marmolejo: DreamKit is not a consumer-facing product that has one customer like selling t-shirts but more of a linear pipeline. DreamKit is so reliant on multiple different communities for it to be successful which is absolutely the hardest part. The biggest challenge is gaining trust with our youth, our service providers, mobile employers. How do we connect all of these partners later down the road with our youth?

In order to end youth homelessness or even to attempt to it takes all hands on deck just to manage our fifteen person team, our partners, stakeholders and trying to take care of myself and protecting my energy as well.  Working with this population reminds me that my own stresses seem small.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Two of the people on our team, Aaron and Ashley, are formerly homeless. I meet with them multiple times a week and hearing their testimonials is what keeps me going. Last week one of our students said, “I’ve never been around so much positivity before.” The work that I’m doing with Adam and Ashley gives me so many Ah-Ha moments. This mutually beneficial relationship makes me feel that I am in the right place at the right time and watching them grow spiritually and emotionally through their work at DreamKit. They absolutely keep me going.

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

Marina Marmolejo: For me moving the needle has been the incredible support from the New Haven community to support me and this work in this very new opportunity. My Ah-Ha moments happen when someone says they have read about DreamKit and for me moving the needle forward means that we are infiltrating the way that people think about youth homelessness and that we are creating space for DreamKit and shifting mindsets on how we can be creative for solutions on homeless youth. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: First, the way we are treating the homeless top-down through government programs and DreamKit is funding and resourcing from the ground up. The metric is if you do X then you will get Y. We are exploring the bottom-up approach. We are paying the homeless whether we like it or not. If we are paying for the homeless regardless of then introducing interventions when they are young helps us create a new pathway to prevent them from ending up in systems such as prisons or hospitals in the long term.  

We might as well put the money in early to use it as a positive reward-based system as opposed to paying for long term prison stays. It is exhilarating to know that if you give people opportunities for positive behavior then how does that impact larger systems like health care or the criminal justice system. As a society, we are really good at tracking negative behaviors but not the reverse. DreamKit introduces a whole new data set on positive metrics. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: I would love to have proof of concept for DreamKit and be able to scale this to other cities. Essentially, I would love to be able to go to other urban markets and have them leverage the App to operate DreamKit in their own cities. Tech makes this scaleable and people do not realize that these youth have phones. Sixty-five percent of our youth have phones and the other thirty-five percent qualify for free phones through government programs.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Overall, being able to code-switch. I find myself moving from marketing to research, from business to grant writing. The lesson has been to be agile and switch really quickly.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marina Marmolejo: I have been in academic institutions my whole life. You learn, you study and give back. I have learned that if something doesn’t exist you are allowed to create it. I am ok with being ok that they don’t exist. I know I have the ability to create jobs and opportunities. We are allowed to create new ideas for our most vulnerable populations and that is what matters.

Charity Matters.

 

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True 2020 Vision

“The eyes are the window of the soul.”
 English Proverb 

I don’t usually repurpose stories but this one was more than worth sharing and is truly all about 2020 vision. I turned on the TV shortly after New Years to find this story about a young boy named Jonathan Jones. Jonathan was born color blind, as are 300 million people. One in 12 boys in the United States each year is born color blind. Can you even imagine a world without color? What is a sunset like without it?  In November Jonathan was given a special pair of glasses that gave him the ability to see color for the first time. The youtube video below went viral.


What happened next was what I wanted to share. Instead of just receiving the gift that gave Jonathan color vision, he wanted to pay it forward. Jonathan and his mom, Carole decided to start a Go Fund Me page to raise funds to provide even more glasses for other kids just like him. They asked for $350 donation on their Go Fund Me Page, which would pay for one pair of glasses. The first night  Jonathan’s page was already at $1,000.

A few weeks have passed and at last report, Jonathan had raised more than $35,000. When the company that makes the glasses, EnChroma, heard about the story they committed to matching his donation which is already well over 130 pairs of glasses or a world full of color for so many deserving people. True 2020 vision.

Charity Matters

 

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

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The Kindness Campaign

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” 

Scott Adams

Say what you will about social media but sometimes it brings amazing people together. A while back I was commenting on a LinkedIn post about Kelli Kelly, you may remember her from Hand to Hold in Austin? A fellow Texan, named Andra Liemandt, also commented on the post and her company read The Kindness Campaign. I was naturally intrigued and of course, it was a nonprofit.

I am not a cyberstalker I promise but Andra’s LinkedIn intrigued me. She had a career in large corporate account management and is the founder and drummer of the Mrs, a pop-rock band that has been on Good Morning America and featured in a host of magazines and opened for Bon Jovi. Naturally, I needed to know more. So I reached out to her and we connected via phone this past week for an amazing conversation that I hope leaves you as inspired about kindness as I was. What better way to start a New Year and decade than with kindness?

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Kindness Campaign does?

Andra Liemandt: We are on a mission to normalize emotional health. We all know that bullying, loneliness, and isolation exists but instead of allowing them to go unchecked we provide positive and acceptable tools that really promote emotional health. At the heart of what The Kindness Campaign (TKC) does it aims to create societal change by teaching emotional awareness, empathy, community and most importantly the development of building a healthy positive self-image. The place where we all tear ourselves down the most is with ourselves and that self-image is really where we try to build people up. Bullying has gone beyond the walls of our schools and now we need more help to access our teens and that is why we are building out tools to do that. That is exactly what TKC does.

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

Andra Liemandt: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens. Several years ago this touched my life in a very powerful and profound way when a dear friend of ours took her own life and she was just 12 years old and it was a direct result of bullying.  There was no path for me to start a nonprofit or any inkling that I would be sitting here five years later talking to you about this. That event changed my life forever and was the catalyst for an ongoing healing process with my daughters.

We just couldn’t get our heads around what had happened. As a mom of two girls, I was terrified that something could happen to them. I began worrying what if my daughters felt alienated and I didn’t know, what if there was a bully, so many fears popped into my head. So I started a feelings journal where the girls and I could discuss emotions like grief and anger. From there the project grew to a general feelings journal, which I copied and took into my daughter’s school. Before I knew it the principal asked for a copy of my homemade journal and then shared them with four other schools. In 2015, we launched The Kindness Campaign as a 501c3. It was really something I was being led by and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other as I feel called to do today as this journey keeps going.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Andra Liemandt: Besides the fact that I am working against the second largest cause of death in teens? That is the real challenge. Since the beginning when we started out as this simple little feelings journal, we then just scaled very quickly. By far I think one of our biggest challenges has been ensuring that we are scaling the right way being able to meet the demands for the tools that are being created. I think every entrepreneur has to approach growth differently and because of the nature of our work, it is extremely important that we are serving our end-users, schools, and educators in the most quality way possible.

We have been super laser-focused on proof of concept along with our programs and curriculum. Our biggest challenge is trying to meet the needs of those that we serve. We receive 150 requests nationwide and are currently serving 40,000 students in 82 schools.  This year our curriculum is available nationally through Erin Condren’s stores and the TKC website so we are excited about that. The reality is that the need is always going to be greater than anyone can meet. Partnerships like Erin Condren’s and so many other amazing corporate partners make this work possible in building emotional health a reality.

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

Andra Liemandt: When I got into this work my motivation was simply to save lives. I carry my friend’s daughter in my heart always. Being able to give families and teachers solutions to address emotional health and to have conversations is so powerful and fulfilling.  I was at the gym recently and a woman came up to me that I didn’t know and she thanked me for connecting her and her daughter. The woman said, “You don’t understand we did not speak the way we are speaking now because of the tools you gave us. I can not thank you enough.” We are creating tangible tools for emotional health and I believe that the work we are doing now will have an impact on suicide statistics in the future.

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

Andra Liemandt:  There are so many sweet stories, emails from parents and teachers. We have an event called the KIND5 and it is a four-hour program where I walk away feeling moved by the day and from the difference we have made in our student’s lives. I receive notes telling me about how impactful it was and I’ll never know the complete one hundred percent impact but I do feel that there is trajectory for these students who might not ever have this type of opportunity. We did one recently called I Am Enough and we had our signature activation, the Magic Mirror , which is one of our tools. When I am there with the kids it always reminds me that we are making a difference. It is not about me, it is about the tools and opportunities we create. I am simply a vessel that allows these opportunities to flow through me and happen.

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

Andra Liemandt:  I believe there is a touchpoint from the first time somebody ever felt kindness to when it actually gets played out years from now. What I do know is that from the very first day that I knew this (TKC) was going to be something more than me and my daughters in my apartment working on the feelings journal and was going to become a nonprofit because it was growing so fast.  I said then,”that our work needed to be measurable.” I knew then that we needed surveys to collect data and I do believe that there are direct outcomes from our work. In doing that we have had proof of concept tracking data from the beginning when we were one school and then five and now 82 schools. I do actually believe that there are indirect outcomes to measure emotional health. 

We serve over 40,000 students nationally with our online programming. We just had our second annual House of Kindness event, we don’t do benefits but house parties and we had a great success which will go along way in serving our students. We launched a national PSA before every AMC movie in the fall because we have been so blessed with incredible partnerships. We have a national reach because of our online programming, which we are incredibly proud of.  Success is measured in so many different ways.

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

Andra Liemandt:  I’m a big dreamer. Personally, my dream is for TKC’s reach to be so large, that schools and families can access us anywhere. We mean it when we say we want to raise a generation where emotional fitness is normal – as normal as physical fitness, and just as mainstream, too. We have life-changing tools for students, and we’re constantly innovating. So, my dream is to put these resources within reach for anyone, because children from all walks of life deserve access to this critical health metric.

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

Andra Liemandt: Life lessons evolve as you are on the journey. Where I am today on this journey and what we talk about at TKC is what if emotional wounds showed up on our bodies the way that physical wounds do?  We would all take this conversation a lot more seriously. I think about this on a daily basis.

When I look at my life today, my biggest life lesson is from the Magic Mirror (video above) and that the life lesson is that everyone wants to be seen and heard. The Magic Mirror has also taught me that attention is a really important healer. When we feel safe and secure we then have space for empathy. I have learned that through kindness organic outcomes from emotional health happen when we feel connected to one another, then we feel seen and heard.  Very often the impulse to bully just drops away. When we feel safe and secure we have emotional space for empathy which can be taught and that is huge. All of these lessons are the lessons that have added up in these past six years. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Andra Liemandt: This journey has allowed me to think in a deeper, calmer and more empathetic way for others. It has allowed me to give myself grace and forgiveness.

 

Charity Matters

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The heroes of 2019

“Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

There is nothing I love more than meeting new people. To me, each new person that I come across is like unwrapping a gift. I love learning people’s stories and what makes them tick. Meeting someone new is a never-ending source of joy for me. Some people collect certain things, I collect people because to me they are what matter. This past year I am so excited about the people that WE met at Charity Matters. When I meet amazing people so do you. Who wants to open a gift and not share it? So before we look ahead to 2020 I wanted to take a brief moment and look back at some of the extraordinary humans and their organizations that came into our lives this year.

We began 2019 with Tracy’s Dogs. The founders of Tracy’s Dogs, Tracy and Scott Whyatt, a Texas-based nonprofit that rescues thousands of dogs and partners them with new homes said to me, “People don’t find dogs, dogs find people.” Two weeks after that interview a dog from Texas named Lucy found us. An unexpected blessing of 2019 and the gift that keeps on giving. As they say, “Charity starts at home.”

photo credit: Classic Kids

Animals were not the only last legacy from the year. We met amazing women who turned their life challenges into thriving nonprofits. The remarkable Becky Fawcett who learned what it cost to adopt a child and turned it into her life’s mission to help families fund adoption with Help Us Adopt.

Jill Ippolito who showed us the power of love and healing with her inspirational work in juvenile halls with trauma-informed yoga with her nonprofit Uprising Yoga. Teaching and training minors in jail to learn how to process their trauma and break the cycle of pain. Jill used her past experience to help reform prisons across the country and heal generations of children who have experienced trauma and inflicted it on others to learn a new path towards healing. Jill is a truly lovely human and reminded me that whatever gift it is that we have, we need to share it with the world.

Then there was Marcella Johnson who lost a child at birth and used that pain to fuel her nonprofit The Comfort Cub. Marcella and her team provide healing weighted stuffed teddy bears/Cubs to help those mothers who grieve. We had such an incredible conversation that we set up lunch after and a friendship was born, she is a truly special human.

Marcella wasn’t the only new friend made in 2019, Roberta Lombardi the founder of Infinite Strength was so inspiring with her mission to financially assist women going through breast cancer pay for things such as daycare. We talked for over two hours and could have kept going. She is remarkable with her passion for serving and supporting these women and a true girls girl. I adored getting to know Roberta.

This year was not just about the girls, there were amazing men accomplishing unbelievable work, one of them was Seth Maxwell of the Thirst Project. At 19 years old Seth discovered how many people on this planet live without clean drinking water and made it his life’s mission to change that. Now at almost 35, he has. Seth’s organization has actually taken that number from 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water to 663 million and he is still going strong. More than that Seth is using his passion to inspire thousands of high school students across the country to join him in his mission.

Speaking of missions we met Colin Baden, the former CEO of Oakley sunglasses turned nonprofit founder, who continues to find ways to use technology to support Veterans with Infinite Hero Foundation. Colin’s humility and commitment to our Veterans left a lasting impression on me and the thousands that he serves. Our conversation left me in awe and reminded me that true heroes serve from a place of humility and Colin is a true hero.

While we met so many incredible and inspiring humans this past year there was one person whose positive attitude, commitment to joy and service left an indelible mark on me. His name is Hal Hargrave and he is the founder of The Be Perfect Foundation. Hal is a paraplegic and his organization works to help provide wheelchairs, cars, physical rehabilitation and a list of services for those with spinal cord injuries. Hal is someone who chooses joy and to live his life in the service of others.

All of these nonprofit founders serve humanity each and every day in so many different ways. I loved every single person I had the privilege of meeting this year and I loved introducing them to you just as much, I wish I could highlight them all here. 2019 was an amazing year and I am excited about what this New Year and decade will bring.

I think the perfect way to wrap up 2019 is with a quote from Hal Hargrave. I think Hal speaks for all the remarkable nonprofit founders and heroes when he said, “I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision every day to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. “

Wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Charity Matters.

 

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

Copyright © 2019 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.

Brave Minds Project

This past week I was in the New York visiting friends and getting into the holiday spirit and had the chance to talk to an amazing New Yorker and recent nonprofit founder, Alyssa Carfi.  A young dynamo with a public relations career by day and someone determined to make a difference as a new nonprofit founder by night and weekends and every minute in between. I often think that people forget that nonprofit founders are entrepreneurs of the best kind, people who start businesses to serve others. Alyssa is exactly that, she has taken her experience as someone who had a brain condition called, ‘cavernous malformation’ and turned it into a remarkable nonprofit called Brave Minds Project.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Brave Minds Project does?

Alyssa Carfi: We are a 501c3 that focuses on supporting patients between the ages of 10-29 with brain and brain stem conditions. They are the forgotten demographic, it’s a time when your hormones are changing, your life is changing and you are trying to figure out who you want to be, trying to go to school, or launch your career and then when you find out that there is something wrong with your brains, it’s devastating. It completely changes your whole life and affects the people around you as well.

I was 15 when I was diagnosed and 18 when I had brain surgery. When I look back at what I had there were certain resources missing. I was very fortunate to have both a great support system and great doctors but I wanted to provide some of those resources. I remember my 15th birthday, I was in the hospital and a clown came in and gave me a teddy bear, while it sounds funny it wasn’t really age-appropriate. So what we do besides building a community of young people with brain and brain stem conditions, we have created a mentorship program to pair up a patient with someone in the outside workforce, so if they want to be a doctor or a teacher or an actress we pair them with a  mentor in that field so they have someone to look up too. In addition, we provide things such as courage kits which are care packages for our patients and their siblings which is a fun way we can bring them a little sunshine and a smile.

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

Alyssa Carfi: Last November, the day before Thanksgiving I told my parents that I wanted to start Brave Minds Project  I am ten years out of my own brain surgery and am still affected by it. Being an adult, I wanted to give back because not everyone is as fortunate as I have been. I’ve been able to go to college, to study abroad, to work and now as I navigate my own place in the world, I knew I had to do this. So, I told my parents I wanted to start a nonprofit and they agreed it was a great idea. So I applied and this past June we got our 501c3. We are just getting started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Carfi: Because of my day job in PR, getting the word out has been pretty easy but the big challenge is that our patients are everywhere and we have to be wherever our patients are so the logistics can be difficult.  We continue to partner with more hospitals and build momentum and we would love to be nationwide eventually. It is one step at a time but I honestly didn’t even think we would be this far in our first year.

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

Alyssa Carfi: It is a lot but it is also very rewarding to hear the patient’s stories and they are inspired that I went through the same thing. We had one patient who was 24 and a year out of brain surgery. I talked to him and told him how incredible he looked for being only a year out of surgery. I told him that I waited for ten years until I met someone else who had even gone through what I had. He was so excited to just have an honest reference point for how he was supposed to look. The work is hard but it is truly rewarding to connect people going through this. Now that same 24 year old is sharing his story to help others as a Brave Minds Project Ambassador. 

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

Alyssa Carfi: It is those moments when we support our patients which means so much. We had a patient recently that is 19 years old college student with a brain tumor that affects her vision. She needed a very special and expensive contact lens. The Brave Minds volunteers surprised her with this special lens so that she could see. She was beyond grateful, those are the moments that remind me that we are making a difference.

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

Alyssa Carfi: The biggest impact so far has been the patients that we have helped and their patients. Overall, the connection we have created by bringing people together within this community is something you can’t put a number on. We connect patients to other patients and have incredible events at The Brain Bar, in patrnership with Stroke of Genius,  where we bring in speakers such as well known neurosurgeons to talk about various topics, like combining yoga and brain surgery and why its best for recovery. Friends and family of patients have also met and created another level of support. 

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

Alyssa Carfi: As we come upon our one year anniversary of the Brave Minds Project, my dream would be to raise more funds to put resources into building more programs. I want to continue to foster our community along with our programs. We have so many great things in place and I am really excited about where we are heading in trying to help this demographic of patients along with the hospitals and institutions.  I think that we are bringing people together that can really help to move the needle.

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

Alyssa Carfi: I always knew I was going to do something based on what happened to me. I  know I was put on this earth for a larger purpose and this experience has taught me that anything is possible. I work really hard to make this happen and I work really hard at my job. All the funds raised by the nonprofit go right back into the organization. I have gotten very good at focusing and compartmentalizing to get things done. The Brave Minds Project has reminded me that people always want to help and I am always amazed by the gifts of time and effort put into showing up and supporting this work.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alyssa Carfi: I have grown as a person. This has been really freeing because not everyone knew my story. I wear my story every day I have 6th and 7th nerve palsy which is where your eye and smile are affected. As a result, I  have had a lot of cosmetic surgery and it is definitely better. Starting the Brave Minds Project has forced me to be vulnerable and to open up and say, “Yeah I had this, this is what happened to me and because of this I now run a nonprofit to help others like me.” People no longer see my limitations anymore but the whole picture of what happened to me and how I was able to turn it into something good and that fuels everything that I am doing right now.

Charity Matters

 

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A new way to make a difference this holiday season

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

Audrey Hepburn

As the holiday season has officially begun and all of us are scrambling to find just the right gift, I recently reached out to my friend Jennifer Hillman, founder of a genius business called LuxAnthrophy, for some inspiration for gifts that give back. LuxAnthrophy is a brilliant online platform for men and women to sell their high-end goods (bags, clothing, jewelry, etc.) and give a percentage to charity and LuxAnthropy also contributes to your cause. Jenn has taken philanthropy and fashion and brought them together in the most inspiring way.

So, whether you are cleaning out your closet to get ready for what Santa is going to bring you or you want to make a difference this holiday season by shopping at  LuxAnthrophy knowing that a percentage of your purchase will go to an amazing cause you really can’t go wrong!

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about LuxAnthrophy?

Jennifer Hillman: We created LuxAnthropy based on the belief that conscious consumerism, along with small but thoughtful acts of generosity, breeds global change. LuxAnthropy is a high fashion resale website dedicated to giving back to its charitable partners.  We carefully select, authenticate and curate each luxury and designer item, generously provided by top celebrities, stylists, Hollywood insiders, fashion houses and influencers. 

LuxAnthropy has combined profit and purpose as the leading make money/give money designer resale website where influencers, fashionistas, designers and stylists are selling items from their wardrobe, making money while also supporting charities they love.  Making the experience easy, pain-free and purposeful, LuxAnthropy provides white-glove service by curating, authenticating, photographing and posting all items for sale; and sends all donations in the consignor’s name to their designated charity. LuxAnthropy donates a percentage of its proceeds as well. Our customers love getting great deals from very special closets and feel good knowing they’re supporting a worthy cause.

Our sellers can make money and give money.  We wanted to allow giving amounts to be a personal choice because all the giving is good.  Therefore, our sellers determine the percentage of their commission to donate to one of our partner charities and LuxAnthropy contributes five percent of its proceeds to the same charity.  And, LuxAnthropy’s customers get great deals on top tier fashion, while also knowing that their purchase is helping others in need. 

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

Jennifer Hillman: Having a mother who is a two-time breast cancer survivor, combined with working alongside iconic philanthropist Evelyn Lauder to elevate The Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, propelled me in ways that are still surprising me today.  When we first came up with LuxAnthropy’s “make money, give money” business model, Myra Biblowit, President of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation was the first person I called.   And when Myra said, “Wait, why isn’t this being done already?” I knew we were onto something that could really be powerful.  BCRF’s willingness to take a chance on LuxAnthropy is a testament to the essence of who and what they stand for as a charity.  We’re incredibly proud to say that we have more than 20 highly-rated charity partners today, and are honored that BCRF was LuxAnthropy’s first.

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

Jennifer Hillman: The generosity of people fuels me.  There are so many who have helped us get to where we are today and we are incredibly grateful to each and every one of them.   Our fuel is also the responses we continuously receive from our charity partners, sellers, and customers.  When we contact our sellers to let them know something of theirs has sold, the typical response we hear is “That’s amazing!  I’m going to send you more items from my closet. And tell my friends about LuxAnthropy.” A new customer called to say that she’d been looking for one of the designer dresses that she purchased on LuxAnthropy for a year, and was so excited to find it, and even more excited to know that everything being sold on the website supports wonderful charities.

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

Jennifer Hillman: LuxAnthropy is all about making a difference and helping others make a difference, in whatever way that works for each person’s lifestyle.  A few weeks back at a fundraising event hosted by a friend, I was singled out by several people in attendance as the person they needed to meet.  They all had things in their closet that they were no longer using and wanted to have LuxAnthropy sell them to benefit a particular charity.  That felt great.  A triple win.  A win for that person, win for that charity and a personal win for us at LuxAnthropy.  It’s great to see a positive word of mouth is spreading about LuxAnthropy.

Making a difference from an environmental perspective is already part of everything we do.  This is because when new and almost-new designer items move from the back of one person’s closet to the front of someone else’s (vs. going into landfills), we’re helping to preserve our environment for future generations.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Jennifer Hillman:  We are proud to have over twenty charity partners already on board, including St Judes, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, BCRF, Children Mending Hearts, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and more are signing on with us all the time.  The collective feedback has been universally positive.  We strive to make it super easy for sellers, charities, and buyers.  We continue to have a month on month growth — both in sales and in social engagement.  We’re a young company and just at the beginning of our journey and we are proud of our story.  We love giving back and hope we are an example of just how easy and fashionable giving can be.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience? How has this journey changed you?

Jennifer Hillman: I’ve learned that no matter what your job is, it’s important to remember the benefits of work, life balance.  To recharge by yourself or by spending time with family and friends.  Great ideas often come from when I’m not at the office but on a hike, in a pilates class or getting my nails done with my daughter.  I’m learning that it’s ok to take some time for myself as it only benefits everyone around me, especially the team at LuxAnthropy. 

More than that, I’ve learned a lot about human nature and that, for the most part, helping others is intrinsic in each of us.  Everyone feels good helping others.  It’s just that simple.  With our platform, we’re incredibly excited that we’ve created a way where giving back is made easy.    We all work really hard because we want to make a difference.  

Charity Matters

 

 

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

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Giving Tuesday is here!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, a successful black Friday, are enjoyed your cyber Monday and are now ready for the most important day of all… #GivingTuesday. What is #GivingTuesday, you ask? It is a global generosity movement that began in 2012 to celebrate and support giving and the power of people to transform their communities and the world. Giving Tuesday began as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good and something to counter Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Over the past seven years, this idea has transformed into a global movement that has inspired hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate and celebrate generosity.

Since I’m heading to the birthplace of Giving Tuesday today to kick off the holiday season, I only thought it was fitting to share a little about this special day. For those of us in the nonprofit space (all 1.7 million nonprofits in the US) Giving Tuesday is one of the biggest days of the year. It was started by New York’s 92nd Street Y, which has over 140 years of fundraising experience. They reached out to the United Nations Foundation with this innovative idea and joined as partners. Soon after, big corporations and non-profits signed on to help spread the word and the rest is history, as they say.

Giving Tuesday has become a global movement that last year united over 100 countries around the world by sharing our human capacity to care for and empower one another. Today, more than ever, we need to be doing a little more of that. What I think is even more fantastic is the volunteering efforts that go along with the day. If you are not sure where to start then simply go the link here and you will find a list of local volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

Last year alone over 700,000 people volunteered for clothing drives, tutoring projects and a wide range of activities aimed at helping local non-profits across the country. Almost 40,000 charities, corporate and civic partners registered to officially be a part of Giving Tuesday this year. Sheila Herring from the Case Foundation was quoted as saying,”The biggest thing for us is that Giving Tuesday directly challenges Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What if, as a nation, we focused that kind of attention on giving and we wanted that to be our identity.”

What if? Our world would be a better place. And it already is because what started as an idea seven years ago, has raised over one billion dollars in the United States alone online for charities and causes, around the world. When we come together in unity, we can make beautiful things happen.

Charity Matters.

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Infinite Strength

October may have come and gone but there are way too many amazing humans doing incredible work for breast cancer to fit them all into one month. Breast cancer doesn’t happen only in October but every two minutes in the United States someone’s life is changed by the diagnosis. There are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States and one of them is Roberta Lombardi. She is an incredible woman who I met through the Female Founder Collective recently. Roberta is the mother of three daughters, a breast cancer survivor, the founder of a line of beautiful bras for women who have had mastectomies and the founder of the nonprofit Infinite Strength.

Her mission is to support women in every possible way (groceries, bills, emotionally, medical bills) who have breast cancer and do not have health insurance. Roberta and Infinite Strength give these women the extra hope they to fight.  She is a bright light and exactly what our world needs more of.  I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Infinite Strength does?

Roberta Lombardi: While most people have been touched by breast cancer in some way, you do not really understand what it can do to your life unless you have had it yourself. Breast cancer doesn’t just take your breast, it can ruin relationships, shatter you mentally and is capable of destroying major areas of your life. How can you try to heal and have the best possible outcome in fighting this disease if on top of all this you are worried about bankruptcy, feeding your family or paying your bills? Infinite Strength is there to help financially and emotionally support those women so they can hopefully have the best possible outcome from their treatment. 

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

Roberta Lombardi: I am someone who never wanted to ask anyone for anything. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, most people had no clue that I had been sick. When I was done, I felt very blessed. They never tell you when you get cancer that when you are on the other side you are somehow estranged from who you were before cancer. I could not figure out how to get back to my previous life after fourteen months of going to the hospital every week.

My husband and I were standing in our kitchen and opening the last of our insurance bills and realized that my last round of chemotherapy had cost $80,000. We just looked at each other and my husband said, “What do people do without good insurance or without insurance at all? ” I was lucky, I didn’t need financial help but the minute my husband said it, I thought of all the women I had sat with at chemo for months and knew many of them were those women without support.

When I started to put all of this together, I just kept thinking about what if we hadn’t had the financial resources? What if we had not been able to afford food or rent because of medical bills? So, I went to the hospital where I had been treated and asked how I could help? I had been an event planner in my previous life and wanted to help them do an event to help those women who needed financial support. I also realized it was time to pick up the pieces of my own life and make things better for others. The hospital suggested that I start a nonprofit.  I was so grateful and I knew I needed to do this for these women and that was the beginning of  Infinite Strength. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Roberta Lombardi: I think our biggest challenges are in creating those long term partnerships with sponsors. After everything I have been through, I now know how important wellness is and trying to find the right sponsors who are aligned with wellness, who mirror our values and want a long term partnership is challenging. 

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

Roberta Lombardi: Just when things get difficult, I believe the universe sends me a sign. I can not walk away from this work because it is a part of me and who I am. I need to take that part of me to help someone else and I need to make it better. On those days when life is overwhelming, I’ll receive an email with a story of what they are dealing with in addition to breast cancer. That is what motivates me to keep going and that is what motivates me to keep upping my game. They say that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer but it literally feels almost like an epidemic to me and Connecticut has the third-highest rates of breast cancer in the country.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I know I am on the right path. For me when I have a quiet moment I think about what we have done when someone really needs our help. One of our women had a toddler who wouldn’t hug her because she was scared of her mom, so trying to find her a human hair wig so that her child would recognize her. I think about that and feel a moment of peace. I sit and think about what we have done and from every moment that I’ve been able to say we made a difference today, it seems that from that something else builds and it always leads to the next opportunity to do more.  

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

Roberta Lombardi: We began Infinite Strength in February of 2018 and in our first year we gave away $135,000. More than anything we give women strength and hope so that they do not give up. We come in and help them so that they can keep fighting and not worry about the bills. Sometimes it’s just that one little thing that gives them that light that they need to go on.

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

Roberta Lombardi: My dream would be that they wouldn’t need us and that they will find a cure. I know that if I hadn’t gone through this I would have never met any of these incredible women who have not only survived breast cancer but they have also turned it something amazing for others. Breast cancer survivors stick together like a family and hearing their stories makes me want to be a part of making this dream reality.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I am very mindful now. I have learned that no one knows what is going on behind someone’s smile. We all have something that we are going through. I have learned patience, not to judge and to give kindness…even if it is just a smile. It is SO simple! Saying good morning to someone can change their day. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: All of this has made me a better person and I am more grateful than ever before. I feel so blessed with the life that I have had. In the grand scheme of things, breast cancer has led me to this. I am genuinely happy with myself. Before my happiness was about others and making them happy. Now, I take care of myself. I think true happiness can be just being alone with yourself being peaceful. I am peaceful inside. My life has been good.

Charity Matters

 

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Moving Day:Parkinsons Foundation

People who move change the world. That is the slogan for the Parkinson’s Foundation and this past weekend that is what our family did, we moved. We are a family of action but this weekend our movement was different. On Saturday,  we moved to support my stepmother, Nan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease ten years ago. This year alone another 60, 000 people will be diagnosed with the disease. So when my sister-in-law reached out to everyone and said let’s walk for Nan, we were all in.

Over one million Americans live with Parkinson’s Disease and every nine minutes someone new is diagnosed. There are ten million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease. While we think that Parkinson’s affects older people, ten percent of the diagnosis are for people under the age of fifty.

So before we began our walk on Saturday we each grabbed a ribbon to walk with. The blue ribbon was for the person with Parkinson’s disease. The gold for the caretaker living with someone with the disease and the silver ribbon for those of us that supported a loved one with Parkinson’s.

What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease? It is a chronic and progressive disease that at its most simple definition is a movement disorder that affects the ability to perform common daily activities. Parkinsons is often characterized by its most common motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness of the muscles and slowness of movement.

The American Parkinson’s Disease Association was founded in 1961 and even google could not help me find out who founded the organization, so that will have to wait for another post. What I do know is that since that time the organization has raised over $185 million dollars to help research, educate and help us to find a cure for this disease.

So on Saturday, we carried our ribbons and walked for Nan and for my dad and for all of those who love and care for someone with Parkinson’s.

We raised money, sent emails and did social media to get the word out and my sister and brother-in-law even sponsored the porta potties for the event. This isn’t our typical family photo….

As the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “People who move change the world.” There was simply nothing better than seeing Nan and my dad moving together, our family and hundreds of people supporting one another to change the world and the face of this disease one step at a time.

Charity Matters

 

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Honoring our Veterans with Higher Ground

Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day. 

Charles B. Rangel

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day that our nation comes together to honor those who have served our country. Brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.  According to statistics, twenty-two veterans die each day in the United States from suicide. I was thrilled when I had the privilege of connecting with Kate Weihe, the Executive Director of an amazing organization called Higher Ground that serves our veterans and their spouses and supporters through amazing outdoor experiences as they adapt and learn to deal with their disabilities. In addition to Kate, I spoke to Higher Ground’s Director of Military Programs and a veteran himself, Rich Cardillo. An inspiring and emotional conversation that had me in tears a few times. The passion that Rich has for the veterans he works with was palpable.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Higher Ground does?

Kate Weihe: We enhance the quality of life for people of ALL abilities. Our biggest programs are with our veterans, their trauma, PTSD and we exist to serve and support them.  Our mission is to use recreation, therapy, and support to give people of all abilities a better life. Together we build the bridge between disability and belonging. One of our biggest programs is working with Veterans and active duty service members with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress syndrome, military sexual trauma, and other military trauma. We serve people with disabilities from ages 2-101 and we do this by using outdoors and nature along with family, friends, and community to support them.

Rich Cardillo: As a veteran, myself, who wanted to continue to serve veterans and servicemen in any capacity after I left the service. What drew me to Higher Ground in 2013 was the care and passion for people. We are now a staff of twenty-four and we are fully committed to enhancing our veteran’s lives as well as the local non-veteran community, here in Sun Valley, Idaho and in our other chapters in New York and LA.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about Higher Ground began?

Kate Weihe: Higher Ground began as an adaptive arm of the Sun Valley, Idaho Ski School. There was a local skier who had Multiple Sclerosis and wanted to get on the mountain again and there was not an instructor or equipment to take her. We began in 1999 when Mark Mask, our founder, talked the resort into getting their first sit-ski.  Kara Barrett who was there from the beginning developed all of our programs that initially were based on skiing and that evolved to a summer camp for children with cognitive disabilities.  In 2004, when we started seeing our Veterans coming home with PTSD  and we pivoted to embrace or veteran community. Initially, we were working with Veterans who were visually impaired from their service and then that translated into the invisible injuries of war. Today, we continue to have winter programs and summer family camps and a host of outdoor programs for our veterans as well as others with disabilities.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rich Cardillo: Our biggest challenge is trying to help the volume of veterans that still need our services. We are such a small organization compared to some other larger veteran based organizations. We want to grow our programs to continue to chip away at an insurmountable number of veterans. The financial need for expansion is critical. We are looking at alternative ways to reach more veterans and at the same time while trying to save money. Currently, Veterans come to us but we are beginning to fly our teams to them. We know that one of the true benefits of the program is the community they establish during their time with us.  We want them to be able to go back home and have others in their community that they call can call up and say let’s go do something together. 

Kate Weihe: I think our biggest challenge is to make sure that we continue to have exceptional programs and consistency as we scale and expand.

Charity Matters: What fuels to keep doing this work?

Kate Weihe: Undoubtedly, being with our program participants and seeing how effective our work is. When we hear from Veterans and their testimonials proving that our work truly made a difference for them and even better is hearing from them years later when they share that they are thriving. The other piece that fuels me is our exceptional staff.

Rich Cardillo: Having the opportunity to be a part of this process of witnessing the transformation that happens in the five days of our program. We get to witness our veterans become more of themselves and work with their partner or spouse to deal with their injury. It fills me up.

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

Rich Cardillo:  For me those moments are emotionalI retired from the military in 2008 and told my wife that we screwed up thirty years of our lives serving our country on active duty. My wife said, “What are you talking about?” I told her she needed to come witness the transformations that happen on our programs and see the changes being made, for me that is my life. The work we are doing at Higher Ground. fills my cup. When you can be a part of that change and know that you have made an impact on someone’s life it is powerful.

Kate Weihe: Rich gets to witness life-changing experiences in his work with our Veterans. In 2010, I received an email from one of our veterans who was one of the toughest people and stories you have ever heard. He was completely broken when he came to us and faced a lot of challenges. Today he is thriving and the long term impact of our work is why we do this. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your success and impact at Higher Ground?

Kate Weihe: We are a quality over quantity organization that focuses on individuals. We transform veterans’ lives being in the outdoors with the people they love and we are able to lend a unique and heartfelt way to help them find their own fulfillment. We do a lot of connecting our veterans with their family members and we are lending a unique way to help people realize their own potential.

Rich Cardillo: Our impact is only three words, we enhance lives. Whether it is a Veteran or a non-veteran that has an injury, everything we do makes their lives better. We know we have made an impact even if we have improved one component of their lives, even one piece is huge. I do know that what we do gives our veterans a better quality of life moving forward.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Higher Ground what would it be?

Kate Weihe: My dream would be that we would no longer have a waitlist for our programs. We serve 200 Veterans in our Military Program a year and we have over 1,000 on our waitlist. 

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

Rich Cardillo: I think for me personally a life lesson is have learned the importance of communication and having the ability to have a real conversation. We give our veterans the tools to do this and it’s called a win-win, so in the course of a conversation, no one loses.  In the end, both people involved in a conversation can feel good about themselves. For me, my life lesson is definitely communication.

Kate Weihe: I think overall in the bigger bucket my perspective has changed. Every time when I have had a rough day, I am reminded how lucky we are. Spending time with our veterans gives me gratitude on a daily basis. I know talking to my friends and family that they do not have that same opportunity that I have in my work. I am so grateful and so fortunate for the life I have been given. Now I can share that with others, a whole lot of gratitude.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kate Weihe: I think I’ve grown up a lot. I think I have learned to move a little bit slower and reflect more and take time to step back and be more compassionate.

Rich Cardillo: Higher Ground has shown me that there is hope. We are doing the right things for the right people. This work has reinforced my hope in humanity and that has come from our donors, our volunteers, and our veterans. They all remind me every day of the fact that people want to do the right thing and that gives me hope.

Charity Matters

 

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My Hope Chest

” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.”

Author unknown

I couldn’t let October come to an end without discussing Breast Cancer. Last year I interviewed an amazing nonprofit founder and breast cancer survivor and since that interview, I have had four friends who have undergone mastectomies. Breast Cancer isn’t something that only happens in October it is something that happens every two minutes every day. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer does not discriminate from the rich or the poor. To be honest I had never thought about what happens when you get breast cancer and have no insurance? I assumed that Medicaid and Medicare covered everything. Well, I was wrong.

Last year, I had the most inspiring conversation with the nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, a woman who lived this journey of having a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, the only national nonprofit in the country that takes these women and helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation and I left feeling inspired by this amazing warrior who fights for women who truly need one. She has left such a lasting impression on me that I wanted to re-share her story.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew that you needed to act and start My Hope Chest?

Alisa Savoretti: Hearing you have cancer is a devastating moment. It’s one thing to hear you have cancer but it is another thing to realize you have cancer, you do not have insurance and you do not qualify for Medicaid. This is what happened to me at 38 years old. I had been working in Las Vegas as a showgirl and had recently moved to Florida to begin an online furniture business before companies like Pottery Barn existed. I had borrowed funds on credit cards to launch Retrohome.com in 1999 when I found out I had cancer. The doctor said to take care of the cancer, focus on surviving and worry about the reconstruction later. 

I survived but lived without my breast for almost three years. You have no idea what this does for you as a woman, for your mental well being. During those three years, I reached out to organizations all over the country, government, nonprofit, anyone who could help me to become whole again. I discovered that there wasn’t anywhere to go. I felt deformed, depressed, frustrated, had metal anguish and enormous financial stress.

I went back to Vegas to work at The Rivera and the 1998 government law now mandated that their group policy could not decline me insurance in order to get my reconstructive surgery. I realized how my own self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth as a woman returned when I could look in the mirror and could see my whole physical being once again. It was my healing, a restoration in body mind and spirit.

While I was in Vegas, I volunteered for a NAWBO (National Association of Women’s Business Owners) event. I told the women from NAWBO my story and these women rallied around me and with their help, I was able to start My Hope Chest and had my 501c3, six weeks later on December 3rd, 2003. We will celebrate our 15th anniversary this year.

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

Alisa Savoretti: Some days it feels as if I am pushing a boulder uphill with a toothpick. And fifteen years of doing this at the grassroots level, the work is very hard. What fuels me is knowing that thousands and thousands of women are missing their breast and this shouldn’t be happening in our country. Making women whole again is our mission. I think about more women are surviving breast cancer and that’s true, but what about their quality of life if they are not whole?

These women are sick and often lose their jobs because they can’t work. They are now disfigured, deformed and depressed. The ripple effect of not being whole is devastating on marriages and families. This work has become my life’s mission. I am not married, cancer made children no longer an option and for the past fifteen years, this work has been my life.

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a DIFFERENCE?

Alisa Savoretti: We pick up where the government programs leave off. That is why we exist.  Our biggest referrals come from nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and Care.org.  We get referrals from them weekly and we can not tell our clients if or when they are going to be helped. They sit on a waitlist while we try to raise the funds to make their reconstructive surgery happen. Helping women to become whole again is what fuels me and just knowing that there is always a list of women waiting for us to find the funding.

I know that we have made a difference when we can help them with whatever they have asked for and the letters they send us.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Alisa Savoretti: We help women every year in a small way and I feel blessed that God picked me to do this task. Every time we get the word out about our work it helps fund someone’s surgery. Shining a light on this cause is SO important. We have been able to fill a gap where other breast cancer charities leave off. If there was another organization doing our work we wouldn’t do it but sadly there isn’t anyone else. The women we help are eternally grateful for all we have done and to me, that is the success.

Charity Matters: What is your vision for My Hope Chest going forward?

Alisa Savoretti: We will only exist until there is a cure for breast cancer. Of course, the big dream is that there is a day when our services are no longer needed. Ten years from now I dream that we have enough resources, funding, surgical partners and angel warriors that we can help women as quickly as they are referred to us. I dream of no longer having a waitlist and being able to have a more efficient meaningful impact on these women’s lives.

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

Alisa Savoretti: God had a different plan for my life. I have a quote on my desk that says,” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.” I feel like that is what happened with My Hope Chest. My life’s lesson is that when you persevere you will make a difference. The fact that this even exists in 2018 and is still flying under the radar that there are women, thousands of women in this country living without their breast.  I have refinanced my home three times to keep the funding going for My Hope Chest. I have taken extra jobs at the grocery store to fund this. I have learned that I have to persevere to help these women in any way I can. I cannot give up on them.

I think that changing even one life is important. Things are bigger than us, this mission is bigger than me and I have tied my life to making a difference. For me, I am grateful I was chosen for this journey. I am grateful to keep doing this work and I pray the Lord that My Hope Chest gets to leave a legacy on this earth until there is no longer a need for our services. That is my utmost prayer.

In the end,  I know that I have done my very best.

 

Charity Matters

 

 

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Create the Change Day

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”  Margaret Cho

Nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters in an attempt to learn more about Project Giving Kids (PGK). I quickly learned that PGK is a nonprofit organization that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate community service activities.  Their mottos is, “connecting kids to causes.” 
Molly initially launched Project Giving Kids in Boston in November 2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children and families. With 1.7 million nonprofits in the United States, as a young mother herself, Molly clearly saw that there was a need to leverage technology by creating an online platform and mobile app, Youth Give, to make it easier for kids to be powerful agents of positive change in our world.

 Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. This past weekend was an amazing experience as Project Giving Kids came back to LA  for their second annual Create the Change Day LA. The day was hosted by The Today Show’s Natalie Morales and was all about teaching hundreds of children and their families the joys of serving others.

 Think of the day as a trade show for kids where they could shop causes and service projects that they were interested in and cared about. Whether it was decorating duffle bags for children in foster care so they were not moved from home to home with a trash bag or putting toiletry kits together for low-income families or making toys for shelter animals.

Each of these projects benefitted nonprofits such as; Access Books, Crayon Collection, Baby 2 Baby, St. Joseph Center, Reading Partners, The Jared Box Project, Karma Rescue, LA Family Housing, North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, PATH, School on Wheels, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Together We Rise.

These incredible kids  packed over 325 toiletry kits for low-income, homeless, and elderly individuals, made 175 Veterans Day cards for local veterans and random acts of kindness notes for homeless neighbors to lift their spirits, asssembled 70 Jared Boxes full of cards, games and toys for pediatric patients at UCLA Mattel and Cedars Sinai, made 115 dog toys for shelter animals,packed 125 backpacks full of school supplies for homeless youth, made 100 keychains for families transitioning to permanent homes,decorated 80 bookmarks to benefit local students receiving reading help and made the beginnings of “welcome home kits” for 100 homeless individuals/families getting ready for a new home to name a few of the projects with the nonprofit partners there, which is why they are jumping for joy!

As Molly said,Project Giving Kids is thrilled to offer an afternoon of hands-on service to kids and families in the Greater LA area. Create the Change Day was the perfect way to introduce young children to the joy of service to others. At PGK, we strive to connect youth and families to the amazing nonprofits in their own backyards they often do not know about that would love to benefit from their passion and involvement. We do that through our website and mobile app where youth can find fun and age-appropriate service opportunities and through select events like Create the Change Day.”

I was lucky enough to man the PGK booth where children could make a holiday pledge of service either by drawing a picture or writing a pledge to create change and PGK will be sending them their postcards in early December to remind them of their idea.

 

If these cards were any indication of our future, I think the world is only going to get better and that the kids are ready to create some change for good. 

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SPY Safe Place for Youth

“We must all work together to end youth homelessness in America.”

Jewel Kilcher

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what A Safe Place For Youth (SPY) does?

Alison Hurst: Homelessness is our number one crisis in LA County. We created a one-stop-shop where young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness come and access to a whole array of services to assist them while they are homeless and also assist them getting out of homelessness and into stability.

We provide all of the services one would need including; education, employment, health and wellness services, housing and case management services and of course a sprinkle of fun stuff because young people need fun stuff like our healing arts program which provides music, art,  poetry, meditation all ways to lure our young people into our services because young people need different things. All of this is topped off with really awesome food, access to showers and clothing. Today we have nine comprehensive programs that make up our continuum of care. All of our programs weave together to meet the different needs of the young people we are serving.

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

Alison Hurst: There wasn’t one moment but rather a series of moments. The initial moment was in 2008 when I would take my son to the skateboard park in Venice Beach and see all of theses disconnected kids at the beach, which were actually sleeping on the streets.  I’m from London, where we didn’t have a large population of homelessness, but when I came here to  Venice Beach and then Hollywood I realized that we had a massive problem with youth homelessness and we didn’t have many resources here on the Westside of Los Angeles. That was the initial spark.

When I met with other nonprofit organizations that were working with the homeless population, I realized that people just didn’t seem to know what to do with the unhoused youth.  One of the other initial sparks was when I realized that even the other social service providers didn’t know how to meet the needs of the young people and that they didn’t believe that they wanted the same kind of resources. Even the old Federal policies entitled “Runaway homeless youth” which placed blame on the youth. These youth didn’t run away, they were tossed out and thrown away, neglected and abused.

In learning all of this, I immediately began handing out food packs to these kids on Venice Beach with a bunch of volunteers and realized once I got engaged with the youth that there was literally nothing that separated these kids from the kids in my normal everyday life, other than the fact that they had nowhere to live. The system had colossally failed them over and over again. The epiphany was that I became super engaged in the cause and I thought I could impact that cause by handing out food and very quickly realized that was not enough and started to build the program.

In the last eight years, we have become the leading provider for homeless youth on the westside. We now have a staff of 59 and eight years ago we had zero staff and a handful of volunteers and today we have hundreds of volunteers. While our growth is great the fact remains that more young people are falling into homeless than any other demographic and by young we mean ages 12-24. When we started SPY it was literally to meet the needs of hunger and then as our expertise grew so much of this became around policy change. We have worked with local businesses, government, individuals and the community to help us to be a part of the solution.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alison Hurst: The biggest challenge we currently have is fighting the housing project that we are trying to expand. While having almost 60,000 folks residing on our streets has increased so has the neighborhood opposition to siting any kind of housing program.  Through Measure H and HHH, there are resources provided to build more crisis and critical need housing. The opposition from the community is being slowed down by neighbors’ opposition to all of these projects.

Having access to general housing funding is top of mind always but getting neighborhood buy-in on the two very large projects we are involved in, one is a 54-bed shelter for youth homeless shelter. We have never had a youth shelter ever which will transform the landscape and we continue to face enormous opposition. The second project is a 40 unit development that we will be operating. We have one hundred youth a day currently walking through our doors and we haven’t had any opposition but with these projects, we have had a lot. There is a lot of NIMBY or not in my back yard.

There is a lot of fear and shame. the shamefulness of what we have when there is so much unbelievable wealth all around us. So the shame that comes with recognizing the levels of poverty and drivers of homelessness. Rather than letting that shame motivate you to do something, it becomes a fear of others. I think it is much easier to write people off if we think that they are different from us. The truth is there is very little that separates us and once you come face to face with homelessness you can not deny the commonality between us.

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

Alison Hurst: The young people we serve. I regularly feel that I am pushing a boulder uphill. As you grow your budget gets squeezed and there isn’t always funding. What drives me is that I have to stay connected with the young people we serve. Every member of our team, myself included, spends a portion of their time in direct service with the kids to stay connected to the work. I have to be apart of the work so I don’t make decisions that are not based on reality. 

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

Alison Hurst: When we moved into housing. We had one housing program that we launched last year. We were literally placing young people in the spare bedrooms of community members and we were the first agency in LA to do that. In February of this year, we launched into a transitional housing program and to me, that felt monumental. For years we didn’t have anywhere for these kids to go and nothing to offer but love and connections to resources but now for the first time we at least have 20 young people safely off the streets. We are getting ready to launch a third program for young pregnant homeless youth and families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with SPY?

Alison Hurst: I think there is a combination of things that make us feel that we have had success. From the number of young people, we have moved safely off the streets, which was 127 last fiscal year and I think the number of young people that we have connected to education and employment. Because the two things are absolutely dependent on each other. Over one hundred youth that were connected to education and employment and the additional 127 who are off the street.  At the same time we served 1,400 youth and we still have a long way to go. The annualized national number of youth homelessness is around 10,00 young people between the ages of 12 and 25. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for SPY what would that be?

Alison Hurst: I would dream that we would continue to grow our housing resources and add an additional transitional housing program, that we would execute on our Venice Beach bridge housing project. That we can continue to be the first in the class agency that provides a hopeful, safe space for young people to access services and wonderful place that provides employment opportunities for people who want to be a part of the solution as well as a wonderful place to work.

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

Alison Hurst: The learning curve was SO steep and SO challenging, it feels like being in a Master’s program for the past eight years.  I left school at 15 and have never been back. I don’t have a Ph.D. or a fancy degree and never in a million years did I think that I would be here. I learned early to always hire people smarter than you. More than that SPY is all based on relationships, connection, community, and our youth members. Everything we do is about creating connections and community for everyone involved. We would be nothing without all of our community partners. Power in the change happens when you bring everyone to the table.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alison Hurst: I think this journey has impacted me the most in my level of listening and understanding around poverty. I am a much more serious person than I was before because a huge weight has been put on me.  I am a much more focused person than I ever was which motivates me. This work never ends it is 24/7 but I am fearless, absolutely fearless and I never stop. SPY is all about light and love and I am not afraid to use the word love, it is the underpinning of everything we do.

Charity Matters

 

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