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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong

Did you know that there are more than 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one. May is National Foster Care Month and I thought it was a great time to revisit the incredibly eye opening conversation I had a while back with my friend Brian Mavis the founder of America’s Kids Belong.

Join us today for a fascinating conversation with Brian Mavis as he shares his family’s calling and journey in starting America’s Kids Belong. The remarkable story of what one family has done to change what family means for thousands and thousands of children in finding their forever home and family.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what America’s Kids Belong does?

Brian Mavis:  Nationally, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care today. And a way to think about that group of over 400,000, is to then put them into two different groups. There’s a group of those kids about three-quarters of them, who are on a path towards reunification with their family and their parents. Then a quarter of those kids, so just roughly over 100,000, right now, they’re on a different path towards needing to find a new forever family. 

We work with both sets of kids because both groups, there is a deficit of families, a big one, between families who are willing to what we call, for now, families that will say we’re here for you, for now, to take care of you until your biological family can. And then forever families, the ones that will say, will be your new forever family. So we work on both sets.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start America’s Kids Belong?

Brian Mavis:  This story starts in my wife’s heart and began early for her as a teenager. She was living in Southern California, had gone on a high school missions trip with her church into Mexico, and they worked in an orphanage. While she was there, she said, she heard God tell her this three-word sentence. Care for orphans. She knew she knew as a teenager, her calling on her life.

 In 2005, Julie said, “I want to be a foster mom.” So we go to the orientation and so you’re learning about trauma and all that kind of thing.  One of the first things they let you know, is who are these kids? Why are they in foster care? Right? And so, right off the bat, they say, there’s a myth that these kids are in foster care because of what they’ve done.  And that’s a myth because what actually has happened is something has been done to them. 

Brian, his wife Julie, their two daughters, and their first foster child.

Keegan became our first foster child. Two years later, in 2007, I’m a pastor at a church in Colorado. A child welfare worker called me and asked, “Can I meet with you to talk about child welfare in our county?” I said, “Sure.” So this woman, Cindy, comes to visit and says, “In the 27-year history of Child Welfare in our county, there has never been one single day, not one day, where kids weren’t waiting for grownups to take care of them. I have a challenge for you. So this was the three-word sentence that changed my life. My wife’s was “Care for orphans.” Mine was this. She said, “I have a challenge for you. Change who waits. Help me change who waits.”

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

Brian Mavis: Conviction and commitment and this sense of like, there’s an injustice that needs to get set. Right? And then it’s you have to look for the victories. You can look at the numbers and say we increased this by 40%, and all that. But that doesn’t move your heart as much as knowing that  Adrian now has a family. And he had been raised in institutions for the past seven years. And now he’s got a mom and a dad. It’s that kind of thing that says, Okay, I’m gonna fight another day.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

Brian Mavis:  We increased the number of recruitment of foster families by 40%. Statewide, within a year. That is an intellectual case. You know, the emotional cases sharing a kid sharing a story. The transformational case is when a kid goes into a home, and a family changes everything for them, it changes their future, which could be one that is bleak. And to one that is hopeful.

 And what when you come down to saying, Let me tell you the story of it, Adrian he was he went into foster care when he was eight, he’s 15. Today, he’s had no inquiries on his life, he feels unwanted. And we did his video, within three weeks of promoting it, we had 24 families asking about and being their son.  And if he had aged out of foster care, just on the financial side, it would have cost you know, throughout social services hard cost $300,000 of services as a young adult for him so there’s that side to it.

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

Brian Mavis:  I’ve learned a lot. I still have a long way to go still about learning the effects of trauma on people, especially on kids. There are different kinds of trauma, there’s acute trauma, something that happens once. There is chronic trauma, something that’s happened over a period of time. And then there’s complex developmental trauma, which is something that happened in reason it’s complex.

Those first two didn’t happen by the hands of somebody who was meant to love you and care for you. And so that kind of trauma is profound. On the other hand, when there are enough skilled people who understand that and understand how to help give hope and healing and love, a lot of that trauma can be healed. I wish people and churches would become trauma competent and formed. It would really help everyone to understand.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 74: 4GIRLS

A few weeks ago a friend reached out and said, “Heidi, you need to know Claudia.” She was right, I did. You do too. So I am excited to introduce you today to the founder of 4GIRLS, Claudia Copely. Join us for an empowering conversation about her amazing work helping young girls to identify themselves as authentic, confident and resilient preparing them for real life success.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 4Girls does?

Claudia Copely: Our mission is to empower and inspire middle school girls so that they identify as confident, authentic and resilient. Preparing them for real life success.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up Giving Back? 

Claudia Copely: I did not learn philanthropy or giving back in my household. I grew up in a household that was very dysfunctional, and there was a lot of trauma. It was more about let’s just survive,  let alone do any type of philanthropic work. There was a piece of me that helping others is innate.  I think all of us know to our core what is true.  I think my one of my core values is generosity and connection.  I love meeting new individuals and connecting. So I think for me it was a drive that was big for me.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 4Girls?

Claudia Copely:  So I was at a women’s conference and there were 100,000 people there.  The central theme from the host, Maria Shriver, was what are you gonna do for your community? How are you going to be an architect of change?  I was so inspired, empowered, and I left there driving home thinking what am I gonna do? I can be an architect of change. Then all of a sudden, this voice crept into my head, and it said, ” What are you gonna do? We’re gonna want to be part of anything you do.”  It stopped me in my tracks.

 I followed the thread. And I thought for me it was middle school, that tough time where I just didn’t know what to do with myself.  I just felt lost, not just because of the trauma and dysfunction in my house but I just felt so alone. I’m the only one experiencing all this. Driving home from the conference,  I thought why not have a conference similar to what Maria Shriver has done brilliantly?  Lets focus just on empowering and inspiring middle school girls, just that target. 

 I polled all of my friends and everybody across the board said Middle School was the hardest time.  I decided that I’m going to create a community. I had to read Nonprofits for Dummies because  I was coming from the corporate world.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Claudia Copely: I think the biggest challenges were at that time and still are visibility and outreach. We are a 100% volunteer organization. With what I get paid I could not buy a loaf of bread. But I could light up a room. Being a 100% volunteer organization  is a good really good thing, or a really bad thing

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

Claudia Copely:  A few things, first the communit.  The connection to some really great amazing humans that are really talented, hardworking women that I’m surrounded by. It’s beautiful to see what we create for these girls.  At the end of the two day workshop, we invite girls to come up to the stage and to share their empowering word. We have words all over the room, so they can pick one. But some of the girls that come up are thinking, “I would never come up and speak in front of a room full of people.

By Sunday, there’s a line to come up and share their empowering word. And we ask them to do that in order to give them a sense of identity.  They can have this word that they can grow into and see how it feels. There’s been many girls throughout the 13 years. But there was one in particular, who said,” My word is valuable. Because before this workshop, before today, I didn’t realize how valuable I was. Now I know that I’m valuable.” It gets me every time. 

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

Claudia Copely: You can’t put on a grant paper or proposal, a parent coming up to you and saying, “Oh, my gosh, what did you do to my child? They are a whole different person, they believe in themselves, they have more confident, they’re engaging with us.  Thank you!” The mother will tell me with tears in her eyes. Thank you.

Then the second, which I’m seeing it right before my eyes. So we now have a few girls that had gone through the program when they were in sixth grade, seventh, and eighth grades. Then they became high school as mentors all through high school. Now they’re in their first years of college and they’re sitting with us at the board table. They are being part of the workshop team, which helps us to create the agenda, the curriculum, and stay relevant to what the girls need. They’re there with us in the trenches, creating this, this workshop and forming it to the next generation. That impact is that the seeds that were being planted are now going to be harvested.

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

Claudia Copely: I would say visibility and outreach.  I think because we still are like considered a grassroots organization.  I’d love that broader reach. 

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

Claudia Copely: I’ve learned that we are more common than we are different. That’s for sure. I’ve learned that we really want to be seen, heard and validated. Most of us really want to connect with other people. And I really enjoy making those connections and working with individuals that have different perspectives.  I get to learn from all these amazing humans. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Claudia Copely:  The journey has  provided me with a strong sense of my purpose.  I know I love empowering individuals. While my degrees are in international business, but I’m now trained and accredited as an empowerment coach. That fulfills me so much and fuels me. I’m definitely more purposeful, more mindful, more aware. Everybody gets to participate on this earth. We’re here at this moment and that’s all we got. Let’s give each other room to create and be who we want to be 

In order to do this work I had to change my life.  I had to let go of those limited beliefs in order for 4GIRLS to be born and to help it. If I would have stayed with those limited beliefs and my self sabotaging behavior this would have never happened.  So I just I love helping individuals  letting go of those beliefs. We all have them. Let’s do what we can get rid of them. When we can move the inside, beautiful, magical things happen.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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How to serve up community service

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

A decade of leadership

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 66: You, Me and Neurodiversity

The power of inspiration and motivation can come at any age and anytime in life. Today’s guest is an old soul doing remarkable work for the Autism community. Inspired by her younger brother, Alyssa Lego set out at age 14 to help him by creating lesson plans. Before long that work turned into creating her first nonprofit.

Today, Alyssa is joining us to share about her latest work with Autism and her new project called You, Me, Neurodiverstiy. Join us as Alyssa shares her inspiring journey from big sister, college student and nonprofit founder.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what You, Me, NeuroDiversity does?

Alyssa Lego: Our mission is to embrace neurodiversity and autism acceptance in ways that really haven’t been done before. I am such a firm believer that education creates change. And I’m such a firm believer in the fact that that starts with our youngest generations. 

So when I was 14, I actually started a lesson plan program with a fourth grade teacher of mine, it was called Friends Who are Different and it was in all the school districts in my area. And it was all about autism acceptance and inclusion. But a lot of things have changed since then. You, Me Neurodiversity has really brought me back to creating content, visiting classrooms. And again, starting with that sentiment of motivating our younger generations to accept autism, embrace neurodiversity, and really become catalysts of change. So the human neurodiversity movement donates 100% of our proceeds to autism focus charities, with each book purchase, each purchase that somebody makes is making a difference. 

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

Alyssa Lego: This really all began from my relationship with my younger brother.  I learned pretty early on that the world just was not designed for autistic people. We have a long ways to go in terms of true autism acceptance, rather than just awareness. And there were so many moments that just broke my heart as a young girl. I remember instances of sheer bullying because my brother couldn’t communicate. He communicated in a different way just because his brain was wired a certain way. He was discriminated against in school and in the community.

As that older sister, I wanted to do whatever I could to make the world a better place for my brother and people that were experiencing the world in a similar way to my brother. And for me, I love to write and I love to speak. So that’s how the lesson plan program started all those years ago.

Charity Matters: what or who influenced you to start giving back at such an early age?

Alyssa Lego: I was raised in a home that really embraced volunteerism and giving back to your community. My earliest introduction to volunteerism was with the Special Olympics.  I volunteered as an ambassador with the Special Olympics from I think the time I was nine years old  until I was maybe about 14. So I would fundraise for the organization and I got the chance to attend events. 

The Special Olympics was the first time where I actually delivered a motivational speech. I was 12, at one of the Special Olympics events, and I remember just thinking to myself, this is a space where I can use that force for good.  I believe that is really where it all started. I remember I hosted, with a lot of help from my parents, an ice cream social to benefit the Special Olympics when I was in the fifth grade. Everybody came out my whole school came out all my teachers.  But I think even at that young age, I realized wow, I am part of something so much bigger than myself. Then as I got older, I started to realize that I really want to see what these proceeds and what these funds are doing. That’s what led me to create things like You, Me and Neurodiversity. I could really see where that money was going, and feel that impact and continue making those connections firsthand.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Lego: I think I’ve really seen ageism in action a lot. Being 14, my mom was in the back because I was a minor, pitching to the Board of Education for why they should put my lesson plan in schools at that young age. So I really, I have seen a lot of ageism, and people just just not understanding that young people can be the change. Young people can start great things and be a part of great things. And unfortunately, I think that’s something that deters a lot of young people away from volunteerism or starting their own organization. They think that’s for people who already have established careers or who already have X amount of years doing certain things.

I think another challenge that I still face day to day is just time management. Being a full-time college student, the creator of You, Me, Neurodiversity,  being involved in school,  reserving time for family and friends and of course taking care of myself it’s definitely not easy.  By being disciplined with myself, and taking care of myself allows me to kind of fill all of those buckets.  I’ve really learned the importance of teamwork and communication. Time management is a skill that I’m continuing to develop as I get older. It’s just been such an incredible journey and I’m so grateful for all of the people that have really helped me get to this point and inspire me to continue on.

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

Alyssa Lego: My brother, it just goes back to the initial inspiration.  I actually just became one of my brother’s legal guardians because he just turned 18 years old. That is one thing that certainly keeps me up at night but also continues to inspire and motivate me.  Just the prospect and the idea of my brother, being able to live a thriving, a fulfilling life in a community that supports him is what inspires me. This is what motivates me to write that social media post when I don’t really feel like doing it, or change the dimensions of the book for the 7,000,000th time.

I think that’s the most magical thing about founders and about the nonprofit space because everybody has that story. Everybody has that. It’s almost like a duality between the vision, and what makes you tick. Seeing the present, seeing the past, but then knowing what the future can be and knowing that you’re a part of that. Knowing that you’re writing that story,  in my case, literally writing that story is just incredibly inspiring. And then of course, knowing that I don’t walk alone is another thing that really inspires me as well.

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

Alyssa Lego: I would love to turn You Me Neurodiversity into a household  name for reading about autism acceptance. I really would love to continue developing our interactive activity books and  just taking all of these great experiences that kids have in the classroom and making them inclusive.  I really do believe that we could do that with our books and programs. And I’m hoping to partner with more schools, speak with the children and really have them understand what it means to be an ambassador of acceptance. Then one day pass the torch on in the hopes of creating a more inclusive world.

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

Alyssa Lego: I think listening as much as you speak is one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.  I think I’ve really learned the great power of teamwork and of listening as a tool for leadership.  It’s really not about having the loudest voice in the room, but making sure that everybody else in the room feels like they have a stake in the conversation and feels like they’re being heard.

 I think another great lesson that I’ve learned is listening to the communities that you serve. I am  big on self advocacy, and amplifying autistic voices. It’s in itself, it’s such a powerful tool. That is one piece of advice that I would give to any founder. Really listen to the communities you serve to understand those nuances. Because if you’re in a space where you can really affect change, you want to make sure you’re going you’re using your passion for a purpose. One of the most important things that really guides everything I do is listening to the communities that I’m serving.

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 65: Curiosity 2 Create

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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.

Service and leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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 59: Project Libertad

I was recently having a conversation with friends about what our grandparents and great grandparents went through coming to America. I love these conversations for a few reasons. First because we all have these stories. Secondly, because they remind us how strong and resilient our ancestors were and what they sacrificed for us. The immigrant story is the story of our country.

While immigration has been a hot political topic these days, regardless of your stance, there are still people coming to our country who need help. That is where today’s guest, Rachel Rutter comes in. Rachel is the founder of Project Libertad, an organization that helps immigrant youth in a multitude of ways. Join us for an inspirational conversation about some of the challenges these children are facing and how she and Project Libertad and making a difference.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Project Libertad does?

Rachel Rutter: We are a nonprofit organization serving newcomer immigrant youth. So we’re working with kids who have recently arrived in the US and their families. The people we primarily work with arecunaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico. In addition, we also work with a lot of families from Brazil.

There are fewer services in the counties outside of Philadelphia, so we’re providing legal services,  helping kids with their immigration process, and trying to address the other needs that they have. For example, we have kids who struggle with housing insecurity, food insecurity, mental health support, and all those sorts of things. So we’re trying to not only meet their, their need for immigration status and help them with that process, but also all these other challenges that they face as they’re adjusting to being here in the US.

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

Rachel Rutter:  When I was in college, I had this idea that I wanted to start a nonprofit someday.  I was very naive about how hard it would be. So I started all of the paperwork, and incorporating and 501 C 3 status in law school.  Then at the same time, I was working with all these clients who had legal needs, needed asylum, or they needed to apply for immigration status. 

Then they always have all these other needs. For example they don’t have a safe place to live, have family issues, trauma, and need food. There are any number of different issues that they have.  I just wished we had a social worker that we could partner with and have like a wraparound approach. A place where we are meeting all the needs, not just this legal needs.

So the idea came to create an organization that does try to do all those different things in a one stop shop.  We are doing that now, and we had just hired a case manager to connect kids to resources in the community and social services.  I’m obviously doing the legal part. And we hope to continue replicating that and growing in new areas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Rutter: One of the biggest things I remember getting really frustrated with was applying for different grants.  It’s really hard to get your foot in the door as a new nonprofit. Nobody wants to take a chance on you, you’re tiny, and they want to see that you have money before they give you money. But you can’t show them that unless someone gives you money. It’s just kind of like a chicken and egg problem. So that was really frustrating.

We took classes on grant writing.  I just practiced and got better over time. Eventually, we did a grant in partnership with HIAS which was the first ever grant that we got. Just being able to say that this other foundation gave us a grant went really far. Being patient, learning how to talk about your mission in a way that people want to fund it. Because it’s really important. It’s like writing a thesis in college where you have to structure it the right way so that people want to support it.  That was a big learning curve for us.

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

Rachel Rutter: It can be really hard, but the most important thing for me has always been like the relationship that I have with the kids that we work with. So that’s definitely like the biggest motivator for me. I also have like a very supportive family, husband, and friends who work in this industry as well.

So I feel like I have not only my team, my project like that, but also my colleagues from other organizations  who are always supportive. We can always like work together to solve problems.  It can definitely be challenging, but I feel like I have a good support system. Working directly with the kids is what gives me energy. Usually, that’s what I’m trying to focus on. If I need to push through, I’m thinking about the kids and that connection that we get to have with them.

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

Rachel Rutter:  In terms of our impact, we served over 1000 people last year. The times I think when I feel like the most impactful are when a student shares some things that were going on in her family.  After hearing this we were able to provide support with that. There was food insecurity in the household and so we went grocery shopping. It doesn’t always have to be complicated. This kid said I need food and we went to the store and we got food and like that was that. My colleagues and I do stuff like that all the time.

I think those are definitely the moments for me that are the most rewarding when you can just help somebody in such a concrete immediate way. So I love that we have the ability to do that. Sometimes those kind of moments don’t necessarily get captured in the numbers you put in a grant report. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I have two thoughts about that. One is to continue expanding and replicating what we’re doing now in our current locations. Having the combination of lawyers and social workers reproducing that in new counties as we grow.

Then the other thing I would love to do is to have some sort of shelter for youth who are 18 to early 20s. Something that we run into a lot is youth who have housing insecurity. They don’t either have anywhere to go because the foster care system doesn’t help them once they are 18. We run into cases like that where kids don’t have anywhere to go. There are really limited options currently for them. We would really love to do is eventually have some sort of space for kids like that. So that would be  another dream that I would have for the future. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I think one thing is just like the importance of these relationships with the kids.  So I think just the value in those long term relationships is so so important, and like sustaining for me. I’ve definitely been learning to delegate more, now that we have more staff.  It’s always hard for me to kind of let go of things because this is my baby.

 I also realize when I’m feeling burned out that having a good team that you can trust to do things so that you aren’t trying to do everything as one person is really important. I’m learning to  relax a little more. A lot of things work themselves out if you if you wait long enough. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Rutter:  I think when I started this out, I was a little bit naive about how difficult it might be to get funds. So like I mentioned, I’ve learned a lot there. I just think I have more confidence in myself and my knowledge as an attorney.  We’ve really developed our niche where we are the local the experts working with this population.

I think that took me a long time to kind of see this as like a real thing and now other people seeing it that way too.

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 56: Start Lighthouse

What happens when one person answers a call? In this situation, the call was to an elementary school teacher from a concerned parent about their child. Join us to learn about what one teacher has done to inspire 5700 children to learn to read and love learning.

There is a reason and a story behind today’s guest, Rina Madhani’s mission to inspire literacy in thousands of underserved children. Join us for an incredible conversation and see why Rina was a L’Oreal Women of Worth. She is a bright light!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Start Lighthouse does?

Rina Madhani: Start Lighthouse is committed to addressing the literacy crisis within our community. The reality is that thousands of students are growing up illiterate in our city, or state and our nation. Zooming into the Bronx in particular, which is one of the poorest congressional districts in the entire country, 70% of students are still reading below grade level.

What Start Lighthouse does is we build robust home libraries with brand new multicultural books. We host nationally recognized award winning authors and artists so that students can see the process of creating a story. And we also rehabilitate abandoned defunct library spaces within title one public schools. We then convert them into full time literacy centers where we provide high quality literacy programming. It is also a safe space for students to gather during the day after school and throughout the summer.

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

Rina Madhani:  My parents would allocate like weekends where we would volunteer together as a family. That was really important to my parents. It was something that they prioritized, because that was a way to always bring the family together.  I think that’s really also shaped me as an individual today, because I do believe that we’re products of our environments.

Charity Matters: What were your early memories of giving back?

Rina Madhani: As a child, I was always interested in social impact in particular.  I just remember traveling back home to India, and just trying to understand why there was disparities that existed between social classes.  And wondering why the government wasn’t doing enough to address those gaps?  That was something that I also saw back home here in the States.

When I was younger, I was always thinking about how can I make a difference in the community? Even in high school, I created my own organization where it was bringing my peers together for us to be talking about issues that were affecting the world. We talked about Haiti, learned about micro financing,  created school supply kits back for children in Iraq during the Iraqi war. So those things were always in my mind.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and Begin Start Lighthouse?

Rina Madhani:  I remember when the pandemic started to unfold, and we really had no certainty what was taking place. Then suddenly, schools and libraries closed. Certain districts struggled to get tech devices for students that needed them in low income communities. I was in the Bronx, and a lot of my students and their families were reaching out to me asking me for additional materials and resources.  When I spoke to one of my student’s parents she said, “I don’t want him to continue to fall further behind. And I’m particularly worried about his reading ability.”

That phone call inspired me to get Start Lighthouse off the ground.  It really began with just a modest goal of getting 500 brand new multicultural books in the hands of students. Creating learning materials, resources that they could leverage while they were back at home.  I started to mobilize individuals within my network.  I was cold emailing publishers reaching out to elected officials, talking to community members, inquiring about which schools were operating as meal distribution sites. Finding where were students and families gathering daily for hot meals.

 That phone call that I had with one of my student’s parents stated it all.  I realized that I have a call to answer for not only my students, but for the community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rina Madhani:  I think the most challenging part has been around fundraising. Early on, I didn’t realize how to actually go about fundraising. I had never formally pitched my organization and I didn’t have a theory of change model in place. So I didn’t know how to raise money for the work that I was doing.  I just thought I would just be going to schools and just giving our services and products just for free as they need it.

Then I realized that’s not going to be sustainable as an organization. So that’s where I had to pivot a bit and really think intentionally around how the organization was going to develop. A lot of the work has really entailed around relationship building and cultivating a community based approach. So involving not only administrators, superintendents, but also elected officials, community members, families and the work that we do. That’s really been a key aspect of it because that those are the folks that can really help mobilize resources and funding.

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

Rina Madhani: I think I’m just so fueled by the students and families that I have the privilege of interacting with every day. And the fact that our students now know things around like interacting with authors and artists. They’re able to verbalize the fact that they want to become authors or artists. The fact that they’ll tell me that they have a home library and that they know what those words mean. They can actually point to it and that fact that they come up and just tell me how much they love and enjoy reading. I think those are the moments that add up to me and really help fuel the work that I do. Because, for me, everything is rooted in community.  I want to be able just to support the next generation of readers, writers, and critical thinkers.

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

Rina Madhani: Our impact is now centered around us rehabilitating these defunct library spaces and converting them into full time literacy centers. That’s where I’ve seen just how impactful our work is. Because now we have the privilege and the opportunity to serve students every single day. So we are there during the day and after school. So now students are able to have access to our programming year round. With that, we are now able to study and unpack student reading proficiency data.

 We’re able to assess attendance levels to you in terms of the frequency of them coming to the literacy hub. Also ensuring that they’re in school because chronic absenteeism is a prevailing issue within our community. So now we have the opportunity to measure these items. Beyond just thinking about the 23,000 books that we’ve delivered and students that we’ve been able to work closely with. That’s where we’ve been able to see the true trajectory of our work. It’s just that we are able to join students as early as pre k to be able to follow them through their entire journey and ensure that they’re reading proficiently by fourth grade.

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

Rina Madhani: The big dream is to become a national organization. Right now we’re course based in the Bronx. But I always tell folks that we’ve got an ask for us to expand to Harlem and to Brooklyn. So, I envision us having a New York takeover. But then for us to be able to bring this all across the country through various chapters that exist.

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

Rina Madhani: I think, for me, the biggest thing has been around putting myself out there. Even if I do receive a no, that’s absolutely fine, because I will find someone else that will also want to champion our cause. And not to get too derailed by that because of course, I’ve received my own fair share of rejections. Along the way, even when I submit a grant proposal, maybe we’re not the right fit right now. But who’s to say and won’t come back again later and thinking that we could pursue when were maybe a bit more developed. So I think for me, that’s been the biggest thing is just not letting that derail me too much. Just to keep going and really just to find your champions. Once you’ve identified folks that truly believe in you and believe in the vision, hold on to those people because those are the relationships that will continue to carry you forward

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rina Madhani: I think I’ve evolved tremendously. Since I’ve stepped into the shoes of becoming an entrepreneur, I feel so much more confident in terms of my ability to be in a room full of strangers and to be able to advocate for myself.  I think that when I was younger I was so much more introverted. And I always thought that like speaking out, wasn’t like the best way to like go about things. And now I have no problem doing that.

 I think I’ve just become so much more sure of who I am today. And I’m just so grateful, because this journey has allowed me to really step out of my comfort zone and have conversations with individuals that I never envisioned myself having a chat with before. Now that I have the opportunity to to share it share my story, it just reminded me that I also have something to say. 

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 53: Hearts of Gold

Since this week is all about love and Valentines, it seems only fitting that today our guest is all about love. Her name is Deborah Koenigsberger and she is the founder of the nonprofit Hearts of Gold. So many of us pass the homeless in our cities and keep on walking. Not because we don’t care but because we are afraid and often feel helpless.

Not Deborah! As a young mother, she didn’t pass a homeless woman and child i the park, she stopped. When you hear here remarkable story about the impact one person can make, it will make you think differently. So join us for a remarkable conversation about love and action. Think of this as a belated Valentines Day gift to yourself!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Hearts of Gold does?

Deborah Koenigsberger: Hearts of Gold is a 28 year old nonprofit organization that supports homeless mothers and the children in shelters. We do that by what we call adopting shelters that house this demographic. So the shelters already exists. They are run by their city shelters or whomever entity owns the shelters and we go in with all the frills.

When we started it was really about making sure the moms and kids had something in their lives that would give them a good memory. So many of them coming out of domestic violence. We have programs with moms, and we have programs for the kids. Our goal is to basically help them get out of shelter life transition into housing and into permanent housing. We want them to just have a chance at what we all have, which is a normal life.

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

Deborah Koenigsberger: There isn’t one moment but three that all built on one another. The first, I would say is a Stevie Wonder song that started it all.  Peace sign is the name of the album and the song is take the time out. the lyrics are, ” take the time out to love someone reach your arms out and touch someone, the king or some homeless one. We are one underneath the sun.” I was 12 when I heard it and it left a huge impact on me. 

What I get from that song is that these people who are homeless on the streets, somebody gave birth to them. One day, there was a joy. Somewhere along the line, life took a left turn. And it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen to any of us. It just means that it didn’t happen to us, right? It happened to those people. So if we are not a part of the solution, if we don’t attempt to be a part of the solution, then we really are a part of the problem.

The second thing was on my way between work and home was a woman and her three year old daughter. They were sleeping in a cardboard box in the park. I walked through park and my boys were babies at the time. This was our neighborhood park. I finally approached her and had a conversation with her a few times. She told me that the shelter wasn’t safe and she’d rather take her chances on the streets. This went on for just a couple of weeks. And then she was gone.  She disappeared but she motivates me every night.  She powers my narrative because I know that out there. 

The third part of the trifecta was when my oldest son was a baby, we met Bobby Brown. This was just before Bobby became Bobby Brown THE makeup artists.  She was telling me that she did this volunteer work in a shelter where she would apply makeup to the moms teach them how to do makeup and give them product.  I went with her to the shelter. I did styling Image Consulting so Bobby said, ” Why don’t you talk to the moms about just what to how to put themselves together. and I will do my makeup there.”  So we did this workshop together and she would provide makeup artists.. But in that workshop, the moms came with their kids.

I decided that  Christmas  I literally went out and bought all these gifts for each child. At the time it was just me and that was 1994. I became a nonprofit, because when I approached the shelter saying I wanted to raise money for you to do these events. They said, “We can’t guarantee that that money will do that, which I appreciate it very much. Our challenge is that we have so many emergency things that happen we can’t guarantee the funds will go to your program.”  So I said, “Okay, then I’m gonna do it myself.” 

Charity Matters: What were some of your biggest challenges when you started out?

Deborah Koenigsberger: It’s particularly hard when you realize the problem that you are trying to solve is not solvable.  And you certainly are not going to be the one to fix it.  I believe in the starfish story. Although you couldn’t save every starfish on the beach, the one you threw back today got saved.  That’s what saves me when I would fall down and feel that this is so frustrating.  Then I would look at one of my moms, or get a phone call or a text from somebody, and they will say this happened today. And for me it’s just like joy.  

You’re also realizing the best thing that we can realize as founders is that you have to get help. And you have to accept help to bring in people.  So there are all these learning curves.

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

Deborah Koenigsberger:  There’s so many ways to educate people out of darkness. Darkness is ignorance. I’m an immigrant, from an immigrant family. The only thing that we know as immigrants is you gotta work. That’s the only reason why you’re here because work is gonna provide something better and different for you. So I know that it’s the American way. Work was what this country was built on.

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

Deborah Koenigsberger:   When I met Stevie Wonder in 2001, he said something to me, because I told him why started Hearts of Gold. Stevie said, ” My little song made you do all of that.” Like, do you have any idea? Oh world, and I just thought, that little song wasn’t just words on paper. It was such an invitation to open your heart and see something besides yourself. 

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

Deborah Koenigsberger: Over 37,500 moms and kids helped her impacted children who were the first one in their entire family line to go to college. This Christmas we bought, wrapped and distributed over 5000 toys. I think we should understand that what we’re doing is bigger than all of us and call in our communities.

If you are blessed enough, if you are given the gift of sharing yourself with somebody else in a way that will have impact and change something, you’re blessed.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Deborah Koenigsberger: I’ve matured a lot.  I have found and met incredible people along the way who have taught me invaluable lessons. And I’ve learned invaluable lessons from people who weren’t really trying to teach me anything, but I learned it anyway. 

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

Deborah Koenigsberger: I learned that a single human being can really affect major change and it all starts with an idea.  I think of myself as a vessel. And I think that I am just there because I have that kind of energy.  We don’t all have the same energy or the same way of thinking about things. Some people have the talent to help you create something, and that’s magical, some people have treasure and that  is immeasurable. Now you have time, talent, treasure, and everybody has a different one of those that they can bring to your to your cause. One of the lessons that I think is really important that I’ve learned is that there are so many kind people out there in the world.  

When we lift one we lift all.

What I’ve learned is that you can’t save all the starfishes  even if you have all the resources in the world because it’s just not possible. But what you can do is get a whole bunch of more people on that beach.  God of the things I’ve learned a lot, there’s so many ways to love people.

 If you’re at the end of your story and you could write that one person’s life was significantly impacted by your being here, walking the earth leaving a footprint.. Then for me, I am full. I am full. 

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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Looking back at a Force for Good

max page, the force

This weekend  millions of us will watch the Super Bowl and of course those very pricey ads. I thought it might be worth revisiting the one of my favorite philanthropic friends, Max Page. You might remember Max from his starring Super Bowl ad as Darth Vadar, a few years back.

Max has been a patient at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles  many times in his short life for multiple heart surgeries. He was born with a congenital heart defect and over the years has had over 13 surgeries. Each year over 40,000 are born with congenital heart disease. Since February is heart month and the Super Bowl, Max has been on my mind.

I met Max and his family when we worked together to launch the Junior Ambassador Program at CHLA . The Page family are some of the most philanthropic people I know. They have used their situation and celebrity to the benefit of others time and time again.

Max continues his acting and his passion for philanthropy. His hope is that if someone is inspired to do something because of his journey, that they would consider supporting a place that has given him so much and become a second home, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Heart Ambassadors program. Max said in an interview with Today, “I’m going to do whatever I can to help and do the best to bring awareness to kids like me.”  

Max’s heart may have been defected once upon a time, but today it is his heart and use of the Force that continues to inspire us all.

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 50: Mindful Littles

As parents we all want our children to be kind, empathetic and good humans. If you are reading this you are definitely someone with those goals. Recently, when a mutual friend introduced me to today’s guest, Tanuka Gordon I was intrigued by the name of her nonprofit, Mindful Littles. The conversation with Tanuka was even more intriguing.

Join us today for an inspirational journey of healing, service and making compassion a daily habit. One mindful habit can change your thoughts, your day, your life and the world.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Mindful Littles does?

Tanuka Gordon: . What we are focused on is making compassion, a habit. Our method of doing that is to focus in on service. That is not just service as you would think of from like a traditional community service standpoint, but to really think of this idea of mindful service experiences.

What I discovered very early on, was that we when we get to doing community service, oftentimes we’re doing good very quickly. There’s a huge opportunity to not just feel good in our bodies but by practicing things like mindfulness to really connect to the why behind our service work. And so we have a very high impact experiential framework that we use to bring these mindful service experiences to schools, to companies and community organizations.  We make service possible, accessible in ways that allow service to become a way of life. Hopefully something that sparks continued curiosity to give and to learn about the communities that we are helping through our programs.

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

Tanuka Gordon: I’ve always wanted to volunteer. But really, it wasn’t until six years ago, with the start of this organization, that it became a full time gig and my purpose and in many ways. I was an applied mathematics major out of UCLA and wasn’t sure what I should do with applied mathematics. So I actually went into consulting at Andersen and then fell into a tech career doing product management for many years.  During that career path, what I did was really focus on customer experience. So to really think about how we design products and services, to create the most incredible customer experiences.

I loved the work. But I felt this itch literally this itch in my heart that I’m supposed to be doing something different. When I became a parent, it was then that I began to question how I was spending my time. If I was spending time, in a career where I felt like there was a gap and fulfillment I was, was like, well, I should really do a little bit more searching for myself?

About six years ago, my oldest was about five, I was looking for ways to engage her in volunteerism.  I made a commitment to myself that volunteerism wasn’t just going to be another to do. Rather, I wanted it to be a way of life. So I made a monthly commitment to go pack rice and beans at a local crisis center with my daughter. We would leave that experience and would feel disconnected from who we were helping.  I felt a little bit even board and volunteering doesn’t need to be exciting all the time. But having spent a career in customer experience,  I realized  we’re missing this massive opportunity to actually solve for family engagement. And that really started it all.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Tanuka Gordon: In the early days, I suppose the biggest challenge was even knowing and trusting that this was going to become a business. Just knowing how to keep up with the great demand without understanding the business model.  I would say that that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we that we encountered is just there were there was a big appetite for this work. And I was really starting to understand with each new step that this thing had legs and that this thing could grow. Fully coming into acceptance of what that meant, not only for our organization, but for me as a leader. 

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

Tanuka Gordon: It’s two things. Each each of these two things are kind of layered, I suppose. It’s the internal impact and the external impact. By internal impact, what I mean is, with the start of this nonprofit, I began a deep healing journey for myself. And over the last six years really had an opportunity to heal. A lot of the practices we teach in this program, mindfulness, self compassion, that are woven into the service experiences that are woven into our compassion training programs, are literally practices that helped me on my own healing journey. So I vehemently really believe in this work because I, myself have healed through feeling good and doing good.

The external impact comes in multiple layers. First and foremost, my children and my family. And it has been absolutely a messy process. People just assume because you have a mind, an organization,  Mindful Littles, that everything is constantly peaceful at every moment. The reality is you’re growing a business, laundry, kids, pick up all this. But to find the ways of compassion within the space of chaos, that is the art, right? That is what we’re after.

When I see my older daughter, wanting to write gratitude cards for parents of her friends, who are organizing birthday parties, because she wants to thank parents for doing that.  Or I see my younger daughter in the way that she cares,  I can see this right. The impact we’re having on community, it is one miracle after another.

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

Tanuka Gordon:  For us, engagement is really important.  Specifically, focusing in on connectedness. The CDC has specifically said that connectedness is the number one protective factor for mental well being and youth mental well being. So if we can harness the power of mindful service experiences, to increase engagement, and increase connectedness, through these experiences, then we can have a real impact. Amplifying that impact is the research evidence on the benefits you can gain from engaging in service. 

The social impact we have had in schools that we’ve delivered programs to is another impact. In Butte County schools we have assembled 52,000 meals. We’ve gifted 10,000 pounds of produce through kids Farmers Market experiences that we’ve brought. Assembled thousands of hygiene kits and backpacks. The power of putting the experience with the service that is getting to the doing good. You’re connecting it to the why, and getting to your felt experience. And when we do that, the impact is tremendous.

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

Tanuka Gordon: I believe that in 10 years, we will be able to be in every public school district in the country. If it is in the cards for us to even think global. It’s a massive, massive opportunity. It’s not just I believe that our strategy to scale, using both live facilitation as well as digital content is also will help us get there. So I’m very, very excited to hold this big vision. I absolutely believe that it’s possible.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Tanuka Gordon: Absolutely. My own practice  of mindfulness has helped me through the mud and the chaos.  I know with faith that it’s going to be okay.  Everything’s going to work out exactly as it’s meant to in a purposeful way.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every other week!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Welcome to Season 4!

Welcome to Season 4 of the Charity Matters Podcast. We are thrilled to continue bringing the best humans on earth to share their journeys in service to others. So grateful for your continued belief in good.

Since we are at that crazy time of year when summer blends into back to school we thought today’s guest would be the perfect person to launch our new season. Natalie Silverstein is a nonprofit founder and the author of a new book inspiring the next generation of philanthropist. We are thrilled to have her share her journey in philanthropy and in raising philanthropic children.

Join us for a terrific conversation about her journey starting a nonprofit for Parkinsons to writing a book to inspire others to serve.  Natalie is pure sunshine in a bottle and just what we need to get inspired for a new school year. More importantly, her new book, Simple Acts: The Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference is inspiration for the entire family.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Growing up did you have a philanthropic family?

Natalie Silverstein: My parents were immigrants from Ukraine, they actually met in a displaced persons camp, which is what we would call a refugee camp today. They both came over to the United States after the war, in 1949, and they married in 1950.  I’m a first generation American, I’m very much a Ukrainian American.

As immigrants without very much education,  they gave back to their church. They gave to other Ukrainians who were coming over to get settled. They very much volunteered and participated by giving so much to their church community because that was really foundational for them.

Charity Matters: Tell us about the journey from growing up to starting a nonprofit?

Natalie Silverstein: I think I always wanted to do something where I was helping people. So as I was coming up through high school and into college, I decided to study health policy and administration. I wanted to work in a healthcare environment where I could help people. After getting my Masters Degree, I had a 15 year career in health care, hospitals and managed care companies. That sort of thing was sort of foundational to this other work that I’m doing. 

I decided to stay home and focus on raising my kids and all of that. And at some point in those years, this work of becoming sort of an expert/resource for people who want to do service in their community  really started to develop. Then simultaneously, we found out that my young husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

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

Natalie Silverstein: My husband has a particularly unique sort of genetic form of Parkinson’s. He said to me, “You know what, I have all of these friends in research and in science and in venture capital, I think we should start a foundation.”  I have a background in running health care companies and I worked for nonprofits  which was sort of a funny synergy. You know, it was sort of like two people that had this terrible thing happen. Yet, we decided to turn that around and try and make something positive out of it. So we founded this foundation for Parkinson’s with GBA, The Silverstein Foundation. Our mission is to fund research to find a cure for Parkinsons but more specifically for Parkinson’s with GBA. 

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

Natalie Silverstein: Since March of 2017, we have made 35 research grants being made through partnerships with biotech and pharmaceutical companies to find a cure for this disease. My husband had worked in healthcare venture capital,  mostly focused on funding companies that were doing research into rare diseases. He could have taken this news and just feel sad but we also became sort of energized.

We said, “If there’s a solution to be had, if we can accelerate research into finding a cure, why would we not do that?”  There are so many of these stories where people are faced with this very, very difficult news. They could turn that inward, and they could get sad and feel sorry for themselves. Or you could turn it outward and say, “What small thing what, what kind of legacy might I leave, if I could move the needle, even a couple of inches?”

Charity Matters: How did you go from nonprofit founder to Author?

Natalie Silverstein: Let’s just be really honest, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. When my kids were little and I’m here trying like hell to raise them to be grateful, grounded empathetic kind people. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing that we can do as parents. I was desperate to find opportunities to volunteer in our community. We live in New York City.  So I was just flabbergasted that there weren’t a lot of nonprofits that were welcoming us with open arms.

 I decided to figure out a way to create a database or a listing or something to help families like mine. And I partnered with an organization called Doing Good Together. They’re based in Minneapolis. I reached out to the founder and said,  “I’m flabbergasted that I can’t find opportunities here in New York City. Just like a straight listing of places that would accept us. And I want to start doing that.”

She said, ” I’ve been dreaming of sort of franchising this idea and sending, Doing Good Together branches all over the country, and you would be the first. So sometimes, there are no coincidences.  I launched the first regional branch of Doing Good Together I’ve been doing that for nine or 10 years, and I curate a listing of family friendly volunteer opportunities, that is pushed out to subscribe 1000s of subscribers every single month. It’s how I learned about organizations and volunteer work that we can do in the five boroughs of Manhattan of New York.

So I said to myself after I became this lady in my community, this kind of free resource. “Hmm, seems like there’s a book here”. If you look out in the world of literature of parenting guides and things, there really aren’t very many. I did a little competitive analysis and I’ve always been a writer. So, I put together a proposal and somebody bought it. The first book kind of magically happened in 2019. Now my second book, Simple Acts: A Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference.

Charity Matters: What do you hope your book accomplishes?

Natalie Silverstein: I hope that we can teach the importance of service to the next generation. There’s so much research around this that it is kind of staggering. We know that volunteers live longer, they are happier, they are less depressed and they are more connected. Young people who volunteer are more likely to stay in school.  They’re more likely to do well academically and  they’re less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Young people who volunteer with friends are more likely to continue to want to do that. Young people, children and young adults who volunteer with their families are more likely to do that, as adults with their families.  We also know that when you do something nice for another person, even if that person doesn’t acknowledge it, or doesn’t know that it’s you, you get an endorphin rush. There is literally an adrenaline endorphin rush, it is similar to a runner’s high. They call it the helpers high, and it’s a real, physiological experience.

I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to give that gift to our children, and to our teens. Particularly right now, in terms of social isolation. Volunteering is a real way to connect with other people to look a person in the eye and have a conversation and learn about their life experience. It gives kids a worldview. It is just so vitally, vitally important. I can’t I can’t stress enough the benefits.  I don’t think there are any downsides.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Natalie Silverstein: I think that I have a lot more gratitude for my life. Certainly, and I appreciate so much the work that people do. You know, I’m also part of a couple of giving circles one here in New York City called the Impact 100. NYC which is a women’s giving circle.  I am just blown away by the nonprofit’s that come to us with grant applications. We get to review and  visit and then we give out one or two transformational grants of $100,000 each.

Over and over and you see this through your work on this podcast, that a person has a dream a person has an idea a person has a passion, something they’re concerned about something that has impacted them personally. Then they say what can I do to help?  Somehow, they just make it happen on a shoestring with no money and no resources and no place.  Regularly,  I am blown away  by the nonprofits that I have met through the giving circle, through my work with Doing Good Together, through my research from my books and through the organizations that we’ve personally gotten involved with as a family. When I look at these nonprofits that I’ve learned about over these years of doing this work, they give me hope.

 

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

Natalie Silverstein: You know, you mentioned earlier, we’re living in a really tough time. It is a very, very sad, sad world that we’re living in and so much that feels very helpless and hopeless. And you think to yourself, “What can I possibly do to affect any change and make this any better? ” 

 I hope if I can inspire even one teenager to say, “You know what, there is something I can do.  I can’t change the whole world. But maybe there is one person that I can help today.”  That could impact that person’s whole day, their week or their life.  I just want people to know that they can do that, we call can.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.