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Season One: It is all in the family

This weekend is Father’s Day, a time to celebrate the men that raised us and showed us the way. Fathers are those special humans who make us feel safe, who guide us through surviving the world, and most of all who give us love. They are our anchors in rough waters and the calm in our storms. I simply can not imagine life without my dad. A man of few words, who loves his family deeply, and a man of great faith. Sadly, there are many children who are not blessed with an amazing father. I am for sure a lucky one.

In thinking about my dad, I thought about two incredible conversations I had recently about the importance of family. The need for children to have forever homes where people will love and guide them.  A few months back I spoke with Brian Mavis, the founder of America’s Kids Belong, and Becky Fawcett of Help Us Adopt. Two inspirational humans who have made it their life mission to create families.

America’s Kids Belong

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 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.

Join us 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. A true example of the power of fatherhood.

Help Us Adopt

Another powerhouse and true inspiration is Becky Fawcett, the founder of Help Us Adopt.  We recently caught up and had a fantastic conversation about what motivates this wonder woman, our favorite candy, and her incredible mission to build families. Becky may not be a father but she is a woman on a mission to ensure that children have families. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer.  Becky said, “We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. Help Us Adopt does that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

I hope as we think about our dads this week that we take a moment to think about all of the amazing humans who work so hard to create  family. Brian and Becky are two incredible humans who work tirelessly to bring the basic fabric of our world together, family. Each one uniquely different and making a huge impact in their communities as they tackle unique ways to create families. If you are looking for a little summer inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.  Happy Father’s Day to all those amazing dads!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Season One: It’s all about the kids

When you think about philanthropy most people do not know where to begin. As humans, we have more than a handful of issues that could use a little extra help. One thing that most of us can agree on is helping our children. This season I had the privilege of interviewing three incredible women who have set out to help children in a host of different ways. Today, I wanted to re-introduce you in case you didn’t get a chance to meet Cathy, Amel and Meredith. They are amazing!

Danny’s Farm

The first is Cathy Gott. Cathy is married to legendary baseball player Jim Gott. When their son Danny was diagnosed with autism they went to work. Cathy began with co-founding Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration! If you haven’t had a chance to listen here you go…

Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation. Children of War Foundation has two priority focuses, health and education. Their mission is to make these two essential in really fundamental human, basic human rights accessible to anyone at any time, from anywhere.

 When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

The Ryan Seacrest Foundation

If there is one common denominator in all the people I have interviewed over the years it is their humility. People who give their lives and talents to serve others do not want the attention on themselves ever. These incredible humans will lovingly talk about the work they do but do not want the attention on them. It doesn’t matter who they are.  Whether they are from a famous family or used to being in the media, these modern-day heroes consistently do not want the spotlight.

Today’s guest, Meredith Seacrest Leach is no exception. Meredith is the Executive Director of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. And yes, she is Ryan Seacrest’s sister. I’m excited to share our inspiring conversation about their families’ journey in service and the incredible way they are using their gifts to help eleven children’s hospitals and thousands of children and families across the country.

 

I’m thrilled that you had a chance to get reacquainted with Cathy, Amel, and Meredith. Three inspirational women have dedicated their lives to helping children in three very different ways. Each one uniquely different and making huge impacts on children in their communities, across the country, and around the globe. Now you can do a little binge-listening….enjoy!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong. Listening to the call

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 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.

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.

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 got 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 have a long ways 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, 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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The Heroes of 2020

If ever there was a year that turned our planet upside is has been this one. Last year we all began 2020 with such hope. A new decade and such expectation that was to come crashing down three short months later. Now we are all counting down the days until 2020 is behind us. As someone who tries to find the silver lining in everything when I look back at 2020 I smile thinking of the amazing humans we met this year. Each of these people gives selflessly to make our world better. I thought today we would look back at some of the remarkable conversations of 2020. And a few highlights.

The Kindness Campaign: Andra Liemandt

We began 2020 by talking to the founder of the Kindness Campaign to learn about their mission to serve the socio-emotional needs of children. This year their work was more important than ever. You can revisit the full conversation, here.

CHARITY MATTERS: WHAT WAS THE MOMENT YOU KNEW YOU NEEDED TO ACT AND START  THE KINDNESS CAMPAIGN?

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

Homelessness:

There are so many incredible organizations trying to help the homeless. This year we met more than a few. These two women especially stand out for their incredible compassion and dedication to serving the homeless.  Heather Carmichael has been working with homeless youth for almost two decades at My Friends Place and  Caitlin Adler works to ensure that the homeless have proper clothing through her nonprofit Project Ropa.

 My Friends Place: Heather CArmichael

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

Project Ropa: Caitlin Adler

Caitlin Adler created Project Ropa in 2015 to address the challenges that homeless people face in obtaining and keeping clean clothes. Though homelessness is accompanied by many things, one of its greatest indignities comes from the absence of hygiene services.

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

Caitlin Adler:  Most homeless people literally have only the clothes on their backs. Access to clean clothing is essential to the overall well-being of a person and can be the key to opening doors to employment and housing. How you look affects how you feel about yourself and how others treat you. Now, because of the health threats posed by the coronavirus, the need to overcome those challenges has become ever greater.

Health:

Claire Marie Foundation: Marianne Banister

When former LA reporter Marianne Banister lost her 17-year-old daughter, Claire to melanoma. She and her husband went to work to get the word out about this cancer and created the Claire Marie Foundation.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what THE Claire Marie Foundation does?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: When this happened to our family, to our daughter, Claire, we were blindsided. And because even the medical profession did not realize kids could get melanoma at this age. It looked different than adult melanoma and it was more aggressive and more invasive. according to pediatricians. Melanoma is the number two, cancer in adolescence from 10 to 19 and the number one cancer in young adults from 20 to 29. This cancer is the number one cause of cancer death and young women 25 to 30. In young people, this disease is more aggressive and invasive than in older people.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  Claire. There’s never anything that’s going to make it right that we lost her. There’s never any sense to it. But I truly believe this is her purpose. And if I don’t keep this foundation going and do the work that needs to be done, and I’m not fulfilling her purpose, and we would have lost her for no reason.

Brave Gowns: Summer Germann

Summer Germann is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy, or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit Brave Gowns and when COVID hit she reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero.

Charity Matters: How did you decide to get into the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for COVID?

Summer Germann:  Friday, March 13th  I called my designer and I knew we had to figure out a way to help. We had talked about making masks and families have asked us for years. I knew we could make them fun. I called my factory and told them what I wanted to do and they had already started a prototype three weeks before. I said you have to give me a product that I believe in and this isn’t about money. They sent over the prototype and I said, “Okay, I just launched.” By Monday we had 11,000 orders.

Scarlet C of COVID

I hate to end this year with this story but COVID was the defining story of 2020. This article was reprinted by a number of magazines and publications and had more views than any piece I wrote in 2020 so it was worth an honorable mention on the list.

 While I didn’t interview any specific health care workers but rather organizations that support them, it is worth mentioning that our front line workers were THE true superheroes of 2020.

There are so many remarkable humans on this planet and these are just a few. As 2020 comes to a close and we look to a New Year ahead I think there are so many qualities to emulate that each of these heroes possesses. Tony Robbins sums up these heroes perfectly when he said, “The people who are most alive, driven and fulfilled are those that seek to lead a life of contribution and service. To something greater than themselves.”  Thank you, Andra, Heather, Caitlin, Marianne, and Summer for showing us by example what true service and living a life of contribution looks like. At the end of the day isn’t that what we are all striving for?

Wishing all of you blessings for a most joyous and Happy New Year!

 

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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Charitable children a season of giving and lifetime of joy

 

“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I am always so amazed that is the same time each year that I find people asking me for suggestions for raising philanthropic children. As a result, I share this post once again as a refresher for all, holidays or not.

When my sons were younger I wondered if they were really understanding what we were doing as a family for others? We wanted to raise compassionate and charitable children, good humans. While my sons are far from the poster children for philanthropy. As young men, they certainly do a lot to help others. I am proud that each of them has found different ways to give back and share the gifts that they have been given. My oldest has a passion for serving inner-city children. His younger brother has recently gotten behind Movember and men’s health through his fraternity. The youngest is involved with a nonprofit, Once Upon a Room, that does hospital room makeovers for very sick and young patients.  He has helped bring a new chapter of the nonprofit to his college town of Fort Worth, Texas.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we sit down as a family and decide what our family will do this season to help others. We have adopted soldiers for a year, adopted families over the holidays that could not have Christmas, we have wrapped gifts at local Children’s’ Hospitals, and voted on which non-profits we want to support. Each person trying to convince the others why their cause is most worthy.

Where to begin?

The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question and that raising charitable children is an ongoing process. With 1.7 million charitable organizations in the world, where do you begin to find service opportunities for young children or even teenagers?

Families now have resources such as the nonprofit Project Giving Kids, which cultivates volunteer opportunities for young children and families. I read an article recently that said role modeling philanthropy is simply not enough. The article referenced a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. The director, Debra Mesch, said “the research showed that talking to children about giving increased by 20 percent the likelihood that children would give.”

Here are a few tips to remember as we approach the season of giving:

Six Tips for Raising charitable children:

  1. Start early, as early as 4 or 5 years old. Giving becomes a habit.
  2. Talk to your children about what causes interest them and bring causes to their attention.
  3. Be intentional by involving your children in your own charity endeavors.
  4. Use online tools to research organizations to involve your children
  5. Be consistent. Make charity a part of your traditions, the holidays, and birthdays.
  6. Emphasize the joy because giving feels great.

Benefits of raising charitable children:

  1. Opens children’s eyes to the fact that others are not as fortunate as they are
  2. Develops empathetic thinking
  3. Fosters an appreciation for what they have
  4. Enhances self-esteem
  5. Correlates to improved performance in school

While this topic is relevant for the holidays, it is important to remember that giving does not just happen once a year. Teaching the gifts you receive from giving should be a part of the year, not simply the season. Once your children feel how great it is to give, their lives will forever be altered in wonderful ways.

Charity Matters.

 

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Creating the Change

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

Rather than focus on the election today, I wanted to focus on what makes me happy. Honestly, nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters.  Project​ ​Giving​ ​Kids​ ​(PGK)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​organization​  that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate service activities.  Their mottos is,“connecting kids to causes.”

 Project Giving Kids was initially launched ​in​ Boston in ​November​ ​2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children. Molly saw clearly that there was a need to leverage technology to make it easier for kids to​ ​be​ ​powerful​ ​agents​ ​of​ ​positive​ ​change​ ​in our​ ​world.​ ​

Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. Four years ago Project Giving Kids hosted their first Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Day​ ​. These days across the country provided a chance to come together as a community to help the amazing nonprofits in our own backyards. More importantly, Create The Change Days teach our children about the importance of service and the power we each have to make a difference.  There is nothing better than combining nonprofit partners and families wanting to instill empathy and kindness in their children. 

However, this year COVID put a damper on this annual tradition. PGK was committed to ensuring that Create the Change Day went on so they will be hosting Create the Change Week. An entire week of free virtual service opportunities for kids and teens. Next week from Saturday, November 7th until Saturday, November 14th  your children can volunteer and participate in amazing virtual service opportunities.

PGK will offer a series of free virtual service activities via Zoom tied to the eight causes on their website. Everything from helping isolated seniors to protecting the environment to helping other kids and fighting hunger.
They will also have a special Teen Track for older youth, so there really is something for everyone.

As Molly said, “We are hopeful we can catalyze a small army to commit themselves to join us in the simple acts of goodness that add up and truly make a difference”  Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Week ​is ​the​ ​perfect way​ ​to introduce young children to the joy of service to others.” 

With all the craziness happening in our world right now, doing something positive to help someone seems like a good idea. So register your children for Create the Change Week . 

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

Charity Matters

 

 

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Using Technology to teach children philanthropy

As millions of children will be staying home this fall and sadly not heading back to school many parents are looking for new ways to keep their children engaged. More than that parents are looking for resources that will help their children develop empathy, gratitude, and hopefully want to put those feelings into action. A number of people and organizations have reached out asking if there are some online tools to help children learn more about giving. So today I wanted to share a number of great resources for kids and families.

Connecting kids to causes

An organization you have all heard me talk about many times, Project Giving Kids, has tons of resources to connect children and families to causes. PGK has a host of nonprofit partners and a wide range of needs from these organizations across all age levels.

Apps for Service

Common Sense Media put out a fantastic list of Apps that help children learn about giving. One of their recommendations is Free Rice is an app where children learn about ending hunger a few grains of rice at a time. (Age 9+).

For older students, (13 years and older)  there are apps like YSA (Youth Service America). Youth Service America’s site provides information to facilitate teen community service and connect them with organizations and grants to help them be successful. It also incorporates an advocacy campaign called Global Youth Service Day in April. Teens can click on a number of projects and campaigns on the site to learn about the many service options.

Using allowance to teach giving

There are a number of allowance apps that also help cultivate giving. A few popular ones are Bankaroo, Rooster Money, Go Henry, and BusyKid. Each of these manages children’s allowance, helps set savings and giving goals in different ways. The age range for most of these is usually between 5-15 and all have some parental oversight.

The overall concept of the apps above is to begin to create healthy habits of savings, goal setting, and giving. With Rooster Money, when children decide they are ready to donate they can click on the apps “give pot” and search for a cause they care about or one of 25,000 charities hosted on JustGiving.

Some of these apps have a monthly or yearly fee so do your homework when researching which is best for your children and family.

Small Steps Add Up

At the end of the day, we all want to cultivate empathy, gratitude, and kindness in our children. Starting new habits at the beginning of a school year is always a good idea. The earlier we start planting the seeds of compassion the faster they grow. Be patient with your self and your children. Have fun and make this a family project. Remember the best way to teach anything is to model the behavior you want for your children yourself.

 

Charity Matters

 

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Tzedek America

I was raised to never discuss religion or politics, to respect everyone’s beliefs and to always be open to learning from others. Faith plays a large part in my life and in my nonprofit work. The nonprofit a group of us founded over seventeen years ago provided chaplains of all faith to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. That experience confirmed to me that believing in something bigger than yourself is something that will always serve as a life anchor, whatever that belief is.

I took my current job as the Executive Director at TACSC mainly because I loved being a part of planting the seeds of compassion in our children and teaching students about service. Right before COVID, I had the privilege of meeting Avram Mandell, who is doing similar work with youth but taking it to a whole different level with his nonprofit Tzedek America. Let’s hope that as millions of children get ready to begin school this month that they have access to the incredible experiences Tzedek America is providing.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what TZEDEK America does?

Avram Mandell: We engage Jewish teenagers through immersive social justice experiences. We try to teach empathy and not sympathy and we are trying to move the needle in the social justice world by connecting these teenagers to social justice issues and to people affected by these issues. The best way to do that is through stories and meeting people and coming into proximity with those who are dealing with these issues as opposed to watching a documentary or reading an article. After kids go on our trips they begin volunteering, donating their time, running drives at their school getting, and their parents involved. We are really seeing the impact of our work.

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

Avram Mandell: I have a Master’s in Education from Hebrew Union. I had worked at Jewish Summer Camps, been a youth group advisor, and had experiential learning in my blood. I ran school programs, adult learning programs, garden programs, video programs always acting as an innovator and creator. My attitude in life is that there is always a way to make things happen. 

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit I wanted to go and get my hands dirty and really do something about this national natural disaster. So I reached out at the synagogue and twelve teenagers volunteered. We had a contact at the Methodist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi and we set out to do flood relief work. We all had a powerful experience bringing hope to that part of the world. I remember when we went to our cots there were little bags for us with toiletries and notes from kindergartners thanking us for volunteering. I had never been a recipient and it was such a beautiful moment for all of us.

We came back from the trip and all of those students wrote their college essays about this experience which was transformative. Teenagers care about social justice but they don’t know what to do about it. So I wanted to create an organization that would engage Jewish teenagers in their Jewish values and that those values support their passion for doing good in the world. I wanted to give them the tools to do something about it. We began in 2014, as a gap year program and people started calling and asking for half-day trips and then four-day trips. We were taking kids to skid-row, the border, and giving them these incredible experiences and word started to get out.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Avram Mandell: I think one of our biggest challenges is staffing. How do you find someone to be part of a start-up and has that same passion that fuels you to do this work? It’s one thing when the founder is up until 1 am working but if I am just an employee I don’t have that same commitment.  As we grow you try to do it all and realize quickly that you can’t. So, how do you find the staff member that is fun, engaging, charming, a good educator, good with teenagers, organized to plan the logistics of all our trips and experiences? 

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

Avram Mandell: The feedback from our work reminds us that this is worth it. Knowing we are having an impact. I get the results I want from our students. I just got a text an hour ago of a picture of third-graders writing notes to people in detention centers.  It turns out that the 9th grader that went to one of our trips at the border was sharing her experience with this third-grade class and the third graders were so inspired that they wanted to write welcome to America notes. That is why we do what we do. 

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

Avram Mandell:  We brought a group of 6th graders to a recovery group. A 27-year-old woman shared her journey with our students. After her story, the 6th grader said to the woman, “You are such a strong woman, we have so much to learn from you.” The little girl went on to say that she struggled with her relationship with her parents and told the woman what a great example of strength she was.

We create these experiences for teenagers on a weekly basis that students would not ordinarily have. The students learn that we are all just human beings. We all have so much in common and so much more to learn from one another.

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

Avram Mandell: Our impact is the stories like the one I just shared. It wouldn’t be the statistics. When you show up at a nonprofit with a group of teenagers and recognize one of the volunteers and say, “Don’t I know you?” She says, “Yes, you brought me here three months ago and now I volunteer here.” Then you ask is she doing this for required community service hours and she replies, “No, this is just what I do.”

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

Avram Mandell: I would love to have our programming in different cities so we can affect other students with what we are doing. I would love to have more capacity to make that happen. There is a quote from a book called Ethics of Our Fathers that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”  We know the ripple effect of our work and those we impact is large.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Avram Mandell:  I have learned so much from our program. I know more about immigration than I knew before, I know more about homelessness than I knew before. I am more socially aware and socially engaged than ever before.

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

Avram Mandell:  I think about my eulogy a lot. Eulogies are about people’s relationships and about people being there for one another. I think about the educational concept called design with the end in mind and the creators of this concept who wrote a book about what do you want your end to be?  I think about my end.

What do I want the end to be? I want to see that my kids and students are volunteering their time and that they know they have an obligation to make the world a better place. You can not ignore the problem. That is my end.  When my students have kids and take them to volunteer somewhere. When my students live their life with meaning.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Camp in the face of COVID

Each year more than 14 million children attend camp in the United States according to the American Camp Association. Sadly, this summer most children will not be attending their camps due to the pandemic. In the United States, there are over 12,000 camps and 8,400 of those are overnight experiences. In the face of COVID, children are not getting the benefits of independence, self-confidence, and new friends which camp provides.

Leaders are Adaptable

As many of you know I run a youth leadership nonprofit and the highlight of our summer is our Summer Leadership program. Our students (6th-8th graders) leave home for the first time and spend a few nights in college dorms. They learn who they can be and where they can go…. college. However, this past March in the wake of the COVID we were unclear about the path forward. Were we going to be able to host our traditional overnight camp? The answers were not clear.

At TACSC, we teach that leaders are adaptable. So adapt is what we had to do. Throughout the months of March, April and May we planned for two programs, in-person and online. It was a bit like writing two term papers knowing that one would have to be thrown away. In mid-May, we made the decision that we were going to have to go with our new plan for camp online.

How do you provide an amazing experience online?

For thirty-eight years TACSC has taught leadership with peer teaching. College students teaching high school students and high school students teaching middle school students. Our program is a combination of camp meets classroom meets kairos.  How were going to provide this experience to three hundred students online?

First and foremost we realized that kids should not be parked in front of a screen on a summer day. They needed to be outside, riding bikes, swimming, and getting bored. So we decided that the camp would start at 3 pm and end at 8:30. That time of day when parents need a break and kids usually start saying, “I’m bored.” Our curriculum team went to work and we were off to the races.

We Did IT!

After months of planning, shipping camp in a box to 300 campers, we executed our plan. This week we took our 38-year-old program and took it online. I was beyond nervous but our college and high school staff worked for months to create a magical experience. Our students attended the equivalent of an online play (via Zoom) each day, went into their small group classrooms, played games, made new friends, and learned about leadership. At the end of the evening, students had reflection time and families came together for night prayers.

Is the online experience the same? No. Did we create connection, fun, and friendships? Yes. Did they learn? Absolutely! Most of all, we learned that in order to survive and thrive as a non-profit we needed to be adaptable. A skill not just for leaders but for all of us.

Charity Matters

 

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Faces In Between

There has been much conversation about the future of our country and the challenges that many of our young graduates are facing in these uncertain times. If ever there was a bright light that gives us all hope for humanity, it is Danielle Levin, the President, and refounder of Faces In Between. Danielle literally graduated from Columbia with her Masters in Public Health the day before our conversation last week. She is remarkable in what she has accomplished in 25 short years and I know the future is bright with compassionate leaders like Danielle changing our world through her inspiring work serving youth, families, and the homeless.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Faces In Between does?

Danielle Levin: Faces in Between is a community outreach and support organization. We focus on developing different programs that increase the well being of our community members who are experiencing different forms of economic disadvantage. We primarily work with youth and families as well as youth who are experiencing homelessness. Sometimes there are overlaps between those, sometimes there’s not.

For our homeless outreach, we distribute care packages and we’re in New York City so in the winter that looks like sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and things like that. We have a speaker series where we bring individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness into different settings to share their own stories and advocate on behalf of themselves and their community. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing it directly from the source and being able to truly ask the questions that many of us have and don’t really know who to ask or where to go to find the answer.

We also have an after school program called SNACC, which stands versus Stainable Nutrition And Community Connection. It teaches economically disadvantaged youth how to prepare healthily, but affordable meals with items that are available in their local grocery stores. We bring different New York City chefs in to teach students and then we incorporate different social, emotional learning components into each session that we have. However, with COVID, we have not been able to run our programming as we had planned. So we pivoted what we do while keeping our mission exactly the same.

We have developed a COVID relief food program, and we are currently delivering daily meals to over 200 people. We are working with a local farm to table catering company who’s bringing boxes of food directly to the doors, the homes, the shelters of elementary age students and their families. So that’s been our new way of connecting with the community. We are in the process of launching a Chef’s Table page on our website. We’re having chefs send us in video recordings of themselves doing cooking demos for the kids. The chefs are going to show the students and their families how to create healthy and affordable meals with the ingredients provided in the boxes. So we’ve really been creative in our approach and are just trying to meet the community where they are. 

Charity Matters: You are 25 years old and have already accomplished so much, You literally graduated last week with your Master’s Degree in Public Health. have you always been philanthropic?

Danielle Levin:  I’ve always been someone that wanted to be a changemaker; I wanted to be an agent for change. I would spend my summers interning for refugee resettlement organization or running a health clinic and interning  for HIV AIDS facilities abroad. I just always knew that I wanted to do something to increase well being and to help people be able to live their best lives.

Homelessness and economic disadvantage have always been something that’s of particular interest to me. Especially focusing on youth because kids have so much to look forward to and so much potential.  When I moved to New York, I had the opportunity to just really get to know my neighbors who didn’t have homes. There are over 65,000 homeless individuals in New York City on any given night.  I had the opportunity to really understand, and to sit down on the street corners and talk with my neighbors who didn’t have homes, get to know what their needs were, learn their stories, and that’s kind of where the speaker series developed from. Also, all the items that we deliver aren’t because I think that they should be delivered, it’s because I know it from hearing directly from the source.

Charity Matters: Tell us how Faces In Between began?

Danielle Levin: It’s kind of an interesting story and series of events, and it’s all just so meant to be. In 2016, I was moving to New York, graduating undergrad, and I was going to work in a corporate healthcare job and wanted to really do something in my spare time working with homelessness and poverty. I came across this woman who had posted something online about how she started this organization called Faces in Between. Her name is Kendra and she filed the paperwork and set up the organization. She was a psychiatric ER doctor who worked around the clock and didn’t really have the opportunity to actually launch the organization in the way she had planned.

I reached out to her and she brought me onto the team. In 2018, I kinda said, Hey Kendra, nothing’s really happened with the organization in like a year and a half. She said, “Actually, I am going to shut it down. It’s not the right time.”  I said, well if it’s going to shut down now and fail now, why don’t I just take it over? I’ll rework it, I’ll rebuild it, I’ll flip it and keep the general mission exactly the same, but the approach to it will change. I thought it either fails with me, or doesn’t, but let’s see what happens. So she passed it over to me. And so I’m kind of like, the refounder.

 Kendra remains as my incredible mentor and she looks at what we’ve done with such pride. She had no idea that it would then turn into this and she’s watching it from afar and just seeing all the things that we’ve accomplished and the thousands of people that were touching daily. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Levin: I think our biggest challenge is also our biggest strength, the challenge is that we are 100% volunteer-based. Every donor dollar goes directly to the community. I am a full-time volunteer for the organization. I think that it’s our biggest strength but it definitely poses challenges because we make decisions on maximizing community impact versus a business model. I think that it is something so special and I will keep this model for as long as I can. It’s working for us. Upon graduating I’m going to be working full time for another corporation so that I can maintain this model. I think that it’s our strength, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to maximize and how to stretch every dollar to make sure that it’s truly making a difference in the lives of our community. I think it’s also the most beautiful part and it’s what makes us us. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have so much passion for the work that I do that I don’t mind late nights and early mornings and weekends. For me, it doesn’t feel like work, I truly get so much pleasure out of it. Challenging myself to reach the next limit and figure out how many more thousands of people can we feed or how many more meals can we deliver by tomorrow or next week. To me, it’s time well spent.

I think that I have a unique skill– I am really good at creative problem solving when it comes to real-life issues and coming up with effective solutions. I mean, what fuels someone to want to finish a puzzle? There are things that I can contribute, and if I don’t use it, then it’s kind of going to waste. If you have a gift, you might as well share it with the world.

It fuels me to see the recipients, people who are receiving our services, and their reactions to it. When it’s going to be zero degrees out, and someone is handed a sleeping bag, and they know that that’s their lifeline, it fuels me. When kids learn a new recipe and they’re taking home nutritious food to their family, but they might have had pizza for breakfast yesterday, it fuels me. I love learning from other people, strategically collaborating, picking people’s brains, kind of figuring out how to accomplish things that could have at first seemed impossible. But, when you break it down, you realize it’s all within reach. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have two answers. One is in terms of the work we do with homeless outreach. Those moments look like people reaching out who have spoken at our speaker series and saying,” you changed my life, you reminded me that I’m human, you made me feel human again”  and to help someone realize that they are who they’ve always been, is a really powerful moment.

With our youth and families, I think that, honestly, through our COVID relief is how I’ve realized our impact because when you’re teaching kids how to cook, you’re not home with them. You don’t see what they’re doing outside of the program. So you don’t know what type of impact you’ve truly made. But I think that seeing how we can so quickly jump into action  and pivot to support the community because of the infrastructures that are there was powerful for me and the team. Unfortunately, our list of in-need families is growing as the crisis evolves. This week, we officially took every single person off of our waitlist. That’s a really powerful moment to know that every person in this community who’s expressed the need for food, we are able to provide it for them. 

Charity Matters: If you could create a billboard that showed your impact, what would it look like?

Danielle Levin: I think that it would be a picture of our community members, smiling, being part of the community. I think that it would have some kind of message about the individuality of everyone that we serve, and the personal stories– kind of meeting the community where they are. We’re not just providing kids with a meal and saying we changed a life. What we are doing is much more than that.

I think that in all the work we do, it’s important to give people resources and tools, and we can’t expect that they’ll use it in a certain way or receive it in a certain way, or that they even want it but equipping people with resources and tools is so important. I think that meeting people where they are and understanding that one kid might act like they hate our after school program, but we don’t know what’s going on at home. So meeting people really where they are, and letting them participate in the cooking when they want to, let them serve, letting them take extra servings if that’s what they want, or skip out on the servings– I think that it’s really about understanding that we might be serving a community, but within the community, each person has their own story. 

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

Danielle Levin: That there’s no longer a need for us, that we have to go out of business because everyone has the resources that they need to live their day to day lives, and thrive in whatever way that means to them.

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

Danielle Levin: I’ve learned a lot. Every single day I learn something new. I think the biggest one is to take risks because everything I’ve done is a risk. I never knew if any of it would work. I’m 25 years old and I launched an after school program at a New York City public school. We just pitched it. We just went to a school and said we think that we’d be a good fit for your school and we pitched it because we had nothing to lose. If we didn’t take that risk, we would have gained nothing, they would have gained nothing, but we’re now providing their students with these meals during this crisis. I think that one thing is to just take risks and think outside the box.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Levin: I think that my entire perspective has changed. If you told me something, I would question where you learned that from, where you heard that from because to me, I’ve become so used to going to the source and saying to someone who’s experiencing homelessness, I heard this stigma, how do you feel about it? How does that make you feel? I think that hearing the story from the source and learning the facts from who they come from has definitely changed me and my perspective, rather than kind of just accepting what we as a society tend to believe is true.

I’ve always been someone who loves connecting with others, but my ability to do so has become much more well rounded because you might think you have nothing in common with someone who doesn’t have a home and is sleeping outside on the street for the last 10 years, but learning how to connect with someone who seems different, but then finding commonalities with them really changes you. I have become a lot more flexible in my life because when you’re working with individuals who don’t have as much structure as let’s say you and I might have in our lives, you have to learn how to be flexible and adaptable.

I think the biggest thing is knowing how to push limits and knowing that where I am now isn’t the end. There is so much more to do and so much more I will do. It’s easy to stick to the status quo, but to push the limits and see what happens has only led to success and has changed my perspective on how I live my daily life. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Brave Gowns

 

COVID is certainly a word that I can’t wait to remove from my vocabulary. It has turned our planet upside down and literally stopped most of the world….with the exception of a few amazing people, one of them who I had the good fortune to talk to last week. Her name is Summer Germann and she is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit, business and most recently reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Brave Gowns does?

Summer Germann:  We manufacture hospital gowns for kids, these are not standard hospital gowns. Brave Gowns transform the spirit of a child and allow them to use their imaginations. We didn’t want to just do a tchotchke gown where we put a design on it, so we recreated an entire design that could access the patient’s entire body without having to move them.  I felt like just because you’re going through treatment doesn’t mean that you should lose like all modesty and pride, right? So teenage girls or women or even boys can stay covered while they access any part that is needed. So that was really important to me that we actually had a quality product that is made here in the United States.

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

Summer Germann: In 2002, I had lost my only sibling, my little brother, Mac who was 10 years old to two types of leukemia. I happen to be 15 years older than Mac and was 25,  when Mac went to heaven in 2002.  He was discharged the morning before Thanksgiving and he was to come home for Thanksgiving the next morning.

Mac was hooked up to a dialysis machine and had never asked my mom to come to lay in bed and hold his hand. He was 10 and all boy, and he said, “Can you hold my hand?” So she crawled in bed with him thinking, maybe it was good to get rest. And she woke up to the machine beeping and Mac in cardiac arrest.

 So honestly,  there are so many blessings in the story. We had a whole year where Mac was in the hospital and we really just had that year to spend with him. We catered to him, with what we didn’t know at the time was a bucket list. It was non stop. I spent that night before he died with him.  So if we had to lose him or for him to go,  it was just the most perfect way. How many people get to have that gift? 

I knew there’s no way I’m going to have this lesson in life and go back to  a “normal life.”  I knew I had to take this experience and do something with it. And it took a long time, it took 12 years, it wasn’t like I walked out of the hospital knowing what that was. I worked with my brother’s stem cell transplant team and his head nurse at the time when he was sick. 12 years had gone past and we created this ultimate gown in 2015.

Charity Matters: Explain what Happy Ditto is and how it is related to Brave Gowns?

Summer Germann: I started the nonprofit Happy Ditto (which is happiness doubled) first because I was so adamant about making sure this work was all done through a nonprofit. Happy Ditto is a nonprofit where people can buy or sponsor hospital brave gowns for children.  Then I got to a point where I had to turn it into a business as well because we were getting orders from hospitals that can’t purchase from nonprofits.   I just made sure all the bases were covered, as long as we get the gowns to the kids.

Charity Matters: How did you decide to get into the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for COVID?

Summer Germann:  Friday, March 13th  I called my designer and I knew we had to figure out a way to help. We had talked about making masks and families have asked us for years. I knew we could make them fun. I called my factory and told them what I wanted to do and they had already started a prototype three weeks before. I said you have to give me a product that I believe in and this isn’t about money. It was supposed to be retailed at $12. We brought it down to $9 and we incur the shipping to get into the hospitals    They sent over the prototype and I said, “Okay, I just launched.” By Monday we had 11,000 orders.

We are breaking even and not doing this for profit,  there probably will come a time where mask are the new norm and someone will be pursuing that but right now, someone will call and say,” I really am in a situation I need a mask.” Then I’m just overnighting it.  

Charity Matters: What is it like trying to keep up with the need and demand?

Summer Germann: We have shipped over 30,000 masks in less than two weeks.  We’re doing mask for the military at Camp Pendleton, for police precincts, I think we have sent to something like 177 precincts for New York. We’ve sent off to over 40 hospitals, we have a huge list.

And then we also have people purchasing masks in bulk and they’re sending them to hospitals with us. So they’re just been going in every direction every which way. And then we have another line that’s for individual orders. And I know everyone’s scared because I can tell you we’re getting 2800 emails a day. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Summer Germann: Staying true to exactly what our purpose is.  To be honest, I’ve received all of these offers to buy our company but they came with manufacturing in China.  I want the children in the best quality gown I can give them as fast as possible. All of our products are made on-demand, they’re never sitting on a shelf and never sitting in plastic. They are manufactured and within three to five days and on a child.  I just think it’s at a time where the kids are so sensitive and from infection, this is not the time to have gowns sitting for six months in a warehouse.

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

Summer Germann:  I think everyone behind the scenes is my grandma or in a family with a medically fragile child, like Mac, and they’re all scared, right? All we did was create a better product and we’re sending them out there. We’re doing the best we can in the midst of this truth. We have three shifts going and opened the second factory. I saw a news story last night that said that the BraveGowns are slowing down the Coronavirus. That people think that, well that’s wonderful. I never even thought about our work like that.  I just feel like I’m just giving people a piece of comfort.  

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

Summer Germann:  I really don’t. I feel like we’re just getting started five years in. I said recently,” I finally see the beginning.” I tried to explain it to someone the other day that is not in business. And I said, “I feel like we’re in the middle of building a house. And all I see is I’m standing in a kitchen that’s just gutted and chaos all around me.”  

The first two weeks of the 2800 emails and I was like, oh my god this isn’t working. I was still like, I’m still trying to stop and make dinner and do dishes like you know, like still just normal.  I think that article yesterday would be the first time where I actually thought wow,  people are believing in me a lot more than I see what I’m actually doing.

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

Summer Germann:  I know it’s bigger than me. And it’s time for me to be a really great ambassador for it and say goodbye.  I think there’s so much potential for Brave Gowns to be the new norm, it deserves to be the new norm.  I think it’s time for me to be the voice of Brave Gowns and show up where I need to, but let someone else run the show.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Summer Germann: I haven’t changed I think in that’s what was really important to me, I really haven’t changed and  I would still give the shirt off my back for anyone. I am still the person that walks in the post office and says something to make everyone laugh.  I think my story is about just believing in yourself and knowing that you could do life differently, right?

It was not easy and but I stayed true to exactly what we started and who we wanted to be. And I think that’s really what this is all about. I hope that someday my whole story shows that you don’t have to do it a nine to five in a cubicle. You can take the risk you know,  there’s so much more in life than just being okay and surviving. Go live. Right? And I think that’s what the whole thing.

There are so many times where my family only had faith. Faith was all we had. I don’t go to church. I just know that I’ve always had this in me.  It’s not like I believe in God, so everything worked out. But I believe that everything that I went through and every hard moment, he had a greater purpose. 

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

Summer Germann:  I can see so many lessons where I shot myself in the foot. I think just knowing your way. It’s like it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. Right?  I’m just saying to the woman that has this vision and dream. It doesn’t matter where or what’s behind you, we are in a world of opportunity. Everything is so untraditional right now, tech companies are going back to hiring people without a college degree because they need people that think outside the box. Just always know your worth.

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

Summer Germann: We have given over 450,000 Brave Gowns in 387  children’s hospitals in seven countries.  I spent five years not building a business, I built relationships with people. I built trust. Someone will text me and say,” Is this really Summer?” Yes, this is really Summer. I got a call from a nurse in Florida who has COVID her husband’s deployed. Her parents are in Texas. And she’s like, I just have no one to talk to you right now and she talked to me. And this was two days ago, that’s exactly why I’m here.

 Those are the moments that I think are worth it. At the end of my life, I hope to God people really know that I cared. It wasn’t about like yes, I have this wonderful life now. It’s just the blessing of just being there for people.  The impact is to think that I’ve brightened up inside the hospital walls and that the kids are in superheroes and princess costumes and that’s miraculous, right?  But I also know there are 3.4 million children in the hospitals and I’ve only gotten 450,000 gowns out there.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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True 2020 Vision

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

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


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

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

Charity Matters

 

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The Kindness Campaign

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

Scott Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

 

Charity Matters

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Create the Change Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.