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Becoming a leader

” Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis

As many of you know I run a nonprofit that is a youth leadership organization. During the summer we run three separate weeks of leadership camp, where middle school students stay on a college campus for a week away from their parents, learning, having fun and having time to reflect on who they are and where they want to go. This past week we just ended our first session of camp with almost two hundred students transformed by their experience.

Our students do all of the traditional camp activities like talent shows, biathlons, a dance, cheering …you know the drill. What makes us unique is that students also learn a curriculum about becoming a leader. They learn to have a plan, a goal, how to communicate those plans, they learn to be life long mentors to others and most importantly they learn that you can not lead unless you serve. It is truly students teaching students leading by example showing the best of themselves and who they can be.

So often in the nonprofit space, we are running a business like almost any other with budgets, timelines, goals and the list goes on. What makes our work (nonprofit work) different is that unlike a company when your numbers are down, fewer people profit. In the nonprofit world, when you don’t make numbers, someone doesn’t go to camp, get fed, receive medicine and the list goes on. The stakes are real and there is a person affected by each choice, for better or for worse.

The other challenge in the nonprofit space is that you can often feel separated or removed from those you serve.  We work all year (our staff of two and 150 amazing volunteers, who will serve over 3,000 students) to send one-third of our students to camp with scholarships. Then the moment happens, we see their faces, we watch them grow and learn all week and our efforts beyond worthwhile. Children who live in the inner-city, who have never been on a college campus let alone stay on one and then to hear them share their experiences….well there simply are not words with how incredible it feels.

Each volunteer gives of themselves to change the life of another. You can feel the love, the kindness, the joy, the gratitude between our campers and our volunteer staff. Regardless of what is happening in the world, I know that our amazing college and high school volunteers are transforming hundreds of children’s lives for the better….renewing my faith in humanity and inspiring me to strive to serve more.

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The Comfort Cub

Have you ever had a friend that keeps telling you, “you need to meet so and so.”  Well, a friend of mine has told me for years that I needed to meet her friend, Marcella Johnson, who is the founder of the nonprofit The Comfort Cub. The stars finally aligned and we had a conversation last week that was supposed to last for forty-five minutes and when I looked at my clock and saw that two hours had passed I was in awe. She was beyond worth the wait and such an inspiration.

In 1999, Marcella’s fourth child, George died shortly after he was born from congenital heart disease. Marcella used her grief as fuel to help others who were suffering from broken heart syndrome and trauma in her creation of the nonprofit the Comfort Cub.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Comfort Cub does?

Marcella Johnson:  The Comfort Cub is the world’s very first weighted therapeutic teddy bear.  After I lost my newborn son George in 1999 due to congenital heart disease we developed the Cub to help other mothers who suffered from the loss of their infant. The Comfort Cub is specially weighted and is intended to simulate the weighted comfort of cradling a newborn. While the initial intent of The Comfort Cub was for child loss, research now shows it provides profound relief for any traumatic event. This includes having to leave the hospital while your baby is still in the NICU, the loss of a spouse, parent, loved one or beloved pet. It has also been effective for occupational & autism therapy, adoptions and those experiencing divorce or traumatic loss. Due to deep touch pressure, holding The Comfort Cub triggers the brain to release the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which causes the body to relax and feel comforted.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start The Comfort Cub?

Marcella Johnson: Leaving the hospital empty handed, with nothing in my arms was one of the worst parts of the whole experience of losing a child.  It was doubly heartbreaking because when it was time to be discharged my husband took all my things and went to get the car.  I was in the elevator next to a woman both of us had just delivered and she had balloons, flowers, her baby boy and I had nothing to hold, it was so painful. Then when we were both wheeled outside to pick up her husband has the video camera, the balloons, and the joy. I just wanted to die. Then my husband pulled up and to see his pain looking at this happy new family was so hard, watching him suffer. We just drove off in silence.

What happened when we got home was that the emotional pain felt like an open wound. My chest literally hurt and my arms ached and no massage or Tylenol made it go away. There was a dull ache in my heart and I thought I was losing my mind. Twenty years ago people didn’t know about Takotsubo Syndrom, also known as broken heart syndrome, but research eventually proved that I wasn’t alone. 

A week after the funeral I asked my dad if he would meet me at the gravesite and he had this beautiful pot of flowers to leave at the grave. When I held the pot the aching in my heart and arms went away. I was sure I was losing my mind. Then I began doing my own research on grief and discovered women who were grieving would hold sacks of flour or carried a pineapple wrapped in a blanket and realized that the pot was about the weight my child would have been.

I had asked people to donate teddy bears instead of flowers in baby George’s name that we would bring to the local Children’s Hospital. We had a lot of teddy bears and about four months after the funeral I saw a Build a Bear and I went to the manager and told him my story and that I wanted to try to create a comfort bear for other women like me. He told me he would help me after work and to go and buy all the split peas that I could find. We opened up the bears and filled them with 6.7 lbs of lentils (baby George’s weight) until we got the weight just right. The following year we started the organization because I was determined that I am not going through this in vain and if I can help just one other woman than I will be satisfied.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about How you started The Comfort Cub after the prototype?

Marcella Johnson: Helping to me is second nature. I wanted to make sure that no woman in San Diego left the hospital the way that I did. My husband and I started a fund with the money that we would have spent on baby George. So instead of the money to buy diapers and formula, we bought teddy bears, ribbons and spilt peas. A hospice organization asked for ten bears and the Children’s Hospital asked for twelve. I got my girlfriends together and we started an assembly line.

I realized early on that this doesn’t belong to me but I am simply a steward of this. The way people have responded to this bear is so much bigger than me. The reaction from parents and people who have gone through trauma has been so inspiring. Unfortunately, when there has been a tragedy we have sent the bears. My sister lived near Sandy Hook and showed up at the office with the bears. The office manager said they had received 60,000 teddy bears and didn’t need another bear. When she told my story the office manager said she would hand deliver each Comfort Cub to tall of the parents of Sandy Hook victims. Then the parents of the teachers who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary requested the bears. We made three hundred cubs for the grief group of the Vegas tragedy and just this past week we delivered bears here in San Diego for the recent shooting at the temple.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marcella Johnson: Our biggest challenge is to get people to understand. Twenty years ago people didn’t know about the physical effects of grief and Takotsubo Syndrome. People can sometimes feel overwhelmed by helping women who have lost children and they either get it or they don’t. The Comfort Cub isn’t about sadness but about hope and healing. People are much more interested in talking about trauma than death. Why it is uncomfortable for many of us to try and find the words for people who lost someone we can not turn our backs on those who are suffering. 

There have been times when this work has been hard. When the economy changed and we had the financial crisis in 2008 funding became more challenging. I had three other children, was making the bears, distributing them and it was a lot. We had a Comfort Cub hotline where we offered them for free to anyone in the United States who had a need. The San Diego Hospice group ran the hotline and funded much of the program in the beginning until a few years ago when they closed down. In 2013, I officially started running everything and in 2015 we became our own nonprofit.

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

Marcella Johnson: This work is internal and in my heart. It is in my soul and I feel called to do this work. There are so many people that are grieving out there and we need to help them. I believe that I am supposed to be doing this work. 

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

Marcella Johnson: There are so many ways….I hear from the hospital all the time the comfort and peace the cubs give to so many. The people who write on our Facebook page about what an impact the cub has made.  I find out second hand because I do not directly distribute the comfort cubs. However, a few years ago I received an award and they brought out a woman who had lost a child and she was carrying something that looked like the velveteen rabbit, it was so worn and loved. I realized as she began to speak about what the comfort cub had done for her that she the loved thing she as holding was her comfort cub.  It is just wow to realize the difference we have made and it takes your breath away.

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

Marcella Johnson: Since we began we have given over 15,000 Comfort Cubs. So often we learn that these cubs are usually passed on to at least three people. People want to give their cub to someone else who is hurting and now needs it. When you do the math that is touching almost 45,000 lives. I have a friend who is a nurse practitioner and she was recently doing a physical exam. The woman undressed and had a comfort cub tattoo. My friend asked about her tattoo and the woman explained that she had lost a child and that the comfort cub literally saved her life and she wanted it tattooed to always have it with her. That was an impact that I never expected. 

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

Marcella Johnson: Before losing a child I always thought it was best not to mention a person who has died’s name. I have learned that you do not want a loved one to be forgotten. I make it a point to always tell people that whoever they lost, mattered. Also, the more you can do to help someone who is grieving the better, it doesn’t have to be anything grand but just to let them know you care.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marcella Johnson: My son’s passing changed my life forever. I wanted to know when he died where did he go? Where is my child? His death sent me on a quest to know more about my faith. It made me realize that we are not in control of anything. Life is short and we need to enjoy and celebrate all the goodness in our lives. Let’s go to the birthday parties, let’s go to the graduation parties and see our children in their plays.  You need to tell people who are meaningful in your life that you love them and what they mean to you because it is fleeting. This is my journey and this is my life….

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Shields for Families

A few weeks ago I attended an incredible event at the Hilton Foundation that I wrote about. One of the women who spoke at the event was named Danielle Lowe and at lunchtime, I approached her and told her how impressed I was with the work she was doing with her nonprofit Shields for Families. I told her that I would love to learn more about the organization and asked if she by chance knew the founder. Danielle got a huge smile on her face and said, “Why yes I do, it happens to be my mother, Kathryn Icenhower.” A few weeks later the three of us, Danielle and her mother Kathryn and I had a fantastic conversation about the truly unbelievable work that Shields for Families is doing to serve South Central Los Angeles and thousands of families dealing with a full spectrum of needs like shelter, housing, transportation,  substance abuse treatment, education, homelessness and breaking the cycle of poverty. This amazing mother and daughter team is a perfect example of what is right in our world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Shields for Families does?

Kathryn Icenhower: We attempt to provide families everything they need to be successful in life with whatever the dreams are that they set for themselves and not make that hard, by providing a full range of services. It always frustrated me when I was a social worker that families don’t come with one problem and our social services have always been set up in silos that make it challenging to get help. I don’t feel that getting help should be that hard. We tried to set up an organization where families can get whatever they need. We are all about believing, building and becoming.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Shields for Families?

Kathyrn Icenhower: To be honest, I got really mad. I was working for the Los Angeles County and I was in charge of programs, planning, and development. We had a massive drug epidemic and in 1987  The Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center alone delivered 1,200 neo-natal infants that were exposed prenatally to drugs. Children were being ripped from their families and in most cases being placed far away. Our models for delivering treatment for substance abuse were not effective. So, I developed a model where women could bring their children with them to treatment every day and we had no funding. I met with the Assistant Director of the Alcohol and Drug program for the state to present my idea. At the time there was nothing like this in the country and she literally laughed me out of her office.

What I didn’t realize at the time, is that there were two doctors were presenting a similar idea at the state level about the medical ramifications of these children being born with drugs in their systems. The state agreed with the doctors and went back to the same woman, who had laughed at me. She called showed them my plan and it became the pilot program for the State of California. That was 1990 and the first program called Genisis began with $350,000. Norma Mtume and Xylina Bean helped make this happen and the three of us are still together.

Charity Matters: How did you start?

Kathyrn Icenhower: We listened to families to see what they needed and then I used my skill as a grant writer and we began asking for funding to meet those needs. We were able to get funding to build our treatment program. Then the county wanted to keep some of these programs local so that is when we expanded into child welfare and mental health. Danielle was five when we started Shields.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I think one of the biggest challenges that Shields is very innovative with solutions and as a result, we are often waiting on funders or the community to catch up with us. We are very selective with our funding and we ensure that our funders mission needs to match ours. Sometimes we end up with a gap in services and end up doing a lot of pro bono work. 

Kathyrn Icenhower: Families don’t have problems in a vacuum and you can’t address them in that way. We have outcomes to prove that our programs are effective. We partner with ten different agencies that bring a wealth of information to us. In the past couple of years, there has been such a focus on accountability. While accountability is important, the amount of time for measurement audits and scrutiny is sometimes overwhelming. We have fifty grants from the federal government, the state, and private funders.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I was raised that everyone on this earth was put here for a purpose. I have been blessed to find mine. That is what keeps me going. To see people achieve things they never thought they could never do is the best and a blessing. This is my purpose and I was blessed enough to be I born with this work watching my mom. I was there as a child as she did this. Helping to give people the skills they need to advocate for themselves really keeps me going.

Kathyrn Icenhower: My spirituality lead me here. I had a calling. I’m not going to lie, this is hard work. I would not have survived this had I not stayed in touch with the people I help for the past twenty-nine years. I am grounded by the people we serve. I can’t take any credit, I just listened. That is something everyone needs to do. I love attending all the events we do to remind me why I do this work every day. It is all necessary. These families remind me why I do what I do.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: The outside world defines family success differently. When I watch a family go through a treatment program and reach their goals. When our families become independent. When I see one of our teens help another through coping skills that we have taught them, I know we have made an impact. I tell all my families the line from Nanny McPhee, ” When you don’t want me but need me, I’ll be there. Go fly and call me to tell me how you are flying.”

Kathyrn Icenhower: I know we have made a difference when kids graduate from college. When mothers in treatment get their masters degrees. What we are able to accomplish changes, whole families. “We” made a difference when someone can have their children back. There are so many minute things. Seeing families being successful in accomplishing their goals and that they are caring for one another. We have been able to change the trajectories of entire families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: With our charter schools these are students who have been kicked out of a traditional school for a host of reasons. On average our students are about a year behind when they start with us.  Forty percent are homeless youth, involved with child welfare or probation and we have a ninety percent graduation rate with 85% transferring to a four-year college.

Book of Joy

Kathryn Icenhower: We serve over 10,000 families a year with 350 full-time staff and a thirty million dollar budget. Historically, our models have been very successful, our treatment centers have an eighty percent success rate versus the national average of twenty-five percent for long term treatment. We have an upfront assessment plan when a child needs to be removed from the home due to drugs or abuse, we assist the family with services for treatment and do whatever we can to help keep the child at home or make sure the parents voluntarily let the child go while they get help. Within a year and a half of implementing the program, we have reduced the out of home removal by 62% and are now training other agencies on how to use our skills.   We saved the County of Los Angeles over one hundred million dollars and that program became embedded in multiple other programs.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned to always speak for what is right. My mom showed me how.

Kathyrn Icenhower: When Danielle was little we were at a meeting and she spoke up for something that made her upset. She has always done that which makes me proud. This journey has made me stronger. The challenges may try to knock you down but I’ve had to learn to trust myself and to maintain my faith, that it is all going to be ok.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned the ability to be humble and vulnerable. Sometimes we all take for granted everything that we have.  I am always humbled by what I learn about resiliency and faith from those we serve. To watch them working towards those goals that every human being deserves. Being open is a constant reminder of what is actually meaningful in this lifetime. This work is a constant reality check that it is not the money that gives you status but what you have to offer from within.

Kathyrn Icenhower: I have learned to always have faith. I must always do what I believe is correct no matter how difficult that path may seem and have faith that will carry me through. 

Charity Matters

 

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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.

Help Us Adopt

All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about what Help Us Adopt does?

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt began in 2007 at our kitchen table and an idea to help build families through adoption. Our platform was families combined with a commitment to equality, something everyone could believe in. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer. 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. We do that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Help Us Adopt?

Becky Fawcett: I was raised that we were fortunate, there will always be people with more and always with less but more importantly, be grateful for what you have. When my husband Kipp and I realized that Invetro Fertilization (IVF) wasn’t going to work and adoption was going to cost $40,000 I thought, what would happen if we didn’t have this money? I knew how much motherhood meant to me and that I could just barely afford this, but where would I have gone if I didn’t have the resources?  So, I began to look for organizations that helped families to fund adoptions and couldn’t find one that didn’t dictate how someone adopts.

I never intended to start this. My original intention was to give my marketing and pr skills as a volunteer to an existing grant organization. The more I looked I realized that the only existing organizations were limited in their thinking, giving small amounts of money to help fund adoptions, charging expensive application fees and were really patching the problem. These organizations were dictating how someone adopts. I thought who am I to tell families that they have to fit the traditional mold to adopt?  Everyone grows up dreaming of a family. We knew we wanted to support all who had a dream of having a family.

That is why I started this because it just didn’t exist.  So in 2007, I set out to tell this story that I knew I had to tell. Raising the initial funds was easy, until the recession….

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Becky Fawcett: Our biggest challenge is raising money. Finding big angel donors is a lot of hustle for the million plus dollars we raise a year. Finding those donors who are investment donors. The other challenge is that there is still a stigma about adoption and a lot of misinformation about adoption out there and what makes a family.  It is frustrating the language used around adoption. 

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

Becky Fawcett: So many things, number one thing is that a lot of people thought we would fail and we have succeeded. Strangers have come to us and want to get involved, which is huge. We are doing groundbreaking work not just for adoption but for family equality. I love leading the charge here and I have become very comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I love building things and I believe Help Us Adopt can be even bigger. The last and most important thing is that helping people is infectious! 

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

Becky Fawcett: The minute we read an application from a family I know we are going to make a difference. When we award  a grant we know we have moved the needle. We relieve families from debt in some cases, in some situations our funding helps to speed up the process of adopting their child. I know we help people the minute that grant is awarded. When the child gets home that is when the story starts getting told.

We can watch our work grow up before our eyes and that makes me SO excited! When we watch these children grow up and get Christmas and birthday cards of these beautiful families. Adoption is my world, this is my children’s lives and I need to make it better for everyone. For my children, for their birth mothers and all birth mothers who make the most difficult decisions in the face of adversity that none of us will ever understand. I am advocate for them and their rights as well and I never expected to be here.

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

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt is now in our 12th year and are awarding on average a family a week a grant. When we started Help Us Adopt we only had $100,000 to award. Now, we have four grant cycles at $150,000 each year and our average grants are about nine thousand dollars. This puts us at helping a family a week for 2019.

A lot of blood sweat and tears have gone into this.  It is hard work but a steady progressive upward climb. Everything we do is slightly different and we run our nonprofit like a business. Our issue is a unique and such an untold story. People think it is easy to adopt and that it should be free. When we start to tell people the challenges in adoption and about the children that need homes, people say, “I had no idea what can I do? ”  Every single donor big or small makes a big difference by helping the life of a child. We put kids in homes and build families and everyone can relate to building a family.

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

Becky Fawcett: I know that every job I have ever had lead me to this. I have learned to always ask, the worst thing that can happen is that someone can say no. People are waiting to be asked. Tell people you need help they want to help.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Becky Fawcett: I don’t even know how to put that into wordsI know I am not the person I was fourteen years ago. I am such a better version of myself in so many ways. The biggest change has been my level of compassion. I think I am much more aware now that you really never know what someone is dealing with. I didn’t tell people what I was going through when I struggled to have children. I’ve learned I have had to trust strangers, my children’s birth mothers and so many others along the way.  I know I’m far from perfect but I do know the instant love I had with my children has changed my life forever.

 

Charity Matters

 

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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.

Changing children’s lives:Centinela Youth Services

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Office Benny Abucejo and Executive Director Jessica Ellis

In my crazy life one thing always seems to lead to another. This past Christmas I met the amazing Jessica Ellis at a holiday work party. Jessica is the Executive Director for an incredible nonprofit called Centinela Youth Services. Their mission is to reduce the number of youth attached to the criminal justice system. After last week’s conversation with the remarkable Jill Weiss from UpRising Yoga, I thought the time to circle back with Jessica was now. There is so much work happening in the juvenile justice system and I wanted to know more.

It truly never ceases to amaze me how a  simple idea can impact generations of lives in such a positive way. That is exactly what happened in the 1970s when a few Inglewood police officers recognized that kids who were doing stupid things didn’t really need jail, they needed guidance. More than that, these juveniles’ needed to own their mistakes and face (literally eye to eye) the person that they had harmed.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about what Centinela Youth Services (CYS) does?

Jessica Ellis: Centinela Youth Services, or CYS as we call it, mission is to reduce the number of vulnerable high needs youth attached to the juvenile justice system in partnership with the Los Angels Police Department, seven other police departments, Inglewood and Compton School Districts, the Public Defender and the District Attorney. We work to keep kids out of the justice system and service the victims of crimes in the process in order to create a more human approach to healing.

When our kids and the victims of crime meet face to face they are put together with two trained community volunteers. We are healing the child and the victim and the community. Our volunteers are the true champions. The magic is bringing two people together towards resolution.

Charity Matters: Give us a little history of CYS?

Jessica Ellis: Between 1973 and 1975 there were a number of police officers in Inglewood, CA who thought that there were kids who really needed to be helped rather than arrested. A couple guys on the police force on their own started to connect these kids to after school programs or counseling rather than to jail. It ended up demonstrating that there was a need for this. It became more than they could do on top of their day job so the city of Inglewood along with five local cities ended up coming together to charter our nonprofit to divert students from arrest to counseling.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jessica Ellis: The interesting thing for us right now is that there is a very unique window of opportunity that has been going on the past couple years for our kind of work in restorative justice. We have been doing diversion (from juvenile hall) since the 1970s and restorative justice since the early 90s and now it is sort of the new hip thing and all of the sudden there is political will for this work and a quite a bit of it.

We have been doing this work in actively transforming the juvenile justice system and our model has influenced others to replicate our program across the state and country. We started the first diversion program in LA County, so when a child is picked up the arrest is not recorded on their record if they complete the diversion program successfully that they have been assigned. While the replication is hugely exciting, we get pulled in as the experts to help replicate our work for this juvenile justice transformation. We don’t necessarily get funded to be the experts. So the challenge is to meet our core capacity  and help to  expand and replicate work. 

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

Jessica Ellis: What I love most is that we transcend all criminal justice systems. We bring people face to face to resolve conflicts. We bring the child face to face with the victim of the crime and this two sided approach brings us back to our humanity. It is so much more rewarding. A lot of us have been impacted by both  sides of the justice system, I have close family members who have spent time in prison and I have a family members who was murdered. People that I love have hurt other people. We need to recognize both of those sides and that we can repair humanity, move forward, make people whole and not just give up and throw away people, especially kids.

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

Jessica Ellis: I know that we have made a difference when a child connects with the person that they have harmed.  A fifteen-year old boy vandalized a school really badly with graffiti everywhere. He really did a huge amount of damage. The principal was so angry he didn’t want to meet with him. The principal sat in the room with the images of the damage on his laptop fueling his anger. The boy walked into the room and the principal would not look up at him. 

When the mediator asked the boy why he wrote bad things about his school and his teachers. The boy didn’t answer. The boy’s mother said to her son, “Tell the principal about what your teachers did.” The young boy tells his principal that when his father went to jail, his teachers were kind and that they bought him clothes and food. The principal now looked at this boy now with humanity. He said, “Your dad went to jail?” The boy replied, “Yes, and I was angry.” The two began talking about art because some of the “damage” was very artistic. The principal loved art as well. He ultimately mentored the boy and enrolled him in a special art program and had him draw a mural at the school

Resolution like this happens everyday. This is very typical of our work. One third of kids are dealing with some sort of mental illness in their homes, one third deal with trauma…we see so many kids do dumb things on the heals of a parent’s death. Kids act out so often due to trauma . Our system is set up to feed that anger and bipolarity, the prison system does not get to the underlying issues where we do. 

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been? Number  of people impacted, funds raised?

Jessica Ellis: Our greatest impact is that we have created a space where kindness and compassion can grow for over 1,000 children a year. We believe that our kids deserve quality. Our crime victims have a 98% satisfaction rate with our work, the kids rate our program fair and equitable 96% of the time.  Our recidivism rate (or the rate with which students are rearrested) is significantly reduced. If you lock kids up they have a higher chance of going back to jail by two-thirds. If you don’t lock them up but put them on probation there is a 23% to 33% of recidivism. Our kids a have less than 8%rate.

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

Jessica Ellis: It is so easy as humans to want to fix or to blame and to not look at ourselves. If we are helping other people resolving conflicts at work, how can we do this in our own families and lives? Looking at our own lives reminds us how hard this work is and how important.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jessica Ellis: Our work is having such a huge impact here in California. Nationally there is so much discord. All politics aside, the amount of change we are making here in California that moves the criminal justice system to be better for kids, just gives me so much hope. We are seeing law enforcement, District Attorneys, community advocates, criminal justice reformers all coming together to make this change. 

Having hope is a good thing to have.

Charity Matters.

 

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Uprising Yoga

 

While I am still compiling my final New Years resolutions one of them is definitely to do more yoga. In a recent yoga class I was talking to my instructor about her work volunteering in juvenile hall teaching trauma informed yoga with an organization called Uprising Yoga. My yoga teacher and friend introduced me to the amazing and beyond uplifting founder, Jill Ippolito Weiss. Jill has taken her gifts to bring yoga to both underserved communities and to the incarcerated kids at juvenile hall.

I came away from our conversation inspired, invigorated and moved.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Uprising Yoga Does?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: The mission of Uprising Yoga is to bring trauma informed yoga to the incarcerated and to underserved communities. Trauma informed yoga helps people understand the impact of trauma on your entire mind and body, it helps understand the imprint left on the brain.

We have now had such growth that we are training the trainers to bring our program to social workers, probation staff and more teacher awareness. We are building sustainable business models where others can take our curriculum into their communities and use to provide trauma informed yoga.

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

Jill Ippolito Weiss: In the summer of 2010, I was dating a man named Nick, now my husband and he came home from work and was shaking and upset. I asked what was wrong and he explained that he had just toured a youth prison camp. He described what he saw and I asked him, “Can I teach yoga there?” 

I was working at a yoga college with my friend Mary and she was trying to put a group of instructors together to teach in juvenile hall already. Between the two of us we tried to find a way to actually get into juvenile hall. Getting clearance to work in prisons is a big deal. For months we tried to offer our services and got nowhere. Then in 2011, Nick and I were at a Christmas party and I was talking to a man who worked in the prison system and told him what I wanted to do. He and his colleagues all reached out and said, “When do you want to start?” So Mary, Nick and I began teaching trauma informed yoga on Tuesday nights to juvenile hall’s most vulnerable kids, the foster care sexually trafficked minors. 

Slowly, the classes began to grow and grow. We received a grant to determine how yoga was helping these kids. A friend said, “Have you thought about starting a nonprofit?”  So in 2012 we started officially. We were having a fund raiser and I called my mom to ask if she would donate. She asked what for and I told her to help the kids in juvenile hall. My mom said,” Jill, I picked you up there when you were a kid.” I was speechless because I honestly did not remember that I had been in the juvenile hall that I was now teaching in. Because I didn’t remember I began to study trauma and how it affects your brain and how we heal from trauma. That is how I connected trauma and yoga. 

I knew that I had gotten into trouble and I knew that recovery and yoga had saved my life. I hadn’t really been able to figure out why I was drawn to incarcerated youth until that moment. What pulled at my heart is that my mom came for me and no one is coming for these kids.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I had no idea when I started how this was going to grow and expand. Our biggest challenge is that there is not enough man power and so much need that we simply can not meet.

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

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Connection and the stories I hear about what we do works. The thank you notes that I receive from students that say, “Thank you for letting my body detox.” It makes me high on the universe . My work matters. The ultimate gift is hearing that how you changed someone’s life for the better.

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

Jill Ippolito Weiss: There are so many ways but when we receive a letter, an email or a picture from juvenile hall saying, “Thank you for caring about us.” I know we are teaching life skills and that what we teach lasts a lifetime. I was recently asked to participate in a book about best practices for yoga in the criminal justice system. When people recognize me for my work that is touching.

We recently had a hostage/shooter situation at our local Trader Joes a block from our home.  The day after the situation I called volunteered my services to teach trauma informed yoga to the hostages.  I felt so helpless and thought what can one person do to offer their gifts and talents?  There was so much pain and trauma in my own neighborhood. So now we come together once a week and the trauma informed yoga has brought us all together. The yoga is healing these victims of violence and has given me an opportunity to use my gifts to let others know I care. These hostages have told me how this class has healed them.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact? The successes you have had?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: Our impact is on many levels. It can be as small as what we do for one person with our one on one work or large when we do large events. We know that violence goes down significantly after we work in the prisons. Today is our work is recognized nationally and internationally. Our Uprising Yoga curriculum is spreading across the country because it works and people are replicating our model. That is when you know your work has impact.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned since beginning Uprising Yoga and how has this experience changed you?

Jill Ippolito Weiss: I have learned that people are good and want to keep doing good.  Once the nonprofit got started, people who cared came out of the woodwork to volunteer, to help, to donate and that literally shifted my entire perception of humanity. I didn’t know people had SO much good in them. I continue to believe that.

This experience made me go from suspicion and confusion into understanding why I went through my pain and how my healing process became available to others. I understood what my own healing journey meant. The yoga just didn’t heal me but it also healed everyone around me. My husband Nick has been a part of this entire journey and I feel that our love is shared out into a community.

Charity Matters

 

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It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

“There are those who see the need and respond, I consider those people my heroes.”

Fred Rogers

 

As the New Year kicks into gear I have been thinking about what is important and what to focus on this year. There is so much negativity in our world or at least in the world presented to us in the media. How does one small voice overcome such noise? In the midst of my pondering, I unexpectedly watched the documentary film, Won’t you be my neighbor? There right in front of me was the answer coming from Mr. Rogers.

 

A quiet and gentle man who had the idea to give children something meaningful in the midst of the turmoil of the late 1960s.  Fred Roger’s mission was to build a community or neighborhood on the basic principles of loving your neighbor and yourself. He said,” Love is at the root of everything.” His life’s work was to make good and he believed that the power of television could build a real community where he could inspire the best in children to do just that.

When I think about New Years and what to focus on in 2019, Mr. Roger’s life and work seemed to capture the true essence of what really matters. There were so many beautiful messages in this film that it is impossible to share them all. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways and something to think to about as you begin looking at what matters in your year ahead.

 

“Although children’s “outsides” may have changed a lot, their inner needs have remained very much the same. Society seems to be pushing children to grow faster, but their developmental tasks have remained constant.”

 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 

It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.”

 

What can change the world?  When someone gets the idea that love can abound and be shared.” 

 

Charity Matters

 

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Many Hopes

 

” If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are stories and then there is this story, one of the most remarkable journeys I have encountered in my nonprofit adventures. A beautiful tale of survival, love, goodness, and hope. The setting is Kenya, where there are 2.6 million homeless children and sixty percent of the country survives on less than a dollar a day. Like any great tale, there is a heroine, her name is Gift. The story opens when Gift’s mother died of AIDS. Gift was six years old and was carrying her six-month-old baby brother on her back to find food and medical help for him. A group of street children told Gift that the baby she was carrying was dead. These street children took Gift to meet their friend Anthony.

Anthony Mulongo

Anthony Mulango was a prominent journalist in Kenya and from a well to do family. He was doing a report on the street children in Mombasa and had befriended many of them when young Gift appeared. Anthony brought Gift into his home, hired a woman to take care of her, sent her to school and essentially raised Gift as his daughter.

The story takes a twist in 2007 when Irish journalist Thomas Keown was traveling to Kenya and met Gift and Anthony. He came back to the United States where he had a newspaper column published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Thomas wrote a column about sacrifice and mentioned Anthony and Gift. The article’s response came with letters and checks which became the start of Many Hopes. I spoke with Thomas this week and I came away from our conversation in awe of what love, dedication, and vision combined can achieve. Here is our conversation:

Gift

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Many Hopes Does?

Thomas Keown: We rescue, educate and advocate for children. Fundamentally we believe that children who suffer injustice are the most powerful agents of change. We want children to defeat the causes of injustice that they survived. We work for Gift, she is the true founder of Many Hopes. Many Hopes is more than a school it is a long term strategic solution to the corruption and poverty that exploits the most vulnerable children. When the poorest children are educated alongside children with means they help one another to have confidence and to build a network that will make them free to make their own choices and not need charity.

Growing up in Belfast during a time of turmoil. I learned early and was privileged to witness that lessons that seemingly unsolvable problems can and do have solutions if the right ingredients come to bare. If you can transform a generation, you can transform anything.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew that you needed to start Many Hopes?

Thomas Keown: When I met Anthony I was struck by his life of sacrifice and I wondered what I would have done at 28 if I had seen Gift? I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to make the sacrifice that Anthony made. Would I have taken Gift into my home and arranged for the burial of her brother?

I had seen poverty in my travels before going to Kenya in 2007. I came home from my trip and wrote my weekly newspaper column and talked about what people need to do to have a useful and purposeful life. I mentioned Anthony and Gift in the last two paragraphs of the column, as an example of people doing that. I asked people to consider to use their lives and resources for good. I had never thought about a nonprofit organization.

The power of the story kicked in and the reality is that every human being wants to be impactful.  I had never seen letters before like we did from this article. An editor in New York began to forward all the emails she received and reached out to me. People wanted to do good, to meet me and to help Anthony. In the beginning, we were just trying to help Anthony and raise some money. I knew he was very smart and that I had access to resources living in the States so I volunteered to try to raise funds and became part-time and six years ago came on full time for Many Hopes.

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

Thomas Keown: Most fundamentally I’m a  a Christian, this is what I am on earth to do. My driving motivation is my faith. Growing up in Northern Ireland during a violent time I have always been driven by work that supports justice. I believe the work that we are doing is transformational. I see results in the lives of individual children. I am fueled to keep doing this work when I see students who should be dead are now in college instead. When you get tired you just need to look at the individual milestones.

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

Thomas Keown: To be honest, sometimes I don’t know we have made a difference. You don’t always know the love and education that a six year old child receives will do to them, you do know it will do something. We see girls are afraid who become trusting. We see children find faith. We see the worst of what humans can do to one another and the best. Then you see one of our first students like Brenda. Brenda told us from the time she was little that she wanted to be an attorney. She said, ” I hope I can become an attorney to defend someone’s rights because someone defended my rights.” Seeing Brenda graduate with her law degree and then to use her degree to advocate for other children, like herself, that is when I see the work we have done.

I also see the people who support our work. The favorite part of my job is inviting people to partner with us and to feed their souls.I get to help people discover or rediscover the joy of generosity and the pleasure of changing other peoples lives. We get to change these donors lives and our children in Kenya’s lives as well.

Charity Matters: Tell us what successes you have had?

Thomas Keown:We have built girls’ homes, built a school for 900 boys and girls where students of priveledge and poor students are educated together. We are reservoir of aspiration that is narrow but deep. We are not trying to educate millions of people. Rather we are  focusing on love and education on these few, we are creating leaders and influencers who will create great change.

Charity Matters: how has this experience changed you?

Thomas Keown: I have learned to overcomeI am much more committed and persistent than I used to be. I know that I am doing the thing that I am supposed to be doing. I am more optimistic than ever having seen donors and children’s lives changed. I have no unmet needs.

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

Thomas Keown: Life lessons, I’ve learned so many in the past eleven years. I have learned self care and to rest. This work is so important that often we keep pushing on overdrive but I have learned to rest. I have learned that I don’t need to worry about rejection or failure but to simply overcome. 

I used to need tangible success but have learned that you don’t know the immeasurable lasting impact you have on someone’s life until years later. We don’t always know who we will carry so when in doubt be kind.

Charity Matters

 

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Adopt Together

Amazing and inspiring people are all around us every single day, and yet somehow we don’t know their stories. These stories and people continue to fascinate and inspire me. I seek them out, track them down and want to shout from the roof tops their stories.

This is the incredible story about a guy named Hank Fortner, who grew up in an amazing family made up of biological children, foster children and adopted children. His family fostered 36 children and adopted six children from five different countries while he was growing up. Friends who wanted to adopt a child began coming to him and telling him how expensive adoption can be, often times up to $50,000 to adopt a child.  He thought there must be a better way to help these children and these families. This is his story…

So, in January 2012 Hank decided to create AdoptTogether which is the world’s largest nonprofit crowdfunding platform for adoption. Think of it as a hybrid version of KickStarter or GoFundMe, except for a nonprofit, where every donation is tax deductible. This is how it works:

However, that wasn’t even enough for Hank. He wanted to go one step further and inquired about a World Adoption Day, it turns out that it didn’t exist. It also seemed that the United Nations was in charge of approving and  sanctioning such a day. Hank was not deterred and on November 9th, 2014 he launched the first World Adoption Day campaign.

Today, AdoptTogether has raised over $17 million dollars for more than 4,000 families in just over six years. Their dream of a world with a family for every child continues.  So this Friday, November 9th celebrate family and the incredible humans that bring us together every single day.

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

Nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to 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 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, Molly saw clearly 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.​ ​

Molly is the ultimate connector as is Project Giving Kids. PGK  reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. This weekend was a full circle moment for me as Project Giving Kids came to LA for the first time for their Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Day​ ​LA. The day was  hosted by Kidspace Children’s Museum, a place very near and dear to my heart and twenty years ago the main source of my volunteer work.  ​

However, this past Sunday, Kidspace 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 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, Do Good Bus, Food on Foot LA, Heal the Bay, Heaven on Earth Society, Grades of Green, Karma Rescue, LA Family Housing, North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry,PATH, School on Wheels, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Together We Rise.

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 pretty much said it all….

Charity Matters

 

 

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The Clarity Project

 

Earlier this week I posted about losing legends, well it appears that on Monday, we lost another one. Her name was Claire Wineland and she was 21 years old. Claire was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that creates an overabundance of mucus and ultimately results in respiratory failure. She grew up knowing that she was terminally ill and what we would think of as tragic, she simply used as fuel. Her message and life were truly remarkable.

Claire endured over 30 surgeries in her short 21 years and spent an incredible amount of time in the hospital. About six years ago, after being in a coma for over 20 days, flat-lining twice and being given a less than 1% of survival, Claire survived. She came out of the experience determined to help others with Cystic Fibrosis. From that near death experience began the creation of the Claire’s Place Foundation,whose mission is to relieve families financially with CF, to help with their rent, mortgage, car payments, etc.

The foundation became a way to celebrate Claire’s life. She once said,”It is important for people who are sick to feel empowered. It gives them a reason to take care of themselves.” And if that wasn’t enough, Claire decided shortly after in high school to begin a YouTube series called The Clarity Project, where she talks about topics such as how to talk to a sick person or even what it is like to live like you are dying.

Claire moved out on her own, decided not to go to college because she was not sure she would live long enough to graduate. She spent her time sharing her inspirational message doing Ted talks, running her foundation and recently partnered with Zappos to take on project similar to Once Upon a Room by decorating children’s hospital rooms in Las Vegas.

Claire’s message is a reminder to us all. If you give yourself one gift today, listen to Claire’s talk (above). She was a reminder to each of us how precious life is, how blessed we are to have our health and regardless of our circumstances, that someone always has less than we do.

Claire lived her life as an example to each of us. Even in her death her organs were donated to help over 50 people. In her last video Claire said, “Go enjoy your life. I mean really seriously, go enjoy it, cause there are people fighting like hell for it.” Claire’s legacy tells us that we not only have the power to help…. but more than that…..to live our lives fully.

Charity Matters.

 

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Learning Lab Ventures

Last December, I was at a friend’s holiday party and sat next to this amazing woman and we started to chat about philanthropy. The holiday celebration ended and we vowed to continue the lively conversation another time. So, two weeks ago we reconnected to continue the conversation, six months later.  The young woman I met was named Rochelle Gore Fredston and her philanthropic journey was and is inspiring. The last time we met, Rochelle was the mother of two little girls and when we sat down two weeks ago she beamed as we discussed the pending new addition her family.

Rochelle and I discussed how she got into the nonprofit world and the journey she has been on with her incredible work to break the cycle of generational poverty. She is the founder of  the Philanthropic Society of Los Angeles (PSLA) and more recently has taken over Learning Lab Ventures, a nonprofit that is an intensive after school and educational enrichment program that turns underserved students into college graduates. I have to say after our conversation it is official…. Rochelle is truly beautiful inside and out and her passion for making a difference is an inspiration to us all. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

charity matters: Tell us a little about your back round and your journey into the nonprofit world?

Rochelle Gores Fredston: My dad came to the United States with very little and worked extremely hard. He taught us that we had to work hard and do better, not just for ourselves but for others. Some my earliest memories were feeding the homeless, as young children in Michigan, where we grew up. My brother has Cerebral Palsy and we were all raised to be involved and supportive of one another and our community.

charity matters: how did you begin the Philanthropic society of los angeles?

Rochelle Gore Fredston: After college, I was moving to Los Angeles and I reached out to a family friend and said that I wanted to get involved in something philanthropic in LA.  Our friend connected me with the Children’s Institute, which is a great organization that provides mental health training and head start programs to over 20,000 children in Los Angeles. At the time I was in my twenties and the group at Children’s Institute was mainly people in their forties and fifties,  so I wanted to get some of my friends involved.

I owned a boutique and have always loved fashion, so I thought it would be fun to have a fantastic fashion show and involve a big group of millineals. I realized that my friends really wanted to do something but didn’t know how to start. So we created a group called PSLA to raise funds and support Children’s Institute. For eight years we very successfully raised funds with our events and each year our PSLA group of about seventy-five was giving their funding to educational projects for the Children’s Institute. We even created a family fund to help families with specific needs.

charity matters: so how did you get from the PSLA to Learning Lab Ventures?

Rochelle Gore Fredston: After eight amazing years with great success, our group at PSLrealized that they still wanted to do more to support education, especially for at risk youth. So we began to explore the idea of funding another organization that was in need but also that had a great success rate. So as fate would have it, in 2017 we connected with Hathaway-Sycamores who were running an after school educational program and they asked if we wanted to take over? That program was Learning Lab and now Learning Lab Ventures.

Charity Matters: tell us about learning lab ventures?

Rochelle Gore Fredston: Learning Lab was founded in 1982 by an amazing man named Simon Gee whose passion is tutoring and mentoring students. Today we still follow the incredible work that our founder began and have built upon his foundation. Our mission is to disrupt generational poverty via an intensive after schools education and enrichment program. We aim to enable underrepresented students to graduate from top colleges equipped with a college degree, skills and experience they need to excel in the workforce and beyond.

charity matters: Tell us about some of your success at learning lab ventures?

Rochelle Gore Fredston: At LLV we take students from age three all the way until their first job out of college. We have 100% high school graduation rate and 95% of our students go to a four year college with scholarships. We have students at Harvard, Ivy League’s and incredible four year colleges. We provide our students with mentors and our hope is to eliminate all the red tape to get them through school and into their first job.

We have focused on our core, education, which is what we do well.  With LLV we have taken an old nonprofit and made it better with great partnerships and resources.

charity matters: How has this journey in philanthropy changed you and what have you learned about yourself from your work in serving others?
Rochelle Gore Fredston: When I began this journey, I was newly married and getting involved in Los Angeles. Over the past decade I have committed myself to helping the most at risk youth in LA, and during this time I also had two beautiful girls. Having children of my own has made this a very personal mission for me and I am grateful that I am able to give back in a meaningful way.
charity matters:

Thank you Rochelle for  your extraordinary commitment to breaking the generational cycle of poverty through education. You told us,”I grew up to do better. Education is how we can do better and it is my job to help them do better.”  Thank you for inspiring us all to do better and be better!

 

charity matters
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Eric’s Kids

The beauty of Charity Matters is that my friends love to connect me to their inspiring friends and then I turn get to share them with you. A few weeks ago, I had a girlfriend connect me an amazing woman named Jennifer Caspar, the founder of Eric’s Kids. Jennifer has had a remarkable life for someone as young as she is and is the perfect example of someone who has used all of their challenges and gifts to make others lives better. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

charity matters: Give us a little insight to your backround before starting Eric’s Kids?

Jennifer Caspar: When my husband Eric and I moved to LA from the East Coast  for his work, it was such an exciting time. I worked in the nonprofit space in affordable housing, loved my career where I could use my entrepreneurial skills, creative abilities and problem solving skills to help support the homeless. We had two young daughters and in January 2009, I left my job. At the same time, my husband Eric decided to follow his passion of education and make a career change. So, for the first time we were both at home together and working on separate projects. It was a very special time for both of us.

charity matters: what was the moment you knew you wanted to start a nonprofit?

Jennifer Caspar: When Eric died unexpectedly on September 1st, 2009 I knew that we needed to do something in his memory. Our girls were ten and thirteen at the time and I knew that somehow we needed to help children who had lost a parent and knew that we needed to do something to honor Eric’s passion for education. We were fortunate that we had life insurance and some financial resources and knew we somehow had to help those that did not.

I reached out to my old boss and asked for her guidance and she pointed me to the California Community Foundation that partners donors and nonprofits. They explained that we could create a donor advised fund under their 501c3 and they could manage all of the administrative work that can be overwhelming for many nonprofit organizations. I was overwhelmed enough and knew this was the right step. Talking this all through we came up with the perfect way to honor Eric, to help grieving children and to support Eric’s legacy with education.

Charity matters: Tell us what ERic’s kids does?

Jennifer Caspar: Eric’s Kids is a nonprofit that provides scholarships, mentoring and grief support to at risk children who have lost a parent and are in financial need. We ensure that underserved kids affected by loss are provided with a quality education and grief support so they will have an equal opportunity to succeed. The fund works to provide financial support and services to children who would otherwise be unable to attend high quality, safe nurturing schools in their central Los Angeles neighborhoods.

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

Jennifer Caspar: Different things at different times. All of the people who support our work and cause continue to inspire me and knowing that I am not alone in this work really helps.

charity matters: when do you know that you have made a difference?

Jennifer Caspar: When I receive letters from the students we support. When families reach out to me to say how grateful they are that their child can stay in the same school regardless of the loss of a parent. Parents knowing that despite their grief and loss that somehow they are going to be ok gives me great comfort.

charity matters: tell us about your success?

Jennifer Caspar: We work to constantly fund as many students as we can. In eight years we have had seven fundraising events, supported over thirty plus students and funded over 100 years of school.

charity matters: what life lessons have you learned from this experience and how has this journey changed you?

Jennifer Caspar: This journey has changed me in many ways. I’ve learned about leadership and getting other people involved. I’ve learned how to inspire and motivate people in positive ways . The life lessons learned from this journey are all about gratitude and paying it forward. People want to help and be a part of doing something good for the world.

charity matters: what do think Eric would think of your work?

Jennifer Caspar: Eric helped me become myself in our 18 years of marriage. He was always my cheer squad. I think this would make Eric happy. I think he would be proud of how we (myself and the girls) have spent our time and focused our energy these past eight years. This is part of our life. Knowing that Eric was always moved by children who had a hard upbringing and that his legacy now gives kids an opportunity to go to bat would inspire him.

Charity Matters: Thank you Jennifer for inspiring us all. Despite loss, grief and challenges you found a way to honor Eric’s memory and change the lives of so many children and families through your work. You are an inspiration and we are sure that Eric is beyond proud.

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 © 2018 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.

 

 

 

Saving Innocence

“i raise up my voice-not so i can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard….we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Malala Yousafzai

There are so many things that make us uncomfortable. ….driving past the homeless and seeing the ravages of war on the nightly news but this topic is beyond being uncomfortable, it is down right unimaginable. The topic is human trafficking or modern day slavery. It is something that we want to believe only happens in other countries but the harsh reality is that it happens here in the United States of America to over 300, 000 children a year. Children who are sold and enslaved into prostitution, like a product or good sold….but these are our children.

Last week, I was invited to a friend’s home for a Friends With Causes dinner. Her guest was the nonprofit Saving Innocence and the speakers were the Executive Director and a young girl who was sold here in LA at the age of 11. We will call her O and her story was truly unbelievable and haunting.

This inspirational twenty-two year old girl told us her unimaginable story. Raised by  a loving single mom who worked two jobs to support them in house full of love and extended family. O accidentally discovered at the age of 11 that she was adopted and the news sent her reeling. She was confused, angry, sad and upset. At the same time, her mother had just broken up with her boyfriend. The boyfriend came to O’s school to ask how she was doing and offered her a ride home. That moment changed everything because he kidnapped her and sold into sex trafficking at age 11, right here in LA.

Founded in 2012 by actress, Kim Biddle, Saving Innocence are the first responders when trafficked children are identified by the police or other authorities.

The nonprofit arrives within 90 minutes with a Child Welfare and Probation officer. They take the child to the hospital, provide, food, clothing, emotional support and a safety plan and housing for the child. The child is given up to nine months of time, support, love, counseling. Saving Innocence works with the child to see the perpetrator through the justice system and then continues empowerment programs with these young children.

This incredible nonprofit has contracts with the probation offices, judges and prosecutors to help these children through the system and have shown the courts that children who have been commercially sexually exploited need intensive aftercare.

Today, O is working for Saving Innocence and helping the girls get through their ordeal of being held as part of a human trafficking ring. She mentors young girls, works with the police, social workers and empowers these children to become survivors, just as she has done, because of this remarkable organization. As I hugged 22 year old O and told her what an incredible inspiration and leader she is, she cried and said, “No one has ever called me a leader.”  When I told her that a leader is someone who uses their gifts and experience in the service of others, she smiled, hugged me again and said,”Then I guess I am a leader.”

charity matters.

 

Sharing is caring, if you are so moved or inspired, we would love you to share this to inspire another.

Copyright © 2018 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.