Voluntourism in 2022

It’s summertime and with that means travel and family trips. It seems that summer gets shorter every year and that means a very small windows for travel. I’m not letting that slow me down but rather am already beginning to plan for next year.

Our youngest will be graduating from college and it seems like the perfect time for a family trip that involves voluntourism or volunteering and travel. Since I have begun my research I thought I would share it with you. My first stop was a web-site chock full of information called Voluntourism.Org where you can learn about hundreds of opportunities and how to plan your trip.

Pre-planning check list:

A few things to keep in mind in the planning stages of your trip.

1. Do your homework

2. Ask yourself and your family what do you really want to achieve from this experience? Help others? Bond with your family? Get into a great college?

3. Choose a reputable organization to partner with

4. Involve your family in all the pre-planning process.

5. Document the experience with video, photos and journals.

There are thousands of online sources promising you and your family amazing experiences but finding reputable ones can be overwhelming. Here are a few volunteer programs that had some great endorsements:

Volunteer Programs to consider:

1. Global Volunteer Network

2. Cross Cultural Solutions

3. Rebuilding Together U.S. based program that builds homes across the country

4.  Pack for a Purpose

5.  Peace Jam

6.  Projects Abroad

There are also organizations that would love to have you visit learn about their mission, and volunteer to help further a given cause.  The downside is that you will have to do the investigation yourself by reaching out to organizations individually.  This can be a daunting task and challenging from a booking perspective. It can also be rewarding if you have a charity, organization, or cause you want to devote your time and efforts too.

Ecotourism is incredibly popular so if you are looking for a trip that involves working to save the planet or a species here are a few suggestions:

Ideas for Ecotourism travel:

1.  GoNomad

2.  Transitions Abroad

3.  GoAbroad 

4.  GoVoluntouring


So whether you go now or next year, travel near or far….know that your time is your greatest gift. Think about sharing that precious resource with your family in helping another. Those are the moments that make an impact on all involved.





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Looking back at West Coast Sports Associates

Summer is in full swing and it is a season when we all what to go outside and play. For many students who live in the inner city playing, sports more specifically isn’t an option. Twenty-five years ago four college buddies who loved sports decided to change all of that for thousands of kids across Southern California.

Join us today as we look back at a fantastic conversation with one of the founders of West Coast Sports Associates, Mike Gottlieb. As Mike shares the journey of turning a passion for sports into an incredible nonprofit organization that has raised millions for inner-city youth.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what West Coast Sports Associates does?

Mike Gottlieb: It’s not like a lot of other charities out there.  We found kind of a gap in the youth sports world that we’re hoping to fill and grow. Our niche is lower and middle-school-aged children who live in underserved areas, getting them access to team sports.  We all have such great experiences with youth sports growing up, that we just can’t imagine what things would be like for kids if they couldn’t afford to play sports? And there are so many benefits to youth sports.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start West Coast Sports Associates?

Mike Gottlieb: It all started with three really good friends of mine that I’ve known since college, Chip Eggers, Alan Lynch, and Mike Rosenberg. What we all have in common was a passion for sports. We didn’t necessarily have the end result of what West Coast sports Associates was but we knew we had something. A few morning breakfasts and we finally kind of came up with the concept.

We all have had such great experiences playing team sports growing up and we want to make sure that all kids had the same access. To start, we didn’t know what to do. So we decided to have an event where we’re each going to invite five or 10 friends of ours. We would host it, and tell people about our plan. And honestly, we’re not expecting anything.

Meanwhile, Alan was good friends with Steve Soboroff, who at the time, was the head of La Parks and Rec. Alan worked with Steve who identified a park in South LA called Jim Gilliam Park. They had a lot of at-risk kids who were foster kids and or their parents couldn’t afford to pay the entry fee to play flag football, soccer, basketball, or whatever sport. So we decided whether we put up $10,000 to support their programs for the year and let the park director pick the kids. He focused on kids who stayed out of trouble and went to school.  We put them all on scholarship.

We started in 1994 with just four of us committing $10,000 to today giving out about $200,000 a year. And it just happened because we all had this same passion for sports.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mike Gottlieb: Well, I would say when we first started, we grew slowly.  We were all volunteers for maybe the first 10 years. We had no, literally no help and we just did it all ourselves.  I think during Mike Rosenberg’s term, he finally brought on a part-time executive director. Over time the part-time Executive Director evolved into a full-time Executive Director.  Our treasurer and board members we’re all volunteers.

All of the founders have all taken turns being President. Between the four founders, everyone in our group, there’s a connection to one of the four of us. We all have this passion for sports. I guess you could say we turned an addiction to sports into something positive.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’re not here, because we’re searching for the next professional athlete. We’re just here to help the average kid just participate in sports. We want them to get the life lessons when you play sports, you have to be more organized with your time, learn time management, learn how to listen, follow directions and learn how to be a leader. The statistics about the future health of these kids that do and don’t participate in sports are really mind-boggling. Students who participate in sports have better grades, stay out of trouble, form friendships, have more self-confidence, are healthier and the list goes on. We are just trying to help the average kid and there are so many benefits that we know we are making a difference.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’ve been doing this so long. I read the other day that Russell Westbrook used to play sports at one of our parks. And there’s Tony who played for the Dallas Cowboys who played another park. So we do it enough, we’re going to get some success stories. Those success stories are, are pretty exciting, because you just you never know, the kid who can’t play, he’s going to do something else. In those underserved areas, that’s something else that may not be good. I think we all know in our hearts, that there are kids we’ve saved because they’ve been able to play sports. How many I don’t know that. I know for a fact that that happened.

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

Mike Gottlieb:  I would say, half of our programs are different parks in LA City Parks and Recs. The other half are nonprofits that directly do different sports like Heart Harlem lacrosse or Beat the streets for wrestling. We not only support the Parks and Recs departments but then, in addition,  give funds to nonprofits that are supporting work with special needs kids.

We did actually, the first-ever public-private partnership between The City of LA, twenty-some years ago with youth soccer. When you understand how AYSO works, they’re all volunteers and they don’t have a big budget, like the clubs. So they really have to just kind of scrap to get facilities to get fields. So we put together the first-ever partnership with LA. and have done more of those public-private partnerships since.  We’re trying to do more to empower a nonprofit or the parks.  The idea is that we hope when we start with a particular location, that we can get them off the ground, and ultimately they can become self-sufficient in raising their own funds. Then we can take that money and find someone else and that’s what we tried to do.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We have thought about expanding,  so we are doing more in Orange County. That was kind of a test model and we’ve sponsored some programs down here. Can we do something in San Diego, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Portland, and Seattle? Then we’re really on the whole west coast. I would love to be able to see this happen in other cities and there are other groups that do things like this. Not exactly, but in every major city there is some group that’s helping with youth sports. In theory, we could franchise. It would be great to see this adapted in other cities and help welcome.

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

Mike Gottlieb: Oh, gosh you know, you look back and realize we didn’t know when we started where we were going. In looking back on it I feel really good that not only have we helped the kids, but we’ve energized people in our group to go out to help our mission.  They’ve also expanded into other youth helping other youth out whether it’s sports or academics or other at-risk kids.  I think we’ve created an inertia that and we’re examples to other people. I think, “Okay, we’ve energized hundreds of people. And we’ve raised probably $5 million-plus but it’s just I think it’s the domino effect. A really positive domino effect.  We know without our work and without us, that doesn’t happen so that that feels good.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mike Gottlieb:  The other hope is that whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Whether it’s sports or a cure for a disease, whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Our hearts just happened to be sports and kids, because that was just pure.  Whatever your passion is, all you got to do is find one other person, and then talk about what you’d like to do. Don’t have any ambitious plans about how fast you grow, it can be small, if you just affect one other person, you’ve done something positive. That’s why I love what you’re doing, getting the stories out of the founders, in hopes that it’ll encourage other people to do the same thing.  You know, at the end of the day, give more than you get.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 33: Matt Kamin Nonprofit On the Rocks

Each of us walks a path in life that takes us with a multitude of twists and turns. Today’s guest, Matt Kamin is no exception. Matt has lived a life full of philanthropy in so many ways. Before Matt became the host of the popular podcast, Nonprofit on the Rocks...which is how we met and Co-Founder of Envision Consulting, he was a two-time nonprofit founder.

I am so excited to share this incredible conversation with Matt about his multitude of experiences in the nonprofit space. Matt’s story is the perfect example of how one seed of compassion turned into an inspiring life full of service. Matt is truly a ray of sunshine and you won’t want to miss our joyful and uplifting conversation.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Your early philanthropic experiences?

Matt Kamin: So that is a really good question. And I also agreed, where does that come from? Why do we take on jobs that pay nothing for more stress and more pressure at work? So I think that my nonprofit passion, the love that I have for this space comes from my grandma.

My grandmother was born with polio, and she moved to LA on her own with two kids. In the 1940s, she put together a booth at Santa Monica Pier. It was like a nickel and a dime machine and she saved her pennies.  She saved and started investing in real estate. This is a woman in the 1940s in LA on her own and she grew this empire, this actual real estate empire. So first off, I’m just beyond impressed by this woman who, who was able to go and make all this happen for her family. right. And as a huge part of that, she gave back.  I would tell you, like 25% of whatever it was that she made, she gave back to nonprofits.

As a child, she used me to raise money. I remember I think the first thing that I ever did was I helped auction off a car. One of her nonprofits was selling a donated car and she used me a six-year-old to sell tickets. That was my first taste and watching her do it and that was it. She also inspired my mom and my dad to also give back they chaired nonprofits as well. So in college when I came out, that was the time, and it was like, Okay, this is time for me. 

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

Matt Kamin:  I volunteered at the time it was called the Gay Lesbian center.  What we did was we went out on the weekends and talked to kids who were basically selling themselves in the park. The first kid that I talked to, had been kicked out of his home.  I remember looking at him, he was my age and he was on all the drugs you can possibly be on. He had a pimp and he was trying to make money in prostitution.  I  remember saying to myself, how did I get so lucky?   And that was it. That was the switch and when I said this is my life. And so I started a nonprofit at UCLA to bring support networks for gay kids at college. And that’s how my nonprofit career started.

I’m very proud of that college nonprofit because it still exists. They have a multi-million dollar budget, and it’s an international nonprofit.

Charity Matters: Now that you are helping nonprofit Founders, What are the biggest challenges you see?

Matt Kamin: Envision Consulting does both strategy and searches for nonprofits. That’s all we do. So it’s half strategy, half recruiting. On the strategy side, strategic plans, board retreats, mergers are huge things right now. Then on the search side, it’s recruiting for C suite individuals.. I’ll give you an example.  I have a friend who started a nonprofit. And, she has over the last few months, been losing faith in her organization, because she was not able to find the people to fundraise period.  She’s been like beating her head against the wall trying to figure out what to do. And so we’ve, we’ve had many conversations about what she can do.

 What I will say is most important is when you run a nonprofit is that it’s lonely at the top. You have to fundraise, you have to meet the budget, you have to report to your board of directors who are all volunteers. You have to deal with your staff, you have to deal with all kinds of things and especially in COVID, it’s been impossible. Loneliness at the top is what I will tell you is the most challenging part of being an executive director and a founder. 

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

Matt Kamin: We’ve been talking about this whole year. How do we keep going? How do we stay motivated? It’s hard and the honest answer is there are days that I just want to be done. But it’s really remembering why I do this at the end of the day, why it’s worth sometimes being yelled at by a client, right?

I’ll give you an example of what makes me so happy. We placed a CEO at a domestic violence shelter. We found her. She not only grew the organization but also received a grant for $5 million and just acquired another domestic violence shelter. So now they’re serving that many more victims of domestic violence. Big Wow. She is spectacular in every which way, but that is something that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for us.  So I may not be running a homeless shelter anymore. I may not be making those direct impacts on people’s lives. But she is and she wouldn’t have had that job and be doing this great work if it wasn’t for us.

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

Matt Kamin: This country’s become like the rest of the world, we’ve gotten ugly and we’re all politically just so divided. We can all get together no matter where you are, no matter who you are and we can volunteer at a soup kitchen to give out food to people who are hungry. Right, we can all do that?  I think that it’s really important for us in the nonprofit space and for us all to think about giving back.

The thing to remember is, there’s always going to be somebody who has more, but there’s also always going to be somebody who has less. And so what gets me going is remembering that and giving back.  I can always work harder to get the nicer car,  or whatever it is, but I always try to remember why I did this, to begin with.  I think that’s really important.

At the end of the day, that’s what my grandmother has taught me. You get to where you need to be in life and then don’t forget it.  Don’t forget.  Remember how lucky you are to give and give back regardless of where you are.  



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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

Episode 31: Raise The Barr

As we wrap up Season Two of our podcast, I can think of no greater guest than todays to conclude this inspirational season. Lori Barr is no stranger to inspirational seasons because much of her life has been based around her now-famous son’s inspirational football seasons. Lori is the proud mother of NFL Minnesota Viking’s outside linebacker, Anthony Barr. However, it is much more than his football career that makes her proud, it is Anthony’s work to serve others with their nonprofit, Raise The Barr that is truly inspiring.

Photo cred- Janae Johnson photography

Join us today for an incredible conversation with Lori Barr about her journey as a single mother to nonprofit founder. Lori shares her story of raising Anthony as a young mother and how they decided to give back to help other single moms finish their education and support their families. She is pure sunshine and inspiration, it is a conversation you don’t want to miss.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Raise The Barr does?

Lori Barr:  Raise The Barr’s mission is to increase opportunity and economic mobility for single parents, students, and their children through education. What that looks like, is providing holistic resources and support to low-income single parents, students who are in pursuit of a post-secondary degree training certification. The end goal of securing a career that offers a family-sustaining wage. We know that education is one pathway out of poverty. So that’s the road that we’ve taken because it was inspired by our own experiences.

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

Lori Barr:  It’s kind of a combination of a whole lot of things and an intersection of all these life experiences that brought us to this point. Growing up Catholic, we were always taught very, very early on that when the basket passed that we put a little something from our own piggy bank into the collection plate. As a result, that very early experience of helping your neighbor and paying attention to the experiences of others.

Then all this stuff happens through life and I end up getting pregnant at the age of 19.  I was going into my junior year at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. So, I kind of had to reprioritize my life and figure out how I was going to take care of myself and my small child. Those experiences kind of fueled the vision for Raise The Barr. 

In 2014, when Anthony was drafted in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, we held a youth football camp.  It was free and for the local community to get to meet Anthony.  He was kind of a local star and he wanted to bring all these people together. It was an amazing day, we had over 300 Kids, 150 volunteers, and all of these people coming together. After that experience, he and I sat down and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could harness this energy, and this enthusiasm, with your platform to really do something big and have a big impact on families like ours?” That’s where Raise the Barr was born.

It really started from our own stories and experiences. What we originally thought was let’s just start a scholarship fund for single moms like me, who are trying to do something to support their family but they may need a little support. We thought that support looked like a scholarship. Although that is still part of our overall programming, that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what single parents need in order to persist through post-secondary, it’s just one part of it.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Lori Barr: Right, it is hard work. I think that recognizing what your limitations are, is humbling.  It puts you in a place to realize that we need to kind of stay in our lane. For us, it was recognizing that one of our biggest challenges was diverse revenue sources.  Our biggest funder could not be Anthony.  We needed to be sustainable and we really had to dig to create diverse revenue streams.

Our second biggest challenge would be brand awareness. It really is about folks learning about you and coming up with a plan of how you’re going to market your product. In order for people to get engaged, you have to start with building a relationship and building trust. That’s brand awareness, trusting who we are. When you see our logo, when you hear tackling poverty, we want you to think about Raise the Barr.

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

Lori Barr: The families we serve, the relationships that we’ve built, and the belief in our mission. Also,  knowing that this works and that we are having an impact.  Seeing the results of our early work, that’s what keeps us going. That’s what when I’m lying awake at night thinking, oh my God, I need to do blah, blah, blah, and I remember why we’re here. It is one step at a time. And, you know, we’re doing good work and we keep that in mind every step of the way.

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

Lori Barr: 99% of our scholars have earned a degree or graduated.  When we talk about increasing economic mobility, the annual income on average of an applicant, when they come into the Raise The Barr family is about $15,000 annually. Upon leaving and securing a career, the average income is $64,000 a year. So there’s a huge increase, and they can now support themselves and their family moving towards true prosperity.

For us, it’s totally about the stories and where they are now.  A real quick story of Tanya. She is a Native American single mom who grew up in poverty. Father in prison,  a mother struggling to make ends meat and college was not in her plan.  She became a mom at a young age. And, like me, she decided she better get into school and figure something out. She went through community college and ended up transferring to a university. Today, she is now being invited by the American Indian Science and Engineers Council to speak and present at their conference. She is a chemist and will graduate this December. Her son is a fourth-grader, he’s achieving above grade level, three grades above with reading and math. Those are our success stories. That’s the impact that we’re having.

There are so many more stories like Tanya that we have and that we really celebrate because these are lives that are changed. That we can be a little part of that change, and create hope and opportunity to me, that’s a huge success.

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

Lori Barr:  I think mine would be so similar to so many other small nonprofits out there. The dream is that we have all the resources that we need to do the work that we do. Our dream would look like us being able to really provide the resources needed to single parents, students everywhere, so they could succeed.  That might look like something practical, like an endowed scholarship, that also might look like having strong partnerships with post-secondary partners.  There are little things like that, which I think would help us continue this work, and really have an impact and really start to crack generational poverty.

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

Lori Barr:  I’m a teacher at heart, that’s what I was trained to do, and I went on to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and psychology.  So, I would say that I think I’m a pretty good listener. This has taught me to listen more, and talk less. And it’s taught me to really be more thoughtful about how I approach my own life. I think about the experiences of others. Somebody else’s experience is just as valuable, if not more than our own, and so listening, thinking, and letting that help our decision-making. 

As a sports mom,  I always use a sports analogy but really learned to focus on how to build a championship team.  Bringing the right people on board,  all with different skill sets. As a single parent, so often I carry the burden completely on my own, and decision-making all by myself.  It was not really, within my experience for 29 years to say, I need to bring others into this to really help us have a great impact. And that’s changed for me.

I’m just happy for folks to inquire and to share what we’re doing.  A big part of increasing our impact is raising that awareness and really building that championship team.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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The Power of Storytelling

Some of my earliest memories were the stories my parents told me. My father is Irish and loves to tell a good story. While my mother loved to tell stories of our family’s history and read to us as children. I could never get enough. It wasn’t until years later when I realized that my gift of gab actually was also a gift for storytelling. For the past decade, I have been telling stories to you each week about remarkable humans here at Charity Matters.

So when Professor Biel reached out to me from USC Marshall School and asked me if I would talk to her class about storytelling and nonprofits, I was really excited. I love going back to my alma mater and more than that I love telling stories. Today, rather than a podcast I thought I would share a little about what I shared with the class this past week.

There’s an old American Indian Proverb that says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world”.

I’m excited to talk about the power of storytelling and how we use stories to learn, to connect, and to build relationships and ultimately businesses/nonprofits specifically. If you think about it, one of the first things we learn as children is stories. Our parents read us stories and we watched Disney stories in movies. Stories are part of who we are and where we came from. There is a story in all of us.

The best stories are true, they have a beginning, a middle usually with a conflict, and an ending we hope with a happy resolution.  

So rather than introduce myself properly, I’d like to tell you a story….my story. the one that changed my life from having a  career in the software business to becoming a nonprofit founder, a storyteller, and a person on a mission to make the world better one story at a time.

Spiritual Care Guild

We tell stories get volunteers, communicate our vision, connect a community, to raise money…because in the nonprofit world the product that we sell is humanity….and we don’t sell, we tell…stories.  Stories of those we serve. The stories are the connective tissue for our organization. They are the threads that connect our quilt and in this case, the quilt is a nonprofit. To sell your vision you have to tell the story.

 Neurologists have studied storytelling and there are three main things that happen to our brains when we hear stories like the one I just told you

  1. We remember, our neural activity increases fivefold
  2. Stories generate empathy, like the empathy we just had for the girl with her pink blanket because our brains generate more oxytocin, (OXY-TOE-SIN) which predicts how much empathy we have.
  3. Stories bring us together- we all collectively felt that compassion for that family, the empathy, which is why we watch movies on dates. We just all shared an experience and felt like we were in that room with the little girl.

After a few years of working with an incredible group of volunteers to launch the Spiritual Care Guild, I began to wonder who were these other people who started nonprofits and why? What was their story? At the time there wasn’t People Magazine Heroes Among Us or CNN Heroes or Upworthy…I realized there were 1.5 million nonprofits in the US and I wanted to know who started them and why? So I decided to find these nonprofit founders and tell their stories. 

Charity Matters

I realized that if I can help the helpers I could help the most people. My impact and my skills as a storyteller would do the most good. I also quickly realized that all of these nonprofit founders had the makings for a great story. They had a conflict; a struggle, an obstacle, and that they had overcome their adversity and used it to help others, the happy ending….which was the perfect recipe for great stories. Nonprofit founders wanted to tell the stories of their work and not necessarily their own which was often the most powerful story of all. I am still telling these stories and fascinated by them each week. These are my people, people who have given their lives to serve. They are true leaders.

This leads me to a key component of any business/nonprofit and that is leadership. 


 In 2013, I took over a 32-year-old nonprofit in need of some updating. Their messaging and stories didn’t exist but what they did (and did well)  teaching leadership did exist.  So we started by defining the work TACSC does and sharing that message…in order to lead you to need to:

  1. Have a vision, a plan
  2. Be able to communicate that plan
  3. Be a lifelong mentor
  4. You can not lead unless you serve

We began with that message and went in search of stories from our alumni and then found stories from those students we were serving,  what was their story? Those stories took TACSC from serving 300 children a year to 3,000 with only 2.5 employees. That is the power of a story and a message. Each of these stories built and rebuilt three brands. Two of which are nonprofits, Spiritual Care, Charity Matters, and TACSC. They all started with a vision, then a story to communicate that vision, each organization brings along mentors and all three based on serving others. Leadership and nonprofits follow the same path.

Remember the power that stories have to connect us, build relationships, and command the most influence in your community, nonprofit, or business. So if you do one thing with all of this …..think of what your story will be? How will you use your gifts to serve others? 

Make your life a story worth telling!





Copyright © 2021 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.


Breast Cancer Research Foundation

This October, I wanted to begin with a throwback conversation to honor those who began what we now recognize as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In my world, the more people you have helped the bigger the celebrity you are. Three years ago I had the privilege to talk to Myra Biblowit, the President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). I was everything you would be when meeting your hero…nervous, anxious, excited, and truly thrilled to share her remarkable journey changing the lives of millions of women around the globe.

Our conversation was timely because just two days before we spoke, a friend of mine had a mastectomy. Myra was beyond lovely, compassionate, soulful, and truly inspirational in her commitment to prevent and cure breast cancer. Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, this disease doesn’t care what day or month it is. Every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Myra, her team, and a remarkable group of people are all changing the game with their work. After our conversation, I kew that cancer doesn’t stand a chance with this beautiful lady starring it down.

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

Myra Biblowit: We wanted to put an end to breast cancer. Our goal was and is to have no more fear, no more hospital visits, no more side effects, no more needless suffering, and no more loved ones lost to breast cancer. The only way to achieve our goal to prevent and cure breast cancer is through research. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment that The Breast Cancer Research Foundation began?

Myra Biblowit: BCRF started in 1993 but I met Evelyn Lauder in 1985 and we forged an incredible friendship. Evelyn called me and said that she had an idea to create a foundation that focused on breast cancer research. She was concerned after seeing the pace at which breast cancer research was moving. She had looked around the country and there was not one organization that was doing research with a laser-sharp focus.  Evelyn said, “I can do this and if I can do it and I don’t it, it would be a sin. Will you help me?” She had a soul and a heart that was enormous.  Working on the pink ribbon symbol she knew she could make this a ubiquitous symbol of the cause to get this issue out of the closet.

The story doesn’t end with creating awareness, it extends to harnessing dollars towards research to change the future. I told Evelyn, I would help her find an Executive Director and get BCRF off the ground. At the time, I was working at the Museum of Natural History. In 1993, BCRF began at Evelyn Lauder’s kitchen table with our dear friend Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Seven years later, I had had a few job opportunities arise and I reached out to Evelyn and Leonard Lauder for their advice as friends. Evelyn said, “Well this is a slam dunk.  This is bashert!  Yiddish for meant to be….last night the Executive Director told us she wanted to stop working.”

By Monday, I was the President of BCRF. Evelyn gave up the Presidency and became Chairman and Founder and I went to work for my darling friend. I started April 1st, 2001, and I told her I would take the organization internationally, raise a lot more money and create a strategic thoughtful grant program. 

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

Myra Biblowit: We lost Evelyn in 2011, and I do what I do in her memory and in her honor. BCRF is her legacy and I work hard to make sure that we are the gold standard. Our work stands as a tribute to her vision. Today we are the largest global funder of breast cancer research. We are the most highly rated breast cancer organization in the country. Evelyn had such vision and clairvoyance. Breast cancer was in the closet when we started. Thanks to pioneers, like Evelyn, breast cancer, and women across the globe, it is out there now.

The dollars that we are investing at BCRF are not only answering questions about breast cancer today but a multiplicity of other cancers as well. Evelyn would not have envisioned the relevance that BCRF would have.

Myra Biblowit and Dr. Larry Norton, photo credit Suzanne DeChillo

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

Myra Biblowit: Since BCRF was founded there has been a 40% decline in breast cancer deaths worldwide. The proof is in the pudding. Truly we can tell you that BCRF has had a role in every major break thru breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship as well as an advancing knowledge about other metastatic diseases. 

When Evelyn and I were working together we were mainly talking about diagnosis and treatment. We knew then and know even more now that research is THE reason.  Today that continuum begins with prevention and extends with survivorship. The connector is that research is THE reason, it is the glue.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had at BCRF?

Myra Biblowit: I think it is important for people to know that breast cancer is rapidly transitioning to a manageable chronic disease. People need to not be fearful of the stories of the past from their mothers and grandmothers. Treatments are much more targeted. When a woman is diagnosed today they can try to find what type of tumor she has and then find the right treatment for that tumor type, which is huge.

We now know that breast cancer is not one disease but made up of four or five different diseases in terms of tumor types.  Each one has more in common with other forms of cancer than with each other. Today’s treatment has a far greater likelihood of success and they are far less toxic.

One study that BCRF was involved with was the TAILORx, a major multi-year and multi-country study to determine what women needed chemo who had early-stage estrogen-positive breast cancer. We knew women who had a high score needed chemo and women who had a low score did not need it. We didn’t know for the 70,000-100,000 women in the middle range if they needed chemo or not. Today we now know that those women do NOT need chemotherapy.  This study proved the power of research. These are the advances that change the future for our mothers, our daughters, and our friends.

Charity Matters: What is your vision for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation going forward?

Myra Biblowit: In the current year we raised $80 million dollars and we awarded grants of $63 million dollars to over 300 researchers across 14 countries. We could have funded more had we had more funds and we are the engine that tells researchers to take that chance. 

When Evelyn died, we devoted a fund to metastatic disease by creating a Founder’s Fund. We want to use that fund to find more about metastatic disease.  The more dollars we can give to our researchers the more breakthroughs we can make.

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

Myra Biblowit: You know Evelyn gave me an opportunity to do something professionally that touches people’s lives profoundly. How lucky am I? Evelyn was grateful for everything that came her way. She was a child of the Holocaust and her family fled when she was an infant. Everything that she and Leonard achieved was a partnership. She was magnetic and wonderful and when we lost her, Leonard stepped in. I am filled with gratitude every day and for the opportunity to learn from the extraordinary Lauder family. What fed their soul was to make the world a better place and it was infectious. 


Charity Matters




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Episode 23: Our Wave

Last year when we were contemplating a podcast we had an incredible interview with two amazing nonprofit founders about their nonprofit, Our Wave.  As thousands of students head back to college this month it seemed like a good time to revisit our conversation with Kyle Linton and Laura Sinko on the topic of sexual assault. While never a comfortable topic, it is an important one.

There are more than 433, 638 sexual assaults in the United States each year. Join us today for an insightful conversation from two incredible perspectives about the new and exciting ways Our Wave is bringing healing to tens of thousands through their work.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Our Wave does?

Kyle Linton: We really started Our Wave in 2018 with the idea that we wanted to better support survivors of sexual trauma and give them a mechanism to anonymously share their stories.  What we found was that there are all these opportunities for people to share their stories, which are incredible, but they’re very public.  Survivors wanted to see other people’s stories, they wanted to share their own stories, but they didn’t necessarily want to do so publicly.

Since we’re technology design people, we wanted to create a platform where people could share their stories anonymously. We wondered if we could try to lean into the healing components and leverage research to give people resources as they’re sharing their stories and help them move past their previous instances of trauma? 

Laura Sinko: I met Kyle at a sexual violence conference.  I am a nurse by training and am also a researcher. My research was in healing after sexual violence. When I was interviewing survivors, I noticed this gap where people were really longing for community and for a place to really say and process their truth. Because I think sometimes you keep it inside and you don’t really even know how to put words what happened.

 I stumbled across Kyle and heard him saying he wanted to create this platform. His vision is to help people tell their stories and then connect them to a community. Kyle wants to help people learn from each other, what works for them and what doesn’t… really resonated with me.

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

Kyle Linton:  In October 2018, someone in my life, directly experienced sexual violence. Somebody that was very close.  For me, it was a really difficult period because I was trying to figure out a bunch of different things. I wondered, how do I support this person? How do I help them?  And even as I’m feeling all of these things, I can’t even imagine what this other person is feeling who experienced it firsthand.

Then I realized that I have the opportunity and experience building companies and products. So I said, “Well, I have the capacity to do something here.” I got this idea, what if we could create a place, where somebody like this person very close to me, could go and see other survivors to get support and find healing resources?

I started just kind of pulling people from my life and saying, “I would love your support on this. If you have time?”. Then we found Laura at a conference. I said, “let’s bring it all together into this thing that can help survivors, and then let’s try to scale it like crazy.”  So, that’s really where it started. 

Charity Matters: Was there a back story that led you to this type of work?

Laura Sinko: Unfortunately, being a woman on a college campus, I felt like it was happening to so many of my friends who were experiencing these sexual violence experiences. So I got really interested in sexual violence since there are so many people in my life that were struggling to find healing. A lot of the work especially in medicine and nursing is focused on that deficit like you have trauma, you have depression, anxiety, and there’s so little focus on the healing aspect.

I was getting my Ph.D. in nursing, smack in the middle of my program, when I had my own experience of sexual violence. It was interesting because being a quote-unquote, “expert”, right? You think oh, I’m an expert in healing after the violence. I’m gonna be set. I can do all these amazing things because I know what to do. I have all the tools and it’s different when it’s yourself. It’s a totally different beast. And so that’s why it’s really important to really build that community because you can often feel like you’re all alone if you don’t get to share your story in some way. That is that moment when you know this just isn’t okay. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kyle Linton:  I think the biggest challenge for anybody doing this kind of work is how do you stretch minimal resources to make the most impact?  The beautiful part about our organization is that because it is a technology platform, it has the potential for a massive scale. The trick for us is trying to support all these different populations and individuals who have these different levels of need.

Laura Sinko: I think funding is our biggest challenge. It would be nice for all the work that people are putting in if we could pay some of our staff for their work. And that’s not really me or Kyle, but the designers that are doing all of our content and all of these other people who are really putting in a lot of work. So that’s why my thing is it’s always about funding.

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

Kyle Linton: I grew up in a household where my mom has run a nonprofit for 20 years maybe. She’s amazing. I had a household that was comfortable and it gave me the opportunity to do impactful work.  I’m incredibly thankful for growing up with that sort of motivation.  I was not encumbered with student debt and it gave me the opportunity to try to leverage my skills to help people. I’m in a position to do that, and a lot of people aren’t.

Laura Sinko:  For me, it really truly is this the survivors.  I was a mental health nurse for a while I’m now a sexual assault nurse examiner. Over the past four years, I have met just countless amazing survivors who have given me the privilege of hearing their stories and hearing their struggles. Whenever I have to write a grant or something that feels really daunting, I have this ritual where I like will light a candle and remember why I am doing this.

 It’s like bringing the survivors in the room with me, the people that are counting on me and our team to really push this forward. And I will also say that being a part of this team of eight completely volunteers, people that give their evenings to this work their weekends to this work. I think that is also incredibly important.  Not every team has that cohesion, but I think we do which was really helpful.

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

Laura Sinko: It’s really been the FAQ Fridays. I think putting some questions that I kind of had when I first started experiencing these things, like, how do you manage triggers? Have you ever had that moment where you’re not really sure if it actually happened and you doubt your experience?  It’s like, we’re all looking for the same answers.  I think that participating in that has been really helpful to see really that we’re all are experiencing different things.

But there is some common thread between all of us, no matter how you feel. What we do is all about creating connections and community. That’s really the essence of what nonprofits do is bringing people together to help each other to solve something that’s at the core of what we do. So being able to build a big community like that in such a short time is so incredible.

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

Kyle Linton:  I think that between the content and the platform that we have created we are somewhere between 100 and 200,000 survivors that we’ve been able to access and engage with and support in some capacity. Obviously, our aim is to increase that.  We’re lucky as a technology organization that the number one thing that we have to our advantage is that scale and that ability to very quickly expand our efforts and reach that many people.

Laura Sinko: I think with social media, specifically, the direct messages, I just pulled up one now because it made me feel so good. This person said,” I just wanted to say how grateful I am to have found your page. I’ve struggled with what happened to me. So I really like to say thank you. I know you don’t know me, but just existing You make me feel seen.” And I feel like that is just something that when you think of impact is so important. The thought of being seen when you feel so alone is what keeps me going. 

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

Laura Sinko:  The main thing that I learned is that it’s possible to have an idea that you think fills a need, go out and do it. I noticed this gap and thought, I’m just a nurse, I can’t do this.  That is really important no matter who you are, or where you’re at if you have an idea and you think it feels a need, and it’s really going to help people, take a chance on yourself because I feel like you can do so much good for other people.

Kyle Linton: I think internally, it’s been incredible to see how people many people want to give back and contribute to helping other people. What’s been really surprising to me, even just outside of our core team, is the number of volunteers that we have that come to us and say,” Hey, I’d love to get back and contribute in some way.  I just want to help.” It’s been really inspiring to just see how much people want to contribute. I would say it’s been really amazing to see what we can do with absolutely no resources and to figure out how to be scrappy and how to create something from absolutely nothing and to have it be so purely good. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Linton: I think for me, the biggest one would be understanding all of the different things that people experience at different points in their life. And then seeing how that impacts them in so many different ways that I could have never imagined really getting a much level deeper level understanding of trauma.

I think makes you more empathetic, thoughtful, and makes you want to listen to people more because this happens a lot more than you can imagine. And it affects people differently. So, really learning to be empathetic, to listen, and to understand has been really beneficial to me.

Laura Sinko:  But on the other side, I think connecting with folks like Kyle, who maybe didn’t experience it himself, but have that drive to give back. I’ve just been shocked by the people who maybe haven’t had that in their own personal life in terms of direct harm, but still feel compelled to come forward and help. People say,  look for the helpers, but seeing those wanting to help has really given me a lot of hope for the world. We do this in the hope to help other people to move the world forward a little bit,  one person at a time. That’s why we’re here.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 21: The Yellow Heart Committee

People say that youth is wasted on the young and never has that statement been less true than with this incredible nonprofit founder, N’dea Johnson. At only 24 years old she has undergone incredible personal loss and trauma and has used that to help others with her two-year-old nonprofit The Yellow Heart Committee.

Join us today to learn why you are never too young to make a difference and inspire others. Hear N’dea Johnson’s inspirational story of loss and perseverance as she works to heal and serve survivors of sexual assault and trauma.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Yellow Heart Committee does?

N’dea Johnson:  We support the holistic mental health of trauma survivors through policy, advocacy, education, and community outreach. How we do this through the pillars of HEART, which stand for Healing, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relationships in Therapy. So everything we do programming-wise has to fall under those pillars making sure we’re always centering the survivors. A big part of our work is communicating and advocating for survivors. We do that by working with elected officials to help draft legislation for trauma survivors.

Charity Matters: You are young for starting a nonprofit, were you always philanthropic?

N’dea Johnson:  I’ve always enjoyed doing work and volunteering in the community because of my mom. From a young age, she always was the one that was telling me, you have to support others, you always have to be good to others and always help people.  When I was a fifth grade, I was organizing students to get tutoring for the gate program and Star testing. I’ve also learned from her because she did have breast cancer.  Even with all that she was going through, she was always still caring and concerned about the community. And that’s something I replicated.

When my mom passed away, I ended up starting an organization in my middle school a few months after she died. I was in seventh grade and raising money for families with family members who have cancer. The whole point was to donate the money to help support anything that families were missing.  People were always surprised and say, “You’re 12 years old,  your mom just died and you’re doing this?”  That’s how my mom was when she was going through adversity herself. I’m going through it right now. And I know she wouldn’t want me just moping around. This work is how I handle my grieving is by turning it back into community service and doing things for others going forward.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Yellow Heart Committee?

N’dea Johnson:   It started on January 1, 2019, when I was sexually assaulted.  I actually had to go back to school, two days later, because it was winter quarter and I was graduating early from UCLA.  I’ve always been a 4.0 student always and this really destroyed me.  The irony is that I was trained in rape response because I was a Resident Assistant. Rather than letting myself heal, I tried to suppress it because I was so determined to graduate early, to go to Columbia for grad school. I kept it all to myself.

In March of 2019, I had pre-scheduled jaw surgery. I came out of jaw surgery paralyzed. The doctors were said, “How did you have jaw surgery, but your legs are paralyzed?”  Nobody knew what happened, even I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t talk because I had jaw surgery.  I  had to relearn all of my functions; eating, talking, walking everything. Then we realized I had experienced conversion disorder.

 Conversion disorders are when you convert the psychological stress of trauma into a physical reaction. So when I went in for surgery and went under anesthesia, my body thought I was being attacked again. As a result,  I ended up having nerve damage.  Being in a rehab facility in the hospital and that’s where it really made me want to start this.  I gave birth to the Yellow Heart Committee in a hospital bed. Once I could walk again, I knew the first thing I was going to do was report him at the police station.  At that time I hadn’t. The second thing I was going to do was start a nonprofit. So that’s where I really got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

N’dea Johnson:   It is so hard because I’m learning from the ground up. But I’m also learning how to be an adult in the same capacity. So things like you have to pay your taxes for like nonprofits. I’m like, “I don’t know how to do that?”  Those types of things I’m having to learn and becoming an adult while growing up.

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

N’dea Johnson: The individual people one hundred percent. My nonprofit, everybody’s unpaid right now and we all have full-time jobs or are full-time students. We have our days where we have a really rough day at work. The team says,
” All right, what are we doing next? How we’re gonna solve this?” And it’s just knowing that  I can have those moments of vulnerability and say I need support. They have my back and they’re like, “Okay, so what do you need us to do to keep this nonprofit going? How can we support you?” Those individual people in terms of my team are what I love, and it feeds me to keep me going. That and the survivors who reach out to me in times of crisis.

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

N’dea Johnson:  We’re the connectors definitely. We bring the people who are the decision-makers and the survivors to the table.  In six months, we met with 44 elected officials to advocate for our Sexual Domestic Violence Task Force Legislation that we wrote. We are introducing that to California and working to get a federal level hearing.  Our state-level hearing is in  September on mental health and trauma at the Capitol in California. We definitely bring those people who can make those decisions to the table to hear the stories of survivors.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

N’dea Johnson:  I would say my self-awareness has changed, I definitely think that I’m more conscious of not just my own experiences, but also how my words or my actions or anything can impact others. Something that’s really been a big thing of mine is that we may want to judge somebody right away. But let’s think about why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Let’s go deeper than the immediate reaction, and wonder what trauma happened for why did they react, right?

That’s not something that I would have been conscious of two years ago. And I think that I’m more in touch with who I am in terms of why I’m feeling a certain way. Or even how I need to react to a situation and to be more empathetic to people. It is important to realize what is the intent versus impact. The intention may not have been to hurt, but the impact may have hurt somebody. Being aware of those types of things has really been something that has made me grow and change.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Season Two Episode 19: Crossing Point Arts

There are so many amazing gifts that come each week with Charity Matters. I think one that I really appreciate is meeting super interesting people from all over the globe that I would not meet any other way. This week’s guest, Anne Pollack is a perfect example. Anne and I connected online before having our conversation about her incredible story of helping heal survivors of sex trafficking.

Join us for today’s podcast to learn about Anne’s own story of healing through creativity and the path that lead her to found Crossing Point Arts. It is an incredible journey where all of life’s paths intersect at a place of service. Ann shares her story using her multiple gifts as an artist to heal victims of human trafficking.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Crossing Point Arts does?

Anne Pollack:  Our mission is to bring the healing and restorative power of the arts to survivors of human trafficking through expressive arts workshops, helping them to release trauma, reclaim their once-silenced voices and learn long-term coping strategies. We reignite the spark of life that has been repressed by experiences of exploitation. As survivors forge a path beyond trauma, our Teaching Artists support their talents, self-validation, growth, and healing. They do this by working with survivors in dance, music, visual arts, poetry, spoken word, theater, and more.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Crossing Point Arts?

Anne Pollack: As an eight-year-old child I learned of Harriet Tubman in school, and I wept. It was the first I knew of the enslavement of Africans. From that point forward I worked hard to inform myself about the history of slavery. I read I traveled, I found culture and community. But it was/ is where my heart took me.

At age 50, I was devastated to learn that there were more enslaved people on earth now than ever before. I knew then that I could take the energy of my life use it as a force for transformation. I allowed nothing to get in my way.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Anne Pollack: The greatest challenge of my work is the endless amount of education I must do. The general public is only vaguely aware of human trafficking due to their choice to look the other way. This, of course, translates into enormous challenges in funding our work. Though anti-trafficking work regularly receives Federal & State funding, it is hard to capture this same funding for our work.

Fundraising is a constant challenge, and it is not easy. Despite the vast number of people we have reached, we have done it with far too little funding. I am not even yet on salary and wear most of the hats in the organization. I keep about 15 Teaching Artists regularly engaged with survivors, and I personally mentor numerous survivors who are visual artists.

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

Anne Pollack:  Seeing the results of our work is stunning. Survivors, who have experienced years of compound, complex trauma, come back to life. The power of creativity is astonishing, and it is transformational for survivors, as well as the Teaching Artists (of which I am one).

I am a survivor of sexual assault (when I was age 21). Creativity in the form of music and art and dance and poetry saved my life. Therapy most definitely helped, as did acupuncture and other bodywork. Creativity, however, was at the core of my chance to thrive once again. I know the arts have this capacity, and I am committed to sharing the power of the arts with a wildly overlooked population.

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

Anne Pollack:  We have reached about 6000 survivors, over the course of 9 1/2 years, with over 1000 workshops delivered. Our metrics prove year after year that our work is making a real difference. Therapists and Social Workers who support survivors report that our offerings accelerate the therapeutic process of survivor’s healing. And, the more survivors feel confident in their own creative process, the more therapeutic coping strategies they can employ, supporting their life-long post-trauma growth.

photo credit: @seanwaltrous

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

Anne Pollack: Getting involved in the needs of the world is a rich, necessary, and expansive thing to do. In my opinion, to become fully human is to give back. And to give generously. To move beyond the confines of the life you have organized for yourself is to become aware of one’s own humanity, and the universal suffering that must be addressed. It is the only true way to become a citizen of the world. And doing so joins you with all the others who have understood this, and who have acted on it.

I would advise people to follow their hearts to where they feel drawn. Somewhere, there is someone working on an issue that awakens one’s compassion and brings out the spirit of service. Act on it. Stay consistent. Show up. Experience the inner expansion, and learn to not be afraid of the pain of others. We each have the gift of our lives, and it is that gift that must be shared to become truly human.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Anne Pollack: My life is realized, and that gives me a great sense that I didn’t skip over something because it was scary. I feel so blessed that service chose me as much as I chose it. And it’s an exquisitely beautiful way to go through a really unjust world. And, to keep creating beauty and possibility for others and to help people get where they’re going, was nothing better. 



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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A rabbit hole with a message

Have you ever had an afternoon where you just can’t focus? After a week of our leadership camp, I found myself meandering on social media. My LinkedIn feed presented an article from a mutual connection I didn’t know. Before I knew it I had gone down a tech and time rabbit hole in search of more.

The initial hook was an article about a Subscription Box that teaches children to volunteer. You can see why I was instantly engaged? Of course, I now needed to know more about this person that shared more than a few mutual friends on LinkedIn.  Her name was Jessica Jackley and she is best known as the co-founder of Kiva.  The nonprofit micro-lending organization that literally changed the face of philanthropy as well as how we look at poverty.

Kiva lets users lend as little as $25 to individual entrepreneurs, providing borrowers affordable capital to start or expand their business. Since its founding, Kiva has facilitated over $1.5B in loans worldwide. I knew her name sounded familiar…Before I knew it I was sucked into Jessica’s 2010 Ted Talk called, Poverty, money, and Love. You will be too because Jessica touches your soul in her authentic quest to make a difference.


For those of you not going down the rabbit hole with me, Jessica talked about three things near and dear to my heart. First,  entrepreneurs….hers are from third-world countries and mine are nonprofit founders but close enough. They are both people working hard to make life better for others. Second, the importance of community which is what all nonprofits build.  Lastly, we both agree that people are innately good. We all care and want to help but so often do not know-how. Ultimately, Jessica reminds us that it is a simple fact that caring gives us hope.

The next time you end up going down an unknown technological path, be open to what you may discover at the end of the journey. You never know what message is waiting for you.

Wishing you all a festive holiday weekend. Happy 4th of July!





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It just isn’t summer without camp

Monday marked the first official week of summer. This year, post-COVID, the world is ready for all the fun that summer brings and that many of us were denied last year….travel, beach, lakes, backyard barbeques, and summer camp. Over six million American children participate in some sort of day or overnight camp each year. Many of these camps are nonprofit organizations. Last year, while many children were quarantined in their homes camp did not happen for these kids. Now more than ever these children need to reconnect, have fun, and learn.

While Charity Matters is my passion, my day job is running a non-profit leadership organization, which also has a summer camp program. We have incredible high school and college students volunteering to serve as camp counselors and mentors. Many counselors are alumni of our program and want to give back to an organization that changed their lives.  Students teaching students to be the best of themselves. Showing one another respect, how to learn from different opinions, and how to work together towards a resolution. Ultimately, teaching students how to lead.

Last year, we sent camp in a box and sold out our online program. Tomorrow, I will happily be greeting hundreds of smiling faces as our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders arrive with their nervous parents. For some, it will be their first time away from home.  All of these children have been isolated in some way this year. It is such a great feeling to bring everyone together. There is no greater joy than knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself and that your work makes a difference. This video below from one of our students a few years back, pretty much says it all.

Nothing brings greater joy than planting the seeds of compassion in these incredible students year after year.  When the world seems to get a bit crazier, these students give me hope. I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope. As one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world...”

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.


Sharing is caring, if you are so moved we would love you to share the love and inspire another.

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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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Claire Marie Foundation

Growing up in LA, Marianne Banister was a familiar face on daily on our local ABC news station. She was always reporting from a storm, a flood, a fire…some sort of disaster. When a friend suggested that I reach out to interview Marianne, who now lives in Baltimore, I was a bit intimidated. Marianne and her husband lost their 17-year-old daughter Claire to melanoma.

Their family was determined to fulfill  Claire’s vision to provide clarity and hope in the fight against adolescent and young adult melanoma through their work at the Claire Marie Foundation. They are on a mission to ensure awareness, education, and prevention of cancer that has increased 250% in the last forty years.

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.

We’re the only nonprofit in the country that focuses on preventing melanoma specifically in adolescents and young adults. We are not trying to treat it and we’re not doing research to find an answer to find the new drug or the therapy. Please, I pray to God we find that tomorrow.  Nobody’s helping to prevent it and that’s our job.

CMF Five Year Retrospective 2019 from Claire Marie Foundation on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Can you tell us what the risk factors of Melanoma are?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  If you wear sunscreen if you wear up 50 SPF clothing if you don’t go to a tanning booth and if you advocate for yourself. That’s it, then you’re good. I want to add empower yourself to advocate and get at the front of it. Our whole goal is to get people in and connect them with a dermatologist. If you don’t already have a patient relationship with a dermatologist, it can take three to five months to get your first appointment. 

Charity Matters: Can you share some of Claire’s Journey?

Marianne Banister WagonhurstClaire got a routine skin exam at 13, it was November. We had them checked every year, no history in the family, just having lived in Southern California being a reporter being aware of it. We go back in June for her yearly exam and about a week before that the mole on her ankle that she was born with started to change. But it didn’t look like what we’re educated to look at for melanoma. It wasn’t thick, it wasn’t dark. The borders were not irregular, none of that it just looked a little dusty gray in color.

Claire kept it very quiet and to herself because she didn’t want to be put on a shelf with her friends. She didn’t want to have gossip and didn’t want to engage. Claire wanted to deal with it and went out and lived her life. We were very fortunate to live where we do, where we had renowned medical support 10 minutes away.

About her junior year when we thought we were well past it, her oncologist, Dr. Sharma asked her if she would mentor another young girl who had come in the month that Claire was diagnosed.  As we were discussing his request for her to help this other young person coming through it. She said, “Mom, why do you think this happened to us?”

I said, “Maybe being who you are because you’re so positive and energized. And being what I do professionally, you know, maybe we can do this together when you’re ready?” Claire said, “Yeah, when I’m a senior, then it won’t matter. And I can tell people, and I can advocate.”  She still was not quite there yet wanting to share her story. So we knew down the road, that’s what she would want to do. The bottom line is I just couldn’t sit here with this information and not warn other parents. If someone had raised the flag of awareness before us, then maybe she’d still be here.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  We started with community support. We got launched in October 2014, it will be six years ago this month. Claire’s friends from her school wanted to help and do something.  One of her best buddies since childhood called me and said,” Hey, Miss Marion, do you have a logo?” And I was like, Why? I mean, we knew we were going to do something, but we are just trying to get through the grief and to deal with things.

Claire’s friends did this dance a THON and raised $24,000 called Moves for Claire. I didn’t know how many people my daughter knew. And then friends of other friends and her story carried. There were 500 kids there. And they had sponsorships, and I mean, they went all out. We realized they’re listening and paying attention now. So we need to take advantage of this. If we want to do this in her memory, we have to do it while they want to engage. And they have been our biggest force.

So through them, we then went forward, we have collegiate ambassadors, and they started the program for so they were in the high school class of 2015, college class of 2019. We’ve had just short of 100 kids on 46 campuses. And they do peer to peer education and mentoring and awareness programs.

My husband cycled 620 miles to symbolically take her to college. Claire was accepted to college just a couple of days before she passed. So she got accepted to Georgia, Southern University, Alabama. So he cycled from Charleston to Georgia Southern into Bama. We did this big media raising campaign and because it was a football game that she promised her dad he could go with her. So you know, it was a way of him to process it and honor her, but it was a way for us to raise awareness. We started doing that and running fast.

The kids came up with a lot of these ideas,  they’re all young adults now. We have partnerships since with US lacrosse and we work with the Melanoma Research Foundation, as one of their advocacy partners. We go to Capitol Hill and campaign for funding and support for research. We are developing a relationship and a partnership with Teen Cancer America out in LA. we want to bring our screening program out there, if a young person is going through cancer, guess what that puts you at elevated risk for melanoma.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: The biggest challenge for all this is that we’re the only ones out here doing it. We’ve screened 1000 young people, we found 16% have A typical moles that need a biopsy. Funding is still a big issue. We could use a staff of two full people, two full-time people. You know, it’s just me and my husband and the volunteers that pop in and out and help us out.

Secondly is getting our information out there. Awareness education, like this event we’re doing October 3rd, we always try to reach young people in the way that they’ll hear us.  It’s a two-hour Music Festival, with performers from LA Nashville, Baltimore, and Charleston. It’s really it’s a lot of fun. Then of course within that, we’ll have the melanoma prevention messaging built within it.

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.

When people ask me how many children do you have, although it will be followed by an awkward moment. I just say well, I have two girls, one watches out for me from heaven and the other one is with me here.  I’m not going to say only have one daughter, that’s not going to happen because she existed and she had a purpose. She has changed lives and she has saved lives. We have had a number of young people who have found melanomas early and they always tell me,” You know, I thought of Claire, and I went and got it checked and it was a melanoma.”

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: My husband always says if we save one kid, we’ve done our work. And we’ve done that many times over. I think what I’m most proud of is we’re changing the narrative. We’re changing the focus, Claire was overlooked, she was a victim of the system. The system is not broken, but it needs to be tweaked.

Because of us, many organizations are now creating a Young Adult adolescent melanoma focus, in terms of research, and in terms of treatment and support. I know specifically within the melanoma world, we’ve changed that narrative. I think that is what I am most proud of in six years, we’re starting conversations, and making people understand that it’s just not a matter of putting on sunscreen, and calling it a day.  I think it’s changing the narrative of the conversation and elevating the importance and value that young people are getting this disease to the rate they are and that it is not rare.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  The dream would be that every young person from two-years-old on should incorporate full-body dermoscopy-based skin screenings every year, as part of their WellCare. When they go to their pediatrician and their eye doctor and their dentist, they see the dermatologist, they get checked, that becomes part of their routine.

 We just don’t want anybody else to go through what we did, because it’s so darn preventable. When you think about it, melanoma is one of the cancers that you have the best odds of seen visually externally on your body. And a screening takes 10 minutes, and you don’t have to drink anything, and you don’t have to get an MRI and you don’t have to get a CAT scan, you just go in a robe, 10 minutes, a dermatologist with a scope. So we just need to it’s a system that’s broken, it needs to be readapted so that would be my dream.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: I think one of the changes that surprised me is you get a different identity, you realize that life is you cannot go back to life as it was because it’s no longer there. So you have to recreate yourself. I’m in a different world.  So I’ve expanded the people in my life.

 I’ve had a lot of loss in my life and I’ve always lived my life as you have to thoroughly embrace it each day as it is. My faith is stronger than ever because I know she’s fine. I know she’s okay. I absolutely know because I’m telling you as smart as I like to think I am. I am not that brilliant.

This foundation has a life of its own. And as my older daughter says,” Claire will be done with it when she’s tired of Claire show.” Until then, it’ll just keep happening things that just drop in our lap. Opportunities that come up or people we meet that just really like jumpstart us into a new phase. And it’s just like, okay, she’s not done with the Claire show just yet. 

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: We’ve been asked this by other parents often how we dealt with the grief. We just had to dig down to this just horrendous feeling and we had to feel but then able to come out the other side. And it seems like to me that at some point of grief you have to process this pain. I think for me because I always remembered that conversation we had about Claire helping others, I know she would be proud of this.  

It’s not that you ever want this to happen, but if it does, to know that something has been inspired by her in a positive way. That’s what we look at.  There was nothing she could have done to control this or affect it and so when that happens, it’s kind of like well, what do we do with this now? Our daughter is having a great impact because of what we’re doing and that’s the best we can do for those we love.






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