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Episode 51: Free Wheelchair Mission

Did you know that there are 75 million people on this planet in need of a wheelchair? Can you imagine being disabled  and not having access to get around? That is only one of the amazing insights I learned from today’s guest, Don Schoendorfer. Don is the founder of Free Wheelchair Mission. His story is incredible, as is his work in providing over one million wheelchairs to people in need.

Join us today to learn how a MIT Biomedical engineer changed his life and millions of others. You won’t want to miss this amazing conversation. Don Schoendorfer is a truly special human who is an inspiration for all with his journey of service.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Free WheelChair Mission does?

Don Schoendorfer: We’ve designed and learned how to manufacture an inexpensive, durable functional wheelchair that we provide for free to people in developing countries who need a wheelchair. World Health Organization’s estimates that there are 75 million people in need of a wheelchair around the world.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Free Wheelchair Mission?

Don Schoendorfer: My father worked in a railroad for 49 years as a machinist. One of my older brothers was a chemical engineer and the other one’s a civil engineer.  I just knew from the way we operated at home, always taking things apart and putting them back together, that I would be an engineer. I always knew I was going to do something to help people.

About twenty years ago, we went on a vacation to Morocco.  The first day we were in a very old part of the city, Toronto, probably built during the Crusades. There were dirt roads, buildings close to each other just wide enough for a wagon and donkey to get by. Between the legs of people commuting back and forth on foot, we saw a woman drag herself across the dirt road. She was using her fingernails for traction. And she’s looking at her hands. She’s not looking at anything else but her hands and she’s very careful about how she places them. Her feet were just dragging behind her. Like, they’re just connected to her and they’re not functioning in any way.  She was  bleeding, very filthy and her clothes are torn.

 It was our first trip in a developing country and we were shocked. Shocked at her appearance, but also shocked at the fact that people were just basically just stepping over her. Like she was some kind of garbage and not helping her. We went home and got on with our lives. That’s what I did for 20 more years. Every now and then something would remind me or in the middle of the night. I  would wake up and I’d be thinking about that woman and the struggle she had just to keep alive. 

Charity Matters: What Happened 20 years after you saw that woman?

Don Schoendorfer: A call from God in the middle of the night, in 2001.  He said, “I need to talk to you”  What about? He said, ” Why are you wasting your time? “And I said, “What do you mean?” God said,”Why don’t you use the gifts I gave you to do something for the Kingdom?”   I don’t want anybody to misinterpret, I do not have that kind of relationship with communicating with God. But if I summed up what was going through this was really what I came up with, “Hey, I’m an engineer, I’m an inventor, I can do this stuff.”

I thought, where do I focus my energy?  All of a sudden, there’s this woman crawling across the dirt road. What’s the need, what does she need? I go to Toys R Us and I get some bicycles.  Then I go to Home Depot and I get some white resin lawn chairs.  Then I spend five or six months trying to figure out how to effectively connect them together. And, it’s a white resin lawn chair with mountain bike tires. It doesn’t, it doesn’t look like a wheelchair. But I’m thinking that woman probably would have loved to have something like this. 

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

Don Schoendorfer: When I saw this family change.  Can you imagine if you were carrying your 11 year old son with cerebral palsy?  Can you imagine that this boy’s parents had carried him every day of his life. His parents can’t work, and therefore they can’t make enough money to live on.

When they got their son a wheelchair it changed their life. The parents could work and  take their son with them. They could move him to the shade of the rice paddies where they worked. Now, they could both work and they can make enough money to advance a little bit in their economy. Even better they now have the freedom.

Of course, they didn’t know what was going to happen after we put their son in the chair. They probably thought we’re going to take take some pictures and then take it away from him. Instead, we drove away at the end and left that chair to them. We didn’t come back and take the chair. 

These people are already happy. When you give them a wheelchair, it’s so profound. You can just see how hard it is for men to express their gratitude, some are just choked up and they can’t get the words out. They’re just crying and smiling at the same time. The whole family  doesn’t have to carry anyone anymore. He can go by himself. 

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

Don Schoendorfer: Over these last 22 years, we’ve given out over 1.3 million wheelchairs in 94 different countries, developing countries. We don’t give them away in developed countries because there’s usually options for a wheelchair. In the developing world, there’s no option.  If we don’t give him a wheelchair, they’re going to live their life without one. We’ve got partners who actually give the wheelchairs away for us.

So we work through these distribution partners, and we ship them to the closest ocean port, and then they take it from there. At first I was focusing on just the individual, the woman crawling across the road in Morocco, right? And I didn’t see her family, but she probably has one because there’s no way she could keep alive without having a family. After you’ve given away a few wheelchairs you see how it impacts the family because they are the wheelchair.


Photo credit: Ralph Alswang

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Don Schoendorfer:  The people I associate with changed. I’m more associated with people that are in this field of humanitarian efforts.  Most of my best friends are in developing countries and I rarely get the chance to see them.  I always think about them. These are the people that totally live on faith. They don’t know where the next meal is gonna come from. Yet, if they met somebody who needed a shirt, they would take their shirt off and give it to him. And that’s the way they live.

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

Don Schoendorfer: There’s so many other things we can do. Think about what you’re good at. Maybe you get the call from God. Or maybe you don’t. Ask yourself,  what am I really good at? And is that what I’m doing to help people? Am I using those tools to help people?  

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Looking back: My Hope Chest

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

Author unknown

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

Nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, had breast cancer, a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, a nonprofit that helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation that left me feeling inspired by this amazing warrior who fights for women who truly need one. She has left such a lasting impression on me that I wanted to re-share her story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Charity Matters

 

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Gordie: A legacy of teaching

Gordie's story

Next week we are heading to Texas for Parents weekend to see our youngest son.  He attends a big college football school where weekends included tailgates, football games, and obligatory fraternity parties. With so many students heading off to college and parents concerned about fentanyl, covid and so much more, it seemed like the right time to re-share this story.

Gordie Bailey was a college freshman who died of alcohol poisoning from hazing his freshman year of college. September 17th marks the 17th anniversary of Gordie Bailey’s death.  His parents created a nonprofit organization, The Gordie Center,  as Gordie’s legacy to educate college students about drinking.  The story is tragic and the lesson is invaluable. Sadly, it needs to be told over and over to each new generation of college students.

Loss

So often we do not make discoveries or connections until it is too late.  We do not realize the value of a friend until they have moved away.  We do not appreciate our children until they have left for college.  Often, we do not realize the value of one’s life until it has passed.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? How is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? This story is perhaps no different. However, the beauty of it lies in the ability to take that clear vision and create something that matters.

This month thousands of college freshmen have left home. Many students are beginning the process of Rush as they look to make new homes away from home in sororities and fraternities across the country. That is exactly what Gordie Bailey did in September 2004, as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gordie’s Story

Gordie, a fun-loving freshman who had been the Co-captain of his varsity high school football team, a drama star, a guitar player, and a walk-on at Boulder’s lacrosse team was adored by all. He pledged Chi Psi. On the evening of September 16th, Gordie and twenty-six other pledge brothers dressed in coats and ties for “bid night” and were taken blindfolded to the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest. There they were “encouraged” to drink four “handles” of whiskey and six (1.5 liters) bottles of wine.

The pledges were told, “no one is leaving here until these are gone.” When the group returned to the Fraternity house, Gordie was visibly intoxicated and did not drink anymore. He was placed on a couch to “sleep it off” at approximately 11 pm. His brothers proceeded to write on his body in another fraternity ritual. Gordie was left for 10 hours before he was found dead the next morning, face down on the floor. No one had called for help. He was 18 years old.

Turning Grief into Hope

The nonprofit Gordie Foundation was founded in Dallas in 2004 by Gordie’s parents as a dedication to his memory. The Gordie foundation creates and distributes educational programs and materials to reduce hazardous drinking and hazing and promote peer intervention among young adults.  Their mission is committed to ensuring that Gordie’s story continues to impact students about the true risks of hazing and alcohol use.

There has been at least one university hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017 according to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer. Over 200 university deaths by hazing since 1839.  There have been forty deaths from 2007-2017 alone and alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death. As Gordie’s mother Leslie said, “Parents more than anything want their dead children to be remembered and for their lives to have mattered.”

In almost eighteen years, the Gordie Foundation which is now re-named Gordie.Org has made an enormous impact on hundreds of thousands of students across the country through its programs and educational efforts. If you have a college-age student, think about asking them to take the pledge to save a life, possibly their own.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? How is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? Why is it that we do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed? Perhaps more than eighteen years later, our vision is becoming clearer and we realize just how precious each life is……

Charity Matters.

 

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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.

Melanoma, looking twice

Summer is in full swing and that means the sun is strong. I was recently at the dermatologist getting checked out. My visit reminded me of this conversation a couple years back. So I thought I would re-share it again today for all you sun lovers.

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. 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 deaths in young women 25 to 30. For 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. 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.  Every year we had them checked and had no history in the family. We had lived in Southern California and being a reporter I was aware of it. We went back six months later for her yearly exam. About a week before that the mole on her ankle that she was born with started to change. However, 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. Unfortunately, it was a melanoma. 

About her junior year when we thought we were well past Claire 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 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 and  launched in October 2014.   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?”  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.  There were 500 kids there and they had sponsorships. We realized they’re listening and paying attention now, so we need to take advantage of this. If we wanted to do this in her memory, we had to do it quickly. Her friends have been our biggest force.

So because of them we then went forward. We have collegiate ambassadors, who started the program.  They were in the high school class of 2015 and the college class of 2019. Almost one hundred of them are now  on 46 campuses. Each of them are doing peer to peer education, 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. It was a way of him to process it and honor her. In addition, it was a way for us to raise awareness. 

The kids came up with a lot of these ideas. Today, we have partnerships with US lacrosse and we work with the Melanoma Research Foundation. Our organization has been to Capitol Hill to campaign for funding and support for research. We are developing a partnership with Teen Cancer America. If a young person is going through cancer, guess what that puts them at elevated risk for melanoma.

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. If I don’t keep this foundation going and do the work that needs to be done, then I’m not fulfilling her purpose.  That means we would have lost her for no reason.

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. We’ve done that many times over. I think what I’m most proud of is we’re changing the narrative.  Because of us, many organizations are now creating a Young Adult adolescent melanoma focus.  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.  It’s 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. A screening takes 10 minutes.  You don’t have to drink anything, don’t have to get an MRI and you don’t have to get a CAT scan. All you need is 10 minutes with a dermatologist with a scope. 

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 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.  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. 

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.  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.

 

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 © 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.

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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Looking back at Girls Leading Girls

As summer camps are in full gear everyone is looking for great ways to engage their children this summer. Since we are looking back at some fantastic conversations we had earlier this year, it seemed like a great time to revisit our conversation with Bre Russell.  Bre is developing the next generation of women leaders through her amazing nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls.

Join us as Bre shares her inspirational journey from a student-athlete to a nonprofit founder teaching thousands of young women how to lead. So if you haven’t heard this conversation, treat yourself with a long summer day and listen  to this amazing human.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Bre Russell: We are a nonprofit that trains girls and women in leadership advocacy and life skills through soccer. We are the first-ever all-girls soccer organization with all-women coaches. Every year we serve over 700 girls ages five to 17 in the Bay Area.

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

Bre Russell:  I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That was always something that appealed to me.  I worked at a young age because we were just trying to survive my family. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I relied on a lot of people to help.  My coaches making soccer even possible for me was huge. As a result, seeing other people helped me made me want to pay it forward and help others.

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Soccer was the game that I fell in love with it. It was a place where I was recognized, I could just be myself, and I could escape the struggles that I was facing at home or in school. During my time at Sacramento State, I played soccer and then after college, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. I was living in a village on a really small rural Island. A place where women didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Some girls saw me playing and then asked if they could play with me. After that,  we formed a team.

I found out FIFA was hosting a tournament nearby on another island and I organized to get us fundraising for uniforms. We went to the island and played on this hot volcanic ash. Three days into this tournament, we ended up winning first place. It was one of the highest moments I ever felt from such a big challenge. We won this huge Wimbledon size trophy. When we came back to the community they were waiting for us with flowers on the beach, to congratulate us. They were so proud of us! The team wanted to run around the community with the trophy.

A light bulb went off that soccer is not just a sport, it’s a vehicle for women’s empowerment, economic opportunity, equality, and community change.  These women were now seen as winners and that was all that I needed. When I came back from that experience, I knew I needed to start Girls leading Girls.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Bre Russell: Well, it’s definitely a grind, I think all entrepreneurship starts as you are grinding, you’re hustling. After Peace Corps, I was working full time for another nonprofit and building this on the side.  I was also coaching soccer in the community and that’s really what helped me get it going.  People in the community here in San Francisco, saw me coaching and said, “Can you coach our daughter? Because there are not enough women coaches.” This was in 2014 in San Francisco.

There’s definitely a lack of representation of women in sports at all levels. Eight years later, we’re starting to see that change.  When will we have women as not just referees and athletes, but owners of these higher-level clubs and teams? The challenge is there are not enough women coaches. We are essentially trying to change something that is also making it hard for us to do what we do.

We are recruiting, training and mentoring women to become coaches, which most never think that they can. So there are psychological barriers there. And we’re going up against male-run the old traditional model of coaching.  This is why we are trying to create something different because the old traditional model really was a disservice to girls.  Girls dropping out of sports at young ages, the statistics are there. Did you know that girls drop out of sports by age 12? That is over 50% rate that boys do.

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

Bre Russell:  There are a couple of things that fuel me. One is the girls in the program. Some of them I’ve known for eight years. To see them start with me and then to see them develop from a young age into confident, strong, young women on and off the field is just amazing. I mean, this is the beauty of kids that grow so fast. You can see that growth right before your eyes.

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

Bre Russell: We serve 736 Girls.  That was our biggest year yet and that was amazing coming off a COVID. As I said the demand is higher because of health issues and the stagnation of being home. It’s all come out in the surveys we put out to the girls and their parents. To hear things like, “Oh, my daughter lost her joy for life during COVID, when she came to your summer camp, it was like, she was a new person.”  Or,” I’ve never seen her smile like that once. ”

Hearing those stories are really an impact. That’s the depth. It’s not just soccer, we are teaching these girls confidence, self-esteem, and positive peer relationships, and we’re building them up, because, there is this huge confidence gap for girls. For me, it’s seeing this organization grow and how many girls we serve, but then also seeing the impact.

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

Bre Russell: When I was coaching, one of the key things I would say is,” What’s the most important play on the field?” They would say,” The next play.” So whatever just happened, let that go. Now you are focused on the next play.  I think we can apply that to life too. Because things happen to us and it can help you see that moments are temporary. It can help you really savor the positive wonderful moments too because you know, it’s not going to last. Then it also gives you the action of okay, what am I in control of? What is important to do next?  So it’s teaching many different things.

With my staff, we say,” Done, is better than perfect.” This is particularly important for women because perfectionism is a problem. We want to be so perfect that no one can criticize us. That’s what it stems from. I tell them all the time,”Done is better than perfect.” Perfectionism doesn’t exist.  We’re here to learn, right? I’d rather see something than nothing.  I’d rather you take a risk than not at all because you’re waiting for it to be perfect.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Bre Russell: I’ve definitely changed. When I went into the Peace Corps, I was 25 wide-eyed, and hopeful. I think I’ve changed in a variety of ways. Growing this organization, I’ve definitely learned to be more patient. In the process, of working with people in growth being more patient is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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

Bre Russell:  The dream is to expand and open branches of our program all over the world, starting in the US, and then having that impact worldwide. That would mean serving hundreds of 1000s of girls and women, empowering them to be confident and be leaders on and off the field.  It would give them the tools they needed to succeed whether or not they continued in the sport. We’re teaching them how to take risks, how to speak confidently, and how to go after what they want. So when they are older, they can have that conversation about a pay raise with their boss, or they can ask for that promotion. The goal is to just help the girls we serve to live the best life and go after what they want with confidence.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 41: Sow Good Now

Sports teach all of us so many lessons. We learn as children how to get along, how to work together, and physical fitness. When we think of youth sports we don’t usually think about philanthropy. That is until Mary Fischer Nassib and her friends came along to change all of that.

Mary and her friends were all college athletes and mothers of athletes. They had seen teams of kids that had too much and they had seen those with too little. They decided they could change all that with their nonprofit Sow Good Now. Join us for an uplifting conversation about a new way to teach philanthropy, leadership, and service to others with this amazing organization.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what SOW Good Now does?

Mary Fischer Nassib: There are 45 million youth that are involved in organized sports in the United States every year. In contrast, there are only 500 youth philanthropy programs.  So I thought, philanthropy is good for youth, it’s leadership development, and finding your passion. We know that it’s good for you, that’s good for communities, you lift diverse voices, the communities get the benefit of it, and the young people not only become beneficiaries but become active agents for philanthropy programs.

The kids come together, and they play sports to raise money for other kids. The teams are not only where the volunteers share their skills with youth from underserved areas but fundraise for them in the process. Let’s say there are 30 kids on a high school soccer team and they bring 30 kids from the Boys and Girls Club seven miles away.  That high school soccer team plans the match, arranges it, and coordinates a fundraising event, which we call a GiveBack,  to make it happen.

In the process, the high school team learns leadership skills, event planning, and service learning or doing it in its activity-based philanthropic education. Why we’re so unique is that we give the team ownership. You do the fundraising, you do the planning and you decide what organization you want to grant to. There’s a kid on your team that has a special cause you can help. Not only do you have the power to run this give back, but you’re organized and if someone else needed help, you’d be able to do that too.

The part that Sow Good Now does that work is we bridge the relationship between the team and the underserved youth. We set up a donor-advised fund with three or four players or the coaches, sometimes we even invite the program director from the youth group, whether it be the Boys and Girls Club or another organization. We want the students to understand that they do have tools that can maximize their personal lifetime impact. The fund is named by the team and they will grant out some and keep some in the fund.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Sow Good Now?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  We named it Sow Good Now because we want young people to start sowing their seeds of goodness, today. Most philanthropy starts near retirement age and by the time philanthropists get into their stride, they’re facing the end of their life. So, as a mother of five athletes, I noticed that there was great disparity in a lot of the players in their access to sports.  That was symbolic of the great disparity that we have in our country. And I always thought, “Well, gosh, there’s so much excess here. And so much need there? How can we build bridges?

In July of 2018, the three of us founders (also former college athletes, and mothers of athletes) got our kids and their friends together, and we told them about philanthropy. We invited kids from the Middle School in an elementary school to a football Give Back.  As a mother, and a former financial advisor I know my way around the financial services industry, as well as the sports industry. I studied philanthropy and decided that I would bring others along with me, ie, the athletes.  They’re already primed, they already understand the value of teamwork and diversity, right.  You can’t win if you’re thinking about yourself and that is the same with athletes.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  That first year, everywhere we went, everything played out the way we hoped.  We got into high gear, gained some traction had a good fundraiser.  Then COVID in February of 2020 was the biggest obstacle.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I’m really trying hard to bridge these long-term relationships and I think it’s through relationships, that we will ultimately build confidence.  We are taking those geographically adjacent kids but socioeconomically diverse, putting them together, and then connecting them at a higher level.   I’m passionate about that, and I know I can help them.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  As far as Impact Reporting, we measure volunteer hours. We also say have you volunteered in the past X number of years, so we can report out on the volunteer rates. The other impact report, which is really a byproduct of the work we do is college campuses are reporting that 86% of their athletes are saying that mental health is an issue for them. The work we do at Sow Good Now reverses those two numbers. By volunteering all the research shows that you feel better, and you’re more connected.

We say we shift the focus from achievement to service, that’s really our goal.  Service to others is a way to pause that is a way to let them glimpse that there is life outside of achievement. The two impact pieces are the improvement of mental health and the increase in volunteerism.

One of our softball players did her first Give Back and engaged her team during the pandemic.  She got her players to do virtual videos for kids. She developed leadership skills by building her Give Back and has now been hired by a nonprofit. So those are very measurable results. In a very short time, we’re not four years old yet, and one and a half of those years were COVID. So I have no doubt what we can do. And we’re trying to get work so that we can do more and meet the demand. Everybody is one huge energetic team.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  That dream to me is that every team has its own identity. I dream that there are teams of philanthropic athletes who share the same passion, the same level of skills, and give back as they do in their sport. That the number of 500 youth philanthropy programs grow and the financial services industry makes charitable giving one of its priorities to make giving more effective, more inclusive, and more diverse. That’s my dream. The athletes are making it happen, and I’m honored to serve them when I look at them. I think of the potential that they have to do good.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I think  I really focus on what’s in front of me. The saying is to work with what you have.  Everybody’s striving for whatever else is out there, I wish I figured that out earlier than I did.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I’ve changed a lot. I am definitely more fulfilled, I’m happier, I feel closer to where I should be and I am proud of myself for being a role model. There are a lot of risks, I’m from a family that really doesn’t understand the nonprofit world.

One day, I got a note from my goddaughter and she said,” Happy Birthday, and thanks for being a great role model.” I’m hoping that not only am I changing the world for the good in the sports world, but others are able to see that piece of themselves. I hope that they want to give back and that they say, “Well if Mary can do it, I can do it.” And that’s what I’m I’m kind of hoping for because that’s what makes me happy.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 40: Girls Leading Girls

These days when the world thinks of soccer Ted Lasso comes to mind. The loveable soccer coach from TV.  Today’s conversation is equally inspiring because that is exactly what our guest, Bre Russell does, coach soccer and SO much more!  Bre is developing the next generation of women leaders through her amazing nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls.

Join us as Bre shares her inspirational journey from a student-athlete to a nonprofit founder teaching thousands of young women how to lead. So join us for Episode 40 of our podcast! It truly makes me so happy sharing these incredible conversations.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Bre Russell: We are a nonprofit that trains girls and women in leadership advocacy and life skills through soccer. We are the first-ever all-girls soccer organization with all-women coaches. Every year we serve over 700 girls ages five to 17 in the Bay Area.

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

Bre Russell:  I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That was always something that appealed to me.  I worked at a young age because we were just trying to survive my family. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I relied on a lot of people to help.  My coaches making soccer even possible for me was huge. As a result, seeing other people helped me made me want to pay it forward and help others.

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Soccer was the game that I fell in love with it. It was a place where I was recognized, I could just be myself, and I could escape the struggles that I was facing at home or in school. During my time at Sacramento State, I played soccer and then after college, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. I was living in a village on a really small rural Island. A place where women didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Some girls saw me playing and then asked if they could play with me. After that,  we formed a team.

I found out FIFA was hosting a tournament nearby on another island and I organized to get us fundraising for uniforms. We went to the island and played on this hot volcanic ash. Three days into this tournament, we ended up winning first place. It was one of the highest moments I ever felt from such a big challenge. We won this huge Wimbledon size trophy. When we came back to the community they were waiting for us with flowers on the beach, to congratulate us. They were so proud of us! The team wanted to run around the community with the trophy.

A light bulb went off that soccer is not just a sport, it’s a vehicle for women’s empowerment, economic opportunity, equality, and community change.  These women were now seen as winners and that was all that I needed. When I came back from that experience, I knew I needed to start Girls leading Girls.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Bre Russell: Well, it’s definitely a grind, I think all entrepreneurship starts as you are grinding, you’re hustling. After Peace Corps, I was working full time for another nonprofit and building this on the side.  I was also coaching soccer in the community and that’s really what helped me get it going.  People in the community here in San Francisco, saw me coaching and said, “Can you coach our daughter? Because there are not enough women coaches.” This was in 2014 in San Francisco.

There’s definitely a lack of representation of women in sports at all levels. Eight years later, we’re starting to see that change.  When will we have women as not just referees and athletes, but owners of these higher-level clubs and teams? The challenge is there are not enough women coaches. We are essentially trying to change something that is also making it hard for us to do what we do.

We are recruiting, training and mentoring women to become coaches, which most never think that they can. So there are psychological barriers there. And we’re going up against male-run the old traditional model of coaching.  This is why we are trying to create something different because the old traditional model really was a disservice to girls.  Girls dropping out of sports at young ages, the statistics are there. Did you know that girls drop out of sports by age 12? That is over 50% rate that boys do.

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

Bre Russell:  There are a couple of things that fuel me. One is the girls in the program. Some of them I’ve known for eight years. To see them start with me and then to see them develop from a young age into confident, strong, young women on and off the field is just amazing. I mean, this is the beauty of kids that grow so fast. You can see that growth right before your eyes.

For example, there’s one girl, I’ll say her name is Melinda, not her actual name. She was not having great experiences at other organizations that were soccer-focused. She’s a very talented athlete and she took a year off from playing because she was not thriving on these other teams. Her friend who was playing with us encouraged her to join our organization, which she did.  I felt an instant connection with her because we had similar backgrounds.  Her family was just trying to survive, she was often having to take care of and be responsible for her younger siblings at a young age. And she didn’t have a lot of resources or support.

I would pick her up and take her to practice.  For the last two years, she improved so much in her soccer skills, and in her leadership, and she was awarded goalie of the year.  Today, she’s now a paid coach for us and she’s playing soccer at SF City College.  I just made it my job to support her and see her through this and be her mentor. Obviously, I can’t do that for all the 700 Girls we serve but I can model it and be an example. So other coaches want to do it too.

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

Bre Russell: We serve 736 Girls.  That was our biggest year yet and that was amazing coming off a COVID. As I said the demand is higher because of health issues and the stagnation of being home. It’s all come out in the surveys we put out to the girls and their parents. To hear things like, “Oh, my daughter lost her joy for life during COVID, when she came to your summer camp, it was like, she was a new person.”  Or,” I’ve never seen her smile like that once. ”

Hearing those stories are really an impact. That’s the depth. It’s not just soccer, we are teaching these girls confidence, self-esteem, and positive peer relationships, and we’re building them up, because, there is this huge confidence gap for girls. For me, it’s seeing this organization grow and how many girls we serve, but then also seeing the impact.

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

Bre Russell: When I was coaching, one of the key things I would say is,” What’s the most important play on the field?” They would say,” The next play.” So whatever just happened, let that go. Now you are focused on the next play.  I think we can apply that to life too. Because things happen to us and it can help you see that moments are temporary. It can help you really savor the positive wonderful moments too because you know, it’s not going to last. Then it also gives you the action of okay, what am I in control of? What is important to do next?  So it’s teaching many different things.

With my staff, we say,” Done, is better than perfect.” This is particularly important for women because perfectionism is a problem. We want to be so perfect that no one can criticize us. That’s what it stems from. I tell them all the time,”Done is better than perfect.” Perfectionism doesn’t exist.  We’re here to learn, right? I’d rather see something than nothing.  I’d rather you take a risk than not at all because you’re waiting for it to be perfect.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Bre Russell: I’ve definitely changed. When I went into the Peace Corps, I was 25 wide-eyed, and hopeful. I think I’ve changed in a variety of ways. Growing this organization, I’ve definitely learned to be more patient. In the process, of working with people in growth being more patient is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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

Bre Russell:  The dream is to expand and open branches of our program all over the world, starting in the US, and then having that impact worldwide. That would mean serving hundreds of 1000s of girls and women, empowering them to be confident and be leaders on and off the field.  It would give them the tools they needed to succeed whether or not they continued in the sport. We’re teaching them how to take risks, how to speak confidently, and how to go after what they want. So when they are older, they can have that conversation about a pay raise with their boss, or they can ask for that promotion. The goal is to just help the girls we serve to live the best life and go after what they want with confidence.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 39:West Coast Sports Associates

Spring 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 for 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?

Mikee Gottlieb: It’s not like a lot of other charities out there, which are all great.  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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Episode 38: Foster the Mind

I never ceased to be amazed at the fascinating way nonprofit founders find me, or perhaps the ways I find them? A few months ago I was at a board meeting and was seated next to a new board member. We began talking about what she did and it came up that her husband Bryan had recently founded a nonprofit. She explained that Brian had a challenging upbringing and had struggled with depression. Through an incredible journey (worth listening to) Brian was introduced to neurofeedback.

The CDC has said that the economic fallout of mental health from COVID is two trillion dollars. Brian’s nonprofit, Foster the Mind helps children from the foster care system who struggle with trauma and mental health challenges from trauma. Join us for a fascinating conversation looking at mental health and the foster care system in a totally different way with our guest Bryan Butler. This conversation will most definitely open your mind!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Foster The Mind does?

Brian Butler: We improve the lives of children and adolescents with mental health treatment, more specifically neurofeedback. Foster children have more trauma than most of our veterans if you study their brains. Neurofeedback which is an expensive therapy helps to alleviate that trauma.

So primarily we’re focusing on abuse and the foster youth population. Our model is we calm the brain down with something called alternating current stimulation.  It’s just a very light stimulation and a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. So it basically forces the right-left hemisphere to alternate while you’re telling a story. And what that does, is it doesn’t erase the memory. Rather, it starts to remove the emotional impact that that specific memory has, it’s really powerful.

Oftentimes, there’s a lack of understanding in the mental health field of trauma and the impact it has. There’s a book called The Body Keeps the Score and so that’s actually what happens is there is a connection between the mind and the body. So you see these people, and they have just a slew of issues because their childhood trauma has never been addressed.

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

Brian Butler:  I grew up in a very chaotic home. When you have an environment like that, you don’t have a center intact. So I would be close to somebody and then push them away. They’re called deactivating strategies that your brain does to keep you safe.

In graduate school, one of my professors talked about how we minister of who we are. I had to write a paper on the topic. After he read it, he said, “This is really dark.” The professor wanted me to go see a therapist. And so I did and was given the diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

After that initial diagnosis, I spent 20 years and the current standard of care. I went to the psychiatrist and volunteered at church working with a lot of foster youth who were also struggling. Later on in life, you realize that you’re trying to find some meaning. So in saving them, you’re giving yourself meaning because I always felt worthless.

I tried to commit suicide. The week after,  I went to my professor and said, “Look, I am doing everything I’m supposed to do. I’m taking all the meds, exercising, praying, going to church, and doing it all. There’s gotta be something else because this is not working. And I’m going to kill myself because of the pain.” So he said, “Well, there’s a guy who has a clinic, Burleson, doing neurofeedback, I think you should try it. “

After I got much better, where I was treated, he offered me a job to come back to work at the clinic that treated me. When I got married and told my wife about what I wanted to do, she said, “Okay, let’s just do it.” She helped me put everything together. That was in 2018 we started Foster the Mind.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Brian Butler: A lot of people really don’t understand this work. So more than fundraising, I’m teaching people that there’s a better model for trauma, recovery, and trauma treatment. I have a split model because we have a clinic with paying customers and then we have a nonprofit where we work with children recommended by the court. Balancing both can be challenging.

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

Brian Butler: Yes, we do have successes, which is really, really exciting. It’s cool when people give us cards saying, thanks for changing my son’s life or daughter’s life.

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

Brian Butler:  I’ve got two or three patients now who were having panic attacks all day long. You can see it in the brain waves. Now they can have a conversation and not have panic attacks. And it’s just very miraculous. It feels very surreal. We see lots of people, but still every time it’s still amazing to me to see that happen.

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

Brian Butler: My dream is to create a home or a campus for kids that age out of foster care that has mental health treatment. A place that has an art studio and where they teach everything else that might be helpful for someone who isn’t going to go to school or college. These kids still want to find a home. Texas is one of the few places where when you turn 18, as a foster child they no longer support you or help.

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

Brian Butler: That no matter what you’ve experienced, no matter what you’ve been through, the brain can be rewired and changed. These challenges can become a strength as opposed to a downfall. That’s been my personal experience. So when I when someone comes to me, and they’re having panic attacks all day long every day.  I’m telling them my own story, my own journey.  I can see, I guess it’s part of my gift, and maybe I’m seeing my own self, but I can see three months from now where I think they can be.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Brian Butler:  What’s been cool about my journey of healing, especially with Amanda, because she’s been absolutely amazing for me. I’ve never been married before and I’m just feeling a sense of peace. My wife’s big and talking about things that happen in seasons. So I hang on to that.  Because of my own story, I keep reminding myself of the whole seasons’ thing. I’m learning to enjoy the present moment and I’m grateful to actually have a family.  I never thought I would be a part of a family. So I really enjoy the connectedness and how grounded I am.

Now that I’ve started the nonprofit my vision has been able to change.  I get to keep sharing part of who I am and part of my story and then helping them realize the same thing. They’re the ones doing the work and I get to be around for part of it. My desire is for them not to suffer the way I suffered.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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A few ways to support Ukraine

The world is still in shock and awe from the past week’s events. It still seems surreal the human tragedy that we are watching unfold in Ukraine. Most of us feel incredibly helpless so today I thought we would share a few incredible vetted nonprofit resources that are working tirelessly to support the people of Ukraine. Any contribution to any of the below organizations will help.

Project Hope

You may remember my incredible conversation with the CEO of Project Hope, Rabih Tornay. Project Hope is a humanitarian relief organization founded in 1958. They currently have emergency teams in Europe sending medical supplies and health care for refugees. 87% of every dollar goes directly to providing care and hope for those in need. With Rabih at the helm of this organization, your donations are in the best of hands.

World Central Kitchen

World Central Kitchen was founded by Chef Jose  Andres in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti. Chef Andres is already on the ground in Ukraine doing what he does best, feeding people. The World Central Kitchen has been providing meals to the hungry all over the world. As Chef Andres said,” Nothing sends a bigger message of hope than a humble plate of food. And that’s the only thing we know how to do.” 

Save The Children

Save the Children has been working in Ukraine since 2014. They estimate that out of Ukraine’s population of 44 million people there are currently 500,000 people displaced from their homes and 7.5 million children are in immediate danger. Save The Children is providing immediate aid such as food, water, hygiene kits, and cash assistance to protect children and families.

Global Giving

Eight years of conflict in Ukraine has taken a toll on the country. Global Giving has created a specific fund called the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. This fund and donations to it will support humanitarian assistance in impacted communities in Ukraine and surrounding regions where refugees have fled. The funds will provide shelter, food, clean water, economic assistance, and health care. They need your support to make this possible.

If we have realized anything in the past week it how small our world is. We have seen the best of humanity in the Ukrainian people coming together and the worst as bombs are launched. In these moments we all make choices on how to support one another. Thank you to all of you who do so so much to help another. We are grateful for you.

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 © 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 34: Saving Tiny Hearts

February is heart month. Heart disease kills over 659,000 people in the United alone each year. In addition to that 40,000 children will be born with congenital heart disease (CHD) this year alone. When Francie Paul’s son Joshua was born with CHD she and her husband Brian decided to make a positive impact for their child and so many others. They founded the nonprofit Saving Tiny Hearts. A nonprofit organization that is determined to put an end to Congenital Heart Disease, which is the number one birth defect of children

Francie was one of my very first interviews over a decade ago and her story and work have continued to inspire me. I recently had a chance to reconnect with Francie and her board chair Dr. Larry Kluge to discuss the incredible work Saving Tiny Hearts is doing. If ever there were two humans with huge hearts to mend all the broken ones it’s Francie and Larry.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Saving Tiny Hearts does?

Larry Kluge: Every day, we’re looking to raise as much money as we can to fund as much research as we can. Nearly every dollar we raise goes to support research. Recognizing how important it is that difference in raising money for research makes in the lives of children. We’ve already found that that was the case, in terms of many of the projects that we have funded have actually changed and improved the lives of children born with congenital heart defects. This is what Saving Tiny Hearts does.

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

Francie Paul:  On August 11, 2005, we had our first child, a beautiful baby boy named Joshua Bennett Paul. My pregnancy was “normal” and the doctors reported nothing “remarkable” about it.  Four hours after his birth, Joshua was rushed from the local hospital to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Joshua was diagnosed with Severe Complex Congenital Heart Disease.

Like many parents in the same situation, we became very angry and considered litigation as a course of action. After meeting with high-profile medical malpractice attorneys, we decided this course of action was not for us. In the elevator on the way out of the attorney’s office, we called Brian’s corporate attorney to find out how to start a public charity. We wanted to channel our energy into something positive instead of negative.  On September 1, 2006, the United States Internal Revenue Service officially recognized the Saving tiny Hearts Society as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Francie Paul: Our challenges.  I have a good friend who said it’s her first instinct not to talk about it. And I always say, if we don’t talk about it, the world won’t know that our kids need help. Right?  They cannot yet fix what Joshua has. So I need medicine to catch up faster than what we’re doing.  I wish people knew that the research we fund could save their aunt’s life,  their mother’s life, and could save their life

 Joshua’s heart surgeries are a direct result of ongoing research. There are not yet adult survivors that have had his heart surgery versions. So like every year is a blessing and every year is also a race against the clock for me. I feel like I could shout to the world and say, “Everybody if you knew how much of your money directly goes to the scientists that our medical advisory board decides?” They only pick what is most worthy for Saving Tiny Hearts grants.  If people knew that their money went to actually change the world, by changing medicine and science. How remarkable the future could be.

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

Larry Kluge: Our motivation remains the same year after year, month after month, day after day, as we struggle to get the word out and raise those urgently needed funds to support more and more research that will ultimately save the lives of children born with CHD.  Our work has just begun and will continue until we can eradicate CHD.

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

Francie Paul:  I can but I can share a quick story about a boy. His name was Gray. He collapsed on a hockey rink, and from sudden cardiac death. And it just so happens that one of Joshua’s CV surgery nurses was there. So she ran and people were trying to do CPR. She said,” Call 911 Get me the AED.” She did CPR on him using the AED and saved his life.

We had Gray come to our gala and it happened to be his high school homecoming, so he brought his date. Gray got up there at our gala and said, “You know, I’m one in a million kids this happens to.”  That night we also had a doctor come up whose research we funded. And the doctor said to Gray, ” You’re not one in a million. This happens more than you realize. But I’m coming up with a study that will prevent it from happening to kids just like you.” 

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

Larry Kluge: Success is continuing since 2006 on our mission to fund life-saving research.  Sixteen years have gone by and we are still here committed to raising funds to support life-saving research.  Our Medical Advisory Board continues to review and evaluate all the grants that we receive year after year and determines which ones are most worthy of our funding efforts.  We have raised over 6 million dollars and funded 60 research projects.  Many of the research projects funded have already made a difference in the lives of children born with CHD.  Not only children but today after funding the development of a heart in a lab, an adult has received the first heart transplant from a pig which stemmed from research we have funded.

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

Francie Paul: To eradicate CHD.  To have a world filled with healthy children never to be born again and suffer from CHD.  Live long and healthy lives without fear or restrictions.

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

Francie Paul:  It’s been a humbling journey. And I think, through those moments of heartache, you see the goodness in people.  I think you see the goodness and the true heart and passion in people.  When somebody raises money for research for us, and my baby was given a chance… And I can only dream about what the future will be like because of everybody’s helping everybody.  Really when everyone comes together it is just the best. And just, I feel like the best is yet to come. And for lack of a better way of saying it, I only dream for it to only be bigger and better.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Larry Kluge: Recognizing how fortunate we are and how we can be of help to others is what we strive for day after day. My personal commitment is to make a difference in someone’s life every day.  To put a smile on a child’s face, to make someone laugh, or just bring some cheer and hope to another individual is what life is all about.  Making a difference.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Having a heart

February is here and with it comes Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, and of course heart month. In the past decade, we have talked to a number of organizations that focus on the heart. For good reason, one out of for deaths each year is from heart disease. The translation is that over 659,000 people die in the United alone each year from heart disease. These are not just statistics but real people. To visualize this number that is over six huge football stadiums full of people each year. One person every 36 seconds, not to mention the 40,000 children will be born with congenital heart disease this year. So what do we do when are our hearts are broken?

Luckily for us, there are a multitude of amazing organizations working tirelessly to solve and tend to this problem. I thought before the month jumped into high gear we could take a moment to revisit some of the great organizations we have met who are working to reduce those numbers. Some of these go back so far that I felt like I was looking at old friends, I hope you feel the same.

Hopeful Hearts Foundation

A decade ago we talked to the Chez family about their organization, The Hopeful Hearts Foundation. The Chez family had three children all born with Congenital Heart Disease. Tragically they lost their daughter Gracie suddenly at the age of three and created the Hopeful Hearts Foundation in 2008 to keep her memory alive and to help other children suffering from CHD.  The Hopeful Hearts Foundation supports families whose children have CHD and also raises funds to provide research for Congenital Heart Disease.

Camp Del Corazon

Some of you may remember Lisa Knight, a registered nurse and nonprofit founder of Camp Del Corazon. The camp is a place for children with heart-related health challenges to have fun, make friends and find fellow children going through similar health issues.

Lisa said, ”  I get so filled up by it all.  These kids have survived death, there are no camps for these types of kids due to their medical conditions. It transforms them. You see them show each other their scars. The most rewarding thing is when you hear children call you by your camp name when you see them years later not at camp.  This year our first camper is coming back as a counselor, so to see not only these children grow up and give back but to watch my own 29-year-old daughter getting even more involved as she takes on more responsibility with her role at Camp del Corazon, is so rewarding. “

Mended Hearts

In 2017, we talked to our friends the Page family about their experience with Congenital Heart Disease in our post The Heart of the Matter. In that conversation, we learned about Max Page’s support of the organization Mended Hearts. A nonprofit that was created in 1951 to give peer support to those dealing with heart disease. Dr. Harken asked four of the first four people to ever have open heart surgery to help others facing the same experience. In 2004, Mended Hearts realized that families with children suffering from CHD also needed that same peer-to-peer support and created Mended Little Hearts.

There are hundreds of organizations working tirelessly to do research to cure Congenital Heart Disease. These are just a few of the amazing people working to heal broken hearts. Next week we will continue our look back with Francie Paul from Saving Tiny Hearts in our podcast. I’m so excited to share our conversation about the incredible work she and her team have been doing to help find a cure. Until then, wishing you all a wonderful heart month full of love.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

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Welcome to Season 3! Episode 32: Diveheart

Welcome to Season Three of the Charity Matters Podcast! We are so excited to introduce you to another incredible season filled with amazing heroes. Today’s guests are the perfect way to dive into this new season. As a lifelong recreational scuba diver, I know how scared I am every time I enter the water. So many things are out of my control, the fear of not being able to breathe followed by the peace, stillness, and beauty of the ocean. Overcoming that fear every time leaves me feeling recharged and accomplished. So when I heard about the nonprofit Diveheart.org that works with people with disabilities to live better lives, I knew they were the perfect organization to launch Season Three of our podcast. So let’s dive in!

We are so excited to introduce you to Jim Elliot the Founder of Diveheart.org and their Executive Director, Tinamarie Hernandez. Join us for a fun and inspirational conversation about what can happen with a positive can-do attitude, a scuba tank, a body of water, and a passion for making people’s lives better. You won’t want to miss this one!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Tinamarie Hernandez: Diveheart is an organization that works with people with disabilities, physical and cognitive. We’re also a training agency for people who want to work safely with people with disabilities in the water. And we use scuba diving as a therapy.

So we start people in a pool, we get them to where they’re comfortable.  We see a lot of stuff, self-improvement in the people that we work with. They get the confidence and a renewed vigor of life. Some of the people we work with might have been in an accident. We also work with people who’ve dealt with their condition their entire life.

And it’s one of those moments where they’re like, I’m getting a win, this is a winning day for me. And that’s something I tell parents and family members, you know because they’re nervous. I guarantee your loved one is going to leave with a win today. They’re going to be proud of themselves for something. So that’s what we do, we don’t cure ailments. What we do is help people live a better life.

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

Jim Elliot: I’m a media guy by trade. I’m a journalist. I took diving because I thought if I ever meet someone like Jacques Cousteau, I better know how to scuba dive.  I had a burning desire to learn how to dive and fell in love with it. As you know, it’s a great equalizer. It’s like being an astronaut in inner space. It’s amazing.

So during the 80s, I was in the media business and helped startup a TV station. I was also on these nonprofit organizations’ boards. And in the mid-80s, I started guiding and teaching blind skiers because my eldest daughter is blind.  I saw how that helped people and said, “You know, you can only ski at certain times of the year in certain places in the world, but there’s a pool in every community. So what if I were to do what I’ve been doing for decades in skiing, and taking people out of wheelchairs and putting them in the water and having them fly, learn to be an astronaut.” And that was kind of the premise of the whole idea. That was 2001 that we incorporated and this is our 20th anniversary.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Tinamarie Hernandez: The challenges are to evolve and to keep our finger on the pulse of what is changing. As a nonprofit that needs help with funding, all of our pool programs are free. So we need people to give us  99% of the money that we need to help us run our programs.  It’s about getting the word out and letting them know that, yes, you’re giving us money so that we can help people in the pool because even though it’s free for them, it’s not always free for us.  So that’s a challenge to keep going. 

Jim Elliot: We have a documentary called TurningPpoint that was done and airs on PBS every now and then. And we had somebody from Southern California call us and say, “You know, my husband and I watched turning point last night and we cried, where do we send a cheque?” Five years later, that donation (knock on wood )has increased every year. We just make sure she knows everything, all the good stuff that we’re doing. So she knows that her investment or donation is going places.

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

Tinamarie Hernandez: We have one particular individual with who we’ve been working with her since she was three months past her very life-changing. accident.  She’s now a complete quadriplegic and was injured at 19. You don’t know what you’re going to do with your life at 19, right? But when we met her she was still in her anger phase, which is understandable. She was a very decorated athlete before this accident.

This last week, she announced that she is going to finish her degree. I can’t say Diveheart did all the work. We didn’t but we helped get her that spark. I know we did. She’s worked with us and her whole life has changed. She’s been inspiring people with disabilities to get certified. They’re like, well, wow, I didn’t want to get certified or get in the water until I saw her.

Seeing this young woman coming up out of the water with a smile on her face with her energy makes others think, ” Maybe I am missing out on something.” Those are the impact moments. I can’t measure that impact. That person’s life is better. I know and I hope we can reach as many people as we can. 

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

Jim Elliot: I think you hit the nail right on the head when you said ripple effect. Because what we do, and what’s really cool about what we do is that it can happen so fast.  The first pool session can be so powerful because it’s not natural to breathe underwater. It happens to everybody that puts their face in the water and breathes it off that tank. And it changes the way they think and the way they really experience life.

We like to do to say that we take the unrealized human potential, and we create a paradigm shift. So now it’s not Johnny in a wheelchair, it’s Johnny, the scuba diver. Then what we do is, once they have this new identity, we point them towards being a good steward of the environment.  You know, get into marine biology or just be a helper and do good in the world. Then we try to help them go in that direction. In turn, they inspire people around them, like you said, the ripple effect. And this girl that Tina was talking about. She came to us and said, “You changed my daughter’s life. Thank you so much. “

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

Jim Elliot: One of the things that keep us going and able to adapt is when we are hit with an obstacle.  We take lemons and make lemonade, basically. What action do we take, that’s going to really be meaningful at this moment? Where we can just stay with it and then persevere, take that obstacle and turn it around. And we’ve been successful doing that many times. As the book says, the obstacle is the way.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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