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The Scarlet C of COVID

“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

The Scarlet Letter

My son and husband have COVID. By the time you read this “had” will be more apropos. Not to worry they are physically fine.  I am COVID free. They are only two of over four million people that have had this. The fascinating thing about COVID is not the physical ramifications but the mental. There is a Scarlet Letter C for COVID. For the first time in my life, I can relate to the character Hester Pryne from The Scarlet Letter. We have not hung a huge scarlet C in front of our house but it feels as if we might have one.

the Love-Hate Relationship with COVID Statistics

Every night for months the evening news covers the daily statistics of COVID. The number infected, tested, active cases, deaths, and the list goes on. These numbers are people. They are not numbers and there is a difference. At this writing, there have been over 140, 000 people in the United States who have died.   According to the LA Times, Floridians over 65 are dying every eight minutes, due to this horrific pandemic.

Before I begin my observations on the mental health of COVID, please note that I am in NO way stating in ANY way that being seriously ill or death is a comparison to the mental health aspects of this virus. It most obviously is not. What has been fascinating to observe is how people react and how people treat you when they know there is an active COVID case in your home.

The Human Experience and COVID

When you hear that people are all over the map with their thoughts about COVID. Pro-mask, Anti-masks, Pro-school-Anti-School. That is true. People are emotionally all over the place when it comes to COVID. Wherever you are on this is ok. I am not here to judge but here to tell you what this feels like on the receiving end. Every day for the past 12 days we have felt as if we are in the middle of a bad psychology experiment. When you tell someone your child has COVID and is safely quarantined (as are we) the reactions run the gamut. It doesn’t matter if is your family, dear friends, neighbors, or co-workers. I haven’t tried with strangers yet but maybe their reactions are better?

Our first encounter was with our neighbor who was walking his dog. My husband and I saw him from about thirty feet apart and we spoke telling him that our son has COVID. He literally ran away while suggesting a podcast for good information. His fear was real. Totally understandable but we have never had anyone run away from us before, so that was a first.

 

The Scarlet C

Dear friends have reacted with anger, shock, shamed us, questioned us, and rejected us. The anger, “How could you let your son go on a father-son boating trip in a pandemic? What did you expect would happen? You are an idiot!” For the record, every person on that trip has tested negative twice, so the source is still a mystery. Can you really get COVID from a gas pump? Think we know the answer.

Shock and awe.  Many friends are stunned and curious. Our son is the first person they have known and they have a million questions about exposure, symptoms, how we keep ourselves safe from him, quarantine, testing, and protocol. That is a whole different post on the misinformation of COVID that I will spare you all.

Shame and Shunned

To be told that we are not welcome regardless of testing, quarantine, following CDC, and doctor’s guidelines. Well, I have to admit, that one stung a bit. We have been very honest and open about the situation, obviously. Our medical advice has been excellent, all of which we have followed to the letter. Who knew that Zinc and a thousand milligrams of Vitamin C helps keep you COVID free?

However, being banned/shunned made me wonder if we actually had a Scarlet C on our home or our caller ID? It made me wonder about Hester Pyrene and truly understand how she felt. Just as the book said, “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”  It is bad enough to be away from your other children, your family, friends, and the world for 14 days. It is not fun. It is sad, lonely, depressing, and isolating. That is for us that are “healthy” and without symptoms. I can’t imagine adding being severely ill to how people with COVID must feel?

Kindness and Compassion

To end on a positive note we have had more than a handful of amazing friends who offered to get groceries, run errands, or bring anything we needed. We had one friend drop off beautiful vegetables from her garden. One family has face-timed our son every night just to check in on him and it was honestly the highlight of his day. All of these gestures of kindness were THE best medicine. Feeling loved, connected, and cared for is what we all truly crave in life.

I have to confess that I struggled with sharing these observations.  Knowing that I am opening myself up to a million more opinions and emotions that honestly, I’m not sure I can handle after the past two weeks. However, with all of the overload of information out there I could not find anything about the human reaction to COVID. These are our experiences, perhaps not everyone’s. My hope is that when you know someone who is quarantined (and chances are you do) that you reach out with kindness, compassion, and empathy.

 

Charity Matters

 

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We Lift You Up

A few months ago before the world went mad, and in the early weeks of COVID, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa McKenzie, the most extraordinary human. Lisa began her career as an events planner and entrepreneur. Life had a different plan for her. Lisa was running a company called Ooh La Bra when her life took a turn. Using all her gifts in business and event planning came this opportunity to make an enormous difference for women recovering from cancer. Lisa founded the We Lift You Up Fund with multiple programs to support women recovering from cancer. She is a true inspiration and a bright light in our crazy world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what We Lift You Up Foundation does?

Lisa McKenzie: We create empowering group experiences for women with cancer. For a lot of women, the scary part is when they are released from the care of their physicians and friends think they are “cured.” The survivor feels like she came back from a war zone and she is still in the trenches.

Their bodies might be totally mutilated, or their relationships are severed, and now they’re living with the constant fear of recurrence. And then, of course, just the damage it does to a lot of families financially,  just to the family structure itself, the kids are scared, and so, we are that part that picks up from that point. Doctors and hospitals will refer the patients to us because they don’t have time to deal with the emotional struggle, right? So if they’re sitting in a waiting room with a woman, and she starts expressing any kind of fallout, they’ll say, call We Lift You Up and so our organization is comprised of all survivors, and by the way, I’m not one.

Get acquainted with You Night from You Night Events, LLC on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Wow, that is so interesting. So What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  We Lift You Up?

Lisa McKenzie: My mom is a cancer survivor but actually I have two friends who were the catalyst for all of this. So I was watching these two women who were movers and shakers in society completely confident, you know, going along with their lives and often they both got cancer and they totally changed, their physique changed, their confidence changed. Meanwhile, though, I had just come out of two years of total darkness because my marriage crumbled, my husband had cheated on me. And I went from this peppy person, a leader, confident and happy, and then all of a sudden I was dealing with clinical depression.

 Over time little resources, like the book The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer started filling my mind with truth. I woke up one morning knowing that I didn’t want to feel miserable anymore. I had been a prisoner of my own mind and I began to find positive messages to retrain my mind and I began listening to podcasts and read books with positive messages

God still had a perfect story for me. I was running an accessory company and the tag line was, “We lift you up.” I wanted to do a runway show to model my product and I decided to use my friends who had had cancer and that was the beginning of You Night. After that first runway show, I approached the hospital and said I would love to gift this experience to cancer survivors. These survivors walked a runway in front of 500 people, their families, doctors, and nurses cheering them on. 

You’re like you’re cheering for these ladies, not because they have a pretty gown on or because their hair looks beautiful, right? They have fire in their eyes. That is like, you just you could feel it in the air. There’s so much energy coming from these ladies.  So it’s like a pay it forward program because in the audience are the women who are bald and defeated and thinking I’ll have whatever that runway model just had. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Lisa McKenzie: I’ve always wondered why can’t people collaborate who are doing good things? Why does this happen?  When you offer something for free in emotional support sometimes we can end up with more than we can handle. If we are doing the best work we can to serve humanity then why are we judged for our overhead as nonprofits? My motivation is so pure, why would people question your intentions?  These challenges became the catalyst to stay in my lane and stay the course.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The women. I have actually heard women say, “I’m glad I got cancer so I can join this organization.” Oh my God, because they have learned things about themselves that would have never been possible. And one of them who had stage four cancer said, “I wasn’t giving myself permission to smile anymore because I’ve labeled myself as a stage four cancer survivor. I thought that that’s like my death sentence and my black cloud.” Now she said, because of us now she can smile. We provide opportunities for people to find their smile again and say, yes, you do still have permission to enjoy life. 

My other inspiration are the children who come to see their mother’s walk the runway. So there was this little girl she was probably eight years old and her mom is a mom of four really who was really sick,  like 70 tumors, and struggling. But this little girl followed her mom the whole way down the stage, and then followed her mom back. When she went home that night, she got this box and scissors and fabric and her Barbies. Her mom’s said, “What are you doing?” She said,” I want to design gowns for Barbies that make them feel as beautiful as you looked on stage.” Oh my god, the stories.

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

Lisa McKenzie: I will tell you because there are endless stories of women’s lives we changed, like just to give you an example, a woman who calls and is suicidal and comes to the very first meeting and has her shoulders slumped and she’s got a chemo beanie on and she’s looking down at the ground. Then, slowly but surely you start seeing week after week and get together after get together, her posture changes. And then after she graduates, and after they get all this encouragement and attitude they want to go forward and be part of the organization. So I have 50 volunteer participant leaders who are all not on the payroll and are graduates of the program..

We sort of realized that our empowerment experience is a two year experience, the first year is giving them back their own self-esteem and their life and their attitude. And then pulling out you find out so many things about them like they’re amazing skills, and these are women are not defined by cancer.

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

Lisa McKenzie: Give people a literal platform. We have done 14 runway shows in seven years with two classes of fifty women a year. The show is a huge celebration. We show photos from their worst moments and the most painful pictures of their journey. The storytelling allows them to be real and the oncologist says they can tell the difference between women who have been through You Night vs those who have not.

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

Lisa McKenzie: To have a women’s conference, Tony Robbins style and fill a stadium with cancer survivors. Scaling to grow the You Night runway to raise awareness for emotional care in survivorship.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The first lesson is that I can leave a legacy for my daughter by showing her by example that you can use your talents and skills to help others. I can plant a seed of compassion in my children to carry on for generations.

The second lesson is that we live in one of the kindest worlds you can imagine. I can not believe how many really good people there are who want to help. I have never seen so much love and kindness back and forth between people. The love is the addiction. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Lisa McKenzie: I have learned to be more organic in how life unfolds. You can have a pity party and be at peace at the same time. I’m learning to let God unfold the story at his pace.

 

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 © 2020 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.

Faces In Between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us how Faces In Between began?

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2020 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.

Brave Gowns

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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A little kindness goes a long way

 

“Gentleness and kindness will make our homes a paradise upon earth.”
C. A. Bartol

Last week the world went a little crazy. This week we are all taking a breath, a pause and most of us are working from home. Schools are closed and we are self quarantined and wondering what do we do now? I think the answer is simply to be kind.  Every act of kindness creates a ripple effect.

I witnessed the most beautiful act of kindness yesterday when going to the grocery store. I arrived 45 minutes before the store opened, on accident. The first person in line was a homeless man, the second person was Tom who owns a local restaurant and I was the third in line. The homeless man and Tom told me to stay because the line would grow. The first act of kindness. It was cold and started to rain.  Tom, the next in line, gave us purell wipes for our carts from his car. Kindness act number two. I gave the homeless man the $10 in my pocket, he thanked me so kindly and sincerely and asked if I was sure. I said I wish I had more. I then asked the man behind me to come out of the rain and moved the line-up and he then gave his umbrella to the man behind him, kindness number five, and the kindness just kept happening. It overwhelmed me and made me cry to see such kindness and compassion.

There are so many ways to be kind and it just feels good to help one another, especially in times like this. So to keep this ripple effect going I thought I would share a few suggestions to help in ways little and big. Every little gesture moves us all forward in a better place.

First and foremost charity starts at home. So make sure that you and your family have everything they need for the next couple of weeks. Make sure you are stocked up on supplies and staying home.

After you have taken care of yourself and your family, call and check on your elderly neighbors. See if you can leave anything at their doors or have a meal delivered. Post-mates, Door Dash or Grub Hub can easily do this. In addition, ordering from these sites also supports local restaurants and small businesses that need our support right now, so ordering a meal for a neighbor is a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of small businesses another small way to help is to buy gift certificates from your favorite hair salons or local businesses. This way you help them with cash flow now and have something to look forward in the near future. A small gesture that can go along way.

There are so many people that have been homebound long before the coronavirus and incredible organizations like Project Angel Food have been bringing meals to the sick and elderly. Project Angel Food has been busy trying to prepare additional meals and could use volunteers and donations. On a national level Meals on Wheels is doing the same thing and any donation helps those who can not get out or prepare their own meals, visit their website to find out how to support your local chapter. If you aren’t going out to dinner maybe donating a dinner for someone who needs it will make you feel just as great?

Most schools have now closed or are closing soon, nearly 22 million students receive their only meal of the day at school. No Kid Hungry is determined to help these children through the current crisis. By supporting No Kid Hungry you helping a hungry child here in the United States.

As our elderly and children are the most vulnerable populations during this crisis finding ways to support those in need is important. Save the Children is an organization that has been working with the World Health Organization and around the globe to work with young children around the world. Last year Save the Children helped 134 million children in over 120 countries. In the United States, more than 14 million children, or 1 in 5, grow up in poverty. Save the Children helps children around the globe affected by poverty, famine, and disease.

So, remember that charity starts at home. Start with your own family, then your neighborhood, local community hospital or food bank and then look to the national and global organizations. We are all in this together and every little bit of kindness, compassion, and generosity makes an enormous difference. We will get through this together.

Charity Matters

 

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Simply no words…

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of holding on and letting go.”

Havlock Ellis

2020 began like all New Years with hopes, wishes and dreams for the new beginning and the decade, it has been a difficult month for so many of my dear friends. There has been enormous loss, sudden and unexpected change, serious health issues and a host of challenges that were not in the dream category. I originally wrote this post six years ago and sadly it seems appropriate to reshare now. I do want you all to know that I do have a few amazing interviews in the cue and I promise that February will bring more incredible introductions and inspiration. Somehow they just didn’t feel like the right thing to share right now. 

Twelve years ago I had a phone call that changed my life, a car accident, death, and nothing was simply ever the same after that call. A dear friend just received that same call and so it all comes flooding back…the pain, the loss, the heartbreak that feels like it will never end….it is simply too much. There are simply no words….

As I struggle with how to hold up my friend, I find myself thinking about loss and growth. I think many of us feel that growth comes in tiny layers added up over time and that each day’s journey gets us a little closer to inner-growth. I have a different theory.

I believe life is like an earthquake where huge jolts cause cataclysmic shifts like tectonic plates to our souls. In nature, these shifts result in mountains. Inside each of us is a similar experience. When the rocking stops we somehow come out shifted. Our vision becomes clearer, we see what is important for the first time, we learn gratitude in everything and the growth is as monumental as a mountain. It is the growth of our soul.

Joan Didion writes, “we are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. as we were. as we are no longer. as we will one day not be at all.”

When I sat down to write this week about the soul, I had no idea how I would conclude. I certainly didn’t envision this, but as I struggle and question why? I don’t know why an earthquake has leveled a family, I can only pray that the shift will bring the strength, foundation, and the beauty of a mountain to each of them.

These are simply words when there really are none…

Charity Matters.

 

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True 2020 Vision

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

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


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

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

Charity Matters

 

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The heroes of 2019

“Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

There is nothing I love more than meeting new people. To me, each new person that I come across is like unwrapping a gift. I love learning people’s stories and what makes them tick. Meeting someone new is a never-ending source of joy for me. Some people collect certain things, I collect people because to me they are what matter. This past year I am so excited about the people that WE met at Charity Matters. When I meet amazing people so do you. Who wants to open a gift and not share it? So before we look ahead to 2020 I wanted to take a brief moment and look back at some of the extraordinary humans and their organizations that came into our lives this year.

We began 2019 with Tracy’s Dogs. The founders of Tracy’s Dogs, Tracy and Scott Whyatt, a Texas-based nonprofit that rescues thousands of dogs and partners them with new homes said to me, “People don’t find dogs, dogs find people.” Two weeks after that interview a dog from Texas named Lucy found us. An unexpected blessing of 2019 and the gift that keeps on giving. As they say, “Charity starts at home.”

photo credit: Classic Kids

Animals were not the only last legacy from the year. We met amazing women who turned their life challenges into thriving nonprofits. The remarkable Becky Fawcett who learned what it cost to adopt a child and turned it into her life’s mission to help families fund adoption with Help Us Adopt.

Jill Ippolito who showed us the power of love and healing with her inspirational work in juvenile halls with trauma-informed yoga with her nonprofit Uprising Yoga. Teaching and training minors in jail to learn how to process their trauma and break the cycle of pain. Jill used her past experience to help reform prisons across the country and heal generations of children who have experienced trauma and inflicted it on others to learn a new path towards healing. Jill is a truly lovely human and reminded me that whatever gift it is that we have, we need to share it with the world.

Then there was Marcella Johnson who lost a child at birth and used that pain to fuel her nonprofit The Comfort Cub. Marcella and her team provide healing weighted stuffed teddy bears/Cubs to help those mothers who grieve. We had such an incredible conversation that we set up lunch after and a friendship was born, she is a truly special human.

Marcella wasn’t the only new friend made in 2019, Roberta Lombardi the founder of Infinite Strength was so inspiring with her mission to financially assist women going through breast cancer pay for things such as daycare. We talked for over two hours and could have kept going. She is remarkable with her passion for serving and supporting these women and a true girls girl. I adored getting to know Roberta.

This year was not just about the girls, there were amazing men accomplishing unbelievable work, one of them was Seth Maxwell of the Thirst Project. At 19 years old Seth discovered how many people on this planet live without clean drinking water and made it his life’s mission to change that. Now at almost 35, he has. Seth’s organization has actually taken that number from 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water to 663 million and he is still going strong. More than that Seth is using his passion to inspire thousands of high school students across the country to join him in his mission.

Speaking of missions we met Colin Baden, the former CEO of Oakley sunglasses turned nonprofit founder, who continues to find ways to use technology to support Veterans with Infinite Hero Foundation. Colin’s humility and commitment to our Veterans left a lasting impression on me and the thousands that he serves. Our conversation left me in awe and reminded me that true heroes serve from a place of humility and Colin is a true hero.

While we met so many incredible and inspiring humans this past year there was one person whose positive attitude, commitment to joy and service left an indelible mark on me. His name is Hal Hargrave and he is the founder of The Be Perfect Foundation. Hal is a paraplegic and his organization works to help provide wheelchairs, cars, physical rehabilitation and a list of services for those with spinal cord injuries. Hal is someone who chooses joy and to live his life in the service of others.

All of these nonprofit founders serve humanity each and every day in so many different ways. I loved every single person I had the privilege of meeting this year and I loved introducing them to you just as much, I wish I could highlight them all here. 2019 was an amazing year and I am excited about what this New Year and decade will bring.

I think the perfect way to wrap up 2019 is with a quote from Hal Hargrave. I think Hal speaks for all the remarkable nonprofit founders and heroes when he said, “I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision every day to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. “

Wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Charity Matters.

 

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

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Brave Minds Project

This past week I was in the New York visiting friends and getting into the holiday spirit and had the chance to talk to an amazing New Yorker and recent nonprofit founder, Alyssa Carfi.  A young dynamo with a public relations career by day and someone determined to make a difference as a new nonprofit founder by night and weekends and every minute in between. I often think that people forget that nonprofit founders are entrepreneurs of the best kind, people who start businesses to serve others. Alyssa is exactly that, she has taken her experience as someone who had a brain condition called, ‘cavernous malformation’ and turned it into a remarkable nonprofit called Brave Minds Project.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Brave Minds Project does?

Alyssa Carfi: We are a 501c3 that focuses on supporting patients between the ages of 10-29 with brain and brain stem conditions. They are the forgotten demographic, it’s a time when your hormones are changing, your life is changing and you are trying to figure out who you want to be, trying to go to school, or launch your career and then when you find out that there is something wrong with your brains, it’s devastating. It completely changes your whole life and affects the people around you as well.

I was 15 when I was diagnosed and 18 when I had brain surgery. When I look back at what I had there were certain resources missing. I was very fortunate to have both a great support system and great doctors but I wanted to provide some of those resources. I remember my 15th birthday, I was in the hospital and a clown came in and gave me a teddy bear, while it sounds funny it wasn’t really age-appropriate. So what we do besides building a community of young people with brain and brain stem conditions, we have created a mentorship program to pair up a patient with someone in the outside workforce, so if they want to be a doctor or a teacher or an actress we pair them with a  mentor in that field so they have someone to look up too. In addition, we provide things such as courage kits which are care packages for our patients and their siblings which is a fun way we can bring them a little sunshine and a smile.

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

Alyssa Carfi: Last November, the day before Thanksgiving I told my parents that I wanted to start Brave Minds Project  I am ten years out of my own brain surgery and am still affected by it. Being an adult, I wanted to give back because not everyone is as fortunate as I have been. I’ve been able to go to college, to study abroad, to work and now as I navigate my own place in the world, I knew I had to do this. So, I told my parents I wanted to start a nonprofit and they agreed it was a great idea. So I applied and this past June we got our 501c3. We are just getting started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Carfi: Because of my day job in PR, getting the word out has been pretty easy but the big challenge is that our patients are everywhere and we have to be wherever our patients are so the logistics can be difficult.  We continue to partner with more hospitals and build momentum and we would love to be nationwide eventually. It is one step at a time but I honestly didn’t even think we would be this far in our first year.

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

Alyssa Carfi: It is a lot but it is also very rewarding to hear the patient’s stories and they are inspired that I went through the same thing. We had one patient who was 24 and a year out of brain surgery. I talked to him and told him how incredible he looked for being only a year out of surgery. I told him that I waited for ten years until I met someone else who had even gone through what I had. He was so excited to just have an honest reference point for how he was supposed to look. The work is hard but it is truly rewarding to connect people going through this. Now that same 24 year old is sharing his story to help others as a Brave Minds Project Ambassador. 

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

Alyssa Carfi: It is those moments when we support our patients which means so much. We had a patient recently that is 19 years old college student with a brain tumor that affects her vision. She needed a very special and expensive contact lens. The Brave Minds volunteers surprised her with this special lens so that she could see. She was beyond grateful, those are the moments that remind me that we are making a difference.

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

Alyssa Carfi: The biggest impact so far has been the patients that we have helped and their patients. Overall, the connection we have created by bringing people together within this community is something you can’t put a number on. We connect patients to other patients and have incredible events at The Brain Bar, in patrnership with Stroke of Genius,  where we bring in speakers such as well known neurosurgeons to talk about various topics, like combining yoga and brain surgery and why its best for recovery. Friends and family of patients have also met and created another level of support. 

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

Alyssa Carfi: As we come upon our one year anniversary of the Brave Minds Project, my dream would be to raise more funds to put resources into building more programs. I want to continue to foster our community along with our programs. We have so many great things in place and I am really excited about where we are heading in trying to help this demographic of patients along with the hospitals and institutions.  I think that we are bringing people together that can really help to move the needle.

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

Alyssa Carfi: I always knew I was going to do something based on what happened to me. I  know I was put on this earth for a larger purpose and this experience has taught me that anything is possible. I work really hard to make this happen and I work really hard at my job. All the funds raised by the nonprofit go right back into the organization. I have gotten very good at focusing and compartmentalizing to get things done. The Brave Minds Project has reminded me that people always want to help and I am always amazed by the gifts of time and effort put into showing up and supporting this work.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alyssa Carfi: I have grown as a person. This has been really freeing because not everyone knew my story. I wear my story every day I have 6th and 7th nerve palsy which is where your eye and smile are affected. As a result, I  have had a lot of cosmetic surgery and it is definitely better. Starting the Brave Minds Project has forced me to be vulnerable and to open up and say, “Yeah I had this, this is what happened to me and because of this I now run a nonprofit to help others like me.” People no longer see my limitations anymore but the whole picture of what happened to me and how I was able to turn it into something good and that fuels everything that I am doing right now.

Charity Matters

 

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Infinite Strength

October may have come and gone but there are way too many amazing humans doing incredible work for breast cancer to fit them all into one month. Breast cancer doesn’t happen only in October but every two minutes in the United States someone’s life is changed by the diagnosis. There are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States and one of them is Roberta Lombardi. She is an incredible woman who I met through the Female Founder Collective recently. Roberta is the mother of three daughters, a breast cancer survivor, the founder of a line of beautiful bras for women who have had mastectomies and the founder of the nonprofit Infinite Strength.

Her mission is to support women in every possible way (groceries, bills, emotionally, medical bills) who have breast cancer and do not have health insurance. Roberta and Infinite Strength give these women the extra hope they to fight.  She is a bright light and exactly what our world needs more of.  I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Infinite Strength does?

Roberta Lombardi: While most people have been touched by breast cancer in some way, you do not really understand what it can do to your life unless you have had it yourself. Breast cancer doesn’t just take your breast, it can ruin relationships, shatter you mentally and is capable of destroying major areas of your life. How can you try to heal and have the best possible outcome in fighting this disease if on top of all this you are worried about bankruptcy, feeding your family or paying your bills? Infinite Strength is there to help financially and emotionally support those women so they can hopefully have the best possible outcome from their treatment. 

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

Roberta Lombardi: I am someone who never wanted to ask anyone for anything. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, most people had no clue that I had been sick. When I was done, I felt very blessed. They never tell you when you get cancer that when you are on the other side you are somehow estranged from who you were before cancer. I could not figure out how to get back to my previous life after fourteen months of going to the hospital every week.

My husband and I were standing in our kitchen and opening the last of our insurance bills and realized that my last round of chemotherapy had cost $80,000. We just looked at each other and my husband said, “What do people do without good insurance or without insurance at all? ” I was lucky, I didn’t need financial help but the minute my husband said it, I thought of all the women I had sat with at chemo for months and knew many of them were those women without support.

When I started to put all of this together, I just kept thinking about what if we hadn’t had the financial resources? What if we had not been able to afford food or rent because of medical bills? So, I went to the hospital where I had been treated and asked how I could help? I had been an event planner in my previous life and wanted to help them do an event to help those women who needed financial support. I also realized it was time to pick up the pieces of my own life and make things better for others. The hospital suggested that I start a nonprofit.  I was so grateful and I knew I needed to do this for these women and that was the beginning of  Infinite Strength. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Roberta Lombardi: I think our biggest challenges are in creating those long term partnerships with sponsors. After everything I have been through, I now know how important wellness is and trying to find the right sponsors who are aligned with wellness, who mirror our values and want a long term partnership is challenging. 

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

Roberta Lombardi: Just when things get difficult, I believe the universe sends me a sign. I can not walk away from this work because it is a part of me and who I am. I need to take that part of me to help someone else and I need to make it better. On those days when life is overwhelming, I’ll receive an email with a story of what they are dealing with in addition to breast cancer. That is what motivates me to keep going and that is what motivates me to keep upping my game. They say that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer but it literally feels almost like an epidemic to me and Connecticut has the third-highest rates of breast cancer in the country.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I know I am on the right path. For me when I have a quiet moment I think about what we have done when someone really needs our help. One of our women had a toddler who wouldn’t hug her because she was scared of her mom, so trying to find her a human hair wig so that her child would recognize her. I think about that and feel a moment of peace. I sit and think about what we have done and from every moment that I’ve been able to say we made a difference today, it seems that from that something else builds and it always leads to the next opportunity to do more.  

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

Roberta Lombardi: We began Infinite Strength in February of 2018 and in our first year we gave away $135,000. More than anything we give women strength and hope so that they do not give up. We come in and help them so that they can keep fighting and not worry about the bills. Sometimes it’s just that one little thing that gives them that light that they need to go on.

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

Roberta Lombardi: My dream would be that they wouldn’t need us and that they will find a cure. I know that if I hadn’t gone through this I would have never met any of these incredible women who have not only survived breast cancer but they have also turned it something amazing for others. Breast cancer survivors stick together like a family and hearing their stories makes me want to be a part of making this dream reality.

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

Roberta Lombardi: I am very mindful now. I have learned that no one knows what is going on behind someone’s smile. We all have something that we are going through. I have learned patience, not to judge and to give kindness…even if it is just a smile. It is SO simple! Saying good morning to someone can change their day. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: All of this has made me a better person and I am more grateful than ever before. I feel so blessed with the life that I have had. In the grand scheme of things, breast cancer has led me to this. I am genuinely happy with myself. Before my happiness was about others and making them happy. Now, I take care of myself. I think true happiness can be just being alone with yourself being peaceful. I am peaceful inside. My life has been good.

Charity Matters

 

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Moving Day:Parkinsons Foundation

People who move change the world. That is the slogan for the Parkinson’s Foundation and this past weekend that is what our family did, we moved. We are a family of action but this weekend our movement was different. On Saturday,  we moved to support my stepmother, Nan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease ten years ago. This year alone another 60, 000 people will be diagnosed with the disease. So when my sister-in-law reached out to everyone and said let’s walk for Nan, we were all in.

Over one million Americans live with Parkinson’s Disease and every nine minutes someone new is diagnosed. There are ten million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease. While we think that Parkinson’s affects older people, ten percent of the diagnosis are for people under the age of fifty.

So before we began our walk on Saturday we each grabbed a ribbon to walk with. The blue ribbon was for the person with Parkinson’s disease. The gold for the caretaker living with someone with the disease and the silver ribbon for those of us that supported a loved one with Parkinson’s.

What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease? It is a chronic and progressive disease that at its most simple definition is a movement disorder that affects the ability to perform common daily activities. Parkinsons is often characterized by its most common motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness of the muscles and slowness of movement.

The American Parkinson’s Disease Association was founded in 1961 and even google could not help me find out who founded the organization, so that will have to wait for another post. What I do know is that since that time the organization has raised over $185 million dollars to help research, educate and help us to find a cure for this disease.

So on Saturday, we carried our ribbons and walked for Nan and for my dad and for all of those who love and care for someone with Parkinson’s.

We raised money, sent emails and did social media to get the word out and my sister and brother-in-law even sponsored the porta potties for the event. This isn’t our typical family photo….

As the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “People who move change the world.” There was simply nothing better than seeing Nan and my dad moving together, our family and hundreds of people supporting one another to change the world and the face of this disease one step at a time.

Charity Matters

 

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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. Last year I interviewed an amazing nonprofit founder and breast cancer survivor and 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.

Last year, I had the most inspiring conversation with the nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, a woman who lived this journey of having a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, the only national nonprofit in the country that takes these women and helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation and I left 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, 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 back to Vegas to work at The Rivera and 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 and had my 501c3, six weeks later 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. And 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, but 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 that there are women, thousands of women in this country living without their breast.  I have refinanced my home three times to keep the funding going for My Hope Chest. I have taken extra jobs at the grocery store to fund this. I have learned 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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SPY Safe Place for Youth

“We must all work together to end youth homelessness in America.”

Jewel Kilcher

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what A Safe Place For Youth (SPY) does?

Alison Hurst: Homelessness is our number one crisis in LA County. We created a one-stop-shop where young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness come and access to a whole array of services to assist them while they are homeless and also assist them getting out of homelessness and into stability.

We provide all of the services one would need including; education, employment, health and wellness services, housing and case management services and of course a sprinkle of fun stuff because young people need fun stuff like our healing arts program which provides music, art,  poetry, meditation all ways to lure our young people into our services because young people need different things. All of this is topped off with really awesome food, access to showers and clothing. Today we have nine comprehensive programs that make up our continuum of care. All of our programs weave together to meet the different needs of the young people we are serving.

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

Alison Hurst: There wasn’t one moment but rather a series of moments. The initial moment was in 2008 when I would take my son to the skateboard park in Venice Beach and see all of theses disconnected kids at the beach, which were actually sleeping on the streets.  I’m from London, where we didn’t have a large population of homelessness, but when I came here to  Venice Beach and then Hollywood I realized that we had a massive problem with youth homelessness and we didn’t have many resources here on the Westside of Los Angeles. That was the initial spark.

When I met with other nonprofit organizations that were working with the homeless population, I realized that people just didn’t seem to know what to do with the unhoused youth.  One of the other initial sparks was when I realized that even the other social service providers didn’t know how to meet the needs of the young people and that they didn’t believe that they wanted the same kind of resources. Even the old Federal policies entitled “Runaway homeless youth” which placed blame on the youth. These youth didn’t run away, they were tossed out and thrown away, neglected and abused.

In learning all of this, I immediately began handing out food packs to these kids on Venice Beach with a bunch of volunteers and realized once I got engaged with the youth that there was literally nothing that separated these kids from the kids in my normal everyday life, other than the fact that they had nowhere to live. The system had colossally failed them over and over again. The epiphany was that I became super engaged in the cause and I thought I could impact that cause by handing out food and very quickly realized that was not enough and started to build the program.

In the last eight years, we have become the leading provider for homeless youth on the westside. We now have a staff of 59 and eight years ago we had zero staff and a handful of volunteers and today we have hundreds of volunteers. While our growth is great the fact remains that more young people are falling into homeless than any other demographic and by young we mean ages 12-24. When we started SPY it was literally to meet the needs of hunger and then as our expertise grew so much of this became around policy change. We have worked with local businesses, government, individuals and the community to help us to be a part of the solution.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alison Hurst: The biggest challenge we currently have is fighting the housing project that we are trying to expand. While having almost 60,000 folks residing on our streets has increased so has the neighborhood opposition to siting any kind of housing program.  Through Measure H and HHH, there are resources provided to build more crisis and critical need housing. The opposition from the community is being slowed down by neighbors’ opposition to all of these projects.

Having access to general housing funding is top of mind always but getting neighborhood buy-in on the two very large projects we are involved in, one is a 54-bed shelter for youth homeless shelter. We have never had a youth shelter ever which will transform the landscape and we continue to face enormous opposition. The second project is a 40 unit development that we will be operating. We have one hundred youth a day currently walking through our doors and we haven’t had any opposition but with these projects, we have had a lot. There is a lot of NIMBY or not in my back yard.

There is a lot of fear and shame. the shamefulness of what we have when there is so much unbelievable wealth all around us. So the shame that comes with recognizing the levels of poverty and drivers of homelessness. Rather than letting that shame motivate you to do something, it becomes a fear of others. I think it is much easier to write people off if we think that they are different from us. The truth is there is very little that separates us and once you come face to face with homelessness you can not deny the commonality between us.

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

Alison Hurst: The young people we serve. I regularly feel that I am pushing a boulder uphill. As you grow your budget gets squeezed and there isn’t always funding. What drives me is that I have to stay connected with the young people we serve. Every member of our team, myself included, spends a portion of their time in direct service with the kids to stay connected to the work. I have to be apart of the work so I don’t make decisions that are not based on reality. 

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

Alison Hurst: When we moved into housing. We had one housing program that we launched last year. We were literally placing young people in the spare bedrooms of community members and we were the first agency in LA to do that. In February of this year, we launched into a transitional housing program and to me, that felt monumental. For years we didn’t have anywhere for these kids to go and nothing to offer but love and connections to resources but now for the first time we at least have 20 young people safely off the streets. We are getting ready to launch a third program for young pregnant homeless youth and families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with SPY?

Alison Hurst: I think there is a combination of things that make us feel that we have had success. From the number of young people, we have moved safely off the streets, which was 127 last fiscal year and I think the number of young people that we have connected to education and employment. Because the two things are absolutely dependent on each other. Over one hundred youth that were connected to education and employment and the additional 127 who are off the street.  At the same time we served 1,400 youth and we still have a long way to go. The annualized national number of youth homelessness is around 10,00 young people between the ages of 12 and 25. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for SPY what would that be?

Alison Hurst: I would dream that we would continue to grow our housing resources and add an additional transitional housing program, that we would execute on our Venice Beach bridge housing project. That we can continue to be the first in the class agency that provides a hopeful, safe space for young people to access services and wonderful place that provides employment opportunities for people who want to be a part of the solution as well as a wonderful place to work.

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

Alison Hurst: The learning curve was SO steep and SO challenging, it feels like being in a Master’s program for the past eight years.  I left school at 15 and have never been back. I don’t have a Ph.D. or a fancy degree and never in a million years did I think that I would be here. I learned early to always hire people smarter than you. More than that SPY is all based on relationships, connection, community, and our youth members. Everything we do is about creating connections and community for everyone involved. We would be nothing without all of our community partners. Power in the change happens when you bring everyone to the table.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alison Hurst: I think this journey has impacted me the most in my level of listening and understanding around poverty. I am a much more serious person than I was before because a huge weight has been put on me.  I am a much more focused person than I ever was which motivates me. This work never ends it is 24/7 but I am fearless, absolutely fearless and I never stop. SPY is all about light and love and I am not afraid to use the word love, it is the underpinning of everything we do.

Charity Matters

 

If you are so inspired feel free to pass this along. Who doesn’t love to hear about all the good in the world?  You will make someone’s day!

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

Thirst Project

 

I think the saying that you never know who knows who is a theme always present in my life. A few weeks ago I was at a wonderful event where I met and struck up a conversation with a girl named Allie. We talked nonprofit and Allie, in turn, said that I needed to know her friend Seth Maxwell. Seth is the founder of an incredible nonprofit called ThirstProject.  While this may sound like a crazy game of telephone, where that one moment leads to another, it is what ultimately led to my inspiring conversation with Seth and for that I am grateful. It’s not often that 19-year old’s start nonprofits’ but that is what happened in 2008 when Seth and seven college friends who took on an enormous undertaking and over ten years later are literally changing the world one well at a time.

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

Seth Maxwell: There are currently 663 million people in the world who do not have access to safe clean drinking water. In developing countries around the world, women and children will walk from their homestead to whatever standing water source is available. Most commonly pond, rivers, swamps and then drinking from those open and unprotected sources that are often shared with animals who defecate in the same water that people drink from causes those people to get really preventable water-borne diseases.  Most people don’t realize that diarrhea and dysentery kill more people every year than HIV and malaria combined.

So we build freshwater wells and washing stations in developing countries to give people clean water. It isn’t super unique, there are a lot of great water organizations in the world but what is unique is that we are the world’s leading youth water activism organization. We have a school tour where we send our youth activists to educate high school and college students about the global water crisis and challenge those students to do something about it. We will have 12 speakers total who will go to about 800 high schools and college campuses across the country. So about 175,000 students will sit and learn about the water crisis and in turn, they will do walks, dances, video game tournaments…all to raise awareness to build water projects around the world.

Since we started we have mobilized a couple of million students who have raised about ten million dollars. We commit to giving 100 percent of funds raised to building water projects and we have a pretty incredible group of donors, lead by our board who pay for our operating expenses. We have given 400, 000 people in 13 countries clean water for the rest of their lives.

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

Seth Maxwell: For me, I couldn’t NOT do something about the water crisis. I think I considered myself, a pretty well educated (then 19 year old) and was just struck by how massive in scale this issue was and the fact that I had never heard about it. for how sweeping the problem was both in terms of the number of people at that point. There were over 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water but also how far-reaching the negative impact of the water crisis was on so many issues. Whether it was health or access to education, I was truly struck that this wasn’t something that was on the news every night. 

It was one of those moments when I was swept up and just knew I had to do something about it. I wasn’t sure what one person could do but knew I had to do something. So, I gathered seven of my closest college friends together and we decided to simply tell these people’s stories. We pooled all our money together  ($70) and were able to purchase 1,000 bottles of water from our nearest store. We took to Hollywood Blvd and began giving bottles of water away if people would stop and listen. In one day we spoke to over 1,000 people and were able to turn our $70 into $1,700. and this was used to fund our first freshwater well.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Seth Maxwell: So many people really want to contribute to making an impact and contribute some amount of time and feel like they can walk away knowing they did something that day or at that moment. While this is the least sexy answer but we are pretty limited by the amount of funding we can raise to build our projects. We know how to bring safe water to communities. We know how to build wells and work with local contractors in the communities we serve who in turn get trained on maintenance, repair, sanitation, and hygiene.

This really is a very solvable issue. When we started a decade ago and the number of people who needed clean water was 1.1 billion and today it is down to 663 million people. In just a decade, while the global population has risen the number of people without safe water has literally been cut in half. There will be an end to this issue in our lifetime it is just a question of how quickly we can move this ball down the field.

Our biggest challenge is scale and funding. Especially given our commitment to give one hundred percent of our student donations to our water projects, it makes for some challenges. We are constantly coming up with new and exciting ways to address our challenges and it is an exciting time.

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

Seth Maxwell: One of two things…first is our students. The work we do with students and young people means there is never a shortage of inspiration. It is easy to keep going when you see a high school student who gives up their birthdays or swims around the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to this issue or raise funds.

We are constantly given the gift to interact with students who are selfless, innovative and creative. Similarly, they have amazing experiences. I can not tell you the number of times I have had a student writing to us saying, “Thank you so much for starting Thirst Project, if it wasn’t for thirst project I don’t know what the highlight of my Senior year would have been.”  Incredible things.

On the other side, it’s not hard to stay inspired when you look at our impact in the field.  The impact of the water crisis on health, on mortality, when you see a new freshwater project open in a community and have conversations with moms who say they used to have to walk three hours for water. I was worried about getting Collerea or dysentery or diarrhea and now knowing that my baby will never have to make that walk is incredible. These are the kind of things that keep you going when things get tough.

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

Seth Maxwell: It is like the examples I just gave above. When we talk to students who have had an impact because of their service whether it shaped their trajectory for their career, their leadership skills, their social-emotional skills development. It is countless conversations in the field and the idea behind each of those 400, 000 people in the field who now have clean water and the stories of how their lives are changed from clean water. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with the Thirst Project?

Seth Maxwell: Impact for us isn’t measured in the numbers that most people would typically look for; yes it’s meaningful to look at dollars raised or the number of water projects built or the number of people given safe water, those are all good and super meaningful but for us how we measure impact is the implication for each of those numbers.

So for example when we bring safe water to a community, yes we can measure the number of people in that community that now have safe drinking water but what is really more meaningful to us is measuring both before and after. Saying before this project was built there were only 39 of the 200 students in this community enrolled in school, presumably because one of their responsibilities would be collecting water for their family or because they were sick from something that prevented them from going to school. If six months to a year after our project we can report back and say we, measured an increase in school enrollment by fifty percent that is really meaningful to us.

We can measure waterborne disease rates before and after and if we can say that before we built a water project that there was a twenty-nine percent rate of cholera but if after our project, it was reduced to four percent, that is really meaningful to us. It is those kinds of things really that matter to us.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for the Thirst Project what would that be?

Seth Maxwell: To see the end of the global water crisis. We believe in a world where everyone has access to safe clean drinking water and we are running really hard at that goal.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Seth Maxwell: I think it has changed me entirely. I think one of the biggest ways it has changed me is how I evaluate problems. think I somewhat struggle to empathize with my friends or family with their problems, which to me sometimes do not feel like an important issue in the context of what I see in our work. I have to literally remind myself to be empathetic. My perspective on life and the world has completely changed. 

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

Seth Maxwell: It is hard to pick just one life lesson because there are truly too many. For me learning how to build a community of people who are committed to using their gifts and resources and not just sort of throwing those resources but coming together with an intention and a strategy that is effective to make an impact on problems that are really meaningful. It has been incredible to learn that skill and be able to see it in action and amazing that people are willing to trust me with their time, money and gifts to make that impact a reality.

Charity Matters

 

If you are so inspired feel free to pass this along. Who doesn’t love to hear about all the good in the world? You will make someone’s day!

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