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The Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Have you ever picked up an old photo album and come across memories and before you know it you have been transported down memory lane? Last week that happened to me when I went looking for interviews to include in my book. Before I knew it I was years into Charity Matter’s post and it felt like finding old friends.

This post from 2018 struck me because the past few weeks, I have been speaking to hundreds of school principals for TACSC. My message for all of these schools is that when we tie a child’s shoe, we don’t help them, as intended. Instead, we tell the child by our action that they can’t tie their shoe. That they are not capable. Our mission at TACSC is to empower these students and tell them they can be anything and do anything they set their mind to. So when I came across this old post it felt just as relevant and worth a re-share. I did update the numbers served, so those are current.

A few years ago, a young lady that has helped start and run a local nonprofit asked me to write her a recommendation for The Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I happily did. This high school girl is extraordinary and I was thrilled to help.  More than that, I was  excited to learn about this incredible award and nonprofit that inspires and encourages students between the ages of 8 and 18 to use heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance to make a positive and significant impact on the world.

The prize was started by New York Times best selling Children’s author, T.A. Barron seventeen years ago and named after the author’s mother. His hope was to inspire children that could make a significant difference in the world. The founder’s fear was that  perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find these children. However,it was just the opposite, hundreds and hundreds of applications would begin to come in.

Twenty-three years later, the Barron Prize for Young Heroes has honored over 575 young heroes who have  all done remarkable things. One prize winner is Alexa, who created a nonprofit called Bags of Books, which she started at age 10. Her organization distributes gently used and new children’s books in free pop-up stores in underserved communities. She has donated more than 120,000 books and inspired hundreds of volunteers to distribute books in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and after school programs.

One  young prize winner founded NY is a great place to Bee! to educate the public about bees about the importance of healthy bee populations. She built a team of volunteers and they have educated over 14,000 students about ways to protect bees through her advocacy.

Another inspiring change maker,  Jahkil, founded Project I Am to help the homeless in Chicago. In one year Jahkil and his team distributed more than 3,000 Blessing Bags filled with toiletry items, towels, socks and snacks through his drop off sites and bag stuffing parties all at the age of nine!

While I could go on with hundreds more of these incredible young nonprofit founders and budding philanthropists, these 575 Barron Prize for Young Heroes winners have combined raised over 28.5 million dollars for their causes in the past twenty-three years. The real winners of this prestigious award are the incredible communities served by these extraordinary young leaders and their enormous compassion to serve. Each of them give us hope for a brighter future of kindness, caring and service.

 

charity matters.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 77: Filling In the Blanks

Did you know that there are over 13 million children in the United States who live with hunger? One in five children does not know where or if their next meal will come. Those facts are shocking to anyone who hears them. However, it is the rare person or people who actually act when hearing those numbers. Today’s guests not only experience food insecurity they have acted to create a nonprofit called Filling In Blanks.

Tina Kramer (left) and Shawnee Knight (right) Founders of Filling In the Blanks

Join us for an inspirational conversations about two next door neighbors who are changing lives and the face of hunger.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Filling In the Blanks does?

Tina Kramer: Shana and I started Filling In the Blanks 11 years ago. And what we do is we provide food on the weekends to children that are struggling with food insecurity. So we provide a bag of food for the kids ages preschool through high school, that receive meals during the week at school, but don’t have anything over the weekend. So we’re covering that weekend meal gap.

Charity Matters: Did Either of you grow up in families that were very involved in their communities?

Shawnee Knight:  My family was always thoughtful of other people, but we didn’t do a lot in terms of being out in the community as much as Tina and I are now. I grew up in a single family household and so I kind of understood.  I was on the free and reduced lunch and so I understand the pressures that these families are facing. I think that really was kind of one of my main motivating factors for starting Filling In The Blanks. Being in Fairfield County, CT there’s so many different volunteer opportunities and ways to give back. 

Tina Kramer: I grew up in a similar household as Shawnee with a single mom who works all the time. My grandmother pretty much raised me. So there wasn’t really an opportunity to give back to the community at that point in time. When we moved to Connecticut, there are so many volunteer opportunities and that’s where I really learned about volunteering.  We decided that we wanted to do something together and  that’s how we founded it Filling in the Blanks. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Filling In the Blanks?

Shawnee Knight: We were riding with a friend into the city,  and we were just talking about sports and our kids. And my friend was saying,” The other students on the opposing team don’t often have snacks. So they would bring snacks for the other team.” I was kind of like,” Wait a minute. There’s kids in Fairfield County that don’t have food. Like how I don’t understand that? That can’t be possible. Look at where we live?”

I think Tina and I were at the age where our kids were getting a little bit older. So we were both trying to find something to do, we were next door neighbors.  We did some research and learned that there really are food insecure children in our community. And for us, the thought of a kid going without food is just shameful. It’s just wrong.

Tina Kramer: So we saw an article in a magazine about a nonprofit that was a national organization that provided food on the weekends to children. So we became program coordinators. That was our first step and we did the fundraising. We did all the purchasing, but the national organization was more of the parent company.

We would give them our fundraising efforts and they would reimburse us. And we are very type A, we are very gung ho about projects we work on.  We decided after probably two or three weeks to use the information from the national organization structure on how to run a nonprofit because neither one of us had ever run a company or any kind of nonprofit before. So that was our stepping stone to the blank.

So we learned how to incorporate our trademark, our logo, articles of incorporation and bylaws. We surround ourselves with good people to help us structure all these things. We started packing bags in my house for 50 kids. We’re tying grocery bags, going to the dollar stores, Costco and loading our Suburbans up which we’re dragging on the floor. And we just learned as we went, and it was so very grassroots in the beginning. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Shawnee Knight: I think definitely finding food suppliers and finding families. and reaching more families. We needed to get a warehouse because we had outgrown Tina’s living room. We had too many kids, and you have to store these bags. We just needed more of a structure for that. And so I think there were challenges, just in doing and getting things done. Realizing people don’t get things done as quickly as we wanted them to get done. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face now are reaching more parents.  There’s definitely still a lot of parents who don’t know about us and our services.. And I think procuring food, and food costs rising because we purchase all of our food. So we’re fundraising to buy food and with food costs going up,  we have to fundraise even more.

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

Tina Kramer:  I don’t think we mentioned this earlier but Shawnee and I are both volunteers. We don’t get paid to run Filling in the Blanks.  We have a real desire to help the kids because we both at some point in our lives dealt with food insecurity, one of us in our childhood, the other in our adult life. That really fuels us because we know what these parents are struggling with, and how hard it is. Just to wonder, can I feed my child today? Or do I have to pay the electric bill? So it’s really ingrained in who we are.

We have a great staff that surrounds us and a great group of volunteers. We have a leadership committee of about 10 people, mainly women. Then we have 11 full time employees that really help with the day to day. Besides the bags were packing, we have 7000 volunteers come through our doors on a yearly basis. Wow. So it’s not just Shawnee and I, and our desire, it’s our community. We’re all lifting up our community and the surrounding communities. And that’s really what fuels us. 

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

Shawnee Knight:  We do a lot of surveys, to the families,  the children, parents,  the social workers and teachers at the schools. So we’re able to measure some of those outcomes for students. Then we track the number of meals and we’ve served over 3 million meals. Every week we have 7500 kids that get our weekend meal bags. We’ve launched our Mobile Food Pantry, fresh food on the move. We’ve been distributing about 20,000 pounds of food at each site, which they operate twice a month.

We’ve partnered with Stanford Health to provide various health and wellness wraparound services, so we’re able to see how many people they register for or how many flu shots they gave out. It is really hard because we don’t have access to kids grades, so it’s hard to measure that. But we do measure things like the teacher saying that the child is less disruptive in class.. We’ve had a teacher tell us a story of this. One child she had that just was out of sorts at school and she kind of made him in charge of helping her with the backpack club as they call it, which is when they get their bags. And she said, that she noticed a change in his personality and his self confidence was improved. So we hear little antidote or things like that. Then from our pre-programmed surveys and post-program surveys, we see an increase in happiness or of the child’s well being.

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

Tina Kramer:  It’s a simple concept that everyone should have access to food and healthy food items. Our volunteers are little kids to adults. We make sure that we can create volunteer opportunities for them to create an impact within Filling in The Blanks.. We’ve created snack bag programs, in addition to our regular weekend meal program. So the younger kids can have a packing event at their home and pack little snacks in a little brown bag that gets distributed to the kids too. So we’re trying to make sure that our volunteers feel the impact that they are creating.

As Shawnee mentioned, we just started a mobile pantry back in October, and we’re serving 1000s of families through that initiative. Through that we’re able to communicate directly to the families and the parents. They tell us the impact that the 50,000 pounds of food they get at the mobile pantry has on their family. Many turned around and now want to know how they can volunteer with us, and how they can give back and how they can help. And that’s just so rewarding. It comes full circle.

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

Tina Kramer: This year alone we will serve over a million meals and the need is not not going away. We’ll probably serve about 10,000 kids this year, every weekend. We created a year round program for all. Our big dream is potentially it’s on the back burner  but I’ll put it out there. We would like to franchise to other states or communities, or do some drop shipping/fulfillment centers to have food delivered directly to the schools. We  would take away the need for additional trucks and drivers. We’re trying to figure out how do we replicate or duplicate our program outside of our like immediate area. 

Charity Matters: Do you have a Phrase or Motto that you live by?

Tina Kramer:One of our board members always said, “If you can, you should.” And that  kind of really encompasses Filling in the Blanks. Because really, anyone, a little kid to a senior citizen can make a difference here, it’s packing the bag, spreading the word, liking something on social media, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it could just not just it can be your time, even if it’s five minutes. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Shawnee Knight:  I think so. I think we were nervous when we first started this. We didn’t know what to expect. You never know how much pressure you can take or how much weight your shoulders can hold. So I think we’ve grown a lot in that sense. I mean, we’re running a really big nonprofit with a big operating budget and expenses. You never know how much of that stress you can take and I think we’ve learned to stomach quite a bit of it.

Tina Kramer: We’re the perfect ying and yang. I think it’s given me a lot more confidence than I had before. I never thought I could run my own business and didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet. And now we’re dealing like Shawnee said, with a multimillion dollar budget. It’s given me confidence in who I am, not only here, but in normal life and at home. It’s just been a great learning experience over the past 11 years.

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

Tina Kramer: That people are good. And they want to do good.  I come from nothing and I’m not used to being encompassed or embraced by our community. This community that we’ve created together, really has shown me how good people are and how they’re always willing to help. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Shawnee Knight:  If you build it, they will come.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 60: Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund

Years ago when I lost my mom, someone said to me, “The greatest gift you can give the world is a life well lived.” Today’s guest is a fantastic example of just that.  In full disclosure, I have known our guest Dana Bouton for probably twenty years. We have raised our children in the same community. Dana sent me an email explaining that her cancer had returned and was now terminal. She was determined to use the time she had left to leave a lifetime legacy to the City of Hope. The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will help families financially devastated by cancer.

Join Dana and June Penrod from City of Hope to learn how one person can make a difference for so many living with cancer. Dana’s humor and insight will inspire you and make you think about how you live. She is a true example of the quote above and what really matters. During our conversation I made Dana a promise that I would re-publish her podcast on her birthday each year as a reminder and a legacy of her work, so Happy Birthday Dana! Cheers to another amazing lap around the sun. Thank you for reminding us all how to live.

 

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will do?

Dana Pepper Bouton: The idea of the fund was set up to help families who are navigating the difficult diagnosis of cancer to have resources for support.  They want world class care in hospitals and need to get transportation, gas,  child care, groceries, and a multitude of other things. So this fund is set up to kick out money in the form of gift cards, to help these families get to City of Hope. More than having the best possible care but receiving some supportive care on the side of having to deal with their loved one being a patient. 

June Penrod: What we do is provide state of the art treatment.  So we are really the champion when it comes to precision medicine of being able to fight cancer.  Not only at the cusp of when it’s worst in your body, but also in the beginning phases of helping our population screening for cancer. So we really did the entire gamut from A to Z on cancer treatment for all patients in Los Angeles and Orange County.

We are really proud of the impact that we are having on cancer patients in the nation. The role that I specifically play is acquiring resources for what we call our Department of Supportive Care Medicine. It is one of the unique elements of City of Hope that make it so special. Supportive Care is basically the emotional and spiritual arm that comes out of the cancer journey that patients go through. So while they can focus on the treatment with their doctors, Supportive Care medicine wants to focus on their emotional care journey.  Then they are really focused on their cancer treatment and not having to worry about any of the external factors that might get in the way of that journey.Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start this endowment?

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I was diagnosed with stage four non Hodgkins lymphoma in January of 2018. And here we are about  five and a half years later.  I’ve had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, back to back bone marrow transplants, a few operations, infusions, and transfusions. Now I’m terminal after all of those treatments.  You know, I can’t can’t control the fact that the doctors say, “there’s nothing more we can do for you, except try to keep you alive a few months at a time.” 

So I’ve lost the ability to kind of control how long I thought I would live. I came to the conclusion that I haven’t lost the ability to create a legacy for other people. Even though I’ve had basically what I simply call very bad luck because there’s no genetic component to how sick I’ve been. I’ve also been very blessed. And I’ve had multiple resources, in terms of financially supportive community to help me along the way. 

After spending so much time in the hospital, and listening to June and others talk about the supportive care that City of Hope offers. I can create a legacy after I’m gone to help hundreds of people and that makes me feel really good. In fact, being terminal is really not that big of a deal in terms of how many people I can impact during the few months, maybe six months a year that I have left. This brings me such great joy and working with June and seeing her enthusiasm and the people around me who want to give. I just want to work as hard as I can to reach out to as many more people as possible. And I do have a tendency to accost people in the market.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton: I would say number one, I’ve had incredible support at City of Hope. And I also think, knowing that I have very limited time left, I see and feel and touch and smell in here so acutely. But I’m just really inspired by my enhanced senses. And so I love to capture what’s around me from macro to landscape, and put that on my website and share that in the form of wall art or greeting cards, postcards, and sell them, and how those proceeds go to my fund. 

 I’ve laid in bed for sure, and had had some really hard days. But seeing, feeling, talking to people and really hearing and really listening just propels me to keep going.  I know that when I am dying, I’m not going to regret being so tired. While taking pictures, or being with people, I would only regret that maybe I just stayed in bed and felt sorry for myself.  After I die, I want my fund to continue. So I’m pushing to get the word out.

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

June Penrod:  Dana is a great example.  I think she doesn’t mind being the dramatic story of philanthropy, of this woman who should be taking care of herself but instead she’s taking care of others. Even though she received a terminal diagnosis, I mean, look at what she’s doing now.  We have folks who say, we have a great life that we’re living now, thanks to City of Hope and we want to contribute more. 

But we do also have folks who say, “My loved ones are not here with me anymore, but I love the compassion and the care they received.”  And so we want to give.  Then there are folks who have never stepped foot into the hospital but they know the great work that we do. And they want us to be their charity of choice. That blows my mind as well. 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  My dream is that after I die, I want this fund to continue in perpetuity. So my dream is to keep spreading the word as long as possible. Then have my family and other people give money once or twice a year, in perpetuity.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I appreciate when people talk to me out of just accepting where I’m at, and not trying to tell me that I don’t have hope. I have hope. And I also know that I’m going to die. Maybe within a few months, or perhaps, you know, a year. I think that the biggest life lesson is to listen to people in terms of where they’re at in their head. And don’t try to talk them out of something that might be their actual reality. I know that people have their own fear, but set that aside and try to put yourself in somebody else’s place.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dana Pepper Bouton: There are two big changes. One is that I had the arrogance of aging, I thought I would live as long as my grandmother, who lived almost to the age of 102.  I assumed it would be just like that. And that was very arrogant on my part. I’ve learned in the last six years or little over five years, I guess, that was just very presumptuous of me. And I’m quite humbled and I find that now to be a blessing. And I also think it’s funny. 

I think my sense of humor has gotten quite rivaled.  The other thing is that I’ve had to learn to slow down and not be busy, which I really liked. But I’ve  accepted the fact that I can slow down. If I’m in pain, it’s okay to lay back down and listen to podcasts like your podcasts, and audiobooks and dream. My imagination has become so acute because I’ve been forced to lay down, forced to take a break. I willed myself to pivot and it took a while. And I’m proud that I had the strength although it took a long time to finally accept, don’t find it pivot. Find those blessings, and there’s new magic.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 74: 4GIRLS

A few weeks ago a friend reached out and said, “Heidi, you need to know Claudia.” She was right, I did. You do too. So I am excited to introduce you today to the founder of 4GIRLS, Claudia Copely. Join us for an empowering conversation about her amazing work helping young girls to identify themselves as authentic, confident and resilient preparing them for real life success.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 4Girls does?

Claudia Copely: Our mission is to empower and inspire middle school girls so that they identify as confident, authentic and resilient. Preparing them for real life success.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up Giving Back? 

Claudia Copely: I did not learn philanthropy or giving back in my household. I grew up in a household that was very dysfunctional, and there was a lot of trauma. It was more about let’s just survive,  let alone do any type of philanthropic work. There was a piece of me that helping others is innate.  I think all of us know to our core what is true.  I think my one of my core values is generosity and connection.  I love meeting new individuals and connecting. So I think for me it was a drive that was big for me.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 4Girls?

Claudia Copely:  So I was at a women’s conference and there were 100,000 people there.  The central theme from the host, Maria Shriver, was what are you gonna do for your community? How are you going to be an architect of change?  I was so inspired, empowered, and I left there driving home thinking what am I gonna do? I can be an architect of change. Then all of a sudden, this voice crept into my head, and it said, ” What are you gonna do? We’re gonna want to be part of anything you do.”  It stopped me in my tracks.

 I followed the thread. And I thought for me it was middle school, that tough time where I just didn’t know what to do with myself.  I just felt lost, not just because of the trauma and dysfunction in my house but I just felt so alone. I’m the only one experiencing all this. Driving home from the conference,  I thought why not have a conference similar to what Maria Shriver has done brilliantly?  Lets focus just on empowering and inspiring middle school girls, just that target. 

 I polled all of my friends and everybody across the board said Middle School was the hardest time.  I decided that I’m going to create a community. I had to read Nonprofits for Dummies because  I was coming from the corporate world.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Claudia Copely: I think the biggest challenges were at that time and still are visibility and outreach. We are a 100% volunteer organization. With what I get paid I could not buy a loaf of bread. But I could light up a room. Being a 100% volunteer organization  is a good really good thing, or a really bad thing

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

Claudia Copely:  A few things, first the communit.  The connection to some really great amazing humans that are really talented, hardworking women that I’m surrounded by. It’s beautiful to see what we create for these girls.  At the end of the two day workshop, we invite girls to come up to the stage and to share their empowering word. We have words all over the room, so they can pick one. But some of the girls that come up are thinking, “I would never come up and speak in front of a room full of people.

By Sunday, there’s a line to come up and share their empowering word. And we ask them to do that in order to give them a sense of identity.  They can have this word that they can grow into and see how it feels. There’s been many girls throughout the 13 years. But there was one in particular, who said,” My word is valuable. Because before this workshop, before today, I didn’t realize how valuable I was. Now I know that I’m valuable.” It gets me every time. 

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

Claudia Copely: You can’t put on a grant paper or proposal, a parent coming up to you and saying, “Oh, my gosh, what did you do to my child? They are a whole different person, they believe in themselves, they have more confident, they’re engaging with us.  Thank you!” The mother will tell me with tears in her eyes. Thank you.

Then the second, which I’m seeing it right before my eyes. So we now have a few girls that had gone through the program when they were in sixth grade, seventh, and eighth grades. Then they became high school as mentors all through high school. Now they’re in their first years of college and they’re sitting with us at the board table. They are being part of the workshop team, which helps us to create the agenda, the curriculum, and stay relevant to what the girls need. They’re there with us in the trenches, creating this, this workshop and forming it to the next generation. That impact is that the seeds that were being planted are now going to be harvested.

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

Claudia Copely: I would say visibility and outreach.  I think because we still are like considered a grassroots organization.  I’d love that broader reach. 

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

Claudia Copely: I’ve learned that we are more common than we are different. That’s for sure. I’ve learned that we really want to be seen, heard and validated. Most of us really want to connect with other people. And I really enjoy making those connections and working with individuals that have different perspectives.  I get to learn from all these amazing humans. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Claudia Copely:  The journey has  provided me with a strong sense of my purpose.  I know I love empowering individuals. While my degrees are in international business, but I’m now trained and accredited as an empowerment coach. That fulfills me so much and fuels me. I’m definitely more purposeful, more mindful, more aware. Everybody gets to participate on this earth. We’re here at this moment and that’s all we got. Let’s give each other room to create and be who we want to be 

In order to do this work I had to change my life.  I had to let go of those limited beliefs in order for 4GIRLS to be born and to help it. If I would have stayed with those limited beliefs and my self sabotaging behavior this would have never happened.  So I just I love helping individuals  letting go of those beliefs. We all have them. Let’s do what we can get rid of them. When we can move the inside, beautiful, magical things happen.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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.

How to serve up community service

I get asked all the time, “How do I get my children involved in service?”  It is a question that has more than a few answers because it is a process and not always a simple answer.  I was so excited when my friend, author and college admissions expert Dr. Cynthia Colon, asked me to join her podcast to discuss the topic on her podcast Destination Youniversity about the topic. You can listen to the conversation below or share with a friend who has high school age students or anyone looking to volunteer and doesn’t know where to start.

Dr. Cynthia Colon and I met a decade ago when she was a high school principal after leaving her job as head of admissions at Vassar. During her years running high schools she watched many families being overwhelmed by the college admissions process and as a first generation college student in her own family, she decided to switch gears to help.

Since that time, she has authored two books on the process: Tips, Tales and Truths for Teens and Be Committed, Get Admitted. Cynthia is a dynamo who is on a mission to help families and students navigate the very challenging college admissions process. Today, Cynthia helps families, students one on one with their college applications and hosts workshops on the topic. If you are beginning the college search process definitly check out her website here.

Dr. Colon tells her families and students that one of the things that schools look for in applicants is volunteer and leadership experience.  So I loved sharing a few tips on where to begin with your teens. Finding your child’s gifts and interests and pursuing those in the nonprofit space. We also talked about a number of amazing resources for starting out your volunteering experience and the best way to maximize those opportunities for your child and the organization they are serving.

There are so many resources today to connect you or someone you know to a cause they care about. It is just about knowing a few great places to get started. Connecting people and causes is truly one of my favorite things to do, so I’m excited to share this conversation and hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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A few lessons learned from 2023

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a joyous holiday and are ready to jump into 2024. While you are reading this on January 4th, I am writing for you on the last day of 2023. For me, I can not begin to look ahead at the New Year until I have taken that moment to look back and see what life taught me this past year. There have been more than a few lessons that I thought I would share.

Lesson one: Life can change in a moment. the only control you have is your attitude.

We all know that life can change in an instant. I learned this when my mom was killed in a car accident. In a split second life was never the same. As a type A person, realizing you have no control over life events but your attitude was a lesson that showed up again for me this year.

This fall, my husband had a serious health scare. While he was extremely ill for ten weeks, he is going to be fine. One moment, he was great and the next he wasn’t. Out of those horrible weeks, I was again reminded of the gift of health. In addition, it became clear that I had very little control over the situation except how I handled it. Finding strength, patience and grace in being the best caregiver I could was a lesson in itself. Knowing that my attitude was my responsibility and a good one helped everyone was a lesson learned.

Lesson Two: Fear isn’t fun.

I have never been a fear based person but this year felt scary. Again, type A with world and economic events out of my control, I felt fear for the first time in a long time. Fear is not fun and doesn’t feel good. The economy was a big trigger with out of control prices at the pump, the grocery store and the uncertainty that comes with all of that.

We were snowed in this winter and thirteen people died in our community as a result of being trapped. I had to defer to Lesson One above and know that there was little I could do to change the weather, world or economic events. However, I could choose to be kind, smile and be grateful for all the blessings rather than the fear.

Lesson three: Health is wealth

The first week of January we all are ready to hit the gym and change our bad habits from the past few weeks, myself included. Health is so much more than the gym. It is fueling our bodies with good food and choices. It is also managing stress. Making choices to do a digital detox, turn off the news and to go outside and play. Health is time with people you love. It is faith and making decisions, a hundred times a day, that put on a path towards joy. We only have one body, let’s cherish it this year.

Lesson four: Friends are everything

Why is it that we take everything that matters for granted? Food on our table, a warm place to sleep, our health and even our friends. We somehow think that these will be there everyday. That isn’t always the case per Lesson One. In 2023, that was a lesson learned. I also learned how truly blessed I am with incredible friends. I love my friends dearly and try hard to be a good friend. When you are on the receiving end of help it is a reminder just how valuable our friends are. Mine swept in like angels to the rescue and blessed me a thousand times over this year. A most precious gift and lesson, friends are everything! Treasure them.

Lesson five: Keep Moving Forward towards your purpose

Sometimes when you have a tough year it can feel as if you are reacting to everything and not driving your destiny. The hard part is reminding ourselves that we have this beautiful gift called choice. We can choose to dream, to make plans, to act. Every choice has a consequence. Even when things feel dull, repetitive, or out of our control we can choose a positive thought. During some of the dark times this year I journaled about what life looked like when things were better. Today, I looked back and can already see light at the end of this 2023 tunnel. So don’t give up, keep moving forward towards your dreams. There is a rainbow behind the storm clouds.

We are all here to learn. There is such a short time to do it. I am incredibly grateful for the challenges 2023 brought because of the lessons that came with them. Each week the nonprofit founders that we met reminded me what resilience, kindness, grace and purpose look like. They have enriched my life in so many ways with their wisdom.  Thank you for cheering me on to continue this work and mission. You inspire me everyday to move forward towards my purpose.

So Goodbye 2023! Hello 2024! I am ready for you and all the lessons, joy and gratitude you have waiting for us!

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. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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2023 A Year in Review

I am a planner. There is nothing I love more than making a plan. Along with that comes the joyful process of looking back at all that was accomplished in the past year before looking ahead to make plans for the next. Each day we all get into our routines and habits and some days and even weeks feel like the movie Groundhogs Day. You know the one, where every day feels the same as the day before.

However, when we look in the rearview mirror we see that each small step lead to something bigger. That is exactly how I feel about 2023.  There were so many days that felt isolating, repetitive and flat and yet, when you look at the amount of work our team produced ….well, it is pretty impressive. When you look at the small steps the year breaks down like this: 826 minutes recorded, 14 hours, 19 episodes and 48 post. It’s that rearview at this time of year that makes me proud of our work.

I don’t think of this as work but a mission and a movement towards good. Each week we to continue to show the world the best in humanity. I thought we would look back at some of the amazing humans we met this past year.

We met so many incredible people and all of them are amazing. These are just a few of the conversations that were fun, insightful and memorable for me, so if you missed them, make sure to listen or read their story.

Susan Axelrod: Cure Epilpsy

I loved meeting Susan Axelrod, the founder of Cure Epilepsy. Susan shared her remarkable journey of raising a child with a diagnosis know one really understood. More than that, she was determined to change the trajectory of the disease for others and she has done just that. What Susan has done and how many people’s lives she has changed is truly beyond inspiring.

Dan Zauderer: Grass Roots Grocery

We have all seen food prices go up and up and up. Have we thought about what that means for so many children whose only meal comes from their school lunch? One New York school teacher did when he realized 1 in 4 students were going hungry. Join us for the incredible story of a teacher turned nonprofit founder of Grass Roots Grocery. Dan has become a food distributor, motivator for thousands of volunteers and teaches each of us what really matters.

Kurt Kandler: 410 Bridge

Kurt Kandler’s story is one of resilience, passion, and dedication to improving the lives of those less fortunate. His organization, 410 Bridge, has faced numerous challenges in its mission to provide aid and support to communities in Africa. But despite these obstacles, Kurt’s unwavering commitment to the cause has led to tangible changes and a glimmer of hope in the lives of those who have been forgotten by society.


Ian Sandler: Riley’s Way

Ian Sandler is not your typical nonprofit founder, not that anyone who sets out to make the world better is average. It is unusual for most of our guests to have a full time day job in addition to a nonprofit. When you hear his remarkable story and his mission to create the next generation of kind leaders honoring his daughter’s beautiful legacy, you will understand. Riley’s Way is a magical example of turning loss into love.

Rachel Doyle: Glamour Gals

Rachel Doyle, started her nonprofit in high school and twenty years later has over ninety chapters nationwide connecting teens and senior citizens through GlamourGals. Join us for an inspirational conversation about what we can do for our seniors, ourselves, the power of connection and coming together over something beautiful.

As we get ready to say goodbye to 2023. Remember all of the good. As we look ahead to 2024, look at some of these remarkable leaders for inspiration to put towards your New Year’s resolutions. Wishing you a joyful, healthy and 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. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 70: Focusing Philanthropy

What does a private equity firm, a role in President Jimmy Carter’s White House and philanthropy have in common? The answer, today’s guest. Larry Gilson had an exciting career, instead of retiring he founded a nonprofit, Focusing Philanthropy.  His organization is taking his skills of investing in people and businesses to the nonprofit world and  changing the way we look at philanthropy.

Join us, for a really interesting conversation about investing in people, making a difference and hope.  Larry is pure inspiration.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Focusing PHILANTHROPY does?

Larry Gilson: We start with the observation that Americans are the most generous people in the world philanthropically.  Our experience is that philanthropic activity hasn’t always been the most fulfilling, rewarding or confidence inspiring. People have the impulse to be generous, but they also want to be confident that what they’re contributing actually makes a difference.

The more people give, I think the more they have a series of questions that are in their heads.  But I think they want to know, if I give dollars to such and such an organization, can I be confident that it’ll actually be used in the way that I intended that they promise? Will I get good feedback on what’s actually happened?  Will more dollars just result in more activity, but not necessarily more meaningful impact? How do I choose among organizations that are all announcing themselves as being active in a particular space?

These are challenging questions. But the answers take quite a bit of time and effort to come up with and most people are busy doing other things. So we’re trying to fill that gap to answer those questions. We want to give people the confidence to make informed choices, and to have the sense of satisfaction that comes from getting good feedback. So that’s the niche that we’re trying to fill.

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

Larry Gilson:  After 20 years of having founded and run an investment firm, I sold the firm. My wife and I both felt that that was a moment when we had some more money and also some more time. And  we wanted to be more thoughtfully philanthropic than we had the time to be previously. So I thought, with all of the philanthropic activity that takes place in the United States, there will be lots of resources available that we could tap into that were  identifying compelling, giving opportunities in a professional confidence inspiring way.

So I spent almost a year looking for this hypothetical resource. And I kept looking because I couldn’t believe I wasn’t finding it.  But my expectations were high, because I was looking for something for the same lens as the investment decision making tools that my firm had built over a span of decades. And when I wasn’t finding what I was looking for, I started asking friends who were  in a similar situation. And they had a similar lament about their own experience and asked, ““Can we ride your coattails and get the benefit of their research?”  And so I said, “Okay, maybe I should do something more ambitious. And that became the genesis of Focusing Philanthropy.

For the past 11 years we’ve been a version of what it was I was looking for. We now have a team of eight people that do they research, the exploration of potential giving opportunities, the ongoing monitoring, the crafting of giving appeals and an accurate and timely reporting. What we do for our own family, we now do for about 450 other families around the world, most of them in the United States.

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

Larry Gilson: We have only 14 or 15 nonprofits in our roster at any one time. About half of our nonprofits are domestic and half are international. One international partner  is called One Acre Fund. half of the world’s extremely poor people have something in common aside from poverty, and that is they’re farmers. They’re planting their crops, they’re harvesting what they plant and their family is mainly eating everything that they harvest. So they’re really not even creating a surplus that allows them to, to sell into the market and generate cash profits.

When we started with them, in 2012, they were working with about 40,000 farmers in Western Kenya and they had jumped the border into Rwanda and Burundi. Now, 11 years later, we’ve been a catalytic partner of theirs for all the intervening period, they’re now working in nine countries, working with one and a half million farm families, where the average farmer has six relatives that they support. They’re doing the hard work and they’re learning the skills. We’re giving them the tools,  the support and the network of resources that enable them to be successful.  So you do the math, that’s 9 million people who are permanently out of starvation, poverty as a result of this impact.

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

Larry Gilson:  We’ve been at this for 11 plus years. During that period, we raised and deployed about $135 million. That’s not the most important scorecard, the most important thing and the reason why we’re all doing this kind of thing is to help people. And we conservatively estimate that we’ve changed the lives through the programs, we’ve supported over 13 million people around the world. Wow, for the last 11 years, and the trend is great. So that’s year over year, significant growth in people helped, dollars raised, and donors participating. All of the metrics are encouraging.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep going? This isn’t always easy work.

Larry Gilson: I really appreciate how incredibly fortunate I am. To be born into the family that I that I grew up in, in the United States. And I had nothing to do with any of that.  I hope I’ve capitalized on the opportunities that have been available to me.  I’m alert to the fact that the opportunity set for most people in the world doesn’t look like mine. And, the ability to be helpful, not to solve everybody’s problems, not to deliver the results, but to create the opportunity for people to be able to maximize their potential, and to pursue things that are interesting to them and worthwhile and rewarding, and to see a prospect for a better future for themselves and for their families and their communities. This is pretty motivating. 

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

Larry Gilson: Reading the morning newspaper can be a little bit discouraging than a typical and it can affect your worldview, and your sense of your place in the world.  So a very important antidote to that, I think, is what comes from my involvement in the philanthropic world.  There’s a couple of quite dissimilar populations of people who I now interact with who I wouldn’t have otherwise, that give me a basis for genuine hope.

I don’t mean a bunch of wishful thinking.  I mean, evidence based basis for seeing some real upside. One is the people who are being helped. These are not folks who are sitting back looking for a handout. They are people who want to work, to prove themselves, and want their children to be able to go to school.  They want to be safe, they want to be healthy. Those are traits which I see evidence of every place we go. So as a population that is hopeful.  The other group of people who I find motivating and encouraging are the young people who founded but often run these nonprofits. These are people who could be successful in anything that they chose to do. And they are not choosing to maximize their personal income. They are choosing to serve.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 69: GlamourGals

One of the things that I think has changed over time is our belief in teenagers and what they are capable of and I mean that in the best of ways. When I was growing up our parents barely knew where we were but with that freedom came responsibility. Teenagers had jobs, got themselves to work and rode their bikes to appointments on their own. These experiences gave them confidence to try and do new things. I am lucky to be reminded daily from my work at TACSC at just how capable and amazing these young students are.

Today’s guest, Rachel Doyle, started her nonprofit in high school and twenty years later has over ninety chapters nationwide connecting teens and senior citizens through GlamourGals. Join us for an inspirational conversation about what we can do for our seniors, ourselves, the power of connection and coming together over something beautiful.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Rachel Doyle: For over 20 years, we’ve been empowering beautiful connections between generations. We do this by organizing teen volunteer chapters in high school and college to visit local senior homes to provide companionship, conversation and our signature programming of complementary beauty makeovers. Our real vision is of course to end elder loneliness. Sadly, over 50% of seniors in care are not visited.

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

Rachel Doyle:  I created GlamourGals When I was a teenager. It was an idea to honor of my grandmother who had passed away and I wanted to do something that honored her. Being a teenager, I wanted to do something I enjoy. I think where the success comes in, is this idea of tapping into what’s relevant to your audience.  I loved fashion, beauty and makeup, so I thought why not? Take the things that I love, my friends love and use it as a tool to make someone smile.

I remember it was August of 1999 that I was thinking of the idea. In January of 2000. I held my very first GlamourGals makeover and I invited or begged two friends from home room. Basically saying, “You need this for college, don’t you?” And I dragged them into the senior home that day. And I remember I was unprepared for the next question, which after the experience, they turned to me and said, “Hey, when are we coming back? “

So the GlamourGals makeover experience, it’s just a vehicle for conversation that’s familiar. When you can tap into things that are relevant and provide opportunities for teens to do something and put their own spin on it. I think that’s what I’m most proud of is how we built the organization through this chapter system.

 Yes, it starts with the manicures and makeovers the GlamourGals signature programming, but then we give the team leadership of the chapters, flexibility through our chapter creativity fund.  There they have an idea and we encourage them to pitch us their idea. Then we’ll give you the materials to go and do that. As a result, they can own a little bit of their local ideas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Doyle:  I think, in any entrepreneurial journey, they’re consistent. You always need resources, but you need the right resources at the right time. You need the right people at the right time. I think it’s not necessarily the challenges. It’s how you move through them. Because challenges will come up daily.

 I think that as a person, I’ve discovered that I don’t mind a challenge. I lean into it, I see it. There’s a positive to it, even if it’s not the outcome that I want,  it keeps you moving forward.  You can manage your way through them or your reaction to them. And that is the entrepreneurial experience where you have fires all the time. It’s that firemen model. How do they get out of a burning building? They look down at their feet and they go one step in front of the other and before you know what you’re out.

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

Rachel Doyle:  In our leadership model for our teens, we give them the opportunity to reflectively journal. The idea is that  they go out and do this incredible intergenerational experience and they come back and get training and mentorship from us. Then we give them the chance to write about it and reflect about it. We prompt them to do that all the time and we’ve collected  over 10,000 reflective journals.

We share them as an office, on social media to inspire others. Receiving those is really what drives me. On the days where I’m like, “Am I doing something that still makes an impact?”  When that girl in Ohio or that guy in Texas, writes about how much GlamourGals has transformed their life, personally and academically. Our alumni who write professionally about it, or come back to volunteer . It is all these stories that we amassed that it’s not my journey anymore. It’s thousands of other people’s journeys. That is just so cool and just so inspiring to me.

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

Rachel Doyle: GlamourGals has always been about creating human connection for 20 years.  During the pandemic, we had an AI group, run all these like fancy technology tests on the Reflective Journals and look for key words and we found actually the most popular word in the selective journals was hope.  To us this signaled something really incredible is that during the largest mental health crisis for teenagers, they were coming onto our site and talking about hope. And I think there is something really transforming there. Going back to the core of our program, is human relationships, creating for teens transformations that inspire their personal, academic and future professional success. 

The last couple months we have started 20 new chapters. We’re in a growth period right now with 89 chapters across the country.  When everything shut down one of the programs we launched was called My dear friend.  It was a kind card writing program that allowed us to write cards to the seniors in the senior homes and for them to receive something tangible, slipped underneath the door, because there was 100% isolation. Since the launch of that program, we have distributed 100,000 cards around the country and even in foreign cities around the world. This holiday season we hope to reach 30,000 seniors isolated seniors in all 50 states. We hope that everyone will go online to help us send cards to seniors for the holidays. The Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation is going to match what we send. 

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

Rachel Doyle: I think the big dream for me and the thing that would make me the proudest for GlamourGals is having the vision realized in rooms where I’m not present.  I think you know you can talk about growth or replication or that you want to be in all 50 states or you want this to be there. But it goes back to the people who are building it and meeting those goals. And when those people can perform their their tasks or their goals in a way that embodies your belief system and your vision without you and without your direct direction.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Doyle: I think I had to recognize that it’s okay for my role to change.  I’ve done this for over 20 years. So I started off as a volunteer doing the direct service as a team,  going into multiple senior homes going and to different classrooms to convince other students to do the same thing. Later on in college having other chapters of young people replicate the service in different communities.

I remember sitting in a professor’s office. And she said, “This is a moment where your role has changed and you have to accept it. And you either have to move forward in it.  Just reflect on this for a moment. You are allowing maybe a thousand other people to do the service by your actions. So you’re one action of going into the senior home, by not doing that you’re putting the time towards inspiring and organizing a thousand others. You have to see the value in that .”

 So it was then that the next evolution of leadership came along and it wasn’t just me alone.  I had to welcome other people in and be okay with sharing that  delegation of power and responsibility. Again, it was allowing and embracing those changes in my leadership role and understanding how I fit into the organization each step each step of the way.

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

Rachel Doyle: I’ve learned is how to build a team or building the right team.  At the end of the day, if something went right or wrong, you can blame it on me. When you want to grow, you have to bring people on who have expertise you don’t have and not be threatened by it. Bring in people who complement you that are different from you, that challenge you. So being able to build a team because at the end of the day if you want something to grow or make a larger impact, you can’t do it alone. 

The most important lesson is to be a good listener. As a founder I’ve been at plenty of meals with people who just talk about themselves. Who wants to be around somebody who just talks about themselves? I think I learned it from when I volunteer alongside my volunteers to remember to sit down and listen to someone else. Whether it’s a senior citizen, a volunteer,  a peer colleague or a friend you just sit and listen to someone else. And get to know what they need. When you can understand the needs around you, you can better serve those needs.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 68: Driving Single Parents

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a terrific Giving Tuesday! I’m so grateful to have today’s guest to remind us why we call this the season of giving. Join us as Cindy Witteman shares her journey from fleeing domestic violence, becoming a single parent then a nonprofit founder, author and tv show host of The Little Give. 

Cindy is a bright light, a survivor and someone who will inspire you with her purpose for giving back and the incredible story of her nonprofit, Driving Single Parents. 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Driving Single Parents does?

Cindy Witteman: What we do at Driving Single Parents is we really get people back in the driver’s seat. So since being a single parent is one of the hardest jobs you can possibly have, and doing so without a car can be very difficult. So our mission is really to get those single parent families back in the driver’s seat.

We actually give single parents a free vehicle at no charge to them, including tax on license. Everything is taken care of the only thing that single parents are responsible for is to obtain and maintain car insurance. And that’s not our role. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Driving Single Parents?

Cindy Witteman: I came from a single parent home. We had a lot of challenges financially, my mom was disabled, she was unable to work. So we were limited by some child support,  government assistance and my mom also got a disability check. So we really didn’t have a lot of fun growing up.

I decided to escape that situation and start a family my own with a white picket fence. Well, unfortunately, that didn’t happen the way I had planned. I ended up in a domestic violence marriage. That was a really hard time.  The hardest time was feeling trapped.  Being a single parent was the last thing on my list of things to do.  Well, I thought since the abuse was only happening to me,  that I could make it work.  I could cook a little better, clean a little better and do things a little better.  And if I did those things, then everything would be beautiful and wonderful. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

One day, I was a stay at home mom  folding a load a load of laundry and Dr. Phil came on and he said, ” It’s better to come from a broken home than it is to grow up in one.”  The minute I heard those words, it was almost like as if he was speaking directly to me. I literally stood up, I got a basket of clothes, a bag of diapers, my daughter’s and we escaped that situation.  I distinctively remember strapping my daughter into the car seat, who was five months old at the time, and thinking, “Wow, am I really going to do that? How am I going to do this? This is going to be so hard.”  I did it. I worked two jobs myself through college.

 I had this nagging tug on me to give back and I always thought, one day when I get a better place, I’m going to find a way to help single parents succeed. And I went through a lot of struggles with childcare. It’s just really hard to be a single parent especially when you don’t have that support from the other parent, that child support, or any financial support. If a kid is sick at school, they don’t have anybody to go pick them up but yourself which means you miss work. So I just really had this passion to really want to give back.

Once I was in a little bit better place, I got out of school and had a stable job.  I said okay, now I can start  thinking through how I’m going to give back. So I thought I’ll start a nonprofit. At first, I wanted to focus on childcare.  I wanted to do childcare. Well, I ran a poll here in San Antonio, Texas where I live, and nobody could get excited about a nonprofit that helps with childcare. There’s this misunderstanding that it’s government assistance already takes care of that.  There’s lack of funding, there’s long waiting lists. And so it’s not not the easiest thing to get.

But again, what is a good nonprofit if you don’t have anybody to donate to it, right? So I knew I had to pivot. So I started to think what was my second need? And I distinctively remember, I was actually at dinner one night, and I literally stood up at the table, and I was like,” That’s it! I’m gonna give away cars to single parents.” My fiancee said, “Oh, Cindy, now sit down, you are not giving away anything. Are you crazy? That the liability is just like outrageous.”   I listened very intently to all of his concerns. And then I woke up super early the next morning, I wrote a business plan. applied for nonprofit status, built the website, and we’ve been giving away cars at Driving Single Parents ever since.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cindy Witteman: Who would have thought it’d be so hard to do something so good? Well, it can be  pretty challenging. So me being somebody who didn’t have any background in nonprofits. And I didn’t know anybody else who had founded a nonprofit. In fact, I don’t even think before that I had much money to give to a nonprofit. So I didn’t really know a lot about it, or how to do it. So I had to read audible books,  I read a lot a lot of books and figured it out

Oh wait, I need a board of directors? Wait, I need to pick a name?  So many things that I didn’t know that I needed in order to really get myself in a position to where it wasn’t gonna fail. You talk to a lot of people who have founded nonprofits, and they fail, oftentimes. It’s a small percentage that actually can keep it going long term. So I knew I had to find ways to make sure that driving single parents wasn’t going to be one of those. I worked really hard to learn everything I needed to know, and gather all the people around me who were able to get on board and really helped me grow it.

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

Cindy Witteman:  The very first car we gave away was less than a month after I had the idea. The person who received the vehicle was actually a single  dad named John Cano. He was unfortunately, hit by a drunk driver. In that accident, not only did he lose his car, but he lost his wife, and he left lost his right leg. He really became a single dad overnight, and then also had these major handicap needs that he had to overcome.

The vehicle really served as that tool he needed to not only help him get his kids to and from where they needed to go, but also himself to get himself back in the driver’s seat and get that independence back. Because when you  end up losing a limb, you’re reliant on everyone else. To be able to have healed enough to get behind the wheel of your own vehicle and to have that freedom can be really transformative.  He has sent me pictures of his kids, graduating, doing band practice, or him and that was six and a half years ago. He still drives it to this day to this day, that very same vehicle. He’s just doing wonderful and his kids are flourishing. And so I’m just so grateful. 

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

Cindy Witteman: I want to amplify our efforts,  to help more people and to expand. I think a lot of misconception out there is that a vehicle is a luxury item. It maybe in some places but I’ll tell you here in San Antonio, Texas, it’s not. Oftentimes I get applications from individuals who have lost several jobs because they have to rely on public transportation. That public transportation doesn’t get you there where you need to be in a reasonable amount of time. It might take two or three hours for them to get on all the bus transfers, to get their kid to school, to get their kid the babysitter and then to get to work.  It can really put out the single parents who ended up being unemployed. Dispelling all of those misconceptions are really one of the big missions 

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

Cindy Witteman: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. That’s a quote by Henry Ford and it’s so true. Because if you believe you can do something you can and if you believe you can’t do something you can’t. And it really comes down to you and your beliefs. I’ve learned that I am not a product of my circumstances. I’ve learned that my past doesn’t define me.  Sometimes I didn’t have groceries or food when I was a kid but that didn’t define me. I ended up in a domestic violence situation situation. And I realized that I could easily just say,” Oh, poor me.” Or I could say when nothing goes right, go left. As a result, I could build a life that was everything I ever wanted.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Cindy Witteman: I think I change every day. You know, I think every single day I wake up, I don’t compete against anybody else in my life. I compete against myself. And I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday. And that’s something I work on every day. So I’m constantly changing. I’m constantly learning, I’m constantly growing. I’m constantly expanding my impact in whatever ways I possibly can.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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There is a season turn, turn, turn…

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and while I wanted to write about gratitude, this year I wanted to share this message. The first week of October I went back east with my sister to see the glory of fall. I did an instagram post with the lyrics of this song. For those of us old enough to remember the Byrd’s song, these lyrics have stayed with me since. As we witness so much chaos in our world,  I thought I would share them in hope they give you a little food for thought this Thanksgiving instead of just food. Knowing that each of us continue to look towards all the good we have in our world and our daily lives.

To everything turn, turn, turnThere is a season turn, turn, turnAnd a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to dieA time to plant, a time to reapA time to kill, a time to healA time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything turn, turn, turnThere is a season turn, turn, turnAnd a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to buid up, a time to break downA time to dance, a time to mournA time to cast away stonesA time to gather stones together
To everything turn, turn, turnThere is a season turn, turn, turnAnd a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time of love, a time of hateA time of war, a time of peaceA time you may embraceA time to refrain from embracing
To everything turn, turn, turnThere is a season turn, turn, turnAnd a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to gain, a time to loseA time to rain, a time of sowA time for love, a time for hateA time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

It is fall and the season to shed all that no longer serves us. It is time to shed the hate, shed the fear, shed the ugliness about this political side or the other. The world is so divided right now and we need to lean into hard conversations. We are in a time of war but let us all work towards peace. It is always a season to love, to be loved and learn. So as we embrace the beauty of fall let’s embrace what we can shed and make a time for peace…and a time to every purpose under Heaven.

Wishing you all the most joyous Thanksgiving.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Service and leadership

Last week  I was in DC to speak as the keynote speaker for the National Christ Child Society. The organization’s mission is to serve children in need. My grandmother was a member and I joined our local chapter about twenty years ago. So it was such a privilege to speak to all of the chapter presidents from across the country on two of my favorite topics, leadership and service. I thought I would share some of the highlights which included much of what we have all learned here together about amazing leaders.

Here are a few snippets……I’ll spare you all the 30 minute version.

If you could change the world, would you? Of course, we all would say yes. But how? How would you change the world? It is a daunting idea and one so big that it almost shuts us down. Who me? What could I do that would possibly make a difference? I’m just one person. I’m not a leader or someone who aspires to greatness. I’m just one person who cares.

After interviewing hundreds of nonprofit founders since 2011, I can tell you this is what I have discovered that all of these leaders have in common. 

1. Everyone was motivated by one person or something that happened to them personally.
2. Everyone I interviewed truly thought if they could just help one.
3. No one knew what they were getting into

Here is the thing, every single one of these people changed the world. They have literally changed the world. How? Simply because they cared.

We are all here to serve one another and here on a mission to find out what gifts we have to give. Our lives are serendipitous journeys that teach us lessons along the way. My journey took me from caring about children, to having an enormous loss, a rebirth, was healed through service, met leaders, and through it all learned to lead. Now teaching young leaders. How wonderful the journey is when we open our hearts to serve.

Now it’s time to go out and know that you are a leader, you are a person with connection, purpose, and community. Most of all you are a person who cares and that is an invitation to change the world.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 62: Mitchell Thorp Foundation

There is nothing better than meeting a total stranger and feeling like you could be old friends. That is exactly the warmth and graciousness that today’s guest Beth Thorp brought to this week’s conversation. Beth is a ray of sunshine who shares her incredible story of loss and purpose.

It is always challenging talking to parents who have lost a child.  Beth and her family have taken their loss and turned it into incredible support for families whose children suffer from life threatening illness with their organization the Mitchell Thorp Foundation. Join us today for an uplifting, inspirational conversation of love, family, faith and purpose.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Mitchell Thorp Foundation does?

Beth Thorp: We are a public 501 C3  organization and we support families with children with life threatening illnesses, diseases and disorders by providing financial emotional resource support to them.  The foundation is in honor of my son’s name. That’s why it’s titled Mitchell Thorp Foundation. His name was Mitchell. He was my firstborn son and beautiful young man. A 4.0 students who loved to play baseball. He was known for that and his father played the Dodger organization at one point before he succumb to an injury. We are a little nuts when it comes to baseball season around here.

 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start The Mitchell Thorp Foundation?

Beth Thorp: My son at the age of 13, came home from school with very severe headaches.  As any parent, you think maybe you’re coming down with the flu or something. So you do next indicated thing, give him a pain reliever go lay down. As days went on, he kind of got a little better, and then went back to school, but the couldn’t concentrate with  head pain. Until one day he came home and he just kind of collapsed in the front yard, which just totally frightened me.

 I’m  crying out to my husband come quick, something is seriously wrong.  We go to the doctor, and then it was really a rude awakening to our medical system. We checked off the boxes going to the doctors, and then it gets worse than he ends up in the hospital.. At his first hospital stay, he was there for three days running tests and things kept coming back negative normal. So then you’re trusting the doctors going down this path. Fast forward we had a five year journey of chasing pain, chasing trying to find a diagnosis and doctors scratching their heads trying to figure out what it was. It was a season of chaos, fear and anxiety and all those emotions that were watching your child suffer.

 This was also a  season of testing your faith.  We all go through it at some point in time in our lives, where the rug gets pulled out from underneath us, and things change on a dime. And you’re not expecting it at all. Where is your strong foundation? Because if you don’t have one, you’re going to crumble. We’ve seen so many people who fall into situations like us.  Statistically  close to 75% of families end up  in divorce or separation because the stresses of dealing with a medically critical ill child or a child with severe disabilities.

In 2008, a story ended up in the Union Tribune, about our family.  People really wanted to help us and they created a walkathon to help us pay off our huge medical bills that we had even with great insurance.  That experience totally changed us and humbled us and it really was also in my deepest pain and grief from losing our son.

As the faithful woman,  I heard something deep within my spirit resonate.   I knew it had to been God’s speaking to me because he said, “This is not the end, this is the beginning.” And I just sat up in my bed looked up or the heavenlies and said, “Oh, this feels like the end. What do you mean? What do you mean by that?”

So I’m looking up there and asking where did that thought come from? Why would I think that? Where would that have come from? That same week, my husband was at the local church and there was two boys he coached in baseball.  Both boys unfortunately had cancer.  Again, families trying to make ends meet and he really had that strong calling. He thought, we should form a foundation to help many families going through what we went through. So he comes home to tell me that.  And I said, “You want to do what?” Then I really had to realize, Oh my goodness maybe that’s what he meant by that this is not the end, this is the beginning.

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

Beth Thorp: It takes so much drive and that entrepreneurial spirit to make this work happen. The perseverance you really have to have is strong. And for us, it was a God given vision that we could not let go. This vision was driving us forward, like a steam engine.

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

Beth Thorp: We’ve actually given back over $3 million already back into the community. So that’s like, oh, wow, we’ve helped 1000 plus people and children and counting.  That’s a huge!  We just started with one child and one family at a time. And that’s how it started. And you just kind of kept one foot in front of the other.  Seeing these families scared out of their minds and just being that light in the dark for them is is huge for us. But yeah, the impact was huge.

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

Beth Thorp: I thought about that question and the big dream. Well, the beautiful thing was since the release of the book, my publisher now put me in touch with two film producers, who are we are writing a screenplay. Yay! We wanted to take the organization worldwide, because right now we’re just California based. We we want to build different chapters throughout the United States.

We do see ourselves what we call scaling up for that and we’re getting ready for that.  And we’re in the midst of taking it and the book into an adaptation into script. So we’ll see what happens? That would be my my dream. To see it on film, the story out to those who need to hear it, to see it.  And that’s going to be an inspirational story.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Beth Thorp: I think what changed me the most is learning that I have no control over anything. If you think about it, we really don’t have control over anything. Especially my type of personality, we want to control and make things work the way it should work.  So the big lesson was surrender.

I keep having to surrender every day. It’s not my will, but his.  And when you can learn to do that it’s a beautiful thing to see how people come into your life, serendipitously. Those divine appointments, keep surprising me. So that is the one thing that has changed me, giving up the control and keep surrendering. 

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

Beth Thorp: There’s a lot of lessons that I had to learn. Well, I think for me was to stay strong in my faith, because faith doesn’t always take you out of problem. They’ve taken you through it. Faith doesn’t always take away the pain but its going to give you the ability to get through it. And then faith doesn’t always calm the storms of life but it gets you through the storms. So it’s really for me, it was just hanging on. I’m like a cat with the claws when I felt like I wasn’t hanging on. But just staying strong in that and to just persevere and never give up.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Celebrating community in a divided land

Happy 4th of July everyone! Today is one of my favorite days of the year and not just because it’s a celebration of independence; but because it is a celebration of community and the deep connections we share as Americans. It is a day when neighbors come together, families gather, and friendships are strengthened. In a world often divided by differences, the 4th of July reminds us of the common threads that unite us all.

It makes me sad seeing how divided our country has become these past few years.  The strength of our nation lies in our connected tissue and community, not our division. Today, we have the opportunity to set aside our individual concerns and unite as a community. We engage in picnics, parades, and other festivities that bring us closer, fostering a sense of belonging and togetherness.

In celebrating the 4th of July, we acknowledge that our nation is not a solitary entity, but a vibrant tapestry woven together by the diverse backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs of its citizens. Our shared experiences and values create a sense of camaraderie and solidarity.  Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” The 4th of July serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience that arise when we stand united.

Moreover, the celebration of the 4th of July allows us to honor and appreciate the remarkable contributions of our fellow Americans. It is a day when we recognize the accomplishments of individuals who have shaped our nation’s history and those who continue to shape its future. We remember the leaders, innovators, and everyday heroes who have made sacrifices to uphold the ideals upon which this country was built. Many of them you continue to meet each week here at Charity Matters.

The 4th of July is also an opportunity to reach out and connect with those who may be different from us. It is a chance to bridge divides and build bridges of understanding. At the end of the day, we are more alike, than we are different. This day encourages us to set aside our differences and find common ground, fostering empathy and compassion for our fellow Americans, as well as have some fun. Besides who doesn’t love a Tuesday off?

More than a day off,  celebrating the 4th of July allows us to strengthen our bonds as families and friends. It is a time to create lasting memories, to share stories and traditions that have been passed down through generations.  The 4th of July provides an opportunity to open our homes and hearts to loved ones, to appreciate the support and love that surround us.

In this digital age, where screens often replace face-to-face interactions, the 4th of July reminds us of the importance of human connection. It encourages us to put aside our devices, to engage in meaningful conversations, and to cherish the moments of laughter and joy shared with those around us. The bonds we forge on this day transcend geographical and ideological boundaries, reminding us that we are all part of the American tapestry.

This holiday is one of my favorites and  holds a deep significance in our lives as Americans. It is a time to celebrate our independence, but it is also an occasion to celebrate our community, our connections, and our shared experiences. It is a day when we come together as neighbors, friends, and family to honor our history, to embrace our present, and to look forward to a brighter future. As we celebrate with joy and gratitude, let us remember that the strength of our nation lies in the unity and compassion we demonstrate as a community of proud Americans who care about one another.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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