Episode 65: Curiosity 2 Create

The world gets scarier each week. You are here to be reminded of all of the goodness that exists all around us. These days teachers and educators are being vilified and under extreme microscopes as our world becomes more polarizing each day. Today’s guest is a bright light in a dark world, as she strives to invigorate and inspire thousands of educators to rediscover their love of teaching, inspire and foster creativity and critical thinking in the classroom and ultimately help our children.

Join us today for an inspirational conversation with Katie Trowbridge, the founder of Curiosity 2 Create. A nonprofit that is on a mission to help our teachers and ultimately our students. Their mission is to equip K-12 educators with the skills needed to embrace their innate curiosity and encourage critical thinking by providing leading edge resources for our teachers.  Like Charity Matters, Katie is on a mission to help the helpers. If you have a student, know a teacher or care about education in our country you are not going to want to miss this conversation.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what CURIOSITY 2 Create does?

Katie Trowbridge: It’s amazing what we do. And as we work with the teachers, and that the educators, administrators to help build in and infuse creative thinking, critical thinking into existing curriculum.  A lot of teachers today have very scripted lessons that they have to teach or they have an outline that they need to teach. And they think  I can’t put any creativity into that. And yet, there’s so many possibilities and ways that we can use what you’re already doing in your classroom to promote that way of thinking.

If you look at any of the research right now they’re all saying that out of the top ten skills that people need to be successful in the future. One is critical thinking and two is critical thinking. We’re in the schools and our teachers don’t really know how to teach these skills.  I keep hearing I don’t know how.  So we really are passionate about helping teachers make sure that when their kids leave the classroom, they’re thinking about things.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Curiosity 2 Create?

Katie Trowbridge: So Curiosity 2 Create is only about two years old. So we’re still babies.  We have been working in education for a while after school programs. But about a year ago, I was at a board meeting and someone said, “You know what would be really great is if instead of just having these after school programs, we really reach out to teachers.  Because if you can impact one teacher, you’re impacting 1000s of students.” And that’s when they looked at me and said, “Great, do you want to run that?”  And now this is my full time working in a nonprofit.

It was a big decision for me to make this move and I thought about it a lot, obviously. I love teaching, it’s in my heart. Over the last couple years, not only was I not happy but my coworkers weren’t happy.  My students weren’t happy and there was the lack of engagement, the lack of thinking for themselves. This idea of just give me the A. What’s the right answer?

  I saw that this excitement that used to be in schools of curiosity was just disappearing. Sometimes you can’t get the kind of coaching that you need on a teacher’s salary.  A lot of schools don’t have the money that they could to put into this kind of development. So I went to the Driscoll Foundation and they were very gracious and giving me a grant to make sure that this is able to be offered to everyone.

So no matter what, what size district, no matter where you are we can help. I was at a conference speaking, and a woman came up to me and said, “I’m in the middle of Nevada, and I teach, four different subjects, we have a really tiny school, could you help us?” And I said, “Absolutely.”

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a family that was involved in their community? 

Katie Trowbridge:  I was a pastor’s kid and I was an only child. So if I wanted a youth group in the school in the church that we were currently ministering in, I would have to create it. My dad would go into these churches that were dying, and he would raise it up and make it work. And then he’d leave. So a lot of times, as a kid, I was like, wow, I want a youth group, there is none. So I’ll just start my own.

Then I’ve always worked with teenagers and had a passion for teenagers and for children. I was in marketing for a while and went in to get my teaching degree. A couple of schools wanted to start looking more at character traits, or SEL before it was SEL and so I started a nonprofit called Kids Matter. And that is still going. I always want to be helping and doing things when I was young to make sure people are happy and getting along.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Katie Trowbridge: I would absolutely say fundraising. I would also say that raising awareness since we’re a new nonprofit. For example, on Giving Tuesday, we thought, Oh, we’re just gonna flood social media and on Giving Tuesday, we’re gonna get all this money. And it didn’t work. Because we’re new, and we’re middle and people are giving huge organizations not just like us. So I think raising awareness is a big one. Once people understand what we do and believe in what we do. They absolutely will be more willing to invest in what we do.

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

Katie Trowbridge: Getting your mind off of everybody’s you. I was sitting here,  thinking oh, man, what do I need to do next this week? I’ve got to make sure that my staff is okay. Then I have to make sure that I’m helping change education. That’s a huge goal.

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

Katie Trowbridge: One of our challenges is how to measure something that takes years to measure. We are measuring our impact by giving the testimonials saying look at this teacher said that this has absolutely changed the way she envisions teaching in your classroom. Another teacher who said, “My classroom is so much more fun. So I enjoy teaching much more.”

Well, how do you measure that? Right? That’s awesome. So maybe that teacher was going to quit, which we know a lot of teachers are right now and now they found joy, through teaching creatively and critically. You know, putting in a graph for a donor to see is nearly impossible. I think  that’s part of when you talked about some of the challenges.  Part of the challenge is how do we have the data to prove that this is working, besides stories from our teachers who say that it is.

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

Katie Trowbridge:  I think one of my biggest lessons that I’ve learned is patience.  I want to go go go as a visionary as an implementer. I want I want to be speaking at all these districts I want to have my curriculum all over the place.  I want it now.  So patience has been a real life lesson for me lately. I also think asking for help, has been something that I’ve learned.

I think that that is a major life lesson that I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. And a little bit of chaos is a good thing, because that’s where some of the the learning really takes place. But you know, being patient has been a really big one for me.

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

Katie Trowbridge:  My biggest dream is that students and teachers and schools start seeing the importance of these soft skills and see them more as essential skills. So it’s not just the Common Core standards,  but it’s how do we get kids to start thinking. A huge win for me is when we hear from teachers saying, my kids are actually asking better questions. My kids are actually thinking, because they’re excited about what they’re learning.  So my dream is that we’re writing the curriculum across the nation and that people start really embracing the the way to think for themselves.

What a better way to solve social issues, but then being a creative and critical problem solver. So when we have these issues in our society, our kids know how to think for themselves and how to solve these problems. 




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Episode 56: Start Lighthouse

What happens when one person answers a call? In this situation, the call was to an elementary school teacher from a concerned parent about their child. Join us to learn about what one teacher has done to inspire 5700 children to learn to read and love learning.

There is a reason and a story behind today’s guest, Rina Madhani’s mission to inspire literacy in thousands of underserved children. Join us for an incredible conversation and see why Rina was a L’Oreal Women of Worth. She is a bright light!


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Start Lighthouse does?

Rina Madhani: Start Lighthouse is committed to addressing the literacy crisis within our community. The reality is that thousands of students are growing up illiterate in our city, or state and our nation. Zooming into the Bronx in particular, which is one of the poorest congressional districts in the entire country, 70% of students are still reading below grade level.

What Start Lighthouse does is we build robust home libraries with brand new multicultural books. We host nationally recognized award winning authors and artists so that students can see the process of creating a story. And we also rehabilitate abandoned defunct library spaces within title one public schools. We then convert them into full time literacy centers where we provide high quality literacy programming. It is also a safe space for students to gather during the day after school and throughout the summer.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic family?

Rina Madhani:  My parents would allocate like weekends where we would volunteer together as a family. That was really important to my parents. It was something that they prioritized, because that was a way to always bring the family together.  I think that’s really also shaped me as an individual today, because I do believe that we’re products of our environments.

Charity Matters: What were your early memories of giving back?

Rina Madhani: As a child, I was always interested in social impact in particular.  I just remember traveling back home to India, and just trying to understand why there was disparities that existed between social classes.  And wondering why the government wasn’t doing enough to address those gaps?  That was something that I also saw back home here in the States.

When I was younger, I was always thinking about how can I make a difference in the community? Even in high school, I created my own organization where it was bringing my peers together for us to be talking about issues that were affecting the world. We talked about Haiti, learned about micro financing,  created school supply kits back for children in Iraq during the Iraqi war. So those things were always in my mind.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and Begin Start Lighthouse?

Rina Madhani:  I remember when the pandemic started to unfold, and we really had no certainty what was taking place. Then suddenly, schools and libraries closed. Certain districts struggled to get tech devices for students that needed them in low income communities. I was in the Bronx, and a lot of my students and their families were reaching out to me asking me for additional materials and resources.  When I spoke to one of my student’s parents she said, “I don’t want him to continue to fall further behind. And I’m particularly worried about his reading ability.”

That phone call inspired me to get Start Lighthouse off the ground.  It really began with just a modest goal of getting 500 brand new multicultural books in the hands of students. Creating learning materials, resources that they could leverage while they were back at home.  I started to mobilize individuals within my network.  I was cold emailing publishers reaching out to elected officials, talking to community members, inquiring about which schools were operating as meal distribution sites. Finding where were students and families gathering daily for hot meals.

 That phone call that I had with one of my student’s parents stated it all.  I realized that I have a call to answer for not only my students, but for the community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rina Madhani:  I think the most challenging part has been around fundraising. Early on, I didn’t realize how to actually go about fundraising. I had never formally pitched my organization and I didn’t have a theory of change model in place. So I didn’t know how to raise money for the work that I was doing.  I just thought I would just be going to schools and just giving our services and products just for free as they need it.

Then I realized that’s not going to be sustainable as an organization. So that’s where I had to pivot a bit and really think intentionally around how the organization was going to develop. A lot of the work has really entailed around relationship building and cultivating a community based approach. So involving not only administrators, superintendents, but also elected officials, community members, families and the work that we do. That’s really been a key aspect of it because that those are the folks that can really help mobilize resources and funding.

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

Rina Madhani: I think I’m just so fueled by the students and families that I have the privilege of interacting with every day. And the fact that our students now know things around like interacting with authors and artists. They’re able to verbalize the fact that they want to become authors or artists. The fact that they’ll tell me that they have a home library and that they know what those words mean. They can actually point to it and that fact that they come up and just tell me how much they love and enjoy reading. I think those are the moments that add up to me and really help fuel the work that I do. Because, for me, everything is rooted in community.  I want to be able just to support the next generation of readers, writers, and critical thinkers.

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

Rina Madhani: Our impact is now centered around us rehabilitating these defunct library spaces and converting them into full time literacy centers. That’s where I’ve seen just how impactful our work is. Because now we have the privilege and the opportunity to serve students every single day. So we are there during the day and after school. So now students are able to have access to our programming year round. With that, we are now able to study and unpack student reading proficiency data.

 We’re able to assess attendance levels to you in terms of the frequency of them coming to the literacy hub. Also ensuring that they’re in school because chronic absenteeism is a prevailing issue within our community. So now we have the opportunity to measure these items. Beyond just thinking about the 23,000 books that we’ve delivered and students that we’ve been able to work closely with. That’s where we’ve been able to see the true trajectory of our work. It’s just that we are able to join students as early as pre k to be able to follow them through their entire journey and ensure that they’re reading proficiently by fourth grade.

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

Rina Madhani: The big dream is to become a national organization. Right now we’re course based in the Bronx. But I always tell folks that we’ve got an ask for us to expand to Harlem and to Brooklyn. So, I envision us having a New York takeover. But then for us to be able to bring this all across the country through various chapters that exist.

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

Rina Madhani: I think, for me, the biggest thing has been around putting myself out there. Even if I do receive a no, that’s absolutely fine, because I will find someone else that will also want to champion our cause. And not to get too derailed by that because of course, I’ve received my own fair share of rejections. Along the way, even when I submit a grant proposal, maybe we’re not the right fit right now. But who’s to say and won’t come back again later and thinking that we could pursue when were maybe a bit more developed. So I think for me, that’s been the biggest thing is just not letting that derail me too much. Just to keep going and really just to find your champions. Once you’ve identified folks that truly believe in you and believe in the vision, hold on to those people because those are the relationships that will continue to carry you forward

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rina Madhani: I think I’ve evolved tremendously. Since I’ve stepped into the shoes of becoming an entrepreneur, I feel so much more confident in terms of my ability to be in a room full of strangers and to be able to advocate for myself.  I think that when I was younger I was so much more introverted. And I always thought that like speaking out, wasn’t like the best way to like go about things. And now I have no problem doing that.

 I think I’ve just become so much more sure of who I am today. And I’m just so grateful, because this journey has allowed me to really step out of my comfort zone and have conversations with individuals that I never envisioned myself having a chat with before. Now that I have the opportunity to to share it share my story, it just reminded me that I also have something to say. 




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One For All

“Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference.”

Colin Brown

I have always believed in angels among us and the conversation I had earlier this week with nonprofit founder, Mari Rodriguez was proof to me that angels are here on earth. My dear friends have been involved with supporting Mari and her work to provide the most underserved children and families in her neighborhood of Inglewood. Mari came to the United States at age 19 and taught herself English. She became a citizen and a nurse. She raised a family and people in the neighborhood were coming to her for help with their children. First, it was a few and then a few more and then a hundred and now hundreds. Mari, is living proof that one person can change the world and one of the most amazing humans I have had the priveledge of talking too.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what One For All does?

Mari Rodriguez: One For All encourages students to stay in school, graduate from high school and we give these students and families the supplies and guidance they need to accomplish that.  Our mission is to help build the character of our children through social programs that emphasize the importance of personal growth as well as develop the community as a whole.

We do back to school backpacks and supply drives, toy drives for winter, we have students bring their report cards and if they are getting a 3.0 GPA or higher they are rewarded for good grades and if not we get them tutoring, we do prom dress giveaways and whatever students need, sometimes its as basic as a pair of shoes for school, we find it and help. The biggest thing we do is give $500 scholarships for those students with good grades who are going to college.

We currently serve over 500 students a year between the ages of 5 and 18.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start One For All?

Mari Rodriguez: I lived in Inglewood and saw that the children in my neighborhood didn’t have guidance. So, in 2001 I talked to the pastor at our church on the corner and asked if we could use the church parking lot to help children and families. Then we started an event on our street to gather everyone together but our neighbors were so impacted and the neighborhood couldn’t accommodate everyone. I wasn’t sure what to do because I was still working full time as a nurse during the day and raising my children and helping all the neighborhood children at night and after work.

In 2007, I had a patient that kept telling me I needed my 501c3 and I had no idea what these numbers meant or what that was. While I was working in the doctor’s office a patient asked me about what I do in my free time and I told him. He said I needed my 501c3 and his wife would help me. She did and in 2007  One For All became an official nonprofit organization. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mari Rodriguez: Donors. The hardest part is raising funds.

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

Mari Rodriguez: (Tears) The love of people. The love of people fuels me. Sometimes I want to quit and think I cannot go on and then people hug me and thank me for helping them. When families need me. This is my purpose in life to help others.

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

Mari Rodriguez: I think of all the people whose lives I have touched. From a five year old girl who died of cancer and whose funeral I did because her mother just couldn’t, to the young boys who were becoming gang members and we were able to get them to change direction, to the young man who was gay and thinking about suicide for fear his parents wouldn’t accept him.   I got involved and this boy is now a wonderful and happy young man in college with his family’s support.

When I close my eyes I see myself on a journey helping, going forward, helping, helping and not looking back just keep going and helping. I see the hugs, the smiles of all these people and that is my reward. I love this country with all my heart. I came to this country at 19 with nothing but dreams. I dreamed I was going to do something big.

I taught myself English and with the help of two angels went to nursing school. It was such hard work and my life has been so good. I have to give everything I have received. I am so grateful.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Mari Rodriguez:We started with 25 kids in 2001 from my home. Then we had 100 and then 200 kids and we would close down our street to do our events. Our neighbors asked us to take our events off of our street and we moved our programs to the church in Inglewood. Today we help more than 500 children and families. This year we will distribute over thirty $500 scholarships for our students who are going to college.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for One For All, what would that be?

Mari Rodriguez: The dream I have is to find more supporters. We need more school supplies. I dream of finding someone who can donate backpacks. To me, the most important thing is to keep giving more scholarships to motivate these kids to stay in school and to help us really help them.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mari Rodriguez: It hasn’t changed me, I continue being humble and treat everyone equally. I really do not like to talk about me. I would rather just help others. 

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

Mari Rodriguez: I have learned that anybody can help somebody. Nothing is too little to help another. Each individual can help somebody. If you can not give money you can give love or conversation to someone who is lonely. Anybody can make a difference in the world. To start a nonprofit with an intention to help others is enough. I am just happy to help these families.


Charity Matters.

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Shields for Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How did you start?

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact?

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

Book of Joy

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters


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Many Hopes


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

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

Anthony Mulongo

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what successes you have had?

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

Charity Matters: how has this experience changed you?

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters


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Learning Lab Ventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: tell us about learning lab ventures?

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

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

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

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

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

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


charity matters

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Love and resilience


Last weekend I attended the most amazing event, it was a series for women authors, who were brought together to share their journeys as novelist and tell us how they came to write the stories they wrote. It was like book club on steroids! The group that brought these incredible authors together was a local nonprofit called the Pasadena Literary Alliance, which was established a decade ago to recognize the accomplishments of authors, to advance the community about literary arts and to raise funds to support local literary programs.

What made the day so incredible were these amazing women authors, who didn’t know one another, or compare their notes and yet every one of them spoke about failure, resilience and love. Each of their messages was so powerful and inspiring that I had to share, besides these are also great tips for summer reading!

The author of the New York Times bestselling book, Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig spoke about her families rich history in Burma. Charmaine’s mother was the most famous woman in Burma, an actress, a beauty queen and a resistance fighter and yet growing up in the United States her mother was quiet, unassuming and spoke little about her past. Charmaine shared her own personal journey in telling the story about her family, her recent house fire and losing everything and her families love for one another, their country and their incredible resilience in the face of adversity.

Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, shared her personal story of being from immigrant parents, going to Yale and living the American Dream only to realize that it wasn’t. She became a successful attorney was diagnosed with a rare disease and became acutely aware of her time left on this earth and how she wanted to spend it. She told us that when she moved to Japan with her husband for business she volunteered to feed the homeless and quickly realized that the only volunteers were Americans. The experience changed her, her perceptions and she said that we each have an incredible superpower which is simply, “to love and persist” and that is the way we heal the world and one another.

The last author’s story I’m going to share was Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley,who told us about her early failures, heartbreaks,family illnesses, financial struggles and lives challenges that seemed never ending. She decided to run away to write and was literally hit by a car on her way to run away. It was that moment that made her realize she was alive and she said to herself, “If you only had so much time left what story would you tell?” She told us that each of us has the ability to, “create a reflection of our pain to heal ourselves and the world.”

As I listened to these incredible women, each uniquely different and yet exactly the same.  I realized that their journeys are exactly like those of the nonprofit founders I share each week, just in a different outlet. The authors use their pain to help heal themselves by telling stories and the nonprofit founders use theirs to create organizations to heal others. We all have challenges but how are we using ours to heal ourselves and the world around us?

charity Matters.


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Guest blogger: Theresa Gartland

This past week I had a long over due catch up with my friend Theresa Gartland of Operation Progress. Theresa who is originally from the Washington DC area came to Los Angeles, more specifically Watts, right out of college. Watts is still considered one of the most dangerous places in Los Angeles, but Theresa fell in love with the children and families in Watts. In the past decade plus, she has worked for a few different organizations, all with the same mission of making Watts a place for children and families to thrive.

Today, I am handing the handing Charity Matters over to Theresa to share her remarkable story of service…she is a true inspiration to us all.

As I am embarking on my 15th year of working in Watts and serving the youth of the community, I cannot help but reflect on what keeps me energized and going, of course two words…the kids! Everyday, I’m so grateful that I get to fulfill my life purpose by provide the most incredible, life-changing opportunity for some of the most deserving youth.

Attending Holy Child High School in Potomac, Md, I was taught the values of giving back through action not words. This rang true for me during my high school service trips to an afterschool program in Southeast DC. During my service, I would play with the children, help them with their homework, and spend time getting to know they. I quickly learned that they only difference between them and me was our neighborhood, and they were just as deserving as all the opportunities I was given. It was my actions that were making an impact. Through service and volunteering I had found my voice, it sparked my passion but I no idea it would ignite my career.

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned through my work is that each child deserves to feel safe, validated and know that someone is proud of them. This has become my mission, to make sure every student feels apart of something bigger than themselves, to feel validated, nurtured, and empowered.

My biggest success thus far, has been watching two girls that I have known since they were in 2nd grade, now sophomores at an all girls catholic high school, flourishing and succeeding. To be apart of their journey and see how OP has literally changed their life trajectory has been of the biggest rewards of my career.

It’s truly been a joy, honor and privilege to work at amazing schools and organizations in the Watts community that are so committed to inspiring, fostering and developing the youth. Being able to be there for a children, to motivate, challenge, and encourage them is no short of a miracle.

Thank you Theresa for reminding us what it means to serve, you are an amazing example to all.

Charity Matters.


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There is something magical and cathartic about writing. For me, it is a time to hear my inner voice and explore the outside world, as well as a gift that I cherish. That is why when I heard about I was smitten with their mission and story to encourage the gift of writing.

Their story began in 2002, when author Dave Eggers and educator, Ninive Calegari were looking for a solution to help overburdened teachers, while connecting talented working adults and students who needed help. They located a store front in the Mission District of San Francisco, aptly at 826 Valencia Street, where they opened a pirate store in the front and built a writing lab for kids in the back of an old gym space.

Word spread quickly and before long 826 Valencia was serving 6,000 students, between the ages of 6 and 18, annually with over 1,700 volunteers.

Only two years later in 2004 a second chapter of 826NYC, opened in New York City and the following year chapters opened up in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor and Boston. By 2008, 826’s fifth anniversary the non-profit had published its first book with their students work and opened their national headquarters called 826 National with a mission that believes great leaps in learning can happen with individual attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Today, 826 National.Org serves over 30,000 students across the country with over 5,300 volunteers, the organization has been a part of over 886 publishing projects and currently has seven chapters nationwide.

Now that is something to write about!


Charity Matters.




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Reading Partners Follow Up

Hearing these words from 9-year-old Tavan last week was pure joy!

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

I was invited to see the opening of a new chapter of Reading Partners, a literacy program for elementary school children, here in town.  You may remember the  post on Reading Partners from last spring.  It was so exciting to witness progress in action. When 9-year-old, Tavan got up and read Dr. Seuss in front of a group of strangers with pride, you can’t help but get excited.

Reading Partners began a decade ago, as three women noticed their local elementary school in trouble and wanted to help. Their goals were simple:

  • Focus on children from low-income communities.
  • Give one-on-one instruction at the student’s reading level.
  • Recruit and train community volunteers to work with children.
  • Partner with high-need elementary schools to offer an effective program on campus.
  • Provide a way for volunteers to give a small amount of their time to make a huge difference in a child’s life.


These three women started out with one school and today Reading Partners has over 5,000 volunteers in 65 schools in 5 states…all because a few women cared about their community and committed to making it better. Do you have an hour to spare a week? Maybe do you know someone who might? Simply click here and go under volunteers. You can change a child’s life simply by helping them read.

“Oh! The places you’ll go!”

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2012 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.