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Episode 73: Heroes Voices Media Foundation

I hope everyone had a great President’s Day. We are now on the short end of a week and that is always a great feeling. On Monday, we celebrated leaders who served our country. Today, I am thrilled to say we are doing the same by celebrating an amazing organization that serves those who have served, our military. Donald Dunn was a veteran suffering from PTSD when he and a fellow veteran began a podcast to talk about whatever was on their mind. The surprising result was that when they began sharing on their podcast, they began healing.

The result of that healing was wanting to give that experience to other veterans who were suffering and the creation of the nonprofit Heroes Voices Media Foundation. Join me for an inspirational conversation that literally brings me to tears of how one veteran is on a mission to help. Truly one of my favorite conversations!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Heroes Voices Media Foundation does?

Donald Dunn:  I was podcasting when I realized that I was using podcasting as therapy. And I didn’t realize this until about three quarters of the way through season one. At that point, I just no longer cared whether one person was watching my show or 10,000 because I was starting to feel better about myself.  I was starting to be able to get stuff off my chest that I didn’t talk to anybody else about. As a result, the Foundation came from the podcast.

It started  because of some musicians that came on the show.  I saw how they were struggling getting known, getting views and for me, it didn’t matter. But for them it did, because that was also their income. That’s how they paid their bills.  They were using their songwriting as therapy. The songs that they were singing were about the events that had happened to them in the military. So we started this nonprofit, in the hopes that we could get veterans to continue to keep using these forms of media to heal. There’s a lot of people that think podcasting is simple and easy. And then when they start they realize real quick that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. 

We know that when veterans get frustrated, they walk away from something and either deal with anger, or just try to go find something else.  So our goal is to help them continue to keep podcasting, whether that’s a little bit of education, and or the cost of some of the equipment. . The same goes with our veteran musicians. We’ve got a radio station that is underneath our nonprofit called Gunroom Radio. There’s three different stations: country, a rock channel and folk music. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Heroes Voices Media Foundation?

Donald Dunn: So some of it is just a little bit of luck. I’ve always been one of those guys, that when I get an idea in my head, and I decide to move forward, I don’t change my mind. And so I’m sitting there talking with a few of these veteran artists. And I said, “You know, what we really need is a radio station for veterans. “And they told me about an organization called Operation Encore. And I reached out to them. About that same time, the good old trusty Facebook,  started showing me an advertisement that said, start your own radio station.  And I was like, “Well, that’s it.” It was meant to be, you know, so I signed up and set it all up. Then I realized that it’s a lot more to it than just setting up a radio station.

There’s a bunch of nonprofits that help with PTSD. And I’m not under the illusion that if you’re a podcasting, you’re going to be healed and that’s therapy. But it’s a starting point, it’s a starting point to get you talking. It’s a starting point to get you associating with other like minded veterans, people that you might be able to reach out to. And it’s also integrating you back into society to where you are able to deal with people, because you will have some frustrating moments as a podcaster. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Donald Dunn: The hardest part for me figuring out is how to reach donors because we have a vision that nobody’s ever done.  I knew when I was setting this up that it was going to be an uphill battle. The reason why I knew that is because one of the things that Operation Encore said to me, that made me decide I was going to do this. When they talked to me, it became evident that the only way you were going to get the licensing and everything you needed was it had to become an actual business.

I had just closed my trucking company, and I really wasn’t looking for another business. When I talked to them, he had told me that he has spent two years talking to radio stations, and trying to get them to donate one hour of airtime to just the Operation Encore veteran artists. Wow. And they all told him no. Well, that’s the one thing that stuck in my mind.  

The radio station just grew so fast. I had one veteran artist in May when we launched and we’re now there’s probably 70 to 80 artists on there with 500 songs.  I’m trying to put together a way for everybody to hear their music. And now we need to start breaking up and adding some channels and having different genres.  I wasn’t thinking we’re going to be the next Sirius XM. I was hoping that maybe some guy from the American Legion, or something like that was listening  and could reach out to these artists and book them. If that helps put a little bit of food on their table, and keeps them driving, then that’s a win. I love that it has already done so much.

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

Donald Dunn: The thing that keeps me driving is I want to get to the point where the veterans are being known for their talent.  Veterans have a very unique way of looking at things. We’re very good at being handed a task and just said, figure it out, and they figure it out. I think that’s why a lot of veterans become entrepreneurs  because they do have that skill set. They don’t necessarily work well with others but they can figure things out on their own. 

When I started looking at this, I already knew there’s all sorts of different PTSD type nonprofits out there. But there’s not a whole lot that highlights the veteran  that succeeded from dealing with all their traumas, and everything else. I want veterans to think I’m gonna go back and live my dream. My dream was to become a musician, a podcaster or whatever their dream is. But they put those dreams on hold for the first 10 to 15 years, whatever they served. And now that they’re at the end of their counterparts careers and they’re trying to start their dream.

And you know, there’s not too many record labels, it’s gonna say, “Hey, you’re 45, I think you’re now ready to become a musician.” Right? And so what fuels me is I want to change that. And I want to change it to the point where there’s not just a CMA, but there’s a VMAs, there’s the Veteran Music Awards, there’s the genres for podcasters. You know, if you look up military podcasts, it’s going to fall under one of two categories, either mental health, or government and politics. And I don’t really think that’s, that’s the way that it should be.  I think that’s what fuels me is I want to get it to where the veteran community has a recognition and a voice.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Donald Dunn: Absolutely. If you went back two years ago, I was that veteran that we were just talking about.  I did not want to leave the house, I did not associate with people.  I didn’t go into Walmart and I had a hard time just functioning as a happy person. I went to the VA, I did get some help. I still did not do well with the therapy, as far as talking, and stuff like that. I just could not relate to that person. And that person definitely did not understand my situation.

When I started this podcast, and as it went through the steps, I kind of hit levels as well. You know, I went from that guy that didn’t want to talk about stories, you know, who was drinking a lot to now I’m that guy that drinks maybe three drinks a week.  I drink when I want to not because I’m trying to go to sleep because I haven’t slept in two days.  And so, and I do credit a lot of that to the getting stuff off my chest and opening up that powder keg and taking some of that stuff out that I have pressed down in, in me.

Then I got to that point where I was able to understand other people’s situations. And I was able to figure out some of my problems. One of the other things that I’ve done is I wrote a book for my kids. I have not published it yet. I’m letting them read it. I just sent it to them a few weeks ago, but it answers all the questions about  why they had this laughing happy go lucky dad. And then by the time they were teenagers, they had another guy that would come home, eat dinner and go straight to the bedroom and stay there until the next morning.

I never thought about the damages that you are also causing when you think you’re protecting your family by not talking about the stuff that has happened. You think you’re shielding them from that. But what you’re really shielding them from is understanding what you’re going through. My wife, for the first two years of this stuff, she didn’t sleep with me for the first two years, because you got tired of getting elbowed and me yelling and screaming for bad dreams. And then she would ask me what I was dreaming about. And I would lie and say, I don’t remember.  I credit the podcast and opening up to where I couldn’t get it to where I felt like, I wanted to share it, so I put it in a book.

Charity Matters: Do you have a phrase or motto that you live by? 

Donald Dunn: Personally, my life changed when I got to the point where I could  embrace the words, it is what it is. And it’s a fine line, because that phrase can also be a crutch and force.  You to just say, well, there’s nothing I can do to change it. But for me, the part that is helped is when you’re holding on to all this baggage.  This stuff that you can’t change, I can’t go back in history and undo the damages that I’ve done. I can’t go back and not go to these deployments and not have all these memories. And for me, when I finally got to that point where I can say,” it is what it is”  and just let it go.

That’s where I started seeing recovery. That really came through from  podcasting when I was talking to other people. And when you get deep into a conversation with another veteran that I didn’t meet until that day, and you’re talking about stuff that I hadn’t even told my wife about. And I completely forgot that it was being recorded, or that it was live or anything, right? Those are the moments.

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:

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 72: Praline’s Backyard Foundation

Did you know that there are over 10 million survivors of domestic abuse in United States and that one in three households of those survivors have a pet? When a person is making a decision to leave an abuser often times they stay because they do not want to leave their beloved pet.

Join us today for inspiring conversation about how Orazie Cook came up with a solution to help both our furry friends as well as survivors of domestic abuse heal with her nonprofit Praline’s Backyard Foundation.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Praline’s BackYard Foundation does?

Orazie Cook: We house pets of domestic violence survivors anywhere in the country, be a pet boarding facilities and pet foster homes. One of the barriers for a survivor leaving an abuser is lack of housing for their pet. So we want to eliminate that barrier. So they do not they have to worry about housing for their pet and they feel secure.

What a survivor does is really try to assess what resources are available to them when they do leave. One thing the person is trying to assess is what services are available for their pet.  We recognize that one in three households have a pet. What that means is that almost half of all survivors have a pet as well. When they enter into a situation where they need to leave an unhealthy living situation the victim wonders, do I leave my pet with this abuser? We recognize that a person who abuses a person often will abuse a pet as well.

This person battles with the dilemma  am I going to leave my pet with this person who may harm the pet, or do I stay because I want to protect my pet? Pets are a huge source of comfort to a person trying to leave an abuser. We want to eliminate that conundrum that a survivor has to go through. We hope to empower them by knowing that when they’re ready to leave their pet will be taken care of when they are ready to leave.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Praline’s Backyard Foundation?

Orazie Cook: I couldn’t have told you five years ago that I would be leading a nonprofit. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have told me that I would own my own company either. This all started with the idea that I wanted to have a facility to foster dogs.  I had volunteered with domestic violence shelters and at the Humane Society. I knew that I always wanted to house pets of domestic violence survivors because of my experience at the shelter and humane society.

When I was at the women’s domestic violence shelter a lot of survivors would go back to be with their abuser because they want to be with their pet, not to be with abuser. The shelter I had that I volunteered at did not house pets or make any level of accommodations for pets. I have a graduate degree but I never thought about how do we solve this problem?

 I volunteered at the Humane Society and saw survivors come and relinquish ownership of their pet because they were going into a living situation that did not accept pets. However, that’s not what they wanted  to do so they made that a very difficult choice. I knew there there has to be a better way but just didn’t know what that way was.  During COVID we saw the rise of domestic violence. I started sharing pet fostering stories on social media and then was trying to build a pet facility at the same time. People started saying, you should become a nonprofit. I ended up applying to become a nonprofit and we became a nonprofit.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Orazie Cook: The biggest challenge I faced and I continue to face it is raising awareness on this issue.  Honestly, I feel like if people knew that lack of housing for pets, keeps us a domestic violence survivor with an abuser, they would help.  In my experience, people are so generous.  People would open their hearts, their minds and their wallets to assist a person because we either like people or we like pets.  

My goal is to educate 10 million people, hence why I’m on your podcast to really educate 10 million people. And I feel like that 10 million represented 10 million people each year who experienced domestic violence in the United States alone. We  recognize that less than 20% of domestic violence shelters make accommodations for pets.  So we need more resources available for survivors with pets. I don’t want any survivor today in 2024 to leave their pet with an abuser when we have provision for them through pet boarding facilities and pet fosters across the US.

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

Orazie Cook: When I first started this, I would get so entrenched in people’s lives. I had to really, almost disassociate because I would just get so emotionally wrapped up into this person’s life. Especially when they didn’t leave an abuser, it just hurts. But I had to recognize people move at their own pace.  I want to support them in that movement because I don’t want them to go back. We are at the beginning of their journey.   That’s when I recognized I really needed somebody to debrief with this, so I could keep making this happen.

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

Orazie Cook:  In terms of impact, there is the survivor, their children and their pets.  There are multiple levels of our work. We can put a pet into a pet boarding facility to provide emergency housing for a pet for seven days until we find a long term Foster. So that’s a level one level of impact.

We currently have 47 pets right right now that are being fostered. And there are about 20, something that are currently being boarded across the US. Those are small numbers. These 70 families that have  left an abusive situation. And they’ve got the empowerment to know that their pet is okay. And they can seek safety and assurance for themselves at a shelter or during this transition period without their pet.

We’ve changed I’ve helped change the destiny of that person’s life. They have left an abuser, that their children have left that abuser so their children are less likely to become abuser. The real impact can never be measured in a sense, but to know that I’ve impacted that just one person is enough.

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

Orazie Cook: I would love to have a mobile app where survivor could go into this app and say, My name is Susie and I have a 50 pound lab and someone that’s in Susie’s area  can say oh, we’re available to house Susie’s pet.  The app would  provide resources for that survivor in terms of what shelters are available,  what other resources they may need as they leave their abuser. And so if I had an app, it’ll make it it was a really a succinct process on your phone. They will get alert that somebody in their area needs a place to for a pet or wants to help someone in their community.

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

Orazie Cook: I believe in the community and I believe in partnership. I’ve worked around the world, I worked in public health for over 20 years. I think I’ve continued learning about myself. I never thought I would be this leader or thought I would be on a podcast.  I wasn’t a social media person before the foundation. My life is pretty private.

However, my goal is to raise awareness to 10 million people. So 10 million people will eventually see my face. When I see the number of followers, and I hate the word followers, because I’m not God  but its my job to be a messanger and get the word out and help.

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.

Number Three to listen to in 2024!

Storytellers need to tell stories. In order for storytellers to be effective they need an audience….that’s where you come in. Every week for over a decade I write and share but I never really know who is reading this or listening. I know you are there but I don’t know your age or what country you live in. I’m just thrilled that you are here and that you continue to share our work. What matters to me is that we have organically found each other. People who care about making the world a better place and who believe in good.

In a world where data is everthing, to me it isn’t. Confession: numbers and analytics are not really my thing. Yes, I do realize that I should be studying them. Simply put I care more about you and the story and the people we meet. However, in an ironic twist of events I had a PR agency reach out to me recently and ask for all sorts of analytics about the blog and podcast. Truth be told, I was a little grumpy about it. Honestly, I hadn’t looked in a while so I went down the rabbit hole grudingly.

I did know how many thousands of blog subscribers we have, so that was good. The podcast, well I hadn’t looked in a while. Imagine my surprise when I start googling Charity Matters Podcast and I find this posting on FeedSpot. I was stunned to find that we were listed as the third top charity Podcast to listen to in 2024. Who knew? No, I didn’t pay them or even know about them. So that was a lovely surprise!

Here are few fun facts I learned about our podcast:

  • 70% female
  • 30%male
  • 30% are age 28-34
  • 30% are age 35-44
  • 20% are 23-27
  • 79% live in the United States
  • 12% live in the UK and the rest well, I’m not exactly sure
  • We grew our audience 91% last year…whoohoo!

One thing always leads to the next and here we are. I will keep caring more about you and the amazing heroes we meet and their stories. It is very nice to know that more and more people are caring too. That is how we change the world, one person, one story, one act of kindness at a time.

 

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.

Season Seven Premiere: The Posse Foundation

Welcome to Season Seven! We are SO excited for all of the amazing conversations we have scheduled for you this season. This is our 71st podcast and there is nothing we love more than introducing you to remarkable humans who use their lives to improve others. Today’s guest, Debbie Bial is no exception, she is simply remarkable. Join us as she shares her journey as a 23 year old nonprofit founder to what she has built today with her national organization,  Posse Foundation. 

Debbie is a ray of sunshine who for the past thirty plus years has been on a mission to identify and train gifted young people who might be missed by elite schools.  Posse Foundation places these scholars in supportive multicultural groups of ten students or posses. These students are mentored, prepared and positioned for success. After listening to Debbie’s passion you will understand why.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Debbie Bial: We started in the 1980s when a student who had dropped out of college said, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” And we thought, well, that’s a brilliant idea. Right? Why not send a team of kids together to college, back each other up?

The idea was that if you send people together in a team, they can not only back each other up when times get rough, but they can begin to form critical mass. Send ten students in every class, you get 40 students on a campus. That’s a model of integrated diversity, a catalyst for positive change in a community.

We are a national college success and leadership development program. The ultimate big goal is that we’re building a Leadership Network for the United States that more accurately reflects the real diversity of the American population. So Posse is trying to contribute to a more diverse leadership.

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

Debbie Bial: I was 23 years old, I was only out of college for a short amount of time. And here I am with this big idea. It wasn’t my idea but I was helping to bring it to life.  Vanderbilt University was the first university to take a chance on this idea.  Luckily, there were people at Vanderbilt, who saw that this could be a really valuable thing for their institution. Right in the 1980s. Vanderbilt was very white, very southern, very wealthy, and all the women wore dresses to the football games. How are they going to get kids from the Bronx to want to go there and stay there? So they tried it.

Charity Matters: What Were some of your earlier challenges?

Debbie Bial: I think people devalue the work that goes into creating a nonprofit that’s trying to do good in the world. For some reason, we don’t see it as an enterprise that you would invest in the way you would invest in a for profit business. If you want to succeed you have to do everything well which includes building a board of people who are experts,  building a network of donors and building an infrastructure that makes sense.

What I always say to other people who are starting a nonprofit is know your non-negotiables. And if you can stand behind your mission, and not compromise, understand where you draw the line. What are your non-negotiables? Then you’re much more likely to succeed. Honestly, I think that’s about integrity. If you  just follow the money, or you’re not strong in front of people who have big opinions about what you’re doing, then you end up diluting the work.

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

Debbie Bial: Every day that I walk into the office, I walk past a row of posters that are just our graduates on the day they graduate. They’re in their caps and gowns, it’s portraits, one after the other, and they’re smiling. And they’re the most beautiful photographs that I’ve ever seen. And it makes me so happy every day that I walk past those photographs. I know all their names and I feel like this is why we have Posse.

They’re becoming doctors and CEOs, they’re running for office, they’re  in government, they’re starting their own nonprofits.  And that motivates me now.

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

Debbie Bial: I always tell this story because it’s an important origin story. And it gives you this sense of Oh, there’s the impact. It’s a story of somebody who is in the very first Posse that we ever had in 1989. Her name is Shirley, and she was this Dominican kid from Brooklyn. Her dad drove a Yellow Taxi and she was going to be the first person in her family to go to college. And she goes to Vanderbilt University. She graduated with honors, she got her doctorate in clinical psychology from Duke University. Then she becomes the Dean of the college at Middlebury, and my god, she becomes the President of Ithaca College. She is the first Dominican American to be president of a four year college in the entire United States.

I tell that story because it captures the idea of impact. Right here, you find a student who maybe never would have thought of going to Vanderbilt, maybe ever would have shown up on their radar screen. And yet she goes, and now she’s a first.  She’s building something that’s making our world better for all of us. 

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

Debbie Bial: Since 1989, we’ve sent over 12,000 students to college. They have won $2 billion in scholarships from our partner schools, with graduation rates of 90%. Our students go on to be the leaders that we so need. What makes them different as leaders is that you’re thinking about equity and inclusion in a way that we sometimes miss in the boardroom, or in the rooms where decisions are being made. And we have a very polarized society right now where all we do is fight. We can’t agree we were attacking each other. And how valuable is it to have someone walk into the room? Who knows how to have conversations that are productive? Who knows how to build community? We don’t have that and we’re trying to do that.

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

Debbie Bial: We’re already a national program. We operate out of 10 brick and mortar cities, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York big cities. We expanded when the pandemic hit, and we all went home.  Our staff, who is amazing, turned the program into a program that we could deliver on Zoom. So now we have a virtual Posse program. I woke up one morning and I thought, oh my god, we just interviewed 17,000 students on Zoom. And I thought, we could expand our reach, in cities that we’ve never been able to be in before. And so The Posse Foundation more than doubled the number of cities from which we now recruit students. We have 92 partnerships, all taking 10 students a year, which means 920 new students a year. We’re going to get to 1000.

If you really want to know my dream, my dream is that one day, I can create a fund like a half a billion dollar fund.  It will generate enough money so that I could provide grants to 100 college and university partners every year in perpetuity for Posse scholars. We’re calling it the century of leaders fund.  If every year we had 1000 students, and every decade 10,000 Posse scholars, that’s 100,000 leaders for America over the course of a century. This would be supporting 100 of our best colleges and universities in the United States. That’s what I want to do before I leave. I think I can do it. 

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

Debbie Bial:  A number of years ago, I was in a room with the CEO of Deloitte, Cathy Englebert. She was speaking to 50 Posse alumni about her life and her career. And one Posse scholar raised her hand and she said,” You’re a woman and you’re a CEO. How did how did you do it? How did that happen?”

And Cathy said, ” There’s three things you need to know. One, you need to work really hard.  Two, you need to find great mentors. And three, there needs to be someone who will pound the table for you. And let me tell you what I mean by that.” She said, “I worked hard and I had great mentors. But there was this one executive who when the door was closed,  would say to his colleagues, have you thought about Cathy? You know, Cathy’s pretty amazing, Cathy’s great, Cathy’s outstanding. Cathy, Cathy, Cathy, Cathy.” Well Cathy became the first female CEO of Deloitte, not because of that person, but in part because of that person. We have all had someone who’s pounded the table for us.  But more importantly,  can we pound the table for someone else?  That’s what I do, and if we all did that, even just for one person…that makes the world better for all of us.

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.

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:

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 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.

 

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 67: When We Walked By

The beauty of Charity Matters is meeting the most incredible humans and then being able to introduce them and share their stories.  More than that, so many of the people we have interviewed have become friends and today’s guest is most definitely one of them. You may remember Kevin Adler way back from episode 36 when he shared his journey of starting Miracle Messages. A organization that reunites the homeless with their families and builds social infrastructure around them through human connection.

Join us today to hear what Kevin is doing every day through his beautiful work with Miracle Messages.  Take a moment to hear about his incredible new book, When We Walk By, which comes out today . I have been reading it and can not say enough about how Kevin’s personal story, work and journey to help our unhoused neighbors is beyond inspirational. He is truly one of the most fun and interesting people to learn from.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Miracle Messages does?

Kevin Adler:  Miracle Messages is a nonprofit organization that I started about 10 years ago, in honor of my uncle, who had been experiencing homelessness for about 30 years in Santa Cruz. Our work really is focused on what we call relational poverty as an overlooked form of poverty. Meaning isolation, loneliness, disconnectedness, and often a stigma and a shame that accompanies that.

And so what we do at Miracle messages is we help our neighbors experiencing homelessness, rebuild their social support systems, and their financial security. And the three ways we do that. So first, we offer a family and friend reunification services. So many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness are disconnected from their loved one. And sometimes that’s not by choice, but because of digital literacy, or phone numbers change but biggest of all reason is the emotional barriers of shame, self loathing and stigma.

So we have through our network of volunteers, digital detectives finding the family delivering messages and helping them reconnect. And then our second program is because we do know that for some people, family may not be part of the solution, but maybe part of a problem. So that’s where we launched our volunteer phone buddy program, where we have volunteers now all over the world.  And so we connect them with our unhoused neighbors in the US for 30 minutes a week phone calls, text messages.  It is kind of like a Big Brothers, Big Sisters, for unhoused individual.

Then through that program and the relationships and the trust that was really built. We launched our third and most recent program, and that’s our direct cash gifting program. Where we picked individuals in our phone buddy program, who had been nominated by their friends volunteers to receive $500 a month for six months, no strings attached.  They use the money better than I could have used it for them. Two thirds of people who were unhoused were able to secure housing from $3,000 over six months. So that basically blew our mind and expectations. And we now have raised $2.1 million to give out more than a million and direct cash transfers $750 a month for 12 months to over 100 unhoused individuals throughout the state of California as part of a randomized control trial we’re doing with USC and Google.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face working to help the unhoused?

Kevin Adler: So things that come top of mind that I think have shifted homeless services on the whole gets a very bad rap. And part of it is deservedly so. There’s a lot of money but there’s not much to show for that money. And it can be very frustrating, and infuriating, when elected officials when department heads when major homeless service agencies are saying, trust us, we know what we’re doing. When the reality of what you see is so disparate.  And that’s true that there is some inefficiencies in the system, a lack of coordination.

I think there’s a lot to be fixed within homeless services. And a lot of my critique in the book relates to a paternalism in the system, where we assume we know what’s better for our unhoused neighbors, then they know for themselves. And I think basic income is a great way to restore dignity and bottom up human centered.

I also think it’s critical that we have a conversation on the sources of homelessness in our country. Every one person, in the city of San Francisco gets off the streets, three more end up on the streets. And the vast majority of those people who get on the streets from San Francisco, have lived in San Francisco as housed people before they were homeless.  So then you have to start talking about the affordable housing, the lack of affordable housing, how wages earning, have not kept up with housing. 

So you have that you have income inequality, you have the criminal justice system, where there’s a revolving door where it’s illegal to be homeless, and it becomes that much harder relationship. And then you have and you have to talk about the substances that are on the streets. though, it’s not nearly as much a causal factor of homelessness. But if you’re in a vulnerable situation, unsheltered homeless and you’re struggling with the ongoing trauma, you’re having physical sores on your body from sleeping out, you’re terrified of the elements. Very easy to try to numb the pain and self medicate.

Charity Matters: What is one small thing that we can do to help the problem of the unhoused?

Kevin Adler:  I think we have to get relational, we have to be in a relationship. Unless you know someone who is currently experiencing homelessness, you will never have enough insight into the problem of homelessness to be able to make meaningful change. So I think the first thing is to get to know someone who’s currently experiencing homelessness. Hear their story, see their humanity, share some of yours. That’s what taught me everything I know about this issue is just through relationship. There are ways to do that as a phone buddy, visiting a shelter. It narrows what’s possible and narrows our own humanity if we narrow how we see them as human. 

Charity Matters: What inspired you to write the book?

Kevin Adler: I can share what what inspired me to write the book. In one word were stories. I have heard so many stories that have transformed my heart on this issue. I could not imagine  having those story just exist in social media posts on local news coverage that comes and goes without not only the story being honored, but the context being honored. Really the broader perspective of how that story tells us a bigger story that we may not be listening to. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you and writing the book?

Kevin Adler: I don’t want to say I’m a different person having done this work, I think I’m a fuller person, having done this work. All the ideas and concepts I had about right and wrong, my values. Pain, suffering in the world, travesty on the unjust. As well as the beauty and the resiliency of the human spirit.

 You know, it’s not just an idea. It’s not a concept, they have names, and they matter. And they’re friends of mine, many of whom we’ve lost. The average life expectancy on the street is like 53 years old, 30 years less than if you had housing. And so, you know, Timothy and Ronnie and Jeffrey, and Mark, and so many others that are no longer on this earth that were wonderful people. I think what I take with me is the friendships and the relationships.

 The life that they live and the travesty of a system where someone like Ronnie, who wanted to get into housing, never got access to housing.  The housing that was offered to him was in an area where drugs were present 24/7, and he declined to move into the housing because he didn’t want to relapse on his addiction. Someone like Ray, who was working as a sales person and had some serious heart problems and breathing issues, could no longer work. Then because of his pride, because of his dignity, he did not want to bring shame to his family. So his family didn’t know he was experiencing homelessness, and he just wandered the streets.

 I’m a better person for having done this work. And I am also a more hopeful person on this issue. I think the people who are closest to actually doing the work and knowing our unhoused neighbors are doing innovative work.  Like what we trying to do at Miracle messages, I have more hope that we can actually end homelessness in our lifetime. It’s going to take a lot of work. But it’s not an inevitability there was a time when homelessness did not exist in the way it does now. And there will be a time where it will be rare, brief and non recurring.  I think it’ll just take all of us to make sure that happens.

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 66: You, Me and Neurodiversity

The power of inspiration and motivation can come at any age and anytime in life. Today’s guest is an old soul doing remarkable work for the Autism community. Inspired by her younger brother, Alyssa Lego set out at age 14 to help him by creating lesson plans. Before long that work turned into creating her first nonprofit.

Today, Alyssa is joining us to share about her latest work with Autism and her new project called You, Me, Neurodiverstiy. Join us as Alyssa shares her inspiring journey from big sister, college student and nonprofit founder.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what You, Me, NeuroDiversity does?

Alyssa Lego: Our mission is to embrace neurodiversity and autism acceptance in ways that really haven’t been done before. I am such a firm believer that education creates change. And I’m such a firm believer in the fact that that starts with our youngest generations. 

So when I was 14, I actually started a lesson plan program with a fourth grade teacher of mine, it was called Friends Who are Different and it was in all the school districts in my area. And it was all about autism acceptance and inclusion. But a lot of things have changed since then. You, Me Neurodiversity has really brought me back to creating content, visiting classrooms. And again, starting with that sentiment of motivating our younger generations to accept autism, embrace neurodiversity, and really become catalysts of change. So the human neurodiversity movement donates 100% of our proceeds to autism focus charities, with each book purchase, each purchase that somebody makes is making a difference. 

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

Alyssa Lego: This really all began from my relationship with my younger brother.  I learned pretty early on that the world just was not designed for autistic people. We have a long ways to go in terms of true autism acceptance, rather than just awareness. And there were so many moments that just broke my heart as a young girl. I remember instances of sheer bullying because my brother couldn’t communicate. He communicated in a different way just because his brain was wired a certain way. He was discriminated against in school and in the community.

As that older sister, I wanted to do whatever I could to make the world a better place for my brother and people that were experiencing the world in a similar way to my brother. And for me, I love to write and I love to speak. So that’s how the lesson plan program started all those years ago.

Charity Matters: what or who influenced you to start giving back at such an early age?

Alyssa Lego: I was raised in a home that really embraced volunteerism and giving back to your community. My earliest introduction to volunteerism was with the Special Olympics.  I volunteered as an ambassador with the Special Olympics from I think the time I was nine years old  until I was maybe about 14. So I would fundraise for the organization and I got the chance to attend events. 

The Special Olympics was the first time where I actually delivered a motivational speech. I was 12, at one of the Special Olympics events, and I remember just thinking to myself, this is a space where I can use that force for good.  I believe that is really where it all started. I remember I hosted, with a lot of help from my parents, an ice cream social to benefit the Special Olympics when I was in the fifth grade. Everybody came out my whole school came out all my teachers.  But I think even at that young age, I realized wow, I am part of something so much bigger than myself. Then as I got older, I started to realize that I really want to see what these proceeds and what these funds are doing. That’s what led me to create things like You, Me and Neurodiversity. I could really see where that money was going, and feel that impact and continue making those connections firsthand.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alyssa Lego: I think I’ve really seen ageism in action a lot. Being 14, my mom was in the back because I was a minor, pitching to the Board of Education for why they should put my lesson plan in schools at that young age. So I really, I have seen a lot of ageism, and people just just not understanding that young people can be the change. Young people can start great things and be a part of great things. And unfortunately, I think that’s something that deters a lot of young people away from volunteerism or starting their own organization. They think that’s for people who already have established careers or who already have X amount of years doing certain things.

I think another challenge that I still face day to day is just time management. Being a full-time college student, the creator of You, Me, Neurodiversity,  being involved in school,  reserving time for family and friends and of course taking care of myself it’s definitely not easy.  By being disciplined with myself, and taking care of myself allows me to kind of fill all of those buckets.  I’ve really learned the importance of teamwork and communication. Time management is a skill that I’m continuing to develop as I get older. It’s just been such an incredible journey and I’m so grateful for all of the people that have really helped me get to this point and inspire me to continue on.

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

Alyssa Lego: My brother, it just goes back to the initial inspiration.  I actually just became one of my brother’s legal guardians because he just turned 18 years old. That is one thing that certainly keeps me up at night but also continues to inspire and motivate me.  Just the prospect and the idea of my brother, being able to live a thriving, a fulfilling life in a community that supports him is what inspires me. This is what motivates me to write that social media post when I don’t really feel like doing it, or change the dimensions of the book for the 7,000,000th time.

I think that’s the most magical thing about founders and about the nonprofit space because everybody has that story. Everybody has that. It’s almost like a duality between the vision, and what makes you tick. Seeing the present, seeing the past, but then knowing what the future can be and knowing that you’re a part of that. Knowing that you’re writing that story,  in my case, literally writing that story is just incredibly inspiring. And then of course, knowing that I don’t walk alone is another thing that really inspires me as well.

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

Alyssa Lego: I would love to turn You Me Neurodiversity into a household  name for reading about autism acceptance. I really would love to continue developing our interactive activity books and  just taking all of these great experiences that kids have in the classroom and making them inclusive.  I really do believe that we could do that with our books and programs. And I’m hoping to partner with more schools, speak with the children and really have them understand what it means to be an ambassador of acceptance. Then one day pass the torch on in the hopes of creating a more inclusive world.

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

Alyssa Lego: I think listening as much as you speak is one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.  I think I’ve really learned the great power of teamwork and of listening as a tool for leadership.  It’s really not about having the loudest voice in the room, but making sure that everybody else in the room feels like they have a stake in the conversation and feels like they’re being heard.

 I think another great lesson that I’ve learned is listening to the communities that you serve. I am  big on self advocacy, and amplifying autistic voices. It’s in itself, it’s such a powerful tool. That is one piece of advice that I would give to any founder. Really listen to the communities you serve to understand those nuances. Because if you’re in a space where you can really affect change, you want to make sure you’re going you’re using your passion for a purpose. One of the most important things that really guides everything I do is listening to the communities that I’m serving.

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 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. 

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.

Season Six Premiere: Riley’s Way

Welcome to the Season Six premiere of the Charity Matters Podcast. I am thrilled that Season Six is here and with it comes an entire new group of modern day heroes that we can not wait to introduce you to. Today’s guest is not your average 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 you will understand.

Please join us for an inspirational conversation from our guest Ian Sandler. Learn as Ian shares the heartbreaking story behind the creation of Riley’s Way and the beautiful lasting legacy he has created to honor his beloved daughter.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Riley’s Way does?

Ian Sandler: Riley’s Way is a national nonprofit that invests in supporting the next generation of confident leaders. We provide young people with leadership training, coaching, funding and the community that they need to thrive, to develop into kind leaders and to make a difference in the world. So we work with emerging leaders, ages 13 to 22, who’ve started Social Impact organizations in areas like food insecurity, homelessness, equity, and education and environmental justice all through the lens of kindness, empathy, and human connection. And to date, we’ve supported more than 3000 young people across the country with over $2 million in grants and programs.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Riley’s Way?

Ian Sandler: Riley Hannah Sandler was our first child or our eldest daughter.  She was a magical young girl who loved more than anything to connect her friends. Riley would get excited when we would go out for dinner because that meant a babysitter and a chance to make a new friend.  She would talk about her friends accomplishments, you know, my friend got second place in a swim meet or got a lead role in the play as if it was her own accomplishment. She was so happy and so proud.

We found ourselves in a horrible situation where Riley had gone off for her first year of sleep-away camp.  She was having the summer of her life.  We ended up getting a phone call in the middle of the night, the night before she was supposed to come back from camp. And you just can’t make this stuff up, got a phone call, saying you need to get to the hospital. We took a four hour Uber and by the time I’d gotten to the hospital, Riley was gone.

It was just a case of her being too far from a hospital when she had gotten sick, and her throat had closed on her. We found ourselves in this just unfathomable situation. We just weren’t prepared to let this little girl who was gonna have a huge impact on the world…. we weren’t in a position to say we’re gonna say goodbye and we’re gonna let her light go out. And so we started Riley’s Way that day. So on August 18th, nine years ago, we actually started Riley’s Way in the hospital that day.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in A family that modeled charity or volunteered?

Ian Sandler:  My late father was from South Africa. He came over here to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics, and came over with nothing. He started companies his whole life and was very, very involved in philanthropy from an early time in this country.My father was one of the people who created the Birthright program.  I actually think the numbers like 800,000 people have actually participated in The BirthRight program.

I lost my dad when he was 64, to stomach cancer. Before this whole notion of kind leadership, my dad was the guy  we couldn’t get home for dinner because he was stopping and talking to everybody at this company about what’s going on with them. He always taught me you can learn something from someone else. What I was able to take from seeing the impact he had between his philanthropic work and entrepreneurial work,  it really taught me the impact you can have, if you just kind of go at something, and you don’t stop.

And so the really amazing thing about Riley’s Way is we started it nine years ago, we didn’t know what we’re gonna do. We had just got a great group of people who loved Riley and my family. And we kept going at it. For us as a family,  it’s just our way to show our daughter how much we love her. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ian Sandler: I’m lucky that my career has always been as a business builder. I’ve been a chief operating officer for technology at Morgan Stanley, and then at the Carlyle Group. So what I’m good at is finding people who are really good at things and putting them together. What I truly love doing is building and scaling. We just found great people, each individual is more spectacular than the next. We have now nine full time staff which would have given me a heart attack in 2016 or 2017 when we were starting.

Riley’s Way is a youth led organization. What that means is we have our teams on our board, they do the bulk of our interviewing when we hire people, they do the bulk of our judging and so the very work we do on a day to day basis. And what we found is if you just give our youth teams this opportunity to work with one another, give them scaffolding and support, and let them figure things out.

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

Ian Sandler: When you ask what fuels me, it’s a combination of things, right? It’s being a dad and Ruby knows so much more about her sister Riley than she ever would because of this work, so that’s super meaningful to us. Then you get exposed to these incredible teams, and you see what they’re doing. And you’re able to see the beauty of the work we do in nonprofit land.

When one of our team’s programs is successful, that is joy. And that is our overarching goal, taking the world out 30 or 40 years, and just instilling kind leaders everywhere. So  that’s it. It’s fuel from all this time with these incredible change makers and seeing the way they’re going to go out into the world and look at everything in a different way than they perhaps otherwise would. It just instills in this theory of change, which is Riley’s vision of  having kind friends everywhere. So that’s what we’re shooting for. And we’re gonna keep going.

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

Ian Sandler:  We have served 3000 students in terms of our programming and given out more than $2 million in grants and programs and that’s that’s really powerful. And yet it’s a lot of  very individual stories. 

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

Ian Sandler:  I want Riley’s Way to be synonymous with the most impactful philanthropic organizations on the planet.  We already think we’ve got it right with these next generation of kind leaders. We think we have the next fortune 500 CEOs, the next the senators, the next teachers, the next doctors, we need these folks everywhere. You need this approach to kind leadership so that you can really counterbalance this incredibly divisive landscape.  We need to get back to this notion of community that we look out for one another, we look out for our planet and we really have to think about this in a much different way. 

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

Ian Sandler: I lost my dad and I was like well, this is gonna be my life’s challenge, and I’m gonna rise above it. Then losing Riley. And I was like I don’t know how I’m supposed to do all of this. And yet the paradox in everything is, I feel like I’m able to just recognize what really does matter.  Being surrounded by people you love and making an impact in people’s lives. 

What I’m able to realize nine years into this is just what matters in life. All these things that I used to think were worries, were not. Don’t overthink it, because life’s gonna throw so much stuff at you. And by the way, that really starts with yourself. You can’t be good to your family, to your friends, to your colleagues,  if you’re not in a good place.  You have to figure out what that recipe is so that you can then go out and shine for others.  I definitely try to do one thing every day that is just purely joyful for me. And I kind of just float through life as a result of all this. So much of it is just the love and the joy we get from this work and community.  And knowing that you’re working for a purpose…I really do feel like I’ve found my life’s purpose.

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 63: Girls for a Change

A few months ago when I was in DC, a friend introduced me to a terrific philanthropist. He in turn introduced me to today’s guest, Angela Patton. Friends connecting friends is simply THE best! Angela Patton is a remarkable human who wanted to help her community, more specifically the girls in her community. What began as giving two weeks of her vacation to start a camp for girls is now twenty years later a movement with her nonprofit Girls for A Change.

Join us today, for a motivational and inspiring conversation about passion, resilience and what happens when we lift others up. Angela is sunshine in a bottle and making the world better one girl at a time. This is the perfect episode for a summer day and the best way for us to wrap up Season Five of our podcast, so enjoy!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Angela Patton: Girls for a Change is a nonprofit organization based in Richmond, Virginia. We prepare black girls for the world and the world for black girls. That just means that we visualize a world where black girls are seen, heard and celebrated. We are always working towards affirming black girls.  That means, making sure that we stand in the gaps that they face as early as third grade until their secondary years in academics. Sometimes their secondary years in their careers. What we tend to find out is that a girl stopped young. As they grow into womanhood, those doors still tend to slam in their face because of their color, because they’re young women. And so again, we close those gaps that they face, by  providing opportunities, programs, services, as well as social change advocacy work.

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

Angela Patton:  I was working for another nonprofit, and really enjoyed my work. But I consistently saw that girls were not fully participating, or they didn’t feel like they could. They were uncomfortable using their voice. I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit. I just I just knew how to do programs. So I decided that I was going to use my vacation time from the nonprofit organization I was working with, and just do a small two week camp for girls.

I just wanted to teach them how to work in the garden, to play sports and to find their sacred space. And, I called up a friend and asked, “Can I use your house? ” I had no idea like what I was doing. But I knew something had to be done. Because I could also hear community having conversations about what black girls were doing and not doing and it was always negative. And I wanted to tell them that that wasn’t true. They just didn’t have opportunity.

So I did this first year of a two week camp and a nonprofit leader in the community said,” Angela, you know you’re doing nonprofit work?” She told me how to start a 501 C3, how to get a board and she walked me through a journey. That was very scary. But I knew that if I really wanted to make true impact with my community that I was the best one to do this work.  So I leaned into it and that’s how I kind of got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Angela Patton: Well, one of the challenges was that I was young. Next year, our organization will be 20 years old, I was a much younger woman. So people don’t believe in you when you’re young. But one thing about startups, whether it’s a for profit or nonprofit, we’re always solving problems. You know, I actually don’t like that I have to do the work that I’m called to do all the time, because it is challenging. Also being a black woman saying that I am intentional about supporting and advancing black girls. That was considered offensive and being a troublemaker in South, especially in Richmond, VA  twenty years ago.

You’re black, and a woman, and you don’t know what it means to run a business. Definitely a nonprofit. And you also don’t have access to people with money. So you can not sustain this nonprofit. There also comes challenges dealing with the community that you want to partner with as well. So because of these challenges you know, it made me wake up every day with strength to continue to fight the challenges of the people who did not see their worth.

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

Angela Patton: For me, I’ve been very fortunate. And I shared this with other nonprofit leaders that I have coached in the past, is that you gotta find your village. Because in order for me to be able to go out and pay it forward, I have to take care of myself. I had to make sure I am healthy; mind, body, and spirit first. This includes who is my village, who are the people who know when I may need to call them to talk about what’s going on with the nonprofit and how they can support me.

So those are the things that I kind of pull from our fruit tree that keeps me alive. I feed myself with that almost on a daily basis. I’m reminding myself of my why acknowledging that I have great people beside me.  I’m so fortunate and that’s why I can continue to show up for girls the way that I do every day.

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

Angela Patton:  When the girls discover who they are. When they come back to us and say, I am happy with these
decisions. I have discovered who I am and I have clarity. And I am so clear about the fact that clarity is the key for us. So when I have girls find themselves despite what’s kind of going on. 
And my girls have all of the skills, the strength, the compassion, the awareness, to block all of that foolishness, and they come in to share their story with me is how I evaluate it.

She had she get it because there is no school, there is no field trip that makes someone just say I get it now. It’s their own lived experiences, and how much they take in and when they truly make the decision that this is going to be what gives them joy. Because all that we can do is give them access and exposure and opportunity. At the end of the day, it is up to her to say her yes or no. And that means she is clear. And when you say that, you know what a role model that that can be to the girls. That is it.

When I even share with them how I started the organization, why I started, my story, my journey. One of the things that I’m clear about saying to them is that I’m clear about why I’m here with you all. I’m not a person who applied for job or a person who’s waiting to do something else.  I received a calling to do this work. And one day you’re going to receive that call as well.. That doesn’t mean it’s a nonprofit, maybe you will be an athlete. It’s whatever that is for you.  When you are happy and joyous in that, no one can say, or do anything different, that can make you change that. And if you do change it is because once again, that’s what gave you joy. 

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

Angela Patton: . The one that comes to me today is the lesson I’m really excited about being able to pay it forward in the high school, in particular that I graduated from. I didn’t have the most rewarding or exciting school years.  I remembered when I was called to speak at the school that I graduated from, I really hesitated.  And I didn’t even realize that I was having like a moment of anxiety and I’ve had a TED talk. 

I went in, and I spoke to the girls. The children shared with me some of their experiences in the school and it saddened me, because it was 20 years later and experiences were the same. Even though the school looked different, it still was some of the same stories. I was just blown away.

So I ended up making sure that Girls for A  Change had a presence in the school.  I felt it was my responsibility and  I felt that I was put in this space purposefully.  Now, I have won a grant to do work specifically in that school and so I’m really excited about that experience. As we know, systems are hard to break. Even when new people come with new ideas, it doesn’t happen overnight. So it has to be people that go in and say these experiential learning opportunities have to be put in place.

My uncle was one of the first black students to enter that school after segregation, he was that first class. I realized because someone came before me, that I stand on the shoulders of  others who made it easy for me to be able to walk into the same school.  Today, that same school now gets me excited about being there. What’s really, really crazy about being able to do this work is that my daughter is now at that school in ninth grade. I’ve heard my girls say, thank you for making it net so hard for me. And so the question around with what lessons I learned, is go back and face your fears. Understand that you can help make it easier and less challenging, and create a new experience, that’s a lot happier for someone else.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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.