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Episode 70: Focusing Philanthropy

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 69: GlamourGals

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Episode 68: Driving Single Parents

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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:

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 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.

 

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 62: Mitchell Thorp Foundation

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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 61 : Dignity Defense Institute

It’s been a minute since we have put out a new episode of Charity Matters and it’s hard to believe we are already at Episode 61! Thank you to all our amazing subscribers and listeners. It is so fun meeting new people and telling their stories. More than that, learning what interesting ways people are changing the world.

Today’s guest, Nicole Smith is the founder of the Dignity Defense Institute, a nonprofit that is setting out to educate humanity on human value. Their mission is to become an amplifying force for the defense of human dignity.  Join as Nicole shares her story about working on the PR side of human crisis and how that work and the birth of her daughter inspired her to use her voice to help create change.

 

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Dignity Defense Institute does?

Nicole Smith:  Our primary focus is on educating on the foundation of human value. In order to transform culture so that the offenses that we see within cultures across the world, typically is found within this idea that we can measure human value by another criteria other than simply being human. So if we were to educate culture on the inherent value of the human person, we change the course of offenses against the human person. 

We base our organization around action committees. So these Action Committee committees are in all the different what we call symptom industries. So trafficking, disability community, orange culture, drug culture, those are different,  fronts to the human person, they’re all really interconnected.

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

Nicole Smith:  Yes, my father by trade was an entrepreneur and inventor. But by service, they were youth ministers that founded churches across the US. So I grew up with a lot of at risk youth in our home. My mom was a counselor for Judo, juvenile detention center for girls in our community. So exposure to a world beyond just four walls of a home that was very instrumental in forming what I would do in the future.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Dignity Defense Institute?

Nicole Smith: I got an undergraduate in political science and a master’s in law and public public policy. With the intention of going forth being an attorney in the public space. I ended up sort of landing on the communication side of the public policy world. It wasn’t intentional, but I graduated during the recession and attorneys were a dime a dozen. So I sort of took a different track.

 I had a job at a constitutional law firm controlling their communication, and we called it the court of public opinion. We had a lot of affiliates across the world, in which we would advocate on their behalf of different cases. For example, it could be a child bride of Uganda, or a sex slave of Afghanistan. We did a lot of cases of imprisonment in prison. Religious minorities, Turkey, Sudan, like Iran, we did a lot of different varying cases. 

I was going into places in the world in which justice wasn’t often seen. So if you were going to go into Iran, justice is not what you would come out of the court systems finding. So we would go to the court of public opinion, we had one of the cases where  he was a joint American Iranian citizen, but we advocate on his behalf. We got over a million signatures on his behalf, Obama included him on his Iranian deal.

 In January of 2020,  I got to DC to sort of launch this concept with a group of individuals. It was interesting to watch the world at that time. By consequence, I was pregnant with my second little daughter. And she would be born in distress and sustained brain injury during that process. And she now has cerebral palsy as a result.

I mentioned her birth because I say it’s when the mission was given flesh and bone.  So I had to help these little girls across the world, and I could never hug them, I could never give them a kiss and say they were special, like they deserved. But now I could do that to my own daughter. 

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

Nicole Smith: I call it the short term and the long term goals.  You have to be focused on that short term, because that’s the climax, the shift and perspective of the impact for that individual. And then to be patient enough for what that long term goal is beyond it is really important.  It takes time to change culture and it’s not going to just be overnight. So we have to look at those metrics, and internally of the impact that we’re having. I say the epiphany point is where the individual that you  speak to gets it.  I can’t tell you the rewarding feature of that, where the light goes on their eyes. 

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

Nicole Smith:  Increase our reach obviously. We want to have a greater reach within our communities so that we can really creatively educate through stories and thought provoking ideas of questions. That’s the big dream is just the growth and influence because that’s how we educate people. We want to have more of those stories of victory with  people that have had their climax moment. And they’re on the other side of it and they’re living their new normal.

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

Nicole Smith: The funny thing is my 10 plus year career has been around nonprofits and nonprofit leaders and nonprofit volunteers. But it’s a different perspective. When you’re on the other side of that it.  I’ve grown millions of dollars and donor money. But I’ve never been on the other initiating part of that journey where I’ve always built amplified off of a starting point. And to take responsibility for that has been just really very challenging. We’re still a new organization, we’re still running and there’s been more delays and I ever wanted to because my daughter is my priority. There is victory in those lessons that I can’t and would never want to take back.  Even if this didn’t grow into this massive idea that just changed the face of our world. I can’t take back the lessons that I learned and I’m a different person because of it.

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 59: Project Libertad

I was recently having a conversation with friends about what our grandparents and great grandparents went through coming to America. I love these conversations for a few reasons. First because we all have these stories. Secondly, because they remind us how strong and resilient our ancestors were and what they sacrificed for us. The immigrant story is the story of our country.

While immigration has been a hot political topic these days, regardless of your stance, there are still people coming to our country who need help. That is where today’s guest, Rachel Rutter comes in. Rachel is the founder of Project Libertad, an organization that helps immigrant youth in a multitude of ways. Join us for an inspirational conversation about some of the challenges these children are facing and how she and Project Libertad and making a difference.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Rachel Rutter: We are a nonprofit organization serving newcomer immigrant youth. So we’re working with kids who have recently arrived in the US and their families. The people we primarily work with arecunaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico. In addition, we also work with a lot of families from Brazil.

There are fewer services in the counties outside of Philadelphia, so we’re providing legal services,  helping kids with their immigration process, and trying to address the other needs that they have. For example, we have kids who struggle with housing insecurity, food insecurity, mental health support, and all those sorts of things. So we’re trying to not only meet their, their need for immigration status and help them with that process, but also all these other challenges that they face as they’re adjusting to being here in the US.

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

Rachel Rutter:  When I was in college, I had this idea that I wanted to start a nonprofit someday.  I was very naive about how hard it would be. So I started all of the paperwork, and incorporating and 501 C 3 status in law school.  Then at the same time, I was working with all these clients who had legal needs, needed asylum, or they needed to apply for immigration status. 

Then they always have all these other needs. For example they don’t have a safe place to live, have family issues, trauma, and need food. There are any number of different issues that they have.  I just wished we had a social worker that we could partner with and have like a wraparound approach. A place where we are meeting all the needs, not just this legal needs.

So the idea came to create an organization that does try to do all those different things in a one stop shop.  We are doing that now, and we had just hired a case manager to connect kids to resources in the community and social services.  I’m obviously doing the legal part. And we hope to continue replicating that and growing in new areas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Rutter: One of the biggest things I remember getting really frustrated with was applying for different grants.  It’s really hard to get your foot in the door as a new nonprofit. Nobody wants to take a chance on you, you’re tiny, and they want to see that you have money before they give you money. But you can’t show them that unless someone gives you money. It’s just kind of like a chicken and egg problem. So that was really frustrating.

We took classes on grant writing.  I just practiced and got better over time. Eventually, we did a grant in partnership with HIAS which was the first ever grant that we got. Just being able to say that this other foundation gave us a grant went really far. Being patient, learning how to talk about your mission in a way that people want to fund it. Because it’s really important. It’s like writing a thesis in college where you have to structure it the right way so that people want to support it.  That was a big learning curve for us.

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

Rachel Rutter: It can be really hard, but the most important thing for me has always been like the relationship that I have with the kids that we work with. So that’s definitely like the biggest motivator for me. I also have like a very supportive family, husband, and friends who work in this industry as well.

So I feel like I have not only my team, my project like that, but also my colleagues from other organizations  who are always supportive. We can always like work together to solve problems.  It can definitely be challenging, but I feel like I have a good support system. Working directly with the kids is what gives me energy. Usually, that’s what I’m trying to focus on. If I need to push through, I’m thinking about the kids and that connection that we get to have with them.

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

Rachel Rutter:  In terms of our impact, we served over 1000 people last year. The times I think when I feel like the most impactful are when a student shares some things that were going on in her family.  After hearing this we were able to provide support with that. There was food insecurity in the household and so we went grocery shopping. It doesn’t always have to be complicated. This kid said I need food and we went to the store and we got food and like that was that. My colleagues and I do stuff like that all the time.

I think those are definitely the moments for me that are the most rewarding when you can just help somebody in such a concrete immediate way. So I love that we have the ability to do that. Sometimes those kind of moments don’t necessarily get captured in the numbers you put in a grant report. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I have two thoughts about that. One is to continue expanding and replicating what we’re doing now in our current locations. Having the combination of lawyers and social workers reproducing that in new counties as we grow.

Then the other thing I would love to do is to have some sort of shelter for youth who are 18 to early 20s. Something that we run into a lot is youth who have housing insecurity. They don’t either have anywhere to go because the foster care system doesn’t help them once they are 18. We run into cases like that where kids don’t have anywhere to go. There are really limited options currently for them. We would really love to do is eventually have some sort of space for kids like that. So that would be  another dream that I would have for the future. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I think one thing is just like the importance of these relationships with the kids.  So I think just the value in those long term relationships is so so important, and like sustaining for me. I’ve definitely been learning to delegate more, now that we have more staff.  It’s always hard for me to kind of let go of things because this is my baby.

 I also realize when I’m feeling burned out that having a good team that you can trust to do things so that you aren’t trying to do everything as one person is really important. I’m learning to  relax a little more. A lot of things work themselves out if you if you wait long enough. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Rutter:  I think when I started this out, I was a little bit naive about how difficult it might be to get funds. So like I mentioned, I’ve learned a lot there. I just think I have more confidence in myself and my knowledge as an attorney.  We’ve really developed our niche where we are the local the experts working with this population.

I think that took me a long time to kind of see this as like a real thing and now other people seeing it that way too.

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 58: 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.

410 Bridge began as a humble effort by Kurt to make a difference. After a trip to Africa, Kurt was struck by the poverty  he saw in the communities he visited. He knew he had to do something to help. And so, 410 Bridge was born, with the mission to provide aid, education, and healthcare to those in need.

Join us today to meet Kurt Kandler, the founder of 410 Bridge. I’m so excited to share our incredible conversation about taking on one of life’s greatest challenges, global poverty. I think you will be inspired, educated and fascinated about one man’s unexpected journey.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 410 Bridge Does does?

Kurt Kandler: We exist because we believe we have to redefine this war on poverty. We have to redefine not only the war on poverty, but what it really means to win it what it means for the people living in extreme poverty. And we have to redefine, you know how we fight this battle together. That’s our that’s kind of our why statement.

What we do is holistic community development in rural communities in the developing world. We’re in four countries. Today we’re in Kenya and Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala. Essentially, what we do is we adopt and walk alongside an entire community and entire rural community of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 people.  We walk with them over a number of years, helping them with all areas of need, and ultimately getting them to a place where they can graduate from a relationship or partnership with 410 bridge. And they can continue their journey of development long after we leave. So we are a holistic, all areas of need community development organization.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 410 Bridge?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial in my career. And then right after 911, the business that I had at the time failed.  That was a very difficult time for our family.  It was our dark times and what happened in those times that changed everything.

Our kids were going to a small private school here in Atlanta. They were presented with this opportunity in Uganda. The kids in the school were sending shoeboxes full of toys and school supplies.  A family went over there to take these school boxes to Uganda.  They came back and I was looking at pictures of their trip.

I came across a photo of a school building that was made out of mud, sticks, cow dung and dirt floors. Kids sat on rocks and there was no teachers. And I just was fascinated by this idea that they had to repack the walls of this school building every time it rained.  It just captured me and  captured my heart. I decided what I’m going to do is I’m going to go over there and I’m going to go build them a brick building. 

We went over there to build this brick building school block. And we did that.  I thought, what we were coming over here to make a generational impact. We had raising money for a school building, for a water project, textbooks and all of that. In my view, it wasn’t solving a problem. 

I just was captured by the real problems that contributed to extreme poverty. It’s my first exposure to extreme poverty. And I had more questions certainly than answers. But I came back and had became a bit of a student and read a lot about it. And I found very early on that there was a lot written about the problem and why it existed.

 I really felt compelled and I had an idea of how to go execute on that. Which is really crazy, because it is a big, complicated problem, a huge problem. And I felt like what if we could focus on a place? Rally go deep into that place for an extended period of time? Could we move the needle in that place and really begin to solve this poverty problem for that place?

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kurt Kandler: We started in in Kenya. So we were very focused on three communities at the very beginning. Two of those communities ultimately graduated, one of them did not.  I understood that we were going to rise and fall on solid leadership. And so we needed we needed leadership inside our communities, of Kenyans in the community, leading the community toward this self development objective that we were undertaking.

And because we were holistic, it’s all areas of need its water, education, health and economic empowerment. There are spiritual aspects to what we do, that are super fundamentally important. And so we had to undertake all of that. My philosophy has always been in times of difficulty, confusion, chaos, disagreement, just do the next right thing.  It means you know what the next right thing is, it could be a big thing. It could be a small thing more often than not, it’s a really small thing, but take that next step. Because it’s small, incremental steps toward a goal that get you there. It’s not one giant step all the time. And so that’s what we did.

We were trying to solve one little problem after another and started with leadership and then staff over there. I’m a firm believer in 100% indigenous staff. We want Kenyans helping Kenyans, Guatemalans, helping Guatemalans.  So that’s how it began. And I think though you asked about the challenges I think the biggest challenge that I learned very early on was that we couldn’t be successful. And we still can’t be successful in the communities where we work without support from the west. But we also can’t be successful in that work until we change the paradigm of how the West engages the poor. Because we more often do more harm than good. Engaging the global poor, we have been a little ethnocentric about the problem. 

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

Kurt Kandler:  I think that there’s some things that make what we do a little bit easier, in that we don’t carry the burden of our communities. The communities where we work in are struggling in extreme poverty. This is this is less than $2 per day per household kind of level. So it’s really heartbreaking. But there is a there’s a difference between relief, rehabilitation and development.

 How do you define partnership and development? We define it as that which people do for themselves. So we’re a development organization. We’re not a relief organization. So we are very clear when we come into the community and talk to leaders and we are here to do with you. And so your job is to mobilize and unify your community around this development effort that we’re going to walk with you.

So that eliminates a tremendous amount of this emotional burden that we feel that we have to go solve problems for people that that, because they can’t solve it themselves. We don’t believe that the poor are a set of problems to be solved, we believe the poor are the solution to their poverty problem. And we’ve seen that manifests itself successfully so many times. It’s amazing.

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

Kurt Kandler: When we think about impact, our ultimate goal with a community is to work ourselves out of a job as quickly as we can. This is a very long term walk that we walk with the community. I was in a community last week,  that will graduate will be our 13th graduating community. We’ve been walking with them for 12 to 13 years. So it’s a long time. But we’re moving them we’re trying to move communities toward graduation.

Well, what does it mean to graduate? In order to graduate, we have to reach certain outcomes. With the leaders in the community, we outline outcomes that they want to see happen. And before we begin, we decide that we finished with water when we finished with education. When we finished with economic empowerment, what are the outcomes we’re looking for? What I want to know is is this program that we’re running in this community going to achieve the outcome that we set that the leaders of the community set forth?

So if you think about household income, an outcome for us is we want to move people from whatever they’re making today, call it sub $2 a day to $12 per day. So they have choices that they can make about their their quality of life. We set up outcomes. And as we start achieving those outcomes, and we get to maybe 80% of the outcomes achieved, we’ll start teeing up and introducing the idea of graduation to the leaders. Probably within a year or two, they will end up graduating have a huge celebration in the community.

A huge celebration at the end of this year with that community and partners and donors will come and the whole community will come out. And we’ll celebrate not what we did. But we’re gonna celebrate what the community has done on their own because we don’t measure our success by what we do. We measure our success by what the community does on its own. And when they do that, it is amazing to see people have this aha moment that say we will never go back to being poor again. 

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

Kurt Kandler: I don’t think that our dream is to continue to add communities until all of a sudden, we’re in thousands of communities around the world. What I my dream really is for other organizations, working with the poor, to think a lot more critically, about what they’re doing and how they’re helping. And if 410 Bridge can be an example of a model that works. It’s not the only model. But it’s a distinctive model. So my dream is to scale it through other organizations, looking to adopt a better methodology of engaging the poor.

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

Kurt Kandler:  Well, if we’re going to solve this poverty problem, we better define it well.. So with poverty, we don’t define poverty as a material problem. We define it as an issue of worldview. How people think, and this word worldview gets often misunderstood. So we are always trying to help people think differently about their quality of life, their perspective.

And when you can help people shift their worldview they’ll do more to solve their poverty problem and continue their journey of development without you than they will with you. I’m all about this idea of worldview driving choices that we make.  And so, that’s a that’s a big, big life lesson for me.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve become way more humble. And I think there’s nothing that will humble you more than working in extreme poverty environments. I mean, it’s a humbling experience. My wife  told me the other day, she said, “You know, you are you are way more purpose driven in your leadership than emotionally driven.” I think that all sounds pretty good.

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 57: Mission Launch

Did you know one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record? That means almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. Today’s guest is no stranger to these numbers, she is actually part of that statistic. Since April is Second Chance month there seems to be no better time to talk about new beginnings than today.

Join us to learn the incredible story of one woman’s journey from prison to nonprofit founder. Teresa Hodge is an absolute inspiration. Learn about Teresa’s tireless work to help those who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives with her organization Mission Launch.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Teresa Hodge: Mission Launch is focused on helping the men and women who have arrest or conviction records get back on their feet. The reentry process is where we focus. Reentry is that period of time right after they come in contact with the legal system. It is when they’re just trying to get back on their feet and reintegrate back into society. We  focus on helping people with jobs, housing and getting into higher education. 

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

Teresa Hodge: One of my dad’s favorite statements was when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I was an entrepreneur and  part of a group of other entrepreneurs. The company we founded was investigated by the government. From the moment the company was investigated, my life just drastically changed. I spent about five or six years, fighting the charges. When I went to trial, I knew very little about our criminal legal system.  I went to trial and  lost.  As a result of that, I was given an 87 month federal prison sentence or seven years and three months. I was the first person in my family to be charged and I was heartbroken and devastated. 

I just knew that there had to be meaning and a greater purpose. In hindsight, it was as if all seeds have been planted. One of those seeds was  how was I going to use my time in prison? When I looked at the time, I said, “God, when I come out, what I’m going to know the most about?  What will be the most relevant from going to prison?” 

It was about 10 days after I was convicted, that I began writing a version of the work that I’m doing now.  I had experienced about five years of fighting on the front side. I was scared to death, quite frankly. Seven months felt like a life sentence, but seven years, three months was unimaginable. So it was just a really difficult time. What I knew was that if I could survive it, that I was going to bring good out of it.

The reality is I actually had to endure the long journey of incarceration. That was the lemon and it was a long time sucking on those sour lemons. I was already as an entrepreneur and knew how to write business plans.  As you know,  I was a part of a captive audience in prison. So I was able to ask questions and do market research.  I watched women leave prison and then I watched come back.  Why would someone return? I didn’t understand and was baffled.  

The thought is prison is supposed to do some level of correcting while people are incarcerated.  And yet, when people return, there’s often no pathway back. While I was sitting in prison I just felt like I’m going to create the pathway that I need to go back. And I’m going to bring all of those experiences and all those stories into my design so that we create enough pathways for people who were trying their best. 

I came home in 2012 and we started Mission Launch in 2012.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Teresa Hodge:  The challenges were I was underfunded. I knew a lot about prison but I knew nothing about a nonprofit. We were new entity and were unknown. And we had this huge vision for how we could disrupt and change and make life and society better for all of us. In the end, I had the ability to stick to something. And so and to learn and to evolve and to grow,  I’ve been able to navigate to a good place. 

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

Teresa Hodge: We measure Deep Impact, the stories and the people that we can talk about.  I can tell you a story of a young man who came into our hackathon just a few days after being home from prison, and he just had lots of potential. He didn’t want to work at McDonald’s and he had the ability to do something different. And he was inspired to start a business and struggled to start the business. Long story short, today, he runs a National Cooperative. He now hires other formerly incarcerated people. That idea and  the ability to build that was birthed inside of a space that we hosted. I served on his board for a while. We validated him, incubated him and were his fiscal sponsor. So it’s that level of deep impact 

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

Teresa Hodge: I want to shorten the time it takes a person to come home and get back on their feet after incarceration.  The big dream is for us to have a national strategy with a localized approach. Reentry is hyperlocal. Right? The statistics are one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record. That means over 70 million, almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. It’s staggering and not a small number.

I am on a mission to normalize the fact that we have so many people in our country with an arrest or conviction record. If we normalize that as a fact, then we can move beyond the fact that a person has a record. Then we can create all the pathways of opportunities for 80 million people.

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

Teresa Hodge: I think the greatest life lesson is for me was in prison, when my life became smaller.  It’s had so much meaning when my life in prison was the great equalizer. When you think of one in three Americans who have an arrest or conviction record, prison is a microcosm of the United States. It’s a microcosm of society. It’s disproportionately black and brown. People who go to prison are gay and straight,  black, white, brown, yellow, Native American and all religions. In that moment, we all just wanted the same thing to endure and get back home.  I learned to be so accepting of so many people and cultures  that maybe I would not have been. So I think the greatest lesson is we’re just more alike than we are not.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Teresa Hodge: I have and I am currently on a mission to restore some of the joy. I have been heads down doing this work for 11 years. So it’s changed me in the sense that I’m a workaholic and I’m too focused on it. Now I’m on a mission  to let up a little bit. You’ve done your part. It may or may not be fixed in your lifetime but you’re going to do your contribution. And that’s all you can do.

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 56: Start Lighthouse

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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.