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Season Two Episode 18: Distance for Difference

Welcome to Season Two of the Charity Matters Podcast! For the past decade, I have focused all of my attention on organizations based in the United States that help people. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United
States alone, it seemed like a reasonable perimeter. Like I mentioned last week, people often come into your path for a  reason. When a mutual friend connected me with today’s guest I knew that rules were meant to be bent every now and then.

Stéphan Pieterse is the founder of the South African nonprofit Distance for Difference. His story of challenge, faith, and resilience is one for us all regardless of our country of origin. Stéphan and I  spoke a few months back and he referenced the corruption and social unrest that they were experiencing at the time. This week’s news has more violence in South Africa and is a perfect time to share Stéphan’s message of hope, love, and goodness.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Stéphan PieterseWhat an honor and privilege to be with you today. And you know, hopefully, I’m the first of many stories you can start to share worldwide, there are so many feel-good stories in South Africa as well. And I’m just one person out of 1000s that can tell amazing stories. So it’s for me, it’s an honor to almost represent South Africa today,  with your program.

Heidi Johnson:  At the end of the day, people are good. And it doesn’t matter where they are on the globe, there are amazing things happening all around the world. And sharing those stories, just makes us closer and makes us realize how small our planet has become. And the fact that we’re even having this conversation is a perfect example of it.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Distance For Difference does?

Stéphan Pieterse: Our main objective is really just to positively impact the lives of children in need. We do this by raising funds for children’s charities, or individuals caring for abandoned or abused children. And we basically raise these funds in two main ways. We have two sporting events,  the gratitude run and then we also have a 24-hour 301-mile cycling endurance event and we call that 500.

Then we also support individual athletes doing something challenging, like swimming across the sea, doing extreme cycling events, ultra marathons and we were even running marathons around their houses like we had to do during the lockdown in South Africa. We set up campaigns for these athletes to help them to market these fundraisers amongst their colleagues and families and friends and so on. We are very serious about the wise and very thoughtful distribution of these funds that are entrusted to us to become a beneficiary of Distance for Difference. 

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

Stéphan Pieterse:  Perhaps the earliest experience of charity was at the age of five when I lost my father in a vehicle accident. And he was only 37 years old at the time was a pastor. My mother was left with four children, the youngest was only eight months old, I was five.  I think it was during those early years that I experienced how it was to be on the receiving end of charity, and so many people really gave me hope for the future. 

My entire outlook on life, and especially doing things for others, changed dramatically during the last few weeks of 1996. We went on a three-week mission trip to India. it was really during those weeks experiencing,  both physical and spiritual sort of poverty of the people of India, that my entire outlook on material things in life really changed. I returned to South Africa, with a totally different outlook. I just had this burning desire to really reach out and help other human beings. And it didn’t all start then, it took another decade after that experience.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Stéphan Pieterse: One of the biggest things is at times losing hope. There’s so much corruption in this world, also in South Africa. The staggering the figures that they mentioned, in terms of how much corruption costs countries in South Africa. We talk about a figure of 68 billion US dollars. For me, that’s a staggering amount of money. When I use those figures, it sometimes takes the wind out of my sails.  I then think about Distance for Difference and our 10 years of hard work and toil and long hours.  We raised this minuscule little amount in comparison to that figure and that sometimes makes me want to cry. Then I think if we could just take 1% of that amount and distribute that to children in India and South Africa? What impact that would have been? 

Charity Matters: Do you have a favorite motto or phrase?

Stéphan Pieterse: I love the quote by Gandhi,” Be the change you want to see in his world.” You know, that became my catchphrase because there’s so much negativity, especially in our country right now. What is it that I can do to make a small difference? It doesn’t need to be starting an organization like this, just maybe joining some way. This world will be a better place.

How has this journey changed you?

Stéphan Pieterse:  This journey changed me from a self-centered individual who did things for others to feel good and to be recognized into somebody that doesn’t want recognition at all. It made me realize how blessed I am. We all have to think loud and clear about why are we being blessed?  Why are we in such a really fortunate situation?  What do we do with those blessings?

It really just changed me to have an eternal outlook and to know that life on earth is finite.  We are not going to be here forever. What are we doing with the time that we’ve been given? And are we really collecting treasures in heaven? Maybe you have one individual who’s listening right now who thinks that they want to do something? Just go out and start something small. It doesn’t have to be big. Get your family members involved. Start communicating about your desire. Get in contact with us, if you want advice.  Don’t sit and wonder anymore, go out and do and have an impact and make a change. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Happy 10th Anniversary Charity Matters!

It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since I had a crazy idea to start blogging. So much has happened in the past decade, we have had three presidents. Ten years ago were dancing to Gangnam style, doing the Ice Bucket Challenge, and waiting for the world to end from a Mayan calendar.  A decade is a really long time, so thank you for spending it with Charity Matters. We are thrilled to celebrate this milestone and to share it with you!

Today, we are excited to be celebrating our anniversary with the launch of Season Two of the Charity Matters Podcast. We are looking back at some of the incredible people we met along our journey who have taught us so much about life, kindness, compassion, community, connection, and ourselves. So join us as we look back and get excited for what is ahead.

The journey of Charity Matters is much like the journey of the Alchemist, my favorite book. ” We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” I set out on this path looking to find a tribe of like-minded people. Never did I expect to meet hundreds of everyday heroes who are changing our world and that so many would join this quest in search of goodness.

The Human Condition

The past decade has brought fascinating people into our path and taught us so much about the human condition. We have learned so much about humanity from these conversations. These explorations in suffering, loss, and brokenness have shown us the resilience of the human spirit. The stories and challenges faced from hunger to health to education and everything in between have opened our eyes.

The Helpers, the heroes

This journey has brought the most inspiring people, the helpers, and the heroes. People that through a series of events have experienced loss and have taken that pain to help others. Each one has had a calling or that light bulb moment when they knew they needed to serve and their lives are forever changed. They start a business, a nonprofit, and dedicate their lives to helping others. These nonprofit founders are the true heroes of our world.

Alexandra Dwek, Elena Davis, Lela Diaz and Jennifer Hillman

The Friends

People ask me all the time what are my favorite nonprofits. It is liking asking a parent who is their favorite child, there is no favorite because they all amazing. As a storyteller, there are stories and people that have stayed with me. I think of people who lost their children like the Pablove founder, JoAnn Thrakill, and what she has done for pediatric cancer. I think of Dena Betti, who we met last season, who lost her daughter and began #HerSmile. These women are truly remarkable inspirations of hope, courage, and purpose.

So many of the people I have met and interviewed have become dear and treasured friends. Alexandra Dwek, from Friends with Causes, who I interviewed more than six years ago is beautiful inside and out. Elena Davis of I Am Waters Foundation and her unending work for the homeless is my Gemini twin. Jennifer Hillman from LuxAnthrophy, who resells high-end fashion for nonprofits. Ann Louden brought pink and breast cancer awareness to sports across the country with her nonprofit Frogs for the Cure. All of these women are smart, strong, loving and on a mission to make this world better. I know that my life is better because of each of them.

The big and the Small

Nonprofits come in all sizes. They are no different than a business. We have interviewed small nonprofits that are similar to your tiny local hardware store and large nonprofit CEOs more similar to the Home Depots. Why we have loved our conversations with BCRF President, Myra Biblowit and Project Hope‘s CEO Rabin Tornay. Charity Matters has really become champions for the little guys, those without a voice and a huge heart.

I think of one of my very first interviews with the founders of Saving Tiny Hearts Foundation, Brian and Francie Paul. An unbelievable couple took their infant’s son’s heart condition and turned it into a powerhouse foundation in search of a cure. Francie’s heart is as big as they come. Then there was Alisa Savoretti, the founder of My Hope Chest. Alisa was a Vegas showgirl who was diagnosed with breast cancer and didn’t have insurance for reconstructive surgery. She sold her home and worked in a grocery store to fund her nonprofit to help other women like her. Alisa’s grit, passion, and tenacity is a gift I will always treasure.

The lessons we learned

The lessons we have learned from each one of these interviews is a book onto itself. We have learned the resilience of the human spirit from people like Alisa. Hal Hargrave, the founder of The Be Perfect Foundation took a tragic accident that left him paralyzed and parlayed that into an organization that is a beacon of hope for others facing the same challenges. Interview after interview reminds us of the strength we have to overcome when faced with adversity. More than that, these people take that pain and use it for the betterment of others.

We have learned our need for community and each other. Each nonprofit founder builds a community of connection and reminds us that we are all here to serve one another, not ourselves. These communities reinforce daily the belief that people are innately good. Charity isn’t about taking or handouts, it’s about love. Loving one another in whatever way you do that. Some show their love through time and volunteering, others through donations, either way, it is sharing that energy with another human.

Gratitude

The most important lesson learned is that of gratitude. I want to thank all of our subscribers of the blog and podcast for joining us on this ten-year journey. You have become friends, taught me so much, and created a community where we believe in goodness. Ultimately, Charity Matters has been a weekly reminder of what love is as we continue to help the helpers. Please know how incredibly grateful I am to each of you for being here each week for the past decade. The past ten years have been amazing because of Charity Matters and you. Thank you.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Week!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Season One: It is all in the family

This weekend is Father’s Day, a time to celebrate the men that raised us and showed us the way. Fathers are those special humans who make us feel safe, who guide us through surviving the world, and most of all who give us love. They are our anchors in rough waters and the calm in our storms. I simply can not imagine life without my dad. A man of few words, who loves his family deeply, and a man of great faith. Sadly, there are many children who are not blessed with an amazing father. I am for sure a lucky one.

In thinking about my dad, I thought about two incredible conversations I had recently about the importance of family. The need for children to have forever homes where people will love and guide them.  A few months back I spoke with Brian Mavis, the founder of America’s Kids Belong, and Becky Fawcett of Help Us Adopt. Two inspirational humans who have made it their life mission to create families.

America’s Kids Belong

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one.

Join us for a fascinating conversation with Brian Mavis as he shares his family’s calling and journey in starting America’s Kids Belong. The remarkable story of what one family has done to change what family means for thousands and thousands of children. A true example of the power of fatherhood.

Help Us Adopt

Another powerhouse and true inspiration is Becky Fawcett, the founder of Help Us Adopt.  We recently caught up and had a fantastic conversation about what motivates this wonder woman, our favorite candy, and her incredible mission to build families. Becky may not be a father but she is a woman on a mission to ensure that children have families. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer.  Becky said, “We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. Help Us Adopt does that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

I hope as we think about our dads this week that we take a moment to think about all of the amazing humans who work so hard to create  family. Brian and Becky are two incredible humans who work tirelessly to bring the basic fabric of our world together, family. Each one uniquely different and making a huge impact in their communities as they tackle unique ways to create families. If you are looking for a little summer inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.  Happy Father’s Day to all those amazing dads!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2021 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 One: A place to call home

There are a few things that most of us assume will happen every day; the sun will rise, the sun will set and we will have a place to call home. However, for many that isn’t the case.  In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated by some reports that we have more than 100, 000 people living on our streets.  Homelessness is a growing epidemic and not a problem that is easy to solve by any stretch of the imagination. This season I had the privilege of interviewing three incredible women who have set out to tackle this problem in a variety of different ways. Today, I wanted to re-introduce you to  Eyvette, Sr. Judy, and Abeni. They are amazing!

Urban Possibilities

The first is Eyvette Jones-Johnson. She is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Eyvette shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to becoming a successful television producer and now an entrepreneur nonprofit founder. She and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities A nonprofit that provides homeless or inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Alexandria House

Join us to hear our fascinating conversation with Sister Judy Vaughan. We discuss everything from her work in founding Alexandria House to her tattoo, her motto, her sheroes, their feature in Justin Beiber’s video, and most importantly to her tireless dedication to the community. The Tory Burch Foundation and the Upworthiest nominated Sr. Judy as their Empowered Woman and once you listen to this conversation you will see why. I knew Sister Judy Vaughan was someone special the moment we began our email exchange and she did not disappoint. A third-generation Angeleno who has been on a mission to serve women, children, and families with transitional housing for 25 years since founding Alexandria House.

Haven House Youth Services

Abeni Carr is not only a high school principal in Compton, CA but in addition, had started a nonprofit when she realized a number of her own students were homeless. I am so excited to share our conversation about Abeni’s work helping high school youth deal with homelessness, her journey in founding Haven’s House Youth Services, and how she juggles it all. Shortly after our interview Abeni was featured on The Ellen Show for her inspirational work in service to homeless youth. Abeni is a true leader and role model for all!

I’m thrilled that you had a chance to get reacquainted with Eyvette, Sr. Judy, and Abeni. Three inspirational women have dedicated their lives to helping the homeless in three very different ways. Each one uniquely different and making a huge impact in their communities as they tackle homelessness. If you are looking for a little summer inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.  Now you can do a little binge-listening….enjoy!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 If you enjoyed today’s episodes, please:
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Connect with us:

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

Copyright © 2021 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 One: It’s all about the kids

When you think about philanthropy most people do not know where to begin. As humans, we have more than a handful of issues that could use a little extra help. One thing that most of us can agree on is helping our children. This season I had the privilege of interviewing three incredible women who have set out to help children in a host of different ways. Today, I wanted to re-introduce you in case you didn’t get a chance to meet Cathy, Amel and Meredith. They are amazing!

Danny’s Farm

The first is Cathy Gott. Cathy is married to legendary baseball player Jim Gott. When their son Danny was diagnosed with autism they went to work. Cathy began with co-founding Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration! If you haven’t had a chance to listen here you go…

Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation. Children of War Foundation has two priority focuses, health and education. Their mission is to make these two essential in really fundamental human, basic human rights accessible to anyone at any time, from anywhere.

 When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

The Ryan Seacrest Foundation

If there is one common denominator in all the people I have interviewed over the years it is their humility. People who give their lives and talents to serve others do not want the attention on themselves ever. These incredible humans will lovingly talk about the work they do but do not want the attention on them. It doesn’t matter who they are.  Whether they are from a famous family or used to being in the media, these modern-day heroes consistently do not want the spotlight.

Today’s guest, Meredith Seacrest Leach is no exception. Meredith is the Executive Director of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. And yes, she is Ryan Seacrest’s sister. I’m excited to share our inspiring conversation about their families’ journey in service and the incredible way they are using their gifts to help eleven children’s hospitals and thousands of children and families across the country.

 

I’m thrilled that you had a chance to get reacquainted with Cathy, Amel, and Meredith. Three inspirational women have dedicated their lives to helping children in three very different ways. Each one uniquely different and making huge impacts on children in their communities, across the country, and around the globe. Now you can do a little binge-listening….enjoy!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:

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

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

Be Our Guest

Some people love to be the host and others love to be guests. Being more than a bit type A, the role of the host is more of my comfort zone. Truth be told I would rather drive any day than be the passenger. However, when I was recently invited to be a guest on the iSoulify Podcast it seemed like an invitation I couldn’t refuse. So, guest, it was.

You may remember the Charity Matters conversation a few weeks back with nonprofit founder, Dena Betti. It was one of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had and if you missed it you can read it or listen to Episode 13: A lesson in Divine Time here.

Dena and her friend Colleen Gianatiempo have a podcast called iSoulify. It is a podcast where they bring inspiring women together for soulful conversations. We sat down a few weeks ago and talked about the journey of service and the process that leads each of us to serve in different ways. .Today I thought I would share that conversation with you. It turns out that being a guest is almost as fun as being a host. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did!

Tap to Listen to the interview here

 

As always, thank you for listening, for looking for good, and for all you do to make our world better.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:

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

Copyright © 2021 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 16: Havens House Youth Services

I went to a school whose motto was “Actions Not Words.” This phrase was repeated my entire life in Kindergarten through high school and after a while, it does start to sink in.  A few weeks ago, I was speaking to the Alumni relations coordinator at my alma mater. She mentioned an incredible alumnus that I needed to meet, Abeni Carr. She went on to tell me that Abeni was not only a high school principal in Compton, CA but in addition had started a nonprofit when she realized a number of her students were homeless.

I am so excited to share our conversation about Abeni’s work helping high school youth deal with homelessness, her journey in founding Haven’s House Youth Services, and how she juggles it all. Actions Not Words definitely made an impact.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Havens House does?

Abeni Carr:  We really support homeless youth specifically and much of our focus goes for high school-age youth that are dealing with housing instability. We make hygiene packets, we also help with young people getting housing, we’ve helped with young women who’ve been trafficked, making sure that they are getting to safety and making sure they get lawyers, and we try to pay for some of their fees. 

We’re hoping to expand to have a community center where we can really have our clothing closet and be able to support high school-age youth, which I think is one of the most vulnerable populations. We started doing this work in 2018 and now we are in three different areas throughout LA County.

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

Abeni Carr:  I was adopted when I was three by my mom and I purposely waited until I was 30, to look for my biological family.  I found both my birth mother and my birth father about six years ago through a lot of Google searches on Facebook.  Immediately we were united and then about a year later, I just went through the process of meeting my siblings.  

My sister Miracle, from my birth mother, came out to meet me with her boyfriend. When I’d asked her a question, her boyfriend would answer it.  I thought it was very odd and so just through talking to her, and my mother I found out that my sister was being trafficked. 

 I ended up helping her and it really made me turn around and look at my students. Do I have students that are homeless?  We realized that maybe we did and just don’t know. So my school started doing the work.  We had to figure out how do we identify our students? Sure enough, I did have some students that I had no idea had been dealing with housing instability. Because people don’t willingly come to a school and say, “Hey, we’re dealing with homelessness.”

 One day I got like five phone calls for different needs. Some people needed, a hotel to stay at and another family that was living in a car. The school found out and asked me, “Do you know where they could get help? ”  I thought with the multitude of phone calls there’s a great need.  So I really just started reaching out to everybody I know. I have a great group of friends and we just came together and said, “Let’s help out as many people as we can.” That’s how Haven’s House got started.

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

Abeni Carr:  I know my dream.  I want to be able to build a campus that has a school, mental health,  a community center, and housing. Kind of like a one-stop-shop where we build a community and where students know it’s a safe place for them. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it’s really true, right? If we can build safety, the home, the access to food, then you know, that’s the first step to even get them to that next place. So I would love one day to be able to have our own little community on the same campus. A place where there’s schooling, there’s shelter, there’s a community center and we help them with job readiness. 

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

Abeni Carr:  I’m just very goal-driven. This work has really shown me how to slow down and really listen to people. Everybody really does have a story. Sometimes as a leader, I didn’t really take out the time when I was younger to really hear people out. I felt like my way was the right way. In time, I’ve really learned to slow down, delegate and trust people.  Just like I’m asking my young people, to trust me. You have to start trusting other people that they can get it done too.

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

Abeni Carr:  I got into education a long time ago, not because of the honors and not about what you’re going to get back from it. But I will tell you, this cohort that we have right now, every single one of them got into college.  We’re giving them the tools to learn, how do you advocate for yourself when you do go to college? Or how do you get a job? We are really trying to end cyclical homelessness. One of our board members actually was one of our clients. Now she’s 24 years old, has a job she’s living on her own. Every day she asks, “What can I do to help?”  I think that that’s what really reminds me why are we doing this.

 If you can help people with the tools to get on their feet, they will turn around and help somebody else out. Right?  You want to take it from cyclical homelessness.  So when there are those hard days, I remember Marie and the other young people that I’ve been able to help out.  They have turned around and now become amazing advocates for other young homeless youth that now they’re helping, and mentoring. Being able to share their experience and say,” This is temporary, you can make it through this.” 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:

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

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

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

Copyright © 2021 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 15: Infinite Strength

I have met so many people in a decade of interviewing nonprofit founders but a select few have left a real lasting impression and Roberta Lombardi of Infinite Strength is one of them. We hadn’t spoken in a few years and I wanted to touch base and see what she was up to, you may remember her remarkable story. As a breast cancer survivor, Roberta wondered about the women she sat with in treatment who didn’t have the same resources she did and was determined to change that.

Infinite Strength began to help underserved women with breast cancer with the financial costs associated with breast cancer. are astronomical. I recently had a chance to catch up with Roberta and talk about how Covid has impacted cancer, single moms, her challenges in trying to support all of the above with her incredible organization.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Roberta Lombardi: We exist mainly to help single mothers who are in active treatment for breast cancer by giving them grants for what we call basic human needs, mortgage, and rent, car, utility, and phone.  I think we’re one of the few nonprofits to do that recurring funding for women with metastatic breast cancer. These are early-stage breast cancer patients who come to us once in a calendar year.  A patient with metastatic breast cancer, who’s basically going to be in treatment for the rest of their life. Their average lifespan at that diagnosis is two to three years.

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

Roberta Lombardi:  I was in the middle of treatment, and was getting more depressed from all the chemotherapy drugs and the steroids and the loss of hair. One day my husband walks into the kitchen and says, “Honey, we just got a bill for one of your chemos from insurance. But it’s $80,000!  Hon, how do people that don’t have money afford this?”  He throws the bill on the counter and it was like a lightning bolt for me.

All of a sudden, it really made sense to me.  How are these women ever going to be able to stop the cycle because it is a never-ending cycle? The woman we help, they’re already having trouble financially anyway.  How do you get off the roller coaster?

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

Roberta Lombardi: Every single time I have felt a little bit worn out that’s when somebody crosses my path. It reminds me that this is why I do this work.  And it’s the truth. It’s either it’s a patient who’s contacted me, and their story just touches me. It’s meeting their children and seeing what it does to the kids to have their mother ill.

 The women that we support with Infinite Strength, their whole life’s been a battle, they just don’t get a break.  Many of the women we help are black women and are underserved.  They don’t have the access to medical care and this disease hits them harder. Their death rate is higher than a woman that’s white. A lot of these women that I interact with, they’ve just not had a fair shot in life and a lot of things and they’ve struggled. Their kids are a part of this and that’s the heartbreaking part for me. I have to find a way to really make an impact and to give these kids hope that their mom’s going to be okay. Also to remind them that there’s kindness in the world that somebody cares.

Charity Matters: What has your impact been? 

Roberta Lombardi: For me, it’s the emotional impact of the peace of mind, we’re giving to these women. That’s how I measured it. The kind words that they write or when their child says something to me. That is when I know what I’m doing is very worthwhile. And that’s what spurs me on to keep going and to keep growing.

How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: I think that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is not to be so judgmental. You don’t know what somebody else’s life is. They show you what they want to show you and you don’t know what they’re going through. Right? You just don’t. The more somebody is maybe aloof or maybe not as kind, maybe the more kind I am because they need it. I’ve realized in my work, just that little bit of kindness or a smile, or doing something extra makes a person’s day so much better. And you don’t know where they were at that moment.  It’s little things of trying to be understanding.  I think that’s one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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 14: Building families with Help Us Adopt

One of the many things I love about finding my tribe and interviewing these amazing humans is the friendships I have made over the years. One of those people is the remarkable Becky Fawcett, the founder of Help Us Adopt. You may remember our conversation from a few years back? We recently caught up and had a fantastic conversation about what motivates this wonder woman, our favorite candy, and her incredible mission to build families.

So join us today for a fun conversation that will have you inspired and remind you that one person can make a difference.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Help Us Adopt does?

Becky Fawcett:  Help Us Adopt began in 2007 at our kitchen table and an idea to help build families through adoption. Our platform was families combined with a commitment to equality, something everyone could believe in. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer. We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. Help Us Adopt does that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Help Us Adopt?

Becky Fawcett:  One of my favorite topics in this world is infertility and adoption. I tried to do IVF, we did five rounds of IVF. We got pregnant three times and had three miscarriages. It was not easy, it was awful. Everybody knows someone who’s been through what I’ve been through and they probably didn’t get the support they needed.

I never thought it wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to adopt it scared the living bejesus out of me. It then got to a point where it was like either you adopt or you don’t get to become a mom. Not becoming a mother was not an option. This was 15 years ago. No one wanted to talk about this and miscarriage and IVF. There’s nothing shameful about being infertile,  about miscarriage or about adopting.

photo credit: Classic Kids

I won’t lie to you. It’s also very expensive. In order to do the IVF, and then adopt twice my husband and I spent $190,000 and after-tax dollars in our early 30s. I never want to be misleading, I had help from my grandparents. But we spent every single penny in our savings account. We were probably one step shy of taking out a second mortgage on our house.

I had this idea of how lucky was I that I got to do all of this on my own terms. I had nothing left in as far as money goes, but that could be rebuilt. And how could I help people and with no money, being a loudmouth publicist?  So, I wrote a business plan in about 20 minutes and just knew what needed to be done. What needed to be done was an adoption grant program that was all in on the family quality period. That was it.  

We don’t care who you love or who you’re with. We don’t care about any of that. Don’t send us a picture of what your family looks like. We don’t want to know, that’s not why we’re helping you. We’re helping you because you want to adopt a child, you have a valid home study. And you need a little help.

Charity Matters:  What has your impact been? 

Becky Fawcett: How do you put a value on giving this child an opportunity to know you were worthy, right? I mean, that you were worthy, you deserved this family? How do you know?  

Well, my impact is all of the family pictures of the families we helped to build. My impact is the 2000 donors a year who are out of the box thinking who are ahead of the game and philanthropy. Donors who do believe in the nonprofit that came out of nowhere and who support us every year.  Last year, we built 56 families during the pandemic. What is more important than a family?

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

Becky Fawcett: Reading these grant applications. Talk about salt of the earth, good people. Are you kidding me?  I am inspired by our applicants, those who will let me into their life once they become grant recipients. I love staying in touch with them on Facebook, I love watching their kids grow up. Someone once wrote to me, one of the grant applicants, her name is Erica. She wrote to me and said, “Because of your story, I have mine.”

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Episode 13: Her Smile, a lesson in divine time

It is a rare human that touches our soul. When my path crosses with these angels on earth there is something indescribable that happens. My conversation with Dena Betti was exactly that, one that had me in tears more than a few times. Yes, if you have ever wanted to hear me cry, this episode is for you. More than that was Dena’s message of love and resilience after losing her 14-year-old daughter, Jenna, in a tragic accident.

Dena took that pain and turned it into a nonprofit called Her Smile that funds programs to empower and inspire young people to thrive despite adversity.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation…

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Her Smile does?

Dena Betti: Her Smile helps families who have experienced the loss of a dependent child or the loss of a parent with dependent children. We did that primarily for the first five years. Just last year, with the pandemic and the severe fires, we thought we want to do more than what we’re doing. So we broadened our brushstroke so we could also help families going through really difficult circumstances. So not only death, which is the ultimate loss, and to lose a child is beyond measure, so we now are helping those who are in the throes of really challenging circumstances. 

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

Dena Betti:  But what brought me to this work is, tomorrow will be seven years, when I got this horrific call from my husband. It was a Sunday and, and he was screaming on the phone, Jenna, it was Jenna.  Jenna is my oldest daughter, and she was 14 at the time. And you know, we let her go out on a walk in our neighborhood. they took the like the short what would be the shortcut home. And that was along the railroad tracks.

What we know now is when they sat down on the railroad tracks,  Jenna had put her phone down.  When a train approached they got up and were able to safely get away from the train. But Jenna went back to grab her phone and she was hit and killed from the back. Her phone survived but she didn’t. What we think is that she probably thought the width of the train was the width of the train tracks, which it’s not, the train is wider.  

A moment like that changes you in so many ways that change you. What I want to share is something that leads into why we started Her Smile. That is all the love and support that came from family, friends, strangers, people descended on our home.  I remember the moment so clearly and  I thought if I shut this door and I do not let these people in my home, they might not come back.  I learned one of life’s great lessons, which was when you let people in they will love you and hold you up.  They will give you all of the strength that you need to get through whatever it is.

I have three daughters and they all had the same third-grade teacher, Mrs. Travis. Something very magical happened that she did, she started a Memorial Fund for our family. She started that to help with the burial costs for Jenna and to feel like she could do something for our family. So that raised a lot of money and it helped us put Jenna to rest. We had money left over and I thought you know I don’t want to keep this money. This money needs to go back out to help other people and that is where Her Smile was born. It was born in that spirit.

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

Dena Betti: Gosh, so those moments come in little moments for me.  They come when people reach out to me, and ask how do I help my friend who just lost their son or their daughter?  Or what can I say to them? Those are moments that make me feel like I can be of service. Even though it’s much smaller than I originally wanted, it’s as impactful. Those are the moments so they’re not grandiose. They are very humble, but they mean everything to me

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

Dena Betti: When Jenna passed away, that was big about the control in my entire life. I’ve just learned that there’s so much fear built into that statement. We want to control because we want to feel safe and secure.  And then when you realize when something happens, like, what I experienced, or other hardships, maybe we don’t have as much control as we thought we did?

 My biggest life lesson is divine time. That’s been my biggest challenge is being able to see it in my mind. feeling like I want it now and having the grace and patience to wait. Having the faith. You know, I’ve asked myself many times, and I prayed to my higher power. And I said,” Is this really what I should be doing?” And the answer has so far come back. Yes. And to have the patience to let divine timing play out has been my biggest life lesson. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dena Betti: I see life much deeper. Much deeper.  I’ve always been a much deeper thinker and tend to lean on wisdom a lot.  I didn’t really feel like I have anything to prove anymore. Like I feel like I’ve done the inside work. You know, I’ve definitely got to the top of the mountain when it comes to my internal resilience. So, for me, that’s how much I’ve changed or to the degree, I’ve changed is I’m at peace. And that, isn’t that the ultimate goal? Yeah, I think the ultimate goal is to know that you’ve done your best. You’ve carried that bucket You’ve worked your hardest. And you’re at peace with what you’re doing and what you’re putting out into the world and what you’re giving to everybody. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Episode 12: Alexandria House

Join us today to hear our fascinating conversation with today’s guest, Sister Judy Vaughan. We discuss everything from her work in founding Alexandria House to her tattoo, her motto, her sheroes, their feature in Justin Beiber’s video (see below), and most importantly to her tireless dedication to the community. Just last week Tory Burch Foundation and the Upworthiest nominated Sr. Judy as their Empowered Woman and once you listen to today’s conversation you will see why.

I knew Sister Judy Vaughan was someone special the moment we began our email exchange and she did not disappoint. A third-generation Angeleno who has been on a mission to serve women, children, and families with transitional housing for 25 years since founding Alexandria House.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Alexandria House does?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  Alexandria house, really as part of our mission has three things.  One is to be a long-term shelter for single women and women with children who are homeless. The main focus in the two houses is to serve families, who are really searching for ways to break out of being without a house and into their own place. We’re a long-term transitional residence program, about 85% of the women who come here are coming out of situations of domestic violence. We also have folks who have escaped trafficking.  

The second thing is we’re a Neighborhood Center. We wanted to be from our very beginning in 1996, to be a part of the community. So we have an after-school program, that it’s really for about 35 kids. Right now, most of them were doing mentoring with the kids in our program, through zoom.

The third thing is it comes out in our awareness. We’re just we’re really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re the homeless capital of the United States. In no way do we think Alexandria house is going to shift that. But we are a base for doing systemic change work.  We really are committed to changing systems that are keeping women and children living in poverty. So that’s sort of who Alexandria House is. If I had to say this in an elevator, I’d say we’re about really focusing on what is to make a difference but also trying to be a demonstration of what it is to be a demonstration of the Beloved Community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A very good friend taught us about the burden of knowing or being willing to have your heart be broken because there are so many things that make it so difficult for folks to really get out of a situation. So that’s definitely one, how you stay true to our commitment to trauma-informed care.

That really means opening your heart and being as empathetic as possible, even though it’s not your own experience, but really listening.  Listening to the pain and the grief and the heartache of others, and being willing to share in that. So that’s one piece of it. But the other is, there’s just not enough resources. And we see that over and over again. We get 1000 calls a month from folks, we’re not able to house here. There are at least 80,000 folks who are homeless on any one night in LA and 11,000 shelter beds and there are not enough resources. 

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

Sister Judy Vaughan:  I could go down the list of how it comes back to us in words, you know, you saved my life, I wouldn’t be where I am without you all. And I have to say, you know, I get a lot of credit, being the founding person and being the one and a half staff that started the place. But really, we have an incredible staff that is all committed to this mission. I think one of the outstanding examples of our impact is of the people that have moved through the program 93% have remained in permanent housing.

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

Sister Judy Vaughan: So this is what we thought of back in 1996. This is what the vision was. So to continue the work we’re doing even as it grows, because we have more people who come to us now is living the dream. But we do have a dream because housing is so difficult in LA. We’re really working right now to purchase the apartment building behind us.

 It would provide 31 more units of permanent supportive housing. More and more, we are finding folks having such a hard time finding permanent housing. 

 

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

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A really important one for me is that there’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God. And it’s in Romans and I believe this. So,  much so that I have a tattoo on my shoulder that has the glimpse of our hands connected, that there’s nothing that can separate us. It’s a really important thing for me. Because we all make mistakes in doing this work.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience? How has this journey changed you?

Sister Judy Vaughan: I definitely think I’m the same person and that I still have some of the same flaws and some of the same struggles. But I just feel so much more enriched and challenged as a person. You know, as a member of a religious community, we talk about living a life of simplicity.  I don’t even think I understood what that means, until living here at Alexandria House.

I have also learned about what it means to be generous.  Some people say that I get some credit for living and working here. But I have to say, this place saved my life in some ways because it enabled me to see who we’re really called to be, and what we need to do. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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.

 

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

Copyright © 2021 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 11: Fotolanthrophy, Storytelling with a purpose

Have you ever read about someone and think, I need to know that person? That is exactly what happened with this week’s guest, Katie Norris. A while back I was reading through a People Magazine and came across the incredible story of Chris Norton. Chris had an amazing story and the article mentioned this incredible nonprofit founder, Katie Norris, who was determined to tell it. Katie did just that through her amazing nonprofit, Fotolanthrophy. A non-profit organization that combines photography + film + philanthropy to share inspiring true stories of people who have overcome adversity…and I wanted to meet her.

Image how thrilled I was when Katie and I were connected? We sat down for an inspirational conversation about her organization’s beginnings and her latest film project, 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.  Join us today for an incredible conversation with this very special human who will make your day. 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Katie Norris: A lot of people say they hope to feel called in life.  I actually got a phone call that changed the course of my life forever. Nearly 10 years ago, I received a phone call from a mother that was just sobbing. I could barely hear what she was saying. She’s finally said, “My name is Kara. You don’t know me, but someone said you can help me. My son is just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He’s eight months old and I really would love pictures of him.”

 I had my own photography business at the time. And little did she know that a few months before, it kind of was just put on my heart that I wanted to start my own nonprofit, which was a wild idea. I was in my young 20s and I just didn’t move forward with that idea and I just needed the courage to go for it. It all came together at that moment and that phone call. I remember just kind of taking a minute and thinking, this is it, this is my call for my life. I need to go serve people with the gift that I have.

And I got to say, “Kara, you know, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But yes, we’d love to serve you. Here’s what I’d like to do.” We got to surprise her with not only a photo session, but we brought in a videographer and captured the last moments of her son’s life. It was very, very challenging. I wasn’t a mom at the time, so it was hard. We got to serve her and that was the beginning of Fotolanthrophy.

Charity Matters: How did you go from photoshoots to becoming a nonprofit documentary filmmaker?

Katie Norris: Then things kind of continued to grow after that families would call and they would nominate families because sometimes when someone’s facing such a great tragedy, you don’t know what to do. And sometimes, you know, a casserole, you want to do more than that. And so it felt so good to say yes, we’ll be there. How can we help?

Then everything kind of went to the next level, when we were interviewing a young soldier, Travis Mills. He’s a quadruple amputee. And I came across his story. And my world kind of stopped when I saw a picture of him. And we made our way to Fort Bragg to meet him, we’re gifting his family Fotolanthrophy, which was a portrait session and a short film. And I’m sitting here interviewing this American hero thinking, why don’t we make him a full-featured documentary? 

Once we continued the mission and served many families we realized what it was going to take to produce these stories and that’s when we knew we needed to become a nonprofit. We received our 501 c3 status in 2012. It was a great day and it felt like a new start. We’re really doing this, you know, it was kind of an answer to a phone call. Then we continued to see people impacted and it was such a joy to serve these families that we just went step by step and they just kept coming.

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

Katie Norris: So when I’m tired, I think about those people that we could potentially serve and maybe bring a little bit of inspiration to and that, that keeps me going.  I’ve got that phone call, you know, I’m anchored in that phone call that this is what I was supposed to do. And that keeps me going.

Charity Matters: do you know have a Motto that you live by?

Katie Norris: Consistency compounds. I continue to say those two words because it does compound and it all adds up. And so if I can just stay consistent in who I am in what we’re doing in our mission, it all will continue to move.  And that’s really helped me from the day to day.

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

Katie Norris: You can never give up on your dream. I mean, there are so many times that I could have said this is too hard. This is too much. And I think about all those “miss moments” that would have never happened.  I think about all the people that are moved experiencing our film, 7 Yards. So sometimes when we’re in those moments of adversity, and we can’t shake it that day, and we want to give up because it’s too hard, and the sacrifices we make…just to never give up, just don’t.  

We’ve been given this mission and just to continue going.  I think that’s one of the biggest things that has taught me to see what I’m made of, and to see what’s possible. It’s nice, because each project we take on more, and I think some days are really hard.  I wonder what I would have said, what my life would be like if I didn’t say yes to all this?  I would have missed out on so much. So anyone listening, that’s following your dream just keep going, just keep going.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Connect with us:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

Copyright © 2021 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 10: Ryan Seacrest Foundation Following the heart

If there is one common denominator in all the people I have interviewed over the years it is their humility. People who give their lives and talents to serve others do not want the attention on themselves ever. These incredible humans will lovingly talk about the work they do but do not want the attention on them. It doesn’t matter who they are.  Whether they are from a famous family or used to being in the media, these modern-day heroes consistently do not want the spotlight.

Today’s guest, Meredith Seacrest Leach is no exception. Meredith is the Executive Director of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. And yes, she is Ryan Seacrest’s sister. I’m excited to share our inspiring conversation about their families’ journey in service and the incredible way they are using their gifts to help eleven children’s hospitals and thousands of children and families across the country.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Ryan Seacrest Foundation does and how it all started?

Meredith Seacrest Leach:  Just over 10 years ago, Ryan would do a lot of visits to children’s hospitals through his various jobs. In particular, the radio show, where he would take his team down there and they’d set up at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, in California. They would bring in some special guests and broadcast live and he got so much feedback from families about the energy this brought to the hospital.

There was one visit that we were at the hospital and there was a little girl who hadn’t gotten out of bed in 72 days. But she got out of bed to be part of this broadcast and got to meet Selena Gomez. And it just moved all of us and the nurses had tears in their eyes. The power of creating this excitement in the hospital inspired this little girl to get out of bed.

 I know you’ve talked about this in your podcasts, that there’s this moment, and what is that moment that kind of triggers an idea of wanting to create something or do more? So after that moment, we road back in the car together, and Ryan just said, “What can we do that could live in the Children’s Hospital? I can’t broadcast every day. I’d love to but you know, I can’t.  But what could we create and do that could live in the hospital, to create this synergy?”

We sat down as a family and kind of talked about it. My brother reached a point that while he loved supporting other causes that he would love to create some into his own.  We really talked about rather than reinvent the wheel. He needed to do what he is good at, which is radio and television.

So, we decided through the relationships we have to kind of replicate his radio studio as well as folding some technical side for television. That evolved into what we now call Seacrest Studios. We decided to build the first one at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, our hometown, where we were raised and born. And we really started with that first hospital and had a conversation with them about the idea. They took a chance to see you know what this would be and it evolved from there 

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach: We have parents just say, “You know, my child smiled today or laughed.” It feels like such a small thing but if that space we create can bring that joy or that moment for a family or create some sense of relief. That’s when we feel while we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach:  I had worked in the entertainment business before moving into the nonprofit space.  I think knowing that each day, what we do is really helping someone, I’m not just going to work.  But this really has meaning and to be able to say that your job, if you want to call it a job, but your passion is really helping people and you get these stories back.

The fact that we can be that connective tissue to bring, not only the Seacrest Studios to the hospital, but also bring in different opportunities, whether it’s entertainment or educational experiences, fun toys for the kids. It is just so important. I just realized that every day that I’m lucky to do what I do and have the ability to do it.

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

Meredith Seacrest Leach: Well, I definitely have learned that you never stop learning. I’m continuously learning as we go. One thing I think that this was something you could truly make decisions on what your heart wants to do.  This was what feels right and this is the way we’re going to move this.

Listening to that kind of inner voice of what felt right to do, actually led us in a way to build something special. We felt it unitedly as a family.  We really just listened to our hearts about what we wanted to build and how we wanted to help.  I think it led us in a great direction.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Meredith Seacrest Leach: Now that I’ve worked in children’s hospitals quite a bit with working with 11, and visiting, even more, it definitely changes you. I think I have a lot of perspective, more than I ever had before. I know it sounds so cliche, but health is wealth. Just to be so grateful, for what I do have and not focusing on what I don’t have. Seeing some of these families and what they’re going through, is hard.

Some of these young people have such a perspective on life.  I think it just really keeps me in check of what is important in life. Trying to focus on that and be present in all the positive things.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong. Listening to the call

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one.

Join us today for a fascinating conversation with Brian Mavis as he shares his family’s calling and journey in starting America’s Kids Belong. The remarkable story of what one family has done to change what family means for thousands and thousands of children.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what America’s Kids Belong does?

Brian Mavis:  Nationally, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care today. And a way to think about that group of over 400,000, is to then put them into two different groups. There’s a group of those kids about three-quarters of them, who are on a path towards reunification with their family and their parents. Then a quarter of those kids, so just roughly over 100,000, right now, they’re on a different path towards needing to find a new forever family. 

We work with both sets of kids because both groups, there is a deficit of families, a big one, between families who are willing to what we call, for now, families that will say we’re here for you, for now, to take care of you until your biological family can. And then forever families, the ones that will say, will be your new forever family. So we work on both sets.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start America’s Kids Belong?

Brian Mavis:  This story starts in my wife’s heart and began early for her as a teenager. She was living in Southern California, had gone on a high school missions trip with her church into Mexico, and they worked in an orphanage. While she was there, she said, she heard God tell her this three-word sentence. Care for orphans. She knew she knew as a teenager, her calling on her life.

 In 2005, Julie said, “I want to be a foster mom.” So we go to the orientation and so you’re learning about trauma and all that kind of thing.  One of the first things they let you know, is who are these kids? Why are they in foster care? Right? And so, right off the bat, they say, there’s a myth that these kids are in foster care because of what they’ve done.  And that’s a myth because what actually has happened is something has been done to them. 

Brian, his wife Julie, their two daughters, and their first foster child.

Keegan became our first foster child. Two years later, in 2007, I’m a pastor at a church in Colorado a child welfare worker called me and asked, “Can I meet with you to talk about child welfare in our county?” I said, “Sure.” So this woman Cindy comes to visit and says, “In the 27-year history of Child Welfare in our county, there has never been one single day, not one day, where kids weren’t waiting for grownups to take care of them. I have a challenge for you. So this was the three-word sentence that changed my life. My wife’s was “Care for orphans.” Mine was this. She said, “I have a challenge for you. Change who waits. Help me change who waits.”

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

Brian Mavis: Conviction and commitment and this sense of like, there’s an injustice that needs to get set. Right? And then it’s you got to look for the victories. You can look at the numbers and say we increased this by 40%, and all that. But that doesn’t move your heart as much as knowing that  Adrian now has a family. And he had been raised in institutions for the past seven years. And now he’s got a mom and a dad. It’s that kind of thing that says, Okay, I’m gonna fight another day.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

Brian Mavis:  We increased the number of recruitment of foster families by 40%. Statewide, within a year. That is an intellectual case. You know, the emotional cases sharing a kid sharing a story. The transformational case is when a kid goes into a home, and a family changes everything for them, it changes their future, which could be one that is bleak. And to one that is hopeful.

 And what when you come down to saying, Let me tell you the story of it, Adrian he was he went into foster care when he was eight, he’s 15. Today, he’s had no inquiries on his life, he feels unwanted. And we did his video, within three weeks of promoting it, we had 24 families asking about and being their son.  And if he had aged out of foster care, just on the financial side, it would have cost you know, throughout social services hard cost $300,000 of services as a young adult for him so there’s that side to it.

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

Brian Mavis:  I’ve learned a lot. I have a long ways to go still about learning the effects of trauma on people, especially on kids. There are different kinds of trauma, there’s acute trauma, something that happens once. There is chronic trauma, something that’s happened over a period of time. And then there’s complex developmental trauma, which is something that happened in reason it’s complex.

Those first two didn’t happen by the hands of somebody who was meant to love you and care for you. And so that kind of trauma is profound. On the other hand, when there, there are enough skilled people who understand that and understand how to help give hope and healing and love, a lot of that trauma can be healed. I wish people and churches would become trauma competent and formed. It would really help everyone to understand.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

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

Copyright © 2021 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.