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3 Dollar Challenge

“I would so much like young people to have a sense of the gift that they are.”

John Denver

You are never too young to change the world. Those are words from my recent conversation with Jack Adler and his twin sister Kate, the founders of the 3Dollar Challenge. Jack and Kate are 19-year-old twins from Villanova, PA who reached out to me a few weeks ago via Instagram about their cause.

While they have not yet started a nonprofit, they have started a movement to inspire giving and action in the face of COVID. It all started in early April when Jack sent his sister a text asking her if she wanted to do something to support COVID relief. Her answer was yes and that was the beginning of the $3 Challenge. I hope these two inspire you as much as they inspired me!

Charity Matters: What was the inspiration behind the 3 Dollar Challenge?

Jack Adler: This whole idea really stemmed from us being forced to leave college early from Coronavirus and we were sitting at home for a couple of months in quarantine. We realized that we were lucky enough to be healthy and not have any of our loved ones struggling and fighting for their lives with COVID. We knew that there are people fighting every day on the frontlines fighting to save lives and fighting for their own lives and it felt selfish to act like just because we were safe we didn’t have to help.

One day and I came up with an idea to fundraise for Coronavirus relief and I called my sister into the room and we started brainstorming different ways. And together we came up with an idea to start an Instagram challenge.

Kate Adler: I thought an Instagram challenge was a good idea but none of the challenges had a donation component. We are both majoring in business, I’m at the University of Miami and Jack is at Syracuse University and we wanted to use our entrepreneurial skills to try and help. I felt like it’d be a really cool idea to make the Instagram challenges into something more like with this donation component for Coronavirus relief. So we brainstormed and we had a whole launch setup where we texted all of our friends that it was coming.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how the 3 Dollar Challenge works?

Jack Adler: The concept is simple. First, you donate $3 via Venmo @threeDC or through bit.ly/lemonadefund (select referred by 3 Dollar Challenge). Then post an Instagram story of something you cannot wait to get back to after quarantine. Lastly,  tag @3dollarchallenge and nominate at least 3 more people to do these steps.

Kate Adler: We used Venmo to make it easy and accessible and set up Go Fund Me to accept donations larger than $3. We partnered with a group called Makin Lemonade that was the same age doing the same thing and the result is over $117,000 raised for Feed America, CDC, and Direct Relief, all split equally.

Charity Matters: Did you have any idea what you were starting?

Jack Adler: Well, we originally were like, let’s raise a few hundred dollars for Coronavirus. Surely it’ll we’ll feel good about ourselves and we will know that we’re making a difference and within 24 hours raised over ten thousand dollars.

It started with us getting our immediate friends to tag their friends who weren’t in our mutual friend circle. It started there and it was just an exponential domino effect of them tagging three people then tagging three people and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of people around the nation who we didn’t even know posting for the three-hour challenge within 24 hours.

We had thousands of posts we reached people that we had, we obviously didn’t know. And it just completely blew our minds. It was so exciting. We had big thousand follower accounts posting for us just seeing it from other people was so cool.  It was really awesome.

Charity Matters: Had you ever done something like this before? What were your previous experiences with volunteering and charity?

Kate Adler:  We hadn’t had a huge background in philanthropy, our parents taught us to give back, and when we were little we did a lot of lemonade stands.  We mostly raised money for different children’s hospitals and our grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Then in high school, we became the co-presidents of a club called Jerry’s Box that supported kids with cancer. We lead a team of 200 students once a month, packaging toys, and then delivering them ourselves. So that was honestly our first big experience in philanthropy and giving back.

Charity Matters: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Kate Adler:  At first we were like, wow, this is so easy because you’re kind of just soaring and donations are coming in. Literally, like 10 donations a second, it was crazy. But then once it started to lose steam after only really only a couple of days, we said we need to figure out a way to keep it going. We don’t want to stop after one burst of Instagram stories. We had to reach out to literally hundreds of people.

We’re direct messaging everyone we knew from different schools, influencers, celebrities, news channels, really anyone we could. Anyone that could probably spread the challenge to their networks and that helped a lot.  After our $10,000 push, we ended up raising another $8000, just from reaching out to people we knew and getting news coverage and things like that. So I think the hardest part is definitely just keeping it going because we want it to keep going for as long as possible.

Jack Adler: Honestly, I think our biggest challenge was raising $10,000 in 24 hours and then knowing that inevitably, we’re not going to keep that same steam because we really had hit our peak of trendiness on Instagram for that one day. And it was really cool because we had to really push ourselves and find ways to keep the challenge spreading. We really got to learn from the experiences of the grind. We had to prove to people that we’re legit

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

Jack Adler: It just feels so good. It’s a really, it’s really cool for us to be able to mix our passion for entrepreneurship with our passion for giving back. We just love coming up with different ideas to help people and it’s fun, it feels good and it really is addicting.

I would say, our realization that we have to keep going with the Three Dollar Challenge is as much as it is a passion it is also a responsibility. At this point to use the platform that we’ve created to continue making a difference and continue helping people. It would feel selfish and wrong to not keep doing it. Because while we are having fun with it, it’s also helping so many people and we want to keep doing that.

Kate Adler:  I would agree, I just think it’s such a drive to keep going.  I think what really helps our momentum is aiming the direction in new ways. So we started a tic toc challenge because that’s been really popular. And honestly, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to. It didn’t really pick up momentum, which was like a great learning experience just because something worked and some things don’t. 

Charity Matters: When did you know you made a difference?

Kate Adler:  I would say a big wow moment was when a couple of accounts were created that are like the $4 challenge. People started other Instagram donation challenges and actually wrote in the comment of their pictures like we’ve been inspired by the $3 Challenge to start this organization.  At first, I thought they’re copying us. But then we actually realized that it is really cool to see other people kind of like taking what we’ve done to make a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us about the success and impact you have had?

Kate Adler:  I think besides the funds raised another huge impact was just on people our own age and younger too, because people kind of saw it and they’re like, wow, these kids are our age. We can do things too. And I think it probably motivated a lot of people to look for ways to give back.  I have noticed a lot of people reached out to us asking for ways to get involved and what more they can which was really awesome.

Jack Adler:  I think the realization of the power of social media to see that it can be used to spread a positive message and make a positive difference. And we kind of figured out a loophole, I guess you could say, of a way to use this amazing power and influence of social media and the ability to reach thousands of people so easily. And we used it, not to spread a comedy or entertainment, but to spread a way to help the world out.

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

Jack Adler: I mean, we’ve been working on getting on The Ellen Show, which would help spread the word around the nation. But in terms of like the actual growth of our brand, we really want to turn it into something where we can pivot towards different causes. Whenever we feel that we see a cause it needs our attention, and have the platform to be able to do that and raise thousands of dollars every time.

Kate Adler: I think another one of our big goals is to actually allow other nonprofits to use the concept of the $3 challenge. But we think it’d be really cool if a nonprofit said, “Hey, we love the $3 challenge. We would love to run a $3 challenge through our nonprofit.” 

Charity Matters: How has this experience changed you?

Kate Adler: I know I’m speaking for Jack, but I think our family was surprised that quarantine motivated Jack. He had this new drive and motivation.

Jack Adler: I did take the driver seat, which Kate usually does. We have changed from this real-world experience. This will be a story that will change our lives forever.

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

Kate Adler: It is never too early to start giving. College has taught us so many business strategies but it has been great to learn while doing. We have loved motivating other kids to follow in our footsteps.

Jack Adler: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that we are not too young to change the world, you are never too young to make an impact and we are ready to make a difference.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”

Anthony D’Angelo

I don’t usually repost interviews but with so much attention lately on policing and communities, I thought this conversation was one worth revisiting. A year ago, I was at the StageCoach music festival and got separated from my husband. Standing next to me was a former college football player, a big man with an even bigger smile and heart. This stranger, named Jason Lehman, is a Long Beach Police Officer and nonprofit founder of  Why’d You Stop Me? and he also found my husband in the large crowd that night. We exchanged information and spoke shortly after about his work and journey from law enforcement to nonprofit founder and his mission to bring people together.  Such an inspirational man and story….the world needs people like Jason and his team now more than ever.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about What WYSM is and does?

Jason Lehman: We are an empowerment educational organization that works to help build and strengthen relationships between the police and the community. We do that in scenario involved training by impacting six different aspects of a community. Not only do we provide education but we provide a three hundred and sixty-degree approach by bringing a police officer and an ex-felon to team-teach these incredible messages of peace to police officers, schools, and communities.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I had three Ah-Ha moments and two of them are the most valuable. The first one happened in 2009 when I was working undercover in Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team for the City of Long Beach. Working on this Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team we did a bunch of things and one of them was we bought drugs from gang members who were selling them. There was an undercover drug deal that went bad. That drug deal ended up with me having to fight for my life and at the end of the fight, only one person walked out alive. Immediately after this happened, I thought to myself something could have been done differently. I didn’t yet know what that meant but I really tried to figure out what that meant. I spent two years trying.

At the end of it, I was found to have used the force necessary in the situation and my name was cleared, but that didn’t completely help. I spent two years seeing psychologists, dealing with family issues, and trying to figure out how or why all of this was happening. I was found to have done the right thing and been fit of mind but this justifiable homicide was a horrible situation for me. That was my first AH-Ha moment. In December 2011,  some informants tipped us off that there was going to be a gang hit on my life. It turns out that the person that died in the drug enforcement situation was a gang leader and the gang had spent two years plotting how they were going to ambush and kill me.

In hearing this situation I walked into a classroom at a local high school knowing that there were students in that classroom that were affiliated with the gang trying to kill me.  I walked in and spent about an hour telling them how scared I was and how much I struggled with power. The kids were listening and they were with me, they knew me as Tiny, the gang cop that worked in their neighborhood.

One kid at the end of the program raised his hand and changed my world forever. He said, “Hey Tiny, you talked about how scared you are but you haven’t said a word about me? Do you remember me? Two years ago you arrested me with a gun in my waistband, you made me crawl through the rain and layout in front of you. Did you ever think about who was standing next to me when you made me do that? My girlfriend. Do you know how it made me feel when you laid me down and put your knee in my back in front of my girlfriend? Did you ever stop to realize that gun wasn’t for you but for a rival gang? Did you understand I was raised never to be disrespected in front of a woman? I have had visions of hurting you for two years but after one hour of listening to you explaining things and what police officers go through. This is the first time I can ever say that I respect you.”

I walked out of the classroom and the principal said, “What’s the name of your program?” and I said, I didn’t have a program, I am going back to being a cop. The principal said, “We have a new website and I want to mention your work on it what do I call it? I said, ” The kids always ask me why did you stop me? So why don’t you call it that, Why’d You Stop Me? That was how we came to be.

The second AH- Ha moment was on August 10th, 2014 when we had our first nonprofit event. We had 200 hundred plus people coming and we had just gotten our 501c3.  I had not been watching the news so I didn’t know that Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO by a police officer. We were the first organization of its kind in this country that could unite a police officer and an ex-felon to teach a message of peace. We knew that night that there was really something that WYSM had to offer and that is how we came to be.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: The biggest challenge has been funding. The grant process can be very frustrating. It is hard to measure the amount of change that your work is doing and grant funders want to see the measurement. When we first started the organization, I worked with my family to raise over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to fund this work. I did this because I care enough about this organization to try and grow this message.  The other challenge is scaling the organization. We can’t scale without the funding, those are two biggest challenges.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I have two fuel sources. The first one is the change that you see in the community members after they receive this training. We have a million amazing stories. One of them is about a young girl named Jasmine Simpson, she was placed in the foster care system for years and was dealing with some problems. Jasmine went to school two days in an entire semester and on the second day I had her in class teaching about positive outcomes to situations and in that messaging, I pulled her up on stage to re-enact a scenario to allow her to make some decisions. A few weeks later the school resource officer calls me and said you need to read what Jasmine wrote. She had submitted a poem in her English class that said, “I used to hate you but now I want to be just like you.”

The second fuel source is when we train police officers and talk about being kind for 2 minutes during every stop. Often times as police officers we don’t find time to be kind.  After a law enforcement presentation, I was approached by a Sergeant of 27 years and he told me, ” I just arrested someone a week ago and I vividly remember not saying a word to them. I remember them asking for air and to roll the window down, I remember them trying to talk about their problems but all I could tell them was to shut up. After your speakers came and spoke to us and asked us what it would be like if our own children were arrested and treated this way? How would we want our children to be treated by the police if they were arrested? He said to me after hundreds and hundreds of arrests I have never humanized one and I will never do that again after your training. More than that I will do my best to ensure that everyone I supervise in our department treats every person we arrest as a human being.” Those are the types of stories that fuel me to do the work that I do.

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

Jason Lehman: An individual is affected by our training when an organization brings us in. So a payday for me is when an organization wants to embrace the training. Whether it’s a school district, a police department or one of the county’s probation agencies., that is a payday for us. We want to change behavior and now we know we have an audience, a captive audience. We get on their level if we are talking to a group of prisoners we talk about their mind being free from the walls of a prison.

When I talk to police officers I talk to them about being kind to someone to make it easier for the next police officer that pulls someone over. They get that. Being able to see the organizations buy into the message and then being able to see the individuals shift, that’s when we know we are doing good stuff.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about some of the impact you have had at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: We are the only nationally endorsed program by the fraternal order of police. We have 380,000 police officers supporting our organization, we are the only organization in the state that’s been called the best practice organization by Senator Harris. Right now WYSM operates in 19 cities and five states.

More importantly, since we started doing this work that human beings see other human beings differently. When they see other human beings differently they have less opportunity to judge them for something they are not. We are now able to see more of the human being behind the condition in order to allow them to grow and thrive, the power happens when we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before. Our work teaches people to cooperate with the authority to achieve their greatness.

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

Jason Lehman: When starting WYSM I learned about myself. Back in 2008, I made a bad decision in my early years as a cop, that could have had me charged federally for excessive force. I am fortunate not to have been charged and having gone through this was horrible. In creating this movement and mission I have been able to hold myself to the highest accountability I can think of with WYSM. I am now in a position of leadership where I can model positive behavior for others and teach others to model behavior for those that come after them.

Charity Matters: If you had one wish for WYSM what would It be?

Jason Lehman: I have two wishes, one is for the community side and the other is for the police side. On the community side, I would like to replace the 7th grade home economics class with a class called, Cooperating with Authority to Achieve Greatness.

Police Officers take the lives of more approximately 1,000 community members each year is a big deal. Learning how to cooperate with the police and create safer contacts is more important than home economics.  I think the fact a police officer is dying in the line of duty once every 62 hours in this country is also too much.  Learning how to build safer police/community contacts is more important than learning to boil water. Police officers, our protectors, kill themselves at four times the level of a normal individual. If police/community conflict and violence were reduced, I believe we could reduce police trauma and ultimately see a reduction in police suicides.

On the flip side, I would like police officers to see value in what they typically view as hug a thug training. I hope that police officers see value in this training and that this training will spread across the entire country. Those would be my two wishes.

Charity Matters: Is there anything else you want to share about your work at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: I think one of the most valuable and important assets of this training is that my partner is somebody who is a college graduate, was 2016 Long Beach’s Hero of the Year beating out firefighters and police officers. This man whose name is Rodney Coulter spent 29 years of his life in prison or on parole or on probation. He has been arrested 39 times by the Long Beach Police Department and his cousin is the person whose life I took in that undercover drug deal. Rodney and I are best friends and we stand side by side in unity and team-teach. He is incredible. His line is, “I never thought a cop and a Crip could be best friends.”  Rodney teaches gang members why cops are good and I teach the police why people like Rodney are good. The power happens when together we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before.

Charity Matters

 

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We Lift You Up

A few months ago before the world went mad, and in the early weeks of COVID, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa McKenzie, the most extraordinary human. Lisa began her career as an events planner and entrepreneur. Life had a different plan for her. Lisa was running a company called Ooh La Bra when her life took a turn. Using all her gifts in business and event planning came this opportunity to make an enormous difference for women recovering from cancer. Lisa founded the We Lift You Up Fund with multiple programs to support women recovering from cancer. She is a true inspiration and a bright light in our crazy world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what We Lift You Up Foundation does?

Lisa McKenzie: We create empowering group experiences for women with cancer. For a lot of women, the scary part is when they are released from the care of their physicians and friends think they are “cured.” The survivor feels like she came back from a war zone and she is still in the trenches.

Their bodies might be totally mutilated, or their relationships are severed, and now they’re living with the constant fear of recurrence. And then, of course, just the damage it does to a lot of families financially,  just to the family structure itself, the kids are scared, and so, we are that part that picks up from that point. Doctors and hospitals will refer the patients to us because they don’t have time to deal with the emotional struggle, right? So if they’re sitting in a waiting room with a woman, and she starts expressing any kind of fallout, they’ll say, call We Lift You Up and so our organization is comprised of all survivors, and by the way, I’m not one.

Get acquainted with You Night from You Night Events, LLC on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Wow, that is so interesting. So What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  We Lift You Up?

Lisa McKenzie: My mom is a cancer survivor but actually I have two friends who were the catalyst for all of this. So I was watching these two women who were movers and shakers in society completely confident, you know, going along with their lives and often they both got cancer and they totally changed, their physique changed, their confidence changed. Meanwhile, though, I had just come out of two years of total darkness because my marriage crumbled, my husband had cheated on me. And I went from this peppy person, a leader, confident and happy, and then all of a sudden I was dealing with clinical depression.

 Over time little resources, like the book The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer started filling my mind with truth. I woke up one morning knowing that I didn’t want to feel miserable anymore. I had been a prisoner of my own mind and I began to find positive messages to retrain my mind and I began listening to podcasts and read books with positive messages

God still had a perfect story for me. I was running an accessory company and the tag line was, “We lift you up.” I wanted to do a runway show to model my product and I decided to use my friends who had had cancer and that was the beginning of You Night. After that first runway show, I approached the hospital and said I would love to gift this experience to cancer survivors. These survivors walked a runway in front of 500 people, their families, doctors, and nurses cheering them on. 

You’re like you’re cheering for these ladies, not because they have a pretty gown on or because their hair looks beautiful, right? They have fire in their eyes. That is like, you just you could feel it in the air. There’s so much energy coming from these ladies.  So it’s like a pay it forward program because in the audience are the women who are bald and defeated and thinking I’ll have whatever that runway model just had. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Lisa McKenzie: I’ve always wondered why can’t people collaborate who are doing good things? Why does this happen?  When you offer something for free in emotional support sometimes we can end up with more than we can handle. If we are doing the best work we can to serve humanity then why are we judged for our overhead as nonprofits? My motivation is so pure, why would people question your intentions?  These challenges became the catalyst to stay in my lane and stay the course.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The women. I have actually heard women say, “I’m glad I got cancer so I can join this organization.” Oh my God, because they have learned things about themselves that would have never been possible. And one of them who had stage four cancer said, “I wasn’t giving myself permission to smile anymore because I’ve labeled myself as a stage four cancer survivor. I thought that that’s like my death sentence and my black cloud.” Now she said, because of us now she can smile. We provide opportunities for people to find their smile again and say, yes, you do still have permission to enjoy life. 

My other inspiration are the children who come to see their mother’s walk the runway. So there was this little girl she was probably eight years old and her mom is a mom of four really who was really sick,  like 70 tumors, and struggling. But this little girl followed her mom the whole way down the stage, and then followed her mom back. When she went home that night, she got this box and scissors and fabric and her Barbies. Her mom’s said, “What are you doing?” She said,” I want to design gowns for Barbies that make them feel as beautiful as you looked on stage.” Oh my god, the stories.

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

Lisa McKenzie: I will tell you because there are endless stories of women’s lives we changed, like just to give you an example, a woman who calls and is suicidal and comes to the very first meeting and has her shoulders slumped and she’s got a chemo beanie on and she’s looking down at the ground. Then, slowly but surely you start seeing week after week and get together after get together, her posture changes. And then after she graduates, and after they get all this encouragement and attitude they want to go forward and be part of the organization. So I have 50 volunteer participant leaders who are all not on the payroll and are graduates of the program..

We sort of realized that our empowerment experience is a two year experience, the first year is giving them back their own self-esteem and their life and their attitude. And then pulling out you find out so many things about them like they’re amazing skills, and these are women are not defined by cancer.

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

Lisa McKenzie: Give people a literal platform. We have done 14 runway shows in seven years with two classes of fifty women a year. The show is a huge celebration. We show photos from their worst moments and the most painful pictures of their journey. The storytelling allows them to be real and the oncologist says they can tell the difference between women who have been through You Night vs those who have not.

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

Lisa McKenzie: To have a women’s conference, Tony Robbins style and fill a stadium with cancer survivors. Scaling to grow the You Night runway to raise awareness for emotional care in survivorship.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The first lesson is that I can leave a legacy for my daughter by showing her by example that you can use your talents and skills to help others. I can plant a seed of compassion in my children to carry on for generations.

The second lesson is that we live in one of the kindest worlds you can imagine. I can not believe how many really good people there are who want to help. I have never seen so much love and kindness back and forth between people. The love is the addiction. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Lisa McKenzie: I have learned to be more organic in how life unfolds. You can have a pity party and be at peace at the same time. I’m learning to let God unfold the story at his pace.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Hero Initiative

“A hero is brave in deeds as well as words.”

Aesop

There has been a lot of talk about heroes lately in the media.  A hero is defined as a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage, or strength. Another definition reads that ” A hero is someone who puts others before himself or herself. A hero has good moral ethics and is someone who does things for the sake of being good, and not just a means to an end, or a reward for good deeds, but it is someone who does good for the sake of doing good.” 

I have been interviewing heroes for almost a decade and I couldn’t agree more that real heroes put others before themselves and do good because it is the right thing to do. Heroes are not just cartoon characters but in some cases where life imitates art, you can find a real-life hero who supports those that create our modern-day Super Heroes. That is exactly who I found when I spoke with Jim McLauchlin, the founder of The Hero Initiative. A true Clark Kent who hides in plain sight to help all who needs him.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Hero Initiative does?

Jim McLauchlin: I usually tell people that Hero Initiative is an organization that helps comic book creators with medical and financial needs. You all know how it is with every new movie out there. It’s a billion dollars worth of worldwide box office. Right? That guy who was drawing Batman back in 1974, he doesn’t get anything from that work, and many of these people have now created what is a huge part of our cultural landscape. It’s everywhere, but the people who actually sat down and were the artisans and the craftspeople who did it, very often are not sharing in the sort of massive financial rewards. So, Hero Initiative helps them out when they have medical and financial needs. 

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

Jim McLauchlin: You know, I’ve kind of got a two-part story. I used to be a sportswriter, and when I was a sportswriter, Major League Baseball had an organization called BAT, the Baseball Assistance Team, and it was very much a parallel kind of organization to what Hero Initiative is now. Major League Baseball is smart enough to realize that back in the 70s, before free agency, most baseball players had to have a job during the winter to make ends meet. So, when I was a sportswriter,  I definitely liked and supported BAT a lot.  Later, I got into the comics business and I looked around and I asked a number of people, where’s this organization for comics creators? Everybody said, “Well, we don’t have one. ” And I’m like, well, why not? And everybody just said because nobody’s ever done one. 

So one day I was having a discussion with a guy by the name of Mark Alessi. . We would talk comics all the time, and I brought up the Baseball Assistance Team and I mentioned, there really should be something like this in comics. He said, “Well, you know, why don’t you do it? “I’m like, I don’t even know where the hell to start. He said, “How about if I get in touch with the lawyers? I’ll see what you’d have to do to start a charity. I’ll figure out what the groundwork would be, and when I see what needs to be done.”   This was 2000.

So, about three weeks after that conversation, I get a call from Mark and he says, “Hey, good news – you’re going to get a FedEx package tomorrow. Sign here, notarized here and congratulations you got a charity. ” I said, “Well that’s not what we talked about –you said you were going to have them find out what needed to be done. I was scared to death, but it also sort of felt like destiny calling. So, sure enough, I got the package. I signed here, I notarized there, I put together a provisional board of directors and we were off and running. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges? How do you know who to help?

Jim McLauchlin: The two most common things are somebody putting their own hand up when something happens. I’m three months behind on the rent,  I’m gonna get evicted tomorrow. Can you please help me? The other commonality is, we see people being prideful and don’t want to admit that they are in trouble. People don’t want to admit they’ve got problems. So equally frequent to that, we’ll get a call from Joe Blow, who will say hey, you really ought to check in on this dude over there. I think they’re really in a tough spot. Half the time it’s somebody putting their hand up going oh my god, I’m drowning, I need help, and half the time it’s someone saying hey, go take a look at Bob. He’s not drowning yet, but he’s pretty damn close. 

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

Jim McLauchlin: When the organization started back in 2000, you’ve kind of got your brand spanking new period and it’s difficult to grow. We were barely head above water for the first year or two of the organization. For me personally, it was stressful as hell. I had a full-time job and I was running Hero Initiative, on nights and weekends. I remember at one point, I’d spent 14 or 16 hours on a weekend just trying to catch up on everything. We were still keeping our heads barely above water.

After a year or two of this, and it being really stressful, I remember I was talking to Steve Gerber. Steve is well known in the comics business, and Steve had pulmonary fibrosis and he needed a total lung transplant. Steve lived in Las Vegas and I lived in LA, and the nearest lung transplant center was at UCLA. So Steve had to come in for some tests, I would very often just pick Steve up myself. A year or two later, with everything being so touch and go, with not enough hours in the day and me kind of going crazy, I remember walking the dogs with my wife and I said,” I think I’ve got to end this. This is too much. You know, I can’t do this. It’s like a horrible responsibility that’s too difficult.  We’ll give what’s left in the bank to first come first serve. My wife just stopped flat-footed. I turned around and looked at her and she had tears in her eyes. She said, “Well, what about Steve Gerber? “

You wait for the single human example, you know of a Steve Gerber who just needs you. But you know, very often I like to think that if there are 10 chapters in a book and we all wind up at the same place at the end of chapter 10, but at least we could make chapter 7, 8 and 9 a hell of a lot better for everybody.

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

Jim McLauchlin: I know when I hear people cry. I tell people, I hear grown men cry all the damn time, and it used to freak me out. It used to be highly uncomfortable for me. Somewhere within me, I had some weird feeling like what have I done? You know, how am I making this guy cry? I really realized that what that is, is a dam bursting. I think people have heard “no” for so long – people have heard “no I don’t have any work for you”,  “no your style is dated and you won’t sell”, “no I need the rent now”.

By the time we enter their lives, they hear “yes” for the first time in a long time they have heard – “Yes we’ll take care of your rent”, ” yes, we’re getting in touch with your doctor today”, “yes we will make sure and pay these medical bills so you can get in for your next treatment”, “yes, we actually found somebody with a job for you”. I think they have just heard so many no’s. It’s 10 or 20 or 50 in a row by the time they’ve heard the first yes. It’s an emotional, visceral reaction for them. The body just takes over and a dam bursts. I used to not like it when people did that. Now, it feels good. It took me to come along to the realization that this is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. 

 

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

Jim McLauchlin: I think the impact is people. I think it is the story and I think it’s every individual. Taking this to 40,000 feet, in the view from up top for just a minute, in a broad cultural sense, we’ve probably got a quarter of the country that is one paycheck from the street. Some people literally needed $500 at this instant in time, and their life was okay. It was that 500 bucks that literally just paid for some car repairs, so they can take care of the next thing, and then everything was set out. Some people need $57,000 because there are other situations. I try never to look at it in a monetary sense. I think it is people and their stories. I’ll give you one tiny instance, of one guy, his name is Tom Ziuko. Tom is the guy. He’s a colorist and he’s worked primarily at DC Comics in his career. I always tell people, he’s done everything from Scooby-Doo to Hellblazer. I mean, literally everything in there, he’s even done the superhero stuff. 

Tom’s got some chronic blood and circulation problems and when something would happen and all of a sudden he’s got some massive blood clot and he’s in the hospital, he’s on his back for 60 days and literally can’t work. You know, and we are there paying the rent, getting groceries, and taking care of business for him. When he gets through it all, he’s one of the guys who will call and cry. He says I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for you guys. He’s now said that multiple times.

So after a little while, we kind of had the genius idea that well we’ve got enough history with Tom now;  that we basically put Tom on a basic income program. Tom needs about a few hundred bucks a month to kind of make ends meet and keep things going on. He’s got a basic income and he doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about chasing the next deadline and chasing the next job. That has an amazingly beneficial mental health aspect. Since we started doing that, his flare-ups which would be some massive right heart blood pumping problem have pretty much gone away.

The story of Tom Ziuko is what I would put on a billboard. Again, I think it’s important in that it’s human impact. I think that we found a solution that not only makes our jobs easier and allows us to be more diffused through the population. The less time we’re spending on Tom, specifically, the more time there is to spend on other people. It’s also best for Tom at the same time. So it’s really a four-quadrant kind of thing. 

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

Jim McLauchlin:  One is don’t be afraid of people crying. The other is everything is best practices and everything is active measures. You cannot just sit back and expect the world to come to you– you’ve got to be active, you’ve got to be constantly working towards your goal. I think with best practices, you will get the occasional halo effect that pops out of nowhere. From time to time, we’ll go to the post office box and here’s a check from a foundation I’ve never even heard of, but we’ll have a letter saying, hey we heard about you, we looked into you, we saw what you guys do, we think you’re great and here’s five grand. It’s because of the other active measures that we’ve done. You can’t just hang out a shingle and expect everybody to show up. You need to be working towards your goal. You need to be showing what you do, talking about what you want to do, engage people, get them involved, get them motivated. It’s all forward movement constantly.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Hero Initiative, what would that be?

Jim McLauchlin: I would say, it needs to be more than the Hero Initiative. Baseball Assistance Team is there for baseball players, Hero Initiative is there for comic creators, there’s something for plumbers, there’s something for bakers and there’s something for everybody else. The fact that organizations like ours exist is ultimately a damn good thing for the people who need it. In a broad sense, we need to be better as a society. If we address this on a broader level, we will have a more robust, broad set of societal solutions. If we could somehow do things on a broader societal level, that would be better for everybody. I think maybe it’s kind of taking that Tom example and expanding it to society.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jim McLauchlin: I think it’s made me 11 years old again, in very many ways. What I mean by that is, I don’t know if it’s changed so much as it’s reinforced who I am or who I was when I was 11 years old. I’ve got a group of friends, a tight-knit group of friends, five or six guys, we would give each other a kidney tomorrow. We’ve been friends since we’re 11 years old. Where I come from is very much a working-class, Irish Catholic neighborhood. The sort of lessons that you learn, even by the time you’re 11, about helping your neighbor is important. I think that this has really taught me that everything I knew when I was 11 years old is true, and that’s the most important part. It is really at the core of me and probably at the core of you and probably at the core of anybody else. 

I think that the lessons you learned and the way you felt and what you knew was important when you were 11 years old, remains critically important and that you should stick to that. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Crossroads

If ever an organization’s name describes how we all feel right now, it is Crossroads. Every one of us is at a crossroad, we are not sure what our future holds? What is going to happen next? Which way to go? We have all been in lockdown, and while our homes certainly are not prisons it can feel that way at times. We all miss our lack of freedom and the mental toll that this pandemic has taken on us. Many of us are stressed, have financial uncertainty, and are not really sure what the world looks like when we “get out” of our shelter in place.

A month ago I had the privilege of talking to the Minerva Award winner, Sister Terry Dodge about her amazing work with women coming out of prison. I’m excited to share our incredible conversation and recently realized that perhaps we all have a clearer insight into the topic that maybe once felt foreign. Now more than ever we need modern-day heroes and inspiration like Sr. Terry. She is certainly that and so much more.

photo credit: MariaShriver.com

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

Sister Terry Dodge: We work with women who are coming out of prison. I say it all the time I work with women I don’t work with murderers or thieves, or prostitutes. I work with women. That is the basic premise and everything moves from that point forward. People who need another channel. People need to be able to change and believe people can change if they have the opportunity. A quote that the board has latched on to that I had coined,” we love the women until they’re able to love themselves.” And it really captures what we do.

When people are being their absolute worst, we continue to love them. And that’s what they find so hard. We’re tested with what we say and there’s nothing you can do that’s gonna get us to stop loving you.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to be a part of the work at Crossroads?

Sister Terry Dodge: As you know, my brother was in and out of jail in prison for pretty much the 12 years that I was teaching and in education, but I can remember very distinctly thinking it was during the summer of 1985 and we were at a beach down in San Clemente. I remember lying in bed and thinking, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where people could go where they were not judged on their past but looked at what they wanted to do, who they wanted to become?  A place that would listen to the hopes and the dreams because that’s what I wanted for my brother.

Charity Matters: When Did Crossroads start and how did you get involved?

Sister Terry Dodge: I came 15 years after Crossroads had started, in 1989. And I did not start it, it was started by a couple who had a dairy farm that was right next to the women’s prison in Corona. And they had four foster children as well as their own four children. One of the foster sons, his mother was in prison. And when she was released, they brought her to their dairy farm to live there and work until she was able to get on her feet. They did that for 10 years before Crossroads officially started.

Crossroads was just the one house on in Claremont on Harvard, six people. It was basically a group living home. It was basically sober living with supervision. And it was the best-kept secret in Claremont. What I did coming to a crossroads was I changed that mentality. If we want these women to reintegrate into the community, they need to be part of the community. And so I became, you know, visible in the community and talking about crossroads and bringing the women with me, and, you know, 30 years later we are so well-loved. It’s just amazing.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Sister Terry Dodge: There are still people who are, you know, not in my backyard, but that’s very few around here, but it still exists. I think the biggest challenge if we’re not talking about money, I think the biggest challenge is to change the idea of the stereotype that people have. And it’s, it’s easily done when you meet someone face to face. Right? You know, when you’re on even ground and you see this is a real person.

I often say, there’s an awful lot of really good fine people who are incarcerated. And that does not excuse the behavior or the actions that they took. But, you know, it could have been any one of us, given the circumstances being put in the exact same position, I’m not so sure I would make different choices. Right?

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work when the bucket is heavy and there is no one to pass it too?

Sister Terry Dodge: The women, all you have to do is sit down and talk to the women. That’s all I have to do. And I know why I get up the next morning and pick up the damn bucket.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: You know, I can think of a couple of different times where for example, the contracts that are put out for working with the formerly incarcerated by the Department of Corrections. There are elements in those contracts that are mandatory requirements by the Department of Corrections and one of the things is that the client must save 75% of earnings. That is a requirement as a part of the contract, right?  We have been doing that for years. That is our requirement that they took. Volunteering has always been a part of our program. That is now a requirement also. We know that we are a valued agency, by the way, our funders show us off.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: I measure impact with the graduates of our program. In August, we typically have a backyard barbecue for the graduates and the alumnus, and they love telling the women who are at Crossroads now stick with it. They share what they are doing and how their lives have changed.

Last August, Cheryl was there and she was one of the first lifers to be released. Wow. And that initial wave, and you know, she was just trying to put into words what, what her life is today, as opposed to when she was trying to get out of prison as someone with a life sentence. And she turns to me and she says, “You know what, Sister Terry, what you taught me so well? How to save money!”

Another woman comes by probably every 12 to 16 months because she’s a local person. But again she was talking about her boys are now grown in a college. I mean, and when their boys would come and visit, oh my gosh, they were so darling. But just how happy she is in life, you know, and continuing to work the responsibility that she has in her workplace. Just valuing life. So I don’t have to talk about impact. I just have to introduce the graduates.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: We are not 100% successful but we are over 90% successful. What makes sense for the next step is not expanding the primary program where we have 12 people, I don’t want to have more than 12 people, but I want transitional housing. To me, that’s the logical next step.

We would create a next step program for transitional housing for another six months anyway, while the women continue to save their money, where they’d be working somewhat independent, say maybe 75% independent, when they’re in the primary program there, it’s 100%. They’re dependent right now. We have found the women are successful, but it takes so long, it takes six years and the women are only with us for six months. So that is the next success.

I really see that as the long term dream. And it’s I’m more realistic about it now than I was when I first started dreaming about it because I’ve been dreaming about it all along, is the women themselves should be doing this for each other. There should be far more people doing this work who have been incarcerated and paying it forward. 

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

Sister Terry Dodge:  Change is inevitable. I mean look at where we are just today. Oh my god you know, I think that might be why I am good at this is because I don’t have a chance to get bored. There’s always something happening but the people that I’ve met over the years both women coming out of prison and the people associated with this kind of work. The people I’ve met as I’m trying to educate the community about this work, it’s just amazing.

I see the change in the women I see the change in the community and I see the change in myself.

charity matters: What change do you see in yourself?

Sister Terry Dodge: Hopefully I’m better today than I was three years ago. I’m more passionate. I’m more understanding and hopefully, I still have a few good ideas.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Becoming a good news editor

With daily headlines full of negative information daily and even more during the COVID pandemic, it can be overwhelming. People tell me all the time that they love reading Charity Matters because it lifts them up and there are so few resources for positive news. Almost a decade ago when I started writing I think that was true. Today there are a host of amazing messengers and messages about doing good, here is one of my new favorites.

We live in this world where we all think so carefully about what food we consume, is it organic? Can we put this into our bodies? I think we should all be asking ourselves those same questions about what content we put into our minds and what digital messages we consume, especially now. We need to be making sure that we are taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Becoming your own editor is part of that process to keep a positive attitude during uncertain times.

Think of every day when you go to your mailbox, you throw out the junk mail first, sort the bills and open the handwritten personal mail first. The same process happens every morning with your email, all of the ads, the spam the junk gets deleted, deleted, deleted. You edit it out. We all do this so well with mail but we don’t this with what we watch online or on television.

Report after report says to limit the amount of news you consume about COVID-19. Think of the nightly news as junk food, you should only have it in small doses. Personally, I use our DVR to record the news and most of our shows so I can filter out the ads as well. Again, filter what goes in and don’t fill your brain with junk, you can be an amazing editor.

I have been really trying hard to focus on positive news stories, like this sweet story of a daughter flying across the country on an empty plane to say goodbye to her dying mother. The flight crew made the flight extra special and this story, you can read here renewed my faith in human kindness. We are seeing so much goodness in the world right now, I think it is one of our jobs to mine for that goodness every day as we digest digital content. We are all working hard to stay safe and we need to work hard on keeping positive as well.

A recent article I read from Berekely’s Greater Good Science Center talked about when we take care of ourselves we actually help others in a multitude of ways. The article said,” These findings do suggest that taking care of our well-being need not be entirely a selfish pursuit, even now. We can all try to do so as individuals—by practicing keys to more sustained well-being, like gratitude, mindfulness, awe, and compassion—and try to build societies that promote wellness. And you can pretty much bet that by nurturing our well-being, we will be helping those around us to cope better with the coronavirus, contributing to a better world for all.”

That is the kind of good news we all need to hear right now.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Happy 50th Anniversary Earth Day!

“The Earth is what we all have in common.”

Wendell Berry

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. With hundreds of thousands of non-profit organizations, I have to admit I find myself focusing on people helping people and less on the environment. However, as the daughter of a recycler (my Dad was in the wastepaper recycling business for decades, starting in the 60s before there was an Earth Day) I have spent a lifetime being taught about the environment and ecology.

I must admit I was fascinated to learn that Earth Day began when Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin witnessed the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara and the subsequent protests that followed. Gaylord realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, he could force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment.”That first event was April 22nd, 1970.

That day over 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. That first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1990, twenty years later, Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, for his role as Earth Day founder. Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and historically over a billion people will volunteer each year, organize an event in their community, change a habit,  launch a community garden, reach out to elected representatives, do something nice for the Earth and make a difference.

This year Earth Day organizers are inviting us to sign up for virtual events around the globe. So if you don’t get a chance to do something great for our planet here are some ways to join in some virtual events. In addition, Earth Day organizers have a list here of eleven ways you can help the earth during a pandemic.

Some of these are simple ways we can make our lives and our planets healthier such as; plant a garden or begin to compost, cleaning out and giving away your things and take a real inventory of what you have and what you need to eliminate waste.

When we all come together, as we are seeing our planet do right now in historic ways, we can make an enormous impact.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Brave Gowns

 

COVID is certainly a word that I can’t wait to remove from my vocabulary. It has turned our planet upside down and literally stopped most of the world….with the exception of a few amazing people, one of them who I had the good fortune to talk to last week. Her name is Summer Germann and she is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit, business and most recently reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Brave Gowns does?

Summer Germann:  We manufacture hospital gowns for kids, these are not standard hospital gowns. Brave Gowns transform the spirit of a child and allow them to use their imaginations. We didn’t want to just do a tchotchke gown where we put a design on it, so we recreated an entire design that could access the patient’s entire body without having to move them.  I felt like just because you’re going through treatment doesn’t mean that you should lose like all modesty and pride, right? So teenage girls or women or even boys can stay covered while they access any part that is needed. So that was really important to me that we actually had a quality product that is made here in the United States.

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

Summer Germann: In 2002, I had lost my only sibling, my little brother, Mac who was 10 years old to two types of leukemia. I happen to be 15 years older than Mac and was 25,  when Mac went to heaven in 2002.  He was discharged the morning before Thanksgiving and he was to come home for Thanksgiving the next morning.

Mac was hooked up to a dialysis machine and had never asked my mom to come to lay in bed and hold his hand. He was 10 and all boy, and he said, “Can you hold my hand?” So she crawled in bed with him thinking, maybe it was good to get rest. And she woke up to the machine beeping and Mac in cardiac arrest.

 So honestly,  there are so many blessings in the story. We had a whole year where Mac was in the hospital and we really just had that year to spend with him. We catered to him, with what we didn’t know at the time was a bucket list. It was non stop. I spent that night before he died with him.  So if we had to lose him or for him to go,  it was just the most perfect way. How many people get to have that gift? 

I knew there’s no way I’m going to have this lesson in life and go back to  a “normal life.”  I knew I had to take this experience and do something with it. And it took a long time, it took 12 years, it wasn’t like I walked out of the hospital knowing what that was. I worked with my brother’s stem cell transplant team and his head nurse at the time when he was sick. 12 years had gone past and we created this ultimate gown in 2015.

Charity Matters: Explain what Happy Ditto is and how it is related to Brave Gowns?

Summer Germann: I started the nonprofit Happy Ditto (which is happiness doubled) first because I was so adamant about making sure this work was all done through a nonprofit. Happy Ditto is a nonprofit where people can buy or sponsor hospital brave gowns for children.  Then I got to a point where I had to turn it into a business as well because we were getting orders from hospitals that can’t purchase from nonprofits.   I just made sure all the bases were covered, as long as we get the gowns to the kids.

Charity Matters: How did you decide to get into the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for COVID?

Summer Germann:  Friday, March 13th  I called my designer and I knew we had to figure out a way to help. We had talked about making masks and families have asked us for years. I knew we could make them fun. I called my factory and told them what I wanted to do and they had already started a prototype three weeks before. I said you have to give me a product that I believe in and this isn’t about money. It was supposed to be retailed at $12. We brought it down to $9 and we incur the shipping to get into the hospitals    They sent over the prototype and I said, “Okay, I just launched.” By Monday we had 11,000 orders.

We are breaking even and not doing this for profit,  there probably will come a time where mask are the new norm and someone will be pursuing that but right now, someone will call and say,” I really am in a situation I need a mask.” Then I’m just overnighting it.  

Charity Matters: What is it like trying to keep up with the need and demand?

Summer Germann: We have shipped over 30,000 masks in less than two weeks.  We’re doing mask for the military at Camp Pendleton, for police precincts, I think we have sent to something like 177 precincts for New York. We’ve sent off to over 40 hospitals, we have a huge list.

And then we also have people purchasing masks in bulk and they’re sending them to hospitals with us. So they’re just been going in every direction every which way. And then we have another line that’s for individual orders. And I know everyone’s scared because I can tell you we’re getting 2800 emails a day. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Summer Germann: Staying true to exactly what our purpose is.  To be honest, I’ve received all of these offers to buy our company but they came with manufacturing in China.  I want the children in the best quality gown I can give them as fast as possible. All of our products are made on-demand, they’re never sitting on a shelf and never sitting in plastic. They are manufactured and within three to five days and on a child.  I just think it’s at a time where the kids are so sensitive and from infection, this is not the time to have gowns sitting for six months in a warehouse.

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

Summer Germann:  I think everyone behind the scenes is my grandma or in a family with a medically fragile child, like Mac, and they’re all scared, right? All we did was create a better product and we’re sending them out there. We’re doing the best we can in the midst of this truth. We have three shifts going and opened the second factory. I saw a news story last night that said that the BraveGowns are slowing down the Coronavirus. That people think that, well that’s wonderful. I never even thought about our work like that.  I just feel like I’m just giving people a piece of comfort.  

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

Summer Germann:  I really don’t. I feel like we’re just getting started five years in. I said recently,” I finally see the beginning.” I tried to explain it to someone the other day that is not in business. And I said, “I feel like we’re in the middle of building a house. And all I see is I’m standing in a kitchen that’s just gutted and chaos all around me.”  

The first two weeks of the 2800 emails and I was like, oh my god this isn’t working. I was still like, I’m still trying to stop and make dinner and do dishes like you know, like still just normal.  I think that article yesterday would be the first time where I actually thought wow,  people are believing in me a lot more than I see what I’m actually doing.

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

Summer Germann:  I know it’s bigger than me. And it’s time for me to be a really great ambassador for it and say goodbye.  I think there’s so much potential for Brave Gowns to be the new norm, it deserves to be the new norm.  I think it’s time for me to be the voice of Brave Gowns and show up where I need to, but let someone else run the show.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Summer Germann: I haven’t changed I think in that’s what was really important to me, I really haven’t changed and  I would still give the shirt off my back for anyone. I am still the person that walks in the post office and says something to make everyone laugh.  I think my story is about just believing in yourself and knowing that you could do life differently, right?

It was not easy and but I stayed true to exactly what we started and who we wanted to be. And I think that’s really what this is all about. I hope that someday my whole story shows that you don’t have to do it a nine to five in a cubicle. You can take the risk you know,  there’s so much more in life than just being okay and surviving. Go live. Right? And I think that’s what the whole thing.

There are so many times where my family only had faith. Faith was all we had. I don’t go to church. I just know that I’ve always had this in me.  It’s not like I believe in God, so everything worked out. But I believe that everything that I went through and every hard moment, he had a greater purpose. 

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

Summer Germann:  I can see so many lessons where I shot myself in the foot. I think just knowing your way. It’s like it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. Right?  I’m just saying to the woman that has this vision and dream. It doesn’t matter where or what’s behind you, we are in a world of opportunity. Everything is so untraditional right now, tech companies are going back to hiring people without a college degree because they need people that think outside the box. Just always know your worth.

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

Summer Germann: We have given over 450,000 Brave Gowns in 387  children’s hospitals in seven countries.  I spent five years not building a business, I built relationships with people. I built trust. Someone will text me and say,” Is this really Summer?” Yes, this is really Summer. I got a call from a nurse in Florida who has COVID her husband’s deployed. Her parents are in Texas. And she’s like, I just have no one to talk to you right now and she talked to me. And this was two days ago, that’s exactly why I’m here.

 Those are the moments that I think are worth it. At the end of my life, I hope to God people really know that I cared. It wasn’t about like yes, I have this wonderful life now. It’s just the blessing of just being there for people.  The impact is to think that I’ve brightened up inside the hospital walls and that the kids are in superheroes and princess costumes and that’s miraculous, right?  But I also know there are 3.4 million children in the hospitals and I’ve only gotten 450,000 gowns out there.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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It’s the little things….

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Mother Teresa

Decades ago when my husband asked my dad for my hand in marriage, my father in giving his blessing offered a piece of advice to his then future son-in-law. My dad said, “ Just remember it’s the little things that count.” While it is a phrase we often hear it is rarely one that we see in our daily lives…. until recently.

All across our country, people are doing the little things that count. People are calling old friends and reconnecting.  They are making and donating masks for our hospital workers. People are doing things as little as saying thank you and expressing gratitude to our grocery store clerks for being the heroes they are.

Musicians and people at home all over the globe are making music on youtube to lift our spirits, it may seem little to them but it is powerful for all of us.

The world clapped from balconies all over Europe in gratitude for health care workers on the front lines.

Companies like Estee Lauder are making hand sanitizer instead of makeup and car companies making ventilators. Construction companies donating their masks.

We see neighbors who are helping neighbors with things like groceries. Even nonprofit organizations are being created, like Invisible Hands, to meet the needs of the homebound elderly by providing grocery shopping for seniors in New York City. We see our neighbors picking fruit from their trees to give out.  And even in our own homes, people are coming together to help one another. Two weeks ago if my son made his bed I would be shocked but this past week he has done it because he knows how happy something so little makes me.

The other day I received a surprise care package of toilet paper and bleach wipes, the ultimate gift from my co-worker. Something so little meant so much. We all now look back on our lives a few weeks ago and miss the little things like shaking someone’s hand, going out for a meal, seeing our friends and co-workers, and simply being with other people….all little things that we took for granted just fifteen days ago.

While I know so many of us feel helpless and out of control, the one thing we can do is to remember it’s the little things that count. As you move forward this week think about a little thing you can do to brighten someone’s day. I truly believe when we look back at this chapter on our lives, we will see all of the good that came out of this moment and treasure all those little things….

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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A little kindness goes a long way

 

“Gentleness and kindness will make our homes a paradise upon earth.”
C. A. Bartol

Last week the world went a little crazy. This week we are all taking a breath, a pause and most of us are working from home. Schools are closed and we are self quarantined and wondering what do we do now? I think the answer is simply to be kind.  Every act of kindness creates a ripple effect.

I witnessed the most beautiful act of kindness yesterday when going to the grocery store. I arrived 45 minutes before the store opened, on accident. The first person in line was a homeless man, the second person was Tom who owns a local restaurant and I was the third in line. The homeless man and Tom told me to stay because the line would grow. The first act of kindness. It was cold and started to rain.  Tom, the next in line, gave us purell wipes for our carts from his car. Kindness act number two. I gave the homeless man the $10 in my pocket, he thanked me so kindly and sincerely and asked if I was sure. I said I wish I had more. I then asked the man behind me to come out of the rain and moved the line-up and he then gave his umbrella to the man behind him, kindness number five, and the kindness just kept happening. It overwhelmed me and made me cry to see such kindness and compassion.

There are so many ways to be kind and it just feels good to help one another, especially in times like this. So to keep this ripple effect going I thought I would share a few suggestions to help in ways little and big. Every little gesture moves us all forward in a better place.

First and foremost charity starts at home. So make sure that you and your family have everything they need for the next couple of weeks. Make sure you are stocked up on supplies and staying home.

After you have taken care of yourself and your family, call and check on your elderly neighbors. See if you can leave anything at their doors or have a meal delivered. Post-mates, Door Dash or Grub Hub can easily do this. In addition, ordering from these sites also supports local restaurants and small businesses that need our support right now, so ordering a meal for a neighbor is a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of small businesses another small way to help is to buy gift certificates from your favorite hair salons or local businesses. This way you help them with cash flow now and have something to look forward in the near future. A small gesture that can go along way.

There are so many people that have been homebound long before the coronavirus and incredible organizations like Project Angel Food have been bringing meals to the sick and elderly. Project Angel Food has been busy trying to prepare additional meals and could use volunteers and donations. On a national level Meals on Wheels is doing the same thing and any donation helps those who can not get out or prepare their own meals, visit their website to find out how to support your local chapter. If you aren’t going out to dinner maybe donating a dinner for someone who needs it will make you feel just as great?

Most schools have now closed or are closing soon, nearly 22 million students receive their only meal of the day at school. No Kid Hungry is determined to help these children through the current crisis. By supporting No Kid Hungry you helping a hungry child here in the United States.

As our elderly and children are the most vulnerable populations during this crisis finding ways to support those in need is important. Save the Children is an organization that has been working with the World Health Organization and around the globe to work with young children around the world. Last year Save the Children helped 134 million children in over 120 countries. In the United States, more than 14 million children, or 1 in 5, grow up in poverty. Save the Children helps children around the globe affected by poverty, famine, and disease.

So, remember that charity starts at home. Start with your own family, then your neighborhood, local community hospital or food bank and then look to the national and global organizations. We are all in this together and every little bit of kindness, compassion, and generosity makes an enormous difference. We will get through this together.

Charity Matters

 

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Uncertainty is a beach

“Life is an exercise in living with the certainty of uncertainty.”

Jason Kilar

As I mentioned last week, I took a little break and vacation, some time to unplug and regroup. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a week on an island would literally feel like an alternate universe. Honestly, in hindsight, it was the perfect time to get away. Who knew that the world would turn upside down in the blink of an eye?

On the last morning of vacation, I had the most glorious walk on a stunningly beautiful beach. A few hours later, on our return home, we were on an empty flight arriving at an empty airport and a whole new world full of uncertainty.  Back in rainy LA without a soul in sight at one of the world’s busiest airports, it was eerie how empty the terminal was with literally a handful of people in sight.

The change was sudden and swift which is usually the way change works. Change doesn’t do slow. Change requires an abrupt disruption to daily life. More than that change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings fear. We are all human and we all experience fear during times of uncertainty, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. You rarely get one without the other. The uncertainty and fear were palpable.

I felt like we were in a different place, it didn’t feel like home. It felt scary and uncertain. I went to the store first thing because we had been out of town and loaded up on groceries because the boys were coming home and the news fed my uncertainty. Within an hour of getting home from the market, videos were popping up showing empty store shelves. The fear and uncertainty were already spreading faster than the virus. So now what?

That is the whole point of uncertainty is that we do not know. That is what life is. Life is full of not knowing. We do not know what comes next.  Life is about taking the moment and making the best of it. So that is exactly what we are doing. The family is home, waiting on one, all working remotely, cooking together, watching movies at night and making the best of our time together. I’m choosing to move past fear, manage uncertainty and simply enjoy the present.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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

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A little R & R

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Anonymous

For almost a decade, I have written weekly for Charity Matters. Sharing the stories of the remarkable humans, who make our world better, is truly my passion and brings me such joy. Each of you has become a part of this growing community of people who crave goodness and positivity. When I meet you and discover the causes that you are supporting because of one of our stories or your volunteer efforts because of something you read here, it is the ultimate gift. Honestly, nothing brings me more joy than inspiring others to serve.

Sometimes, the challenge in being both a messenger of service and in running a nonprofit full-time is getting the stories out week after week. So this next week I am taking a little pause and vacation, something Charity Matters rarely does. A moment to catch my breath, refill the tank and to think about some next steps for this platform and community that I love.

So, if we miss a week know that we will be back ready to inspire you after a little spring break, sunshine, sea and sand. Thank you for continuing to spread the word about our work and making the world a better place.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

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

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Duet

Duet Team

A few weeks ago I had lunch with Abby Mandell, the Executive Director of USC Marshall School’s Social Enterprise Lab. It is a remarkable undergraduate and graduate program that challenges today’s brightest students to come up with innovative solutions that solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges. Abby told me about some of the inspirational ideas her students have accomplished and one of them resulted in the creation of a nonprofit organization called Duet.

Stephanie Van Sickel in Lesvos, Greece

A team of six students in a USC Viterbi School of Engineering course took on an assignment of how to use human-centered design to create a system or a product around understanding the refugee crisis between Syria and Europe, with the goal to help alleviate at least one facet of the very complex issues facing refugees. Last week I connected with two of the team Co-Founder Michael Cesar and the head of Business Development, Stephanie Van Sickel to learn more about what these incredible students have achieved and where they are going with Duet.

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

Michael Cesar: Through a class at USC, as a group of students we tried to create a new system of giving to tackles some of the older problems that have existed in philanthropy for awhile. We have created a new way of giving that is more transparent and more efficient. We did this to help Syrian refugees settling in Greece. We help rebuild their lives by giving them access to some of the key things that we all use every day such as basic necessities to things like a soccer ball that make you feel like yourself. We help them at the moment of resettlement to try to elevate them to a higher role of living.

Stephanie Van Sickel: All these people want to help and there are all these great organizations that let people help. The old model is the money goes to the organization and then items that people need are being shipped overseas or people donate on items that they assume are needed.

We are shifting that model by putting the power in the hands of the recipient. We enable refugees to go to the local store and decide what they need. When a donor decides they want to buy someone in our system diapers for example. The recipient goes to their local store and uses their duet credit to “purchase” the diaper size their child needs and as a result, they help the local economy and store owner’s business. There are two impacts here, it is not just for the refugees it is for the local community and economy.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how this class at USC works?

Stephanie Van Sickel: The class is about human-centered design and innovation in engineering for global grant challenges. It is an interdisciplinary course so graduate and undergraduate students and for a full year you are broken up into teams to find solutions to improve the lives of refugees. The class is partnered with the refugee camps and those situated outside the camps in Leptos, Greece.

Duet founders Rhys Richmond and Michael Cesar

Charity Matters: When you started this class did you think you were going to start a nonprofit?

Michael Cesar: No, initially but very quickly yes. We started believing quite early on that this was a real possibility. When I initially signed up for the class I thought I was going to probably drop it within the first few weeks.

Stephanie Van Sickel: I think we fell in love with the problem, not necessarily the solution. Then when you realize that you have the possibility to actually make a difference, you have to keep going forward.

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

Michael Cesar: The first realization was when we visited the camps for the first time and quickly realized the inefficiency of current aid. We saw so much waste, we saw donations that came that didn’t fit or coats coming in the summer, we saw tons of toys donated but no one had underwear or children’s books in the wrong language. We were so frustrated because the outpouring of love was real and yet it wasn’t being funneled the correct way.

We saw the pain of the people being handed things. These refugees have been stripped of the choices they make from the clothes they are wearing, which were not their own and the lack of autonomy over their lives. We walked into a few local stores and asked if they would be interested in a system where refugees could shop and be a part of a new system of support for the refugees and the store owners were excited to be able to help and be a part of a solution.

Stephanie Van Sickel: We realized pretty quickly that locals were wary of nonprofits because since the refugee crisis began in 2015 so many organizations came and left. The store owners were trying to sell a good and then a nonprofit would come in with a million pieces of that item for refugees and the store owner couldn’t survive. So these store owners were cautious initially in trusting us but when we said that we wanted to work with them and the stores are a critical piece of the solution they were excited to partner with us.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Stephanie Van Sickel: We are asking people to look at philanthropy differently as opposed to an organization that tells you what you need. In this case, the refugees know best what they need and it is a shift as to how people look at giving and philanthropy. The refugee crisis is a big complicated issue so getting people to the starting line to understand what we do and why we do it and then going from there. We may feel small but we think big at Duet. Duet can really help people who are being rehoused or rehomed in many different opportunities whether it is because of a fire or coming out of homelessness, there are a lot of different opportunities to use the model we have built.

Michael Cesar: We are trying to focus on the way people think about giving. The challenge comes in shifting the power dynamic from the old model where the donor is the hero. To the new model where the donor is the supporter. It is a shift in belief systems.

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

Stephanie Van Sickel: For me, this is what I have decided to dedicate my life too. It’s why I came to get my MBA. This has been the work I have wanted to be in my entire life. Now knowing the faces on the other side and seeing the true impact of what we are doing. So now when its 1 am and I have one more thing to do, you just push through. This is bigger than you and that’s what helps to drive you.

Michael Cesar:  For me, I really, really want to fix the problem. I’m quite stubborn as a person. The idea that there is a problem that we have all seen that exists, that it could be fixed and that could radically change the way that love, generosity, and kindness is shared around the world, is sort of infuriating to me. The idea of chipping away at the roadblock is what I have become obsessed with. To let the kindness and humanity come out and to let people engage and remove the roadblock has been such a wonderful problem to try and fix.

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

Stephanie Van Sickel: I went back to Greece this past fall to meet with everyone and see how things were going, especially with our store partners. The stores said that the families thank us so much even though we are only part of this, someone else donated the diapers that they got to pick up from our store but we get thanked. The stores asked if we could have the duet families’ names and we asked why. They said that these Duet families who come in to get their things become friends and we would love to be able to make them feel more welcome when we see them by knowing their names. We didn’t set out to integrate the community but to see the shift in the way these two groups are referring to each other as neighbors and friends was so inspiring.

Michael Cesar: When a refugee picks up an item that has been donated at their local store we ask for a photo confirmation to make sure that our donors know that the item they paid for was received by the person they intended it for. What has been unexpected is that when the refugee is taking their picture to confirm they received the item, they ask that we send along with their photo with a thank you message to the donor who bought this item for them. It has been so touching and unexpected. 

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

Stephanie Van Sickel: We like breaking our impact up into different buckets. We say that we have had 320 items put into the lives of refugees to rebuild their lives. Beyond that, we have moved $10,000 of direct profit into small family-owned businesses in towns impacted by the refugee crisis. We have almost 150 unique donors from all over the world.

Michael Cesar:  I think we have one story that best explains what happens when you let people maximize what they receive by letting them choose you can change their lives. We had one guy who was a single father and he only requested diapers for a very long time. We told him he could ask for other items and finally, months later he requested a $400 laptop, which was the highest request we had ever received. We asked why and he explained that he had 200,000 youtube followers in his homeland who watched his phone repair videos and if he could get a laptop he would be able to be paid again by youtube and could support his family. One of our donors bought him his laptop and he is now becoming self-sufficient caring for his child.

This is a group of talented resourceful hard working people and if you give them the basic tools they will succeed beyond your expectations.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Duet what would that be?

Michael Cesar: I would love the moment where thirty other organizations have adopted our model and the world has moved to this new way of giving. We don’t decide what people need and the receiver does. I would love if this went into other organizations, new nonprofits, even the United Nations could adopt this new mentality. I would love for this app to be something that makes us think about how we are treating those who we are trying to help.

Stephanie Van Sickel: I would like to see Duet grow and become a new philanthropic model being used all over the world and shifting the way people look at philanthropy.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Michael Cesar: My emotions are much closer to the surface now. 

Stephanie Van Sickel: Growing up I thought I wanted to be close to these issues. I got into development because I wanted to make an impact larger than myself. If I couldn’t give a million dollars at least I could raise it to make the impact and move the needle. Duet has opened up my eyes that I want to be closer to the problem and more boots on the ground to continue to make more of a human impact.

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

Stephanie Van Sickel: Being such a small team we realize that if we are not asking on social media the giving comes to a complete stop. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.

Michael Cesar: Dignity isn’t something you can never take away from someone. Everybody has it and it is far more important than I previously thought. You treat people with dignity and you respect the dignity that other people have. I have also learned the difference I can make in other people’s lives. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

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