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Melanoma, looking twice

Summer is in full swing and that means the sun is strong. I was recently at the dermatologist getting checked out. My visit reminded me of this conversation a couple years back. So I thought I would re-share it again today for all you sun lovers.

Growing up in LA, Marianne Banister was a familiar face on daily on our local ABC news station. She was always reporting from a storm, a flood, a fire…some sort of disaster. When a friend suggested that I reach out to interview Marianne, who now lives in Baltimore, I was a bit intimidated. Marianne and her husband lost their 17-year-old daughter Claire to melanoma.

Their family was determined to fulfill  Claire’s vision to provide clarity and hope in the fight against adolescent and young adult melanoma through their work at the Claire Marie Foundation. They are on a mission to ensure awareness, education, and prevention of cancer that has increased 250% in the last forty years.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what THE Claire Marie Foundation does?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: When this happened to our family, to our daughter, Claire, we were blindsided. The medical profession did not realize kids could get melanoma at this age. It looked different than adult melanoma and it was more aggressive and more invasive. According to pediatricians, melanoma is the number two, cancer in adolescence from 10 to 19 and the number one cancer in young adults from 20 to 29. This cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in young women 25 to 30. For young people, this disease is more aggressive and invasive than in older people.

We’re the only nonprofit in the country that focuses on preventing melanoma specifically in adolescents and young adults. We are not trying to treat it and we’re not doing research to find an answer to find the new drug or the therapy. Nobody’s helping to prevent it and that’s our job.

CMF Five Year Retrospective 2019 from Claire Marie Foundation on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Can you tell us what the risk factors of Melanoma are?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  If you wear sunscreen, if you wear up 50 SPF clothing,  if you don’t go to a tanning booth and if you advocate for yourself. That’s it, then you’re good. I want to add empower yourself to advocate and get at the front of it. Our whole goal is to get people in and connect them with a dermatologist. If you don’t already have a patient relationship with a dermatologist, it can take three to five months to get your first appointment. 

Charity Matters: Can you share some of Claire’s Journey?

Marianne Banister WagonhurstClaire got a routine skin exam at 13.  Every year we had them checked and had no history in the family. We had lived in Southern California and being a reporter I was aware of it. We went back six months later for her yearly exam. About a week before that the mole on her ankle that she was born with started to change. However, it didn’t look like what we’re educated to look at for melanoma. It wasn’t thick, it wasn’t dark. The borders were not irregular, none of that it just looked a little dusty gray in color. Unfortunately, it was a melanoma. 

About her junior year when we thought we were well past Claire said, “Mom, why do you think this happened to us?” I said, “Maybe being who you are because you’re so positive and energized. And being what I do professionally, you know, maybe we can do this together when you’re ready?” Claire said, “Yeah, when I’m a senior, then it won’t matter. And I can advocate.”  

She still was not quite there yet wanting to share her story. So we knew down the road, that’s what she would want to do. The bottom line is I just couldn’t sit here with this information and not warn other parents. If someone had raised the flag of awareness before us, then maybe she’d still be here.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  We started with community support and  launched in October 2014.   Claire’s friends from her school wanted to help and do something.  One of her best buddies since childhood called me and said,” Hey, Miss Marion, do you have a logo?”  I was like, Why? I mean, we knew we were going to do something, but we are just trying to get through the grief and to deal with things.

Claire’s friends did this dance a THON and raised $24,000 called Moves for Claire. I didn’t know how many people my daughter knew.  There were 500 kids there and they had sponsorships. We realized they’re listening and paying attention now, so we need to take advantage of this. If we wanted to do this in her memory, we had to do it quickly. Her friends have been our biggest force.

So because of them we then went forward. We have collegiate ambassadors, who started the program.  They were in the high school class of 2015 and the college class of 2019. Almost one hundred of them are now  on 46 campuses. Each of them are doing peer to peer education, mentoring and awareness programs.

My husband cycled 620 miles to symbolically take her to college. Claire was accepted to college just a couple of days before she passed. So she got accepted to Georgia, Southern University, Alabama. So he cycled from Charleston to Georgia Southern into Bama. We did this big media raising campaign and because it was a football game that she promised her dad he could go with her. It was a way of him to process it and honor her. In addition, it was a way for us to raise awareness. 

The kids came up with a lot of these ideas. Today, we have partnerships with US lacrosse and we work with the Melanoma Research Foundation. Our organization has been to Capitol Hill to campaign for funding and support for research. We are developing a partnership with Teen Cancer America. If a young person is going through cancer, guess what that puts them at elevated risk for melanoma.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  Claire. There’s never anything that’s going to make it right that we lost her. There’s never any sense to it. But I truly believe this is her purpose. If I don’t keep this foundation going and do the work that needs to be done, then I’m not fulfilling her purpose.  That means we would have lost her for no reason.

She has changed lives and she has saved lives. We have had a number of young people who have found melanomas early and they always tell me,” You know, I thought of Claire, and I went and got it checked and it was a melanoma.”

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: My husband always says if we save one kid, we’ve done our work. We’ve done that many times over. I think what I’m most proud of is we’re changing the narrative.  Because of us, many organizations are now creating a Young Adult adolescent melanoma focus.  In six years, we’re starting conversations, and making people understand that it’s just not a matter of putting on sunscreen, and calling it a day.  It’s elevating the importance and value that young people are getting this disease to the rate they are and that it is not rare.

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst:  The dream would be that every young person from two-years-old on should incorporate full-body dermoscopy-based skin screenings every year, as part of their WellCare. When they go to their pediatrician and their eye doctor and their dentist, they see the dermatologist, they get checked, that becomes part of their routine.

 We just don’t want anybody else to go through what we did, because it’s so darn preventable. When you think about it, melanoma is one of the cancers that you have the best odds of seen visually externally on your body. A screening takes 10 minutes.  You don’t have to drink anything, don’t have to get an MRI and you don’t have to get a CAT scan. All you need is 10 minutes with a dermatologist with a scope. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: I think one of the changes that surprised me is you get a different identity. You realize that you cannot go back to life as it was because it’s no longer there. So you have to recreate yourself. I’m in a different world.  So I’ve expanded the people in my life.

 I’ve had a lot of loss in my life.  I’ve always lived my life as you have to thoroughly embrace it each day as it is. My faith is stronger than ever because I know she’s fine. I know she’s okay. 

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: We’ve been asked this by other parents often how we dealt with the grief. We just had to dig down to this just horrendous feeling and we had to feel but then able to come out the other side. And it seems like to me that at some point of grief you have to process this pain. I think for me because I always remembered that conversation we had about Claire helping others, I know she would be proud of this.  

It’s not that you ever want this to happen, but if it does, to know that something has been inspired by her in a positive way. That’s what we look at.  Our daughter is having a great impact because of what we’re doing and that’s the best we can do for those we love.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Voluntourism in 2022

It’s summertime and with that means travel and family trips. It seems that summer gets shorter every year and that means a very small windows for travel. I’m not letting that slow me down but rather am already beginning to plan for next year.

Our youngest will be graduating from college and it seems like the perfect time for a family trip that involves voluntourism or volunteering and travel. Since I have begun my research I thought I would share it with you. My first stop was a web-site chock full of information called Voluntourism.Org where you can learn about hundreds of opportunities and how to plan your trip.

Pre-planning check list:

A few things to keep in mind in the planning stages of your trip.

1. Do your homework

2. Ask yourself and your family what do you really want to achieve from this experience? Help others? Bond with your family? Get into a great college?

3. Choose a reputable organization to partner with

4. Involve your family in all the pre-planning process.

5. Document the experience with video, photos and journals.

There are thousands of online sources promising you and your family amazing experiences but finding reputable ones can be overwhelming. Here are a few volunteer programs that had some great endorsements:

Volunteer Programs to consider:

1. Global Volunteer Network

2. Cross Cultural Solutions

3. Rebuilding Together U.S. based program that builds homes across the country

4.  Pack for a Purpose

5.  Peace Jam

6.  Projects Abroad

There are also organizations that would love to have you visit learn about their mission, and volunteer to help further a given cause.  The downside is that you will have to do the investigation yourself by reaching out to organizations individually.  This can be a daunting task and challenging from a booking perspective. It can also be rewarding if you have a charity, organization, or cause you want to devote your time and efforts too.

Ecotourism is incredibly popular so if you are looking for a trip that involves working to save the planet or a species here are a few suggestions:

Ideas for Ecotourism travel:

1.  GoNomad

2.  Transitions Abroad

3.  GoAbroad 

4.  GoVoluntouring

5.  GoEco.org

So whether you go now or next year, travel near or far….know that your time is your greatest gift. Think about sharing that precious resource with your family in helping another. Those are the moments that make an impact on all involved.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Happy 11th Birthday Charity Matters!

It seems like yesterday…..over eleven years ago I had a dream. A dream to tell the story of my heroes, remarkable people who take their pain and turn it into incredible organizations making a difference for others by creating non-profits. That dream became Charity Matters.

Like most dreams it wasn’t crystal clear where it would lead or why it appeared. This dream was loud and clear that this was what I was supposed to do. So, the journey began. Like all journeys, there have been challenges along the way, most of them technology based. Facing fears head on is what founders do. While technology and I are certainly not a dynamic duo, we are getting along much better these days.

From the hundreds of  heroes we have met here there have been so many life lessons.  I have learned the power of love, kindness, tenacity, passion, commitment and sacrifice. Every story shared about these remarkable humans has the same common denominator and each time I am inspired all over again.

Most importantly, you have been my greatest teachers.  I am humbled by your dedication, thrilled when you suggest a favorite cause and always so touched to know that you are here on this journey and for that I am so grateful.

Birthdays are for celebrating and I am happy to continue celebrating Charity Matters birthdays  with you. So thank you for all the gifts you have given us. Receiving our weekly emails, subscribing to our podcast, leaving podcast reviews, sharing a post that touched you with friends or just telling me what action you have taken to make Charity Matter in your life. You are all remarkable and each life you touch through kindness matters.

Thank you for touching mine so profoundly.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

 

 

Where are the heroes?

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

When I was growing up heroes were everywhere. All our movies had heroes whether they were cowboys, astronauts, war heroes or Superheroes. Our television shows were full of people doing good. The TV shows were families that were working it out whether The Brady Bunch, The Cosbys or Roseann. Even those family shows depicted parents as heroes helping their families overcome. Even sitcoms like Cheers where people supported one another at the local watering hole, the bartender was somehow the hero. Our athletes were heroes for overcoming obstacles and showing us all what happens when you perservere. Where are the heroes today?

Where are the people doing good anywhere in the media? The only place I see any good, and its not much,  is the last five minutes of the Nightly News, if I can even stomach the news. Whether the media is showing the heroes or not, I refuse to believe they went away. I actually know for a fact they didn’t because I interview them each week. Real Heroes.

What is a real hero? A real hero is someone who overcomes adversity and then decides to help others do the same. That is what every single person I have ever had the privilege of interviewing does. Real heroes are in front of us everyday as doctors, nurses, firefighters, policemen and women, teachers, parents and yes, even nonprofit founders.

When I heard last week that the new Top Gun film (which I have not seen yet) was a box office smash, I knew it was because of the hero. We love them for so many reasons. Maybe, its nice to think of being rescued from time to time but I don’t think that’s the real reason we love them. I think we love them because they sacrifice for others and ultimately they show us who we can be. Heroes are good and we always want the good guys to win. I hope Tom Cruise brings back the heroes in our films.

Until then, Charity Matters will keep bringing you stories of everyday heroes. I challenge you all to continue to look for the heroes all around you because they are there, helping, sacrificing, doing good and showing all of us who we can be.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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.

Time for a little break…

Memorial Day has come and gone, college graduations are wrapped up and schools are just a couple weeks from summer. So it seems that it might be time for a little break. Our amazing Charity Matters team (Emma, Jack , Ana Sofia and Vinny) have worked tirelessly all year to help bring these stories to you. Everyone, even the hardest working students around need a little respite. For me, while running a nonprofit with a huge summer program is hardly relaxing, it does require my full attention.

So for the next couple weeks we are going to be looking back at this incredible season of interviews. We met remarkable people this past season who truly showed us each week how amazing Americans are. The news may tell us one thing but the fact remains that there are so many kind compassionate humans and it is our pleasure to introduce you to them.

Thank you in advance for joining us each week for these inspirational conversations. It is hard to believe that we already have three seasons of the podcast in the books. We can’t wait to look back at some of this seasons conversations and we are getting excited for Season 4.

We continue to be grateful for this community and for your incredible support.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 42: Greenline Housing Foundation

I love to learn and I love to meet new people who teach me. Most especially, I love to learn from risk takers who take on some of society’s biggest challenges head on and look for a solution. This week’s guest is a perfect example. Jasmin Shupper, the founder of Greenline Housing Foundation is a dynamo and a woman on a mission to combat the age old practice of redlining. Her mission is to offer financial assistance and continued support to people of color who wish to be homeowners.

Join us today for an informative conversation about redlining, if long term effects and what Jasmin and her nonprofit are doing to create lasting change.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Greenline Housing Foundation does?

Jasmin Shupper:  Greenline Housing Foundation gives grants to qualified people of color to purchase a home. Specifically for the purpose of reversing the effects of systemic racism and housing, through practices like redlining, blockbusting and steering. We facilitate access to homeownership for people of color who were previously very intentionally and legally prevented from from homeownership. We strive to really close that gap, close the racial wealth gap, facilitate access and provide financial education. And we can make sure that our our homeowners are not only set up well to purchase a home, but also to thrive once they’re in their home. Our goal is to seek to just facilitate access, close the racial wealth gap and repair what generations of systemic racism and housing have broken.

Ceasar and Bonnie’s Story from Greenline Housing Foundation on Vimeo.

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

Jasmin Shupper:  I like to say that Greenline is the culmination of many years of lived experience and education and everything that just kind of converged. One day Greenline was born.  I’m  a real estate agent here in California. As I was studying for my exam, I was struck by the fact that it wasn’t until 1968 that it became illegal everywhere to discriminate on the basis of race and the sale financing and leasing of real estate. My mom was alive in 1968 and that’s not that long ago.

In 1967, it was legal to say I’m I’m not going to lease to you, or I’m not going to sell this property to you because you are a person of color. So that really, really struck me. I think that we learn this history to some degree but learning  the implications of that and what that means,  in my real estate practice.  Going back even further than 1968, things like the FHA refusing to ensure loans made to people of color. Learning the economic legacy that is afforded through homeownership. Then juxtaposing that with the reality of how intentionally people were kept from homeownership at a time when homes realized the biggest depreciation left a huge impact.

I’m the Business Director of this church where I’m managing the budget and really learning the ins and outs of nonprofit management. That’s when I kind of was feeling the stirring of all the pieces coming together. Then one day, I was doing a devotional, it was Psalm 82. That was my swift kick in the pants when I was trying to decide, what was next? What to do with this burden that I felt for so many years?  And Psalm 82 gave me my answer. I absolutely knew.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jasmin Shupper: Our tagline is restoring justice one home at a time. And that’s really important because if I get too caught up on the magnitude of what we’re trying to accomplish, it can be paralyzing, right? If I focus on one home at a time and even recognizing the rippling effects of that one home at a time in terms of the the generational legacy helps to make it seem less daunting.

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

Jasmin Shupper: My faith component is deeply helpful for me. Another thing that fuels me when just feels so big and I wonder how am I ever going to do this? Who am I? I’m just one person is just reading the statistics and learning the history, and how blatant it was, and just the burden. That’s the only word that I can really use to describe that is just a burden to do something about it is what keeps me going.

This deeply held conviction that something has to be done. There needs to be some justice because of how blatant, insidious and rampant discrimination was in housing.

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

Jasmin Shupper:  In terms of successes, the money that we were able to raise before we had a website. Just me, painting the picture, casting the vision and giving the why, of why we exist in raising these funds. And you know, we started to have a couple of applicants here and there.  We wanted to have the infrastructure and be able to sustain the volume, but had a couple of applicants came in.

We did the interviews support, they submitted all their supporting documentation and we took a board vote. They were poster families for what our program is intending to accomplish. When I communicated to them, that they had been awarded a grant and the grant amount, they broke down in tears.  It’s really, really beautiful.  Now they are homeowners and they have three kids. What that’s going to mean for their family was one of our biggest and earliest success stories.

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

Jasmin Shupper: I think at first pass our dream is to raise millions and millions of dollars and have this humongous impact for so many families of color to change the trajectory of the legacy.   So that’s the dream, the big scale impact multiple families in different regions and specifically the cities where redlining was most egregious.  I have a map of cities where I would love to  give grants in those cities that were the biggest culprits of redlining and housing injustice. So that’s a big dream of mine.

When I’m really, really dreaming big it has to do with raising money, multiplying impact for all the people in all the houses. So it’s about the the what the participation in this looks like. I would love to have banks participate in this initiative, real estate agents, brokers, and specifically real estate investment firms. I think to invite participation from those institutions that have wielded power. If we’re being honest, historically have kind of perpetuated the injustice on some level in terms of loans and to now invite them into participating in the repair. Getting somebody into a home takes a village. So to invite these players to really magnify the participation among these institutions and groups is just such a big dream of mine.

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

Jasmin Shupper: So many lessons, I think one is that I am only one person.  The importance of surrounding myself with with good people.  Allowing people to help that are passionate about this as well and not thinking that the whole thing rises and falls on me.  I’m holy responsible for the failure or success of this.  Just inviting people in to help accomplish the mission is a really, really big thing that I have learned.

I think I have a view of hope and a way that I maybe didn’t have to the same degree before.  I saw people giving to this initiative based on a phone call that I had with them.  They didn’t know who I was and had never met me. I painted this vision.  They mailed a check for $10,000 based on that conversation.  We then took that $10,000 and directly applied that to a grant for somebody in a very practical and tangible way. I just think  it restored my hope in the goodness of people even and in humanity.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please 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 © 2022 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 40: Girls Leading Girls

These days when the world thinks of soccer Ted Lasso comes to mind. The loveable soccer coach from TV.  Today’s conversation is equally inspiring because that is exactly what our guest, Bre Russell does, coach soccer and SO much more!  Bre is developing the next generation of women leaders through her amazing nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls.

Join us as Bre shares her inspirational journey from a student-athlete to a nonprofit founder teaching thousands of young women how to lead. So join us for Episode 40 of our podcast! It truly makes me so happy sharing these incredible conversations.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Bre Russell: We are a nonprofit that trains girls and women in leadership advocacy and life skills through soccer. We are the first-ever all-girls soccer organization with all-women coaches. Every year we serve over 700 girls ages five to 17 in the Bay Area.

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

Bre Russell:  I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. That was always something that appealed to me.  I worked at a young age because we were just trying to survive my family. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I relied on a lot of people to help.  My coaches making soccer even possible for me was huge. As a result, seeing other people helped me made me want to pay it forward and help others.

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Soccer was the game that I fell in love with it. It was a place where I was recognized, I could just be myself, and I could escape the struggles that I was facing at home or in school. During my time at Sacramento State, I played soccer and then after college, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. I was living in a village on a really small rural Island. A place where women didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Some girls saw me playing and then asked if they could play with me. After that,  we formed a team.

I found out FIFA was hosting a tournament nearby on another island and I organized to get us fundraising for uniforms. We went to the island and played on this hot volcanic ash. Three days into this tournament, we ended up winning first place. It was one of the highest moments I ever felt from such a big challenge. We won this huge Wimbledon size trophy. When we came back to the community they were waiting for us with flowers on the beach, to congratulate us. They were so proud of us! The team wanted to run around the community with the trophy.

A light bulb went off that soccer is not just a sport, it’s a vehicle for women’s empowerment, economic opportunity, equality, and community change.  These women were now seen as winners and that was all that I needed. When I came back from that experience, I knew I needed to start Girls leading Girls.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Bre Russell: Well, it’s definitely a grind, I think all entrepreneurship starts as you are grinding, you’re hustling. After Peace Corps, I was working full time for another nonprofit and building this on the side.  I was also coaching soccer in the community and that’s really what helped me get it going.  People in the community here in San Francisco, saw me coaching and said, “Can you coach our daughter? Because there are not enough women coaches.” This was in 2014 in San Francisco.

There’s definitely a lack of representation of women in sports at all levels. Eight years later, we’re starting to see that change.  When will we have women as not just referees and athletes, but owners of these higher-level clubs and teams? The challenge is there are not enough women coaches. We are essentially trying to change something that is also making it hard for us to do what we do.

We are recruiting, training and mentoring women to become coaches, which most never think that they can. So there are psychological barriers there. And we’re going up against male-run the old traditional model of coaching.  This is why we are trying to create something different because the old traditional model really was a disservice to girls.  Girls dropping out of sports at young ages, the statistics are there. Did you know that girls drop out of sports by age 12? That is over 50% rate that boys do.

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

Bre Russell:  There are a couple of things that fuel me. One is the girls in the program. Some of them I’ve known for eight years. To see them start with me and then to see them develop from a young age into confident, strong, young women on and off the field is just amazing. I mean, this is the beauty of kids that grow so fast. You can see that growth right before your eyes.

For example, there’s one girl, I’ll say her name is Melinda, not her actual name. She was not having great experiences at other organizations that were soccer-focused. She’s a very talented athlete and she took a year off from playing because she was not thriving on these other teams. Her friend who was playing with us encouraged her to join our organization, which she did.  I felt an instant connection with her because we had similar backgrounds.  Her family was just trying to survive, she was often having to take care of and be responsible for her younger siblings at a young age. And she didn’t have a lot of resources or support.

I would pick her up and take her to practice.  For the last two years, she improved so much in her soccer skills, and in her leadership, and she was awarded goalie of the year.  Today, she’s now a paid coach for us and she’s playing soccer at SF City College.  I just made it my job to support her and see her through this and be her mentor. Obviously, I can’t do that for all the 700 Girls we serve but I can model it and be an example. So other coaches want to do it too.

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

Bre Russell: We serve 736 Girls.  That was our biggest year yet and that was amazing coming off a COVID. As I said the demand is higher because of health issues and the stagnation of being home. It’s all come out in the surveys we put out to the girls and their parents. To hear things like, “Oh, my daughter lost her joy for life during COVID, when she came to your summer camp, it was like, she was a new person.”  Or,” I’ve never seen her smile like that once. ”

Hearing those stories are really an impact. That’s the depth. It’s not just soccer, we are teaching these girls confidence, self-esteem, and positive peer relationships, and we’re building them up, because, there is this huge confidence gap for girls. For me, it’s seeing this organization grow and how many girls we serve, but then also seeing the impact.

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

Bre Russell: When I was coaching, one of the key things I would say is,” What’s the most important play on the field?” They would say,” The next play.” So whatever just happened, let that go. Now you are focused on the next play.  I think we can apply that to life too. Because things happen to us and it can help you see that moments are temporary. It can help you really savor the positive wonderful moments too because you know, it’s not going to last. Then it also gives you the action of okay, what am I in control of? What is important to do next?  So it’s teaching many different things.

With my staff, we say,” Done, is better than perfect.” This is particularly important for women because perfectionism is a problem. We want to be so perfect that no one can criticize us. That’s what it stems from. I tell them all the time,”Done is better than perfect.” Perfectionism doesn’t exist.  We’re here to learn, right? I’d rather see something than nothing.  I’d rather you take a risk than not at all because you’re waiting for it to be perfect.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Bre Russell: I’ve definitely changed. When I went into the Peace Corps, I was 25 wide-eyed, and hopeful. I think I’ve changed in a variety of ways. Growing this organization, I’ve definitely learned to be more patient. In the process, of working with people in growth being more patient is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

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

Bre Russell:  The dream is to expand and open branches of our program all over the world, starting in the US, and then having that impact worldwide. That would mean serving hundreds of 1000s of girls and women, empowering them to be confident and be leaders on and off the field.  It would give them the tools they needed to succeed whether or not they continued in the sport. We’re teaching them how to take risks, how to speak confidently, and how to go after what they want. So when they are older, they can have that conversation about a pay raise with their boss, or they can ask for that promotion. The goal is to just help the girls we serve to live the best life and go after what they want with confidence.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please 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.

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National Volunteer Week 2022

“A volunteer is a person who can see what others cannot see; who can feel what most do not feel. Often, such gifted persons do not think of themselves as volunteers, but as citizens – citizens in the fullest sense; partners in civilization.”
President George H.W. Bush
Founder, Points of Light

It’s back and it’s here! No, not taxes, something much better…National Volunteer Week! Who knew that next week is National Volunteer Week? In case you missed the news, consider yourself informed.  We thought we would share a few days early so you can start to plan ahead.

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 by the  Points of Light Foundation.  This special week has grown each year with thousands of volunteer projects and events scheduled for the week. The week is all about inspiring, recognizing, and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about showing that by working together, we can do anything. National Volunteer Week is about taking action and encouraging people to be at the center of social change – discovering and demonstrating their power to make a difference.

If you don’t know where to start, take a peek at one of my favorite sites, Volunteer Match.org. You just type in your zip code, what you love to do and it will match with an organization that can use your help, in your community. Another option is Project giving Kids if you are looking for opportunities for you and your children to volunteer together. Listening to the Charity Matters Podcast for great causes and ideas is another idea. Shameless plug, I couldn’t resist!  In addition, next Friday, April 22nd is Earth Day so maybe you can do an environmental volunteer project next weekend, the opportunities are endless.

Think of National Volunteer Week as an opportunity to shine a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve. Each year twenty-five percent of Americans volunteer, which is 62.8 million people! They average about 32 hours per person, per year according to the Corporation for National Community Service, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service or $184 billion dollars. 

I hope this week finds you inspired to be an active part in a cause you care about, in your community, helping a neighbor, or meeting new friends volunteering. It is people like you, the power of volunteers who build stronger communities and a better world for us all.

Happy Volunteering!

 

charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2022 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 37: Empty Frames Initiative

Online dating happened well after I was married. Swiping left or right is completely foreign to me. However, when someone suggested I go to Podmatch to look for podcast matches I was intrigued. I am incredibly lucky that our guests always land in my path organically, the old-fashioned way. Curios,  I completed my profile to be a podcast guest and to find them.  Imagine my surprise when I received the sweetest note from today’s guest, Miriam Cobb the founder of the nonprofit Empty Frames Initiative.

The Empty Frames Initiative is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower orphaned and vulnerable youth as they transition out of state foster care by providing community, training in life skills and counseling. Join us today to meet Miriam and learn about the beautiful work she is doing to help our young adults as they age out of the Foster Care System.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Empty Frame Initiative does?

Miriam Cobb: What we like to do is empower orphaned and vulnerable youth as they transition out of state care. We do this by providing training and life skills, community, and counseling. We’re working with youth who are coming out of the foster care system and that can happen between ages 18 and 21. 

 

Charity Matters: Tell us about your name?

Miriam Cobb: When I was originally pitching the idea of this nonprofit, I was with a group of entrepreneurs. They asked, “What is something you would really love to do?” I replied that I would really love to photograph adoptions.  Many of these orphans don’t have a lot of baby pictures.  I wanted to honor their story, and there’s this synonymous idea of your picture being on the wall, meaning that you’re part of someone’s life and family. And it’s important. That was something that was really important to me. After I pitched this idea, the entrepreneurs in the room, decided they only liked the name.

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

Miriam Cobb:  After crying. from the entrepreneur’s comments there was this other piece of this that I hadn’t really considered. The more I dug into it, the more this image kept coming back to my mind. I had served with an organization in Eastern Europe. While I was over there, I saw these really old, abandoned Soviet buildings that are just completely empty in the middle of nowhere, not being used.

I thought that seemed so strange because organizations could use the space. The person I was with said, “No, it’s just abandoned.”  I asked, “Well, are they gonna at least tear it down?” It like stuck with me for some reason. There was this merging of ideas of these places that people saw no value in? That these children were these big, empty frames that could be filled with purpose.

 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Miriam Cobb:  There are challenges. And it mirrors life.  There’s an up and down cycle for each nonprofit and you have those really great moments, then you have those moments that just feel like it’s a down cycle. Some of the challenges that I feel personally that have been kind of hard is learning how to really equip volunteers and provide them with meaningful roles. 

It’s an entrepreneurial venture and this life isn’t for everyone. When you pitch what you’re doing, there are so many wonderful and well-meaning people who want to be involved. And  I need people on the board. I think perhaps my age was the negative factor was trying to figure out how to really equip volunteers. Really learning how to manage volunteer roles and make it something that’s worthwhile to them. Because this is something that should be a beneficial experience that builds on your life too.

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

Miriam Cobb: Personally, my faith does play a major role in this. It does. It’s absolutely what I’m called to do as a person.  To walk away from it is to walk away from something that I’ve been shown on purpose.  Trials and setbacks are challenging, but there’s this really wonderful motivation knowing that this is what you’re called to do. That’s how I feel about it. I’ve been really, really fortunate to have a family that supports me while I do this work that helps me with that load you’re talking about. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family’s support and my community’s support. Ultimately, the answer to that question really is, God. That’s what I feel I feel completely called. This is what I meant to do. 

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

Miriam Cobb: The big dream is taking our program throughout the US and then internationally. Equipping communities to have multiple sites that are serving these youth.  I think if more people knew about what would happen when these young adults aged out, we would have more people stepping into the role beforehand to be parents, mentors, and give a sense of community.

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

Miriam Cobb: Life comes in seasons. As much as we’d like to kind of bypass some, they all build on each other. Each one gets us to the right place. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Miriam Cobb:  There are things that it hasn’t changed. It has not changed my personality.  I’m not a really extroverted person but I’m not scared to talk to people.  I’m not shy, I’m quiet. There’s a difference. So I’ve been talking to more people and it has stretched me in ways that I wasn’t really expecting.

Building on that same thought from before about the seasons, I had some really specific plans for my life. I was like, this is gonna work just like this and then it didn’t.  Working towards something that I feel passionate about really changes the way that those things happen. You know, it’s like what it felt like to be complete. Derailment gets put into a different perspective of walking in your purpose. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please 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 © 2022 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.

The state of things

I know it has been a while since I have shared my thoughts. The podcast has been so well received that I haven’t stopped in a while to reflect on the state of things. I don’t know about you but turning on the news lately scares me. The state of things does not seem terrific these days. This is not a political statement but simply how I feel.

When there is war, there is fear. That fear can erode so much goodness. We lose faith in one another and distrust becomes a cancer that destroys connection. As humans, we are meant to be connected, to support one another like bees in a hive. We all have a job and a role to make our communities stronger by working together. Fear robs us all of the honey and the sweetness of feeling connected.

The pandemic did a lot to destroy connections and break down our hives. The election before that didn’t do our communities any favors either. We talk about our friends and families differently now because of their politics. Something that has never happened in my lifetime. Rather than coming together to discuss where we are similar, we write people off because they believe differently.

If bell curves are a real thing, and I believe they are then we are all actually in the middle together. Somehow, the media has us all playing tug of war at the bottom of those bell curves with CNN on one side and FOX on the other. We should be working together not pulling ourselves apart.

We are afraid. The thought of a nuclear war is seriously scary. We are nervous about gas prices, inflation, crime,  our safety and these are real and valid reasons. These fears are reasons to lean into the hive because we need each more than ever. The fear is an opportunity for each of us to help one another not pull away.

Last week at dinner with friends, our waiter asked us if we would be open to rounding our bill up to four dollars more because the restaurant was matching up to one million dollars for a nonprofit supporting Ukraine. We were splitting our bill three ways and asked if he could add fifty dollars apiece. The waiter got on his knees at table height and looked like he was going to cry and said, “Thank you.” I asked him where he was from and he replied, “Kyiv.” He told us his father and brother were fighting and his sister and mother were trapped and trying to get out. Our waiter was so touched by our little gesture and said, “Thank you for reminding me how good people are.”

He is right, people are good. We see it in the brave Ukrainians, in the Polish people’s generous welcome, and in the generosity of so many supporting the millions of refugees. When the state of things is bad, it is our time to rise up and be good. To help another, whether a neighbor a friend, or a stranger in Ukraine. It is the only way the state of things gets better when each of us becomes our best. When we come together we can all make life sweeter in our hives.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 36: Miracle Messages

I have had some pretty amazing conversations in the past ten years. Conversations that really make me think and look at the world around me in a totally different way. The conversation I had a few weeks back with Kevin Adler, the founder of Miracle Messages was game-changing for me. It’s my hope that it is for you as well. I will never look at the homeless the same after this eye-opening exchange.

Join us today, as Kevin shares the story of his uncle who lived on the streets and how his uncle’s death inspired the creation of Miracle Messages. A nonprofit that not only reconnects the homeless to their loved ones but also provides a social connection through a phone buddy system and provides cash for rent once the unhoused person is ready.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Kevin Adler: We help our unhoused neighbors rebuild their social support systems and financial security, primarily through family reunifications, a phone buddy system, and direct cash transfers.

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

Kevin Adler: This work begins really with my own family. I had an uncle, who was very beloved to me. Uncle Mark was his name and he suffered from schizophrenia. He lived on and off the streets of Santa Cruz for 30 years. One day I was in college and I got a phone call from my dad telling me that Uncle Mark was found deceased at a halfway house at the age of 50.

I was 19 at the time and had never thought about the life that Mark lived when he wasn’t at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner table. I never thought about the life he was living on the streets. It wasn’t until years later that I was in San Francisco, that I found myself walking by our neighbors experiencing homelessness. I said, Gosh, everyone I’m walking by that’s someone’s son or daughter, brother, sister. So it got me thinking, what would it look like to help neighbors experiencing homelessness, people like my Uncle Mark, maybe share their stories, the stories that I didn’t know.

It wasn’t trying to solve a problem and create an organization.  I started a side project storytelling project called The Homeless GoPro. For one year, I invited 24 individuals experiencing homelessness to wear wearable cameras around their chests and narrate their experience of what life is like. When I got the footage back I was just shocked by what I heard and saw. One quote really stood out. It was,” I never realized I was homeless when I lost my housing. Only when I lost my family and friends.”

Long story short, I approached everyone I saw who was experiencing homelessness and asked, “Do you have any loved ones you’d like to reconnect with?” That’s how I met a man named Jeffery. He told me he hadn’t seen his family in 12 years. Jeffery recorded a video with his niece and nephew, his sister, and his dad. I went home and I got on Facebook and found a Facebook group connected to his hometown. So I posted the video there and within one hour, that video got shared hundreds of times. It made the local news that night the leading story. Classmates started commenting, I went to high school with Jeffrey, I work in construction. Does he need a job? And in the first 20 minutes of the post, his sister got tagged. We got on the phone the next day and it turned out Jeffrey had been a missing person for 12 years.

The starting point of Miracle Messages was when Jeffrey reconnected with his family. I asked sister Jennifer, “This thing that seems to be bigger than just Jeffrey and your relationship. There seems there might be others, who are experiencing this issue. What should we call this, this initiative?” She said, “Well, we’re in this small town and people have referred to it the story as the miracle of Montoursville. And it’s Christmas, maybe it’s called the Miracle message.”

That’s the name and the vision from day one, which no one should go through homelessness alone. Hard to believe that was December 2014.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kevin Adler: It’s always been a privilege to do this work, but it has not been without challenges. There was a point that I got down to $600 in my savings account doing this work in San Francisco and it wasn’t sustainable. As a person of faith, I prayed at times. The first prayer was, please let someone else steal this idea and run with it because I don’t know if I’m up for it.

I had to come to a realization a few years ago, that I could not make myself the first casualty of a good cause. I was en route to doing that and was just working nonstop.  The work left me feeling isolated and lonely. So for me, the beginning of being able to sustain this work in the tough times was by making sure my own foundation was in order.  You need to put your oxygen mask on first and if you don’t do that, you can’t be of service to others.

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

Kevin Adler: An impact is a person who’s experiencing homelessness, potentially getting off the streets. About 20% of the reunions lead to housing. Impact involves the cost savings that generates. When it costs us thousands of dollars compared to cities spending between $40,000 to $60,000 per unhoused person per year to maintain them on the streets for one year. The impact can be measured in the lives and the perspectives of the volunteers, who say, “I never knew I could do anything on the issue of homelessness, I felt a very low sense of personal efficacy in making an impact. But now I feel empowered.”

An impact can also be measured in the fact that we’ve received over 100 million views on our videos on Facebook. We’ve had over a million shares, and over 700 articles written about us. These all change the hearts and minds of people. When you see a video about a person experiencing homelessness, reconnecting with a loved one or being in a phone Buddy Program, or getting $500 a month towards rent then it changes your perspective.

So you know, we take impact seriously. I also think anyone who listens to their unhoused neighbors and or volunteers and has their heart or mind shifted or opened as a result, that’s an immeasurable impact that we’re very proud of as well.

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

Kevin Adler: For us, that dream is that no one goes through homelessness alone. I would love to end that sentence one word early. No one goes through homelessness.  I don’t need to dream bigger, to know how that’s not going to be happening in the next few years.

I have been around enough where I see five-year plans, we’re gonna have homelessness by this year. Those years have come and gone and the numbers are increasing, right? And it’s only getting worse.  So, I don’t think we’re ending homelessness anytime soon. What we can do in a step towards ending homelessness, is making sure every single human being…. all 550,000 people who go to bed every night and wake up in the morning, homeless without a stable home in this country in 2022… that they have at least one person, they’re connected to either a family member or friend social support and that they know they’re not going through it alone.

To me is something we are able to envision and realistically achieve through Miracle Messages with our partners on the ground. You know, and I think giving people money so that they can resolve the issues that are in front of them. People generally have the knowledge and wherewithal of what is best for them but they just aren’t given the agency. They are not afforded the same opportunities that we all expect in this country. So just giving people the financial support, they need to make ends meet, and the social support, they need to get through tough times and be celebrated at good times. That’s really what we’re committed to at Miracle Messages.

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

Kevin Adler: Hearing the stories of our volunteers and why they commit their time, why they donate and why they show up. I get so much joy and gratitude, just being able to give and be there for someone else. We can all envision bank accounts with a couple more zeros at the end of them. Once you’re at a certain, baseline level, what do you need? What else are you really lacking? I mean, how many more square feet do you need in your house? Who cares? So just being able to see the joy of doing good with the time that you have on this earth and helping others unleash the good that’s within their hearts that they just don’t know how to share. That’s, that’s really what drives it.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kevin Adler: My values are the same. What drives me as a person, my faith, and how I look at people have not changed.  I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve realized that my story is about one story and the importance of really hearing other stories.  I’ve realized how much harder this work can be, but also how it’s so so important to keep the core foundation in mind to keep the perspective. So yes, I think I’ve grown a ton as a person. But I also think fundamentally, I’m still the precocious kid who was just comfortable walking around the neighborhood talking to my neighbors.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please 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 © 2022 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.

A few ways to support Ukraine

The world is still in shock and awe from the past week’s events. It still seems surreal the human tragedy that we are watching unfold in Ukraine. Most of us feel incredibly helpless so today I thought we would share a few incredible vetted nonprofit resources that are working tirelessly to support the people of Ukraine. Any contribution to any of the below organizations will help.

Project Hope

You may remember my incredible conversation with the CEO of Project Hope, Rabih Tornay. Project Hope is a humanitarian relief organization founded in 1958. They currently have emergency teams in Europe sending medical supplies and health care for refugees. 87% of every dollar goes directly to providing care and hope for those in need. With Rabih at the helm of this organization, your donations are in the best of hands.

World Central Kitchen

World Central Kitchen was founded by Chef Jose  Andres in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti. Chef Andres is already on the ground in Ukraine doing what he does best, feeding people. The World Central Kitchen has been providing meals to the hungry all over the world. As Chef Andres said,” Nothing sends a bigger message of hope than a humble plate of food. And that’s the only thing we know how to do.” 

Save The Children

Save the Children has been working in Ukraine since 2014. They estimate that out of Ukraine’s population of 44 million people there are currently 500,000 people displaced from their homes and 7.5 million children are in immediate danger. Save The Children is providing immediate aid such as food, water, hygiene kits, and cash assistance to protect children and families.

Global Giving

Eight years of conflict in Ukraine has taken a toll on the country. Global Giving has created a specific fund called the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. This fund and donations to it will support humanitarian assistance in impacted communities in Ukraine and surrounding regions where refugees have fled. The funds will provide shelter, food, clean water, economic assistance, and health care. They need your support to make this possible.

If we have realized anything in the past week it how small our world is. We have seen the best of humanity in the Ukrainian people coming together and the worst as bombs are launched. In these moments we all make choices on how to support one another. Thank you to all of you who do so so much to help another. We are grateful for you.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 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 35: Beverly Hills Community Farm

When you think about nonprofits the words Beverly Hills and farm usually are not top of mind. However, after meeting today’s incredible guest, Jennifer Levy you will begin to think differently. Join us for an educational and fascinating conversation about the exciting new ways Jennifer and her nonprofit organization, The Beverly Hills Community Farm is educating and feeding her community with her innovative work.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Beverly Hills Community Farm does?

Jennifer Levy: There’s definitely not a ton of nonprofits who start with the word Beverly Hills. And so we’re hoping to change the narrative a little bit. The three co-founders, myself and two other women, grew up together in Beverly Hills.  We are super excited to be bringing something back to the city that we grew up in.   Beverly Hills is a small town, both population-wise and geographically. So having an urban farm that can grow local food for hopefully a significant portion of the residents, the restaurants, the community was super important to us.

We can make a pretty big impact in a small space by the work we’re trying to do. Our mission is really to be an educational, urban farm, and to cultivate health and well-being while growing local food with hands-on community involvement. So we see ourselves as way more than just a farm, the food is definitely one piece of it. But really, as a space, a gathering space, an event space, an education space, to really provide tips and tricks and education on sustainable ways to grow food. So we don’t get enough of that in the city. Farming is a big part of what we’re doing but education is really at the core of what we’re doing. 

More specifically, we really are passionate about intergenerational education. Including so many different members of the community to learn and grow and be able to teach other members of the community. So we’re kind of all-encompassing. Growing local food is really one of my passions, but equally one of my passions is education. So really, we wanted to figure out a way to kind of combine all those things in the city we grew up in.

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

Jennifer Levy:  I learned a lot from it from my family. Giving to different organizations that they were passionate about, or going to fundraisers things with my family.  And also, through my religious school upbringing. I remember being in kindergarten every Sunday going to Hebrew school and having to bring leftover change or cans for a food drive or coats or shoes or things like that. So I think both between my family and my upbringing from a giving backside, it’s always been a part of what we do.

 I  have always loved volunteering. I started volunteering in high school at both Cedar Sinai Hospital UCLA hospital and I volunteered at a summer camp, Camp Harmony. That’s always been part of kind of my journey. To this day, I think that volunteering is kind of the best job on the planet, right? You get to pick and choose who you want to help out. And there’s no pressure and you just get to go support amazing people doing amazing things. In my later life, I spent a few years in Ohio and I volunteered for a water nonprofit, which led me to my first trip to Africa. So you never really know what’s gonna happen when you kind of put yourself in situations to learn new skills and meet new people.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Beverly Hills Community Farm?

Jennifer Levy: We launched in January 2020. I am an educator by trade and was a classroom teacher. Then I started a school garden program and got really into gardening and have always been pretty passionate about the environment, specifically water usage. That led me to spend a summer in Ohio working on a farm summer camp there. It was in Ohio that I met all these farmers and all these people doing pretty amazing work.  I finished the next year of teaching here in Los Angeles, and then I moved to Ohio. So I could learn how to farm essentially.

Sometime between coming back from that summer in Ohio, and going back to my job teaching, I realized that I wanted to do more. I wasn’t getting the same fulfillment of education as I thought I could from combining education and farming. I just didn’t know how to farm and had never done it.  So I quit and I moved to Ohio really working and learning to farm.  That brought me to Colorado, where I worked on an urban farm for two seasons.

But knowing that I kind of always wanted to be back, not necessarily in Beverly Hills or Los Angeles, but closer to Southern California. Then trying to think about how I could create a space where I wanted to do all of these different things? It just didn’t really exist here. So clearly, the rational decision was just to start it on my own. Why not?  I never in my wildest dreams had imagined I’d be a business owner or start a nonprofit or kind of even a farmer for that matter. Life definitely took me on so many different kinds of paths. Once my co-founders were involved and we had these conversations, it just felt like we were going to do this.  I couldn’t have predicted any of it.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jennifer Levy: We launched in January 2020 and then COVID happened.  So we just stopped literally.  We didn’t get accepted from the IRS till 2021. So there were lots of things we thought were gonna go smoothly that did not.  It just took a long time. We worked with an amazing fiscal sponsor, so we could at least start fundraising and kind of get up and running. That was a whole set of different things we had to learn.

We were reading for months, how organizations weren’t getting fresh produce, and there was such a need right now. So January 2021, we opened in a commercial space in Beverly Hills, with 15 hydroponic towers. Since January, we’ve been growing food and donating to three main partner organizations. That has been like the biggest joy for everybody. We’ve just been allowed to use this beautiful space. We get foot traffic, and people are there and they get to see what we’re doing.  I get to teach every day, people who come in and want to hear about hydroponics. More than that, we’ve donated almost 150 pounds of lettuce and herbs, which don’t weigh that much. Actually volume-wise, a lot of lettuce. We’ve impacted over 600 people and we really have formed these relationships with some really amazing partners. So it’s kind of been like a lifesaver.

Charity Matters: Can you explain what Hydroponics is?

Jennifer Levy: We’re using vertical hydroponic towers. So in these towers, essentially, there is a reservoir at the bottom where the water stays and the nutrients go. And there’s a pump that essentially pumps the water to the top, and then it kind of rains down onto the root systems of plants. It’s like this self-contained tower. They’re only about three feet wide by six feet tall, and ours grow 28 plants. Since we’re inside in a commercial space, we have LED lights, but you can have them outside. It’s allowed us to grow and donate this whole calendar year, which has been amazing 

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

Jennifer Levy: There are a few moments like getting to harvest and deliver hands down is always so fulfilling and everyone is so beyond appreciative. The wins are kind of the education piece, right? So because we’re in a storefront in Beverly Hills, we get a lot of foot traffic. Anytime someone comes in, I get to have these very organic conversations with them about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how they can get involved.

Just over the past couple of months, I’ve been able to go into schools, which is really amazing.  Education is at the core of everything we do. We have a tower in one of the elementary schools locally in Beverly Hills and we actually have two towers in a school in Ohio. Nobody’s seen this technology before.  A lot of people have kind of heard about it,  but really showing people that there are sustainable ways to grow food grow delicious, healthy, like nutrient-rich food. 

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

Jennifer Levy:  I think definitely our vision and dream are to have an outdoor far educational farm. We’re just starting a big campaign to purchase our first shipping container farm, which is hydro-powered built inside a refurbished shipping container. The impact of that is we can harvest over 1000 plants every single week. So the goal is to be able to provide for local restaurants, local grocery stores and start a community-supported agriculture program. Then residents or non-residents can purchase farm-fresh produce directly from us.

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

Jennifer Levy: Having passion and being excited is great, but there’s gonna be bumps in the road. So just trust the process. I’m learning as I’m doing this. So just having faith and trusting the process. I’ve learned that you do need a team around you, you need community. Not just the co-founders or our board or kind of our big supporters, but you need people you can call to ask for marketing help or social media help or just to complain to because you can’t do this alone.it won’t work.

Really be committed to what you believe in.  I think that what you believe is important enough for you to start a business then other people will too. Have faith in what you’re trying to do. The work we’re trying to do is going to help so many people in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s harder to remind myself of that. I do trust that what we’re doing is for everyone’s good.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Having a heart

February is here and with it comes Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, and of course heart month. In the past decade, we have talked to a number of organizations that focus on the heart. For good reason, one out of for deaths each year is from heart disease. The translation is that over 659,000 people die in the United alone each year from heart disease. These are not just statistics but real people. To visualize this number that is over six huge football stadiums full of people each year. One person every 36 seconds, not to mention the 40,000 children will be born with congenital heart disease this year. So what do we do when are our hearts are broken?

Luckily for us, there are a multitude of amazing organizations working tirelessly to solve and tend to this problem. I thought before the month jumped into high gear we could take a moment to revisit some of the great organizations we have met who are working to reduce those numbers. Some of these go back so far that I felt like I was looking at old friends, I hope you feel the same.

Hopeful Hearts Foundation

A decade ago we talked to the Chez family about their organization, The Hopeful Hearts Foundation. The Chez family had three children all born with Congenital Heart Disease. Tragically they lost their daughter Gracie suddenly at the age of three and created the Hopeful Hearts Foundation in 2008 to keep her memory alive and to help other children suffering from CHD.  The Hopeful Hearts Foundation supports families whose children have CHD and also raises funds to provide research for Congenital Heart Disease.

Camp Del Corazon

Some of you may remember Lisa Knight, a registered nurse and nonprofit founder of Camp Del Corazon. The camp is a place for children with heart-related health challenges to have fun, make friends and find fellow children going through similar health issues.

Lisa said, ”  I get so filled up by it all.  These kids have survived death, there are no camps for these types of kids due to their medical conditions. It transforms them. You see them show each other their scars. The most rewarding thing is when you hear children call you by your camp name when you see them years later not at camp.  This year our first camper is coming back as a counselor, so to see not only these children grow up and give back but to watch my own 29-year-old daughter getting even more involved as she takes on more responsibility with her role at Camp del Corazon, is so rewarding. “

Mended Hearts

In 2017, we talked to our friends the Page family about their experience with Congenital Heart Disease in our post The Heart of the Matter. In that conversation, we learned about Max Page’s support of the organization Mended Hearts. A nonprofit that was created in 1951 to give peer support to those dealing with heart disease. Dr. Harken asked four of the first four people to ever have open heart surgery to help others facing the same experience. In 2004, Mended Hearts realized that families with children suffering from CHD also needed that same peer-to-peer support and created Mended Little Hearts.

There are hundreds of organizations working tirelessly to do research to cure Congenital Heart Disease. These are just a few of the amazing people working to heal broken hearts. Next week we will continue our look back with Francie Paul from Saving Tiny Hearts in our podcast. I’m so excited to share our conversation about the incredible work she and her team have been doing to help find a cure. Until then, wishing you all a wonderful heart month full of love.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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Copyright © 2022 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.