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Welcome to Season 3! Episode 32: Diveheart

Welcome to Season Three of the Charity Matters Podcast! We are so excited to introduce you to another incredible season filled with amazing heroes. Today’s guests are the perfect way to dive into this new season. As a lifelong recreational scuba diver, I know how scared I am every time I enter the water. So many things are out of my control, the fear of not being able to breathe followed by the peace, stillness, and beauty of the ocean. Overcoming that fear every time leaves me feeling recharged and accomplished. So when I heard about the nonprofit Diveheart.org that works with people with disabilities to live better lives, I knew they were the perfect organization to launch Season Three of our podcast. So let’s dive in!

We are so excited to introduce you to Jim Elliot the Founder of Diveheart.org and their Executive Director, Tinamarie Hernandez. Join us for a fun and inspirational conversation about what can happen with a positive can-do attitude, a scuba tank, a body of water, and a passion for making people’s lives better. You won’t want to miss this one!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Tinamarie Hernandez: Diveheart is an organization that works with people with disabilities, physical and cognitive. We’re also a training agency for people who want to work safely with people with disabilities in the water. And we use scuba diving as a therapy.

So we start people in a pool, we get them to where they’re comfortable.  We see a lot of stuff, self-improvement in the people that we work with. They get the confidence and a renewed vigor of life. Some of the people we work with might have been in an accident. We also work with people who’ve dealt with their condition their entire life.

And it’s one of those moments where they’re like, I’m getting a win, this is a winning day for me. And that’s something I tell parents and family members, you know because they’re nervous. I guarantee your loved one is going to leave with a win today. They’re going to be proud of themselves for something. So that’s what we do, we don’t cure ailments. What we do is help people live a better life.

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

Jim Elliot: I’m a media guy by trade. I’m a journalist. I took diving because I thought if I ever meet someone like Jacques Cousteau, I better know how to scuba dive.  I had a burning desire to learn how to dive and fell in love with it. As you know, it’s a great equalizer. It’s like being an astronaut in inner space. It’s amazing.

So during the 80s, I was in the media business and helped startup a TV station. I was also on these nonprofit organizations’ boards. And in the mid-80s, I started guiding and teaching blind skiers because my eldest daughter is blind.  I saw how that helped people and said, “You know, you can only ski at certain times of the year in certain places in the world, but there’s a pool in every community. So what if I were to do what I’ve been doing for decades in skiing, and taking people out of wheelchairs and putting them in the water and having them fly, learn to be an astronaut.” And that was kind of the premise of the whole idea. That was 2001 that we incorporated and this is our 20th anniversary.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Tinamarie Hernandez: The challenges are to evolve and to keep our finger on the pulse of what is changing. As a nonprofit that needs help with funding, all of our pool programs are free. So we need people to give us  99% of the money that we need to help us run our programs.  It’s about getting the word out and letting them know that, yes, you’re giving us money so that we can help people in the pool because even though it’s free for them, it’s not always free for us.  So that’s a challenge to keep going. 

Jim Elliot: We have a documentary called TurningPpoint that was done and airs on PBS every now and then. And we had somebody from Southern California call us and say, “You know, my husband and I watched turning point last night and we cried, where do we send a cheque?” Five years later, that donation (knock on wood )has increased every year. We just make sure she knows everything, all the good stuff that we’re doing. So she knows that her investment or donation is going places.

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

Tinamarie Hernandez: We have one particular individual with who we’ve been working with her since she was three months past her very life-changing. accident.  She’s now a complete quadriplegic and was injured at 19. You don’t know what you’re going to do with your life at 19, right? But when we met her she was still in her anger phase, which is understandable. She was a very decorated athlete before this accident.

This last week, she announced that she is going to finish her degree. I can’t say Diveheart did all the work. We didn’t but we helped get her that spark. I know we did. She’s worked with us and her whole life has changed. She’s been inspiring people with disabilities to get certified. They’re like, well, wow, I didn’t want to get certified or get in the water until I saw her.

Seeing this young woman coming up out of the water with a smile on her face with her energy makes others think, ” Maybe I am missing out on something.” Those are the impact moments. I can’t measure that impact. That person’s life is better. I know and I hope we can reach as many people as we can. 

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

Jim Elliot: I think you hit the nail right on the head when you said ripple effect. Because what we do, and what’s really cool about what we do is that it can happen so fast.  The first pool session can be so powerful because it’s not natural to breathe underwater. It happens to everybody that puts their face in the water and breathes it off that tank. And it changes the way they think and the way they really experience life.

We like to do to say that we take the unrealized human potential, and we create a paradigm shift. So now it’s not Johnny in a wheelchair, it’s Johnny, the scuba diver. Then what we do is, once they have this new identity, we point them towards being a good steward of the environment.  You know, get into marine biology or just be a helper and do good in the world. Then we try to help them go in that direction. In turn, they inspire people around them, like you said, the ripple effect. And this girl that Tina was talking about. She came to us and said, “You changed my daughter’s life. Thank you so much. “

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

Jim Elliot: One of the things that keep us going and able to adapt is when we are hit with an obstacle.  We take lemons and make lemonade, basically. What action do we take, that’s going to really be meaningful at this moment? Where we can just stay with it and then persevere, take that obstacle and turn it around. And we’ve been successful doing that many times. As the book says, the obstacle is the way.

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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Happy 10th Anniversary Charity Matters!

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

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

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

The Human Condition

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

The Helpers, the heroes

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

Alexandra Dwek, Elena Davis, Lela Diaz and Jennifer Hillman

The Friends

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

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

The big and the Small

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

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

The lessons we learned

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

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

Gratitude

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Week!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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  • Subscribe to new episodes each week!
Connect with us:

 

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Be Our Guest

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

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

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

Tap to Listen to the interview here

 

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Season One..thats a wrap!

Well, we did it! We set out to share these incredible stories of our favorite humans in a different format and sixteen podcast interviews later we have! I am always amazed when I set out to do something I have never done and somehow with a huge leap of faith and a lot of help, it happens. The journey was bumpy, that is for sure! When you look in the rearview mirror there is an incredible sense of accomplishment in seeing how far you have come. Honestly, the journey would not have been possible without all of you, the best traveling companions a girl could ask for.

Like all long journeys, this one began last July with more than a handful of cheerleaders nudging me towards the podcast.  Once the idea took root, it came time to figure out how to make it happen. There were more than a few learning curves along the way, almost all technology-related. Once those hurdles were overcome we were off to the races in January. Now that the first lap of the race is completed, it is time for rest.

Taking a moment to reflect on the lessons learned, the challenges, and the next steps. During this interim, we will still be sending out weekly emails and we will be working on Season Two which will debut in July.  Speaking of July, Charity Matters will be celebrating its official 10th birthday on July 17th. With that milestone comes our renewed commitment to introducing you to amazing humans each week who inspire each of us to give the best of ourselves, to one another and the world.

Thank you again for subscribing and telling your friends about the Charity Matters Podcast. We are so grateful for you continuing to support this work and journey.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 15: Infinite Strength

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What has your impact been? 

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

How has this journey changed you?

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 10: Ryan Seacrest Foundation Following the heart

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 2: Rabih Torbay, Project HOPE

Have you ever had an impactful conversation that stayed with you for a long time? That is exactly how I felt about the conversation I had with Rabih Torbay, CEO of Project HOPE. You may remember the Charity Matter’s post a few months back?  Today I am excited to share that very special conversation with you, as I speak to our very special guest, Rabih Torbay. When crises happen around the globe, hurricanes, floods, war, pandemics, Project HOPE is there. The news may tell you every night that the world is dark, but I can guarantee you there is hope and this conversation is a good place to find it.

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

Project HOPE places power in the hands of local health care workers to save lives around the world.  In this episode, Rabih and I discuss how he – a civil engineer with no medical background – became involved with the work of Project HOPE and how that experience has changed his life forever.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

Charity Matters: Has Project Hope’s strategy always been a community-based approach?

It has been right from the beginning. You know, Project HOPE is people.  It’s people to people.  That’s how we connect.  And it has always been the community.  It has always been the doctors and nurses on the ground.  And for us, the last thing we want to do is replace them.  Our job is to support them and working at the community level, working at the clinic level, and at the hospital level.

Charity Matters: Tell us the journey that lead you to Project HOPE and this humanitarian work?

I wish I could say I planned it all, but I didn’t.  I’m a civil engineer by background, so I have no health education or health background.  And I grew up in Lebanon during the civil war.  After the war ended, I ended up going to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Initially, the plan was to go for two weeks and I ended up…you know, stretching that to nine years. . .

And for me, that was a wake-up call . . .  And that’s when I used my engineering background to start coordinating the water and making it clean . . .

…The first time there were about 100 people dying every day.  Within a week, it went down to two people, and within 10 days, there was no more death.

. . .It showed me what a little smart investment could make in terms of an impact on people’s lives . . . and I never looked back. That was 1999. And I started doing this work. And yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing ever since.

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

People always ask “what keeps you going?”  I mean, it’s that human resilience that we underestimate.  Human resilience is amazing. Whether it’s the people that I saw in Beirut when I went and visited after the blast in Beirut, or in Sierra Leone, or Iraq or Afghanistan.  People’s resilience is what makes us work harder – when you see them that they’ve got nothing, but they still have a smile on their face.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

I’m am a completely changed person from focusing on my company and making money to really focusing on how can we improve as a society. It is no longer about me; it’s no longer about my family. It’s always now about the entire society, how can we help each other?

We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to help the next person and I’m forever grateful for Project HOPE to give me the support you need to actually work for such an organization. It’s just my dream come true.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Project Hope

Every day the news around the globe seems overwhelming. Where there is darkness, there is always hope. Never did I feel that sense of hope more than from my inspiring conversation with the CEO of Project HOPE, Rabih Torbay, earlier this week. When crises happen around the globe, hurricanes, floods, war, pandemics, Project HOPE is there. The news may tell you every night that the world is dark but I can guarantee you there is hope.

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

Rabih Torbay: We play our role in making people’s lives a bit better. As you probably know, Project HOPE has been around since 1958. So we’re a little bit over 60 years old. And our focus has been mainly on training health workers. Because we believe that the solution isn’t the hand in the hands of the healthcare workers working all over the world, especially the first responders.

So when you go to any disaster area, or when you go to places in Africa, and you see who’s actually carrying the load is the health care workers. So we focused quite a bit on doing that through different interventions. disaster response is one of them whether it’s a hurricane or an earthquake or as We’re seeing now with COVID-19 as well.

We have doctors and nurses that are deploying that are helping other doctors and nurses that are training them. We’re sending supplies, we’re supporting them. We’re empowering those first responders on the ground to do a better job as much as possible. We also focus on infectious diseases, whether that’s HIV, tuberculosis, or COVID-19. We work at the community level because, at the end of the day, the communities have to own the problem. And our role is not to solve the problem for them, our role is actually to support them and empower them because they have the solutions.  We really take pride in, in terms of empowering and supporting those communities to solve those problems.

Charity Matters: Has Project Hope’s Strategy always been a community-based approach?

Rabih Torbay: It has been right from the beginning. You know, Project HOPE is people.  It’s people to people. That’s how we connect. And it has always been the community, it has always been the doctors and nurses on the ground. And for us, the last thing we want to do is replace them. Our job is to support them and working at the community level working at the clinic level, the hospital level.

We go and ask them, “What do you need? What kind of support do you need? How can we help you?” And that’s how we come in and help them whether it’s an infectious disease or chronic diseases, and maternal and child health, especially the newborn health, which is a focus for us. That’s, that’s what makes us different than that’s what makes us special.

The Back Story

Charity Matters: Tell us the journey that lead you to Project Hope and this Humanitiarn work?

Rabih Torbay: I wish I could say I planned it all but I didn’t. I’m a civil engineer by background. So I have no health, education, or health background. And I grew up in Lebanon during the Civil War. And after the Civil War ended, I ended up going to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Initially, the plan was to go for two weeks and I ended up you know, stretching that to nine years.

It was during the Civil War, and I was still doing construction work with my civil engineer. There was a cholera outbreak on an island. And somebody asked me if I would volunteer for their organization and represent them for a couple of weeks until they send a team. So I said, “Sure, I’ll help out, although I have no idea what I’m going to be doing because again, I’m not a health care person.”

And I ended up going to that island. We took a hand canoe with an outboard engine, it took us four hours in rough seas.  But we made it to the island. There are always those triggers that change people’s lives and this was mine. I got to the island which has about 10,000 people, very poor. They had one clinic and one nurse in that clinic. So I walked into the clinic and people were dying from the current outbreak. There was a sick baby by the door. The clinic had no roof, no windows. And frankly, the nurse was actually sleeping. He was drunk and sleeping.

So I walked in and I spoke to the nurse, and I asked him, I said, mean, people are dying. What are you doing? You’re sleeping and you could smell alcohol. And he looked at me said, I have no medicines. I have no medical supplies. I have no support. All I’m doing is seeing people die. What do you want me to do?

And for me, that was a wake-up call.  That baby was dead, the one that I saw at the entrance. So I went back, I went back to the Capitol and I said, “We have to do something.” With a little bit of money that I had, we bought some medicines, we bought some IV fluids, we bought some chlorine. And that’s when I used my engineering background to start coordinating the water and making it clean and we went back to that island.

And from when we went there, the first time there were about 100 people dying every day, within a week, it went down to two people, and within 10 days, there was no more death. Oh my god. And it showed me what a little smart investment could make in terms of an impact on people’s lives. So that’s an I never looked back. That was 1999. And I started doing this work. And yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing ever since.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rabih Torbay: I think one of the biggest challenge challenges is getting people to know what’s going on in the world. When people hear only bad news, they don’t react to the good news that’s going on. So one of our challenges is to bring what we’re doing in the field, whether it’s in Africa and Asia and Latin America, or here in the US, so they would know that there’s a lot of good still happening and that they can actually contribute to that they can do some of they can participate in some of that good.

And that’s why we’re holding the event on Wednesday (tonight). You know, to really bring what we’re doing in the field, to people’s minds to people’s eyes so they can see it and feel it and feel that this they can actually contribute to a good cause. Instead of you know, wallowing in the negativity that we have these days.

Charity Matters: How would you recommend people start getting involved?

Rabih Torbay: Sometimes we look at the problems around the world and it’s overwhelming and we think you know What can I do about it? You know, right, my $1, $5, one hundred dollars isn’t gonna make any difference with the huge problems that we’re facing. And the reality is everything counts every single penny, every single thought and action comes, even for people that cannot donate.

If they spread the word about, what Project HOPE is doing about the needs. And it’s not about us. It’s about the people that we’re helping, right. It’s about the women and the children that we’re serving. If people can spread the word or donate or volunteer, all of that has a huge impact. 

 We actually show them that the world cares about them. So we will present that hope that people need because at the end of the day if people have hope they can survive to the next day with the hope that something good is going to come. Right. And that’s what we do. So partnering with, with our donors, whether the $1 donor or the $100,000 donor, is actually what enables us to provide people with health care and hope, and hopefully a brighter future.

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

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

Rabih Torbay: People always ask what keeps you going? I mean, it’s that human resilience that we underestimate the human resilience is amazing. Whether it’s the people that I saw in Beirut when I went and visited after the blast in Beirut, or in Sierra Leone, or Iraq or Afghanistan.

People’s resilience is what makes us work harder when you see them that they’ve got nothing, but they still have a smile on their face. And they’re pushing forward. They’re trying to make ends meet, they’re still trying to provide that gets the same way we want to provide of our kids, put them to schools, make sure they’re not sick. I mean, when you see How can you give up? How can you sit back and say, okay, I’ve done enough?

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

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

Rabih Torbay: People think that we’re actually helping others when it’s very reciprocal. When you go to a place like Beirut during a blast, and you see the youth who came from all over the country to help clean up the streets, help pick up the pieces, volunteer, donate money, donate medicines, donate food, and they’ve got nothing themselves, but they brought whatever they can to help. I mean, how can you not fall in love with people like that?

People that are actually doing and it gives you an unbelievable sense of, you know, a humility.  They don’t need a hand up. Nobody wants a hand up.  People need a helping hand people and need to be able to help each other and help themselves with pride and with dignity. To be in a position where you could actually help them achieve that. It’s just amazing. It doesn’t get better than that.

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

Rabih Torbay: How can you put a price on somebody’s life? You know, how can you monetize that? How can you say, life is worth $2? That’s life is worth $100,000. Right? You start looking at that. But that being said, donors want to make sure that their money is going to the right people, and that you’re maximizing the impact of that money, and the money’s not being wasted. And, and for us, it’s critical. We take that very seriously.

We work hard for every single cent that we get from our donors. And we appreciate every single sound because we want it we you know, every cent counts and it saves people’s lives.  And one of the most impactful things that we do is actually training. Now, think about the multiplying factor of the training of doctors. If you go in as a doctor and treat 10 patients, that’s fantastic. You’ve just saved 10 patients.

But if you go in as a doctor or as a nurse, and you treat five patients and you train one doctor, who in turn will actually everyday treat 50 to 100 patients, look at the impact of your money, and put the potential of those doctors and nurses will train other doctors and nurses. So the model is the biggest return on investment that anybody could ever have, especially when it comes to health care workers.

And for us, that’s why everything we do, whether it’s during a disaster response or a program that deals with maternal and child health, or tuberculosis or HIV, or diabetes, training of healthcare workers is critical. Because that is the one thing that we leave behind. You can build a clinic, it could get destroyed, right? You can provide medicines and medical supplies don’t get used and they run out. But when you train people, that knowledge stays behind. And it’s a permanent knowledge. And for us, that is the most impactful work that any organization can ever do.

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

Rabih Torbay:  I don’t think it’s going to be achieved in my lifetime. And I hope it does, which is that Project HOPE and other organizations like project top are no longer needed. Because that means the world is in a much better place. Now more realistic and immediate The dream for Project Hope is that we really reach more people.

When you ask about, you know, what keeps me up at night, obviously the safety of our staff,  the next disaster that’s coming, can we actually respond? Can we get the resources to respond to those disasters? Can we actually make sure that we deliver training and we deliver services during COVID-19? The one thing that always keeps me up at night is who we could have reached that we didn’t? 

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

Rabih Torbay:  You know, as an engineer, you want certainty about everything you do, right? You want to know everything before you make any decision, for me, one of the most important things that I’ve learned,
especially stepping away from my engineering world is taking risks.

Take a chance on people take a chance on people’s resilience, take a risk, do something that your gut tells you. It’s the right thing to do. And your brains tell you No, it’s not. Listen to your gut instinct much more than you listen to your brains all the time. And taking a chance on people and believing in people’s goodness goes a long, long way.

Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Firas Atani for Project HOPE, 2020.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rabih Torbay:  I’m am a completely changed person from focusing on my company and making money to really focusing on how can we improve as a society. It is no longer about me, it’s no longer about my family. It’s always now about the entire society, how can we help each other?

And, you know, having grown up in Lebanon during the Civil War? I didn’t know that was in me because you grew up in a war and you always wanted somebody to help you. You always want somebody to stop the bomb, and you wanted somebody to make sure that you get food.  This was in me the whole time and I had no idea.

Suddenly, you know, it came back out. And I was like, look, it’s about people. It’s about that extra step. So for me, the one thing I choose is the fact that I can never get enough. I never stop. Whatever I can do. I want to do a little bit more. Some people think I’m crazy. Some people think I’m a workaholic. I just love it. And the second thing is, I love my job. I’m telling you doing seven years of engineering, I hated every second.

We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to help the next person and I’m forever grateful for Project HOPE to give me the support you need to actually work for such an organization. It’s just my dream come true.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Someday has arrived

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss

With so many college send-offs this week, I thought this post from last year was worth a repost.

The moment you first hold your child you do not think about the moment that you will say goodbye. We never think that far ahead. Once our children are born we open a college savings account but we don’t actually really think about college. It is like a far off goal equivalent to someday I’ll have a (fill in the blank). It’s a someday thing.

As parents, we support our children, love them, encourage them to find what they love to do and hope they can someday put it on their college resume. We tell them that they need good grades if they are ever going to go to college…someday.

We go through the pressure of high school grades, college test prep, ACTs, SATs, college applications and even college acceptances and still it feels like a someday thing. In the last few weeks, we have been buying everything for the dorm room, enjoying college send-off dinners with different groups of friends and the reality has begun to come crashing down that someday is here. Someday is literally at the door and someday is this week.

You would think since this isn’t my first rodeo saying goodbye and sending off the last of my three sons to college would get easier? It’s not, it is actually harder.

It is not that I love any of our sons differently, it is just that this is the end of the road, the last one ever! Twenty-four years of being a parent to boys under my roof and poof someday snuck in and has taken my boys, my job and what’s left of my heart.  Someday arrived and this dreaded moment is really happening.

Someday doesn’t care that time went by in a blink. Someday doesn’t care if your child is ready to go, how fantastic they are, or how much they will be missed? Someday doesn’t care but tomorrow does. Tomorrow brings with it the reality and the tears, that won’t seem to stop. Tomorrow also brings the heavy heart that feels so proud and is beyond sad in the same breath. Someday doesn’t have to walk by the empty bedroom or see the empty seat at the dinner table every day. Someday doesn’t worry about the silence at the end of the school day when no one comes bounding in asking for food full of joy. Tomorrow does.

So as I cling to the last precious moments of someday and hold my son so tight, I am deeply aware of the privilege it is to be his mom. How blessed am I to have had eighteen amazing years with this incredible human? How lucky is the world to have him? He was born to fly and born for this moment to leave the nest. If you love them set them free and so I will…..My nest will empty but just like the Dr. Seuss books I used to read him said, “Do not cry because its over, smile because it happened.”

Charity Matters.

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Project Ropa

If you live in an urban area, you are aware of our national homeless epidemic. Los Angeles alone has over 66,000 people living on the streets of our city, according to the latest statistics. Nationally, 17 out of every 10,000 people in our country are homeless, according to the nonprofit end homelessness.org.  The problem is so overwhelming and huge that most people don’t know where to begin. Everyone except Caitlin Adler that is. Caitlin and I spoke last month about homelessness, COVID, and her incredible work as the founder of Project Ropa.

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

Caitlin Adler:  We started Project Ropa in 2015 to address the challenges that homeless people face in obtaining and keeping clean clothes. Though homelessness is accompanied by many things, one of its greatest indignities comes from the absence of hygiene services.

Most homeless people literally have only the clothes on their backs. Access to clean clothing is essential to the overall well-being of a person and can be the key to opening doors to employment and housing. How you look affects how you feel about yourself and how others treat you. Now, because of the health threats posed by the coronavirus, the need to overcome those challenges has become ever greater.

Project Ropa provides a selection of new and gently used high-quality men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, along with personal hygiene products (donated by local manufacturers, retailers, and nonprofit partners). Each week we bring the clothing throughout the city in a retrofitted van that acts as a mobile walk-in closet. At the same time, the people we serve can take a shower offered by another service provider, called Lava Mae, that we partner with.

Charity Matters: Did you have a background in philanthropy or nonprofit Prior to Project Ropa?

Caitlin Adler:  No, I didn’t have any nonprofit background.  My background was in hospitality. I was a pastry chef for 15 years and had a bakery in Boston. When I moved to LA, I was really burned out and began doing restaurant design. I wanted my life to have a purpose and I had a heart for the homeless but really didn’t know how to make an impact.

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

Caitlin Adler:  I  began volunteering for a nonprofit called Chrysalis, which helps people transition out of homelessness. I helped them sort their clothing donations and quickly realized that they had surplus clothing of some items that they couldn’t use and a shortage of other items. I began to help them redistributing the clothing between six other nonprofit partners.

After talking to other charities it became clear that there was a gap in the system. In 2015, I started Project Ropa by redistributing unwanted donations from local charities with the goal of using the remaining clothes to one day stock a mobile pop-up shop for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Since 2016, we have taken the concept to the streets. Clean clothes and access to personal hygiene products significantly impact a person’s economic well-being, physical health, and emotional resilience. We received our 501c3 in 2017.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Caitlin Adler: We have a few challenges. Currently, with COVID we are the only organization that is handling clothing. The lack of education from other nonprofits on clothing distribution has been challenging. Maintaining good relationships with the city and county can be hard.

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

Caitlin Adler: At the end of the day, when you know that someone who is homeless can get a job because you have provided them access to a shower and given them something to wear. It is a great feeling. Once our clients get jobs they need to come back for more than one thing to wear to work but to stay employed.

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

Caitlin Adler: We had a gentleman come in recently and he literally was in tattered rags and had maggots on him. He had a shower and we gave him new clothes, new shoes, a face mask, gloves and he felt and acted like a new person. He had dignity and a smile. Those are the moments when I know we have made a difference.

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

Caitlin Adler: Since we started we have clothed over 30,000 people. All of that clothing was 84,000 pounds of clothing that did not go into a landfill. I think our biggest impact is the job that clothing helps people get. We have directly provided clothing for more than 800 people for job interviews. Once our clients have a shower, clean new clothes, and shoes, and dignity they are ready to get a job. When they come back for more clean clothes to wear to work that is a huge impact. 

The other impact is basic hygiene such as tampons and clean underwear that we provide. These small items make a huge impact on someone’s life. 

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

Caitlin Adler: I think if we could continue to franchise our model in other areas and build in a way that incorporates social enterprise. We would love to continue recycling as part of our model as well.

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

Caitlin Adler: I came into this experience naive and trusting looking out for the good of the community. I originally did this by myself and partnered with twelve other organizations. Over time I have learned so much more about the multiple facets of homelessness.

How has this journey changed you?

Caitlin Adler: I used to be so afraid of the homeless because I didn’t have any personal interaction. When you know people by name and care for them you learn understanding and compassion and we all need more of that.

 

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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Life lessons from my mom

“Mom, when thoughts of you are in our hearts, we are never far from home.”  

Author Unknown

Today is Mother’s Day and it’s my 18th Mother’s Day without my mom. While it gets easier each year, it is still a bitter-sweet day for me. Our mothers are our life anchors, they ground us in ways we never imagine until the anchor is pulled up and we are adrift. Then we must find a new footing within ourselves by becoming the anchor and the circle of life continues. In that process of becoming the anchor, we need to know what our roots are in order to become rooted for another. Roots are something my mom taught us alot about.

I was raised by a midwestern mother, something she reminded the three of us regularly. She was smart, proud, practical, fun, gracious, hospitable, frugal, full of love, and joy. She was raised in Michigan by her single mother and grandmother in the 1940s and 1950s. After college, she and a few girlfriends headed for  California in her early twenties and never looked back. When I think about the multitude of life lessons she taught me, I can’t help but think of the time that she grew up and how that shaped the role model she was to me, my sisters and so many.

A college degree in 1963 still meant that she could hope to become a teacher or a secretary, which she did. She met my dad and was married at 23 with my arrival to follow. I remember her bringing my dad a drink and the paper as a little girl, the dutiful 1960s housewife. Then in the late 1970s, I remember her announcing to us that she was becoming a realtor. A mom who worked? We were stunned.

She told us, “You always need to be able to take care of yourself.” When times got tough and she became the breadwinner and my dad pushed a vacuum for a year, I watched a shift in both my parents as they gained a new respect for the other’s role. Through it, all my mom smiled, worked hard, brought everyone together, and always found joy and gratitude.

If there was one phrase my mother repeated to me most of my life it was, “Young lady, life is tough, toughen up.” She was strong but not hard. She was loving but firm. She loved her family, her children, and her friends so deeply and showed us all regularly with huge smiles, big gatherings, being present, and Sunday night dinners. Always finding a place at our table for someone without a place and making our house full of joy. She sang show tunes full volume and we did too, bad voices and all. She didn’t care.

Sadly, my mom left us too soon.  Gone at 60 with a legacy that impacted so many.  I met a group of young women at her funeral who came up and told me what my mother meant to them. She had taught them to, “know their worth and not take @#%* from anyone.” She had been a mamma bear and mentor at work for women who shared story after story how she had graciously and firmly stood her ground with workplace injustices.

There is a phrase that I think of often when thinking of my mom, and it is “The greatest gift you can give the world is a life well lived.” If there was one lesson that is her legacy it is that. Life is short, it is precious and we have to live each day to its fullest. Sing loudly, smile big, and often. Be kind, be strong, be good, be frugal, be proud, be gracious, have fun, and most importantly be grateful. These lessons are the gifts I treasure most every day and especially on Mother’sDay. The circle of life continues and we can all only hope to leave such a legacy.

I think of her everyday and know she is with me, guiding me and smiling down on her grandchildren.  Her legacy lives on in all of those whose lives she touched.  As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I celebrate my mom and all the amazing mothers who teach us how to love and how to live. The greatest gift of all.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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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