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Charity Matters. Heidi McNiff Johnson

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It just isn’t summer without camp

 

 

Friday marks the first official beginning of summer.  Each year over six million American children participate in some sort of day or overnight camp each year. Many of these camps are nonprofit organizations. Camp is a summer ritual for many and for other young students an opportunity for reinvention. To show up without past labels, to be at a place where no one knows who you are but who they see. That reinvention also allows children to feel great about themselves, after being away from home and independent for a few days or weeks.  This generation is connected via devices but not authentically connected and camp gives these students a place to unplug and actually make real authentic connections.

As many of you know, I did not go to camp as a child but my day job is running a non-profit youth leadership organization, which also has a summer camp program. We have incredible high school and college students volunteering to serve as camp counselors and mentors. Many counselors are alumni of our program and want to give back to an organization that changed their lives.  Students teaching students to be the best of themselves. Showing one another respect, how to learn from different opinions, and how to work together towards a resolution. Ultimately, teaching students how to lead.

 

Tomorrow, I will happily be greeting hundreds of smiling faces as our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders arrive with their nervous parents. For some, it will be their first time away from home.   It is such a great feeling to bring everyone together. There is no greater joy than knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself and that your work makes a difference. This video below from one of our students a few years back, pretty much says it all.

Nothing brings greater joy than planting the seeds of compassion in these incredible students year after year.  When the world seems to get a bit crazier, these students give me hope. I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope. As one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world...”

Charity Matters.

 

 

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Dirty Windows

I had my windows washed for the first time in a long time. This is not newsworthy, of that I am aware. What is worth a conversation is how could I live that long without seeing clearly? It is actually astounding that day by day and week by week and month by month all the dog slobber, grit smudging and pollen built up went unnoticed.  I am obviously not a clean freak and talking in metaphors. Everyday I think I am looking at the world clearly until one day I wake up and realize I hadn’t really seen anything clearly, until I did.

Getting my windows washed was my birthday gift to myself and honestly, it was the perfect gift. Yes, the light is amazing and everything just seems cleaner. More than that, as I celebrate another lap around the sun, I feel ready to move forward in this new year ahead with clarity. We can accumulate a lot of build up in a year of life. Each day a little something sticks to us that we don’t see and then a little more until one day we decide it’s time to get rid of it.

There are many things that build up over time. Friendships that slip away because you let another day go by without picking up the phone, time with aging parents that you let escape you, one cookie too many I may have decided to eat…each of these tiny decisions builds up and over time creates a lack of clarity. Yes, what’s one cookie? I’ll call her tomorrow. My parents are fine, I’ll check in later….until you can’t and your clothes don’t fit.

None of us are perfect and none of us make perfect decisions everyday. I’ll choose the cookie almost eveytime…is the right choice? Maybe.  Each choice we make is like cleaning our dirty windows. We can choose to see what really matters or we can put it off until it’s too late. So with that I am eating the cookie, walking with my dad, calling my friends and trying oh so hard to choose what matters. I am also enjoying my squeaky clean view.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 78: Words Matter

Many of us grew up with the childhood slogan of, ” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Hundreds of years later we now know that they actually can.  Words can cause long lasting scars on our children as nonprofit founder, Jessica Bondy shares with us with today’s inspirational conversation about the power of our words. Join us for an enlightening discussion from across the pond about this amazing new nonprofit, Words Matter.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Words Matter does?

Jessica Bondy: Words Matter is the first organization in the world focused solely on addressing the issue of verbal abuse of children by adults. It is so pervasive, it goes so unnoticed and not properly recognized. Yet it affects two in five children. And of that two in five children over half experienced verbal abuse by adults weekly, and one in turn every single day of their lives. Hearing words to blame, shame, belittle, criticize, and it’s not just shouting and screaming, it can be quite insidious, and subtle.

And I think that the thing that is most concerning about childhood verbal abuse by adults, is the life long damage it can do to children. Because words matter. They stick, they last a lifetime. They shape who we are and who we become. So we are on a mission to end verbal abuse of children by adults.

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

Jessica Bondy: I set it up having spent decades in communication, and working for some of the biggest brands in the world Samsung, British Airways, FedEx, Procter and Gamble, working as director and MD of some big firms and then setting up my own agency.  I also coached and mentored a lot of young people helping them realize their potential.  I did a course all about women finding their voices and speaking up and I had a eureka moment. This eureka moment came on when we were given a topic to talk about with this group of women all on zoom from around the world. The topic was if you are going to die in the next six months, what do you want your legacy to be?

This thing came from me out of nowhere.  And I said, “If I’m going to die in the next six months, I don’t want my legacy to be that I am a good aunt. I don’t want my legacy being that I’m a communication specialist. And I don’t want my legacy being that I coach and mentor young people to help realize their potential.” I don’t want it to be on the good old, I’m a communication specialist, or mentor young people, even though all of those things don’t too many people would be hugely worthwhile and satisfied, right? I looked down the barrel of the camera on my Zoom computer. And I said, “If  I’m going to die in the next six months, I want to end verbal abuse of children by adults, because words matter.”

Wow. And I said this, because of my own lived experience and was getting so locked in my head. So many of the people I coached had been so impacted by what they’d heard when they were growing up.

I think what’s so fascinating with what I’m doing now, and Words Matter, it kind of all makes sense. Because there I was communicating on behalf of businesses and brands, then I was helping young people communicate, and market themselves. Now I feel I’m almost the voice of children say, enough is enough words matter.  I feel it is my purpose, I strongly believe that the only reason I’m on this planet is to do this thing.  I just don’t want it to be that way for the next generations and generations to come.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jessica Bondy:  I think part of the challenge is when you believe something incredibly passionate yourself, and there are people that don’t necessarily believe in what your cause is.  And I found there’s a real dichotomy of people that get it. I’ve had people who’ve literally burst into tears and said, Oh, gosh, I haven’t spoken to my father since I was 14. It’s so brilliant, you’re doing something about this.

I think the other very challenging thing, given the environment we are in today is fundraising is very, very hard. Because particularly if you’re a new charity, because so many funders want to be reassured that you’re going to succeed. And if you’re new and different,  it’s hard. When I ran my own agency, and people were buying the services they were getting something in return. Philanthropy is very, very different. People are doing it because they believe in your cause. They believe that you’re gonna make a difference in the world.

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

Jessica Bondy: I think what fuels me is an absolute passion and belief in the need for this to happen in the world.  Actually, knowing  what I’m doing is changing people’s behavior. So that fuels me knowing that we can make a difference.

I think the other thing that fuels me is this incredible network of experts, supporters, and my fellow trustees, who have that belief, that you’ve cracked so many nuts, you’ll be able to crack this.  I feel like I’ve kind of got almost a rocket of support underneath me to try and make it a success.

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

Jessica Bondy: September 2023, our website went live.  We released the findings of our children survey and the most helpful and hurtful words that children said.  We have  three pillars, research and what we see is in terms of delivering outcomes, and outputs with data validation of the scale and impact. Then the next  pillar is about awareness. And that’s trying to change perception and increase understanding and awareness.

Then the other thing we’re developing is training, education and information. We developed some resources on how to talk to children, from adults, for parents, for teachers, those with lived experience.   We had the first international conference on childhood verbal abuse with University College London and the World Health Organization, we had over 1300 people registered to attend and actually 98% said it had made them they’d found it useful, and they would apply the information to their learning to their jobs. Over 90% said it would change their own their own behavior.

It’s called Words Matter, impact and prevention of childhood verbal abuse.  So we’ve developed this program, we’re piloting it.  Hopefully, it’ll be extended through our network of partners. So we’ve got a number of different leading charities supporting our mission, who are service providers, and we’re hoping to do the training through them and their networks.

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

Jessica Bondy:  if I could dream, any dream it would be that in everybody’s public consciousness, they would think about, be aware of, and acknowledge the harm that words adults say to children can have. They don’t understand it. What I think is so interesting is, as soon as you ask adults themselves to think about what they remember, when they were a child, so many, the vast vast majority can remember what was said to them that built them up. And what and who said it to them that knocked them down. But they don’t somehow apply it to their own lives when they are an adult. Right, that kind of disconnect. So I’d like widespread acknowledgement of it.

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

Jessica Bondy: So often in life one tries to mold oneself into something to be liked, approved or understood by someone and it just it never feels comfortable. One should  surround oneself with radiators, not drains.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jessica Bondy: I’m somebody that is a survivor.  I think I’m quite a resilient person. And resilience is so important.  I just think it’s about somehow dusting yourself off if you have a knock back. It’s not easy to do. People who experienced verbal abuse or any form of abuse is that you just need one or two people in your life that really build a venue that really believe in you that you can talk to, and get that support for.

We all know it’s so important to have that connection and support from a very, very young age.  I’ve had a few people in my life who I feel have really been there for me and who really believed in me. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen and heard, for who we are and valued for who we are.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

The Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Have you ever picked up an old photo album and come across memories and before you know it you have been transported down memory lane? Last week that happened to me when I went looking for interviews to include in my book. Before I knew it I was years into Charity Matter’s post and it felt like finding old friends.

This post from 2018 struck me because the past few weeks, I have been speaking to hundreds of school principals for TACSC. My message for all of these schools is that when we tie a child’s shoe, we don’t help them, as intended. Instead, we tell the child by our action that they can’t tie their shoe. That they are not capable. Our mission at TACSC is to empower these students and tell them they can be anything and do anything they set their mind to. So when I came across this old post it felt just as relevant and worth a re-share. I did update the numbers served, so those are current.

A few years ago, a young lady that has helped start and run a local nonprofit asked me to write her a recommendation for The Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I happily did. This high school girl is extraordinary and I was thrilled to help.  More than that, I was  excited to learn about this incredible award and nonprofit that inspires and encourages students between the ages of 8 and 18 to use heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance to make a positive and significant impact on the world.

The prize was started by New York Times best selling Children’s author, T.A. Barron seventeen years ago and named after the author’s mother. His hope was to inspire children that could make a significant difference in the world. The founder’s fear was that  perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find these children. However,it was just the opposite, hundreds and hundreds of applications would begin to come in.

Twenty-three years later, the Barron Prize for Young Heroes has honored over 575 young heroes who have  all done remarkable things. One prize winner is Alexa, who created a nonprofit called Bags of Books, which she started at age 10. Her organization distributes gently used and new children’s books in free pop-up stores in underserved communities. She has donated more than 120,000 books and inspired hundreds of volunteers to distribute books in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and after school programs.

One  young prize winner founded NY is a great place to Bee! to educate the public about bees about the importance of healthy bee populations. She built a team of volunteers and they have educated over 14,000 students about ways to protect bees through her advocacy.

Another inspiring change maker,  Jahkil, founded Project I Am to help the homeless in Chicago. In one year Jahkil and his team distributed more than 3,000 Blessing Bags filled with toiletry items, towels, socks and snacks through his drop off sites and bag stuffing parties all at the age of nine!

While I could go on with hundreds more of these incredible young nonprofit founders and budding philanthropists, these 575 Barron Prize for Young Heroes winners have combined raised over 28.5 million dollars for their causes in the past twenty-three years. The real winners of this prestigious award are the incredible communities served by these extraordinary young leaders and their enormous compassion to serve. Each of them give us hope for a brighter future of kindness, caring and service.

 

charity matters.

 

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Charity Matters has a new platform

I hope everyone has had a great week and are counting down to the long weekend ahead. I wanted to thank all of you who helped with the book naming survey, we are still narrowing it down but definitely getting closer! So thank you to all who voted, reached out and shared ideas. So grateful to you all. I promise to let you know once we have an official title.

Since our last book update, I had missed my April 30th book deadline and was more than a little stressed.  I picked up my pace and kicked things into high gear Mother’s Day weekend. As a result,  I am thrilled to report that I finished Chapter 6. Then I wrote the entire Chapter 7 and am now finishing Chapter 8. It feels great to be back in the race. Definitely feeling more secure about being past the halfway mark and heading towards the 12 Chapter home stretch in July.

Someone recently asked me, “Why are you writing this book?” My immediate answer was that I am writing it for myself, which is true. I am stretching myself and doing something I have always wanted to do and something I wasn’t sure I could do. Each chapter I prove to myself that I can. We all have a purpose on this earth and I believe that I was put here to help the helpers and to amplify their voices in any way that I can. This book helps that mission and will hopefully help the helpers and teach people that when you help others you end up helping yourself, your community and your world.

As a messanger of service, I am always looking for new ways to amplify these stories of modern day heroes. We started with the blog over a decade ago and then added the podcast. It turns out that so many people listen to their podcast on Youtube, who knew? I am thrilled to share that our podcast is now available on YouTube.  

So if you like reading our interviews and articles here via email every week that is great. If listening to our Charity Matters podcast while you drive into work is how you like your content then that is terrific too. Now for those of you that love YouTube, we will be there for you hear our interviews. Lastly, for our book lovers our book will be out October 1st.

Thank you for being a part of this movement for believing that people are good and for helping to amplify these stories of real angels on earth. Together we all make a difference one small act of kindness at a time.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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 9: America’s Kids Belong

Did you know that there are more than 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one. May is National Foster Care Month and I thought it was a great time to revisit the incredibly eye opening conversation I had a while back with my friend Brian Mavis the founder of America’s Kids Belong.

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

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

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

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Charity Matters Episode 7: Song for Charlie

Last year over 70,000 Americans died from fentanyl. The drug  is now the leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 18-40. Today, May 7th is Fentayl Awareness Day .It isn’t just numbers but these are people, fathers, mothers, sisters and children who are dying every day. So today, we are re-sharing this very important episode and conversation with my friends the Ternans.

There is nothing more painful or devastating than the death of a child.  When Charlie Ternan died at age 22, just three weeks shy of his college graduation, from fentanyl poisoning it devastated his family and the community.  The pill he got online turned out to be a fake painkiller made of the dangerous opioid fentayl.  Since Charlie’s death, his parents, Mary and Ed Ternan have been researching fake pills and fentanyl and have formed a nonprofit, Song For Charlie dedicated to warning young people about this growing danger.

Mary and Ed envision a future in which the casual use of prescription pills is considered socially unacceptable, and in which sharing random pills is uncool.  They are working to change the ‘quick fix’ mindset of self-medication in favor of more organic and sustainable strategies for managing stress and anxiety. To accomplish these goals, Song for Charlie seeks to break through the noise and communicate with young people on their terms – to go where they are; speak their language, and get them talking about the danger of online pills.

 

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Song For Charlie?

Ed Ternan: Song for Charlie is an organization that we started after our youngest son died in May of 2020 of fentanyl poisoning, and we found ourselves thrown into an issue that we’d never even heard about. Charlie died after taking what he thought was a legitimate prescription medication. The mistake he made was he went online and got a Percocet pill. And it turned out that it wasn’t Percocet. It was a counterfeit pill made of fentanyl. So we had the double whammy shock finding that our son had died and we couldn’t figure out how. And very quickly like the next morning, we’re told by law enforcement we suspect fentanyl. Then the question was, well, what is fentanyl? What’s going on here?

Charity Matters: When did you decide to start the organization?

Ed Ternan:  When we dug into the problem and went online, we very quickly became members of this club. And it’s not only the grieving parents club but then it’s parents like us, who are literally shell shocked to find out that their kid died from something that they didn’t even know was out there.

Then we had identified this kind of information gap so we thought, okay, is there something we can do? It’s a little bit of that feeling of, you know, if not us then who?  So we started networking a little bit and thought, you know, maybe we can add some value here. Maybe there’s something we can do.

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

Mary Ternan: Charlie and helping others to save lives.

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

Mary Ternan:  This is what we’re supposed to do. To share our love and care for others and take care of ourselves and be very caring to ourselves and listen to our intuition and our hearts and souls of what we need to do every day. You know you can change from day to day but the most important thing is just walking, walking the walk.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Is it all in the title?

I need your help. Having never written a book, I thought that the title would just come to me somewhat like naming a baby. Like pregnancy you kind of figure things out as you go, you think you all this time to come up with a name. Afterall you have almost nine months, in the case of the book I have eight. The draft is due at the end of July. Just for a reference we didn’t have a name for our youngest son. The night before he was born we went to our favorite restaurant  and the bartender, a friend of ours, asked us what the baby’s name was going to be? We didn’t have an answer, so he named the baby Ford. True story. So if this is any indicator, well I  might need the bartender’s help too!

At our last update, I was having a really hard time starting. My procrastination skills were beyond impressive. When my husband left for a boy’s weekend, I was sure I was going to at least bust out a chapter. Instead, I headed to Target buying organizing containers and organized under my kitchen and bathroom sinks. Who does that? That’s how hard it was to start. I equate it to training for a marathon, which of course I have never done either. From what I hear, you have to start out slow and little by little your pace picks up.

Believe it or not that is exactly what’s been happening. The publisher gave me three months to get the first three chapters done. I was incredibly proud when I turned them in two weeks early, despite all the procrastination. I thought I had found a rhythm and so I rewarded myself with two weeks off after submission. In hindsight, that was  probably not a great call on my part.

The reason that wasn’t a great idea is that our next publisher “check-in” my darling publisher, Michael said, “Ok, great that the first three are in but now we need chapters 4-6 and the title by the end of April.” Wait, whaaat? How did I have three months for three chapters and then one month for three chapters?’ Sweet Michael said, “That most authors begin to hit their stride by the middle of writing.” Since I’m not officially in the middle I am waiting for that moment to just take off.  I am, however, happy to report that it is the third week of April as I write this post and I am starting chapter six and might, just might make my deadline….with one exception, the title.

When the initial panic ensued on the title, I thought who can I possibly ask for help? Who understands what I am writing about? Then I realized that you do! You have been following my crazy journey for over twelve years. You know my story of loss, of starting a nonprofit with a group of friends and my mission to help the helpers by amplifying the amazing nonprofit founders’ voices and work.

The book is my story of stumbling into this work after the loss of my mom. The lessons learned from loss and service and even more the lessons learned from the hundreds of interviews I’ve done this past decade, the ones you read each week. The thesis is that service is the silver bullet. If you want to heal yourself, your family, your community and your world then do something for someone else. It’s pretty simple. The untitled book is a little inspiration and a little self help.

I like to think of Charity Matters as a patchwork of stories and the book will be the quilt where they all come together. More than a few people have asked why not just call the book Charity Matters? My answer is that I wouldn’t buy a book called that. Would you? However, I do think you can give the book a short title and then as the byline say: Why Charity Matters.

We made it easy with a poll you can click here and take the survey and make sure to pick one choice to get to page three to suggest your own idea. So here are a few of the tentative titles and I would be beyond grateful for any suggestions you may have or your vote. My list is even longer and maybe your idea is even better?

  • How to become your own hero- Changing your world and ours
  • Help yourself by Helping others
  • We before me: Why Charity Matters 
  • The healing lessons of helping
  • The secret of living is giving 
  • Helping is Healing

If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be a Charity Matters with thousands of followers and subscribers.  Let me know what you think? And thank you for going on this journey with me and for helping us get the word out that there is SO much good in our world if we just look.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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 77: Filling In the Blanks

Did you know that there are over 13 million children in the United States who live with hunger? One in five children does not know where or if their next meal will come. Those facts are shocking to anyone who hears them. However, it is the rare person or people who actually act when hearing those numbers. Today’s guests not only experience food insecurity they have acted to create a nonprofit called Filling In Blanks.

Tina Kramer (left) and Shawnee Knight (right) Founders of Filling In the Blanks

Join us for an inspirational conversations about two next door neighbors who are changing lives and the face of hunger.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Filling In the Blanks does?

Tina Kramer: Shana and I started Filling In the Blanks 11 years ago. And what we do is we provide food on the weekends to children that are struggling with food insecurity. So we provide a bag of food for the kids ages preschool through high school, that receive meals during the week at school, but don’t have anything over the weekend. So we’re covering that weekend meal gap.

Charity Matters: Did Either of you grow up in families that were very involved in their communities?

Shawnee Knight:  My family was always thoughtful of other people, but we didn’t do a lot in terms of being out in the community as much as Tina and I are now. I grew up in a single family household and so I kind of understood.  I was on the free and reduced lunch and so I understand the pressures that these families are facing. I think that really was kind of one of my main motivating factors for starting Filling In The Blanks. Being in Fairfield County, CT there’s so many different volunteer opportunities and ways to give back. 

Tina Kramer: I grew up in a similar household as Shawnee with a single mom who works all the time. My grandmother pretty much raised me. So there wasn’t really an opportunity to give back to the community at that point in time. When we moved to Connecticut, there are so many volunteer opportunities and that’s where I really learned about volunteering.  We decided that we wanted to do something together and  that’s how we founded it Filling in the Blanks. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Filling In the Blanks?

Shawnee Knight: We were riding with a friend into the city,  and we were just talking about sports and our kids. And my friend was saying,” The other students on the opposing team don’t often have snacks. So they would bring snacks for the other team.” I was kind of like,” Wait a minute. There’s kids in Fairfield County that don’t have food. Like how I don’t understand that? That can’t be possible. Look at where we live?”

I think Tina and I were at the age where our kids were getting a little bit older. So we were both trying to find something to do, we were next door neighbors.  We did some research and learned that there really are food insecure children in our community. And for us, the thought of a kid going without food is just shameful. It’s just wrong.

Tina Kramer: So we saw an article in a magazine about a nonprofit that was a national organization that provided food on the weekends to children. So we became program coordinators. That was our first step and we did the fundraising. We did all the purchasing, but the national organization was more of the parent company.

We would give them our fundraising efforts and they would reimburse us. And we are very type A, we are very gung ho about projects we work on.  We decided after probably two or three weeks to use the information from the national organization structure on how to run a nonprofit because neither one of us had ever run a company or any kind of nonprofit before. So that was our stepping stone to the blank.

So we learned how to incorporate our trademark, our logo, articles of incorporation and bylaws. We surround ourselves with good people to help us structure all these things. We started packing bags in my house for 50 kids. We’re tying grocery bags, going to the dollar stores, Costco and loading our Suburbans up which we’re dragging on the floor. And we just learned as we went, and it was so very grassroots in the beginning. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Shawnee Knight: I think definitely finding food suppliers and finding families. and reaching more families. We needed to get a warehouse because we had outgrown Tina’s living room. We had too many kids, and you have to store these bags. We just needed more of a structure for that. And so I think there were challenges, just in doing and getting things done. Realizing people don’t get things done as quickly as we wanted them to get done. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face now are reaching more parents.  There’s definitely still a lot of parents who don’t know about us and our services.. And I think procuring food, and food costs rising because we purchase all of our food. So we’re fundraising to buy food and with food costs going up,  we have to fundraise even more.

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

Tina Kramer:  I don’t think we mentioned this earlier but Shawnee and I are both volunteers. We don’t get paid to run Filling in the Blanks.  We have a real desire to help the kids because we both at some point in our lives dealt with food insecurity, one of us in our childhood, the other in our adult life. That really fuels us because we know what these parents are struggling with, and how hard it is. Just to wonder, can I feed my child today? Or do I have to pay the electric bill? So it’s really ingrained in who we are.

We have a great staff that surrounds us and a great group of volunteers. We have a leadership committee of about 10 people, mainly women. Then we have 11 full time employees that really help with the day to day. Besides the bags were packing, we have 7000 volunteers come through our doors on a yearly basis. Wow. So it’s not just Shawnee and I, and our desire, it’s our community. We’re all lifting up our community and the surrounding communities. And that’s really what fuels us. 

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

Shawnee Knight:  We do a lot of surveys, to the families,  the children, parents,  the social workers and teachers at the schools. So we’re able to measure some of those outcomes for students. Then we track the number of meals and we’ve served over 3 million meals. Every week we have 7500 kids that get our weekend meal bags. We’ve launched our Mobile Food Pantry, fresh food on the move. We’ve been distributing about 20,000 pounds of food at each site, which they operate twice a month.

We’ve partnered with Stanford Health to provide various health and wellness wraparound services, so we’re able to see how many people they register for or how many flu shots they gave out. It is really hard because we don’t have access to kids grades, so it’s hard to measure that. But we do measure things like the teacher saying that the child is less disruptive in class.. We’ve had a teacher tell us a story of this. One child she had that just was out of sorts at school and she kind of made him in charge of helping her with the backpack club as they call it, which is when they get their bags. And she said, that she noticed a change in his personality and his self confidence was improved. So we hear little antidote or things like that. Then from our pre-programmed surveys and post-program surveys, we see an increase in happiness or of the child’s well being.

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

Tina Kramer:  It’s a simple concept that everyone should have access to food and healthy food items. Our volunteers are little kids to adults. We make sure that we can create volunteer opportunities for them to create an impact within Filling in The Blanks.. We’ve created snack bag programs, in addition to our regular weekend meal program. So the younger kids can have a packing event at their home and pack little snacks in a little brown bag that gets distributed to the kids too. So we’re trying to make sure that our volunteers feel the impact that they are creating.

As Shawnee mentioned, we just started a mobile pantry back in October, and we’re serving 1000s of families through that initiative. Through that we’re able to communicate directly to the families and the parents. They tell us the impact that the 50,000 pounds of food they get at the mobile pantry has on their family. Many turned around and now want to know how they can volunteer with us, and how they can give back and how they can help. And that’s just so rewarding. It comes full circle.

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

Tina Kramer: This year alone we will serve over a million meals and the need is not not going away. We’ll probably serve about 10,000 kids this year, every weekend. We created a year round program for all. Our big dream is potentially it’s on the back burner  but I’ll put it out there. We would like to franchise to other states or communities, or do some drop shipping/fulfillment centers to have food delivered directly to the schools. We  would take away the need for additional trucks and drivers. We’re trying to figure out how do we replicate or duplicate our program outside of our like immediate area. 

Charity Matters: Do you have a Phrase or Motto that you live by?

Tina Kramer:One of our board members always said, “If you can, you should.” And that  kind of really encompasses Filling in the Blanks. Because really, anyone, a little kid to a senior citizen can make a difference here, it’s packing the bag, spreading the word, liking something on social media, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it could just not just it can be your time, even if it’s five minutes. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Shawnee Knight:  I think so. I think we were nervous when we first started this. We didn’t know what to expect. You never know how much pressure you can take or how much weight your shoulders can hold. So I think we’ve grown a lot in that sense. I mean, we’re running a really big nonprofit with a big operating budget and expenses. You never know how much of that stress you can take and I think we’ve learned to stomach quite a bit of it.

Tina Kramer: We’re the perfect ying and yang. I think it’s given me a lot more confidence than I had before. I never thought I could run my own business and didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet. And now we’re dealing like Shawnee said, with a multimillion dollar budget. It’s given me confidence in who I am, not only here, but in normal life and at home. It’s just been a great learning experience over the past 11 years.

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

Tina Kramer: That people are good. And they want to do good.  I come from nothing and I’m not used to being encompassed or embraced by our community. This community that we’ve created together, really has shown me how good people are and how they’re always willing to help. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Shawnee Knight:  If you build it, they will come.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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.

Becoming a force for Good

You may remember that in February I went to an incredible event hosted by the publisher of my upcoming book. At that event, I was thrilled to finally meet Cindy Witteman in person. Cindy is the nonprofit founder of Driving Single Parents. We had already connected in so many ways so it was a treat to be in person together. In addition to being a nonprofit founder, Cindy has already written a number of books, hosts a TV show called the Little Give and is now launching a magazine called FORCE. There is no better word to describe my new friend than a serious force.

I was incredibly flattered when Cindy asked me to write about my thoughts on “force” for her premiere issue.  Even more exciting, is the fact that Cindy has asked me to become a regular columnist for the magazine contributing monthly and having a Charity Matters column. FORCE Magazine will be available in 13 countries and sold in over 10,000 retailers, so you can imagine how excited I am! For the first issue, I was asked to write in third person which isn’t my usual voice and was actually difficult becaise I am so comfortable talking to you in first person. Here is a little of what I shared about what it means to become a FORCE for good.

In a world often marked by individual pursuits and ambitions, there exists a powerful force—the act of giving back. It’s a force that transcends personal boundaries, offering the potential to create lasting positive impacts. The ability to harness one’s own personal force for good, by serving others through involvement with nonprofits and charities, becomes a formidable tool in shaping a better world.

Within each of us resides an innate force—a unique blend of skills, resources, and passion. While this force can certainly be directed towards personal gain, its true potential lies in its capacity to contribute to the well-being of others. By recognizing and embracing this inherent power, one can become a force for good, driving positive change and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

In the United States alone, there are approximately 1.6 million nonprofit organizations, each serving as a powerful vehicle for channeling personal force towards societal betterment. These nonprofits were all founded by individuals who recognized a problem and were determined to find a solution. They are remarkable individuals dedicated to addressing various social, environmental, and humanitarian issues. Each nonprofit founder is a living example of being a force for good. By understanding the impact of nonprofits, we can strategically engage with these organizations to amplify their force for good and our own.

One poignant example of the transformative power of collective giving is Meals on Wheels. Founded by Enid Borden and supported by a volunteer army of 2 million, Meals on Wheels is the largest hunger-relief organization for senior citizens in the United States. Every day, they provide meals to over a million elderly individuals across the country. Enid Borden aptly summarizes the essence of giving back, stating, “The biggest problem we have is that there are many charities… So which one is more valuable than another? The answer is they’re all valuable, they’re all worthy, and they all need help. My message is just give. I always tell people: Once you give something back, whether it is a meal or something else, you’re hooked. It doesn’t pay monetarily, but it pays spiritually.”

While Meals on Wheels exemplifies the impact of large nonprofits, it’s important to recognize that every nonprofit started with one founder. The power of giving back extends beyond financial contributions or organizational affiliations; it encompasses individual efforts that, when combined, create a significant force for good. Volunteering time, skills, or expertise to local charities or community initiatives amplifies the impact on a smaller scale but with no less significance.

Charities, regardless of size, often rely on the dedication of community members to address specific needs. Whether it’s assisting at a food bank, participating in neighborhood clean-ups, or mentoring youth, individuals contribute to improving their communities. The collective force of these small-scale efforts enhances the overall well-being of their communities.

Most nonprofit organizations benefit from individuals offering their specific skills and expertise. Professionals in fields such as marketing, legal services, or IT can provide valuable assistance to organizations that may lack these resources. By leveraging their unique skills, individuals become a force for good, enabling nonprofits to operate more efficiently and effectively. Organizations like www.catchafire.org serve as terrific resources to connect skills to a nonprofit’s needs.

In harnessing the power of giving back, individuals become agents of positive change. Nonprofits and charities provide structured platforms for directing personal force towards addressing pressing societal issues. By contributing time, resources, or expertise to these organizations, individuals amplify their impact and collectively shape a better world.

When we acknowledge the inherent goodness in people, it becomes natural to want to be of service to them. By providing value to others, not only do we help them, but we also enrich ourselves. This cycle of giving and receiving fosters an upward spiral of positive energy and change, strengthening the force for good in the world.

This force for good resides within each of us, waiting to be unleashed. As individuals recognize their unique abilities and align them with the missions of nonprofits and charities, they not only improve the lives of others but also experience the profound fulfillment that comes from being a force for good.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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 76: Claim Your Potential

Working with young people everyday I know that they are capable of great things and are often underappreciated for all the good they do. Today’s guest is a perfect example of that. Sofie Lindberg started a podcast at age 17 to help her deal with challenges she was facing in her life.  What she didn’t expect was young women beginning to reach out for more and more support. As a result, she turned her popular podcast, Claim Your Potential into a nonprofit.

 

Join us today for a fun conversation about what one inspired young woman has done to use her challenges to help serve others.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Claim Your Potential does?

Sofie Lindberg: Claim Your Potential is a women’s empowerment organization. We serve primarily women between the ages of 15 to 24 years old, across the US.  We have a bit of a different model, because we operate 100% virtually.  All of our programming is focused on four different pillars; academic, emotional, financial, and professional empowerment. Currently, we have three active programs.

Charity Matters: Did you have a mentor or role model growing up that was philanthropic?

Sofie Lindberg:  My mom was definitely my role model growing up. She was a single parent who did everything. She would participate in whatever the community was doing, whether it was a fundraiser concert that she was singing in, or it was a clothing drive. My mom was always just in this community mindset of what can I do to help my community.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your nonprofit organization?

Sofie Lindberg: When I entered university, I was going to go into politics.  My first job was at this local DC nonprofit that does capacity building for other nonprofits, focusing on organizations that served impoverished children in the DC area.  I had no idea what the nonprofit world was and I fell in love with it.

Around that time, I had my very first relationship which was very turbulent. Looking back on it was something that I shouldn’t have been going through, that was by any textbook definition, emotional abuse.  I remember getting out of it and the amount of days I would just sit on my floor and cry and not know what to do. I wondered why I waited so long to get out.

And from there, I said, “Alright, I need to share this with people.”  Claim Your Potential started as a podcast with me sitting in my college dorm room, sharing stories, connecting with guests about everything from navigating grief, to financial wellness, to getting your first job, and even dealing with toxic relationships. All of these things that I was going through in my own life, I got to share and also be able to listen to experts tell me that everything I was doing was not right and how to fix it.

Then about a year into podcasting, all of these people were pouring out on social media saying, we want more. How can we get more from this podcast? So we started slow, and pushed out articles, stories, and workbooks. Still people wanted more.  I sat down one day and said, “You know what? I should probably use my nonprofit experience for something. So let me see what I need to do.” A week later, I was interviewing founding board members. It was quite the process from we’re a podcast, too, all of a sudden, holy moly, we’re filing for 501 C 3. I was 17 when we filed for our 501C3.

Charity Matters: What Have been your biggest challenges?

Sofie Lindberg:  I would say the biggest one was getting that 501 C3 status. For a little bit of context here, we had operated under what DC has is called nonprofit corporation. So you’re a registered business. They register you as a nonprofit corporation, but you’re not federally a nonprofit.

I would say our biggest hurdle was waiting for that to come through because you can’t do it but you can’t do anything to fix it. There’s nothing and you just can’t take on all of the stress of  I have 25 different things that I need to get done. But I can’t do any of them until I have money. And I can’t do that until I have my 501 C 3, which I can’t get because the IRS has to approve it.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I love everybody that I work with my board and everyone that’s on staff. The time and love they’ve put into everything just kind of makes the stress disappear in a way. I would say the other big piece is when we do workshops and collect feedback after.

When I get to read people’s responses and someone had said that they had no idea that they could even get a job. Then they went to our workshop, then they realized that wait a second, all of these other experiences that I’ve had,  I can get a job. I know that I can do it. Reading  those responses just makes you want to keep going, it makes you want to change someone’s life every day.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I think I definitely would say we’re not in this stage where our impact is measured in numbers.  I see our impact in the stories. And for me the story is our pilot program The Empowered Women’s Network, which is our mentorship program.

I’m still part of that program, where I get to mentor someone.  My mentee leaves the sessions feeling like they can take on the world, get a new job, they can go to university, and figure out what they want to do with their life. All of our programming is so tailored to the individual.  I feel like that’s kind of been my big success story to tell people is that people say, “I don’t know where I’d be without this program.”

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

Sofie Lindberg:   Claim Your Potential is our launching a career coaching program with career coaches, so that is super exciting.  I am also really pushing for getting financial advisors to come on to have  one on one individual sessions with clients to make sure that they can build a future.

We are in the process of building out our content writing team. We are bringing on young women to essentially write what they see the world as. Opinion pieces, research based pieces, advocacy pieces, it will be a digital magazine. My big vision is to always give  space for young women to think and to lead.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I’ve learned three really good ones about myself and how I lead. First, don’t let age get in the way. When I started, I was so nervous to go into my own meetings, talking to my own staff, and talking to the board. Because all these people are 10, 15, 20, sometimes even 30 years older than I am. I learned to embrace it. I’m the perfect person for this job, because I’m in the demographic that we serve. It’s easier for me to connect and I get it. It might seem to be a weakness, but for me that has become my biggest strength. Exactly what I always was so insecure about.

My other lesson was that nothing was going to happen overnight.  I really had to get reminded from my mom, when she said, “Sophie, one day at a time, nothing is overnight success. It’s those incremental everyday steps that get you there. So focus on the bigger picture.”  Being able to put it in perspective of if I  do it right, we could be in a very different place a year from now. What if everything goes right?

I would say the third piece is really understanding when it’s time to let go of something.  I’ve found that founder syndrome of I built this and want to hold on to this for dear life. But then there’s a time where you have to ask, “Is this actually serving people? ” It took me a very long time to get there because I wanted everything to work perfectly. So being able to make those tough decisions was the hardest lesson of them all.

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

Sofie Lindberg:  I think I saw this when I was maybe 10 and it never left me. It’s an Audry Hepburn quote and she said,  “Nothing is impossible.” And I feel like in the nonprofit sector especially, you get told no a lot from board, from donors from grant makers, pretty much anybody.  But I feel like being able to be in the space where you can say,” Alright, this might not be possible now. But it is possible, right?” We are going to find a way to implement this or to advocate for that.  I think that’s always stuck with me that nothing is impossible, because the word itself says I’m possible.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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.

Wishing you a very Happy Easter!

 

“Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and a new life.”

Janine di Giovanni

It is hard to believe that Spring break has arrived and Easter is this weekend. Easter means time with family, a small pause for gratitude, the beauty of Spring….and of course chocolate!

I hope this weekend finds you with the ones you love, with time to relax and to think about what spring renewal means to you. March has been a wonderful month with a lot of excitement but a little rest and reset is in order.  Here is to a joyous Easter filled with hope, renewal and new life.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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 Brand Amplified

I think one of the greatest gifts is meeting new people. There is nothing better than learning about people’s lives, their passion and their stories. These days we meet people so often online which is how I met Anika Jackson, on LinkedIn. When we later had a phone call it was an instant connection. Anika went to USC, teaches at USC and is a nonprofit founder and a helper. It was such a treat when she invited me to be a guest on her podcast, Your Brand Amplified. You can listen to our conversation here.

In addtion to being a teacher and full-time podcaster,  Anika is the co-founder of Learn Grow Lead, a nonprofit that teaches regenerative farming in Ghana, Africa. Their organization works in partnership with local agriculture school programs to encourage farmers to farm naturally without pesticides. Then the profits from the farm are fed back into the community and help fund an orphanage, provide nutrious meals and help to pay school fees for students who would otherwise be forced to work.

So the next time someone reaches out, take a minute to connect and learn someone else’s story. I so enjoyed learning Anika’s and grateful she is sharing mine and amplifying Charity Matter’s work with her audience. The power of connection inspires us all to make a difference.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2024 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 75: Calibrate

Life is full of serendipity if you pay attention. A few weeks back I went and visited my old grade school. When I was talking to the Principal, Joe, something came up about Charity Matters. Joe said, “You should talk to my wife. She has an amazing nonprofit.” And so I did and I can’t wait for you to meet the incredible Marcie Gilbert. Marcie is the co-founder of the nonprofit Calibrate.

The serendipity didn’t end there, Marcie’s beautiful work is very similiar to mine, working with youth leaders who in turn mentor other leaders. So join us today for an inspirational conversation to learn about Marcie’s incredible work with Calibrate. She is a ray of sunshine and will leave you feeling warm and inspired.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Marcie Gilbert:  Calibrate’s mission is to transform the lives of young leaders from under resourced communities to make them feel valued and prepared to reinvest their time back into their community. We have three primary activities of focus. One of them is we want to provide the social emotional foundation for our youth in under-resourced communities to be able to thrive. We do that through a program we call Connections,that has been in Los Angeles schools since the mid 1980s.

Our second activity is we are interested in creating a virtuous cycle of generational health. We are training young adults from our communities. Typically, these are alumni of our Connections programs, to go back and reinvest in their communities.  Calibrate raises money in order to pay those young adults to go back and reinvest in their communities by leading the Connections programs. And then the third activity that we have is coalition building, because we know that to have impact, we need to all come together as a village.

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

Marcie Gilbert:  Both of my parents were intensively philanthropic, constantly volunteering on a weekly basis. My mom was always involved in so many different things. One of the things that I always thought was really cool is that she took children’s books, and she transcribed them into Braille. That was those of the days before the Braille typewriters. And so you had to actually literally pinprick each of the letters and I just remember her doing that. What might be a very tedious task, for pages and pages. And so it was everything. It’s part of my DNA. 

Charity Matters: Tell us how Calibrate started?

Marcie Gilbert:  There used to be a place called the Ojai Foundation that was a mecca for all kinds of philosophical and spiritual leaders in the 70s. There was a man named Jack Zimmerman, who created a program which was called Counsel. There was a school in Santa Monica that was started by a man named Paul Cummins called Crossroads.  Paul and Jack were friends.  Jack said, “Let’s bring this program to Crossroads.”Crossroads implemented this program.

In 1994, when I graduated college, I became connected with Paul and Crossroads.  I was trained to be able to deliver this program, which we call Connections.  The following year, Paul started a new school called New Roads. He recruited me as part of the founding team. Everybody was trained and this was the social emotional foundation for our school. I went to my professor and I said, “Can I make Connections my focus of my thesis?”  Over the course of the year I surveyed all these alumni, and everybody said that Connections was the foundation that allowed them to thrive.  95% of those students went on to have post secondary degrees as  compared to 17% of their local peers.

One of Paul’s missions was to bring private school education to communities that had not been exposed to those kinds of whole child’s social emotional enriched environments.  Charlotte Johnson, who was my principal and my mentor, is one of the co-founders of Calibrate. And she said, “You need a nonprofit.” and I said, “No, I don’t.”

We started programming in August 2019. We should have been shut down March 2020.  But instead it had the opposite effect to the pandemic because suddenly everybody became aware of the term social emotional learning. The reality is everybody became in touch with the need for connection.

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

Marcie Gilbert: The Anthonys, Murenas, Becky, Chris,  Alana or Tina,  I could name all 120 people who I work within our collective Calibrate cosmos. I work with the most extraordinary individuals and the moments that I get to go and visit our sites. A little fourth grade girl named Ari and her hugs and smiles. Her mom named Brittany who has the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met.  I think about volunteers, like Lynn, who basically retired and made Calibrate her job.

 I think about our community of alumni who just really get this and just really are the heart of Calibrate pumping all that understanding into the rest of the organization. Our board is miraculous, our community partners Mark and Trey, and our program partners. When I opened my eyes in the morning it’s that whole entire vibe of people that spread that feeling of good. 

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

Marcie Gilbert: The testimonials and the feedback from those who write to me to sit into Connections.  When I hear a teenager say literally this program kept me from committing suicide.  We know we have made a difference.

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

Marcie Gilbert: it’s the qualitative testimonials that are the most important. Last semester, we had students who were seniors at Cal Poly Pomona who partnered with us. They took a random sample of thirty-five 8th graders, who had received between eight to 10 connections over a five week period. What they did was honed into the qualitative data, where children were able to articulate specific, observable behaviors in other environments outside of connection.

For example,I’m no longer fighting with my mom to get my homework done. I am raising my hand in class. I’m not afraid to ask my teacher for help. So those kinds of things where they were able to show what we call an education, a generalization of behaviors, and 67% of those that random sample were able to say things like,” I feel more confident, I’m a better listener.”  

We have a unique insight because we sit in these Connections to circles, which are living storytelling circles. And so we get those opportunities to hear the things like the suicidal ideation or the decision to go back to college. You know, we had a bunch of kids graduate high school and they were going to be first generation kids to go to the east coast to different colleges.  I was panicked to create a Connections program for them virtually. The rate of attrition can be very high for them to stay in college and finish.

The students told me, ” We don’t really need this because actually, we’re doing it on our own. We take the train, and we meet each other at least two times a month. And when we sit together we’re checking in, and we’re asking each other and we’re soliciting in each other equal chances to tell each other stories. It’s not a formal Connection, but we’re using tools from Connections, to keep ourselves to connect it to keep ourselves supporting one another.” Those kinds of comments are gold.

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

Marcie Gilbert:  The reason why is if we’re really creating an organization that’s of the people for the people, and we’re really fulfilling our mission of elevating these young leaders from our communities to come in and take over.  I just really want our young adults to be able to have their own dreaming, and not be just mired. I know that the community of alumni want a school again.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marcie Gilbert:   I have stretched and grown. I had to learn how to not take things personally. Not to trip,  not to overthink, to set boundaries on self care. That weight of the world feeling that you described earlier. When I was a little girl, when I would get anxious my sister would say to me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” What’s astounding to realize is that’s not true with Calibrate.

God forbid, we didn’t have a penny in the bank, we’re not going to stop. This is a community of people who believe so deeply in the programs and the mission that it will just keep marching forward until we get the next infusion of cash. Right? So you just know it’s going to be okay.

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

Marcie Gilbert: I feel like what I have learned along the way is about leadership.  I’m the person that so many people are looking t0o. And as I said to you before we started this podcast, I am an introvert. So it’s doing a great job of hiding. Something I’ve learned is that you can actually lead from behind.  What I have to lean on is the organizational culture that we’re creating. Because it is one of shared leadership.

We are the circle, we want to be the principles and values that we espouse in connections that we’re all holding this up, we all have equal voice. I have a lot of amazing people who can independently and successfully go and take a ball of something and run with it. So really,  what I’m doing is steering the ship and  keeping us tacking north.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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