Tag

Heidi McNiff Johnson

Browsing

Duet

Duet Team

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

Stephanie Van Sickel in Lesvos, Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duet founders Rhys Richmond and Michael Cesar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

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

Copyright © 2020 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.

Go out there and do something remarkable

“Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”

Wendy Wasserstein

Graduation season is in the air and with it come all of the inspiring pearls of wisdom that go along with the celebration. It is oh so easy to give advice and it is oh so difficult to use it. Every time I speak to a non-profit founder I hear passion, purpose, joy and gratitude in their voices, regardless of where they live or their cause.

The reason is that they have not set out to do something remarkable, they just paid attention to the signs, one thing lead to another, the knew they needed to do this one thing and then they reached out to inspire others to help them achieve that goal….which ultimately became a non-profit and something remarkable.

Each of us makes daily choices with our time. How will you use yours to do something that inspires passion, purpose, joy and gratitude? ” Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable.”

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2017 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.

Being an influencer or just being real

influencer

I recently watched a segment on 60 Minutes about “influencers.” Yes, Kim Kardashian and a host of other people I have never heard of all trying to gain favor amongst advertisers for surprise…guess what….our attention…which of course equates to dollars.  I get it, I do.

I don’t write for myself, well kind of, I do… but truth be told I write to inspire people to want to help others. Sounds crazy I know…but the more people who are inspired the more that are helped..it is just that simple. So, in watching the 60 Minutes piece, I probably should have been inspired myself but somehow I felt the exact opposite. The reason being, is influencing others from their vantage point, does not feel authentic, but rather feels sad.

Of course people want to be entertained, they want to watch others glamorous lives, none of this is new. Yet, the need to win over others for something external, is where I am having an internal struggle. How can I judge the Kim Kardashians of the world, when in reality the more people I “influence” the more people I help. That makes me as much a part of this ugly system as the people featured on the show….and for whatever crazy reason, I am having a hard time with that.

No, I am not better or worse than the Kardashians, the youtube makeup artist, the international sensation who does the splits around the globe or a funny guy who cranks out 6 second Vine videos…each person brings their own talent to the world and each of us vie for the same thing…attention. Honestly, a painful truth to admit.

I must confess, for me, it’s not about your “eyeballs” it’s about your heart and your soul. If one person is inspired to do a kind thing for another because of what they have read here…well then my heart is full and my job is done….influencer or not…that is the real deal.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2016 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.

Live for Others Foundation

tim-vorenkamp

No matter how many post I write, the miracle of the human spirit always continues to inspire me and leave me in awe. The one I am about to share, is no exception. It is the story of an Orange County, CA teenager named Tim Vorenkamp who was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called Synovial Sarcoma. A cancer so rare that is only strikes 1 to 3 out of every million. The boy as rare as his cancer, determined to make a difference with the hand he was dealt……which is exactly what he did.

Tim used his illness to help bring awareness to this horrible disease and to establish the Live for Others Foundation.

Sadly, Tim lost his battle on January 10th, 2016 but his legacy lives on in the foundation he and his family began. As he said in the video, ” Battling cancer you never lose, and you will never lose. Even if one day the fight ends! Once something like this happens, you never lose, you just start a new journey.

Charity Matters.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 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.

One Hope

one hope

A few weeks ago I was at a charity event and was offered a glass of wine. Nothing better than a chilled glass of chardonnay on a warm summer night, after a day of work. The wine was delicious and I asked the woman behind the bar about it. Her reply, was surprising because the wine was made to benefit charity….which just made it that much more delicious.

The story behind it is just as good. In 2007, Jake Kloberdanz  had an idea, 168 cases of wine and eight friends just out of college. No, it was not a party but the beginning of his company, OneHope that’s mission is to make the world a better place through every product they sell.

OneHope‘s core product is wine but they have expanded their brand and their charitable donations along with it. Every product benefits a cause and to date OneHope has donated over one million meals to the cause Why Hunger, 65,000 diapers to help premature infants, planted 52,000 trees, provided clean drinking water and the list goes on.

More than that, OneHope has donated over $1.6 million dollars since its inception. Now that is a cause worth raising your glass for!

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2016 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

A New York State of Mind

New York State of Mind

Last week I was in New York City with friends, a city that I love to visit. The energy and the frenetic pace take this Angelo’s breath away every time I am there. The word that comes to mind when I see New Yorker’s in action is, alive. There is something so special about the city, the people and the passion of New Yorker’s that is contagious.

On a stunning day in the city, walking along the High line I found myself wondering how do New Yorker’s give back? Where do they volunteer? My first place I checked was Yelp and the top rated New York non-profit (according to Yelp) was an organization called New York Cares.

The organization began in the late 1980s, when a group of friends wanted to take action against some serious social issues that New York City was facing. Finding few options to help, they created their own organization to address the problems from the ground up.   Their mission was mobilize caring New Yorker’s into volunteer service.

New York Cares is now the city’s largest volunteer management organization, running volunteer programs for 1,300 nonprofits, city agencies, and public schools. They have more than 62,000 volunteers who volunteer annually with them and together help over 400,000 disadvantaged New Yorker’s each year. That passion and love that New Yorker’s have for their city and one another continues to make New York more than just a state of mind.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

Big Day of Giving

Big day of giving

I know, I know….trust me I do…each day there is a new giving this or giving that day or event. I hear you and honestly, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all of these days that I swear did not exist when we grew up. However, tomorrow is more than Cinco de Mayo it is also the Big Day of Giving. Who knew?

Tomorrow more than 100 communities across the country will come together with the hope of reaching millions of donors to raise over $100 million dollars nationally to support efforts of local nonprofits. Each area (think No Cal vs. So Cal) is “competing” to be the most successful fundraising, in what is a national competition for the common good.

So tomorrow when you are eating your taco and celebrating Cinco de Mayo, think about the Big Day of Giving and ask, what you can do to make your community better? That is something to celebrate.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

It’s never too late

its never too late

I’m late, a week late. It seems that last week was National Volunteer Week and that the week shifts from time to time in April, as a result I missed it. However, it’s never to late to learn more ways to get involved and about the people who are doing just that.

National Volunteer Week was created by the Points of Light Foundation to promote volunteering. The organization was created out of George Bush’s 1989 inaugural speech calling for a thousand points of light. The organization, helps millions of volunteers change the world. They mobilize people to take action on causes they care about through programs, events and campaigns, such as National Volunteer Week.

Points of Light creates a culture of volunteerism, that celebrates the power of service. The week is used to encourage and volunteering, finding a cause that interests you and inspiring people to jump in. Non-profits from all over the country posted service projects and volunteers went to work.

In addition, some inspiring storied were shared to prove the power of one. This was one of them.

We all have gifts and talents, but how do we choose to share them? When we do, those points of light radiate out of us because there is simply nothing better than knowing your life improved anothers. As volunteer Amy Paterson said,” Anyone can make a difference. The important thing is to find what your strength is and then find a place to put it. Be that point of light, because the world needs you.”

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

Is it a mid-life thing or something more?

mid life or something more

In the last few months I have had coffee with a number of friends, and friends of friends that are in search of something “more”.  When the first few friends called, I was flattered that they thought I could help give them some career direction. Then I realized that many of these friends thought that the non-profit sector was for them and that was why they were reaching out. Being a connector, I love trying to help. However, when the phone kept ringing and none of these people knew the others…I began to wonder why?

Most of the people I have met with are my age, yes…I suppose that you could call it “mid-life,” but none of them are in crisis, nor do they drive red sports cars.  All of them have had successful lives, families, careers and are accomplished in many ways…and yet, every single person I have met with feels that somehow they are not living their purpose or their potential. It seems that the more meetings I had, the more similar they all became.

Do we all start down life’s path in search of ways to support ourselves and our families and then once we are on that road, we realize that somehow we need to get off?  Yet, how do we continue to provide for those we love and feed our souls? The reality is that I am not the one with answers, but simply more questions.

I do believe that service to others feeds the soul and my advice to all (whether good or bad remains to be seen) has been to find a fit to use your gifts to their greatest potential and to a place that fits you. There is room in life to give your free time and have a job, sometimes they are not one in the same.

One of the most important things we teach our middle school students, at my day job is to,” Find your magis (latin for more) and find a way to give back the gifts that have been given to you.”  My sense is if we can all find our “more” and a way to give it back, then I will be having a lot less coffee.

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2015 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.

 

When Life Gives You Lemons….

4.0.1

I have to admit that I have spent a little time lately being nostalgic and looking back, which includes looking at past Charity Matters post. The post below was one of my very first and probably not seen by too many at the time so I thought it was worth sharing with each of you. Enjoy!

Just the other day my 10-year-old son and his friend asked if they could set up a lemonade stand. It was a hot day and he and his pal worked hard to get business up and running. I was so touched that many of his “customers” stopped and asked my son if he was doing this for a cause.

He wasn’t, but at the end of the day we decided to see what causes there were involving lemonade stands and this is one that we came across. It may not be a “small non-profit” but it is a perfect example of small ideas that create big change.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOiBLRQ96QM&feature=player_embedded#at=148]

Every non-profit started small and most began with lemons. So next time you drive by a lemonade stand, stop…you never know what can come from one glass of lemonade.

Charity Matters

Copyright © 2011 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.

Camp del Corazon, camp for more than broken hearts

Have you ever been invited to an event when someone is being honored? I was recently invited to something for a friend of mine, who is one of those very generous souls that does so much with no attention to himself. He is being honored by Camp del Corazon.

As I am beginning to think of my children’s summer plans, I wanted to know more about this place. This camp isn’t just for anyone but for children who have congenital heart disease and typically can not experience camp or exercise in many cases.  My friend knows about this first hand as his child has also had multiple surgeries.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si3qHoSRPCM&feature=related]

Camp del Corazon (Camp of the Heart) was inspired by a patient, of Dr. Kevin Shannon, who had undergone an operation that dramatically improved the function of his heart but he was still suffering from emotional pain. He was back in school, back in little league baseball but he was so embarrassed by his scars that he wouldn’t remove his shirt.

Dr. Shannon felt that if his patient could spend time with other kids who’d had heart surgery, he’d be less self-conscious. When Dr. Shannon discussed the situation with Lisa Knight, R.N., her solution was simple: “We can do that.” And so they did.

This doctor and nurse set about fund-raising to ensure that the medically-supervised summer camp would be free for children ages 7-17 who had heart disease. When Camp del Corazon began in 1995, they had 49 campers on beautiful Catalina Island , today the camp has  close to 300 campers. Camp del Corazon is staffed completely by volunteer counselors, nurses, and physicians who give of their hearts to help these special kids.

Camp del Corazon has grown into a non-profit dedicated to providing programs for children and families living with heart disease. A camp that more than lives up to its name, just like those that support it. Big hearts all the way around.

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2012 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.


Saving Tiny Hearts Follow Up

When I set out to tell the stories of these inspirational people who have taken their pain and turned it into compassion I never knew where it would lead. I wanted to share with you this beautiful follow up from Francie Paul, the founder of Saving Tiny Hearts.Org

Here is Francie’s note:

Thank YOU for your beautiful post- we are extremely honored to have Saving tiny Hearts featured.

We did have high profile malpractice attorneys at our doorstep…practically before we were out of the hospital from Joshua’s firstheart surgery…it wasn’t who we were…our life’s mission came out of the greatest need for medicine and science into heart defects to catch up to support all children, like our little love, afflicted with heart defects.

Starting the Saving tiny Hearts Society began before our Joshua’s second heart surgery (- he has had 3) at 3 months old, after pediatric heart surgeons told us that there was a desperate need to fund research, that young hungry scientists were being turned down for government funding because they didn’t have enough monies to beef up their revolutionary proposals….which is where we would come in, to provide the seed money for it all.

Most people don’t realize that so many babies and children do not survive because of lack of research to save them.  We didn’t know that it was the #1 birth defect in the world and the #1 cause of birth defect related deaths….we didn’t know that it could happen to our baby.

Someone had raised funds for research for us 30 years ago and our baby was given a chance to live. Ten years from now will be a whole different ball game into medicine, science and technology into heart defect research.  We don’t want to wait for what doctors say ‘will be….’ we want to fund research to change the future for ‘what can be…’ for all children, like my beautiful Joshua suffering from heart disease.  Out of our heartache, there is hope….

I don’t know if you had seen the movie ‘Something the Lord Made’ but it was an HBO movie about one of the very first heart surgeries ever performed, the Blalock-Taussig Shunt (-BT Shunt). It was the very first successful heart surgery that began with a blue baby as doctors were afraid to touch the heart and felt that of these babies wouldn’t live otherwise, so they would try this most revolutionary procedure on a baby first.  Nearly 60 years later,at 4 days old, after our baby was stabilized, he had a Blalock-Taussig shunt.

We can’t thank you enough for sharing our story; it has truly been a humbling journey for us and in the greatest of heartache, we have seen the very best in friends.  Can’t wait to read more Charity Matters and see all of the amazing things that are happening because of you.

With Gratitude & Very Best Wishes,

Francie

Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2012 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.


Happy Presidents Day!

In honor of Presidents Day, I thought a quote from Abraham Lincoln would be a fitting tribute.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.

Even Abe knew Charity Matters.

Copyright © 2012 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.