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Heidi McNiff Johnson

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Well hello 2021!

Welcome, 2021! The world has anxiously been awaiting your arrival and we are so glad that you are finally here. Let’s face it,  last year we were all a little over-enthusiastic about your predecessor.  I think we will try harder not to put too many expectations on this year. Poor 2020 was somewhat doomed from the start. To make a joke of a year worse the hindsight that was 2020 is now crystal clear. Looking back it wasn’t so sparkly. It was a new decade, the economy was thriving and as we sat on the top of a mountain…well there only seemed to be one way off and that was down.

The expectations of 2020

What I think we didn’t realize then was that rather than a gradual hike down it would be a rapid fall with many bumps and bruises along the way. We didn’t see that the fall would be steep, long, and hard.  Most agree that we are at the bottom and some may say we still have a bit further to go. I think most of us agree that we all have a big climb back and that somehow we have to find a new way to get there.

The journey of 2020 began with the euphoric New Years filled with huge hopes, wishes, and dreams.  Maybe we were asking for a little too much? Or maybe we just didn’t realize what we had in those moments until it was gone? Again that ugly 2020 hindsight. Last year taught us gratitude in big ways. We learned to appreciate our health, freedom, gatherings, concerts, parties, school and the list goes on. We doubled down on what is important and we learned how to be patient when things didn’t go to our plan. Those were the gifts from 2020.

Goals for the New Year

Now that 2020 is behind us, what is it that you want from 2021? What is the most important thing to you? How do you want to live your life? These are the questions that I have been pondering lately. Last week when I wrote about the heroes of 2020 they all had one thing in common. Each of those heroes lives a life of purpose and one bigger than themselves. “The people who are most alive, driven, and fulfilled are those that seek to lead a life of contribution and service. To something greater than themselves.” Tony Robbins was right about that.

The Big Announcement

In 2021 I want to work harder to be that person. It means being vulnerable and putting myself out there for criticism and critique. It also means being brave and not caring about the criticism but about a purpose greater than myself.  I have been working hard for months to do just that. I am very excited to announce that I will be launching The Charity Matters Podcast where you can hear these conversations first hand. It feels selfish not to share them.! Yet, it is terrifying and invigorating all at once.

In the next few weeks, you will still receive your weekly post but it will be the highlights from the amazing conversations of these modern days heroes. Some of them are old friends you may recognize and I am so excited about some of the new inspiring conversations I have to share. I encourage you to click on the listen button and to hear them. I know you come away inspired by the best in humanity, the goodness in people, and their incredible journeys of service.

Charity Matters is Ten!

Charity Matters turns ten this year and so with a new decade and a New Year comes new growth. If there is one gift I can give to you to celebrate,  it is a front-row seat to the best of humanity.  Am I scared? Yes! Am I excited and thrilled? Absolutely! Change is good. It is scary and it is the one constant in life, another lesson we learned from good ole 2020.

So welcome 2021! I am thrilled you are here. Excited to embrace what is ahead and ready to work hard and to continue spreading the message of goodness. Thank you for being a part of this journey and wishing you all the happiest New Year! See you in a few weeks!

 

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

The Heroes of 2020

If ever there was a year that turned our planet upside is has been this one. Last year we all began 2020 with such hope. A new decade and such expectation that was to come crashing down three short months later. Now we are all counting down the days until 2020 is behind us. As someone who tries to find the silver lining in everything when I look back at 2020 I smile thinking of the amazing humans we met this year. Each of these people gives selflessly to make our world better. I thought today we would look back at some of the remarkable conversations of 2020. And a few highlights.

The Kindness Campaign: Andra Liemandt

We began 2020 by talking to the founder of the Kindness Campaign to learn about their mission to serve the socio-emotional needs of children. This year their work was more important than ever. You can revisit the full conversation, here.

CHARITY MATTERS: WHAT WAS THE MOMENT YOU KNEW YOU NEEDED TO ACT AND START  THE KINDNESS CAMPAIGN?

Andra Liemandt: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens. Several years ago this touched my life in a very powerful and profound way when a dear friend of ours took her own life and she was just 12 years old and it was a direct result of bullying.  There was no path for me to start a nonprofit or any inkling that I would be sitting here five years later talking to you about this. That event changed my life forever and was the catalyst for an ongoing healing process with my daughters.

Homelessness:

There are so many incredible organizations trying to help the homeless. This year we met more than a few. These two women especially stand out for their incredible compassion and dedication to serving the homeless.  Heather Carmichael has been working with homeless youth for almost two decades at My Friends Place and  Caitlin Adler works to ensure that the homeless have proper clothing through her nonprofit Project Ropa.

 My Friends Place: Heather CArmichael

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Heather Carmichael: There are so many. The landscape around addressing homelessness is under such dynamic change. For years, no one spoke about homelessness and now we have an epidemic crisis. Communities are overwhelmed and LA is in such pain about this. How do we continue to engage communities in meaningful ways so that we maintain momentum towards a solution? 

I feel very grateful to be doing the work at My Friend’s Place, where our main priority is to resolve these young people’s homelessness while continuing to create meaningful opportunities to see the impact and to feel involved. How do we scale to that in a meaningful way? A multitude of things got us here and it will take a multitude of things to fix this. We need to create meaningful opportunities to get our community and supporters involved in understanding and being a part of the solution.

Project Ropa: Caitlin Adler

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

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

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

Health:

Claire Marie Foundation: Marianne Banister

When former LA reporter Marianne Banister lost her 17-year-old daughter, Claire to melanoma. She and her husband went to work to get the word out about this cancer and created the Claire Marie Foundation.

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

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

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

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

Brave Gowns: Summer Germann

Summer Germann is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy, or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit Brave Gowns and when COVID hit she reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero.

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

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

Scarlet C of COVID

I hate to end this year with this story but COVID was the defining story of 2020. This article was reprinted by a number of magazines and publications and had more views than any piece I wrote in 2020 so it was worth an honorable mention on the list.

 While I didn’t interview any specific health care workers but rather organizations that support them, it is worth mentioning that our front line workers were THE true superheroes of 2020.

There are so many remarkable humans on this planet and these are just a few. As 2020 comes to a close and we look to a New Year ahead I think there are so many qualities to emulate that each of these heroes possesses. Tony Robbins sums up these heroes perfectly when he said, “The people who are most alive, driven and fulfilled are those that seek to lead a life of contribution and service. To something greater than themselves.”  Thank you, Andra, Heather, Caitlin, Marianne, and Summer for showing us by example what true service and living a life of contribution looks like. At the end of the day isn’t that what we are all striving for?

Wishing all of you blessings for a most joyous and Happy New Year!

 

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.

The word of the year

2020 has certainly been a year. So many of us have added new words to our vocabulary, pivot, adapt and of course COVID. I was not looking for a new word for this year but this word seemed that this word picked me. For the past six weeks, I have been part of a workout program that has asked me to pick a word each week. It has been amazing how just one small word can really transform your thoughts. I picked many words during the six-week workout journey such as strength, determination, detox but never the word patience. For sure a quality that I need to work on but never one, I would choose.

Making an intention

Somehow this word chose me. This past week I  hopped onto my Peleton bike, and the instructor, Ali Love, had a word….patience.  As I peddled Ali love said, “When we are patient letting go frees us.”  Her words spoke to me. Now that this word has chosen me I can think of nothing else but how to attain this elusive virtue.

The Waiting Game

All of us have had to be patient since last March. We have all been in some sort of waiting game and that wait has required patience. We have waited for lockdowns to end, for life to return to “normal,” for the political landscape to quiet down, for a vaccine and now we wait for vaccine distribution to begin. I don’t know about you but I have been waiting in line at Trader Joe’s for months.  All of this waiting requires a skill set that I realized I simply do not possess, patience. Is it the waiting that is causing impatience? Or the thought that maybe each of us had plans other than a pandemic? Perhaps our expectations that things are happening in a different order than we had planned?

The Sign

I’m honestly not sure of the answers. As I pondered these questions, the strangest thing happened. This quote popped into my Instagram feed and stopped me.

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

The Process

The quote is from a German poet named Rainer Rilke (photo above). So I began to try to break his message down.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.” This sounds so much easier than it actually is. Having patience with everything is impossible but trying to love the questions is a process that seems much more reasonable. To love the questions. This is something I can try to do.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.” This one really got to me. We are all looking for the answers. When can I see my family and friends? When can our children go to school? When will my life feel normal? Rather than to ask why and look for reasons we need to simply live. Enjoy each moment with the family in front of us. Find a way to appreciate this time with our children at home and realize it isn’t forever. Searching makes us impatient.

“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” We need to embrace the life we have. Take in every precious moment like it could be our last. Find beauty in everything and everyone. Perhaps, this is the real lesson in patience.

“Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” I do love this. The idea that we can live ourselves into the answer. If we can just be and not wait then we will not need the answers. We will live them. This gave me peace. We will see if it gives me patience. Maybe the Peleton instructor was right? Letting go is what frees us.

The Answer

We are all dealing with so many of the same frustrations and yet each of our journeys is unique. 2020 has brought loss and gifts to each of us. Patience may still not be my favorite word or strength but it is a gift. Realizing that the only thing I can control is my reaction and managing my expectations. This is the first step on my journey towards becoming patient. As Rilke said, ” Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always. The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things. The only journey is the one within.”

Charity Matters.

 

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.

D’Veal Youth and Family Services

The world has been enduring mental health challenges since COVID began last March. A recent study by the CDC claims that from March to October, the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24 percent for children aged 5-11. While teenagers’ (ages 12-17) ER visits spiked 31 percent compared to the same period the previous year. So when a friend reached out to introduce me to John McCall, the founder of D’Veal Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that has been helping children and families with mental health for decades, I was excited to learn more.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what D’Veal does?

John McCall: D’Veal Youth and Family Services is a community based mental health agency that provides outstanding services to children and families. Our motto is to balance children’s lives because children come from families and families come first.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  D’Vray?

John McCall: I’m from Louisiana. In my senior year of high school, I did an internship at the VA hospital. I thought I wanted to become a physical therapist. My boss came to me one day and she said, “John,  I know you want to be a physical therapist, but I see that you’re writing letters for other patients.  That’s not what a physical therapist does, that’s what a social worker does.  Would you consider spending the remainder of the year interning as a social worker?   I discovered as a senior in high school, I wanted to be a social worker.

I went to Northwestern Louisiana and the University of Houston for grad school. Then headed to California to stay with my sister and I began working at Five Acres. I was promoted from a youth social worker to the Chief social worker, Director of social work, and co-director of the whole treatment program. We were doing these heroic efforts to reunite families dealing with trauma and abuse. I just loved it. One day, and it just hit me. Why isn’t someone doing early intervention and prevention?

In the early 80s and 90s, the intervention was not on anybody’s radar screen. Five Acres gave me free rein to do some of the most innovative things.  And I just kept saying, more needs to be done. If there’s more on the prevention side, you can prevent these things from happening. But there was no money back then for that. And so I had an idea and as fate would have it, I met the right people at the right time to make the idea happen for D’Veal Youth and Family Services. Leaving Five Acres was really hard.

Charity Matters: What do you think makes D’Veal different and sets you apart from other organizations?

John McCall: Our philosophy of mental health has always been different. Mental health is about how you think, how you feel, how you behave. If you don’t think well and don’t feel well. You can’t behave well.  Help is about how you think, how you feel, and how you behave.

So our approach to understanding has always been different. We’ve carved out our niche among the largest number of agencies, and we discovered what we do well and we stick to what we know we can do well.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

John McCall: The challenge for us has always been funding. We’ve relied on our contracts and being able to stretch a dollar as far as we could. I would like to leave D’Veal better off than when I founded it.  Historically when the founding director retires the outcomes haven’t been good. And so I’m mentoring someone now who I think is a good fit.

Stress has never bothered me and I’ve always worked two jobs.  Long hours have never bothered me, I just got accustomed to it growing up working hard. But other people don’t have that same kind of stamina. Oh, here’s the other part of my story. I’m a pastor as well. I pastor at a local Baptist Church in Pasadena. And people ask me if it is tiring? The answer is no because I see it as one. Let me understand the people I’m pastoring and trying to get them to grow and help them to lead by themselves.

Charity Matters: You are a true servant leader! What fuels you to keep doing this work?

John McCall: Do you remember the TV show the A-Team? Well, I love it when a plan comes together! If one kid gets better, if one family gets better, then it’s worth the effort. To me growing up in the south, one of my internships was at the state hospital there. I got to see the room where they actually did electric shock treatment. Ah, geez. And when you look at how far we’ve come, just a short time of understanding behavior, understand health, and particularly in the minority community. 

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

John McCall:  In 1992 when we began we only had two after-school contracts to service students. Each year the number of kids that we serve increases. When we began our budget was $280,000 and today it is close to seven million dollars. We have seen a 68% growth in the number of clients served in the past five years. Last year we received the Gold seal standard which is the highest rating in our industry.

 Probably one of our most successful models is that we have staff who are trained in multidimensional family therapy. It’s an intense model of therapists’ evidence-based practice model that’s geared for primarily minority families and kids who have substance abuse. Very intense. The kids who complete that program are 80% less likely to come back into therapy.

 In our Family Preservation program (a total of 261 family members)  the overall success rate for keeping families together was 89%, which has been consistent over the last few years. In addition, we are feeding about 20 families per week since COVID started. Those are just a few of our impacts.

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

John McCall: I would dream for us to be the premium model and leader of what to do for community-based mental health, of what community-based mental health should look like. And that D’Veal Youth and Family Services would be the leaders in that and it wouldn’t be based on politics. It would just be based on a service delivery model that we think works. That’d be my dream.

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

John McCall: People are people everywhere. People are people and understanding people or human behavior makes a difference. Being a minority leader brings with it its own set of stressors. As a CEO,  I’ve never forgotten the bridges that crossed me over. I’ve never forgotten the people who played the role in my life to help me learn and accomplish.  You know, because of friendships, camaraderie, and collaboration I learned what I know now.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

John McCall:  I used to be intense and now I am much more mellow. I’ve led protests in community protests. I’ve gone to the city council to advocate for things. And now you look at the bigger picture and I’m now more systematic and bigger picture.  I’ve learned to say no, in 100 different ways. I’ve learned how to be nice about it. I know where I am, where I’m headed, and what I shouldn’t be doing.  I can’t get sidetracked from things that don’t edify or benefit my purpose now.

So close out strong. To know, you can’t control stuff and to do my best while I’m here. And when I go, I want to be gone. I want to release it and appreciate the journey.  

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.

Honoring our Veterans

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who gave us the freedom to demonstrate

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag.

And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

I have to confess that I have needed to do a little digital detox since the election. The news has been draining and taken a toll on many of us, regardless of your politics. One thing that I hope our country can agree on is our veterans and today is Veterans Day. We have 22 million Veterans in the United States.  When I think of the men and women who have served our country, I am humbled. The sacrifice, bravery, and commitment are like no other form of service. Today, I wanted to look back at a few of the people and organizations we have met that honor our veterans.

Team Rubicon

In 2013 we profiled Team Rubicon that was founded by two Marines who met in sniper school.  Jacob Wood and Clay Hunt returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other Veterans who were no longer sure of their purpose. That all changed when an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Jacob Wood, Clay Hunt, and a host of other Veterans decided to deploy to heal others in need and in the process began to heal themselves. Today they have over 130,000 veterans helping people with disasters around the world.

American Women Veterans

When we think of our soldiers, the image that comes to mind is usually of a man. I remember interviewing Genevieve Chase in 2016 when she told me, “Not every GI is a Joe.” Genevieve is the founder of the nonprofit American Women VeteransAt only 38, she has served two tours in Afghanistan is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Action Badge.

Genevieve had trained for two years as a counterintelligence agent and was in Afghanistan for only two months, in April 2006, when a car bomb detonated and changed her life forever. At the end of 2007, Genevieve came home, depressed, unsure about her purpose, and began volunteering for another military non-profit. She began to realize that women veterans were not being heard, served, or listened to. More importantly, she discovered that there are 2.2 million women veterans in the United States. She has devoted her life to serving and honoring the women in our military.

Veteran’s Career xchange

In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark Brenner served in Vietnam. When he came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said, “The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”

Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran unemployment  and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” Mark spent his career in job recruitment and decided instead of retirement to create a  non-profit called Veterans Career XchangeHis mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.

photo via: Womensconference.org

Operation Gratitude

One of my first Charity Matters interviews was with a woman named Carolyn Blashek. On September 11th, 2001  she was sure that her parents were in the World Trade Center. Thankfully they were not. Out of gratitude for her parents being spared, she tried to join the military, all branches sent her home. Instead, she began sending care packages to troops deployed all over the world to thank them for their service.

Today, Operation Gratitude annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene, and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Their mission is to lift the spirits and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than One Million Care Packages.

We have interviewed organizations from Soaring Valor that honors children of fallen Navy Seals to Higher Ground a program that helps Veterans deal with their PTSD and so many more incredible nonprofits serving those who serve. Today let’s come together to honor and thank our veterans for their service.

 

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.

Changes ahead

Two weeks ago, I headed back east to visit a friend and take in a little fall color. You may remember reading about it, in Falling Back, A Season of Change. It was a fantastic trip with long walks on crisp fall mornings and some much-needed time for reflection. All of us have experienced incredible changes in the last few months.  This year has been a wild ride for sure with twists and turns everywhere. Processing it all can be overwhelming but this trip gave me the time to digest some of it.

The Promise that was 2020

Last year at this time I was working on a television version of the blog with a major network. Many of you may not know but I wrote Charity Matters as a television show long before I began the blog. It was a crazy and exciting time with the hope to bring these stories to life in another way. Corona has put a pause on that for now. Like many of us, life feels like the pause button has been pushed and is stuck. We are somehow suspended in time and moving in slow motion compared to the pace a year ago.

Questions

While we are paused, it seems the perfect time to reflect. What did we plan on a year ago that didn’t happen? What dream do we still have that isn’t realized? What have we learned during this time? How have our priorities shifted? These are some of the questions that I have been asking myself lately.

Answers

I do not have all of the answers but I do have some. More than that, I am at peace with the innate belief that things happen for a reason. During this past year, I have learned to be kinder to myself. A year later, I think about how I spend my time and the precious gift that it is. I know that I still want to share these incredible stories of people who give their lives to better others.  Now I am open to new and different ways to do that.

Transition

So, I am excited about where Charity Matters is heading as we approach our 10th birthday next year. So hard to believe! There have been so many incredible conversations and I am really excited to share them with you in 2021 in a new and exciting way. With change comes that period of transition. That awkward time between the old and the new. Let’s face it transitions are never easy. I am hoping you will be patient with me during this time. You may see a repost or I may take a week off here and there. Something I have barely done in a decade. Please know I am not actually taking time off but working on what is coming next.

What’s Ahead

While I hate to leave you all hanging. That is what I am going to do. I do want you to know that sharing these stories with you each week has been the greatest privilege. Receiving your comments and kind words in my email box truly makes my week. Those nights when it’s late and I am trying to make a deadline, each of you reminds me why I do this work when you share these stories. I want to be clear, I’m not going anywhere and you will still be hearing from me but between now and the end of the year will be a time of transition. Thank you in advance for your patience.

Rebirth

As I said before I left on my trip, change, even the change of colors on the most beautiful fall tree will lead to a loss. And that loss whether of a way of life, of a loved one, a job, will inevitably lead to a rebirth. So here is to a rebirth, a new beginning, and a journey that I can’t wait to take with all of you.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 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.

Claire Marie Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire kept it very quiet and to herself because she didn’t want to be put on a shelf with her friends. She didn’t want to have gossip and didn’t want to engage. Claire wanted to deal with it and went out and lived her life. We were very fortunate to live where we do, where we had renowned medical support 10 minutes away.

About her junior year when we thought we were well past it, her oncologist, Dr. Sharma asked her if she would mentor another young girl who had come in the month that Claire was diagnosed.  As we were discussing his request for her to help this other young person coming through it. She said, “Mom, why do you think this happened to us?”

I said, “Maybe being who you are because you’re so positive and energized. And being what I do professionally, you know, maybe we can do this together when you’re ready?” Claire said, “Yeah, when I’m a senior, then it won’t matter. And I can tell people, and I can advocate.”  She still was not quite there yet wanting to share her story. So we knew down the road, that’s what she would want to do. The bottom line is I just couldn’t sit here with this information and not warn other parents. If someone had raised the flag of awareness before us, then maybe she’d still be here.

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

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

Claire’s friends did this dance a THON and raised $24,000 called Moves for Claire. I didn’t know how many people my daughter knew. And then friends of other friends and her story carried. There were 500 kids there. And they had sponsorships, and I mean, they went all out. We realized they’re listening and paying attention now. So we need to take advantage of this. If we want to do this in her memory, we have to do it while they want to engage. And they have been our biggest force.

So through them, we then went forward, we have collegiate ambassadors, and they started the program for so they were in the high school class of 2015, college class of 2019. We’ve had just short of 100 kids on 46 campuses. And they do peer to peer education and mentoring and awareness programs.

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

The kids came up with a lot of these ideas,  they’re all young adults now. We have partnerships since with US lacrosse and we work with the Melanoma Research Foundation, as one of their advocacy partners. We go to Capitol Hill and campaign for funding and support for research. We are developing a relationship and a partnership with Teen Cancer America out in LA. we want to bring our screening program out there, if a young person is going through cancer, guess what that puts you at elevated risk for melanoma.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: The biggest challenge for all this is that we’re the only ones out here doing it. We’ve screened 1000 young people, we found 16% have A typical moles that need a biopsy. Funding is still a big issue. We could use a staff of two full people, two full-time people. You know, it’s just me and my husband and the volunteers that pop in and out and help us out.

Secondly is getting our information out there. Awareness education, like this event we’re doing October 3rd, we always try to reach young people in the way that they’ll hear us.  It’s a two-hour Music Festival, with performers from LA Nashville, Baltimore, and Charleston. It’s really it’s a lot of fun. Then of course within that, we’ll have the melanoma prevention messaging built within it.

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

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

When people ask me how many children do you have, although it will be followed by an awkward moment. I just say well, I have two girls, one watches out for me from heaven and the other one is with me here.  I’m not going to say only have one daughter, that’s not going to happen because she existed and she had a purpose. She has changed lives and she has saved lives. We have had a number of young people who have found melanomas early and they always tell me,” You know, I thought of Claire, and I went and got it checked and it was a melanoma.”

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

Marianne Banister Wagonhurst: My husband always says if we save one kid, we’ve done our work. And we’ve done that many times over. I think what I’m most proud of is we’re changing the narrative. We’re changing the focus, Claire was overlooked, she was a victim of the system. The system is not broken, but it needs to be tweaked.

Because of us, many organizations are now creating a Young Adult adolescent melanoma focus, in terms of research, and in terms of treatment and support. I know specifically within the melanoma world, we’ve changed that narrative. I think that is what I am most proud of in six years, we’re starting conversations, and making people understand that it’s just not a matter of putting on sunscreen, and calling it a day.  I think it’s changing the narrative of the conversation and elevating the importance and value that young people are getting this disease to the rate they are and that it is not rare.

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

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

 We just don’t want anybody else to go through what we did, because it’s so darn preventable. When you think about it, melanoma is one of the cancers that you have the best odds of seen visually externally on your body. And a screening takes 10 minutes, and you don’t have to drink anything, and you don’t have to get an MRI and you don’t have to get a CAT scan, you just go in a robe, 10 minutes, a dermatologist with a scope. So we just need to it’s a system that’s broken, it needs to be readapted so that would be my dream.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

 I’ve had a lot of loss in my life and I’ve always lived my life as you have to thoroughly embrace it each day as it is. My faith is stronger than ever because I know she’s fine. I know she’s okay. I absolutely know because I’m telling you as smart as I like to think I am. I am not that brilliant.

This foundation has a life of its own. And as my older daughter says,” Claire will be done with it when she’s tired of Claire show.” Until then, it’ll just keep happening things that just drop in our lap. Opportunities that come up or people we meet that just really like jumpstart us into a new phase. And it’s just like, okay, she’s not done with the Claire show just yet. 

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

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

It’s not that you ever want this to happen, but if it does, to know that something has been inspired by her in a positive way. That’s what we look at.  There was nothing she could have done to control this or affect it and so when that happens, it’s kind of like well, what do we do with this now? Our daughter is having a great impact because of what we’re doing and that’s the best we can do for those we love.

 

 

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Project Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Back Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

 

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Using Technology to teach children philanthropy

As millions of children will be staying home this fall and sadly not heading back to school many parents are looking for new ways to keep their children engaged. More than that parents are looking for resources that will help their children develop empathy, gratitude, and hopefully want to put those feelings into action. A number of people and organizations have reached out asking if there are some online tools to help children learn more about giving. So today I wanted to share a number of great resources for kids and families.

Connecting kids to causes

An organization you have all heard me talk about many times, Project Giving Kids, has tons of resources to connect children and families to causes. PGK has a host of nonprofit partners and a wide range of needs from these organizations across all age levels.

Apps for Service

Common Sense Media put out a fantastic list of Apps that help children learn about giving. One of their recommendations is Free Rice is an app where children learn about ending hunger a few grains of rice at a time. (Age 9+).

For older students, (13 years and older)  there are apps like YSA (Youth Service America). Youth Service America’s site provides information to facilitate teen community service and connect them with organizations and grants to help them be successful. It also incorporates an advocacy campaign called Global Youth Service Day in April. Teens can click on a number of projects and campaigns on the site to learn about the many service options.

Using allowance to teach giving

There are a number of allowance apps that also help cultivate giving. A few popular ones are Bankaroo, Rooster Money, Go Henry, and BusyKid. Each of these manages children’s allowance, helps set savings and giving goals in different ways. The age range for most of these is usually between 5-15 and all have some parental oversight.

The overall concept of the apps above is to begin to create healthy habits of savings, goal setting, and giving. With Rooster Money, when children decide they are ready to donate they can click on the apps “give pot” and search for a cause they care about or one of 25,000 charities hosted on JustGiving.

Some of these apps have a monthly or yearly fee so do your homework when researching which is best for your children and family.

Small Steps Add Up

At the end of the day, we all want to cultivate empathy, gratitude, and kindness in our children. Starting new habits at the beginning of a school year is always a good idea. The earlier we start planting the seeds of compassion the faster they grow. Be patient with your self and your children. Have fun and make this a family project. Remember the best way to teach anything is to model the behavior you want for your children yourself.

 

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Tzedek America

I was raised to never discuss religion or politics, to respect everyone’s beliefs and to always be open to learning from others. Faith plays a large part in my life and in my nonprofit work. The nonprofit a group of us founded over seventeen years ago provided chaplains of all faith to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. That experience confirmed to me that believing in something bigger than yourself is something that will always serve as a life anchor, whatever that belief is.

I took my current job as the Executive Director at TACSC mainly because I loved being a part of planting the seeds of compassion in our children and teaching students about service. Right before COVID, I had the privilege of meeting Avram Mandell, who is doing similar work with youth but taking it to a whole different level with his nonprofit Tzedek America. Let’s hope that as millions of children get ready to begin school this month that they have access to the incredible experiences Tzedek America is providing.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what TZEDEK America does?

Avram Mandell: We engage Jewish teenagers through immersive social justice experiences. We try to teach empathy and not sympathy and we are trying to move the needle in the social justice world by connecting these teenagers to social justice issues and to people affected by these issues. The best way to do that is through stories and meeting people and coming into proximity with those who are dealing with these issues as opposed to watching a documentary or reading an article. After kids go on our trips they begin volunteering, donating their time, running drives at their school getting, and their parents involved. We are really seeing the impact of our work.

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

Avram Mandell: I have a Master’s in Education from Hebrew Union. I had worked at Jewish Summer Camps, been a youth group advisor, and had experiential learning in my blood. I ran school programs, adult learning programs, garden programs, video programs always acting as an innovator and creator. My attitude in life is that there is always a way to make things happen. 

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit I wanted to go and get my hands dirty and really do something about this national natural disaster. So I reached out at the synagogue and twelve teenagers volunteered. We had a contact at the Methodist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi and we set out to do flood relief work. We all had a powerful experience bringing hope to that part of the world. I remember when we went to our cots there were little bags for us with toiletries and notes from kindergartners thanking us for volunteering. I had never been a recipient and it was such a beautiful moment for all of us.

We came back from the trip and all of those students wrote their college essays about this experience which was transformative. Teenagers care about social justice but they don’t know what to do about it. So I wanted to create an organization that would engage Jewish teenagers in their Jewish values and that those values support their passion for doing good in the world. I wanted to give them the tools to do something about it. We began in 2014, as a gap year program and people started calling and asking for half-day trips and then four-day trips. We were taking kids to skid-row, the border, and giving them these incredible experiences and word started to get out.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Avram Mandell: I think one of our biggest challenges is staffing. How do you find someone to be part of a start-up and has that same passion that fuels you to do this work? It’s one thing when the founder is up until 1 am working but if I am just an employee I don’t have that same commitment.  As we grow you try to do it all and realize quickly that you can’t. So, how do you find the staff member that is fun, engaging, charming, a good educator, good with teenagers, organized to plan the logistics of all our trips and experiences? 

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

Avram Mandell: The feedback from our work reminds us that this is worth it. Knowing we are having an impact. I get the results I want from our students. I just got a text an hour ago of a picture of third-graders writing notes to people in detention centers.  It turns out that the 9th grader that went to one of our trips at the border was sharing her experience with this third-grade class and the third graders were so inspired that they wanted to write welcome to America notes. That is why we do what we do. 

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

Avram Mandell:  We brought a group of 6th graders to a recovery group. A 27-year-old woman shared her journey with our students. After her story, the 6th grader said to the woman, “You are such a strong woman, we have so much to learn from you.” The little girl went on to say that she struggled with her relationship with her parents and told the woman what a great example of strength she was.

We create these experiences for teenagers on a weekly basis that students would not ordinarily have. The students learn that we are all just human beings. We all have so much in common and so much more to learn from one another.

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

Avram Mandell: Our impact is the stories like the one I just shared. It wouldn’t be the statistics. When you show up at a nonprofit with a group of teenagers and recognize one of the volunteers and say, “Don’t I know you?” She says, “Yes, you brought me here three months ago and now I volunteer here.” Then you ask is she doing this for required community service hours and she replies, “No, this is just what I do.”

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for TZEDEK America, what would that be?

Avram Mandell: I would love to have our programming in different cities so we can affect other students with what we are doing. I would love to have more capacity to make that happen. There is a quote from a book called Ethics of Our Fathers that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”  We know the ripple effect of our work and those we impact is large.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Avram Mandell:  I have learned so much from our program. I know more about immigration than I knew before, I know more about homelessness than I knew before. I am more socially aware and socially engaged than ever before.

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

Avram Mandell:  I think about my eulogy a lot. Eulogies are about people’s relationships and about people being there for one another. I think about the educational concept called design with the end in mind and the creators of this concept who wrote a book about what do you want your end to be?  I think about my end.

What do I want the end to be? I want to see that my kids and students are volunteering their time and that they know they have an obligation to make the world a better place. You can not ignore the problem. That is my end.  When my students have kids and take them to volunteer somewhere. When my students live their life with meaning.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Project Ropa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has this journey changed you?

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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The Scarlet C of COVID

“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

The Scarlet Letter

My son and husband have COVID. By the time you read this “had” will be more apropos. Not to worry they are physically fine.  I am COVID free. They are only two of over four million people that have had this. The fascinating thing about COVID is not the physical ramifications but the mental. There is a Scarlet Letter C for COVID. For the first time in my life, I can relate to the character Hester Pryne from The Scarlet Letter. We have not hung a huge scarlet C in front of our house but it feels as if we might have one.

the Love-Hate Relationship with COVID Statistics

Every night for months the evening news covers the daily statistics of COVID. The number infected, tested, active cases, deaths, and the list goes on. These numbers are people. They are not numbers and there is a difference. At this writing, there have been over 140, 000 people in the United States who have died.   According to the LA Times, Floridians over 65 are dying every eight minutes, due to this horrific pandemic.

Before I begin my observations on the mental health of COVID, please note that I am in NO way stating in ANY way that being seriously ill or death is a comparison to the mental health aspects of this virus. It most obviously is not. What has been fascinating to observe is how people react and how people treat you when they know there is an active COVID case in your home.

The Human Experience and COVID

When you hear that people are all over the map with their thoughts about COVID. Pro-mask, Anti-masks, Pro-school-Anti-School. That is true. People are emotionally all over the place when it comes to COVID. Wherever you are on this is ok. I am not here to judge but here to tell you what this feels like on the receiving end. Every day for the past 12 days we have felt as if we are in the middle of a bad psychology experiment. When you tell someone your child has COVID and is safely quarantined (as are we) the reactions run the gamut. It doesn’t matter if is your family, dear friends, neighbors, or co-workers. I haven’t tried with strangers yet but maybe their reactions are better?

Our first encounter was with our neighbor who was walking his dog. My husband and I saw him from about thirty feet apart and we spoke telling him that our son has COVID. He literally ran away while suggesting a podcast for good information. His fear was real. Totally understandable but we have never had anyone run away from us before, so that was a first.

 

The Scarlet C

Dear friends have reacted with anger, shock, shamed us, questioned us, and rejected us. The anger, “How could you let your son go on a father-son boating trip in a pandemic? What did you expect would happen? You are an idiot!” For the record, every person on that trip has tested negative twice, so the source is still a mystery. Can you really get COVID from a gas pump? Think we know the answer.

Shock and awe.  Many friends are stunned and curious. Our son is the first person they have known and they have a million questions about exposure, symptoms, how we keep ourselves safe from him, quarantine, testing, and protocol. That is a whole different post on the misinformation of COVID that I will spare you all.

Shame and Shunned

To be told that we are not welcome regardless of testing, quarantine, following CDC, and doctor’s guidelines. Well, I have to admit, that one stung a bit. We have been very honest and open about the situation, obviously. Our medical advice has been excellent, all of which we have followed to the letter. Who knew that Zinc and a thousand milligrams of Vitamin C helps keep you COVID free?

However, being banned/shunned made me wonder if we actually had a Scarlet C on our home or our caller ID? It made me wonder about Hester Pyrene and truly understand how she felt. Just as the book said, “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”  It is bad enough to be away from your other children, your family, friends, and the world for 14 days. It is not fun. It is sad, lonely, depressing, and isolating. That is for us that are “healthy” and without symptoms. I can’t imagine adding being severely ill to how people with COVID must feel?

Kindness and Compassion

To end on a positive note we have had more than a handful of amazing friends who offered to get groceries, run errands, or bring anything we needed. We had one friend drop off beautiful vegetables from her garden. One family has face-timed our son every night just to check in on him and it was honestly the highlight of his day. All of these gestures of kindness were THE best medicine. Feeling loved, connected, and cared for is what we all truly crave in life.

I have to confess that I struggled with sharing these observations.  Knowing that I am opening myself up to a million more opinions and emotions that honestly, I’m not sure I can handle after the past two weeks. However, with all of the overload of information out there I could not find anything about the human reaction to COVID. These are our experiences, perhaps not everyone’s. My hope is that when you know someone who is quarantined (and chances are you do) that you reach out with kindness, compassion, and empathy.

 

Charity Matters

 

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Camp in the face of COVID

Each year more than 14 million children attend camp in the United States according to the American Camp Association. Sadly, this summer most children will not be attending their camps due to the pandemic. In the United States, there are over 12,000 camps and 8,400 of those are overnight experiences. In the face of COVID, children are not getting the benefits of independence, self-confidence, and new friends which camp provides.

Leaders are Adaptable

As many of you know I run a youth leadership nonprofit and the highlight of our summer is our Summer Leadership program. Our students (6th-8th graders) leave home for the first time and spend a few nights in college dorms. They learn who they can be and where they can go…. college. However, this past March in the wake of the COVID we were unclear about the path forward. Were we going to be able to host our traditional overnight camp? The answers were not clear.

At TACSC, we teach that leaders are adaptable. So adapt is what we had to do. Throughout the months of March, April and May we planned for two programs, in-person and online. It was a bit like writing two term papers knowing that one would have to be thrown away. In mid-May, we made the decision that we were going to have to go with our new plan for camp online.

How do you provide an amazing experience online?

For thirty-eight years TACSC has taught leadership with peer teaching. College students teaching high school students and high school students teaching middle school students. Our program is a combination of camp meets classroom meets kairos.  How were going to provide this experience to three hundred students online?

First and foremost we realized that kids should not be parked in front of a screen on a summer day. They needed to be outside, riding bikes, swimming, and getting bored. So we decided that the camp would start at 3 pm and end at 8:30. That time of day when parents need a break and kids usually start saying, “I’m bored.” Our curriculum team went to work and we were off to the races.

We Did IT!

After months of planning, shipping camp in a box to 300 campers, we executed our plan. This week we took our 38-year-old program and took it online. I was beyond nervous but our college and high school staff worked for months to create a magical experience. Our students attended the equivalent of an online play (via Zoom) each day, went into their small group classrooms, played games, made new friends, and learned about leadership. At the end of the evening, students had reflection time and families came together for night prayers.

Is the online experience the same? No. Did we create connection, fun, and friendships? Yes. Did they learn? Absolutely! Most of all, we learned that in order to survive and thrive as a non-profit we needed to be adaptable. A skill not just for leaders but for all of us.

Charity Matters

 

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Duet

Duet Team

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

Stephanie Van Sickel in Lesvos, Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duet founders Rhys Richmond and Michael Cesar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

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.