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Heidi McNiff Johnson

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Looking back at Miracle Messages

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long story short, I approached everyone I saw who was experiencing homelessness and asked, “Do you have any loved ones you’d like to reconnect with?” That’s how I met a man named Jeffery. He told me he hadn’t seen his family in 12 years. Jeffery recorded a video with his niece and nephew, his sister, and his dad. I went home and I got on Facebook and found a Facebook group connected to his hometown.

So I posted the video there and within one hour, that video got shared hundreds of times. It made the local news that night the leading story. Classmates started commenting, I went to high school with Jeffrey, I work in construction. Does he need a job? And in the first 20 minutes of the post, his sister got tagged. We got on the phone the next day and it turned out Jeffrey had been a missing person for 12 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Adler: For us, that dream is that no one goes through homelessness alone. I would love to end that sentence one word early. No one goes through homelessness. People generally have the knowledge and wherewithal of what is best for them but they just aren’t given the agency. They are not afforded the same opportunities that we all expect in this country. So just giving people the financial support, they need to make ends meet, and the social support, they need to get through tough times and be celebrated at good times. That’s really what we’re committed to at Miracle Messages.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Where are the heroes?

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Time for a little break…

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 43: Roots for Boots

Today is Memorial Day, a national day when we honor and and recognize those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of service. So it is only fitting that today we are having a conversation with an incredible nonprofit Roots for Boots that serves those who serve, our veterans.

Christy Lucus, founder of Roots for Boots is an inspiration and was beyond fun to talk too. Join us to learn the amazing story of Christy’s journey from a school principal to a nonprofit founder. You will see why her official title is Chief Enthusiasm Officer!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Roots for Boots does?

Christy Lucas: We are a grassroots organization and our mission is basically to meet whatever need or challenge a veteran active duty or military family would have. And we like to invite the community to come in to use their own gifts, talents and resources to help us and we like to say that your way of serving your country.

The thing about Roots for Boots is we don’t have a specific niche.  A lot of nonprofits do hunting trips or fishing trips with veterans. For us, no day is ever the same. We could be helping with rent, utilities, home repairs, or car repairs. One of the things that I love to do is to provide the All Terrain action track wheelchairs for our veterans. Those are for our veterans that have issues with mobility outside. These are the wheelchairs that have the tracks on them, a fishing pole attachment, and they’ve got a swivel on for their firearm. The wheelchairs even have a snowplow and they’re just amazing.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Roots for Boots?

Christy Lucas: From very early age, all I ever want to do is help people. When I was little, that’s all I did. And then when I had to figure out what I wanted to do as far career, I decided to go into teaching. So I went to teaching got my degree and I ended up at a Catholic school in Missouri Sound, Pennsylvania. It was just the little town that reminded me of Mayberry that was just a very simple close knit community. So I taught there for 14 years.

I always see God’s hand and everything that I’ve done here.  You just never know where he’s going to take you. When I decided to teach, I went back to school to get my master’s in education. Well, I got the job and Annunciation in the middle of that program.  I was like, I do not want to ever be a principal ever. 14 years later, the school needed a principal…. and I’ll tell you, that was a hardest job. That was the absolute hardest job I’ve ever had.

When I taught and when I became principal,  I did the Veterans Day assemblies.  I think this is where everything started. When I did the Veterans Day assemblies, I got to hear their stories, and the struggles of our veterans, especially our local, military. Then we saw some of our families have deployments who had military members in their family.  And I saw that end of it as well. So I really got a connection there.

I come from a patriotic family where my dad’s a Marine. My grandfather served in World War II, my  great grandfather served in World War I and an uncle in the Navy. My father in law was in the Korean War. So it was just all around.  Love that surrounding your whole time yet you don’t always see it. So when I became principal, I used that platform more.  I brought military in to help a science lesson, Social Studies lessons to talk about patriotism.

Veterans Day was my absolute favorite day in the school.  That was because it didn’t take a lot to make our Veterans happy or to make them smile.  The third year of my contract, I was really burned out and didn’t know what to do. I thought, well, maybe if I volunteer with a Veterans Organization, I’d be able to find my passion that way. I asked a friend who was a Marine, “Do you know any place I could I could do that?” And he says no, but why don’t you start your own thing?  And when he said that, it’s like a spark went off my head. I knew what, no clue what I was going to do no clue what this was going to look like.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Christy Lucas:  I think one of the challenges we have now is with growth. It’s just growing in leaps and bounds.  I run a food bank, the second Tuesday of every month for veterans. That started with eight veterans back in 2018 and it’s now almost 150. It’s it’s more than a Foodbank because I have a Veteran Service Officer there. He’s able to help with any VA issues that they have. We have lunch for the volunteers and the veterans. And that’s priceless. having them sit around a table together and have a  conversation.

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

Christy Lucas: I never take credit for this, I always say it’s God working through me. He’s bringing people to me that need help. And he brings people to me that can help me and I work with a wonderful team of volunteers. The one story that I always do tell is Jeremy Jacoby. He’s a young veteran, and he’s in his 30s. He’s got a young family and Jeremy was deployed twice.  During his deployment he was exposed to chemicals and he’s losing mobility from the waist down.

Three years ago I got contacted because he he was trying to see if he could get up on one of the alteration track wheelchairs. So I met Jeremy at a local restaurant here and I just remember looking across the table.  I could just see the pain in Jeremy’s eyes. What he so desperately wanted was to be able to run with his young son to be able to play football. He wasn’t athletic guy to begin with and now he’s reduced to a cane and a wheelchair.

All he wanted to be able to go out and hunt and fish and be able to play with his his son.  So I remember hearing his story and then you see this, this soldier across from you and all sudden he starts to choke up. I looked across the table as Jeremy I grabbed his arm.  And I said,” Jeremy, I will get you that tractor by Christmas.” And we did.

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

Christy Lucas: if I had a dream super big, the one thing I always say that that we that we were are in need of is our own space.  I work out of my home and always having to borrow other people’s conference rooms. My core values for Roots for Boots is serve, educate and inspire.  So I thought there’s these little one room school school houses around here that are all boarded up. So if somebody would just like buy one of those for me?  Renovate it, make it lots recruits headquarters and  pop a flagpole up in the front of it. I’d be able to meet with my veterans there and we’d have our own conference room.

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

Christy Lucas: When I was principal we would adopt an active duty servicemen each year. They have taught me perseverance and I’ve carried this on into what I do now,  never get up or never give up. You know, live to fight another day. Just keep going forward. That’s a lesson that was has been priceless for me.  I tend to be somebody that doesn’t run from a challenge, I go right towards them.

My biggest struggle was always failure. When I finally just said, “You know what, this is way too stressful. ”
I just had to be myself and figure this out. And I never thought that I would ever be able to handle the job is principal.  I always thought I wasn’t smart enough to do certain jobs. Then I realized I was smart enough. And I was smart enough to form a nonprofit in this community, and opened it with welcome arms.

I was lucky because  I think it’s something that community was looking for. When I look back on all those stumbling blocks and all those failures. And I just think you know what, I’m so glad that I just kept going, because I could have missed out on what could have been my greatest moment. You know, and I always tell people, just keep going, you could be you could be missing out on what could be your greatest moment.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 42: Greenline Housing Foundation

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 41: Sow Good Now

Sports teach all of us so many lessons. We learn as children how to get along, how to work together, and physical fitness. When we think of youth sports we don’t usually think about philanthropy. That is until Mary Fischer Nassib and her friends came along to change all of that.

Mary and her friends were all college athletes and mothers of athletes. They had seen teams of kids that had too much and they had seen those with too little. They decided they could change all that with their nonprofit Sow Good Now. Join us for an uplifting conversation about a new way to teach philanthropy, leadership, and service to others with this amazing organization.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what SOW Good Now does?

Mary Fischer Nassib: There are 45 million youth that are involved in organized sports in the United States every year. In contrast, there are only 500 youth philanthropy programs.  So I thought, philanthropy is good for youth, it’s leadership development, and finding your passion. We know that it’s good for you, that’s good for communities, you lift diverse voices, the communities get the benefit of it, and the young people not only become beneficiaries but become active agents for philanthropy programs.

The kids come together, and they play sports to raise money for other kids. The teams are not only where the volunteers share their skills with youth from underserved areas but fundraise for them in the process. Let’s say there are 30 kids on a high school soccer team and they bring 30 kids from the Boys and Girls Club seven miles away.  That high school soccer team plans the match, arranges it, and coordinates a fundraising event, which we call a GiveBack,  to make it happen.

In the process, the high school team learns leadership skills, event planning, and service learning or doing it in its activity-based philanthropic education. Why we’re so unique is that we give the team ownership. You do the fundraising, you do the planning and you decide what organization you want to grant to. There’s a kid on your team that has a special cause you can help. Not only do you have the power to run this give back, but you’re organized and if someone else needed help, you’d be able to do that too.

The part that Sow Good Now does that work is we bridge the relationship between the team and the underserved youth. We set up a donor-advised fund with three or four players or the coaches, sometimes we even invite the program director from the youth group, whether it be the Boys and Girls Club or another organization. We want the students to understand that they do have tools that can maximize their personal lifetime impact. The fund is named by the team and they will grant out some and keep some in the fund.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Sow Good Now?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  We named it Sow Good Now because we want young people to start sowing their seeds of goodness, today. Most philanthropy starts near retirement age and by the time philanthropists get into their stride, they’re facing the end of their life. So, as a mother of five athletes, I noticed that there was great disparity in a lot of the players in their access to sports.  That was symbolic of the great disparity that we have in our country. And I always thought, “Well, gosh, there’s so much excess here. And so much need there? How can we build bridges?

In July of 2018, the three of us founders (also former college athletes, and mothers of athletes) got our kids and their friends together, and we told them about philanthropy. We invited kids from the Middle School in an elementary school to a football Give Back.  As a mother, and a former financial advisor I know my way around the financial services industry, as well as the sports industry. I studied philanthropy and decided that I would bring others along with me, ie, the athletes.  They’re already primed, they already understand the value of teamwork and diversity, right.  You can’t win if you’re thinking about yourself and that is the same with athletes.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  That first year, everywhere we went, everything played out the way we hoped.  We got into high gear, gained some traction had a good fundraiser.  Then COVID in February of 2020 was the biggest obstacle.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I’m really trying hard to bridge these long-term relationships and I think it’s through relationships, that we will ultimately build confidence.  We are taking those geographically adjacent kids but socioeconomically diverse, putting them together, and then connecting them at a higher level.   I’m passionate about that, and I know I can help them.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  As far as Impact Reporting, we measure volunteer hours. We also say have you volunteered in the past X number of years, so we can report out on the volunteer rates. The other impact report, which is really a byproduct of the work we do is college campuses are reporting that 86% of their athletes are saying that mental health is an issue for them. The work we do at Sow Good Now reverses those two numbers. By volunteering all the research shows that you feel better, and you’re more connected.

We say we shift the focus from achievement to service, that’s really our goal.  Service to others is a way to pause that is a way to let them glimpse that there is life outside of achievement. The two impact pieces are the improvement of mental health and the increase in volunteerism.

One of our softball players did her first Give Back and engaged her team during the pandemic.  She got her players to do virtual videos for kids. She developed leadership skills by building her Give Back and has now been hired by a nonprofit. So those are very measurable results. In a very short time, we’re not four years old yet, and one and a half of those years were COVID. So I have no doubt what we can do. And we’re trying to get work so that we can do more and meet the demand. Everybody is one huge energetic team.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  That dream to me is that every team has its own identity. I dream that there are teams of philanthropic athletes who share the same passion, the same level of skills, and give back as they do in their sport. That the number of 500 youth philanthropy programs grow and the financial services industry makes charitable giving one of its priorities to make giving more effective, more inclusive, and more diverse. That’s my dream. The athletes are making it happen, and I’m honored to serve them when I look at them. I think of the potential that they have to do good.

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

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I think  I really focus on what’s in front of me. The saying is to work with what you have.  Everybody’s striving for whatever else is out there, I wish I figured that out earlier than I did.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mary Fischer Nassib:  I’ve changed a lot. I am definitely more fulfilled, I’m happier, I feel closer to where I should be and I am proud of myself for being a role model. There are a lot of risks, I’m from a family that really doesn’t understand the nonprofit world.

One day, I got a note from my goddaughter and she said,” Happy Birthday, and thanks for being a great role model.” I’m hoping that not only am I changing the world for the good in the sports world, but others are able to see that piece of themselves. I hope that they want to give back and that they say, “Well if Mary can do it, I can do it.” And that’s what I’m I’m kind of hoping for because that’s what makes me happy.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 40: Girls Leading Girls

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Pick up the Six

Ten years ago when Charity Matters began there were not many people telling the stories of service. At that point in time, I didn’t think there were any. It turns out that across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina there was someone else who had a similar idea. His name is Brian Jodice and he is the creator of the Pick Up The Six Podcast.

Brian and I were recently connected and I learned about his work at Pick Up the Six. In the military, the  term
“six” refers to behind you. In a group of runners picking up the six means to turn around and get the person trailing behind you. Brian’s mission is service before self and he uses his platform to tell the stories of men and women from all walks of life doing just that. Last week, it was a privilege to be a guest on his podcast talking about service and just how good people are.

So today, I thought I would share our conversation above and introduce you all to a new audience of amazing humans who serve. Brian interviews everyone from police officers, first responders, community heroes, and occasionally nonprofit founders too. So if you get a minute, please take a few to check out his podcast Pick Up the Six here. As Brian and I discussed the more people like us who focus our attention on all the good happening in the world, the greater the positive spiral up will be. 

When we all come together and put service before self, we make the world a better place. One person, one podcast, one conversation at a time.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 39:West Coast Sports Associates

Spring is a season when we all what to go outside and play. For many students who live in the inner city playing, sports more specifically isn’t an option. Twenty-five years ago four college buddies who loved sports decided to change all of that for thousands of kids across Southern California.

Join us today for a fantastic conversation with one of the founders of West Coast Sports Associates, Mike Gottlieb. As Mike shares the journey of turning a passion for sports into an incredible nonprofit organization that has raised millions for inner-city youth.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what West Coast Sports Associates does?

Mikee Gottlieb: It’s not like a lot of other charities out there, which are all great.  We found kind of a gap in the youth sports world that we’re hoping to fill and grow. Our niche is lower and middle-school-aged children who live in underserved areas, getting them access to team sports.  We all have such great experiences with youth sports growing up, that we just can’t imagine what things would be like for kids if they couldn’t afford to play sports? And there are so many benefits to youth sports.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start West Coast Sports Associates?

Mike Gottlieb: It all started with three really good friends of mine that I’ve known since college, Chip Eggers, Alan Lynch, and Mike Rosenberg. What we all have in common was a passion for sports. We didn’t necessarily have the end result of what West Coast sports Associates was but we knew we had something. A few morning breakfasts and we finally kind of came up with the concept.

We all have had such great experiences playing team sports growing up and we want to make sure that all kids had the same access. To start, we didn’t know what to do. So we decided to have an event where we’re each going to invite five or 10 friends of ours. We would host it, and tell people about our plan. And honestly, we’re not expecting anything.

Meanwhile, Alan was good friends with Steve Soboroff, who at the time, was the head of La Parks and Rec. Alan worked with Steve who identified a park in South LA called Jim Gilliam Park. They had a lot of at-risk kids who were foster kids and or their parents couldn’t afford to pay the entry fee to play flag football, soccer, basketball, or whatever sport. So we decided whether we put up $10,000 to support their programs for the year and let the park director pick the kids. He focused on kids who stayed out of trouble and went to school.  We put them all on scholarship.

We started in 1994 with just four of us committing $10,000 to today giving out about $200,000 a year. And it just happened because we all had this same passion for sports.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Mike Gottlieb: Well, I would say when we first started, we grew slowly.  We were all volunteers for maybe the first 10 years. We had no, literally no help and we just did it all ourselves.  I think during Mike Rosenberg’s term, he finally brought on a part-time executive director. Over time the part-time Executive Director evolved into a full-time Executive Director.  Our treasurer and board members we’re all volunteers.

All of the founders have all taken turns being President. Between the four founders, everyone in our group, there’s a connection to one of the four of us. We all have this passion for sports. I guess you could say we turned an addiction to sports into something positive.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’re not here, because we’re searching for the next professional athlete. We’re just here to help the average kid just participate in sports. We want them to get the life lessons when you play sports, you have to be more organized with your time, learn time management, learn how to listen, follow directions and learn how to be a leader. The statistics about the future health of these kids that do and don’t participate in sports are really mind-boggling. Students who participate in sports have better grades, stay out of trouble, form friendships, have more self-confidence, are healthier and the list goes on. We are just trying to help the average kid and there are so many benefits that we know we are making a difference.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We’ve been doing this so long. I read the other day that Russell Westbrook used to play sports at one of our parks. And there’s Tony who played for the Dallas Cowboys who played another park. So we do it enough, we’re going to get some success stories. Those success stories are, are pretty exciting, because you just you never know, the kid who can’t play, he’s going to do something else. In those underserved areas, that’s something else that may not be good. I think we all know in our hearts, that there are kids we’ve saved because they’ve been able to play sports. How many I don’t know that. I know for a fact that that happened.

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

Mike Gottlieb:  I would say, half of our programs are different parks in LA City Parks and Recs. The other half are nonprofits that directly do different sports like Heart Harlem lacrosse or Beat the streets for wrestling. We not only support the Parks and Recs departments but then, in addition,  give funds to nonprofits that are supporting work with special needs kids.

We did actually, the first-ever public-private partnership between The City of LA, twenty-some years ago with youth soccer. When you understand how AYSO works, they’re all volunteers and they don’t have a big budget, like the clubs. So they really have to just kind of scrap to get facilities to get fields. So we put together the first-ever partnership with LA. and have done more of those public-private partnerships since.  We’re trying to do more to empower a nonprofit or the parks.  The idea is that we hope when we start with a particular location, that we can get them off the ground, and ultimately they can become self-sufficient in raising their own funds. Then we can take that money and find someone else and that’s what we tried to do.

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

Mike Gottlieb: We have thought about expanding,  so we are doing more in Orange County. That was kind of a test model and we’ve sponsored some programs down here. Can we do something in San Diego, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Portland, and Seattle? Then we’re really on the whole west coast. I would love to be able to see this happen in other cities and there are other groups that do things like this. Not exactly, but in every major city there is some group that’s helping with youth sports. In theory, we could franchise. It would be great to see this adapted in other cities and help welcome.

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

Mike Gottlieb: Oh, gosh you know, you look back and realize we didn’t know when we started where we were going. In looking back on it I feel really good that not only have we helped the kids, but we’ve energized people in our group to go out to help our mission.  They’ve also expanded into other youth helping other youth out whether it’s sports or academics or other at-risk kids.  I think we’ve created an inertia that and we’re examples to other people. I think, “Okay, we’ve energized hundreds of people. And we’ve raised probably $5 million-plus but it’s just I think it’s the domino effect. A really positive domino effect.  We know without our work and without us, that doesn’t happen so that that feels good.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Mike Gottlieb:  The other hope is that whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Whether it’s sports or a cure for a disease, whatever your passion is you can do the same thing. Our hearts just happened to be sports and kids, because that was just pure.  Whatever your passion is, all you got to do is find one other person, and then talk about what you’d like to do. Don’t have any ambitious plans about how fast you grow, it can be small, if you just affect one other person, you’ve done something positive. That’s why I love what you’re doing, getting the stories out of the founders, in hopes that it’ll encourage other people to do the same thing.  You know, at the end of the day, give more than you get.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 38: Foster the Mind

I never ceased to be amazed at the fascinating way nonprofit founders find me, or perhaps the ways I find them? A few months ago I was at a board meeting and was seated next to a new board member. We began talking about what she did and it came up that her husband Bryan had recently founded a nonprofit. She explained that Brian had a challenging upbringing and had struggled with depression. Through an incredible journey (worth listening to) Brian was introduced to neurofeedback.

The CDC has said that the economic fallout of mental health from COVID is two trillion dollars. Brian’s nonprofit, Foster the Mind helps children from the foster care system who struggle with trauma and mental health challenges from trauma. Join us for a fascinating conversation looking at mental health and the foster care system in a totally different way with our guest Bryan Butler. This conversation will most definitely open your mind!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Foster The Mind does?

Brian Butler: We improve the lives of children and adolescents with mental health treatment, more specifically neurofeedback. Foster children have more trauma than most of our veterans if you study their brains. Neurofeedback which is an expensive therapy helps to alleviate that trauma.

So primarily we’re focusing on abuse and the foster youth population. Our model is we calm the brain down with something called alternating current stimulation.  It’s just a very light stimulation and a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. So it basically forces the right-left hemisphere to alternate while you’re telling a story. And what that does, is it doesn’t erase the memory. Rather, it starts to remove the emotional impact that that specific memory has, it’s really powerful.

Oftentimes, there’s a lack of understanding in the mental health field of trauma and the impact it has. There’s a book called The Body Keeps the Score and so that’s actually what happens is there is a connection between the mind and the body. So you see these people, and they have just a slew of issues because their childhood trauma has never been addressed.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Foster The Mind?

Brian Butler:  I grew up in a very chaotic home. When you have an environment like that, you don’t have a center intact. So I would be close to somebody and then push them away. They’re called deactivating strategies that your brain does to keep you safe.

In graduate school, one of my professors talked about how we minister of who we are. I had to write a paper on the topic. After he read it, he said, “This is really dark.” The professor wanted me to go see a therapist. And so I did and was given the diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

After that initial diagnosis, I spent 20 years and the current standard of care. I went to the psychiatrist and volunteered at church working with a lot of foster youth who were also struggling. Later on in life, you realize that you’re trying to find some meaning. So in saving them, you’re giving yourself meaning because I always felt worthless.

I tried to commit suicide. The week after,  I went to my professor and said, “Look, I am doing everything I’m supposed to do. I’m taking all the meds, exercising, praying, going to church, and doing it all. There’s gotta be something else because this is not working. And I’m going to kill myself because of the pain.” So he said, “Well, there’s a guy who has a clinic, Burleson, doing neurofeedback, I think you should try it. “

After I got much better, where I was treated, he offered me a job to come back to work at the clinic that treated me. When I got married and told my wife about what I wanted to do, she said, “Okay, let’s just do it.” She helped me put everything together. That was in 2018 we started Foster the Mind.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Brian Butler: A lot of people really don’t understand this work. So more than fundraising, I’m teaching people that there’s a better model for trauma, recovery, and trauma treatment. I have a split model because we have a clinic with paying customers and then we have a nonprofit where we work with children recommended by the court. Balancing both can be challenging.

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

Brian Butler: Yes, we do have successes, which is really, really exciting. It’s cool when people give us cards saying, thanks for changing my son’s life or daughter’s life.

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

Brian Butler:  I’ve got two or three patients now who were having panic attacks all day long. You can see it in the brain waves. Now they can have a conversation and not have panic attacks. And it’s just very miraculous. It feels very surreal. We see lots of people, but still every time it’s still amazing to me to see that happen.

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

Brian Butler: My dream is to create a home or a campus for kids that age out of foster care that has mental health treatment. A place that has an art studio and where they teach everything else that might be helpful for someone who isn’t going to go to school or college. These kids still want to find a home. Texas is one of the few places where when you turn 18, as a foster child they no longer support you or help.

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

Brian Butler: That no matter what you’ve experienced, no matter what you’ve been through, the brain can be rewired and changed. These challenges can become a strength as opposed to a downfall. That’s been my personal experience. So when I when someone comes to me, and they’re having panic attacks all day long every day.  I’m telling them my own story, my own journey.  I can see, I guess it’s part of my gift, and maybe I’m seeing my own self, but I can see three months from now where I think they can be.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Brian Butler:  What’s been cool about my journey of healing, especially with Amanda, because she’s been absolutely amazing for me. I’ve never been married before and I’m just feeling a sense of peace. My wife’s big and talking about things that happen in seasons. So I hang on to that.  Because of my own story, I keep reminding myself of the whole seasons’ thing. I’m learning to enjoy the present moment and I’m grateful to actually have a family.  I never thought I would be a part of a family. So I really enjoy the connectedness and how grounded I am.

Now that I’ve started the nonprofit my vision has been able to change.  I get to keep sharing part of who I am and part of my story and then helping them realize the same thing. They’re the ones doing the work and I get to be around for part of it. My desire is for them not to suffer the way I suffered.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 37: Empty Frames Initiative

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

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

 

Charity Matters: Tell us about your name?

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

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

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

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

 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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The state of things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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Episode 36: Miracle Messages

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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A few ways to support Ukraine

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

Project Hope

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

World Central Kitchen

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

Save The Children

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

Global Giving

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.