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Episode 12: Alexandria House

Join us today to hear our fascinating conversation with today’s guest, Sister Judy Vaughan. We discuss everything from her work in founding Alexandria House to her tattoo, her motto, her sheroes, their feature in Justin Beiber’s video (see below), and most importantly to her tireless dedication to the community. Just last week Tory Burch Foundation and the Upworthiest nominated Sr. Judy as their Empowered Woman and once you listen to today’s conversation you will see why.

I knew Sister Judy Vaughan was someone special the moment we began our email exchange and she did not disappoint. A third-generation Angeleno who has been on a mission to serve women, children, and families with transitional housing for 25 years since founding Alexandria House.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Alexandria House does?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  Alexandria house, really as part of our mission has three things.  One is to be a long-term shelter for single women and women with children who are homeless. The main focus in the two houses is to serve families, who are really searching for ways to break out of being without a house and into their own place. We’re a long-term transitional residence program, about 85% of the women who come here are coming out of situations of domestic violence. We also have folks who have escaped trafficking.  

The second thing is we’re a Neighborhood Center. We wanted to be from our very beginning in 1996, to be a part of the community. So we have an after-school program, that it’s really for about 35 kids. Right now, most of them were doing mentoring with the kids in our program, through zoom.

The third thing is it comes out in our awareness. We’re just we’re really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re the homeless capital of the United States. In no way do we think Alexandria house is going to shift that. But we are a base for doing systemic change work.  We really are committed to changing systems that are keeping women and children living in poverty. So that’s sort of who Alexandria House is. If I had to say this in an elevator, I’d say we’re about really focusing on what is to make a difference but also trying to be a demonstration of what it is to be a demonstration of the Beloved Community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A very good friend taught us about the burden of knowing or being willing to have your heart be broken because there are so many things that make it so difficult for folks to really get out of a situation. So that’s definitely one, how you stay true to our commitment to trauma-informed care.

That really means opening your heart and being as empathetic as possible, even though it’s not your own experience, but really listening.  Listening to the pain and the grief and the heartache of others, and being willing to share in that. So that’s one piece of it. But the other is, there’s just not enough resources. And we see that over and over again. We get 1000 calls a month from folks, we’re not able to house here. There are at least 80,000 folks who are homeless on any one night in LA and 11,000 shelter beds and there are not enough resources. 

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

Sister Judy Vaughan:  I could go down the list of how it comes back to us in words, you know, you saved my life, I wouldn’t be where I am without you all. And I have to say, you know, I get a lot of credit, being the founding person and being the one and a half staff that started the place. But really, we have an incredible staff that is all committed to this mission. I think one of the outstanding examples of our impact is of the people that have moved through the program 93% have remained in permanent housing.

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

Sister Judy Vaughan: So this is what we thought of back in 1996. This is what the vision was. So to continue the work we’re doing even as it grows, because we have more people who come to us now is living the dream. But we do have a dream because housing is so difficult in LA. We’re really working right now to purchase the apartment building behind us.

 It would provide 31 more units of permanent supportive housing. More and more, we are finding folks having such a hard time finding permanent housing. 

 

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

Sister Judy Vaughan:  A really important one for me is that there’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God. And it’s in Romans and I believe this. So,  much so that I have a tattoo on my shoulder that has the glimpse of our hands connected, that there’s nothing that can separate us. It’s a really important thing for me. Because we all make mistakes in doing this work.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience? How has this journey changed you?

Sister Judy Vaughan: I definitely think I’m the same person and that I still have some of the same flaws and some of the same struggles. But I just feel so much more enriched and challenged as a person. You know, as a member of a religious community, we talk about living a life of simplicity.  I don’t even think I understood what that means, until living here at Alexandria House.

I have also learned about what it means to be generous.  Some people say that I get some credit for living and working here. But I have to say, this place saved my life in some ways because it enabled me to see who we’re really called to be, and what we need to do. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

 

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

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

Episode 11: Fotolanthrophy, Storytelling with a purpose

Have you ever read about someone and think, I need to know that person? That is exactly what happened with this week’s guest, Katie Norris. A while back I was reading through a People Magazine and came across the incredible story of Chris Norton. Chris had an amazing story and the article mentioned this incredible nonprofit founder, Katie Norris, who was determined to tell it. Katie did just that through her amazing nonprofit, Fotolanthrophy. A non-profit organization that combines photography + film + philanthropy to share inspiring true stories of people who have overcome adversity…and I wanted to meet her.

Image how thrilled I was when Katie and I were connected? We sat down for an inspirational conversation about her organization’s beginnings and her latest film project, 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.  Join us today for an incredible conversation with this very special human who will make your day. 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Katie Norris: A lot of people say they hope to feel called in life.  I actually got a phone call that changed the course of my life forever. Nearly 10 years ago, I received a phone call from a mother that was just sobbing. I could barely hear what she was saying. She’s finally said, “My name is Kara. You don’t know me, but someone said you can help me. My son is just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He’s eight months old and I really would love pictures of him.”

 I had my own photography business at the time. And little did she know that a few months before, it kind of was just put on my heart that I wanted to start my own nonprofit, which was a wild idea. I was in my young 20s and I just didn’t move forward with that idea and I just needed the courage to go for it. It all came together at that moment and that phone call. I remember just kind of taking a minute and thinking, this is it, this is my call for my life. I need to go serve people with the gift that I have.

And I got to say, “Kara, you know, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But yes, we’d love to serve you. Here’s what I’d like to do.” We got to surprise her with not only a photo session, but we brought in a videographer and captured the last moments of her son’s life. It was very, very challenging. I wasn’t a mom at the time, so it was hard. We got to serve her and that was the beginning of Fotolanthrophy.

Charity Matters: How did you go from photoshoots to becoming a nonprofit documentary filmmaker?

Katie Norris: Then things kind of continued to grow after that families would call and they would nominate families because sometimes when someone’s facing such a great tragedy, you don’t know what to do. And sometimes, you know, a casserole, you want to do more than that. And so it felt so good to say yes, we’ll be there. How can we help?

Then everything kind of went to the next level, when we were interviewing a young soldier, Travis Mills. He’s a quadruple amputee. And I came across his story. And my world kind of stopped when I saw a picture of him. And we made our way to Fort Bragg to meet him, we’re gifting his family Fotolanthrophy, which was a portrait session and a short film. And I’m sitting here interviewing this American hero thinking, why don’t we make him a full-featured documentary? 

Once we continued the mission and served many families we realized what it was going to take to produce these stories and that’s when we knew we needed to become a nonprofit. We received our 501 c3 status in 2012. It was a great day and it felt like a new start. We’re really doing this, you know, it was kind of an answer to a phone call. Then we continued to see people impacted and it was such a joy to serve these families that we just went step by step and they just kept coming.

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

Katie Norris: So when I’m tired, I think about those people that we could potentially serve and maybe bring a little bit of inspiration to and that, that keeps me going.  I’ve got that phone call, you know, I’m anchored in that phone call that this is what I was supposed to do. And that keeps me going.

Charity Matters: do you know have a Motto that you live by?

Katie Norris: Consistency compounds. I continue to say those two words because it does compound and it all adds up. And so if I can just stay consistent in who I am in what we’re doing in our mission, it all will continue to move.  And that’s really helped me from the day to day.

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

Katie Norris: You can never give up on your dream. I mean, there are so many times that I could have said this is too hard. This is too much. And I think about all those “miss moments” that would have never happened.  I think about all the people that are moved experiencing our film, 7 Yards. So sometimes when we’re in those moments of adversity, and we can’t shake it that day, and we want to give up because it’s too hard, and the sacrifices we make…just to never give up, just don’t.  

We’ve been given this mission and just to continue going.  I think that’s one of the biggest things that has taught me to see what I’m made of, and to see what’s possible. It’s nice, because each project we take on more, and I think some days are really hard.  I wonder what I would have said, what my life would be like if I didn’t say yes to all this?  I would have missed out on so much. So anyone listening, that’s following your dream just keep going, just keep going.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

Episode 10: Ryan Seacrest Foundation Following the heart

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong. Listening to the call

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one.

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

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

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

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

Episode 8: Rhonda’s Kiss, a Mother’s Legacy

We never know when life is going to change in an instant. Kyle Stefanski is one of five children who grew up with a big happy family in Cleveland, Ohio. Kyle’s mom Rhonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and passed away eight short weeks later. Their family was devastated but knew that their mom, Rhonda would want them to do something positive for others. The result and legacy is a nonprofit called, Rhonda’s Kiss. a nonprofit organization that supports cancer patients with the non-medical expenses that come with cancer.

Families experience loss all the time but not all families take their grief and turn it into something positive for others. I am excited to share the story behind Rhonda’s Kiss and more than that, the beautiful legacy that this mother has left her children and all those they serve through their incredible organization. Join me for an inspiring conversation with Rhonda’s son, Kyle Stefanski about his and his family’s work in creating this beautiful legacy in honor of their mom.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Rhonda’s Kiss)

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Rhonda’s Kiss does?

Kyle Stefanski: Rhonda’s Kiss raises money for the non-medical expenses tied to cancer.  It’s covering expenses like keeping your lights on, food in your fridge, wigs, childcare, rent, mortgage, and rides to and from the hospital. You see a lot of cancer patients either not going to the hospital because they can’t afford the ride, or stuck at the hospital for hours after their meeting with their doctor.  It’s just all these hidden costs that people don’t even think about because they’re just focused on cancer. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you all knew you needed to act and start  Rhonda’s Kiss?

Kyle Stefanski: So I think it really came about when the family came together maybe a month or two after my mom passed. We were trying to figure out what happened and trying to say that we needed to turn this into something. So we sat down and said there’s so much money going into cancer. Why not put some money into something that we can actually tangibly feel is affecting people? Once funds are donated, the money goes to that partner hospital, and the social workers immediately start executing grants right away to help these cancer patients.

Charity Matters: This is hard work, running a nonprofit, what fuels you when the days are long and the work is hard?

Kyle Stefanski: How do I keep going? That hospital floor, where my mom passed, at the Cleveland Clinic, has stuck with me so, so deeply, I will never forget that feeling. When I walked away from her after she had taken her last breath, and I  just walked by myself through the hallway. I just felt the energies of each room and wanted to remember every piece of it.  So that’s a huge piece for me to always, always, always remember. 

You don’t have to have it emotionally bring you down, but it will never leave. And so I go to bed, it’s a thought of mine. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thought of mine. That is something that I live with, and everything else circles around that.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Kyle Stefanski: In only five years we’ve been able to donate over $1.5 million through all of our partner hospitals.  The Cleveland Clinic, Cedar Sinai, and the City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic Florida, and we are coming to New York City this spring. When we started the Cleveland Clinic had only three social workers in their cancer department working with patients. Just three workers. Since we’ve started this program that has grown to 28 social workers and that is just one of our hospitals.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Stefanski: Well, this process has taken me on such a spiritual path as well. A lot of it has been opening my eyes because we live in this very capitalistic society. And that’s a big reason why we don’t see the people in front of us and we don’t connect.  There is no human condition to really feel because we’re moving so fast and worried about ourselves. And so when you feel that gratitude, our spiritual side of how we’re supposed to be there for others. You realize we’re all in this together.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 6: Alma’s Backyard Farms a lesson in feeding the soul

We are excited to share our inspirational conversation with Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia the Co-Founders of Alma’s Backyard Farms. In today’s episode, we discuss the origins of Alma’s Backyard Farms. The journey that brought Richard and Erika to Compton and to begin their nonprofit organization. What fuels them to do this work and the life lessons learned in the process of creating this amazing organization that exists to reclaim the lives of formerly incarcerated people.

Almas Backyard Farm  re-purposes urban land into productive urban farm plots and re-imagine disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles as a hub for transformation. Co-founder, Erika Cuellar is an LA native and first-generation Mexican-American. Growing up in Watts, Erika witnessed how her community has been fraught with challenges in education and food insecurity.  Erika’s co-founder is Richard Garcia whose passion to grow food comes from a long line of Filipino farmers. Before launching Alma Backyard Farms, Richard initiated garden programs for schools and restaurants.   

A few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us about the name of your organization? And who is Alma?

Richard Garcia: There is a lot in a name. Alma in Spanish means soul. Food is what we grow. Our programming and services are intended to nourish the soul. That being community, a place to thrive. kinship connection that’s why we chose Alma’s Backyard Garden because Alma is also the street where we first started our first backyard garden.

Charity Matters: Tell us More about how you began Alma’s Backyard Gardens?

Erika Cuellar:  I went on to work at Homegirl Cafe, shortly after my senior year of college.  And so, Richard had come back to Homegirl Cafe to work with us and help develop a few different components of the training program, including a gardening aspect.

So we started an experiment, the idea of the entire food process of growing, preparing, and serving and so a lot of the women (previously incarcerated) that we were working with had never grown vegetables or had much exposure to what growing food is like.  It was during that work at Homegirl Cafe, that the fire was was was was ignited in our hearts to really pursue to pursue Alma.

And so we really started looking at backyards, like, how can we utilize underutilized space?  How can we take backyards that are not being maximized in Los Angeles, and create these farms? With the goal to grow foods to really nourish people and provide opportunities for folks who are we serving. The first backyard that we had installed was on Alma Avenue. That’s Richard’s house, which still remains a backyard farm.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to do this work? Your work is physically demanding as farmers and running A nonprofit, How do you keep going when it’s hard?

Erika Cuellar:  Good sleep, a good spiritual life, good prayer. And eating well, like, I like those three things. And exercise four things that keep us grounded and going.

Richard Garcia: There is a discipline with love, where you have to choose it every day. So it may not always feel wonderful. But there is a edify, deeper, an edifying feeling of knowing that the choice to love happens. Someone wants to describe farming is you know, picking up picking things up, and putting things down and that sometimes feels like the whole day.

Yeah, you’re picking things up putting things down, you’re loading, you’re offloading. The other day someone picked up kale and they’re preparing this kale for a kitchen that serves homeless folks. And then she looked around and she said to me, “I could see you love what you do.”  And I thought that was one of the nicest compliments.  There is this meticulousness about how we orchestrate the space because our intention is for people to really have a sense of presence in the space. So that is also fuel.

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

Richard Garcia: I think, you know, there’s a life lesson, it’s that God works through the challenges, not apart from it, not a distance from it, but through them. And so, I’m anticipating that there are challenges ahead. And, and I think, growing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, has been one of the lessons that I’ve learned to appreciate.

Erika Cuellar:  The first word that came to mind when you said life lessons was the importance of honesty. To live a life that is honest.  I think there are many life lessons. But if you know we talk about what fuels and what motivates and what gets you going every day, and it’s that reminder to choose to be chosen and to choose love.

I guess it’s more than the lesson…. I think the lesson lies in embracing and accepting honesty. Being honest and all of your relationships and, as a business as a nonprofit business being honest in your transactions in stewardship. So I think that’s at the core of the values and lessons that I’ve learned. It is instrumental to really be able to live a life, not just for myself, but for others.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

 

What a month!

Almost a decade ago I had a dream that I was to help the helpers. Since that time I have spent every spare moment trying to give voice to those who give their lives to serve those in need. Each story is a gift, a lesson, and a reminder that people are good. Each of you who have come along this journey with me in search of good news and good people know what I mean.

Last summer when more than a handful of people said I should share these conversations in a podcast, I was hesitant.    A new medium, technology which always challenges me and a host of obstacles in my path, I set out to do this. I want to thank all of you who have supported this journey this past month as we have released five episodes of The Charity Matters Podcast. Before we begin releasing new ones each week (starting this Wednesday) I thought I would share the four inspirational interviews again here, in case you missed one.

My hope is that while you are going on a walk, a drive, working in the yard, or doing laundry that you will leave feeling inspired, uplifted, and joyful. Have a great day and here you go…

Episode 2: Project Hope

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

Listen Here To Episode 2

Episode 3: Urban Possibilities

There are no words to contain my excitement about this episode of the Charity Matters Podcast. Eyvette Jones-Johnson is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Get excited as she shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to a successful television producer and now entrepreneur nonprofit founder. Eyvette and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit that provides inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Listen to Episode 3 Here

Episode 4: Danny’s Farm

I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Listen to Episode 4 here

Episode 5: Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation.  When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

Listen to Episode 5 here

Thank you again for making this month so special. I beyond appreciate all of the subscriptions, social media love, and five-star reviews. I am beginning to feel like an uber driver:) More importantly, thank you for the love and amazing feedback that keeps me going! Have a great weekend and we will see you Wednesday with a brand new episode!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 5: Amel Najjar, Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation.  When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about the Children of War Foundation?

Amel Najjar: So as of 2020 Children of War Foundation has two priority focuses. And that’s health and education. Our mission is to make these two essential in really fundamental human, basic human rights accessible to anyone at any time, from anywhere. I also think that it’s really important to shed light on where we were 10 years ago and how the organization has really evolved since then.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start the Children of War Foundation?

Amel Najjar: So 10 years ago, I had an opportunity to save one child’s life. And that was a nine-year-old boy who was a victim of war. At that time, I didn’t have experience managing a nonprofit, my only experience was volunteering with small organizations and bigger organizations. And at that time, what I had to offer was that could help this boy. I knew the region because I had lived there off and on as a child.  I also had family and friends in the region who could help me.

More importantly, I had access to resources and organizations that could help in Los Angeles. And so Children of War Foundation was born for the sole purpose of saving an innocent child who was caught in the crossfire of war. And I helped that one child successfully get to the US, secured a medical visa, and ensured that he had almost nine months of surgical care. My husband is a pediatric surgeon, here in Los Angeles, and between the both of us, I had my international experience, and he had his medical network, and I used that to my advantage. I used that network to build on to do more.

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

Amel Najjar: Okay, so I’m the type that is either go big or go home. This may sound really ridiculous. And I don’t care because that’s how I started in the first place. When I said I’m going to Iraq to bring a kid to LA, which sounded ridiculous at the time. But look what’s happened?  

My dream is to be the organization that drives change and influences world peace. This would lead to less poverty, by providing that access to health and education.  Which is the ultimate key to better decision making, becoming more compassionate people, healthier people who want to contribute to their communities, people who have something to live for. Overall, this would contribute to raising a future generation that understands what it is to learn, to be knowledgeable, to have choices to be healthy. And to give back. That’s my dream.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

Charity Matter’s Podcast Episode 4: Cathy Gott, Danny’s Farm

I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy has always been a bright light, someone with amazing energy, and a person who makes things happen. She and her husband, (legendary baseball pitcher)Jim Gott have two sons, Danny and Nick. When Danny was diagnosed with autism Cathy and Jim went to work.

Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us today to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Danny’s Farm does?

Cathy Gott: Danny’s Farm is a labor of love, no doubt about that. It is a petting farm, that employs adults with developmental differences. We provide a lot of volunteer opportunities and vocational training. In addition, we go out into some of the most underserved communities and special needs communities in Los Angeles, either through our mobile petting farm and visit groups of kids who sometimes never even seen a farm animal.

I mean, it’s remarkable and is a really interactive, lovely experience. Then we also have hours at the farm where we host field trips and tours and individual visits depending on the needs of the individual. So it’s an inclusive nurturing loving place. We share the property with another organization called Special Spirit which provides therapeutic horseback riding. So, it’s hard to separate because you know, you can’t pass up a pig pen when you’re going over to ride your horse or a sheep or a goat or a bunny or you know, it’s just really fun. So we share a lot of that.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Danny’s Farm?

Cathy Gott: Well, when Danny was little as with many people with autism, there’s a number of sensory issues and in particular, sound sensitivity. And lots of different ways to take in the environment tactfully from touch to you know, just how we move in our body and space. He had a lot of difficulties navigating things like amusement parks or baseball games or things that a family would typically enjoy. It would be very overwhelming for Danny.

One of the few places that he loved to go, were petting farms, wherever we were because they’re quiet and they’re peaceful.  He got a lot of tactile input by petting and holding and squeezing and hugging and loving all those animals. Danny has always had a tremendous affinity for animals. So that’s the background story.

Then somewhere in the early to maybe 2010, something like that Danny was a teenager. I was attending a conference at this taskforce Blue Ribbon Commission for autism in California. I learned about some grants that were available to fund micro-enterprises or small businesses. That’s when the light bulb went off, you know because a lot of parents as their kids are about to exit high school or thinking what’s next? What is my child going to do and have meaningful employment in life? And it just all clicked together. That’s what we decided to do and it truly is Danny’s Farm. He has a lot of pride and works very hard. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cathy Gott:  We had some location issues but you know, they all turned out great in the end.  The first location we opened was an Altadena at a beautiful little horse stable. We used a lot of the grant money to build a barn that served a number of wonderful things.

What happened is we were a victim of our own success because once the word got out about Danny’s Farm we were very busy, very fast serving kids in and around Los Angeles County. And this poor little neighbor. Bus after bus come in and out and the neighbors were not happy. So we politely had to close our doors there and that was devastating.

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

Cathy Gott: I have learned so many lessons. I think the one that comes to mind is the saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I used to be such a planner. I had planned where Danny would live and work and I learned to let it go. We adapt to do the best with what we have. We learn to manage our expectations and disappointments. Being able to pivot is extremely humbling.

I feel closest to God now when I just listen. It is such a privilege to simply listen.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Copyright © 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.

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 3: Eyvette Jones Johnson, Urban Possibilities

There are no words to contain my excitement about today’s episode of the Charity Matters Podcast. Eyvette Jones-Johnson is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Get excited as she shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to a successful television producer and now entrepreneur nonprofit founder. Eyvette and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit that provides inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Urban Possibilities?

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: Well, we teach homeless job seekers and low-income workers, the tools to reach their highest potential. And our approach is inside out. And why that is, is because success is an inside job. It’s really born out of what we think what we believe, which dictates how we act, what we believe about ourselves and the world dictates everything.

So there are so many forces that lead to someone becoming homeless, or people living in poverty. There are so many circumstances, so many systemic forces that cause that to happen. And so what I realized is that the person that’s being affected, if they are empowered, they can begin to navigate all of those barriers themselves.

So we are an empowerment company. And I know that words been overused, but it really is. How do we build power specifically and particularly with marginalized populations? And how do we do that from the inside out?

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

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: Well, I mean, when we look at the numbers and 75% of our students with, after they’ve graduated, are either working or in school. These are people who lived under bridges on bus stops in their cars at shelters. But the biggest impact I think we have is that part of our program is also when we talk about the tools of success is how do you give?  How do you make a personal impact?

And so we have students who were formerly addicts who are now drug and rehab counselors. They’re paying it forward. We have people who lived under a bridge, who now have reunited with their family and working and have their kids in private school. We have people who are looking at starting their own nonprofits so that they can reach out to people that they were once like.  I think our biggest impact is graduating people that not only understand at a deep level, their self-worth. They understand now that they are gifted in whatever way that is and then they are applying those gifts in the world.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: That’s a big question.  Well,  the entire orientation of my life has changed. I’m not chasing the next show the next job or the next assignment. My focus is no longer primarily on myself and my career and why I can achieve it is I’ve hooked myself to something bigger and that has changed everything.

I’m stronger emotionally because I’ve had to hold the space for people to be able to lay down some of their burdens as they pick up a new way of being. So I think that’s one of the ways I’ve changed. And, you know, I know what I know, what I know.

I want people to understand what you and I have felt that transcendent joy. Like there’s nothing like that transcendent joy. And it doesn’t take starting a nonprofit to feel that way. No, even though that was our call, right? But other people can do that, too. And I think I’ve become one of the ways it’s changed me is being bolder, and trying to call that forth and other people.

 I really am an advocate for the expansion that happens when people start to spend their energy and their time. Really going after something big, like changing the world.

Charity Matters

 

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

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

Copyright © 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.

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 2: Rabih Torbay, Project HOPE

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

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

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

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

Introducing the Charity Matters Podcast: Episode One

Charity Matters Podcast with Heidi Johnson2021 is here and it is time for new beginnings. There seems no time like the present to dive right in.  As I launch the new Charity Matters podcast, my goal is to share the stories of innovators, entrepreneurs, and inspiring modern-day heroes who set out to solve the problems of humanity with their incredible journeys of service.

With my first episode, let me re-introduce myself to those of you who are just joining us. My name is Heidi Johnson and I am the founder of Charity Matters.  Ten years ago, after starting a nonprofit with a group of friends,  I decided that the world was focusing on the wrong people.  I began a search to find my tribe, an incredible group of entrepreneurs who worked tirelessly to solve the problems of humanity.  Nonprofit founders.  I was one but I wanted to understand why millions of people across the country started businesses to help people?

I invite you to listen to our first episode.

Not only did I find my heroes but we had these unbelievable conversations. Now, a decade later after sharing these enlightening discussions via the Charity Matters blog, I decided it is time to share it all.  The result is the new Charity Matters Podcast.  Today the tables are turned and I am answering the questions instead of asking them. Honestly, I prefer it the other way around.

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

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

Heidi Johnson:  Charity Matters is a filter for goodness that connects people and causes.  We use our platform to spread the message of extraordinary humans who are using their lives to serve others. Our goal is for these incredible stories to act as a mirror for reflection. Our hope is that they inspire others to look at ways that they can serve, connect, and make a difference in their world.  

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

Heidi Johnson:  To quote Martin Luther King,  I had a dream. I rarely remember my dreams but this one woke me up with a jolt.  So, I got up in the middle of the night in early 2011 and wrote down the dream.  The dream was about being a messenger for all of these extraordinary humans. The next day I decided to figure out how to build a website and I went to work starting Charity Matters.

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

Heidi Johnson:  First, is the life lessons I learn from these wise, interesting, strong, and compassionate humans. It is a guilty pleasure.  I have never ended a conversation without being blown away.  Secondly, the feedback I get from all of our subscribers. The beautiful notes, the stories they share about acting because of another story we have shared. To witness the circle of positive energy and goodness is addicting.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Heidi Johnson:  I’d like to think that I have become a better person for having learned from these people who are my heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint and still have the mouth of a sailor some days. However, when you talk to these incredible people who have literally given up their lives, changed careers, and completely devoted themselves to something bigger than themselves, it changes you. 

The biggest change is my gratitude. I am reminded daily from these conversations how blessed I am to have love, family, food, a hot shower, and my health.  That gratitude fuels me and there is no joy without it. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Copyright © 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.

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.