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Across the finish line!

For the past twelve years you have been a part of my life. When I started Charity Matters in 2011 our sons were 15, 13 and 9 years old.  You have followed our families journey from the last football game to taking our first son to college and everything in between. I wrote about it all and you not only read these crazy stories, you replied, you understood and cheered us on. It was as if I were running a race and all of you have been on the side lines cheering. So many miles were tough and you got me through. As in most races, the clarity comes once you have finished and in looking back.

I remember getting on the team football bus for our middle son’s last game and having parents passing the post I had written around the bus on their phones. People hugging and thanking  me for expressing their feelings about The Last Pass post. It was the first time I really realized people were actually reading Charity Matters.

Each Christmas Charity Matters shared the Raising Philanthropic Children post as we tried so hard to guide our sons towards service. Teaching them to find their gifts and those they had to share with the world. You cheered them  on as they served so many great organizations and helped start a few. More than that, you shared what your kids were now doing which was even better.

When I dropped our oldest son off at college I was devastated. Again, all of you were there. I wrote this post and you sent so many supportive notes I could cry just thinking about them. You began the TCU journey of service with me as well. Then watched as I made The Last Lunch and the second son become a Horned Frog and finally the third.

Each ceremony marked the ever quickening passage of time. It was if each ceremony was a mile markers in a marathon. Some miles were harder than others.  When our youngest graduated high school and we became empty nesters, those struggles were real. The post, Someday has Arrived is a reminder of those struggles.  Supposedly, the last few miles of the marathon always are.

Then that moment comes when you see the finish line. It doesn’t seem real or possible. The race has been so long. The push for homework, for grades, not to mention the finances of it all. It feels as if it will never end. Suddenly, there you are …at your youngest child’s college graduation. Is it real? The finish line always seemed so far away. Now it is right in front of you, the final marker. How did the race go by so fast?

You push through that finish line with hands raised and a feeling of incredible joy. Your heart is filled with pride and beating so fast. The pictures are snapped marking this incredible moment. The diploma is given. You reach your neck out for the medal. The ticker tape flies. The crowd cheers (that’s you). And in a blink the race is over.

You have raised three great men. They are employed and launched. You smile, you cry, pat yourself on the back and then you wonder…now what?

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 59: Project Libertad

I was recently having a conversation with friends about what our grandparents and great grandparents went through coming to America. I love these conversations for a few reasons. First because we all have these stories. Secondly, because they remind us how strong and resilient our ancestors were and what they sacrificed for us. The immigrant story is the story of our country.

While immigration has been a hot political topic these days, regardless of your stance, there are still people coming to our country who need help. That is where today’s guest, Rachel Rutter comes in. Rachel is the founder of Project Libertad, an organization that helps immigrant youth in a multitude of ways. Join us for an inspirational conversation about some of the challenges these children are facing and how she and Project Libertad and making a difference.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Rachel Rutter: We are a nonprofit organization serving newcomer immigrant youth. So we’re working with kids who have recently arrived in the US and their families. The people we primarily work with arecunaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico. In addition, we also work with a lot of families from Brazil.

There are fewer services in the counties outside of Philadelphia, so we’re providing legal services,  helping kids with their immigration process, and trying to address the other needs that they have. For example, we have kids who struggle with housing insecurity, food insecurity, mental health support, and all those sorts of things. So we’re trying to not only meet their, their need for immigration status and help them with that process, but also all these other challenges that they face as they’re adjusting to being here in the US.

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

Rachel Rutter:  When I was in college, I had this idea that I wanted to start a nonprofit someday.  I was very naive about how hard it would be. So I started all of the paperwork, and incorporating and 501 C 3 status in law school.  Then at the same time, I was working with all these clients who had legal needs, needed asylum, or they needed to apply for immigration status. 

Then they always have all these other needs. For example they don’t have a safe place to live, have family issues, trauma, and need food. There are any number of different issues that they have.  I just wished we had a social worker that we could partner with and have like a wraparound approach. A place where we are meeting all the needs, not just this legal needs.

So the idea came to create an organization that does try to do all those different things in a one stop shop.  We are doing that now, and we had just hired a case manager to connect kids to resources in the community and social services.  I’m obviously doing the legal part. And we hope to continue replicating that and growing in new areas. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rachel Rutter: One of the biggest things I remember getting really frustrated with was applying for different grants.  It’s really hard to get your foot in the door as a new nonprofit. Nobody wants to take a chance on you, you’re tiny, and they want to see that you have money before they give you money. But you can’t show them that unless someone gives you money. It’s just kind of like a chicken and egg problem. So that was really frustrating.

We took classes on grant writing.  I just practiced and got better over time. Eventually, we did a grant in partnership with HIAS which was the first ever grant that we got. Just being able to say that this other foundation gave us a grant went really far. Being patient, learning how to talk about your mission in a way that people want to fund it. Because it’s really important. It’s like writing a thesis in college where you have to structure it the right way so that people want to support it.  That was a big learning curve for us.

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

Rachel Rutter: It can be really hard, but the most important thing for me has always been like the relationship that I have with the kids that we work with. So that’s definitely like the biggest motivator for me. I also have like a very supportive family, husband, and friends who work in this industry as well.

So I feel like I have not only my team, my project like that, but also my colleagues from other organizations  who are always supportive. We can always like work together to solve problems.  It can definitely be challenging, but I feel like I have a good support system. Working directly with the kids is what gives me energy. Usually, that’s what I’m trying to focus on. If I need to push through, I’m thinking about the kids and that connection that we get to have with them.

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

Rachel Rutter:  In terms of our impact, we served over 1000 people last year. The times I think when I feel like the most impactful are when a student shares some things that were going on in her family.  After hearing this we were able to provide support with that. There was food insecurity in the household and so we went grocery shopping. It doesn’t always have to be complicated. This kid said I need food and we went to the store and we got food and like that was that. My colleagues and I do stuff like that all the time.

I think those are definitely the moments for me that are the most rewarding when you can just help somebody in such a concrete immediate way. So I love that we have the ability to do that. Sometimes those kind of moments don’t necessarily get captured in the numbers you put in a grant report. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I have two thoughts about that. One is to continue expanding and replicating what we’re doing now in our current locations. Having the combination of lawyers and social workers reproducing that in new counties as we grow.

Then the other thing I would love to do is to have some sort of shelter for youth who are 18 to early 20s. Something that we run into a lot is youth who have housing insecurity. They don’t either have anywhere to go because the foster care system doesn’t help them once they are 18. We run into cases like that where kids don’t have anywhere to go. There are really limited options currently for them. We would really love to do is eventually have some sort of space for kids like that. So that would be  another dream that I would have for the future. 

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

Rachel Rutter: I think one thing is just like the importance of these relationships with the kids.  So I think just the value in those long term relationships is so so important, and like sustaining for me. I’ve definitely been learning to delegate more, now that we have more staff.  It’s always hard for me to kind of let go of things because this is my baby.

 I also realize when I’m feeling burned out that having a good team that you can trust to do things so that you aren’t trying to do everything as one person is really important. I’m learning to  relax a little more. A lot of things work themselves out if you if you wait long enough. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rachel Rutter:  I think when I started this out, I was a little bit naive about how difficult it might be to get funds. So like I mentioned, I’ve learned a lot there. I just think I have more confidence in myself and my knowledge as an attorney.  We’ve really developed our niche where we are the local the experts working with this population.

I think that took me a long time to kind of see this as like a real thing and now other people seeing it that way too.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 58: 410 Bridge

Kurt Kandler’s story is one of resilience, passion, and dedication to improving the lives of those less fortunate. His organization, 410 Bridge, has faced numerous challenges in its mission to provide aid and support to communities in Africa. But despite these obstacles, Kurt’s unwavering commitment to the cause has led to tangible changes and a glimmer of hope in the lives of those who have been forgotten by society.

410 Bridge began as a humble effort by Kurt to make a difference. After a trip to Africa, Kurt was struck by the poverty  he saw in the communities he visited. He knew he had to do something to help. And so, 410 Bridge was born, with the mission to provide aid, education, and healthcare to those in need.

Join us today to meet Kurt Kandler, the founder of 410 Bridge. I’m so excited to share our incredible conversation about taking on one of life’s greatest challenges, global poverty. I think you will be inspired, educated and fascinated about one man’s unexpected journey.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what 410 Bridge Does does?

Kurt Kandler: We exist because we believe we have to redefine this war on poverty. We have to redefine not only the war on poverty, but what it really means to win it what it means for the people living in extreme poverty. And we have to redefine, you know how we fight this battle together. That’s our that’s kind of our why statement.

What we do is holistic community development in rural communities in the developing world. We’re in four countries. Today we’re in Kenya and Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala. Essentially, what we do is we adopt and walk alongside an entire community and entire rural community of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 people.  We walk with them over a number of years, helping them with all areas of need, and ultimately getting them to a place where they can graduate from a relationship or partnership with 410 bridge. And they can continue their journey of development long after we leave. So we are a holistic, all areas of need community development organization.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start 410 Bridge?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial in my career. And then right after 911, the business that I had at the time failed.  That was a very difficult time for our family.  It was our dark times and what happened in those times that changed everything.

Our kids were going to a small private school here in Atlanta. They were presented with this opportunity in Uganda. The kids in the school were sending shoeboxes full of toys and school supplies.  A family went over there to take these school boxes to Uganda.  They came back and I was looking at pictures of their trip.

I came across a photo of a school building that was made out of mud, sticks, cow dung and dirt floors. Kids sat on rocks and there was no teachers. And I just was fascinated by this idea that they had to repack the walls of this school building every time it rained.  It just captured me and  captured my heart. I decided what I’m going to do is I’m going to go over there and I’m going to go build them a brick building. 

We went over there to build this brick building school block. And we did that.  I thought, what we were coming over here to make a generational impact. We had raising money for a school building, for a water project, textbooks and all of that. In my view, it wasn’t solving a problem. 

I just was captured by the real problems that contributed to extreme poverty. It’s my first exposure to extreme poverty. And I had more questions certainly than answers. But I came back and had became a bit of a student and read a lot about it. And I found very early on that there was a lot written about the problem and why it existed.

 I really felt compelled and I had an idea of how to go execute on that. Which is really crazy, because it is a big, complicated problem, a huge problem. And I felt like what if we could focus on a place? Rally go deep into that place for an extended period of time? Could we move the needle in that place and really begin to solve this poverty problem for that place?

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kurt Kandler: We started in in Kenya. So we were very focused on three communities at the very beginning. Two of those communities ultimately graduated, one of them did not.  I understood that we were going to rise and fall on solid leadership. And so we needed we needed leadership inside our communities, of Kenyans in the community, leading the community toward this self development objective that we were undertaking.

And because we were holistic, it’s all areas of need its water, education, health and economic empowerment. There are spiritual aspects to what we do, that are super fundamentally important. And so we had to undertake all of that. My philosophy has always been in times of difficulty, confusion, chaos, disagreement, just do the next right thing.  It means you know what the next right thing is, it could be a big thing. It could be a small thing more often than not, it’s a really small thing, but take that next step. Because it’s small, incremental steps toward a goal that get you there. It’s not one giant step all the time. And so that’s what we did.

We were trying to solve one little problem after another and started with leadership and then staff over there. I’m a firm believer in 100% indigenous staff. We want Kenyans helping Kenyans, Guatemalans, helping Guatemalans.  So that’s how it began. And I think though you asked about the challenges I think the biggest challenge that I learned very early on was that we couldn’t be successful. And we still can’t be successful in the communities where we work without support from the west. But we also can’t be successful in that work until we change the paradigm of how the West engages the poor. Because we more often do more harm than good. Engaging the global poor, we have been a little ethnocentric about the problem. 

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

Kurt Kandler:  I think that there’s some things that make what we do a little bit easier, in that we don’t carry the burden of our communities. The communities where we work in are struggling in extreme poverty. This is this is less than $2 per day per household kind of level. So it’s really heartbreaking. But there is a there’s a difference between relief, rehabilitation and development.

 How do you define partnership and development? We define it as that which people do for themselves. So we’re a development organization. We’re not a relief organization. So we are very clear when we come into the community and talk to leaders and we are here to do with you. And so your job is to mobilize and unify your community around this development effort that we’re going to walk with you.

So that eliminates a tremendous amount of this emotional burden that we feel that we have to go solve problems for people that that, because they can’t solve it themselves. We don’t believe that the poor are a set of problems to be solved, we believe the poor are the solution to their poverty problem. And we’ve seen that manifests itself successfully so many times. It’s amazing.

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

Kurt Kandler: When we think about impact, our ultimate goal with a community is to work ourselves out of a job as quickly as we can. This is a very long term walk that we walk with the community. I was in a community last week,  that will graduate will be our 13th graduating community. We’ve been walking with them for 12 to 13 years. So it’s a long time. But we’re moving them we’re trying to move communities toward graduation.

Well, what does it mean to graduate? In order to graduate, we have to reach certain outcomes. With the leaders in the community, we outline outcomes that they want to see happen. And before we begin, we decide that we finished with water when we finished with education. When we finished with economic empowerment, what are the outcomes we’re looking for? What I want to know is is this program that we’re running in this community going to achieve the outcome that we set that the leaders of the community set forth?

So if you think about household income, an outcome for us is we want to move people from whatever they’re making today, call it sub $2 a day to $12 per day. So they have choices that they can make about their their quality of life. We set up outcomes. And as we start achieving those outcomes, and we get to maybe 80% of the outcomes achieved, we’ll start teeing up and introducing the idea of graduation to the leaders. Probably within a year or two, they will end up graduating have a huge celebration in the community.

A huge celebration at the end of this year with that community and partners and donors will come and the whole community will come out. And we’ll celebrate not what we did. But we’re gonna celebrate what the community has done on their own because we don’t measure our success by what we do. We measure our success by what the community does on its own. And when they do that, it is amazing to see people have this aha moment that say we will never go back to being poor again. 

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

Kurt Kandler: I don’t think that our dream is to continue to add communities until all of a sudden, we’re in thousands of communities around the world. What I my dream really is for other organizations, working with the poor, to think a lot more critically, about what they’re doing and how they’re helping. And if 410 Bridge can be an example of a model that works. It’s not the only model. But it’s a distinctive model. So my dream is to scale it through other organizations, looking to adopt a better methodology of engaging the poor.

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

Kurt Kandler:  Well, if we’re going to solve this poverty problem, we better define it well.. So with poverty, we don’t define poverty as a material problem. We define it as an issue of worldview. How people think, and this word worldview gets often misunderstood. So we are always trying to help people think differently about their quality of life, their perspective.

And when you can help people shift their worldview they’ll do more to solve their poverty problem and continue their journey of development without you than they will with you. I’m all about this idea of worldview driving choices that we make.  And so, that’s a that’s a big, big life lesson for me.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kurt Kandler:  I’ve become way more humble. And I think there’s nothing that will humble you more than working in extreme poverty environments. I mean, it’s a humbling experience. My wife  told me the other day, she said, “You know, you are you are way more purpose driven in your leadership than emotionally driven.” I think that all sounds pretty good.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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.

April flowers…

We interrupt this regularly scheduled podcast to tell you we are ready for spring! California this year has had record rain and snow, as you saw in one of my recent stories. Sunshine is a daily staple like oxygen and there has not been very much sun this year. This California girl was in need of signs of spring, so I headed East to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. It is something I have always wanted to see, so when my girlfriend said, “Come visit!” I packed my bags and headed East.

When I discovered that April is National Stress Awareness Month, it seemed like as good as time as any to get out of town. Life is stressful for many of us these days. The state of the world is a little more messy than usual.  The price of things are crazy and life just seems more challenging than usual. Never is that felt more than in the nonprofit space.  When the economy is bumpy so is fundraising. As nonprofit founders and Executive Directors, we have so many people depending on us to help. Some days it feels like heavy lifting.

Rather, than stew in the what I can not control I decided to do something about what I can control. That is my attitude. I can decide that life is short and to make the most of it. Use those frequent flyer points, phone a friend and hop on a plane to do something you have always wanted to do. So that is exactly what I did!

Speaking of control, when I booked this trip I carefully checked the peak date of the cherry blossoms blooming. However, cherry blossoms and spring are definitely things that I can not control. So when I discovered that these gorgeous trees decided to show their colors a little early, there was simply nothing I could do about it.

However, I didn’t let that deter me and boy am I glad I made it. The morning we got to the tidal basin, the cherry blossoms had been in bloom for about a week. Luckily, there hadn’t been any storms to knock off those beautiful blossoms. It felt like they waited for me.

When we arrived early on a Saturday morning, it was drizzling slightly. The most bizarre thing was that there wasn’t a single person anywhere to be seen. We had the monuments and all those beautiful blossoms to ourselves. Standing there as it began to drizzle and rain cherry blossom petals was pure magic.

After soaking it all in, we left content and happy. A few hours later DC prepared for 50 to 60 mph winds that were going to blow all of the beauty away. We literally just made it.

Every time I look at a cherry tree I will be reminded that there is so much in life that I can not control. Just because I can’t control it doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy its beauty. So no podcast this week but we promise to be back next week with another fantastic conversation from a remarkable human making our world better. Until then, I will just enjoy the view and hope you will too.

Happy Spring everyone!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 57: Mission Launch

Did you know one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record? That means almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. Today’s guest is no stranger to these numbers, she is actually part of that statistic. Since April is Second Chance month there seems to be no better time to talk about new beginnings than today.

Join us to learn the incredible story of one woman’s journey from prison to nonprofit founder. Teresa Hodge is an absolute inspiration. Learn about Teresa’s tireless work to help those who have been incarcerated rebuild their lives with her organization Mission Launch.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

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

Teresa Hodge: Mission Launch is focused on helping the men and women who have arrest or conviction records get back on their feet. The reentry process is where we focus. Reentry is that period of time right after they come in contact with the legal system. It is when they’re just trying to get back on their feet and reintegrate back into society. We  focus on helping people with jobs, housing and getting into higher education. 

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

Teresa Hodge: One of my dad’s favorite statements was when life gives you lemons make lemonade. I was an entrepreneur and  part of a group of other entrepreneurs. The company we founded was investigated by the government. From the moment the company was investigated, my life just drastically changed. I spent about five or six years, fighting the charges. When I went to trial, I knew very little about our criminal legal system.  I went to trial and  lost.  As a result of that, I was given an 87 month federal prison sentence or seven years and three months. I was the first person in my family to be charged and I was heartbroken and devastated. 

I just knew that there had to be meaning and a greater purpose. In hindsight, it was as if all seeds have been planted. One of those seeds was  how was I going to use my time in prison? When I looked at the time, I said, “God, when I come out, what I’m going to know the most about?  What will be the most relevant from going to prison?” 

It was about 10 days after I was convicted, that I began writing a version of the work that I’m doing now.  I had experienced about five years of fighting on the front side. I was scared to death, quite frankly. Seven months felt like a life sentence, but seven years, three months was unimaginable. So it was just a really difficult time. What I knew was that if I could survive it, that I was going to bring good out of it.

The reality is I actually had to endure the long journey of incarceration. That was the lemon and it was a long time sucking on those sour lemons. I was already as an entrepreneur and knew how to write business plans.  As you know,  I was a part of a captive audience in prison. So I was able to ask questions and do market research.  I watched women leave prison and then I watched come back.  Why would someone return? I didn’t understand and was baffled.  

The thought is prison is supposed to do some level of correcting while people are incarcerated.  And yet, when people return, there’s often no pathway back. While I was sitting in prison I just felt like I’m going to create the pathway that I need to go back. And I’m going to bring all of those experiences and all those stories into my design so that we create enough pathways for people who were trying their best. 

I came home in 2012 and we started Mission Launch in 2012.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Teresa Hodge:  The challenges were I was underfunded. I knew a lot about prison but I knew nothing about a nonprofit. We were new entity and were unknown. And we had this huge vision for how we could disrupt and change and make life and society better for all of us. In the end, I had the ability to stick to something. And so and to learn and to evolve and to grow,  I’ve been able to navigate to a good place. 

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

Teresa Hodge: We measure Deep Impact, the stories and the people that we can talk about.  I can tell you a story of a young man who came into our hackathon just a few days after being home from prison, and he just had lots of potential. He didn’t want to work at McDonald’s and he had the ability to do something different. And he was inspired to start a business and struggled to start the business. Long story short, today, he runs a National Cooperative. He now hires other formerly incarcerated people. That idea and  the ability to build that was birthed inside of a space that we hosted. I served on his board for a while. We validated him, incubated him and were his fiscal sponsor. So it’s that level of deep impact 

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

Teresa Hodge: I want to shorten the time it takes a person to come home and get back on their feet after incarceration.  The big dream is for us to have a national strategy with a localized approach. Reentry is hyperlocal. Right? The statistics are one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction record. That means over 70 million, almost 80 million Americans today have an arrest or conviction rate. It’s staggering and not a small number.

I am on a mission to normalize the fact that we have so many people in our country with an arrest or conviction record. If we normalize that as a fact, then we can move beyond the fact that a person has a record. Then we can create all the pathways of opportunities for 80 million people.

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

Teresa Hodge: I think the greatest life lesson is for me was in prison, when my life became smaller.  It’s had so much meaning when my life in prison was the great equalizer. When you think of one in three Americans who have an arrest or conviction record, prison is a microcosm of the United States. It’s a microcosm of society. It’s disproportionately black and brown. People who go to prison are gay and straight,  black, white, brown, yellow, Native American and all religions. In that moment, we all just wanted the same thing to endure and get back home.  I learned to be so accepting of so many people and cultures  that maybe I would not have been. So I think the greatest lesson is we’re just more alike than we are not.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Teresa Hodge: I have and I am currently on a mission to restore some of the joy. I have been heads down doing this work for 11 years. So it’s changed me in the sense that I’m a workaholic and I’m too focused on it. Now I’m on a mission  to let up a little bit. You’ve done your part. It may or may not be fixed in your lifetime but you’re going to do your contribution. And that’s all you can do.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 56: Start Lighthouse

What happens when one person answers a call? In this situation, the call was to an elementary school teacher from a concerned parent about their child. Join us to learn about what one teacher has done to inspire 5700 children to learn to read and love learning.

There is a reason and a story behind today’s guest, Rina Madhani’s mission to inspire literacy in thousands of underserved children. Join us for an incredible conversation and see why Rina was a L’Oreal Women of Worth. She is a bright light!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Rina Madhani: Start Lighthouse is committed to addressing the literacy crisis within our community. The reality is that thousands of students are growing up illiterate in our city, or state and our nation. Zooming into the Bronx in particular, which is one of the poorest congressional districts in the entire country, 70% of students are still reading below grade level.

What Start Lighthouse does is we build robust home libraries with brand new multicultural books. We host nationally recognized award winning authors and artists so that students can see the process of creating a story. And we also rehabilitate abandoned defunct library spaces within title one public schools. We then convert them into full time literacy centers where we provide high quality literacy programming. It is also a safe space for students to gather during the day after school and throughout the summer.

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

Rina Madhani:  My parents would allocate like weekends where we would volunteer together as a family. That was really important to my parents. It was something that they prioritized, because that was a way to always bring the family together.  I think that’s really also shaped me as an individual today, because I do believe that we’re products of our environments.

Charity Matters: What were your early memories of giving back?

Rina Madhani: As a child, I was always interested in social impact in particular.  I just remember traveling back home to India, and just trying to understand why there was disparities that existed between social classes.  And wondering why the government wasn’t doing enough to address those gaps?  That was something that I also saw back home here in the States.

When I was younger, I was always thinking about how can I make a difference in the community? Even in high school, I created my own organization where it was bringing my peers together for us to be talking about issues that were affecting the world. We talked about Haiti, learned about micro financing,  created school supply kits back for children in Iraq during the Iraqi war. So those things were always in my mind.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and Begin Start Lighthouse?

Rina Madhani:  I remember when the pandemic started to unfold, and we really had no certainty what was taking place. Then suddenly, schools and libraries closed. Certain districts struggled to get tech devices for students that needed them in low income communities. I was in the Bronx, and a lot of my students and their families were reaching out to me asking me for additional materials and resources.  When I spoke to one of my student’s parents she said, “I don’t want him to continue to fall further behind. And I’m particularly worried about his reading ability.”

That phone call inspired me to get Start Lighthouse off the ground.  It really began with just a modest goal of getting 500 brand new multicultural books in the hands of students. Creating learning materials, resources that they could leverage while they were back at home.  I started to mobilize individuals within my network.  I was cold emailing publishers reaching out to elected officials, talking to community members, inquiring about which schools were operating as meal distribution sites. Finding where were students and families gathering daily for hot meals.

 That phone call that I had with one of my student’s parents stated it all.  I realized that I have a call to answer for not only my students, but for the community.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rina Madhani:  I think the most challenging part has been around fundraising. Early on, I didn’t realize how to actually go about fundraising. I had never formally pitched my organization and I didn’t have a theory of change model in place. So I didn’t know how to raise money for the work that I was doing.  I just thought I would just be going to schools and just giving our services and products just for free as they need it.

Then I realized that’s not going to be sustainable as an organization. So that’s where I had to pivot a bit and really think intentionally around how the organization was going to develop. A lot of the work has really entailed around relationship building and cultivating a community based approach. So involving not only administrators, superintendents, but also elected officials, community members, families and the work that we do. That’s really been a key aspect of it because that those are the folks that can really help mobilize resources and funding.

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

Rina Madhani: I think I’m just so fueled by the students and families that I have the privilege of interacting with every day. And the fact that our students now know things around like interacting with authors and artists. They’re able to verbalize the fact that they want to become authors or artists. The fact that they’ll tell me that they have a home library and that they know what those words mean. They can actually point to it and that fact that they come up and just tell me how much they love and enjoy reading. I think those are the moments that add up to me and really help fuel the work that I do. Because, for me, everything is rooted in community.  I want to be able just to support the next generation of readers, writers, and critical thinkers.

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

Rina Madhani: Our impact is now centered around us rehabilitating these defunct library spaces and converting them into full time literacy centers. That’s where I’ve seen just how impactful our work is. Because now we have the privilege and the opportunity to serve students every single day. So we are there during the day and after school. So now students are able to have access to our programming year round. With that, we are now able to study and unpack student reading proficiency data.

 We’re able to assess attendance levels to you in terms of the frequency of them coming to the literacy hub. Also ensuring that they’re in school because chronic absenteeism is a prevailing issue within our community. So now we have the opportunity to measure these items. Beyond just thinking about the 23,000 books that we’ve delivered and students that we’ve been able to work closely with. That’s where we’ve been able to see the true trajectory of our work. It’s just that we are able to join students as early as pre k to be able to follow them through their entire journey and ensure that they’re reading proficiently by fourth grade.

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

Rina Madhani: The big dream is to become a national organization. Right now we’re course based in the Bronx. But I always tell folks that we’ve got an ask for us to expand to Harlem and to Brooklyn. So, I envision us having a New York takeover. But then for us to be able to bring this all across the country through various chapters that exist.

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

Rina Madhani: I think, for me, the biggest thing has been around putting myself out there. Even if I do receive a no, that’s absolutely fine, because I will find someone else that will also want to champion our cause. And not to get too derailed by that because of course, I’ve received my own fair share of rejections. Along the way, even when I submit a grant proposal, maybe we’re not the right fit right now. But who’s to say and won’t come back again later and thinking that we could pursue when were maybe a bit more developed. So I think for me, that’s been the biggest thing is just not letting that derail me too much. Just to keep going and really just to find your champions. Once you’ve identified folks that truly believe in you and believe in the vision, hold on to those people because those are the relationships that will continue to carry you forward

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Rina Madhani: I think I’ve evolved tremendously. Since I’ve stepped into the shoes of becoming an entrepreneur, I feel so much more confident in terms of my ability to be in a room full of strangers and to be able to advocate for myself.  I think that when I was younger I was so much more introverted. And I always thought that like speaking out, wasn’t like the best way to like go about things. And now I have no problem doing that.

 I think I’ve just become so much more sure of who I am today. And I’m just so grateful, because this journey has allowed me to really step out of my comfort zone and have conversations with individuals that I never envisioned myself having a chat with before. Now that I have the opportunity to to share it share my story, it just reminded me that I also have something to say. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Snowed in and the kindness of strangers

I am interrupting this regularly scheduled podcast to share a recent story of kindness. Each week we share others stories but this week I thought I would share something that happened to me a couple weeks back. As many of you have seen on the national news that recent snow storms hit our local LA mountains, the San Bernardino Mountains.

My husband’s family has had a home there for years and it is a very special place for us. We don’t spend much time at the lake in the winter but it is always a treat to get away. When we had a call that there was water left on in the house, we decide to make a quick trip up. The thought of bursting pipes with freezing temperatures and a pending storm was big motivation.

Our plan was to go up early Friday morning and head back down on Sunday. We both had flights in opposite directions scheduled for Tuesday. So we wanted to make sure we had time to get ready for our upcoming business trips.  So we grabbed two days of food and put chains on our four wheel drive and hit the road.

The previous storm had left a couple of feet of snow that had yet to be plowed. When we got to the house we were surprised by how much snow we hadn’t been plowed. We were sure that the plows were just backed up and would eventually get to us. So we enjoyed our home, the fire, the s’mores, secured the house and settled in.

However, on Sunday morning when we hadn’t seen the plows and the snow kept piling up at a rapid pace, we got a little nervous. I called our local Fire Department which is about a mile away.  When I asked if they had seen any plows. The fireman said, “ No we haven’t seen them in a few days.  We heard that all of the plowing equipment was sent off the mountain to open the Cajon Pass.”  That’s when we became nervous. If the Fire Department can’t get out to help people then things were worse than we realized.

We shoveled snow off the dock, from around the house and quickly realized we had used up most of our food. That wasn’t our big concern. Rather it was getting down the next day to make our flights. We began reading the local Facebook post with people that were much worse off than we were. People without heat, power, firewood, food, medicine and the list went on and on.

So Monday morning when we had eaten the last of our food we thought we would try to shovel our way out. Well, that didn’t go so well and we got stuck. Once we dug the car out and had it back in the garage, my husband had an idea. He went onto the local Facebook group and asked if anyone had plowed roads within a mile of our home. In addition, he asked, if anyone was going down the mountain and could we get a ride?

That is when this story took a very different turn. Strangers named Debbie and Dustin replied to our online plea. They said that they were leaving in less than an hour if we could get to their home. So we turned off that water, grabbed our computers, our dog and left. We left behind our clothes, our car and hiked out about a mile in hip deep snow towards total strangers.

The second storm had now hit and snow was dumping down. When we got to their car we were told they were taking two cars down in order to pick up family friends coming into LAX the next day. They loaded us in, put a dog bed out for our dog and drove us down the hill and off the mountain. We passed tons of abandoned cars on our way down and saw the carnage from the past week’s storm on the roads.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, in two cars, we saw news crews and so many people detained trying to get back up the mountain. Police had closed the road back up due to the danger. We filled up our new friends car with gas and asked where they were going to stay for the night? They didn’t have a plan for their family that included two teenage boys and two chocolate labs. So we invited them to stay with us and they accepted.

It isn’t every day that you Facebook hitch hike and meet strangers who blindly take you into their cars. Alternatively, I don’t think we have ever invited strangers to sleep over at our house but we did. This experience left such an impact on us both. There is such power in the kindness. We are all so afraid and so nervous to open ourselves up. I am the biggest fraidy cat of them all!  However, this experience made me realize just how walled off we all are and how easy it  can be to open up.

It wasn’t just our situation that brought out the best in everyone, it happened all over the mountain. Neighbors checking on neighbors. People bringing others into their homes, shoveling snow for their elderly neighbors, delivering food and so much more. I’m not sure why it takes the worst situations to bring our the best in all of us, but it does.

We are incredibly grateful for Debbie and Dustin for their extraordinary kindness. If we could all be little more open and loving like our new friends the world would be a much better place.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Episode 55: Grass Roots Grocery

If you have been to the grocery store recently you know how insane food prices are these days. When eggs are $8.99 something isn’t right! When one New York school teacher realized that his students were going without food he decided to step up in a very big way. It turns out that 1 in 4 New Yorkers who are experiencing a food emergency can even access a food pantry.

Join us today to hear the inspirational conversation of one man’s journey from the classroom to major food distribution to serve thousands of meals to his neighborhood. Dan Zauderer is an inspiration for us all in his mission to get all of us to be neighbors helping neighbors.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Grass Roots Grocery does?

Dan Zauderer:  Our mission statement is to advance food justice by cultivating a community of neighbors helping neighbors. What that means in action, is it means neighbors coming together, in grassroots service.  Making sure that their fellow neighbors have enough food to eat.

There are two different programs that we do that do but it’s really just founded upon the notion that we all need to come together to to take a bite out of food insecurity. This is not something that big food pantries can do alone. It’s not something that we can just leave up to the policymakers. The  problem is so big, that the only way to really shift it is for everybody to be involved.

Whether it’s by people roping in their corporate workplace, reaching out to their local girl scout troops, taking a couple of hours out of their week  to help make sure that their neighbors are nourished and fed. That’s what this is about. It’s kind of a narrative shift focusing on on bottom up direct action from the people. it’s just basically about operationalizing this notion of neighbors helping neighbors and applying it specifically to the realm of food justice.

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

Dan Zauderer:  It kind of begins with me having a career in the startup world, doing sales in New York.  So I set off into the startup world and I loved the element that involves working with people but I just hated the things that I was selling. I decided that I was going to stop everything, move out to Costa Rica, take a life break and teach English. I fell in love with teaching.

So I went back to Columbia University to get my Master’s in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I started working at a school called the American Dream School, in the South Bronx. The student  population is the children of mostly undocumented Central American and Mexican immigrants.  One day, I am walking home and I see one of my students on the sidewalk. Next to my students, I see that there’s this elderly woman who’s digging through trash can dumpster diving.

So, I reached out to my student the next day and I asked him to share about what I saw. He told me that the woman was his grandmother and then this was something  that was a normal activity. When Covid hit, I thought  how can I rally my family and friends around something that would be helpful to my student community?  I decided that we should just raise a bunch of money because I knew it wasn’t just this one student and there were other families who had to deal with food insecurity. We then found out that one out of every four families were cutting down on meals a few times every week in my school community.

Then I learned about community refrigerators, the idea is literally a fridge on the sidewalk put down by an organizer. You place a refrigerator into a local store and you get people to donate food that have extra. Then we rallied together staff, my own family and friends and said, “Alright, let’s start a community fridge in Mott Haven”. That’s the way that this was started  as a teacher’s passion project that ultimately was renamed Grass Roots Grocery.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Dan Zauderer: Funding is was a huge challenge.

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

Dan Zauderer:  A couple of things, one is my amazing girlfriend, my mom, my dad and family.  Having great people in my life is one thing. Another is the amazing community of volunteers. We’ve recruited over almost 3000 volunteers to help out  with this work and they light me up.  Whether it’s little kids, or high schoolers engaging in some kind of direct action to support their neighbors with food justice.

Every Saturday, we have what I call it produce party.  Where we come together with over 100 volunteers in a parking lot in the South Bronx. We unload a truck filled with excess surplus produce that we’ve picked up from the Hunts Point produce market, which is the biggest produce market in the country. Then every Saturday, we work together as volunteers to unload that truck and  to sort through all the food. After that, we load it up into the vehicles of our volunteer drivers. The drivers who come and bring it to our network of community liaisons.  

This past Saturday, I think we had 36 volunteer drivers. Wow. Over 100 people I want to say, and we delivered to I think it was 32 or 34. communities. So far, with not everybody reporting their numbers, we reached over 1000 families in that one Saturday. And I mean, that fuels me.

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

Dan Zauderer:  For example, all of our volunteers that came out this past Saturday, they got an email saying that you moved about 10,000 pounds of excess produce to 34 different communities throughout Harlem, the Bronx, and reached over 1000 families through community leader liaisons. Those liaisons  gave out that food to their neighbors in need in the way that they thought best. So that’s something that every volunteer received. That happens every weekend. 

 This crew of community leaders, I call them grassroots grocers and they all have stories of their own. They’re all doing this work for free because they’re leaders in their community. They want to give food to their people in need and so they’re volunteers.

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

Dan Zauderer: The real dream is to end food insecurity. But that’s not going to be in my lifetime,  although it would be amazing. My dream is for this mindset of neighbors helping neighbors to promote food justice becomes ingrained into the the habit of people’s lives. And it’s already happening. We have families that are that are making sandwiches or that are taking leftover meals and putting them into Tupperware containers and filling the community fridges. People  taking time out of their Saturday once a month to join us in a produce party.

If it just became commonplace, right? It’s this idea that we all need to come together. We can’t just rely on these big food rescue trucks, big nonprofits and the policymakers.  It’s up to all of us, even if it’s just a couple hours a month. That’s really my dream is for that mentality to just wash over the world. 

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

Dan Zauderer: The life lesson that I learned and that is just so important is to have meaning in the work that I do.  It’s really important for me to do something that this that that feels meaningful.  I’ve been sober for 12 years, and you know, starting a nonprofit is even harder than getting sober. 

I’m just so lucky that I created that this amazing community of neighbors helping neighbors. The fact that I can do this work and light people up and get people’s kids involved and spread this message. It is just what fills my cup. Centering on meaning and finding a way to remember all of the blessings of the work that you’re doing is what it’s all about.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 54: One Block UWS

Have you ever walked by litter or a pile of trash on a city sidewalk? Most of us have and keep walking, thinking it may smell or what a mess. How many of us would stop and try to figure out how to clean up their neighborhood? I haven’t but today’s guest Ann Cutbill Lenane did just that. She not only saw a growing problem but she rolled up her sleeves to do something about it.

Ann Cutbill Lenane is a very successful residential realtor in the Upper West Side of New York City and is the founder of One Block UWS.  Join us today for an inspirational conversation about one woman’s journey to clean up her neighborhood, employee people in need of jobs and revive a community One Block at a time.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: One Block is a nonprofit that facilitates the filling of more than 1,000 bags of trash every week on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We coordinate group events so neighbors can connect and clean their community. In addition we employ three full time workers who were formerly homeless.

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: Back in 2020 New York City had $106 million dollar budget cut to their sanitation. As you can only imagine NYC was a very scary place to be during the pandemic. During the pandemic, on the Upper West Side where I work as a residential realtor there are three homeless shelters. Eight hundred homeless were moved into hotels during the pandemic on the Upper West Side. People were really upset.

Regardless of that situation, I saw the neighborhood begin to turn in a really bad direction. This neighborhood where I raised my kids and still work was something out of a zombie apocalypse. I saw the neighborhood going in a very bad direction.  In the 1980s, I remembered what Mayor Giulani said about cleaning up neighborhoods. He said, ” If we start by cleaning up the trash and the graffiti then people will feel better about being there and be more respectful towards their neighborhood.” So while I didn’t have a solution for the homeless problem, I figured I could find a way to get trash picked up. I can start with the garbage.

I also had three homeless shelters with people who needed work. So I thought, simple I will hire a few people who need jobs and we will go clean up some garbage. However, it wasn’t that simple. We ultimately reached out to ACE a program that trains unhoused people on the skills needed to help us. The real breakthrough happened when the local neighbors, who were upset by the homeless situation started a Facebook page. It was 2020 and we were all locked up and this Facebook page had 16,000 followers instantly. One day a neighbor on the page said,”Who wants to help sign up to clean up garbage?”

I met with my young neighbor from Texas. We all started signing up and cleaning the neighborhood. Next thing we did was hire an attorney to help us get our 501c3.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ann Cutbill Lenane: Some of the early things were easier like getting help from an attorney at Gibson Dunn to help us with a 501C3. Our weekly cleanups and communication was easy because of the Facebook page and group. We had great community involvement. Most importantly, I was able to gather our neighbors emails through the Facebook page which Facebook no longer allows. Capturing our communities information was so important so that we could keep everyone informed of our progress. Those things were relatively easy.

As far as challenges, we had people leaving the route because of drugs that we had to fire. We had people selling our trash bags for money. Our employees couldn’t find restrooms in NYC. We gave employees gift cards so employees could get lunch and use the restrooms where they ate. Our employees didn’t have shoes. We went back to our newsletter and asked our neighbors for help to support the people we hired to help clean our neighborhood .

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: We have a woman named Jackie who takes care of everyone on our team. The thought that she wouldn’t have a job does fuels me. Each month we wonder if we can go on with our funding. I can’t picture these people without One Block. I want these people to be stable, to be appreciated and to have good lives.

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: There isn’t a block that one of our employees is working that people don’t approach them and say, “Thank you.” Putting a face and a name on a person who could easily become invisible in New York City changes that for everyone. 

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: Sometimes you think life is supposed to go in a certain direction and it doesn’t. I can only help along the way and I know we are making an imprint on these people’s lives. You can only do what you can do. You just never know what your impact is on someones life. The Upper West Side is cleaner, our team has shoes and we keep putting good out into the universe. 

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: The dream would be to be able to support the people that work for us. Getting them into a stable situation and lift them up. It’s not about One Block and garbage but about the people who need a leg up.

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

Ann Cutbill Lenane: I’ve learned the power of one, which becomes the power of many. The impact is huge. I am used to speaking to people everyday and connecting people. What is your super power? You have one and how will you share it? 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Ann Cutbill Lenane: . We were blessed by something that felt like the end of the world during Covid. Something great came out of all of this. You have to start with one small act. Many people want to help. One person one block at a time.

CHARITY MATTERS.

To Support One Block UWS

www.oneblockuws.org

[email protected]

Instagram: @oneblockwestside

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2023 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 53: Hearts of Gold

Since this week is all about love and Valentines, it seems only fitting that today our guest is all about love. Her name is Deborah Koenigsberger and she is the founder of the nonprofit Hearts of Gold. So many of us pass the homeless in our cities and keep on walking. Not because we don’t care but because we are afraid and often feel helpless.

Not Deborah! As a young mother, she didn’t pass a homeless woman and child i the park, she stopped. When you hear here remarkable story about the impact one person can make, it will make you think differently. So join us for a remarkable conversation about love and action. Think of this as a belated Valentines Day gift to yourself!

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Hearts of Gold does?

Deborah Koenigsberger: Hearts of Gold is a 28 year old nonprofit organization that supports homeless mothers and the children in shelters. We do that by what we call adopting shelters that house this demographic. So the shelters already exists. They are run by their city shelters or whomever entity owns the shelters and we go in with all the frills.

When we started it was really about making sure the moms and kids had something in their lives that would give them a good memory. So many of them coming out of domestic violence. We have programs with moms, and we have programs for the kids. Our goal is to basically help them get out of shelter life transition into housing and into permanent housing. We want them to just have a chance at what we all have, which is a normal life.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Hearts of Gold?

Deborah Koenigsberger: There isn’t one moment but three that all built on one another. The first, I would say is a Stevie Wonder song that started it all.  Peace sign is the name of the album and the song is take the time out. the lyrics are, ” take the time out to love someone reach your arms out and touch someone, the king or some homeless one. We are one underneath the sun.” I was 12 when I heard it and it left a huge impact on me. 

What I get from that song is that these people who are homeless on the streets, somebody gave birth to them. One day, there was a joy. Somewhere along the line, life took a left turn. And it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen to any of us. It just means that it didn’t happen to us, right? It happened to those people. So if we are not a part of the solution, if we don’t attempt to be a part of the solution, then we really are a part of the problem.

The second thing was on my way between work and home was a woman and her three year old daughter. They were sleeping in a cardboard box in the park. I walked through park and my boys were babies at the time. This was our neighborhood park. I finally approached her and had a conversation with her a few times. She told me that the shelter wasn’t safe and she’d rather take her chances on the streets. This went on for just a couple of weeks. And then she was gone.  She disappeared but she motivates me every night.  She powers my narrative because I know that out there. 

The third part of the trifecta was when my oldest son was a baby, we met Bobby Brown. This was just before Bobby became Bobby Brown THE makeup artists.  She was telling me that she did this volunteer work in a shelter where she would apply makeup to the moms teach them how to do makeup and give them product.  I went with her to the shelter. I did styling Image Consulting so Bobby said, ” Why don’t you talk to the moms about just what to how to put themselves together. and I will do my makeup there.”  So we did this workshop together and she would provide makeup artists.. But in that workshop, the moms came with their kids.

I decided that  Christmas  I literally went out and bought all these gifts for each child. At the time it was just me and that was 1994. I became a nonprofit, because when I approached the shelter saying I wanted to raise money for you to do these events. They said, “We can’t guarantee that that money will do that, which I appreciate it very much. Our challenge is that we have so many emergency things that happen we can’t guarantee the funds will go to your program.”  So I said, “Okay, then I’m gonna do it myself.” 

Charity Matters: What were some of your biggest challenges when you started out?

Deborah Koenigsberger: It’s particularly hard when you realize the problem that you are trying to solve is not solvable.  And you certainly are not going to be the one to fix it.  I believe in the starfish story. Although you couldn’t save every starfish on the beach, the one you threw back today got saved.  That’s what saves me when I would fall down and feel that this is so frustrating.  Then I would look at one of my moms, or get a phone call or a text from somebody, and they will say this happened today. And for me it’s just like joy.  

You’re also realizing the best thing that we can realize as founders is that you have to get help. And you have to accept help to bring in people.  So there are all these learning curves.

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

Deborah Koenigsberger:  There’s so many ways to educate people out of darkness. Darkness is ignorance. I’m an immigrant, from an immigrant family. The only thing that we know as immigrants is you gotta work. That’s the only reason why you’re here because work is gonna provide something better and different for you. So I know that it’s the American way. Work was what this country was built on.

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

Deborah Koenigsberger:   When I met Stevie Wonder in 2001, he said something to me, because I told him why started Hearts of Gold. Stevie said, ” My little song made you do all of that.” Like, do you have any idea? Oh world, and I just thought, that little song wasn’t just words on paper. It was such an invitation to open your heart and see something besides yourself. 

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

Deborah Koenigsberger: Over 37,500 moms and kids helped her impacted children who were the first one in their entire family line to go to college. This Christmas we bought, wrapped and distributed over 5000 toys. I think we should understand that what we’re doing is bigger than all of us and call in our communities.

If you are blessed enough, if you are given the gift of sharing yourself with somebody else in a way that will have impact and change something, you’re blessed.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Deborah Koenigsberger: I’ve matured a lot.  I have found and met incredible people along the way who have taught me invaluable lessons. And I’ve learned invaluable lessons from people who weren’t really trying to teach me anything, but I learned it anyway. 

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

Deborah Koenigsberger: I learned that a single human being can really affect major change and it all starts with an idea.  I think of myself as a vessel. And I think that I am just there because I have that kind of energy.  We don’t all have the same energy or the same way of thinking about things. Some people have the talent to help you create something, and that’s magical, some people have treasure and that  is immeasurable. Now you have time, talent, treasure, and everybody has a different one of those that they can bring to your to your cause. One of the lessons that I think is really important that I’ve learned is that there are so many kind people out there in the world.  

When we lift one we lift all.

What I’ve learned is that you can’t save all the starfishes  even if you have all the resources in the world because it’s just not possible. But what you can do is get a whole bunch of more people on that beach.  God of the things I’ve learned a lot, there’s so many ways to love people.

 If you’re at the end of your story and you could write that one person’s life was significantly impacted by your being here, walking the earth leaving a footprint.. Then for me, I am full. I am full. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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I have a dream or two

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

On Monday, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a day of service. It was a rainy day here in LA so not one that I spent volunteering, in full disclosure. Instead I spent the day thinking about dreams, vision, goals and service. All of these things are constants in my life but as the New Year starts how can I create a vision for myself and my work that continues to serve others?

These are some of the questions I have been asking myself since the New Year. I do feel incredibly grateful that I have a regular outlet to serve with Charity Matters and with my day job running a youth leadership organization.  At TACSC we talk all year to our students about being a servant leader. We teach our students that they can not lead unless they serve. When we ask these middle school students to give us examples of true servant leaders, Martin Luther King is always at the top of their list. We teach that we are never too old or too young to serve, there is always someone in need of a little help.

Most importantly, we teach our students that before they begin anything they must have a goal, vision or a dream. It sounds so simple when we are teaching this and yet, the reality is that these take time. I dream of being a messenger of service but how do I break that dream down into manageable realistic goals? How do these goals and dreams work within my life?

I think when most of us think about service, we wonder where will we find the time? Many of us think charity and we think that people are coming for our wallets. There is nothing wrong with these thoughts but how can we all shift our perspective? When I ask myself, “What things make me feel great?” The answers usually include service, helping others, being with my friends. This year, I am going to try and organize a way for my friends to join me for some sort of service. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but I promise to report back.

At 56, I’m past the halfway point of my time on this planet. There is still so much I want to accomplish with the time I have remaining. I believe the greatest gift we can give the world is a life well lived. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time on this earth was not long but the life he lived left a legacy of love and compassion. As I work on my dreams, I am thinking of his and asking myself, ” What are you doing in service for others?”

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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New Year, New Dreams and Goals

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year when we catch our breath and begin to really think about what we want in 2023. I’m guessing that you have been pondering this, consciously or subconsciously, for the past week or so. I know I have. Honestly, just getting through the holidays feels like a victory. For some of us we are too tired to think about what we are eating for lunch let alone what we want for the year ahead. If there is one thing I have learned over the years is that those list and intentions become real and it all starts with the dream.

My sons call me Dharma, like the old TV show Dharma and Greg. You know the one, where the kooky Dharma is all about manifesting and the universe. I have to admit that I do have a solid Dharma side to me. The reason isn’t just faith, although that is a part of it. The main reason is that I set goals and that I can begin to see myself making that happen. Some people think this is odd, some call it manifesting, I like to make plans and make them happen. Call it what you want.

Here is a small example, last year one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2022 was to learn to play pickle ball. I talked about it all year and even was sad that most of my friends had already formed groups. Yet, all year I didn’t do anything about it. Nothing. For Christmas my husband gave me a racquet and a membership to a pickle ball place. I played with my son the day after Christmas and am still smiling. Definitely cutting that 2022 New Year’s resolution a little close but I made it just under the wire. It took a nudge to pull the trigger and now that I am setting 2023’s goals, becoming better at pickle ball is definitely on there.

While pickle ball is one tiny example of moving something forward in my life, it gives me such joy and a sense of accomplishment. Those are the feelings that I want to bring into the New Year, joy and accomplishment. So this year, I am taking a little extra time with the 2023 goals. I am breaking them down again this year into categories. Goals for health, relationships, career, our home and travel. Will I achieve them all? Absolutely not. Looking at my 2022 goals, Christmas in Bali so didn’t happen. Not even close. Will it get pushed ahead to 2023, absolutely!

The goals for Charity Matters are also something I am really thinking about. Charity Matters, each of you and the people we  interview fill me with joy, always! What is challenging is the expectation I place on myself and our team to create content each week. More often than not, amazing nonprofit founders cross my path and it is an organic process, which I love. There’s the Dharma again:) Tracking people down, scheduling interviews, and all the time that goes into each episode is a huge commitment. Finding the right balance of posting/creating every other week or every week is challenging. I look to each of you for guidance so please let me know your thoughts?

This year I am really thinking hard on the best way to be messenger for good. We spend so much time creating but we don’t do any PR or self promotion. Trying to find a smart and authentic balance to that this year is definitely one of our goals at Charity Matters. Finding a path for good news and good stories is challenging in the negative news that our media seems to like to churn out. If any of you have suggestions, I am open to any and all ideas. Or if you have any media connections, let me know. This is not my area of expertise so I can use all the help I can get. Another 2022 resolution, ask for help more often. People are always happy to help, we just have to ask.

Thank you all for helping by being beacons of light and believing in goodness. you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. Each of you sharing these posts, subscribing to our podcast, and sharing our work on social media validates Charity Matters mission of connecting people and causes. So thank you for cheering us on and joining in this quest to be a messenger of goodness. I am running into 2023 with my heart wide open and full of optimism, ready to serve and receive.  Wishing you a magical year ahead filled with love, joy, abundance, fun and much goodness. I know your going to achieve all of this and more with your goals!

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Merry Merry 2022

“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly Merry Christmas. “

Peg Bracken

As we round the home stretch until Christmas, I wanted to take a moment to pause. A deep breath of stillness amongst the noise. My gift to you is one I hope you can give to yourself right now. Stop and think of all of those you love. See their faces, hear their voices and feel your heart swell with joy. That is Christmas. The love we have for one another and the way we share that love.

As we try to get all of those last minute details wrapped up, remember what matters. Those you love and the time spent with them . Treasure that because it is all that matters.

Wishing you all of the love and joy the season brings.

Merry Merry Christmas everyone…

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

 

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Looking back: My Hope Chest

” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.”

Author unknown

I couldn’t let October come to an end without discussing Breast Cancer. You may remember a few years back,  I interviewed an amazing nonprofit founder and breast cancer survivor, Alisa Savoretti. Since that interview, I have had four friends who have undergone mastectomies. Breast Cancer isn’t something that only happens in October it is something that happens every two minutes, every day. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer does not discriminate from the rich or the poor. To be honest I had never thought about what happens when you get breast cancer and have no insurance? I assumed that Medicaid and Medicare covered everything. Well, I was wrong.

Nonprofit founder, Alisa Savoretti, had breast cancer, a mastectomy and no insurance for reconstructive surgery. The result was the creation of My Hope Chest, a nonprofit that helps to fund their reconstructive surgery. Alisa and I had an incredible conversation that left me feeling inspired by this amazing warrior who fights for women who truly need one. She has left such a lasting impression on me that I wanted to re-share her story.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew that you needed to act and start My Hope Chest?

Alisa Savoretti: Hearing you have cancer is a devastating moment. It’s one thing to hear you have cancer but it is another thing to realize you have cancer. It’s another to realize you do not have insurance and you do not qualify for Medicaid. This is what happened to me at 38 years old. I had been working in Las Vegas as a showgirl and had recently moved to Florida to begin an online furniture business, before companies like Pottery Barn existed. I had borrowed funds on credit cards to launch Retrohome.com in 1999 when I found out I had cancer. The doctor said to take care of the cancer, focus on surviving and worry about the reconstruction later. 

I survived but lived without my breast for almost three years. You have no idea what this does for you as a woman, for your mental well being. During those three years, I reached out to organizations all over the country, government, nonprofit, anyone who could help me to become whole again. I discovered that there wasn’t anywhere to go. I felt deformed, depressed, frustrated, had metal anguish and enormous financial stress.

I went to Vegas to work at The Rivera. The 1998 government law now mandated that their group policy could not decline me insurance in order to get my reconstructive surgery. I realized how my own self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth as a woman returned when I could look in the mirror and could see my whole physical being once again. It was my healing, a restoration in body mind and spirit.

While I was in Vegas, I volunteered for a NAWBO (National Association of Women’s Business Owners) event. I told the women from NAWBO my story and these women rallied around me and with their help, I was able to start My Hope Chest. Six weeks later, I  had my 501c3 on December 3rd, 2003. We will celebrate our 15th anniversary this year.

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

Alisa Savoretti: Some days it feels as if I am pushing a boulder uphill with a toothpick. After fifteen years of doing this at the grassroots level, the work is very hard. What fuels me is knowing that thousands and thousands of women are missing their breast and this shouldn’t be happening in our country. Making women whole again is our mission. I think about more women are surviving breast cancer and that’s true. What about their quality of life if they are not whole?

These women are sick and often lose their jobs because they can’t work. They are now disfigured, deformed and depressed. The ripple effect of not being whole is devastating on marriages and families. This work has become my life’s mission. I am not married, cancer made children no longer an option and for the past fifteen years, this work has been my life.

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a DIFFERENCE?

Alisa Savoretti: We pick up where the government programs leave off. That is why we exist.  Our biggest referrals come from nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and Care.org.  We get referrals from them weekly and we can not tell our clients if or when they are going to be helped. They sit on a waitlist while we try to raise the funds to make their reconstructive surgery happen. Helping women to become whole again is what fuels me and just knowing that there is always a list of women waiting for us to find the funding.

I know that we have made a difference when we can help them with whatever they have asked for and the letters they send us.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Alisa Savoretti: We help women every year in a small way and I feel blessed that God picked me to do this task. Every time we get the word out about our work it helps fund someone’s surgery. Shining a light on this cause is SO important. We have been able to fill a gap where other breast cancer charities leave off. If there was another organization doing our work we wouldn’t do it, but sadly there isn’t anyone else. The women we help are eternally grateful for all we have done and to me, that is the success.

Charity Matters: What is your vision for My Hope Chest going forward?

Alisa Savoretti: We will only exist until there is a cure for breast cancer. Of course, the big dream is that there is a day when our services are no longer needed. Ten years from now, I dream that we have enough resources, funding, surgical partners and angel warriors that we can help women as quickly as they are referred to us. I dream of no longer having a waitlist and being able to have a more efficient meaningful impact on these women’s lives.

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

Alisa Savoretti: God had a different plan for my life. I have a quote on my desk that says,” When you come to the edge of a forest and there is no path-make one that others will follow.” I feel like that is what happened with My Hope Chest. My life’s lesson is that when you persevere you will make a difference. The fact that this even exists in 2018 and is still flying under the radar and that there are women, thousands of women in this country living without their breast.  My home has been refinanced three times to keep the funding going for My Hope Chest. I have taken extra jobs at the grocery store to fund this. The lesson I have learned is that I have to persevere to help these women in any way I can. I cannot give up on them.

I think that changing even one life is important. Things are bigger than us, this mission is bigger than me and I have tied my life to making a difference. For me, I am grateful I was chosen for this journey. I am grateful to keep doing this work and I pray the Lord that My Hope Chest gets to leave a legacy on this earth until there is no longer a need for our services. That is my utmost prayer.

In the end,  I know that I have done my very best.

 

Charity Matters

 

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