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Honoring our Veterans with Higher Ground

Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day. 

Charles B. Rangel

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day that our nation comes together to honor those who have served our country. Brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.  According to statistics, twenty-two veterans die each day in the United States from suicide. I was thrilled when I had the privilege of connecting with Kate Weihe, the Executive Director of an amazing organization called Higher Ground that serves our veterans and their spouses and supporters through amazing outdoor experiences as they adapt and learn to deal with their disabilities. In addition to Kate, I spoke to Higher Ground’s Director of Military Programs and a veteran himself, Rich Cardillo. An inspiring and emotional conversation that had me in tears a few times. The passion that Rich has for the veterans he works with was palpable.

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

Kate Weihe: We enhance the quality of life for people of ALL abilities. Our biggest programs are with our veterans, their trauma, PTSD and we exist to serve and support them.  Our mission is to use recreation, therapy, and support to give people of all abilities a better life. Together we build the bridge between disability and belonging. One of our biggest programs is working with Veterans and active duty service members with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress syndrome, military sexual trauma, and other military trauma. We serve people with disabilities from ages 2-101 and we do this by using outdoors and nature along with family, friends, and community to support them.

Rich Cardillo: As a veteran, myself, who wanted to continue to serve veterans and servicemen in any capacity after I left the service. What drew me to Higher Ground in 2013 was the care and passion for people. We are now a staff of twenty-four and we are fully committed to enhancing our veteran’s lives as well as the local non-veteran community, here in Sun Valley, Idaho and in our other chapters in New York and LA.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about Higher Ground began?

Kate Weihe: Higher Ground began as an adaptive arm of the Sun Valley, Idaho Ski School. There was a local skier who had Multiple Sclerosis and wanted to get on the mountain again and there was not an instructor or equipment to take her. We began in 1999 when Mark Mask, our founder, talked the resort into getting their first sit-ski.  Kara Barrett who was there from the beginning developed all of our programs that initially were based on skiing and that evolved to a summer camp for children with cognitive disabilities.  In 2004, when we started seeing our Veterans coming home with PTSD  and we pivoted to embrace or veteran community. Initially, we were working with Veterans who were visually impaired from their service and then that translated into the invisible injuries of war. Today, we continue to have winter programs and summer family camps and a host of outdoor programs for our veterans as well as others with disabilities.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rich Cardillo: Our biggest challenge is trying to help the volume of veterans that still need our services. We are such a small organization compared to some other larger veteran based organizations. We want to grow our programs to continue to chip away at an insurmountable number of veterans. The financial need for expansion is critical. We are looking at alternative ways to reach more veterans and at the same time while trying to save money. Currently, Veterans come to us but we are beginning to fly our teams to them. We know that one of the true benefits of the program is the community they establish during their time with us.  We want them to be able to go back home and have others in their community that they call can call up and say let’s go do something together. 

Kate Weihe: I think our biggest challenge is to make sure that we continue to have exceptional programs and consistency as we scale and expand.

Charity Matters: What fuels to keep doing this work?

Kate Weihe: Undoubtedly, being with our program participants and seeing how effective our work is. When we hear from Veterans and their testimonials proving that our work truly made a difference for them and even better is hearing from them years later when they share that they are thriving. The other piece that fuels me is our exceptional staff.

Rich Cardillo: Having the opportunity to be a part of this process of witnessing the transformation that happens in the five days of our program. We get to witness our veterans become more of themselves and work with their partner or spouse to deal with their injury. It fills me up.

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

Rich Cardillo:  For me those moments are emotionalI retired from the military in 2008 and told my wife that we screwed up thirty years of our lives serving our country on active duty. My wife said, “What are you talking about?” I told her she needed to come witness the transformations that happen on our programs and see the changes being made, for me that is my life. The work we are doing at Higher Ground. fills my cup. When you can be a part of that change and know that you have made an impact on someone’s life it is powerful.

Kate Weihe: Rich gets to witness life-changing experiences in his work with our Veterans. In 2010, I received an email from one of our veterans who was one of the toughest people and stories you have ever heard. He was completely broken when he came to us and faced a lot of challenges. Today he is thriving and the long term impact of our work is why we do this. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your success and impact at Higher Ground?

Kate Weihe: We are a quality over quantity organization that focuses on individuals. We transform veterans’ lives being in the outdoors with the people they love and we are able to lend a unique and heartfelt way to help them find their own fulfillment. We do a lot of connecting our veterans with their family members and we are lending a unique way to help people realize their own potential.

Rich Cardillo: Our impact is only three words, we enhance lives. Whether it is a Veteran or a non-veteran that has an injury, everything we do makes their lives better. We know we have made an impact even if we have improved one component of their lives, even one piece is huge. I do know that what we do gives our veterans a better quality of life moving forward.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Higher Ground what would it be?

Kate Weihe: My dream would be that we would no longer have a waitlist for our programs. We serve 200 Veterans in our Military Program a year and we have over 1,000 on our waitlist. 

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

Rich Cardillo: I think for me personally a life lesson is have learned the importance of communication and having the ability to have a real conversation. We give our veterans the tools to do this and it’s called a win-win, so in the course of a conversation, no one loses.  In the end, both people involved in a conversation can feel good about themselves. For me, my life lesson is definitely communication.

Kate Weihe: I think overall in the bigger bucket my perspective has changed. Every time when I have had a rough day, I am reminded how lucky we are. Spending time with our veterans gives me gratitude on a daily basis. I know talking to my friends and family that they do not have that same opportunity that I have in my work. I am so grateful and so fortunate for the life I have been given. Now I can share that with others, a whole lot of gratitude.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kate Weihe: I think I’ve grown up a lot. I think I have learned to move a little bit slower and reflect more and take time to step back and be more compassionate.

Rich Cardillo: Higher Ground has shown me that there is hope. We are doing the right things for the right people. This work has reinforced my hope in humanity and that has come from our donors, our volunteers, and our veterans. They all remind me every day of the fact that people want to do the right thing and that gives me hope.

Charity Matters

 

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Create the Change Day

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”  Margaret Cho

Nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters in an attempt to learn more about Project Giving Kids (PGK). I quickly learned that PGK is a nonprofit organization that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate community service activities.  Their mottos is, “connecting kids to causes.” 
Molly initially launched Project Giving Kids in Boston in November 2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children and families. With 1.7 million nonprofits in the United States, as a young mother herself, Molly clearly saw that there was a need to leverage technology by creating an online platform and mobile app, Youth Give, to make it easier for kids to be powerful agents of positive change in our world.

 Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. This past weekend was an amazing experience as Project Giving Kids came back to LA  for their second annual Create the Change Day LA. The day was hosted by The Today Show’s Natalie Morales and was all about teaching hundreds of children and their families the joys of serving others.

 Think of the day as a trade show for kids where they could shop causes and service projects that they were interested in and cared about. Whether it was decorating duffle bags for children in foster care so they were not moved from home to home with a trash bag or putting toiletry kits together for low-income families or making toys for shelter animals.

Each of these projects benefitted nonprofits such as; Access Books, Crayon Collection, Baby 2 Baby, St. Joseph Center, Reading Partners, The Jared Box Project, Karma Rescue, LA Family Housing, North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, PATH, School on Wheels, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Together We Rise.

These incredible kids  packed over 325 toiletry kits for low-income, homeless, and elderly individuals, made 175 Veterans Day cards for local veterans and random acts of kindness notes for homeless neighbors to lift their spirits, asssembled 70 Jared Boxes full of cards, games and toys for pediatric patients at UCLA Mattel and Cedars Sinai, made 115 dog toys for shelter animals,packed 125 backpacks full of school supplies for homeless youth, made 100 keychains for families transitioning to permanent homes,decorated 80 bookmarks to benefit local students receiving reading help and made the beginnings of “welcome home kits” for 100 homeless individuals/families getting ready for a new home to name a few of the projects with the nonprofit partners there, which is why they are jumping for joy!

As Molly said,Project Giving Kids is thrilled to offer an afternoon of hands-on service to kids and families in the Greater LA area. Create the Change Day was the perfect way to introduce young children to the joy of service to others. At PGK, we strive to connect youth and families to the amazing nonprofits in their own backyards they often do not know about that would love to benefit from their passion and involvement. We do that through our website and mobile app where youth can find fun and age-appropriate service opportunities and through select events like Create the Change Day.”

I was lucky enough to man the PGK booth where children could make a holiday pledge of service either by drawing a picture or writing a pledge to create change and PGK will be sending them their postcards in early December to remind them of their idea.

 

If these cards were any indication of our future, I think the world is only going to get better and that the kids are ready to create some change for 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.

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SPY Safe Place for Youth

“We must all work together to end youth homelessness in America.”

Jewel Kilcher

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what A Safe Place For Youth (SPY) does?

Alison Hurst: Homelessness is our number one crisis in LA County. We created a one-stop-shop where young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness come and access to a whole array of services to assist them while they are homeless and also assist them getting out of homelessness and into stability.

We provide all of the services one would need including; education, employment, health and wellness services, housing and case management services and of course a sprinkle of fun stuff because young people need fun stuff like our healing arts program which provides music, art,  poetry, meditation all ways to lure our young people into our services because young people need different things. All of this is topped off with really awesome food, access to showers and clothing. Today we have nine comprehensive programs that make up our continuum of care. All of our programs weave together to meet the different needs of the young people we are serving.

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

Alison Hurst: There wasn’t one moment but rather a series of moments. The initial moment was in 2008 when I would take my son to the skateboard park in Venice Beach and see all of theses disconnected kids at the beach, which were actually sleeping on the streets.  I’m from London, where we didn’t have a large population of homelessness, but when I came here to  Venice Beach and then Hollywood I realized that we had a massive problem with youth homelessness and we didn’t have many resources here on the Westside of Los Angeles. That was the initial spark.

When I met with other nonprofit organizations that were working with the homeless population, I realized that people just didn’t seem to know what to do with the unhoused youth.  One of the other initial sparks was when I realized that even the other social service providers didn’t know how to meet the needs of the young people and that they didn’t believe that they wanted the same kind of resources. Even the old Federal policies entitled “Runaway homeless youth” which placed blame on the youth. These youth didn’t run away, they were tossed out and thrown away, neglected and abused.

In learning all of this, I immediately began handing out food packs to these kids on Venice Beach with a bunch of volunteers and realized once I got engaged with the youth that there was literally nothing that separated these kids from the kids in my normal everyday life, other than the fact that they had nowhere to live. The system had colossally failed them over and over again. The epiphany was that I became super engaged in the cause and I thought I could impact that cause by handing out food and very quickly realized that was not enough and started to build the program.

In the last eight years, we have become the leading provider for homeless youth on the westside. We now have a staff of 59 and eight years ago we had zero staff and a handful of volunteers and today we have hundreds of volunteers. While our growth is great the fact remains that more young people are falling into homeless than any other demographic and by young we mean ages 12-24. When we started SPY it was literally to meet the needs of hunger and then as our expertise grew so much of this became around policy change. We have worked with local businesses, government, individuals and the community to help us to be a part of the solution.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Alison Hurst: The biggest challenge we currently have is fighting the housing project that we are trying to expand. While having almost 60,000 folks residing on our streets has increased so has the neighborhood opposition to siting any kind of housing program.  Through Measure H and HHH, there are resources provided to build more crisis and critical need housing. The opposition from the community is being slowed down by neighbors’ opposition to all of these projects.

Having access to general housing funding is top of mind always but getting neighborhood buy-in on the two very large projects we are involved in, one is a 54-bed shelter for youth homeless shelter. We have never had a youth shelter ever which will transform the landscape and we continue to face enormous opposition. The second project is a 40 unit development that we will be operating. We have one hundred youth a day currently walking through our doors and we haven’t had any opposition but with these projects, we have had a lot. There is a lot of NIMBY or not in my back yard.

There is a lot of fear and shame. the shamefulness of what we have when there is so much unbelievable wealth all around us. So the shame that comes with recognizing the levels of poverty and drivers of homelessness. Rather than letting that shame motivate you to do something, it becomes a fear of others. I think it is much easier to write people off if we think that they are different from us. The truth is there is very little that separates us and once you come face to face with homelessness you can not deny the commonality between us.

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

Alison Hurst: The young people we serve. I regularly feel that I am pushing a boulder uphill. As you grow your budget gets squeezed and there isn’t always funding. What drives me is that I have to stay connected with the young people we serve. Every member of our team, myself included, spends a portion of their time in direct service with the kids to stay connected to the work. I have to be apart of the work so I don’t make decisions that are not based on reality. 

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

Alison Hurst: When we moved into housing. We had one housing program that we launched last year. We were literally placing young people in the spare bedrooms of community members and we were the first agency in LA to do that. In February of this year, we launched into a transitional housing program and to me, that felt monumental. For years we didn’t have anywhere for these kids to go and nothing to offer but love and connections to resources but now for the first time we at least have 20 young people safely off the streets. We are getting ready to launch a third program for young pregnant homeless youth and families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what success you have had and the impact you have made with SPY?

Alison Hurst: I think there is a combination of things that make us feel that we have had success. From the number of young people, we have moved safely off the streets, which was 127 last fiscal year and I think the number of young people that we have connected to education and employment. Because the two things are absolutely dependent on each other. Over one hundred youth that were connected to education and employment and the additional 127 who are off the street.  At the same time we served 1,400 youth and we still have a long way to go. The annualized national number of youth homelessness is around 10,00 young people between the ages of 12 and 25. 

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

Alison Hurst: I would dream that we would continue to grow our housing resources and add an additional transitional housing program, that we would execute on our Venice Beach bridge housing project. That we can continue to be the first in the class agency that provides a hopeful, safe space for young people to access services and wonderful place that provides employment opportunities for people who want to be a part of the solution as well as a wonderful place to work.

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

Alison Hurst: The learning curve was SO steep and SO challenging, it feels like being in a Master’s program for the past eight years.  I left school at 15 and have never been back. I don’t have a Ph.D. or a fancy degree and never in a million years did I think that I would be here. I learned early to always hire people smarter than you. More than that SPY is all based on relationships, connection, community, and our youth members. Everything we do is about creating connections and community for everyone involved. We would be nothing without all of our community partners. Power in the change happens when you bring everyone to the table.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Alison Hurst: I think this journey has impacted me the most in my level of listening and understanding around poverty. I am a much more serious person than I was before because a huge weight has been put on me.  I am a much more focused person than I ever was which motivates me. This work never ends it is 24/7 but I am fearless, absolutely fearless and I never stop. SPY is all about light and love and I am not afraid to use the word love, it is the underpinning of everything we do.

Charity Matters

 

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Copyright © 2019 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 Cause Bar

Inspiration comes in many forms, as does making a difference. When a girlfriend told me she had just met an amazing human who was approaching philanthropy in a fresh and exciting new way, I knew I needed to know more. A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic conversation with Kristiana Tarnuzzer, the founder of The Cause Bar. In her previous life, Kristiana was involved in mission trips to third world countries,  co-founded a nonprofit in NYC and was the go-to girl for all things philanthropic from events to fashion that gave back. A move to LA from New York inspired Kristiana to look for a one-stop place where she could find ways to make a difference in her new city. Once she realized it didn’t exist she decided to create it…The Cause Bar.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Cause Bar does?

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: The Cause Bar is a social media-driven destination for empowering, inspiring and educating on how to live a more cause focused lifestyle. We do that by highlighting for purpose brands, changemakers, people who incorporate charity in a unique way and ways to volunteer. 

People can give through attending an event, some people like to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and others want to drink wine at an event. The Cause Bar is morphing into a community where we give light to people doing great things.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start The Cause Bar?

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: I think what opened the door for me to do this was a little bit like a force. We moved from NYC to LA in 2018 for my husband’s career and dream job. I have lived in New Jersey and New York my entire life and had been a full time working mom in NYC. My career didn’t exist on the West Coast and I basically had a mid-life crisis leaving my life behind to move to the west coast with my husband and two young children.

Once we moved, the only thing I knew and had was this idea of The Cause Bar.  It wasn’t anything new for me, because it was essentially the way I had always lived my life. I have always been involved with charitable works from a very young age. I had co-founded a nonprofit in my twenties, to going on mission trips in my thirties and people have always asked me how to find volunteer opportunities. 

Once I had children it became, how am I going to lead my life by example for them? How can I raise these two children to be the next generation of philanthropists? How do I  leave the world better than I found it? I saw so much interest in my own personal network from my philanthropy. People kept asking me how to find volunteer opportunities because it is overwhelming. I became a personal resource because of the way I lived my life. So many people want to give but are busy and don’t always know how. So I thought what if I put this concept out to the larger world, maybe there will be others that are interested in this? I initially launched The Cause Bar as an Instagram, I knew no one and immediately started getting traction. I let it ride for six months and knew that if other people are honoring this then I knew I had to commit to The Cause Bar.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: My biggest challenge is figuring out what the perfect next stage of the model will be. How can I make this the most impactful? How do I get my mission and the work that I do every day and how can we multiply my life exponentially? How can I do more than just do this myself? How can others do this alongside me and how do I bring that to life?

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

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: I couldn’t imagine going back and sitting in an office for something else after really being in this world. Something happened to me in my thirties and forties knowing there is so much more to be done and I want to sit on this side of it. I want this to be more. The move was one of the harder things in my life and it turned out to be the door that opened.

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

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: I call these my green lights. When I realize that we raised thousands of dollars for a nonprofit. When I overhear someone talking about something The Cause Bar has done. When we get online feedback about the products people are buying, the events they are going to, the connections that are being made and the support being given to nonprofits is when I know we are a part of moving the needle. Those moments are my green lights.

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

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: We are 100% self-funded. The humble brags are things like the “the site is beautiful” or “we thought you have been around a long time.” Being an entrepreneur is so different from my old life of getting constant feedback from a team. Our feedback comes online and I know we are successful when we have impacted nonprofits and the way people live their lives.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: I have always had a tribe. I never had to even think about a support group, people, family or my resources. I have always had a team and been part of a team in life and in my career. In doing this move and The Cause Bar I had to rely on myself, trust my gut and it was just me. 

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

Kristiana Tarnuzzer:   I have learned to try to love myself more and to adapt. I’ve learned to give myself the grace and the space to become and to enjoy the journey.

Charity Matters: What is your wish for The Cause Bar?

Kristiana Tarnuzzer: I wish that giving back becomes more a part of everyone’s lifestyle and that we are a big part of that. There are so many benefits to giving back and it is not just for ourselves but for what we can do for others. 

 

Charity Matters

 

Sharing is caring, if you are so moved or inspired, we would love you to share this to inspire another.

Copyright © 2019 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.

 

 

Shields for Families

A few weeks ago I attended an incredible event at the Hilton Foundation that I wrote about. One of the women who spoke at the event was named Danielle Lowe and at lunchtime, I approached her and told her how impressed I was with the work she was doing with her nonprofit Shields for Families. I told her that I would love to learn more about the organization and asked if she by chance knew the founder. Danielle got a huge smile on her face and said, “Why yes I do, it happens to be my mother, Kathryn Icenhower.” A few weeks later the three of us, Danielle and her mother Kathryn and I had a fantastic conversation about the truly unbelievable work that Shields for Families is doing to serve South Central Los Angeles and thousands of families dealing with a full spectrum of needs like shelter, housing, transportation,  substance abuse treatment, education, homelessness and breaking the cycle of poverty. This amazing mother and daughter team is a perfect example of what is right in our world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Shields for Families does?

Kathryn Icenhower: We attempt to provide families everything they need to be successful in life with whatever the dreams are that they set for themselves and not make that hard, by providing a full range of services. It always frustrated me when I was a social worker that families don’t come with one problem and our social services have always been set up in silos that make it challenging to get help. I don’t feel that getting help should be that hard. We tried to set up an organization where families can get whatever they need. We are all about believing, building and becoming.

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

Kathyrn Icenhower: To be honest, I got really mad. I was working for the Los Angeles County and I was in charge of programs, planning, and development. We had a massive drug epidemic and in 1987  The Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center alone delivered 1,200 neo-natal infants that were exposed prenatally to drugs. Children were being ripped from their families and in most cases being placed far away. Our models for delivering treatment for substance abuse were not effective. So, I developed a model where women could bring their children with them to treatment every day and we had no funding. I met with the Assistant Director of the Alcohol and Drug program for the state to present my idea. At the time there was nothing like this in the country and she literally laughed me out of her office.

What I didn’t realize at the time, is that there were two doctors were presenting a similar idea at the state level about the medical ramifications of these children being born with drugs in their systems. The state agreed with the doctors and went back to the same woman, who had laughed at me. She called showed them my plan and it became the pilot program for the State of California. That was 1990 and the first program called Genisis began with $350,000. Norma Mtume and Xylina Bean helped make this happen and the three of us are still together.

Charity Matters: How did you start?

Kathyrn Icenhower: We listened to families to see what they needed and then I used my skill as a grant writer and we began asking for funding to meet those needs. We were able to get funding to build our treatment program. Then the county wanted to keep some of these programs local so that is when we expanded into child welfare and mental health. Danielle was five when we started Shields.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I think one of the biggest challenges that Shields is very innovative with solutions and as a result, we are often waiting on funders or the community to catch up with us. We are very selective with our funding and we ensure that our funders mission needs to match ours. Sometimes we end up with a gap in services and end up doing a lot of pro bono work. 

Kathyrn Icenhower: Families don’t have problems in a vacuum and you can’t address them in that way. We have outcomes to prove that our programs are effective. We partner with ten different agencies that bring a wealth of information to us. In the past couple of years, there has been such a focus on accountability. While accountability is important, the amount of time for measurement audits and scrutiny is sometimes overwhelming. We have fifty grants from the federal government, the state, and private funders.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I was raised that everyone on this earth was put here for a purpose. I have been blessed to find mine. That is what keeps me going. To see people achieve things they never thought they could never do is the best and a blessing. This is my purpose and I was blessed enough to be I born with this work watching my mom. I was there as a child as she did this. Helping to give people the skills they need to advocate for themselves really keeps me going.

Kathyrn Icenhower: My spirituality lead me here. I had a calling. I’m not going to lie, this is hard work. I would not have survived this had I not stayed in touch with the people I help for the past twenty-nine years. I am grounded by the people we serve. I can’t take any credit, I just listened. That is something everyone needs to do. I love attending all the events we do to remind me why I do this work every day. It is all necessary. These families remind me why I do what I do.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: The outside world defines family success differently. When I watch a family go through a treatment program and reach their goals. When our families become independent. When I see one of our teens help another through coping skills that we have taught them, I know we have made an impact. I tell all my families the line from Nanny McPhee, ” When you don’t want me but need me, I’ll be there. Go fly and call me to tell me how you are flying.”

Kathyrn Icenhower: I know we have made a difference when kids graduate from college. When mothers in treatment get their masters degrees. What we are able to accomplish changes, whole families. “We” made a difference when someone can have their children back. There are so many minute things. Seeing families being successful in accomplishing their goals and that they are caring for one another. We have been able to change the trajectories of entire families.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your impact?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: With our charter schools these are students who have been kicked out of a traditional school for a host of reasons. On average our students are about a year behind when they start with us.  Forty percent are homeless youth, involved with child welfare or probation and we have a ninety percent graduation rate with 85% transferring to a four-year college.

Book of Joy

Kathryn Icenhower: We serve over 10,000 families a year with 350 full-time staff and a thirty million dollar budget. Historically, our models have been very successful, our treatment centers have an eighty percent success rate versus the national average of twenty-five percent for long term treatment. We have an upfront assessment plan when a child needs to be removed from the home due to drugs or abuse, we assist the family with services for treatment and do whatever we can to help keep the child at home or make sure the parents voluntarily let the child go while they get help. Within a year and a half of implementing the program, we have reduced the out of home removal by 62% and are now training other agencies on how to use our skills.   We saved the County of Los Angeles over one hundred million dollars and that program became embedded in multiple other programs.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned to always speak for what is right. My mom showed me how.

Kathyrn Icenhower: When Danielle was little we were at a meeting and she spoke up for something that made her upset. She has always done that which makes me proud. This journey has made me stronger. The challenges may try to knock you down but I’ve had to learn to trust myself and to maintain my faith, that it is all going to be ok.

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

Danielle Brunn Lowe: I have learned the ability to be humble and vulnerable. Sometimes we all take for granted everything that we have.  I am always humbled by what I learn about resiliency and faith from those we serve. To watch them working towards those goals that every human being deserves. Being open is a constant reminder of what is actually meaningful in this lifetime. This work is a constant reality check that it is not the money that gives you status but what you have to offer from within.

Kathyrn Icenhower: I have learned to always have faith. I must always do what I believe is correct no matter how difficult that path may seem and have faith that will carry me through. 

Charity Matters

 

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Spring cleaning for others

“Spring is a time of plans and projects.”

Leo Tolstoy

 

Yesterday was the first day of spring, the spring equinox. It is a time of year that signifies new beginnings and for many of us, it is a time for out with the old and in with the new. For many, it is a time for spring cleaning. In our house, it is not about cleaning with mops and brooms but rather clearing out closets, drawers, garages of unwanted, unused and unnecessary possessions. Rather than seeing this as a chore, I see it as an opportunity to pass things along to someone who can enjoy them or a good cause that may need them.

When we moved a few years ago I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Magic Art of Tiding. In the book she asked you to ask yourself three questions: Do I love it? Do I need it? Does this item bring me joy? I must admit that it does help the cleanout process. More than that is knowing that someone else will get joy out of something you longer need.

Once you have gone through your items where do you take them? The answer is it depends on what the items are. When we came across all of our son’s lacrosse gear from the local team, we reached out to his old team and asked if we could donate it to them. They were thrilled to be able to pass it along to a child that needed equipment. In Los Angeles, we have a nonprofit called LA Shares that is a nonprofit reuse program. LA Shares takes new or used items such as sports equipment, office furniture (not clothing) even paper products and then redistributes these items free of charge to other nonprofits and schools in the City of Los Angeles.

 

For books, we gave them to local libraries and often time your local school will take books as well. If you an avid reader and have more books than you know what to do with the website Becoming Minimalist has a great list here with twenty suggestions of organizations around the country that will take your books.

For furniture, there are a number of organizations that will pick up and take furniture. A few of them are; Vietnam Veterans of America, Out of the Closet which supports AIDS-related causes and Donation Town which is a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits.

 

Lastly, the closet one of the hardest and most time-consuming spring cleaning projects ever. Where to take clothes? If they are high-end items you can visit LuxAnthropy for resale with a portion going to your favorite cause. Out of the Closet takes clothes. Personally, after reading this Huffington Post article about the Goodwill and where the clothes you donate go, I try to avoid that option.

My personal choice is to donate clothing, household items, etc to  The St. Vincent de Paul Society and they pick up! SVDPS also called the Society provides those in need to become self-sufficient by providing emotional and financial support, food, clothing, furniture, and housing because of donations both financial and household. Many of the household items are passed on directly to someone in need.

 

So as you begin your spring cleaning think of it as a win/win. You get to eliminate items you no longer need and help someone else in the process….which will definitely put a spring in your step!

Charity Matters.

 

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Help Us Adopt

All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about what Help Us Adopt does?

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt began in 2007 at our kitchen table and an idea to help build families through adoption. Our platform was families combined with a commitment to equality, something everyone could believe in. The brutal reality is that over 100 million children in the world need homes and adoption is the answer. We didn’t want to tell those children that people can’t afford to adopt, we wanted to be the ones who make their adoptions a reality. We do that by raising funds to provide grants to people who need financial support to begin their families.

photo credit: Classic Kids

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Help Us Adopt?

Becky Fawcett: I was raised that we were fortunate, there will always be people with more and always with less but more importantly, be grateful for what you have. When my husband Kipp and I realized that Invetro Fertilization (IVF) wasn’t going to work and adoption was going to cost $40,000 I thought, what would happen if we didn’t have this money? I knew how much motherhood meant to me and that I could just barely afford this, but where would I have gone if I didn’t have the resources?  So, I began to look for organizations that helped families to fund adoptions and couldn’t find one that didn’t dictate how someone adopts.

I never intended to start this. My original intention was to give my marketing and pr skills as a volunteer to an existing grant organization. The more I looked I realized that the only existing organizations were limited in their thinking, giving small amounts of money to help fund adoptions, charging expensive application fees and were really patching the problem. These organizations were dictating how someone adopts. I thought who am I to tell families that they have to fit the traditional mold to adopt?  Everyone grows up dreaming of a family. We knew we wanted to support all who had a dream of having a family.

That is why I started this because it just didn’t exist.  So in 2007, I set out to tell this story that I knew I had to tell. Raising the initial funds was easy, until the recession….

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Becky Fawcett: Our biggest challenge is raising money. Finding big angel donors is a lot of hustle for the million plus dollars we raise a year. Finding those donors who are investment donors. The other challenge is that there is still a stigma about adoption and a lot of misinformation about adoption out there and what makes a family.  It is frustrating the language used around adoption. 

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

Becky Fawcett: So many things, number one thing is that a lot of people thought we would fail and we have succeeded. Strangers have come to us and want to get involved, which is huge. We are doing groundbreaking work not just for adoption but for family equality. I love leading the charge here and I have become very comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I love building things and I believe Help Us Adopt can be even bigger. The last and most important thing is that helping people is infectious! 

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

Becky Fawcett: The minute we read an application from a family I know we are going to make a difference. When we award  a grant we know we have moved the needle. We relieve families from debt in some cases, in some situations our funding helps to speed up the process of adopting their child. I know we help people the minute that grant is awarded. When the child gets home that is when the story starts getting told.

We can watch our work grow up before our eyes and that makes me SO excited! When we watch these children grow up and get Christmas and birthday cards of these beautiful families. Adoption is my world, this is my children’s lives and I need to make it better for everyone. For my children, for their birth mothers and all birth mothers who make the most difficult decisions in the face of adversity that none of us will ever understand. I am advocate for them and their rights as well and I never expected to be here.

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

Becky Fawcett: Help Us Adopt is now in our 12th year and are awarding on average a family a week a grant. When we started Help Us Adopt we only had $100,000 to award. Now, we have four grant cycles at $150,000 each year and our average grants are about nine thousand dollars. This puts us at helping a family a week for 2019.

A lot of blood sweat and tears have gone into this.  It is hard work but a steady progressive upward climb. Everything we do is slightly different and we run our nonprofit like a business. Our issue is a unique and such an untold story. People think it is easy to adopt and that it should be free. When we start to tell people the challenges in adoption and about the children that need homes, people say, “I had no idea what can I do? ”  Every single donor big or small makes a big difference by helping the life of a child. We put kids in homes and build families and everyone can relate to building a family.

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

Becky Fawcett: I know that every job I have ever had lead me to this. I have learned to always ask, the worst thing that can happen is that someone can say no. People are waiting to be asked. Tell people you need help they want to help.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Becky Fawcett: I don’t even know how to put that into wordsI know I am not the person I was fourteen years ago. I am such a better version of myself in so many ways. The biggest change has been my level of compassion. I think I am much more aware now that you really never know what someone is dealing with. I didn’t tell people what I was going through when I struggled to have children. I’ve learned I have had to trust strangers, my children’s birth mothers and so many others along the way.  I know I’m far from perfect but I do know the instant love I had with my children has changed my life forever.

 

Charity Matters

 

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Empathy

“Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you are not alone.”
Brene Brown

Summer has flown by, Labor Day is just around the corner and now everyone is officially back in school.  This year in addition to making sure your children have their school supplies and their backpacks , there is something more they should be packing as they head into their new school year….and that is empathy. I know it isn’t a “regular” on your back to school list but something worth adding for sure.

Working with hundreds of high school students each year, I am always in awe of what these students can accomplish and who they can be with the right guidance.  Students have so much noise coming at them constantly and sadly most messages students are receiving are not positive and do not make them stop and think.

As the school year begins, I wanted to share a message that applies to each of us, whether at work or at school. The simple reminder of empathy….which is the ability to understand and share the feeling of another.

So as we begin a new school year and talk to our children about what is important to focus on this year, lets remember that life is more than good grades, it is about being the best people we can be to one another. As Bill Bullard says, “The  highest form of knowledge is empathy.”

 

charity matters.

 

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May Day!

Every new beginning comes from other beginnings end.”

Senea

May. A month full of joy. Sunshine, springtime, Mother’s Day, graduations and Memorial Day….I think  of May as the gateway to summer. So how can we not be excited about that? The dictionary defines the word May as  meaning “expressing possibility.” I can think of no better way to describe a month that is exactly that….so full of possibility.

Today is May Day, which is a holiday that is believed to have been started in Roman Britain around 2,000 years ago. Soldiers celebrated the arrival of spring by dancing around decorated trees thanking their goddess, Flora. Today, we still celebrate May Day but use the May pole instead of a tree….which must have been tricky…just sayin.

Here is to a month full of possibility, beauty, spring, celebrations and new beginnings.  Wishing you the most joyful month!

charity matters.

 

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A storm of support

The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all.”

Helen Keller

As we all have watched the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Houston over the past few days, we continue to be inspired by the way that families, neighbors and even strangers have come together to help one another. It is how we are hard-wired as human beings, to reach out and help one another.

The city is literally underwater and it is going to take a big group effort to rally around and help these people out. Houston football star, JJ Watt of the Houston Texans began a crowd-funding effort to support those effected by the storm, if you are so inclined, the link is here to donate.

When moments like this happen, we roll up our sleeves, and reach out to help. It is during challenging times that we become the best of ourselves and who we are supposed to be to offer a storm of support. As we begin our week, remember that, “The welfare of each is bound in the welfare of all.”

Charity Matters.

 

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Always better when we’re together

“The world needs new leadership, but the new leadership is about working together.”

Jack Ma

This past weekend was the last day of camp. I sat in the front row like a proud mother listening to 175 children that were not truly my own, talking about love and kindness and acceptance. Never have I been more proud.  The lessons these 6th, 7th and 8th graders taught every parent in the room about their experience at camp were awe-inspiring. If ever this message was needed…it is now.

I am privileged to serve over 3,000 students a year, as the Executive Director of a non-profit leadership organization, which also runs a summer program. We have two full-time employees and hundreds of high school and college students volunteering that serve as camp counselors and mentors. Students teaching students, to listen to one another, to respect and learn from different opinions and how to work together towards resolution. Ultimately teaching them how to lead.

Every night as I watch the news and see the continuing political discord rearing its ugly head,  I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope…just as one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world…”

Charity Matters.

 

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The heart warming follow up of Saving Tiny Hearts

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

The words above were sent to me five years ago from non-profit founder, mother and champion for families dealing with congenital heart disease, Francie Paul.  I spoke with Francie and board chair of Saving Tiny Hearts, Larry Kluge, to see what has happened since they began this journey over a decade ago to bring awareness and research to Congenital heart disease .

CM: What do you want people to know about Congenital Heart Disease?

Francie: I want people to know that twice as many children die from heart disease versus all pediatric cancers combined and that cancer receives five times the funding for research.

Larry: Over a million children are born each year with congenital heart disease.

CM: What is your goal at Saving Tiny Hearts?

Francie: Our goal is to fund a project that will not only save our son’s life but to ensure that no one else should ever have to go through this.

Larry: We have been able to fund over 30 research projects that keep getting us closer to making this a dream a reality. We want to find the answer that makes Saving Tiny Hearts obsolete.

CM: What keeps you going?

Larry: The love, passion and support of our community is extraordinary and the researchers we support.

Francie: People carry you through your darkest days and they have made our journey all the more humbling. It is the heart, hope and passion of our team. We are all a part of this.

As Francie said, five years ago “Out of our heartache there is hope.”

 

Charity Matters.

 

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Love

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day loved by some and despised by others. Regardless of where you sit on the Valentine’s spectrum it is a day to think about those you love, and what could be so bad about that?

I know, I know, Hallmark has commercialized the holiday but Valentine’s Day is nothing new, it has been celebrated since about 270 AD. The history goes that Pope Gelasius was not a huge fan of the pagan fertility celebration and decided to re-invent the day, so to speak, by honoring St. Valentine’s death instead…not so romantic…

The first Valentine’s cards or letters began in the 1400s. In Great Britain Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated around the 17th century and Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines, as early as the early 1700s.

According to the Greeting Card Association, it is estimated that 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards will be sent this year and according to Forbes, Americans will spend 18 billion dollars on Valentines purchases today.

So, whether you are a fan of the holiday or not. Acknowledging those we love on this day, is something human beings have been doing for centuries. We could all use a little more love in our world…regardless of your feelings about the holiday.

As Thoreau said, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

Charity Matters.

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Resolutions, better late than never

As January comes to a close, I realize it really has been quite a month. The post holiday recovery, a busy time for my non-profit day job, a new President, and few needed holidays. So it makes perfect sense that with all of this going on, that I have not really had time to make my New Year’s resolutions. It is better late than never!

While I could barely get a parking spot at the gym, the first few weeks of the month…it seems that those well-intentioned souls are already beginning to slack off on their resolutions, which seems like the perfect time for  me to kick in with mine. To help me along, I pulled out my trusty copy of Write It Down, Make It Happen by author, Henriette Anne Klauser. The book’s author believes and proves that writing down your goals in life is the first step in achieving them.

The author tells stories of people who have done just that, and the way they began to realize their dreams. What I love the most about this book is that, in addition to asking you questions that slowly unravel your goals,  each chapter ends with a little homework assignment. So as we say goodbye to January and hello to February, I have a clarity as to which direction I am headed in 2017. That in itself is an amazing resolution!

 

Charity Matters.

 

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