inspiring non-profit blog


Charity Matters has a new platform

I hope everyone has had a great week and are counting down to the long weekend ahead. I wanted to thank all of you who helped with the book naming survey, we are still narrowing it down but definitely getting closer! So thank you to all who voted, reached out and shared ideas. So grateful to you all. I promise to let you know once we have an official title.

Since our last book update, I had missed my April 30th book deadline and was more than a little stressed.  I picked up my pace and kicked things into high gear Mother’s Day weekend. As a result,  I am thrilled to report that I finished Chapter 6. Then I wrote the entire Chapter 7 and am now finishing Chapter 8. It feels great to be back in the race. Definitely feeling more secure about being past the halfway mark and heading towards the 12 Chapter home stretch in July.

Someone recently asked me, “Why are you writing this book?” My immediate answer was that I am writing it for myself, which is true. I am stretching myself and doing something I have always wanted to do and something I wasn’t sure I could do. Each chapter I prove to myself that I can. We all have a purpose on this earth and I believe that I was put here to help the helpers and to amplify their voices in any way that I can. This book helps that mission and will hopefully help the helpers and teach people that when you help others you end up helping yourself, your community and your world.

As a messanger of service, I am always looking for new ways to amplify these stories of modern day heroes. We started with the blog over a decade ago and then added the podcast. It turns out that so many people listen to their podcast on Youtube, who knew? I am thrilled to share that our podcast is now available on YouTube.  

So if you like reading our interviews and articles here via email every week that is great. If listening to our Charity Matters podcast while you drive into work is how you like your content then that is terrific too. Now for those of you that love YouTube, we will be there for you hear our interviews. Lastly, for our book lovers our book will be out October 1st.

Thank you for being a part of this movement for believing that people are good and for helping to amplify these stories of real angels on earth. Together we all make a difference one small act of kindness at a time.




Copyright © 2024 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.

Is it all in the title?

I need your help. Having never written a book, I thought that the title would just come to me somewhat like naming a baby. Like pregnancy you kind of figure things out as you go, you think you all this time to come up with a name. Afterall you have almost nine months, in the case of the book I have eight. The draft is due at the end of July. Just for a reference we didn’t have a name for our youngest son. The night before he was born we went to our favorite restaurant  and the bartender, a friend of ours, asked us what the baby’s name was going to be? We didn’t have an answer, so he named the baby Ford. True story. So if this is any indicator, well I  might need the bartender’s help too!

At our last update, I was having a really hard time starting. My procrastination skills were beyond impressive. When my husband left for a boy’s weekend, I was sure I was going to at least bust out a chapter. Instead, I headed to Target buying organizing containers and organized under my kitchen and bathroom sinks. Who does that? That’s how hard it was to start. I equate it to training for a marathon, which of course I have never done either. From what I hear, you have to start out slow and little by little your pace picks up.

Believe it or not that is exactly what’s been happening. The publisher gave me three months to get the first three chapters done. I was incredibly proud when I turned them in two weeks early, despite all the procrastination. I thought I had found a rhythm and so I rewarded myself with two weeks off after submission. In hindsight, that was  probably not a great call on my part.

The reason that wasn’t a great idea is that our next publisher “check-in” my darling publisher, Michael said, “Ok, great that the first three are in but now we need chapters 4-6 and the title by the end of April.” Wait, whaaat? How did I have three months for three chapters and then one month for three chapters?’ Sweet Michael said, “That most authors begin to hit their stride by the middle of writing.” Since I’m not officially in the middle I am waiting for that moment to just take off.  I am, however, happy to report that it is the third week of April as I write this post and I am starting chapter six and might, just might make my deadline….with one exception, the title.

When the initial panic ensued on the title, I thought who can I possibly ask for help? Who understands what I am writing about? Then I realized that you do! You have been following my crazy journey for over twelve years. You know my story of loss, of starting a nonprofit with a group of friends and my mission to help the helpers by amplifying the amazing nonprofit founders’ voices and work.

The book is my story of stumbling into this work after the loss of my mom. The lessons learned from loss and service and even more the lessons learned from the hundreds of interviews I’ve done this past decade, the ones you read each week. The thesis is that service is the silver bullet. If you want to heal yourself, your family, your community and your world then do something for someone else. It’s pretty simple. The untitled book is a little inspiration and a little self help.

I like to think of Charity Matters as a patchwork of stories and the book will be the quilt where they all come together. More than a few people have asked why not just call the book Charity Matters? My answer is that I wouldn’t buy a book called that. Would you? However, I do think you can give the book a short title and then as the byline say: Why Charity Matters.

We made it easy with a poll you can click here and take the survey and make sure to pick one choice to get to page three to suggest your own idea. So here are a few of the tentative titles and I would be beyond grateful for any suggestions you may have or your vote. My list is even longer and maybe your idea is even better?

  • How to become your own hero- Changing your world and ours
  • Help yourself by Helping others
  • We before me: Why Charity Matters 
  • The healing lessons of helping
  • The secret of living is giving 
  • Helping is Healing

If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be a Charity Matters with thousands of followers and subscribers.  Let me know what you think? And thank you for going on this journey with me and for helping us get the word out that there is SO much good in our world if we just look.




Copyright © 2024 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 77: Filling In the Blanks

Did you know that there are over 13 million children in the United States who live with hunger? One in five children does not know where or if their next meal will come. Those facts are shocking to anyone who hears them. However, it is the rare person or people who actually act when hearing those numbers. Today’s guests not only experience food insecurity they have acted to create a nonprofit called Filling In Blanks.

Tina Kramer (left) and Shawnee Knight (right) Founders of Filling In the Blanks

Join us for an inspirational conversations about two next door neighbors who are changing lives and the face of hunger.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Filling In the Blanks does?

Tina Kramer: Shana and I started Filling In the Blanks 11 years ago. And what we do is we provide food on the weekends to children that are struggling with food insecurity. So we provide a bag of food for the kids ages preschool through high school, that receive meals during the week at school, but don’t have anything over the weekend. So we’re covering that weekend meal gap.

Charity Matters: Did Either of you grow up in families that were very involved in their communities?

Shawnee Knight:  My family was always thoughtful of other people, but we didn’t do a lot in terms of being out in the community as much as Tina and I are now. I grew up in a single family household and so I kind of understood.  I was on the free and reduced lunch and so I understand the pressures that these families are facing. I think that really was kind of one of my main motivating factors for starting Filling In The Blanks. Being in Fairfield County, CT there’s so many different volunteer opportunities and ways to give back. 

Tina Kramer: I grew up in a similar household as Shawnee with a single mom who works all the time. My grandmother pretty much raised me. So there wasn’t really an opportunity to give back to the community at that point in time. When we moved to Connecticut, there are so many volunteer opportunities and that’s where I really learned about volunteering.  We decided that we wanted to do something together and  that’s how we founded it Filling in the Blanks. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Filling In the Blanks?

Shawnee Knight: We were riding with a friend into the city,  and we were just talking about sports and our kids. And my friend was saying,” The other students on the opposing team don’t often have snacks. So they would bring snacks for the other team.” I was kind of like,” Wait a minute. There’s kids in Fairfield County that don’t have food. Like how I don’t understand that? That can’t be possible. Look at where we live?”

I think Tina and I were at the age where our kids were getting a little bit older. So we were both trying to find something to do, we were next door neighbors.  We did some research and learned that there really are food insecure children in our community. And for us, the thought of a kid going without food is just shameful. It’s just wrong.

Tina Kramer: So we saw an article in a magazine about a nonprofit that was a national organization that provided food on the weekends to children. So we became program coordinators. That was our first step and we did the fundraising. We did all the purchasing, but the national organization was more of the parent company.

We would give them our fundraising efforts and they would reimburse us. And we are very type A, we are very gung ho about projects we work on.  We decided after probably two or three weeks to use the information from the national organization structure on how to run a nonprofit because neither one of us had ever run a company or any kind of nonprofit before. So that was our stepping stone to the blank.

So we learned how to incorporate our trademark, our logo, articles of incorporation and bylaws. We surround ourselves with good people to help us structure all these things. We started packing bags in my house for 50 kids. We’re tying grocery bags, going to the dollar stores, Costco and loading our Suburbans up which we’re dragging on the floor. And we just learned as we went, and it was so very grassroots in the beginning. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Shawnee Knight: I think definitely finding food suppliers and finding families. and reaching more families. We needed to get a warehouse because we had outgrown Tina’s living room. We had too many kids, and you have to store these bags. We just needed more of a structure for that. And so I think there were challenges, just in doing and getting things done. Realizing people don’t get things done as quickly as we wanted them to get done. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face now are reaching more parents.  There’s definitely still a lot of parents who don’t know about us and our services.. And I think procuring food, and food costs rising because we purchase all of our food. So we’re fundraising to buy food and with food costs going up,  we have to fundraise even more.

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

Tina Kramer:  I don’t think we mentioned this earlier but Shawnee and I are both volunteers. We don’t get paid to run Filling in the Blanks.  We have a real desire to help the kids because we both at some point in our lives dealt with food insecurity, one of us in our childhood, the other in our adult life. That really fuels us because we know what these parents are struggling with, and how hard it is. Just to wonder, can I feed my child today? Or do I have to pay the electric bill? So it’s really ingrained in who we are.

We have a great staff that surrounds us and a great group of volunteers. We have a leadership committee of about 10 people, mainly women. Then we have 11 full time employees that really help with the day to day. Besides the bags were packing, we have 7000 volunteers come through our doors on a yearly basis. Wow. So it’s not just Shawnee and I, and our desire, it’s our community. We’re all lifting up our community and the surrounding communities. And that’s really what fuels us. 

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

Shawnee Knight:  We do a lot of surveys, to the families,  the children, parents,  the social workers and teachers at the schools. So we’re able to measure some of those outcomes for students. Then we track the number of meals and we’ve served over 3 million meals. Every week we have 7500 kids that get our weekend meal bags. We’ve launched our Mobile Food Pantry, fresh food on the move. We’ve been distributing about 20,000 pounds of food at each site, which they operate twice a month.

We’ve partnered with Stanford Health to provide various health and wellness wraparound services, so we’re able to see how many people they register for or how many flu shots they gave out. It is really hard because we don’t have access to kids grades, so it’s hard to measure that. But we do measure things like the teacher saying that the child is less disruptive in class.. We’ve had a teacher tell us a story of this. One child she had that just was out of sorts at school and she kind of made him in charge of helping her with the backpack club as they call it, which is when they get their bags. And she said, that she noticed a change in his personality and his self confidence was improved. So we hear little antidote or things like that. Then from our pre-programmed surveys and post-program surveys, we see an increase in happiness or of the child’s well being.

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

Tina Kramer:  It’s a simple concept that everyone should have access to food and healthy food items. Our volunteers are little kids to adults. We make sure that we can create volunteer opportunities for them to create an impact within Filling in The Blanks.. We’ve created snack bag programs, in addition to our regular weekend meal program. So the younger kids can have a packing event at their home and pack little snacks in a little brown bag that gets distributed to the kids too. So we’re trying to make sure that our volunteers feel the impact that they are creating.

As Shawnee mentioned, we just started a mobile pantry back in October, and we’re serving 1000s of families through that initiative. Through that we’re able to communicate directly to the families and the parents. They tell us the impact that the 50,000 pounds of food they get at the mobile pantry has on their family. Many turned around and now want to know how they can volunteer with us, and how they can give back and how they can help. And that’s just so rewarding. It comes full circle.

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

Tina Kramer: This year alone we will serve over a million meals and the need is not not going away. We’ll probably serve about 10,000 kids this year, every weekend. We created a year round program for all. Our big dream is potentially it’s on the back burner  but I’ll put it out there. We would like to franchise to other states or communities, or do some drop shipping/fulfillment centers to have food delivered directly to the schools. We  would take away the need for additional trucks and drivers. We’re trying to figure out how do we replicate or duplicate our program outside of our like immediate area. 

Charity Matters: Do you have a Phrase or Motto that you live by?

Tina Kramer:One of our board members always said, “If you can, you should.” And that  kind of really encompasses Filling in the Blanks. Because really, anyone, a little kid to a senior citizen can make a difference here, it’s packing the bag, spreading the word, liking something on social media, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it could just not just it can be your time, even if it’s five minutes. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Shawnee Knight:  I think so. I think we were nervous when we first started this. We didn’t know what to expect. You never know how much pressure you can take or how much weight your shoulders can hold. So I think we’ve grown a lot in that sense. I mean, we’re running a really big nonprofit with a big operating budget and expenses. You never know how much of that stress you can take and I think we’ve learned to stomach quite a bit of it.

Tina Kramer: We’re the perfect ying and yang. I think it’s given me a lot more confidence than I had before. I never thought I could run my own business and didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet. And now we’re dealing like Shawnee said, with a multimillion dollar budget. It’s given me confidence in who I am, not only here, but in normal life and at home. It’s just been a great learning experience over the past 11 years.

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

Tina Kramer: That people are good. And they want to do good.  I come from nothing and I’m not used to being encompassed or embraced by our community. This community that we’ve created together, really has shown me how good people are and how they’re always willing to help. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Shawnee Knight:  If you build it, they will come.





Copyright © 2024 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.

Becoming a force for Good

You may remember that in February I went to an incredible event hosted by the publisher of my upcoming book. At that event, I was thrilled to finally meet Cindy Witteman in person. Cindy is the nonprofit founder of Driving Single Parents. We had already connected in so many ways so it was a treat to be in person together. In addition to being a nonprofit founder, Cindy has already written a number of books, hosts a TV show called the Little Give and is now launching a magazine called FORCE. There is no better word to describe my new friend than a serious force.

I was incredibly flattered when Cindy asked me to write about my thoughts on “force” for her premiere issue.  Even more exciting, is the fact that Cindy has asked me to become a regular columnist for the magazine contributing monthly and having a Charity Matters column. FORCE Magazine will be available in 13 countries and sold in over 10,000 retailers, so you can imagine how excited I am! For the first issue, I was asked to write in third person which isn’t my usual voice and was actually difficult becaise I am so comfortable talking to you in first person. Here is a little of what I shared about what it means to become a FORCE for good.

In a world often marked by individual pursuits and ambitions, there exists a powerful force—the act of giving back. It’s a force that transcends personal boundaries, offering the potential to create lasting positive impacts. The ability to harness one’s own personal force for good, by serving others through involvement with nonprofits and charities, becomes a formidable tool in shaping a better world.

Within each of us resides an innate force—a unique blend of skills, resources, and passion. While this force can certainly be directed towards personal gain, its true potential lies in its capacity to contribute to the well-being of others. By recognizing and embracing this inherent power, one can become a force for good, driving positive change and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

In the United States alone, there are approximately 1.6 million nonprofit organizations, each serving as a powerful vehicle for channeling personal force towards societal betterment. These nonprofits were all founded by individuals who recognized a problem and were determined to find a solution. They are remarkable individuals dedicated to addressing various social, environmental, and humanitarian issues. Each nonprofit founder is a living example of being a force for good. By understanding the impact of nonprofits, we can strategically engage with these organizations to amplify their force for good and our own.

One poignant example of the transformative power of collective giving is Meals on Wheels. Founded by Enid Borden and supported by a volunteer army of 2 million, Meals on Wheels is the largest hunger-relief organization for senior citizens in the United States. Every day, they provide meals to over a million elderly individuals across the country. Enid Borden aptly summarizes the essence of giving back, stating, “The biggest problem we have is that there are many charities… So which one is more valuable than another? The answer is they’re all valuable, they’re all worthy, and they all need help. My message is just give. I always tell people: Once you give something back, whether it is a meal or something else, you’re hooked. It doesn’t pay monetarily, but it pays spiritually.”

While Meals on Wheels exemplifies the impact of large nonprofits, it’s important to recognize that every nonprofit started with one founder. The power of giving back extends beyond financial contributions or organizational affiliations; it encompasses individual efforts that, when combined, create a significant force for good. Volunteering time, skills, or expertise to local charities or community initiatives amplifies the impact on a smaller scale but with no less significance.

Charities, regardless of size, often rely on the dedication of community members to address specific needs. Whether it’s assisting at a food bank, participating in neighborhood clean-ups, or mentoring youth, individuals contribute to improving their communities. The collective force of these small-scale efforts enhances the overall well-being of their communities.

Most nonprofit organizations benefit from individuals offering their specific skills and expertise. Professionals in fields such as marketing, legal services, or IT can provide valuable assistance to organizations that may lack these resources. By leveraging their unique skills, individuals become a force for good, enabling nonprofits to operate more efficiently and effectively. Organizations like www.catchafire.org serve as terrific resources to connect skills to a nonprofit’s needs.

In harnessing the power of giving back, individuals become agents of positive change. Nonprofits and charities provide structured platforms for directing personal force towards addressing pressing societal issues. By contributing time, resources, or expertise to these organizations, individuals amplify their impact and collectively shape a better world.

When we acknowledge the inherent goodness in people, it becomes natural to want to be of service to them. By providing value to others, not only do we help them, but we also enrich ourselves. This cycle of giving and receiving fosters an upward spiral of positive energy and change, strengthening the force for good in the world.

This force for good resides within each of us, waiting to be unleashed. As individuals recognize their unique abilities and align them with the missions of nonprofits and charities, they not only improve the lives of others but also experience the profound fulfillment that comes from being a force for good.




Copyright © 2024 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 76: Claim Your Potential

Working with young people everyday I know that they are capable of great things and are often underappreciated for all the good they do. Today’s guest is a perfect example of that. Sofie Lindberg started a podcast at age 17 to help her deal with challenges she was facing in her life.  What she didn’t expect was young women beginning to reach out for more and more support. As a result, she turned her popular podcast, Claim Your Potential into a nonprofit.


Join us today for a fun conversation about what one inspired young woman has done to use her challenges to help serve others.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Claim Your Potential does?

Sofie Lindberg: Claim Your Potential is a women’s empowerment organization. We serve primarily women between the ages of 15 to 24 years old, across the US.  We have a bit of a different model, because we operate 100% virtually.  All of our programming is focused on four different pillars; academic, emotional, financial, and professional empowerment. Currently, we have three active programs.

Charity Matters: Did you have a mentor or role model growing up that was philanthropic?

Sofie Lindberg:  My mom was definitely my role model growing up. She was a single parent who did everything. She would participate in whatever the community was doing, whether it was a fundraiser concert that she was singing in, or it was a clothing drive. My mom was always just in this community mindset of what can I do to help my community.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start your nonprofit organization?

Sofie Lindberg: When I entered university, I was going to go into politics.  My first job was at this local DC nonprofit that does capacity building for other nonprofits, focusing on organizations that served impoverished children in the DC area.  I had no idea what the nonprofit world was and I fell in love with it.

Around that time, I had my very first relationship which was very turbulent. Looking back on it was something that I shouldn’t have been going through, that was by any textbook definition, emotional abuse.  I remember getting out of it and the amount of days I would just sit on my floor and cry and not know what to do. I wondered why I waited so long to get out.

And from there, I said, “Alright, I need to share this with people.”  Claim Your Potential started as a podcast with me sitting in my college dorm room, sharing stories, connecting with guests about everything from navigating grief, to financial wellness, to getting your first job, and even dealing with toxic relationships. All of these things that I was going through in my own life, I got to share and also be able to listen to experts tell me that everything I was doing was not right and how to fix it.

Then about a year into podcasting, all of these people were pouring out on social media saying, we want more. How can we get more from this podcast? So we started slow, and pushed out articles, stories, and workbooks. Still people wanted more.  I sat down one day and said, “You know what? I should probably use my nonprofit experience for something. So let me see what I need to do.” A week later, I was interviewing founding board members. It was quite the process from we’re a podcast, too, all of a sudden, holy moly, we’re filing for 501 C 3. I was 17 when we filed for our 501C3.

Charity Matters: What Have been your biggest challenges?

Sofie Lindberg:  I would say the biggest one was getting that 501 C3 status. For a little bit of context here, we had operated under what DC has is called nonprofit corporation. So you’re a registered business. They register you as a nonprofit corporation, but you’re not federally a nonprofit.

I would say our biggest hurdle was waiting for that to come through because you can’t do it but you can’t do anything to fix it. There’s nothing and you just can’t take on all of the stress of  I have 25 different things that I need to get done. But I can’t do any of them until I have money. And I can’t do that until I have my 501 C 3, which I can’t get because the IRS has to approve it.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I love everybody that I work with my board and everyone that’s on staff. The time and love they’ve put into everything just kind of makes the stress disappear in a way. I would say the other big piece is when we do workshops and collect feedback after.

When I get to read people’s responses and someone had said that they had no idea that they could even get a job. Then they went to our workshop, then they realized that wait a second, all of these other experiences that I’ve had,  I can get a job. I know that I can do it. Reading  those responses just makes you want to keep going, it makes you want to change someone’s life every day.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I think I definitely would say we’re not in this stage where our impact is measured in numbers.  I see our impact in the stories. And for me the story is our pilot program The Empowered Women’s Network, which is our mentorship program.

I’m still part of that program, where I get to mentor someone.  My mentee leaves the sessions feeling like they can take on the world, get a new job, they can go to university, and figure out what they want to do with their life. All of our programming is so tailored to the individual.  I feel like that’s kind of been my big success story to tell people is that people say, “I don’t know where I’d be without this program.”

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

Sofie Lindberg:   Claim Your Potential is our launching a career coaching program with career coaches, so that is super exciting.  I am also really pushing for getting financial advisors to come on to have  one on one individual sessions with clients to make sure that they can build a future.

We are in the process of building out our content writing team. We are bringing on young women to essentially write what they see the world as. Opinion pieces, research based pieces, advocacy pieces, it will be a digital magazine. My big vision is to always give  space for young women to think and to lead.

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

Sofie Lindberg: I’ve learned three really good ones about myself and how I lead. First, don’t let age get in the way. When I started, I was so nervous to go into my own meetings, talking to my own staff, and talking to the board. Because all these people are 10, 15, 20, sometimes even 30 years older than I am. I learned to embrace it. I’m the perfect person for this job, because I’m in the demographic that we serve. It’s easier for me to connect and I get it. It might seem to be a weakness, but for me that has become my biggest strength. Exactly what I always was so insecure about.

My other lesson was that nothing was going to happen overnight.  I really had to get reminded from my mom, when she said, “Sophie, one day at a time, nothing is overnight success. It’s those incremental everyday steps that get you there. So focus on the bigger picture.”  Being able to put it in perspective of if I  do it right, we could be in a very different place a year from now. What if everything goes right?

I would say the third piece is really understanding when it’s time to let go of something.  I’ve found that founder syndrome of I built this and want to hold on to this for dear life. But then there’s a time where you have to ask, “Is this actually serving people? ” It took me a very long time to get there because I wanted everything to work perfectly. So being able to make those tough decisions was the hardest lesson of them all.

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

Sofie Lindberg:  I think I saw this when I was maybe 10 and it never left me. It’s an Audry Hepburn quote and she said,  “Nothing is impossible.” And I feel like in the nonprofit sector especially, you get told no a lot from board, from donors from grant makers, pretty much anybody.  But I feel like being able to be in the space where you can say,” Alright, this might not be possible now. But it is possible, right?” We are going to find a way to implement this or to advocate for that.  I think that’s always stuck with me that nothing is impossible, because the word itself says I’m possible.





Copyright © 2024 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.

Wishing you a very Happy Easter!


“Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and a new life.”

Janine di Giovanni

It is hard to believe that Spring break has arrived and Easter is this weekend. Easter means time with family, a small pause for gratitude, the beauty of Spring….and of course chocolate!

I hope this weekend finds you with the ones you love, with time to relax and to think about what spring renewal means to you. March has been a wonderful month with a lot of excitement but a little rest and reset is in order.  Here is to a joyous Easter filled with hope, renewal and new life.




Copyright © 2024 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 75: Calibrate

Life is full of serendipity if you pay attention. A few weeks back I went and visited my old grade school. When I was talking to the Principal, Joe, something came up about Charity Matters. Joe said, “You should talk to my wife. She has an amazing nonprofit.” And so I did and I can’t wait for you to meet the incredible Marcie Gilbert. Marcie is the co-founder of the nonprofit Calibrate.

The serendipity didn’t end there, Marcie’s beautiful work is very similiar to mine, working with youth leaders who in turn mentor other leaders. So join us today for an inspirational conversation to learn about Marcie’s incredible work with Calibrate. She is a ray of sunshine and will leave you feeling warm and inspired.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Marcie Gilbert:  Calibrate’s mission is to transform the lives of young leaders from under resourced communities to make them feel valued and prepared to reinvest their time back into their community. We have three primary activities of focus. One of them is we want to provide the social emotional foundation for our youth in under-resourced communities to be able to thrive. We do that through a program we call Connections,that has been in Los Angeles schools since the mid 1980s.

Our second activity is we are interested in creating a virtuous cycle of generational health. We are training young adults from our communities. Typically, these are alumni of our Connections programs, to go back and reinvest in their communities.  Calibrate raises money in order to pay those young adults to go back and reinvest in their communities by leading the Connections programs. And then the third activity that we have is coalition building, because we know that to have impact, we need to all come together as a village.

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

Marcie Gilbert:  Both of my parents were intensively philanthropic, constantly volunteering on a weekly basis. My mom was always involved in so many different things. One of the things that I always thought was really cool is that she took children’s books, and she transcribed them into Braille. That was those of the days before the Braille typewriters. And so you had to actually literally pinprick each of the letters and I just remember her doing that. What might be a very tedious task, for pages and pages. And so it was everything. It’s part of my DNA. 

Charity Matters: Tell us how Calibrate started?

Marcie Gilbert:  There used to be a place called the Ojai Foundation that was a mecca for all kinds of philosophical and spiritual leaders in the 70s. There was a man named Jack Zimmerman, who created a program which was called Counsel. There was a school in Santa Monica that was started by a man named Paul Cummins called Crossroads.  Paul and Jack were friends.  Jack said, “Let’s bring this program to Crossroads.”Crossroads implemented this program.

In 1994, when I graduated college, I became connected with Paul and Crossroads.  I was trained to be able to deliver this program, which we call Connections.  The following year, Paul started a new school called New Roads. He recruited me as part of the founding team. Everybody was trained and this was the social emotional foundation for our school. I went to my professor and I said, “Can I make Connections my focus of my thesis?”  Over the course of the year I surveyed all these alumni, and everybody said that Connections was the foundation that allowed them to thrive.  95% of those students went on to have post secondary degrees as  compared to 17% of their local peers.

One of Paul’s missions was to bring private school education to communities that had not been exposed to those kinds of whole child’s social emotional enriched environments.  Charlotte Johnson, who was my principal and my mentor, is one of the co-founders of Calibrate. And she said, “You need a nonprofit.” and I said, “No, I don’t.”

We started programming in August 2019. We should have been shut down March 2020.  But instead it had the opposite effect to the pandemic because suddenly everybody became aware of the term social emotional learning. The reality is everybody became in touch with the need for connection.

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

Marcie Gilbert: The Anthonys, Murenas, Becky, Chris,  Alana or Tina,  I could name all 120 people who I work within our collective Calibrate cosmos. I work with the most extraordinary individuals and the moments that I get to go and visit our sites. A little fourth grade girl named Ari and her hugs and smiles. Her mom named Brittany who has the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met.  I think about volunteers, like Lynn, who basically retired and made Calibrate her job.

 I think about our community of alumni who just really get this and just really are the heart of Calibrate pumping all that understanding into the rest of the organization. Our board is miraculous, our community partners Mark and Trey, and our program partners. When I opened my eyes in the morning it’s that whole entire vibe of people that spread that feeling of good. 

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

Marcie Gilbert: The testimonials and the feedback from those who write to me to sit into Connections.  When I hear a teenager say literally this program kept me from committing suicide.  We know we have made a difference.

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

Marcie Gilbert: it’s the qualitative testimonials that are the most important. Last semester, we had students who were seniors at Cal Poly Pomona who partnered with us. They took a random sample of thirty-five 8th graders, who had received between eight to 10 connections over a five week period. What they did was honed into the qualitative data, where children were able to articulate specific, observable behaviors in other environments outside of connection.

For example,I’m no longer fighting with my mom to get my homework done. I am raising my hand in class. I’m not afraid to ask my teacher for help. So those kinds of things where they were able to show what we call an education, a generalization of behaviors, and 67% of those that random sample were able to say things like,” I feel more confident, I’m a better listener.”  

We have a unique insight because we sit in these Connections to circles, which are living storytelling circles. And so we get those opportunities to hear the things like the suicidal ideation or the decision to go back to college. You know, we had a bunch of kids graduate high school and they were going to be first generation kids to go to the east coast to different colleges.  I was panicked to create a Connections program for them virtually. The rate of attrition can be very high for them to stay in college and finish.

The students told me, ” We don’t really need this because actually, we’re doing it on our own. We take the train, and we meet each other at least two times a month. And when we sit together we’re checking in, and we’re asking each other and we’re soliciting in each other equal chances to tell each other stories. It’s not a formal Connection, but we’re using tools from Connections, to keep ourselves to connect it to keep ourselves supporting one another.” Those kinds of comments are gold.

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

Marcie Gilbert:  The reason why is if we’re really creating an organization that’s of the people for the people, and we’re really fulfilling our mission of elevating these young leaders from our communities to come in and take over.  I just really want our young adults to be able to have their own dreaming, and not be just mired. I know that the community of alumni want a school again.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marcie Gilbert:   I have stretched and grown. I had to learn how to not take things personally. Not to trip,  not to overthink, to set boundaries on self care. That weight of the world feeling that you described earlier. When I was a little girl, when I would get anxious my sister would say to me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” What’s astounding to realize is that’s not true with Calibrate.

God forbid, we didn’t have a penny in the bank, we’re not going to stop. This is a community of people who believe so deeply in the programs and the mission that it will just keep marching forward until we get the next infusion of cash. Right? So you just know it’s going to be okay.

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

Marcie Gilbert: I feel like what I have learned along the way is about leadership.  I’m the person that so many people are looking t0o. And as I said to you before we started this podcast, I am an introvert. So it’s doing a great job of hiding. Something I’ve learned is that you can actually lead from behind.  What I have to lean on is the organizational culture that we’re creating. Because it is one of shared leadership.

We are the circle, we want to be the principles and values that we espouse in connections that we’re all holding this up, we all have equal voice. I have a lot of amazing people who can independently and successfully go and take a ball of something and run with it. So really,  what I’m doing is steering the ship and  keeping us tacking north.




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Episode 60: Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund

Years ago when I lost my mom, someone said to me, “The greatest gift you can give the world is a life well lived.” Today’s guest is a fantastic example of just that.  In full disclosure, I have known our guest Dana Bouton for probably twenty years. We have raised our children in the same community. Dana sent me an email explaining that her cancer had returned and was now terminal. She was determined to use the time she had left to leave a lifetime legacy to the City of Hope. The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will help families financially devastated by cancer.

Join Dana and June Penrod from City of Hope to learn how one person can make a difference for so many living with cancer. Dana’s humor and insight will inspire you and make you think about how you live. She is a true example of the quote above and what really matters. During our conversation I made Dana a promise that I would re-publish her podcast on her birthday each year as a reminder and a legacy of her work, so Happy Birthday Dana! Cheers to another amazing lap around the sun. Thank you for reminding us all how to live.



Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Dana Pepper Bouton Endowment Fund will do?

Dana Pepper Bouton: The idea of the fund was set up to help families who are navigating the difficult diagnosis of cancer to have resources for support.  They want world class care in hospitals and need to get transportation, gas,  child care, groceries, and a multitude of other things. So this fund is set up to kick out money in the form of gift cards, to help these families get to City of Hope. More than having the best possible care but receiving some supportive care on the side of having to deal with their loved one being a patient. 

June Penrod: What we do is provide state of the art treatment.  So we are really the champion when it comes to precision medicine of being able to fight cancer.  Not only at the cusp of when it’s worst in your body, but also in the beginning phases of helping our population screening for cancer. So we really did the entire gamut from A to Z on cancer treatment for all patients in Los Angeles and Orange County.

We are really proud of the impact that we are having on cancer patients in the nation. The role that I specifically play is acquiring resources for what we call our Department of Supportive Care Medicine. It is one of the unique elements of City of Hope that make it so special. Supportive Care is basically the emotional and spiritual arm that comes out of the cancer journey that patients go through. So while they can focus on the treatment with their doctors, Supportive Care medicine wants to focus on their emotional care journey.  Then they are really focused on their cancer treatment and not having to worry about any of the external factors that might get in the way of that journey.Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start this endowment?

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I was diagnosed with stage four non Hodgkins lymphoma in January of 2018. And here we are about  five and a half years later.  I’ve had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, back to back bone marrow transplants, a few operations, infusions, and transfusions. Now I’m terminal after all of those treatments.  You know, I can’t can’t control the fact that the doctors say, “there’s nothing more we can do for you, except try to keep you alive a few months at a time.” 

So I’ve lost the ability to kind of control how long I thought I would live. I came to the conclusion that I haven’t lost the ability to create a legacy for other people. Even though I’ve had basically what I simply call very bad luck because there’s no genetic component to how sick I’ve been. I’ve also been very blessed. And I’ve had multiple resources, in terms of financially supportive community to help me along the way. 

After spending so much time in the hospital, and listening to June and others talk about the supportive care that City of Hope offers. I can create a legacy after I’m gone to help hundreds of people and that makes me feel really good. In fact, being terminal is really not that big of a deal in terms of how many people I can impact during the few months, maybe six months a year that I have left. This brings me such great joy and working with June and seeing her enthusiasm and the people around me who want to give. I just want to work as hard as I can to reach out to as many more people as possible. And I do have a tendency to accost people in the market.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton: I would say number one, I’ve had incredible support at City of Hope. And I also think, knowing that I have very limited time left, I see and feel and touch and smell in here so acutely. But I’m just really inspired by my enhanced senses. And so I love to capture what’s around me from macro to landscape, and put that on my website and share that in the form of wall art or greeting cards, postcards, and sell them, and how those proceeds go to my fund. 

 I’ve laid in bed for sure, and had had some really hard days. But seeing, feeling, talking to people and really hearing and really listening just propels me to keep going.  I know that when I am dying, I’m not going to regret being so tired. While taking pictures, or being with people, I would only regret that maybe I just stayed in bed and felt sorry for myself.  After I die, I want my fund to continue. So I’m pushing to get the word out.

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

June Penrod:  Dana is a great example.  I think she doesn’t mind being the dramatic story of philanthropy, of this woman who should be taking care of herself but instead she’s taking care of others. Even though she received a terminal diagnosis, I mean, look at what she’s doing now.  We have folks who say, we have a great life that we’re living now, thanks to City of Hope and we want to contribute more. 

But we do also have folks who say, “My loved ones are not here with me anymore, but I love the compassion and the care they received.”  And so we want to give.  Then there are folks who have never stepped foot into the hospital but they know the great work that we do. And they want us to be their charity of choice. That blows my mind as well. 

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  My dream is that after I die, I want this fund to continue in perpetuity. So my dream is to keep spreading the word as long as possible. Then have my family and other people give money once or twice a year, in perpetuity.

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

Dana Pepper Bouton:  I appreciate when people talk to me out of just accepting where I’m at, and not trying to tell me that I don’t have hope. I have hope. And I also know that I’m going to die. Maybe within a few months, or perhaps, you know, a year. I think that the biggest life lesson is to listen to people in terms of where they’re at in their head. And don’t try to talk them out of something that might be their actual reality. I know that people have their own fear, but set that aside and try to put yourself in somebody else’s place.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Dana Pepper Bouton: There are two big changes. One is that I had the arrogance of aging, I thought I would live as long as my grandmother, who lived almost to the age of 102.  I assumed it would be just like that. And that was very arrogant on my part. I’ve learned in the last six years or little over five years, I guess, that was just very presumptuous of me. And I’m quite humbled and I find that now to be a blessing. And I also think it’s funny. 

I think my sense of humor has gotten quite rivaled.  The other thing is that I’ve had to learn to slow down and not be busy, which I really liked. But I’ve  accepted the fact that I can slow down. If I’m in pain, it’s okay to lay back down and listen to podcasts like your podcasts, and audiobooks and dream. My imagination has become so acute because I’ve been forced to lay down, forced to take a break. I willed myself to pivot and it took a while. And I’m proud that I had the strength although it took a long time to finally accept, don’t find it pivot. Find those blessings, and there’s new magic.





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The Write Stuff

As I shared with you at the beginning of the year, I am writing a book. A lifetime goal, a dream, and a bucket list item for sure. Along with that dream comes the vulnerability, the fear, the procrastination and the reality of deadlines from publishers. All of it is new, all of it is exciting, terrifying, exhilarating  and a little overwhelming all at once.

I write to you every week and thought how difficult can this be? It can’t be that much harder. Believe it or not, it is. What is difficult is the voice in my head and the million new ways I have found to procrastinate. I don’t think I have procrastinated like this since college. It is the same feeling of an impending deadline that feels so far off and then you blink and its March and three chapters are due. Terror strikes, the brain freezes, panic sets in and then you have to get to work. You have no choice.

In January, I was walking with my girlfriend Sue and sharing some of these feelings. She turned to me and asked me the most beautiful question, “Do you want an accountability partner?” A resounding YES! was my answer. She then asked me what I needed to do first and by when. I went on to explain that if I could just have a detailed outline to write from by the third week in January, it would make me feel better. True to her word, she texted me, checked in and sure enough, I made my self imposed deadline to my new accountability partner. One item off the checklist down and just a book to go, no problem.

Next, I told myself once I attend my publisher’s event in mid February, then I will have a better sense of things. I did attend an amazing day where they hosted The Voices of 100 Women which is a documentary that they are filming and I am excited to be a part of, more on that later. The time with fellow women authors, many first timers like me, was amazing! I came home energized and ready to go. I wrote the forward and the first chapter and felt great.

Then life got in the way a little bit and rather than writing, I found myself listening to a podcast about writing a book. Next, I found myself joining writers groups to learn ways to create writing schedules. Simply another clever procrastination technique. I’m learning so many new ones it’s hard to know which one to use instead of doing my work. When I asked one of the amazing authors, Cindy Witteman, what she does when she is stuck. Cindy replied, ” I write a handwritten letter to the person I’m trying to talk too and I tell them my message in my handwritten note.”  The light bulb went off. By the way, you may remember Cindy from our recent podcast about Driving Single Parents and the nonprofit she founded. Once again, a nonprofit hero to the rescue! Cindy is in the photo above.

I have to confess that I am writing to you instead of working on the book right now but for the past twelve years we have done everything together. I am grateful that you are coming on this journey too. If a week goes by and you don’t hear from me, don’t worry, just know that I’m doing my work and making those deadlines!




Copyright © 2024 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 73: Heroes Voices Media Foundation

I hope everyone had a great President’s Day. We are now on the short end of a week and that is always a great feeling. On Monday, we celebrated leaders who served our country. Today, I am thrilled to say we are doing the same by celebrating an amazing organization that serves those who have served, our military. Donald Dunn was a veteran suffering from PTSD when he and a fellow veteran began a podcast to talk about whatever was on their mind. The surprising result was that when they began sharing on their podcast, they began healing.

The result of that healing was wanting to give that experience to other veterans who were suffering and the creation of the nonprofit Heroes Voices Media Foundation. Join me for an inspirational conversation that literally brings me to tears of how one veteran is on a mission to help. Truly one of my favorite conversations!


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Heroes Voices Media Foundation does?

Donald Dunn:  I was podcasting when I realized that I was using podcasting as therapy. And I didn’t realize this until about three quarters of the way through season one. At that point, I just no longer cared whether one person was watching my show or 10,000 because I was starting to feel better about myself.  I was starting to be able to get stuff off my chest that I didn’t talk to anybody else about. As a result, the Foundation came from the podcast.

It started  because of some musicians that came on the show.  I saw how they were struggling getting known, getting views and for me, it didn’t matter. But for them it did, because that was also their income. That’s how they paid their bills.  They were using their songwriting as therapy. The songs that they were singing were about the events that had happened to them in the military. So we started this nonprofit, in the hopes that we could get veterans to continue to keep using these forms of media to heal. There’s a lot of people that think podcasting is simple and easy. And then when they start they realize real quick that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. 

We know that when veterans get frustrated, they walk away from something and either deal with anger, or just try to go find something else.  So our goal is to help them continue to keep podcasting, whether that’s a little bit of education, and or the cost of some of the equipment. . The same goes with our veteran musicians. We’ve got a radio station that is underneath our nonprofit called Gunroom Radio. There’s three different stations: country, a rock channel and folk music. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Heroes Voices Media Foundation?

Donald Dunn: So some of it is just a little bit of luck. I’ve always been one of those guys, that when I get an idea in my head, and I decide to move forward, I don’t change my mind. And so I’m sitting there talking with a few of these veteran artists. And I said, “You know, what we really need is a radio station for veterans. “And they told me about an organization called Operation Encore. And I reached out to them. About that same time, the good old trusty Facebook,  started showing me an advertisement that said, start your own radio station.  And I was like, “Well, that’s it.” It was meant to be, you know, so I signed up and set it all up. Then I realized that it’s a lot more to it than just setting up a radio station.

There’s a bunch of nonprofits that help with PTSD. And I’m not under the illusion that if you’re a podcasting, you’re going to be healed and that’s therapy. But it’s a starting point, it’s a starting point to get you talking. It’s a starting point to get you associating with other like minded veterans, people that you might be able to reach out to. And it’s also integrating you back into society to where you are able to deal with people, because you will have some frustrating moments as a podcaster. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Donald Dunn: The hardest part for me figuring out is how to reach donors because we have a vision that nobody’s ever done.  I knew when I was setting this up that it was going to be an uphill battle. The reason why I knew that is because one of the things that Operation Encore said to me, that made me decide I was going to do this. When they talked to me, it became evident that the only way you were going to get the licensing and everything you needed was it had to become an actual business.

I had just closed my trucking company, and I really wasn’t looking for another business. When I talked to them, he had told me that he has spent two years talking to radio stations, and trying to get them to donate one hour of airtime to just the Operation Encore veteran artists. Wow. And they all told him no. Well, that’s the one thing that stuck in my mind.  

The radio station just grew so fast. I had one veteran artist in May when we launched and we’re now there’s probably 70 to 80 artists on there with 500 songs.  I’m trying to put together a way for everybody to hear their music. And now we need to start breaking up and adding some channels and having different genres.  I wasn’t thinking we’re going to be the next Sirius XM. I was hoping that maybe some guy from the American Legion, or something like that was listening  and could reach out to these artists and book them. If that helps put a little bit of food on their table, and keeps them driving, then that’s a win. I love that it has already done so much.

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

Donald Dunn: The thing that keeps me driving is I want to get to the point where the veterans are being known for their talent.  Veterans have a very unique way of looking at things. We’re very good at being handed a task and just said, figure it out, and they figure it out. I think that’s why a lot of veterans become entrepreneurs  because they do have that skill set. They don’t necessarily work well with others but they can figure things out on their own. 

When I started looking at this, I already knew there’s all sorts of different PTSD type nonprofits out there. But there’s not a whole lot that highlights the veteran  that succeeded from dealing with all their traumas, and everything else. I want veterans to think I’m gonna go back and live my dream. My dream was to become a musician, a podcaster or whatever their dream is. But they put those dreams on hold for the first 10 to 15 years, whatever they served. And now that they’re at the end of their counterparts careers and they’re trying to start their dream.

And you know, there’s not too many record labels, it’s gonna say, “Hey, you’re 45, I think you’re now ready to become a musician.” Right? And so what fuels me is I want to change that. And I want to change it to the point where there’s not just a CMA, but there’s a VMAs, there’s the Veteran Music Awards, there’s the genres for podcasters. You know, if you look up military podcasts, it’s going to fall under one of two categories, either mental health, or government and politics. And I don’t really think that’s, that’s the way that it should be.  I think that’s what fuels me is I want to get it to where the veteran community has a recognition and a voice.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Donald Dunn: Absolutely. If you went back two years ago, I was that veteran that we were just talking about.  I did not want to leave the house, I did not associate with people.  I didn’t go into Walmart and I had a hard time just functioning as a happy person. I went to the VA, I did get some help. I still did not do well with the therapy, as far as talking, and stuff like that. I just could not relate to that person. And that person definitely did not understand my situation.

When I started this podcast, and as it went through the steps, I kind of hit levels as well. You know, I went from that guy that didn’t want to talk about stories, you know, who was drinking a lot to now I’m that guy that drinks maybe three drinks a week.  I drink when I want to not because I’m trying to go to sleep because I haven’t slept in two days.  And so, and I do credit a lot of that to the getting stuff off my chest and opening up that powder keg and taking some of that stuff out that I have pressed down in, in me.

Then I got to that point where I was able to understand other people’s situations. And I was able to figure out some of my problems. One of the other things that I’ve done is I wrote a book for my kids. I have not published it yet. I’m letting them read it. I just sent it to them a few weeks ago, but it answers all the questions about  why they had this laughing happy go lucky dad. And then by the time they were teenagers, they had another guy that would come home, eat dinner and go straight to the bedroom and stay there until the next morning.

I never thought about the damages that you are also causing when you think you’re protecting your family by not talking about the stuff that has happened. You think you’re shielding them from that. But what you’re really shielding them from is understanding what you’re going through. My wife, for the first two years of this stuff, she didn’t sleep with me for the first two years, because you got tired of getting elbowed and me yelling and screaming for bad dreams. And then she would ask me what I was dreaming about. And I would lie and say, I don’t remember.  I credit the podcast and opening up to where I couldn’t get it to where I felt like, I wanted to share it, so I put it in a book.

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

Donald Dunn: Personally, my life changed when I got to the point where I could  embrace the words, it is what it is. And it’s a fine line, because that phrase can also be a crutch and force.  You to just say, well, there’s nothing I can do to change it. But for me, the part that is helped is when you’re holding on to all this baggage.  This stuff that you can’t change, I can’t go back in history and undo the damages that I’ve done. I can’t go back and not go to these deployments and not have all these memories. And for me, when I finally got to that point where I can say,” it is what it is”  and just let it go.

That’s where I started seeing recovery. That really came through from  podcasting when I was talking to other people. And when you get deep into a conversation with another veteran that I didn’t meet until that day, and you’re talking about stuff that I hadn’t even told my wife about. And I completely forgot that it was being recorded, or that it was live or anything, right? Those are the moments.




Copyright © 2024 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 72: Praline’s Backyard Foundation

Did you know that there are over 10 million survivors of domestic abuse in United States and that one in three households of those survivors have a pet? When a person is making a decision to leave an abuser often times they stay because they do not want to leave their beloved pet.

Join us today for inspiring conversation about how Orazie Cook came up with a solution to help both our furry friends as well as survivors of domestic abuse heal with her nonprofit Praline’s Backyard Foundation.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Praline’s BackYard Foundation does?

Orazie Cook: We house pets of domestic violence survivors anywhere in the country, be a pet boarding facilities and pet foster homes. One of the barriers for a survivor leaving an abuser is lack of housing for their pet. So we want to eliminate that barrier. So they do not they have to worry about housing for their pet and they feel secure.

What a survivor does is really try to assess what resources are available to them when they do leave. One thing the person is trying to assess is what services are available for their pet.  We recognize that one in three households have a pet. What that means is that almost half of all survivors have a pet as well. When they enter into a situation where they need to leave an unhealthy living situation the victim wonders, do I leave my pet with this abuser? We recognize that a person who abuses a person often will abuse a pet as well.

This person battles with the dilemma  am I going to leave my pet with this person who may harm the pet, or do I stay because I want to protect my pet? Pets are a huge source of comfort to a person trying to leave an abuser. We want to eliminate that conundrum that a survivor has to go through. We hope to empower them by knowing that when they’re ready to leave their pet will be taken care of when they are ready to leave.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Praline’s Backyard Foundation?

Orazie Cook: I couldn’t have told you five years ago that I would be leading a nonprofit. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have told me that I would own my own company either. This all started with the idea that I wanted to have a facility to foster dogs.  I had volunteered with domestic violence shelters and at the Humane Society. I knew that I always wanted to house pets of domestic violence survivors because of my experience at the shelter and humane society.

When I was at the women’s domestic violence shelter a lot of survivors would go back to be with their abuser because they want to be with their pet, not to be with abuser. The shelter I had that I volunteered at did not house pets or make any level of accommodations for pets. I have a graduate degree but I never thought about how do we solve this problem?

 I volunteered at the Humane Society and saw survivors come and relinquish ownership of their pet because they were going into a living situation that did not accept pets. However, that’s not what they wanted  to do so they made that a very difficult choice. I knew there there has to be a better way but just didn’t know what that way was.  During COVID we saw the rise of domestic violence. I started sharing pet fostering stories on social media and then was trying to build a pet facility at the same time. People started saying, you should become a nonprofit. I ended up applying to become a nonprofit and we became a nonprofit.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Orazie Cook: The biggest challenge I faced and I continue to face it is raising awareness on this issue.  Honestly, I feel like if people knew that lack of housing for pets, keeps us a domestic violence survivor with an abuser, they would help.  In my experience, people are so generous.  People would open their hearts, their minds and their wallets to assist a person because we either like people or we like pets.  

My goal is to educate 10 million people, hence why I’m on your podcast to really educate 10 million people. And I feel like that 10 million represented 10 million people each year who experienced domestic violence in the United States alone. We  recognize that less than 20% of domestic violence shelters make accommodations for pets.  So we need more resources available for survivors with pets. I don’t want any survivor today in 2024 to leave their pet with an abuser when we have provision for them through pet boarding facilities and pet fosters across the US.

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

Orazie Cook: When I first started this, I would get so entrenched in people’s lives. I had to really, almost disassociate because I would just get so emotionally wrapped up into this person’s life. Especially when they didn’t leave an abuser, it just hurts. But I had to recognize people move at their own pace.  I want to support them in that movement because I don’t want them to go back. We are at the beginning of their journey.   That’s when I recognized I really needed somebody to debrief with this, so I could keep making this happen.

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

Orazie Cook:  In terms of impact, there is the survivor, their children and their pets.  There are multiple levels of our work. We can put a pet into a pet boarding facility to provide emergency housing for a pet for seven days until we find a long term Foster. So that’s a level one level of impact.

We currently have 47 pets right right now that are being fostered. And there are about 20, something that are currently being boarded across the US. Those are small numbers. These 70 families that have  left an abusive situation. And they’ve got the empowerment to know that their pet is okay. And they can seek safety and assurance for themselves at a shelter or during this transition period without their pet.

We’ve changed I’ve helped change the destiny of that person’s life. They have left an abuser, that their children have left that abuser so their children are less likely to become abuser. The real impact can never be measured in a sense, but to know that I’ve impacted that just one person is enough.

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

Orazie Cook: I would love to have a mobile app where survivor could go into this app and say, My name is Susie and I have a 50 pound lab and someone that’s in Susie’s area  can say oh, we’re available to house Susie’s pet.  The app would  provide resources for that survivor in terms of what shelters are available,  what other resources they may need as they leave their abuser. And so if I had an app, it’ll make it it was a really a succinct process on your phone. They will get alert that somebody in their area needs a place to for a pet or wants to help someone in their community.

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

Orazie Cook: I believe in the community and I believe in partnership. I’ve worked around the world, I worked in public health for over 20 years. I think I’ve continued learning about myself. I never thought I would be this leader or thought I would be on a podcast.  I wasn’t a social media person before the foundation. My life is pretty private.

However, my goal is to raise awareness to 10 million people. So 10 million people will eventually see my face. When I see the number of followers, and I hate the word followers, because I’m not God  but its my job to be a messanger and get the word out and help.




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Number Three to listen to in 2024!

Storytellers need to tell stories. In order for storytellers to be effective they need an audience….that’s where you come in. Every week for over a decade I write and share but I never really know who is reading this or listening. I know you are there but I don’t know your age or what country you live in. I’m just thrilled that you are here and that you continue to share our work. What matters to me is that we have organically found each other. People who care about making the world a better place and who believe in good.

In a world where data is everthing, to me it isn’t. Confession: numbers and analytics are not really my thing. Yes, I do realize that I should be studying them. Simply put I care more about you and the story and the people we meet. However, in an ironic twist of events I had a PR agency reach out to me recently and ask for all sorts of analytics about the blog and podcast. Truth be told, I was a little grumpy about it. Honestly, I hadn’t looked in a while so I went down the rabbit hole grudingly.

I did know how many thousands of blog subscribers we have, so that was good. The podcast, well I hadn’t looked in a while. Imagine my surprise when I start googling Charity Matters Podcast and I find this posting on FeedSpot. I was stunned to find that we were listed as the third top charity Podcast to listen to in 2024. Who knew? No, I didn’t pay them or even know about them. So that was a lovely surprise!

Here are few fun facts I learned about our podcast:

  • 70% female
  • 30%male
  • 30% are age 28-34
  • 30% are age 35-44
  • 20% are 23-27
  • 79% live in the United States
  • 12% live in the UK and the rest well, I’m not exactly sure
  • We grew our audience 91% last year…whoohoo!

One thing always leads to the next and here we are. I will keep caring more about you and the amazing heroes we meet and their stories. It is very nice to know that more and more people are caring too. That is how we change the world, one person, one story, one act of kindness at a time.





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Season Seven Premiere: The Posse Foundation

Welcome to Season Seven! We are SO excited for all of the amazing conversations we have scheduled for you this season. This is our 71st podcast and there is nothing we love more than introducing you to remarkable humans who use their lives to improve others. Today’s guest, Debbie Bial is no exception, she is simply remarkable. Join us as she shares her journey as a 23 year old nonprofit founder to what she has built today with her national organization,  Posse Foundation. 

Debbie is a ray of sunshine who for the past thirty plus years has been on a mission to identify and train gifted young people who might be missed by elite schools.  Posse Foundation places these scholars in supportive multicultural groups of ten students or posses. These students are mentored, prepared and positioned for success. After listening to Debbie’s passion you will understand why.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Posse Foundation does?

Debbie Bial: We started in the 1980s when a student who had dropped out of college said, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” And we thought, well, that’s a brilliant idea. Right? Why not send a team of kids together to college, back each other up?

The idea was that if you send people together in a team, they can not only back each other up when times get rough, but they can begin to form critical mass. Send ten students in every class, you get 40 students on a campus. That’s a model of integrated diversity, a catalyst for positive change in a community.

We are a national college success and leadership development program. The ultimate big goal is that we’re building a Leadership Network for the United States that more accurately reflects the real diversity of the American population. So Posse is trying to contribute to a more diverse leadership.

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

Debbie Bial: I was 23 years old, I was only out of college for a short amount of time. And here I am with this big idea. It wasn’t my idea but I was helping to bring it to life.  Vanderbilt University was the first university to take a chance on this idea.  Luckily, there were people at Vanderbilt, who saw that this could be a really valuable thing for their institution. Right in the 1980s. Vanderbilt was very white, very southern, very wealthy, and all the women wore dresses to the football games. How are they going to get kids from the Bronx to want to go there and stay there? So they tried it.

Charity Matters: What Were some of your earlier challenges?

Debbie Bial: I think people devalue the work that goes into creating a nonprofit that’s trying to do good in the world. For some reason, we don’t see it as an enterprise that you would invest in the way you would invest in a for profit business. If you want to succeed you have to do everything well which includes building a board of people who are experts,  building a network of donors and building an infrastructure that makes sense.

What I always say to other people who are starting a nonprofit is know your non-negotiables. And if you can stand behind your mission, and not compromise, understand where you draw the line. What are your non-negotiables? Then you’re much more likely to succeed. Honestly, I think that’s about integrity. If you  just follow the money, or you’re not strong in front of people who have big opinions about what you’re doing, then you end up diluting the work.

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

Debbie Bial: Every day that I walk into the office, I walk past a row of posters that are just our graduates on the day they graduate. They’re in their caps and gowns, it’s portraits, one after the other, and they’re smiling. And they’re the most beautiful photographs that I’ve ever seen. And it makes me so happy every day that I walk past those photographs. I know all their names and I feel like this is why we have Posse.

They’re becoming doctors and CEOs, they’re running for office, they’re  in government, they’re starting their own nonprofits.  And that motivates me now.

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

Debbie Bial: I always tell this story because it’s an important origin story. And it gives you this sense of Oh, there’s the impact. It’s a story of somebody who is in the very first Posse that we ever had in 1989. Her name is Shirley, and she was this Dominican kid from Brooklyn. Her dad drove a Yellow Taxi and she was going to be the first person in her family to go to college. And she goes to Vanderbilt University. She graduated with honors, she got her doctorate in clinical psychology from Duke University. Then she becomes the Dean of the college at Middlebury, and my god, she becomes the President of Ithaca College. She is the first Dominican American to be president of a four year college in the entire United States.

I tell that story because it captures the idea of impact. Right here, you find a student who maybe never would have thought of going to Vanderbilt, maybe ever would have shown up on their radar screen. And yet she goes, and now she’s a first.  She’s building something that’s making our world better for all of us. 

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

Debbie Bial: Since 1989, we’ve sent over 12,000 students to college. They have won $2 billion in scholarships from our partner schools, with graduation rates of 90%. Our students go on to be the leaders that we so need. What makes them different as leaders is that you’re thinking about equity and inclusion in a way that we sometimes miss in the boardroom, or in the rooms where decisions are being made. And we have a very polarized society right now where all we do is fight. We can’t agree we were attacking each other. And how valuable is it to have someone walk into the room? Who knows how to have conversations that are productive? Who knows how to build community? We don’t have that and we’re trying to do that.

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

Debbie Bial: We’re already a national program. We operate out of 10 brick and mortar cities, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York big cities. We expanded when the pandemic hit, and we all went home.  Our staff, who is amazing, turned the program into a program that we could deliver on Zoom. So now we have a virtual Posse program. I woke up one morning and I thought, oh my god, we just interviewed 17,000 students on Zoom. And I thought, we could expand our reach, in cities that we’ve never been able to be in before. And so The Posse Foundation more than doubled the number of cities from which we now recruit students. We have 92 partnerships, all taking 10 students a year, which means 920 new students a year. We’re going to get to 1000.

If you really want to know my dream, my dream is that one day, I can create a fund like a half a billion dollar fund.  It will generate enough money so that I could provide grants to 100 college and university partners every year in perpetuity for Posse scholars. We’re calling it the century of leaders fund.  If every year we had 1000 students, and every decade 10,000 Posse scholars, that’s 100,000 leaders for America over the course of a century. This would be supporting 100 of our best colleges and universities in the United States. That’s what I want to do before I leave. I think I can do it. 

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

Debbie Bial:  A number of years ago, I was in a room with the CEO of Deloitte, Cathy Englebert. She was speaking to 50 Posse alumni about her life and her career. And one Posse scholar raised her hand and she said,” You’re a woman and you’re a CEO. How did how did you do it? How did that happen?”

And Cathy said, ” There’s three things you need to know. One, you need to work really hard.  Two, you need to find great mentors. And three, there needs to be someone who will pound the table for you. And let me tell you what I mean by that.” She said, “I worked hard and I had great mentors. But there was this one executive who when the door was closed,  would say to his colleagues, have you thought about Cathy? You know, Cathy’s pretty amazing, Cathy’s great, Cathy’s outstanding. Cathy, Cathy, Cathy, Cathy.” Well Cathy became the first female CEO of Deloitte, not because of that person, but in part because of that person. We have all had someone who’s pounded the table for us.  But more importantly,  can we pound the table for someone else?  That’s what I do, and if we all did that, even just for one person…that makes the world better for all of us.




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A few lessons learned from 2023

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a joyous holiday and are ready to jump into 2024. While you are reading this on January 4th, I am writing for you on the last day of 2023. For me, I can not begin to look ahead at the New Year until I have taken that moment to look back and see what life taught me this past year. There have been more than a few lessons that I thought I would share.

Lesson one: Life can change in a moment. the only control you have is your attitude.

We all know that life can change in an instant. I learned this when my mom was killed in a car accident. In a split second life was never the same. As a type A person, realizing you have no control over life events but your attitude was a lesson that showed up again for me this year.

This fall, my husband had a serious health scare. While he was extremely ill for ten weeks, he is going to be fine. One moment, he was great and the next he wasn’t. Out of those horrible weeks, I was again reminded of the gift of health. In addition, it became clear that I had very little control over the situation except how I handled it. Finding strength, patience and grace in being the best caregiver I could was a lesson in itself. Knowing that my attitude was my responsibility and a good one helped everyone was a lesson learned.

Lesson Two: Fear isn’t fun.

I have never been a fear based person but this year felt scary. Again, type A with world and economic events out of my control, I felt fear for the first time in a long time. Fear is not fun and doesn’t feel good. The economy was a big trigger with out of control prices at the pump, the grocery store and the uncertainty that comes with all of that.

We were snowed in this winter and thirteen people died in our community as a result of being trapped. I had to defer to Lesson One above and know that there was little I could do to change the weather, world or economic events. However, I could choose to be kind, smile and be grateful for all the blessings rather than the fear.

Lesson three: Health is wealth

The first week of January we all are ready to hit the gym and change our bad habits from the past few weeks, myself included. Health is so much more than the gym. It is fueling our bodies with good food and choices. It is also managing stress. Making choices to do a digital detox, turn off the news and to go outside and play. Health is time with people you love. It is faith and making decisions, a hundred times a day, that put on a path towards joy. We only have one body, let’s cherish it this year.

Lesson four: Friends are everything

Why is it that we take everything that matters for granted? Food on our table, a warm place to sleep, our health and even our friends. We somehow think that these will be there everyday. That isn’t always the case per Lesson One. In 2023, that was a lesson learned. I also learned how truly blessed I am with incredible friends. I love my friends dearly and try hard to be a good friend. When you are on the receiving end of help it is a reminder just how valuable our friends are. Mine swept in like angels to the rescue and blessed me a thousand times over this year. A most precious gift and lesson, friends are everything! Treasure them.

Lesson five: Keep Moving Forward towards your purpose

Sometimes when you have a tough year it can feel as if you are reacting to everything and not driving your destiny. The hard part is reminding ourselves that we have this beautiful gift called choice. We can choose to dream, to make plans, to act. Every choice has a consequence. Even when things feel dull, repetitive, or out of our control we can choose a positive thought. During some of the dark times this year I journaled about what life looked like when things were better. Today, I looked back and can already see light at the end of this 2023 tunnel. So don’t give up, keep moving forward towards your dreams. There is a rainbow behind the storm clouds.

We are all here to learn. There is such a short time to do it. I am incredibly grateful for the challenges 2023 brought because of the lessons that came with them. Each week the nonprofit founders that we met reminded me what resilience, kindness, grace and purpose look like. They have enriched my life in so many ways with their wisdom.  Thank you for cheering me on to continue this work and mission. You inspire me everyday to move forward towards my purpose.

So Goodbye 2023! Hello 2024! I am ready for you and all the lessons, joy and gratitude you have waiting for us!

Happy New Year!




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