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Episode 12: Alexandria House

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

 

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

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

Episode 11: Fotolanthrophy, Storytelling with a purpose

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
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Connect with us:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

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

 

Episode 10: Ryan Seacrest Foundation Following the heart

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

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

 

Charity Matters Episode 7: The Ternans, Song for Charlie

There is nothing more painful or devasting than the death of a child.  When Charlie Ternan died last spring at age 22, just three weeks shy of his college graduation, from fentanyl poisoning it devasted his family and the community.  The pill he got online turned out to be a fake painkiller made of the dangerous opioid a fentapill.  Since Charlie’s death, his parents, Mary and Ed Ternan have been researching fake pills and fentanyl and have formed a nonprofit, Song For Charlie dedicated to warning young people about this growing danger.

Mary and Ed envision a future in which the casual use of prescription pills is considered socially unacceptable, and in which sharing random pills is uncool.  They are working to change the ‘quick fix’ mindset of self-medication in favor of more organic and sustainable strategies for managing stress and anxiety. To accomplish these goals, Song for Charlie seeks to break through the noise and communicate with young people on their terms – to go where they are; speak their language, and get them talking about the danger of online pills.

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Song For Charlie?

Ed Ternan: Song for Charlie is an organization that we started after our youngest son died in May of 2020 of fentanyl poisoning, and we found ourselves thrown into an issue that we’d never even heard about. Charlie died after taking what he thought was a legitimate prescription medication. The mistake he made was he went online and got a Percocet pill. And it turned out that it wasn’t Percocet. It was a counterfeit pill made of fentanyl. So we had the double whammy shock finding that our son had died and we couldn’t figure out how. And very quickly like the next morning, we’re told by law enforcement we suspect fentanyl. Then the question was, well, what is fentanyl? What’s going on here?

Charity Matters: When did you decide to start the organization?

Ed Ternan:  When we dug into the problem and went online, we very quickly became members of this club. And it’s not only the grieving parents club but then it’s parents like us, who are literally shell shocked to find out that their kid died from something that they didn’t even know was out there.

Then we had identified this kind of information gap so we thought, okay, is there something we can do? It’s a little bit of that feeling of, you know, if not us then who?  So we started networking a little bit and thought, you know, maybe we can add some value here. Maybe there’s something we can do.

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

Mary Ternan: Charlie and helping others to save lives.

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

Mary Ternan:  This is what we’re supposed to do. To share our love and care for others and take care of ourselves and be very caring to ourselves and listen to our intuition and our hearts and souls of what we need to do every day. You know you can change from day to day but the most important thing is just walking, walking the walk.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen
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Connect with us:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

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

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

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

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Urban Possibilities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
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Charity Matters Podcast Episode 2: Rabih Torbay, Project HOPE

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

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

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

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Thank you all for your wonderful support of our Charity Matters Podcast launch. We are so excited to share our first episode with you next week.  It seems only fitting as we talk about service that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We do so through this national day of service that many refer to as a day “on” rather than a day off.

This amazing man left us with a legacy of love, compassion, acceptance, and tolerance.

If you’re not sure about the best way to celebrate this day of service, Volunteer Match has an incredible list of volunteer opportunities across the country today. You can also go to Americorps to find a variety of great resources for service.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “What are you doing for others?”

Charity Matters.

 

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Well hello 2021!

Welcome, 2021! The world has anxiously been awaiting your arrival and we are so glad that you are finally here. Let’s face it,  last year we were all a little over-enthusiastic about your predecessor.  I think we will try harder not to put too many expectations on this year. Poor 2020 was somewhat doomed from the start. To make a joke of a year worse the hindsight that was 2020 is now crystal clear. Looking back it wasn’t so sparkly. It was a new decade, the economy was thriving and as we sat on the top of a mountain…well there only seemed to be one way off and that was down.

The expectations of 2020

What I think we didn’t realize then was that rather than a gradual hike down it would be a rapid fall with many bumps and bruises along the way. We didn’t see that the fall would be steep, long, and hard.  Most agree that we are at the bottom and some may say we still have a bit further to go. I think most of us agree that we all have a big climb back and that somehow we have to find a new way to get there.

The journey of 2020 began with the euphoric New Years filled with huge hopes, wishes, and dreams.  Maybe we were asking for a little too much? Or maybe we just didn’t realize what we had in those moments until it was gone? Again that ugly 2020 hindsight. Last year taught us gratitude in big ways. We learned to appreciate our health, freedom, gatherings, concerts, parties, school and the list goes on. We doubled down on what is important and we learned how to be patient when things didn’t go to our plan. Those were the gifts from 2020.

Goals for the New Year

Now that 2020 is behind us, what is it that you want from 2021? What is the most important thing to you? How do you want to live your life? These are the questions that I have been pondering lately. Last week when I wrote about the heroes of 2020 they all had one thing in common. Each of those heroes lives a life of purpose and one bigger than themselves. “The people who are most alive, driven, and fulfilled are those that seek to lead a life of contribution and service. To something greater than themselves.” Tony Robbins was right about that.

The Big Announcement

In 2021 I want to work harder to be that person. It means being vulnerable and putting myself out there for criticism and critique. It also means being brave and not caring about the criticism but about a purpose greater than myself.  I have been working hard for months to do just that. I am very excited to announce that I will be launching The Charity Matters Podcast where you can hear these conversations first hand. It feels selfish not to share them.! Yet, it is terrifying and invigorating all at once.

In the next few weeks, you will still receive your weekly post but it will be the highlights from the amazing conversations of these modern days heroes. Some of them are old friends you may recognize and I am so excited about some of the new inspiring conversations I have to share. I encourage you to click on the listen button and to hear them. I know you come away inspired by the best in humanity, the goodness in people, and their incredible journeys of service.

Charity Matters is Ten!

Charity Matters turns ten this year and so with a new decade and a New Year comes new growth. If there is one gift I can give to you to celebrate,  it is a front-row seat to the best of humanity.  Am I scared? Yes! Am I excited and thrilled? Absolutely! Change is good. It is scary and it is the one constant in life, another lesson we learned from good ole 2020.

So welcome 2021! I am thrilled you are here. Excited to embrace what is ahead and ready to work hard and to continue spreading the message of goodness. Thank you for being a part of this journey and wishing you all the happiest New Year! See you in a few weeks!

 

CHARITY MATTERS

 

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A Christmas Wish for 2020

I know this year has been difficult for many of us. When I began thinking about how this year has affected us all, I think that we have a renewed appreciation for one another and most especially our health. This image from It’s a Wonderful Life is a reminder of what happens when we realize what we have and not what is lost. This year our priorities have shifted in the best of ways, our self-care, appreciation for what is important, and how we spend our time. 2020 has changed all of this. As Christmas is just a few days away I thought I would share a few inspirational thoughts to keep us focusing on the true meaning of the season and what matters.

“May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope; The spirit of Christmas which is peace; The heart of Christmas which is love.”

Ada V. Hendricks

“Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see the joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.”

Thomas S. Monson

“At Christmas, all roads lead home.”

 Marjorie Holmes

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

 Bob Hope

 

It is a wonderful life despite the challenges we face. We have much to be grateful for. Wishing you and yours the most magical Christmas season. Merry Christmas! 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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D’Veal Youth and Family Services

The world has been enduring mental health challenges since COVID began last March. A recent study by the CDC claims that from March to October, the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24 percent for children aged 5-11. While teenagers’ (ages 12-17) ER visits spiked 31 percent compared to the same period the previous year. So when a friend reached out to introduce me to John McCall, the founder of D’Veal Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that has been helping children and families with mental health for decades, I was excited to learn more.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what D’Veal does?

John McCall: D’Veal Youth and Family Services is a community based mental health agency that provides outstanding services to children and families. Our motto is to balance children’s lives because children come from families and families come first.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  D’Vray?

John McCall: I’m from Louisiana. In my senior year of high school, I did an internship at the VA hospital. I thought I wanted to become a physical therapist. My boss came to me one day and she said, “John,  I know you want to be a physical therapist, but I see that you’re writing letters for other patients.  That’s not what a physical therapist does, that’s what a social worker does.  Would you consider spending the remainder of the year interning as a social worker?   I discovered as a senior in high school, I wanted to be a social worker.

I went to Northwestern Louisiana and the University of Houston for grad school. Then headed to California to stay with my sister and I began working at Five Acres. I was promoted from a youth social worker to the Chief social worker, Director of social work, and co-director of the whole treatment program. We were doing these heroic efforts to reunite families dealing with trauma and abuse. I just loved it. One day, and it just hit me. Why isn’t someone doing early intervention and prevention?

In the early 80s and 90s, the intervention was not on anybody’s radar screen. Five Acres gave me free rein to do some of the most innovative things.  And I just kept saying, more needs to be done. If there’s more on the prevention side, you can prevent these things from happening. But there was no money back then for that. And so I had an idea and as fate would have it, I met the right people at the right time to make the idea happen for D’Veal Youth and Family Services. Leaving Five Acres was really hard.

Charity Matters: What do you think makes D’Veal different and sets you apart from other organizations?

John McCall: Our philosophy of mental health has always been different. Mental health is about how you think, how you feel, how you behave. If you don’t think well and don’t feel well. You can’t behave well.  Help is about how you think, how you feel, and how you behave.

So our approach to understanding has always been different. We’ve carved out our niche among the largest number of agencies, and we discovered what we do well and we stick to what we know we can do well.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

John McCall: The challenge for us has always been funding. We’ve relied on our contracts and being able to stretch a dollar as far as we could. I would like to leave D’Veal better off than when I founded it.  Historically when the founding director retires the outcomes haven’t been good. And so I’m mentoring someone now who I think is a good fit.

Stress has never bothered me and I’ve always worked two jobs.  Long hours have never bothered me, I just got accustomed to it growing up working hard. But other people don’t have that same kind of stamina. Oh, here’s the other part of my story. I’m a pastor as well. I pastor at a local Baptist Church in Pasadena. And people ask me if it is tiring? The answer is no because I see it as one. Let me understand the people I’m pastoring and trying to get them to grow and help them to lead by themselves.

Charity Matters: You are a true servant leader! What fuels you to keep doing this work?

John McCall: Do you remember the TV show the A-Team? Well, I love it when a plan comes together! If one kid gets better, if one family gets better, then it’s worth the effort. To me growing up in the south, one of my internships was at the state hospital there. I got to see the room where they actually did electric shock treatment. Ah, geez. And when you look at how far we’ve come, just a short time of understanding behavior, understand health, and particularly in the minority community. 

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

John McCall:  In 1992 when we began we only had two after-school contracts to service students. Each year the number of kids that we serve increases. When we began our budget was $280,000 and today it is close to seven million dollars. We have seen a 68% growth in the number of clients served in the past five years. Last year we received the Gold seal standard which is the highest rating in our industry.

 Probably one of our most successful models is that we have staff who are trained in multidimensional family therapy. It’s an intense model of therapists’ evidence-based practice model that’s geared for primarily minority families and kids who have substance abuse. Very intense. The kids who complete that program are 80% less likely to come back into therapy.

 In our Family Preservation program (a total of 261 family members)  the overall success rate for keeping families together was 89%, which has been consistent over the last few years. In addition, we are feeding about 20 families per week since COVID started. Those are just a few of our impacts.

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

John McCall: I would dream for us to be the premium model and leader of what to do for community-based mental health, of what community-based mental health should look like. And that D’Veal Youth and Family Services would be the leaders in that and it wouldn’t be based on politics. It would just be based on a service delivery model that we think works. That’d be my dream.

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

John McCall: People are people everywhere. People are people and understanding people or human behavior makes a difference. Being a minority leader brings with it its own set of stressors. As a CEO,  I’ve never forgotten the bridges that crossed me over. I’ve never forgotten the people who played the role in my life to help me learn and accomplish.  You know, because of friendships, camaraderie, and collaboration I learned what I know now.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

John McCall:  I used to be intense and now I am much more mellow. I’ve led protests in community protests. I’ve gone to the city council to advocate for things. And now you look at the bigger picture and I’m now more systematic and bigger picture.  I’ve learned to say no, in 100 different ways. I’ve learned how to be nice about it. I know where I am, where I’m headed, and what I shouldn’t be doing.  I can’t get sidetracked from things that don’t edify or benefit my purpose now.

So close out strong. To know, you can’t control stuff and to do my best while I’m here. And when I go, I want to be gone. I want to release it and appreciate the journey.  

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Honoring our Veterans

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who gave us the freedom to demonstrate

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag.

And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

I have to confess that I have needed to do a little digital detox since the election. The news has been draining and taken a toll on many of us, regardless of your politics. One thing that I hope our country can agree on is our veterans and today is Veterans Day. We have 22 million Veterans in the United States.  When I think of the men and women who have served our country, I am humbled. The sacrifice, bravery, and commitment are like no other form of service. Today, I wanted to look back at a few of the people and organizations we have met that honor our veterans.

Team Rubicon

In 2013 we profiled Team Rubicon that was founded by two Marines who met in sniper school.  Jacob Wood and Clay Hunt returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other Veterans who were no longer sure of their purpose. That all changed when an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Jacob Wood, Clay Hunt, and a host of other Veterans decided to deploy to heal others in need and in the process began to heal themselves. Today they have over 130,000 veterans helping people with disasters around the world.

American Women Veterans

When we think of our soldiers, the image that comes to mind is usually of a man. I remember interviewing Genevieve Chase in 2016 when she told me, “Not every GI is a Joe.” Genevieve is the founder of the nonprofit American Women VeteransAt only 38, she has served two tours in Afghanistan is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Action Badge.

Genevieve had trained for two years as a counterintelligence agent and was in Afghanistan for only two months, in April 2006, when a car bomb detonated and changed her life forever. At the end of 2007, Genevieve came home, depressed, unsure about her purpose, and began volunteering for another military non-profit. She began to realize that women veterans were not being heard, served, or listened to. More importantly, she discovered that there are 2.2 million women veterans in the United States. She has devoted her life to serving and honoring the women in our military.

Veteran’s Career xchange

In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark Brenner served in Vietnam. When he came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said, “The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”

Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran unemployment  and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” Mark spent his career in job recruitment and decided instead of retirement to create a  non-profit called Veterans Career XchangeHis mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.

photo via: Womensconference.org

Operation Gratitude

One of my first Charity Matters interviews was with a woman named Carolyn Blashek. On September 11th, 2001  she was sure that her parents were in the World Trade Center. Thankfully they were not. Out of gratitude for her parents being spared, she tried to join the military, all branches sent her home. Instead, she began sending care packages to troops deployed all over the world to thank them for their service.

Today, Operation Gratitude annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene, and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Their mission is to lift the spirits and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than One Million Care Packages.

We have interviewed organizations from Soaring Valor that honors children of fallen Navy Seals to Higher Ground a program that helps Veterans deal with their PTSD and so many more incredible nonprofits serving those who serve. Today let’s come together to honor and thank our veterans for their service.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Creating the Change

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

Rather than focus on the election today, I wanted to focus on what makes me happy. Honestly, 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.  Project​ ​Giving​ ​Kids​ ​(PGK)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​organization​  that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate service activities.  Their mottos is,“connecting kids to causes.”

 Project Giving Kids was initially launched ​in​ Boston in ​November​ ​2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children. Molly saw clearly that there was a need to leverage technology 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. Four years ago Project Giving Kids hosted their first Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Day​ ​. These days across the country provided a chance to come together as a community to help the amazing nonprofits in our own backyards. More importantly, Create The Change Days teach our children about the importance of service and the power we each have to make a difference.  There is nothing better than combining nonprofit partners and families wanting to instill empathy and kindness in their children. 

However, this year COVID put a damper on this annual tradition. PGK was committed to ensuring that Create the Change Day went on so they will be hosting Create the Change Week. An entire week of free virtual service opportunities for kids and teens. Next week from Saturday, November 7th until Saturday, November 14th  your children can volunteer and participate in amazing virtual service opportunities.

PGK will offer a series of free virtual service activities via Zoom tied to the eight causes on their website. Everything from helping isolated seniors to protecting the environment to helping other kids and fighting hunger.
They will also have a special Teen Track for older youth, so there really is something for everyone.

As Molly said, “We are hopeful we can catalyze a small army to commit themselves to join us in the simple acts of goodness that add up and truly make a difference”  Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Week ​is ​the​ ​perfect way​ ​to introduce young children to the joy of service to others.” 

With all the craziness happening in our world right now, doing something positive to help someone seems like a good idea. So register your children for Create the Change Week . 

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

Charity Matters

 

 

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Changes ahead

Two weeks ago, I headed back east to visit a friend and take in a little fall color. You may remember reading about it, in Falling Back, A Season of Change. It was a fantastic trip with long walks on crisp fall mornings and some much-needed time for reflection. All of us have experienced incredible changes in the last few months.  This year has been a wild ride for sure with twists and turns everywhere. Processing it all can be overwhelming but this trip gave me the time to digest some of it.

The Promise that was 2020

Last year at this time I was working on a television version of the blog with a major network. Many of you may not know but I wrote Charity Matters as a television show long before I began the blog. It was a crazy and exciting time with the hope to bring these stories to life in another way. Corona has put a pause on that for now. Like many of us, life feels like the pause button has been pushed and is stuck. We are somehow suspended in time and moving in slow motion compared to the pace a year ago.

Questions

While we are paused, it seems the perfect time to reflect. What did we plan on a year ago that didn’t happen? What dream do we still have that isn’t realized? What have we learned during this time? How have our priorities shifted? These are some of the questions that I have been asking myself lately.

Answers

I do not have all of the answers but I do have some. More than that, I am at peace with the innate belief that things happen for a reason. During this past year, I have learned to be kinder to myself. A year later, I think about how I spend my time and the precious gift that it is. I know that I still want to share these incredible stories of people who give their lives to better others.  Now I am open to new and different ways to do that.

Transition

So, I am excited about where Charity Matters is heading as we approach our 10th birthday next year. So hard to believe! There have been so many incredible conversations and I am really excited to share them with you in 2021 in a new and exciting way. With change comes that period of transition. That awkward time between the old and the new. Let’s face it transitions are never easy. I am hoping you will be patient with me during this time. You may see a repost or I may take a week off here and there. Something I have barely done in a decade. Please know I am not actually taking time off but working on what is coming next.

What’s Ahead

While I hate to leave you all hanging. That is what I am going to do. I do want you to know that sharing these stories with you each week has been the greatest privilege. Receiving your comments and kind words in my email box truly makes my week. Those nights when it’s late and I am trying to make a deadline, each of you reminds me why I do this work when you share these stories. I want to be clear, I’m not going anywhere and you will still be hearing from me but between now and the end of the year will be a time of transition. Thank you in advance for your patience.

Rebirth

As I said before I left on my trip, change, even the change of colors on the most beautiful fall tree will lead to a loss. And that loss whether of a way of life, of a loved one, a job, will inevitably lead to a rebirth. So here is to a rebirth, a new beginning, and a journey that I can’t wait to take with all of you.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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