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Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”

Anthony D’Angelo

I don’t usually repost interviews but with so much attention lately on policing and communities, I thought this conversation was one worth revisiting. A year ago, I was at the StageCoach music festival and got separated from my husband. Standing next to me was a former college football player, a big man with an even bigger smile and heart. This stranger, named Jason Lehman, is a Long Beach Police Officer and nonprofit founder of  Why’d You Stop Me? and he also found my husband in the large crowd that night. We exchanged information and spoke shortly after about his work and journey from law enforcement to nonprofit founder and his mission to bring people together.  Such an inspirational man and story….the world needs people like Jason and his team now more than ever.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about What WYSM is and does?

Jason Lehman: We are an empowerment educational organization that works to help build and strengthen relationships between the police and the community. We do that in scenario involved training by impacting six different aspects of a community. Not only do we provide education but we provide a three hundred and sixty-degree approach by bringing a police officer and an ex-felon to team-teach these incredible messages of peace to police officers, schools, and communities.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I had three Ah-Ha moments and two of them are the most valuable. The first one happened in 2009 when I was working undercover in Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team for the City of Long Beach. Working on this Gang and Violent Crime Suppression Team we did a bunch of things and one of them was we bought drugs from gang members who were selling them. There was an undercover drug deal that went bad. That drug deal ended up with me having to fight for my life and at the end of the fight, only one person walked out alive. Immediately after this happened, I thought to myself something could have been done differently. I didn’t yet know what that meant but I really tried to figure out what that meant. I spent two years trying.

At the end of it, I was found to have used the force necessary in the situation and my name was cleared, but that didn’t completely help. I spent two years seeing psychologists, dealing with family issues, and trying to figure out how or why all of this was happening. I was found to have done the right thing and been fit of mind but this justifiable homicide was a horrible situation for me. That was my first AH-Ha moment. In December 2011,  some informants tipped us off that there was going to be a gang hit on my life. It turns out that the person that died in the drug enforcement situation was a gang leader and the gang had spent two years plotting how they were going to ambush and kill me.

In hearing this situation I walked into a classroom at a local high school knowing that there were students in that classroom that were affiliated with the gang trying to kill me.  I walked in and spent about an hour telling them how scared I was and how much I struggled with power. The kids were listening and they were with me, they knew me as Tiny, the gang cop that worked in their neighborhood.

One kid at the end of the program raised his hand and changed my world forever. He said, “Hey Tiny, you talked about how scared you are but you haven’t said a word about me? Do you remember me? Two years ago you arrested me with a gun in my waistband, you made me crawl through the rain and layout in front of you. Did you ever think about who was standing next to me when you made me do that? My girlfriend. Do you know how it made me feel when you laid me down and put your knee in my back in front of my girlfriend? Did you ever stop to realize that gun wasn’t for you but for a rival gang? Did you understand I was raised never to be disrespected in front of a woman? I have had visions of hurting you for two years but after one hour of listening to you explaining things and what police officers go through. This is the first time I can ever say that I respect you.”

I walked out of the classroom and the principal said, “What’s the name of your program?” and I said, I didn’t have a program, I am going back to being a cop. The principal said, “We have a new website and I want to mention your work on it what do I call it? I said, ” The kids always ask me why did you stop me? So why don’t you call it that, Why’d You Stop Me? That was how we came to be.

The second AH- Ha moment was on August 10th, 2014 when we had our first nonprofit event. We had 200 hundred plus people coming and we had just gotten our 501c3.  I had not been watching the news so I didn’t know that Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO by a police officer. We were the first organization of its kind in this country that could unite a police officer and an ex-felon to teach a message of peace. We knew that night that there was really something that WYSM had to offer and that is how we came to be.

Charity Matters: What are the biggest challenges you face at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: The biggest challenge has been funding. The grant process can be very frustrating. It is hard to measure the amount of change that your work is doing and grant funders want to see the measurement. When we first started the organization, I worked with my family to raise over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to fund this work. I did this because I care enough about this organization to try and grow this message.  The other challenge is scaling the organization. We can’t scale without the funding, those are two biggest challenges.

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

Jason Lehman: I think I have two fuel sources. The first one is the change that you see in the community members after they receive this training. We have a million amazing stories. One of them is about a young girl named Jasmine Simpson, she was placed in the foster care system for years and was dealing with some problems. Jasmine went to school two days in an entire semester and on the second day I had her in class teaching about positive outcomes to situations and in that messaging, I pulled her up on stage to re-enact a scenario to allow her to make some decisions. A few weeks later the school resource officer calls me and said you need to read what Jasmine wrote. She had submitted a poem in her English class that said, “I used to hate you but now I want to be just like you.”

The second fuel source is when we train police officers and talk about being kind for 2 minutes during every stop. Often times as police officers we don’t find time to be kind.  After a law enforcement presentation, I was approached by a Sergeant of 27 years and he told me, ” I just arrested someone a week ago and I vividly remember not saying a word to them. I remember them asking for air and to roll the window down, I remember them trying to talk about their problems but all I could tell them was to shut up. After your speakers came and spoke to us and asked us what it would be like if our own children were arrested and treated this way? How would we want our children to be treated by the police if they were arrested? He said to me after hundreds and hundreds of arrests I have never humanized one and I will never do that again after your training. More than that I will do my best to ensure that everyone I supervise in our department treats every person we arrest as a human being.” Those are the types of stories that fuel me to do the work that I do.

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

Jason Lehman: An individual is affected by our training when an organization brings us in. So a payday for me is when an organization wants to embrace the training. Whether it’s a school district, a police department or one of the county’s probation agencies., that is a payday for us. We want to change behavior and now we know we have an audience, a captive audience. We get on their level if we are talking to a group of prisoners we talk about their mind being free from the walls of a prison.

When I talk to police officers I talk to them about being kind to someone to make it easier for the next police officer that pulls someone over. They get that. Being able to see the organizations buy into the message and then being able to see the individuals shift, that’s when we know we are doing good stuff.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about some of the impact you have had at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: We are the only nationally endorsed program by the fraternal order of police. We have 380,000 police officers supporting our organization, we are the only organization in the state that’s been called the best practice organization by Senator Harris. Right now WYSM operates in 19 cities and five states.

More importantly, since we started doing this work that human beings see other human beings differently. When they see other human beings differently they have less opportunity to judge them for something they are not. We are now able to see more of the human being behind the condition in order to allow them to grow and thrive, the power happens when we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before. Our work teaches people to cooperate with the authority to achieve their greatness.

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

Jason Lehman: When starting WYSM I learned about myself. Back in 2008, I made a bad decision in my early years as a cop, that could have had me charged federally for excessive force. I am fortunate not to have been charged and having gone through this was horrible. In creating this movement and mission I have been able to hold myself to the highest accountability I can think of with WYSM. I am now in a position of leadership where I can model positive behavior for others and teach others to model behavior for those that come after them.

Charity Matters: If you had one wish for WYSM what would It be?

Jason Lehman: I have two wishes, one is for the community side and the other is for the police side. On the community side, I would like to replace the 7th grade home economics class with a class called, Cooperating with Authority to Achieve Greatness.

Police Officers take the lives of more approximately 1,000 community members each year is a big deal. Learning how to cooperate with the police and create safer contacts is more important than home economics.  I think the fact a police officer is dying in the line of duty once every 62 hours in this country is also too much.  Learning how to build safer police/community contacts is more important than learning to boil water. Police officers, our protectors, kill themselves at four times the level of a normal individual. If police/community conflict and violence were reduced, I believe we could reduce police trauma and ultimately see a reduction in police suicides.

On the flip side, I would like police officers to see value in what they typically view as hug a thug training. I hope that police officers see value in this training and that this training will spread across the entire country. Those would be my two wishes.

Charity Matters: Is there anything else you want to share about your work at WYSM?

Jason Lehman: I think one of the most valuable and important assets of this training is that my partner is somebody who is a college graduate, was 2016 Long Beach’s Hero of the Year beating out firefighters and police officers. This man whose name is Rodney Coulter spent 29 years of his life in prison or on parole or on probation. He has been arrested 39 times by the Long Beach Police Department and his cousin is the person whose life I took in that undercover drug deal. Rodney and I are best friends and we stand side by side in unity and team-teach. He is incredible. His line is, “I never thought a cop and a Crip could be best friends.”  Rodney teaches gang members why cops are good and I teach the police why people like Rodney are good. The power happens when together we see kindness in people where kindness didn’t exist before.

Charity Matters

 

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

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

COVID, Caterpillars and Courage

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

Plato

 

As the world opens and we all slowly come back out of our cocoons like caterpillars who turned to butterflies navigating life from a somewhat different perspective than ninety days ago…I find myself flying above my former self in search of my mojo. The metamorphosis has happened to us all. A mere three months ago I was high functioning, multi-tasking, get it done sort of person. I could be on a conference call while emptying the dishwasher, texting, and juggle a multitude of tasks all of which made me feel successful, productive, and most importantly busy. Always busy.

COVID

Every pre-COVID moment from the 5:45 am wake up until 11 pm at night was scheduled, programed, crammed full of tasks, meetings, calls, and to-dos. Then after March 13th all of that changed. The first few weeks of quarantine were rainy, cozy, and almost felt like a holiday break with everyone home. I have always worked from home so that wasn’t anything new to me.

However, having the whole family at home working and going to school remotely was new. Making fifteen meals a day again was new. No early mornings at the gym and navigating new ways to manage exercise and stress were different. And as each little piece of my previously scheduled life eroded so did my mojo. Like sand in my hand, it just slipped away one grain at a time.

Caterpillar

The early morning dash to the gym became coffee in bed until seven. The online workouts became less about exercise and more about noticing every home improvement needed in the room. Once the “workout” was over, I stayed in my workout clothes until late in the day. Why not?  There was nowhere to go.

Lip gloss and makeup were reserved for Zoom meetings only. The days to do list became shorter and shorter until they didn’t exist. Time and urgency seemed to disappear. The cocoon became a safe harbor from all of the chaos outside.

Courage

Then suddenly, the announcement came that the world would begin to reopen. Little by little our cocoons were broken open. Now that we were “free” to go, I wasn’t sure that I wanted too. My former self, the one that made the cozy and now organized cocoon, would have boldly dashed out into this new world without fear and a to-do list a mile long. However, my post-COVID self was a fragile butterfly that came out ever so slowly was not the same creature pre-quarantine. The mojo and courage were nowhere to be found. A metamorphosis had occurred.

The fear lingered and my fragile wings slowly began to flutter outside of the cocoon. Ready to explore but there was no urgency or speed. Time had dissipated, what mattered before no longer made sense. Schedules, planning, and lists all seemed like things of the past.

The courage came to be, and stay in the present. Slowly, the new butterfly saw all the beauty around, the faces of her family, and the beauty of each moment. The mojo was gone and replaced with what matters….health, family, love, security, and faith. The butterfly’s voice said, “What good are wings without the courage to fly?” Ever so slowly the butterfly fluttered out into a brave new world.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

We Lift You Up

A few months ago before the world went mad, and in the early weeks of COVID, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa McKenzie, the most extraordinary human. Lisa began her career as an events planner and entrepreneur. Life had a different plan for her. Lisa was running a company called Ooh La Bra when her life took a turn. Using all her gifts in business and event planning came this opportunity to make an enormous difference for women recovering from cancer. Lisa founded the We Lift You Up Fund with multiple programs to support women recovering from cancer. She is a true inspiration and a bright light in our crazy world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what We Lift You Up Foundation does?

Lisa McKenzie: We create empowering group experiences for women with cancer. For a lot of women, the scary part is when they are released from the care of their physicians and friends think they are “cured.” The survivor feels like she came back from a war zone and she is still in the trenches.

Their bodies might be totally mutilated, or their relationships are severed, and now they’re living with the constant fear of recurrence. And then, of course, just the damage it does to a lot of families financially,  just to the family structure itself, the kids are scared, and so, we are that part that picks up from that point. Doctors and hospitals will refer the patients to us because they don’t have time to deal with the emotional struggle, right? So if they’re sitting in a waiting room with a woman, and she starts expressing any kind of fallout, they’ll say, call We Lift You Up and so our organization is comprised of all survivors, and by the way, I’m not one.

Get acquainted with You Night from You Night Events, LLC on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Wow, that is so interesting. So What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  We Lift You Up?

Lisa McKenzie: My mom is a cancer survivor but actually I have two friends who were the catalyst for all of this. So I was watching these two women who were movers and shakers in society completely confident, you know, going along with their lives and often they both got cancer and they totally changed, their physique changed, their confidence changed. Meanwhile, though, I had just come out of two years of total darkness because my marriage crumbled, my husband had cheated on me. And I went from this peppy person, a leader, confident and happy, and then all of a sudden I was dealing with clinical depression.

 Over time little resources, like the book The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer started filling my mind with truth. I woke up one morning knowing that I didn’t want to feel miserable anymore. I had been a prisoner of my own mind and I began to find positive messages to retrain my mind and I began listening to podcasts and read books with positive messages

God still had a perfect story for me. I was running an accessory company and the tag line was, “We lift you up.” I wanted to do a runway show to model my product and I decided to use my friends who had had cancer and that was the beginning of You Night. After that first runway show, I approached the hospital and said I would love to gift this experience to cancer survivors. These survivors walked a runway in front of 500 people, their families, doctors, and nurses cheering them on. 

You’re like you’re cheering for these ladies, not because they have a pretty gown on or because their hair looks beautiful, right? They have fire in their eyes. That is like, you just you could feel it in the air. There’s so much energy coming from these ladies.  So it’s like a pay it forward program because in the audience are the women who are bald and defeated and thinking I’ll have whatever that runway model just had. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Lisa McKenzie: I’ve always wondered why can’t people collaborate who are doing good things? Why does this happen?  When you offer something for free in emotional support sometimes we can end up with more than we can handle. If we are doing the best work we can to serve humanity then why are we judged for our overhead as nonprofits? My motivation is so pure, why would people question your intentions?  These challenges became the catalyst to stay in my lane and stay the course.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The women. I have actually heard women say, “I’m glad I got cancer so I can join this organization.” Oh my God, because they have learned things about themselves that would have never been possible. And one of them who had stage four cancer said, “I wasn’t giving myself permission to smile anymore because I’ve labeled myself as a stage four cancer survivor. I thought that that’s like my death sentence and my black cloud.” Now she said, because of us now she can smile. We provide opportunities for people to find their smile again and say, yes, you do still have permission to enjoy life. 

My other inspiration are the children who come to see their mother’s walk the runway. So there was this little girl she was probably eight years old and her mom is a mom of four really who was really sick,  like 70 tumors, and struggling. But this little girl followed her mom the whole way down the stage, and then followed her mom back. When she went home that night, she got this box and scissors and fabric and her Barbies. Her mom’s said, “What are you doing?” She said,” I want to design gowns for Barbies that make them feel as beautiful as you looked on stage.” Oh my god, the stories.

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

Lisa McKenzie: I will tell you because there are endless stories of women’s lives we changed, like just to give you an example, a woman who calls and is suicidal and comes to the very first meeting and has her shoulders slumped and she’s got a chemo beanie on and she’s looking down at the ground. Then, slowly but surely you start seeing week after week and get together after get together, her posture changes. And then after she graduates, and after they get all this encouragement and attitude they want to go forward and be part of the organization. So I have 50 volunteer participant leaders who are all not on the payroll and are graduates of the program..

We sort of realized that our empowerment experience is a two year experience, the first year is giving them back their own self-esteem and their life and their attitude. And then pulling out you find out so many things about them like they’re amazing skills, and these are women are not defined by cancer.

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

Lisa McKenzie: Give people a literal platform. We have done 14 runway shows in seven years with two classes of fifty women a year. The show is a huge celebration. We show photos from their worst moments and the most painful pictures of their journey. The storytelling allows them to be real and the oncologist says they can tell the difference between women who have been through You Night vs those who have not.

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

Lisa McKenzie: To have a women’s conference, Tony Robbins style and fill a stadium with cancer survivors. Scaling to grow the You Night runway to raise awareness for emotional care in survivorship.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The first lesson is that I can leave a legacy for my daughter by showing her by example that you can use your talents and skills to help others. I can plant a seed of compassion in my children to carry on for generations.

The second lesson is that we live in one of the kindest worlds you can imagine. I can not believe how many really good people there are who want to help. I have never seen so much love and kindness back and forth between people. The love is the addiction. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Lisa McKenzie: I have learned to be more organic in how life unfolds. You can have a pity party and be at peace at the same time. I’m learning to let God unfold the story at his pace.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Hero Initiative

“A hero is brave in deeds as well as words.”

Aesop

There has been a lot of talk about heroes lately in the media.  A hero is defined as a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage, or strength. Another definition reads that ” A hero is someone who puts others before himself or herself. A hero has good moral ethics and is someone who does things for the sake of being good, and not just a means to an end, or a reward for good deeds, but it is someone who does good for the sake of doing good.” 

I have been interviewing heroes for almost a decade and I couldn’t agree more that real heroes put others before themselves and do good because it is the right thing to do. Heroes are not just cartoon characters but in some cases where life imitates art, you can find a real-life hero who supports those that create our modern-day Super Heroes. That is exactly who I found when I spoke with Jim McLauchlin, the founder of The Hero Initiative. A true Clark Kent who hides in plain sight to help all who needs him.

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

Jim McLauchlin: I usually tell people that Hero Initiative is an organization that helps comic book creators with medical and financial needs. You all know how it is with every new movie out there. It’s a billion dollars worth of worldwide box office. Right? That guy who was drawing Batman back in 1974, he doesn’t get anything from that work, and many of these people have now created what is a huge part of our cultural landscape. It’s everywhere, but the people who actually sat down and were the artisans and the craftspeople who did it, very often are not sharing in the sort of massive financial rewards. So, Hero Initiative helps them out when they have medical and financial needs. 

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

Jim McLauchlin: You know, I’ve kind of got a two-part story. I used to be a sportswriter, and when I was a sportswriter, Major League Baseball had an organization called BAT, the Baseball Assistance Team, and it was very much a parallel kind of organization to what Hero Initiative is now. Major League Baseball is smart enough to realize that back in the 70s, before free agency, most baseball players had to have a job during the winter to make ends meet. So, when I was a sportswriter,  I definitely liked and supported BAT a lot.  Later, I got into the comics business and I looked around and I asked a number of people, where’s this organization for comics creators? Everybody said, “Well, we don’t have one. ” And I’m like, well, why not? And everybody just said because nobody’s ever done one. 

So one day I was having a discussion with a guy by the name of Mark Alessi. . We would talk comics all the time, and I brought up the Baseball Assistance Team and I mentioned, there really should be something like this in comics. He said, “Well, you know, why don’t you do it? “I’m like, I don’t even know where the hell to start. He said, “How about if I get in touch with the lawyers? I’ll see what you’d have to do to start a charity. I’ll figure out what the groundwork would be, and when I see what needs to be done.”   This was 2000.

So, about three weeks after that conversation, I get a call from Mark and he says, “Hey, good news – you’re going to get a FedEx package tomorrow. Sign here, notarized here and congratulations you got a charity. ” I said, “Well that’s not what we talked about –you said you were going to have them find out what needed to be done. I was scared to death, but it also sort of felt like destiny calling. So, sure enough, I got the package. I signed here, I notarized there, I put together a provisional board of directors and we were off and running. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges? How do you know who to help?

Jim McLauchlin: The two most common things are somebody putting their own hand up when something happens. I’m three months behind on the rent,  I’m gonna get evicted tomorrow. Can you please help me? The other commonality is, we see people being prideful and don’t want to admit that they are in trouble. People don’t want to admit they’ve got problems. So equally frequent to that, we’ll get a call from Joe Blow, who will say hey, you really ought to check in on this dude over there. I think they’re really in a tough spot. Half the time it’s somebody putting their hand up going oh my god, I’m drowning, I need help, and half the time it’s someone saying hey, go take a look at Bob. He’s not drowning yet, but he’s pretty damn close. 

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

Jim McLauchlin: When the organization started back in 2000, you’ve kind of got your brand spanking new period and it’s difficult to grow. We were barely head above water for the first year or two of the organization. For me personally, it was stressful as hell. I had a full-time job and I was running Hero Initiative, on nights and weekends. I remember at one point, I’d spent 14 or 16 hours on a weekend just trying to catch up on everything. We were still keeping our heads barely above water.

After a year or two of this, and it being really stressful, I remember I was talking to Steve Gerber. Steve is well known in the comics business, and Steve had pulmonary fibrosis and he needed a total lung transplant. Steve lived in Las Vegas and I lived in LA, and the nearest lung transplant center was at UCLA. So Steve had to come in for some tests, I would very often just pick Steve up myself. A year or two later, with everything being so touch and go, with not enough hours in the day and me kind of going crazy, I remember walking the dogs with my wife and I said,” I think I’ve got to end this. This is too much. You know, I can’t do this. It’s like a horrible responsibility that’s too difficult.  We’ll give what’s left in the bank to first come first serve. My wife just stopped flat-footed. I turned around and looked at her and she had tears in her eyes. She said, “Well, what about Steve Gerber? “

You wait for the single human example, you know of a Steve Gerber who just needs you. But you know, very often I like to think that if there are 10 chapters in a book and we all wind up at the same place at the end of chapter 10, but at least we could make chapter 7, 8 and 9 a hell of a lot better for everybody.

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

Jim McLauchlin: I know when I hear people cry. I tell people, I hear grown men cry all the damn time, and it used to freak me out. It used to be highly uncomfortable for me. Somewhere within me, I had some weird feeling like what have I done? You know, how am I making this guy cry? I really realized that what that is, is a dam bursting. I think people have heard “no” for so long – people have heard “no I don’t have any work for you”,  “no your style is dated and you won’t sell”, “no I need the rent now”.

By the time we enter their lives, they hear “yes” for the first time in a long time they have heard – “Yes we’ll take care of your rent”, ” yes, we’re getting in touch with your doctor today”, “yes we will make sure and pay these medical bills so you can get in for your next treatment”, “yes, we actually found somebody with a job for you”. I think they have just heard so many no’s. It’s 10 or 20 or 50 in a row by the time they’ve heard the first yes. It’s an emotional, visceral reaction for them. The body just takes over and a dam bursts. I used to not like it when people did that. Now, it feels good. It took me to come along to the realization that this is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. 

 

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

Jim McLauchlin: I think the impact is people. I think it is the story and I think it’s every individual. Taking this to 40,000 feet, in the view from up top for just a minute, in a broad cultural sense, we’ve probably got a quarter of the country that is one paycheck from the street. Some people literally needed $500 at this instant in time, and their life was okay. It was that 500 bucks that literally just paid for some car repairs, so they can take care of the next thing, and then everything was set out. Some people need $57,000 because there are other situations. I try never to look at it in a monetary sense. I think it is people and their stories. I’ll give you one tiny instance, of one guy, his name is Tom Ziuko. Tom is the guy. He’s a colorist and he’s worked primarily at DC Comics in his career. I always tell people, he’s done everything from Scooby-Doo to Hellblazer. I mean, literally everything in there, he’s even done the superhero stuff. 

Tom’s got some chronic blood and circulation problems and when something would happen and all of a sudden he’s got some massive blood clot and he’s in the hospital, he’s on his back for 60 days and literally can’t work. You know, and we are there paying the rent, getting groceries, and taking care of business for him. When he gets through it all, he’s one of the guys who will call and cry. He says I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for you guys. He’s now said that multiple times.

So after a little while, we kind of had the genius idea that well we’ve got enough history with Tom now;  that we basically put Tom on a basic income program. Tom needs about a few hundred bucks a month to kind of make ends meet and keep things going on. He’s got a basic income and he doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about chasing the next deadline and chasing the next job. That has an amazingly beneficial mental health aspect. Since we started doing that, his flare-ups which would be some massive right heart blood pumping problem have pretty much gone away.

The story of Tom Ziuko is what I would put on a billboard. Again, I think it’s important in that it’s human impact. I think that we found a solution that not only makes our jobs easier and allows us to be more diffused through the population. The less time we’re spending on Tom, specifically, the more time there is to spend on other people. It’s also best for Tom at the same time. So it’s really a four-quadrant kind of thing. 

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

Jim McLauchlin:  One is don’t be afraid of people crying. The other is everything is best practices and everything is active measures. You cannot just sit back and expect the world to come to you– you’ve got to be active, you’ve got to be constantly working towards your goal. I think with best practices, you will get the occasional halo effect that pops out of nowhere. From time to time, we’ll go to the post office box and here’s a check from a foundation I’ve never even heard of, but we’ll have a letter saying, hey we heard about you, we looked into you, we saw what you guys do, we think you’re great and here’s five grand. It’s because of the other active measures that we’ve done. You can’t just hang out a shingle and expect everybody to show up. You need to be working towards your goal. You need to be showing what you do, talking about what you want to do, engage people, get them involved, get them motivated. It’s all forward movement constantly.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Hero Initiative, what would that be?

Jim McLauchlin: I would say, it needs to be more than the Hero Initiative. Baseball Assistance Team is there for baseball players, Hero Initiative is there for comic creators, there’s something for plumbers, there’s something for bakers and there’s something for everybody else. The fact that organizations like ours exist is ultimately a damn good thing for the people who need it. In a broad sense, we need to be better as a society. If we address this on a broader level, we will have a more robust, broad set of societal solutions. If we could somehow do things on a broader societal level, that would be better for everybody. I think maybe it’s kind of taking that Tom example and expanding it to society.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jim McLauchlin: I think it’s made me 11 years old again, in very many ways. What I mean by that is, I don’t know if it’s changed so much as it’s reinforced who I am or who I was when I was 11 years old. I’ve got a group of friends, a tight-knit group of friends, five or six guys, we would give each other a kidney tomorrow. We’ve been friends since we’re 11 years old. Where I come from is very much a working-class, Irish Catholic neighborhood. The sort of lessons that you learn, even by the time you’re 11, about helping your neighbor is important. I think that this has really taught me that everything I knew when I was 11 years old is true, and that’s the most important part. It is really at the core of me and probably at the core of you and probably at the core of anybody else. 

I think that the lessons you learned and the way you felt and what you knew was important when you were 11 years old, remains critically important and that you should stick to that. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Crossroads

If ever an organization’s name describes how we all feel right now, it is Crossroads. Every one of us is at a crossroad, we are not sure what our future holds? What is going to happen next? Which way to go? We have all been in lockdown, and while our homes certainly are not prisons it can feel that way at times. We all miss our lack of freedom and the mental toll that this pandemic has taken on us. Many of us are stressed, have financial uncertainty, and are not really sure what the world looks like when we “get out” of our shelter in place.

A month ago I had the privilege of talking to the Minerva Award winner, Sister Terry Dodge about her amazing work with women coming out of prison. I’m excited to share our incredible conversation and recently realized that perhaps we all have a clearer insight into the topic that maybe once felt foreign. Now more than ever we need modern-day heroes and inspiration like Sr. Terry. She is certainly that and so much more.

photo credit: MariaShriver.com

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

Sister Terry Dodge: We work with women who are coming out of prison. I say it all the time I work with women I don’t work with murderers or thieves, or prostitutes. I work with women. That is the basic premise and everything moves from that point forward. People who need another channel. People need to be able to change and believe people can change if they have the opportunity. A quote that the board has latched on to that I had coined,” we love the women until they’re able to love themselves.” And it really captures what we do.

When people are being their absolute worst, we continue to love them. And that’s what they find so hard. We’re tested with what we say and there’s nothing you can do that’s gonna get us to stop loving you.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to be a part of the work at Crossroads?

Sister Terry Dodge: As you know, my brother was in and out of jail in prison for pretty much the 12 years that I was teaching and in education, but I can remember very distinctly thinking it was during the summer of 1985 and we were at a beach down in San Clemente. I remember lying in bed and thinking, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where people could go where they were not judged on their past but looked at what they wanted to do, who they wanted to become?  A place that would listen to the hopes and the dreams because that’s what I wanted for my brother.

Charity Matters: When Did Crossroads start and how did you get involved?

Sister Terry Dodge: I came 15 years after Crossroads had started, in 1989. And I did not start it, it was started by a couple who had a dairy farm that was right next to the women’s prison in Corona. And they had four foster children as well as their own four children. One of the foster sons, his mother was in prison. And when she was released, they brought her to their dairy farm to live there and work until she was able to get on her feet. They did that for 10 years before Crossroads officially started.

Crossroads was just the one house on in Claremont on Harvard, six people. It was basically a group living home. It was basically sober living with supervision. And it was the best-kept secret in Claremont. What I did coming to a crossroads was I changed that mentality. If we want these women to reintegrate into the community, they need to be part of the community. And so I became, you know, visible in the community and talking about crossroads and bringing the women with me, and, you know, 30 years later we are so well-loved. It’s just amazing.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Sister Terry Dodge: There are still people who are, you know, not in my backyard, but that’s very few around here, but it still exists. I think the biggest challenge if we’re not talking about money, I think the biggest challenge is to change the idea of the stereotype that people have. And it’s, it’s easily done when you meet someone face to face. Right? You know, when you’re on even ground and you see this is a real person.

I often say, there’s an awful lot of really good fine people who are incarcerated. And that does not excuse the behavior or the actions that they took. But, you know, it could have been any one of us, given the circumstances being put in the exact same position, I’m not so sure I would make different choices. Right?

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work when the bucket is heavy and there is no one to pass it too?

Sister Terry Dodge: The women, all you have to do is sit down and talk to the women. That’s all I have to do. And I know why I get up the next morning and pick up the damn bucket.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: You know, I can think of a couple of different times where for example, the contracts that are put out for working with the formerly incarcerated by the Department of Corrections. There are elements in those contracts that are mandatory requirements by the Department of Corrections and one of the things is that the client must save 75% of earnings. That is a requirement as a part of the contract, right?  We have been doing that for years. That is our requirement that they took. Volunteering has always been a part of our program. That is now a requirement also. We know that we are a valued agency, by the way, our funders show us off.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: I measure impact with the graduates of our program. In August, we typically have a backyard barbecue for the graduates and the alumnus, and they love telling the women who are at Crossroads now stick with it. They share what they are doing and how their lives have changed.

Last August, Cheryl was there and she was one of the first lifers to be released. Wow. And that initial wave, and you know, she was just trying to put into words what, what her life is today, as opposed to when she was trying to get out of prison as someone with a life sentence. And she turns to me and she says, “You know what, Sister Terry, what you taught me so well? How to save money!”

Another woman comes by probably every 12 to 16 months because she’s a local person. But again she was talking about her boys are now grown in a college. I mean, and when their boys would come and visit, oh my gosh, they were so darling. But just how happy she is in life, you know, and continuing to work the responsibility that she has in her workplace. Just valuing life. So I don’t have to talk about impact. I just have to introduce the graduates.

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

Sister Terry Dodge: We are not 100% successful but we are over 90% successful. What makes sense for the next step is not expanding the primary program where we have 12 people, I don’t want to have more than 12 people, but I want transitional housing. To me, that’s the logical next step.

We would create a next step program for transitional housing for another six months anyway, while the women continue to save their money, where they’d be working somewhat independent, say maybe 75% independent, when they’re in the primary program there, it’s 100%. They’re dependent right now. We have found the women are successful, but it takes so long, it takes six years and the women are only with us for six months. So that is the next success.

I really see that as the long term dream. And it’s I’m more realistic about it now than I was when I first started dreaming about it because I’ve been dreaming about it all along, is the women themselves should be doing this for each other. There should be far more people doing this work who have been incarcerated and paying it forward. 

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

Sister Terry Dodge:  Change is inevitable. I mean look at where we are just today. Oh my god you know, I think that might be why I am good at this is because I don’t have a chance to get bored. There’s always something happening but the people that I’ve met over the years both women coming out of prison and the people associated with this kind of work. The people I’ve met as I’m trying to educate the community about this work, it’s just amazing.

I see the change in the women I see the change in the community and I see the change in myself.

charity matters: What change do you see in yourself?

Sister Terry Dodge: Hopefully I’m better today than I was three years ago. I’m more passionate. I’m more understanding and hopefully, I still have a few good ideas.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Becoming a good news editor

With daily headlines full of negative information daily and even more during the COVID pandemic, it can be overwhelming. People tell me all the time that they love reading Charity Matters because it lifts them up and there are so few resources for positive news. Almost a decade ago when I started writing I think that was true. Today there are a host of amazing messengers and messages about doing good, here is one of my new favorites.

We live in this world where we all think so carefully about what food we consume, is it organic? Can we put this into our bodies? I think we should all be asking ourselves those same questions about what content we put into our minds and what digital messages we consume, especially now. We need to be making sure that we are taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Becoming your own editor is part of that process to keep a positive attitude during uncertain times.

Think of every day when you go to your mailbox, you throw out the junk mail first, sort the bills and open the handwritten personal mail first. The same process happens every morning with your email, all of the ads, the spam the junk gets deleted, deleted, deleted. You edit it out. We all do this so well with mail but we don’t this with what we watch online or on television.

Report after report says to limit the amount of news you consume about COVID-19. Think of the nightly news as junk food, you should only have it in small doses. Personally, I use our DVR to record the news and most of our shows so I can filter out the ads as well. Again, filter what goes in and don’t fill your brain with junk, you can be an amazing editor.

I have been really trying hard to focus on positive news stories, like this sweet story of a daughter flying across the country on an empty plane to say goodbye to her dying mother. The flight crew made the flight extra special and this story, you can read here renewed my faith in human kindness. We are seeing so much goodness in the world right now, I think it is one of our jobs to mine for that goodness every day as we digest digital content. We are all working hard to stay safe and we need to work hard on keeping positive as well.

A recent article I read from Berekely’s Greater Good Science Center talked about when we take care of ourselves we actually help others in a multitude of ways. The article said,” These findings do suggest that taking care of our well-being need not be entirely a selfish pursuit, even now. We can all try to do so as individuals—by practicing keys to more sustained well-being, like gratitude, mindfulness, awe, and compassion—and try to build societies that promote wellness. And you can pretty much bet that by nurturing our well-being, we will be helping those around us to cope better with the coronavirus, contributing to a better world for all.”

That is the kind of good news we all need to hear right now.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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A little kindness goes a long way

 

“Gentleness and kindness will make our homes a paradise upon earth.”
C. A. Bartol

Last week the world went a little crazy. This week we are all taking a breath, a pause and most of us are working from home. Schools are closed and we are self quarantined and wondering what do we do now? I think the answer is simply to be kind.  Every act of kindness creates a ripple effect.

I witnessed the most beautiful act of kindness yesterday when going to the grocery store. I arrived 45 minutes before the store opened, on accident. The first person in line was a homeless man, the second person was Tom who owns a local restaurant and I was the third in line. The homeless man and Tom told me to stay because the line would grow. The first act of kindness. It was cold and started to rain.  Tom, the next in line, gave us purell wipes for our carts from his car. Kindness act number two. I gave the homeless man the $10 in my pocket, he thanked me so kindly and sincerely and asked if I was sure. I said I wish I had more. I then asked the man behind me to come out of the rain and moved the line-up and he then gave his umbrella to the man behind him, kindness number five, and the kindness just kept happening. It overwhelmed me and made me cry to see such kindness and compassion.

There are so many ways to be kind and it just feels good to help one another, especially in times like this. So to keep this ripple effect going I thought I would share a few suggestions to help in ways little and big. Every little gesture moves us all forward in a better place.

First and foremost charity starts at home. So make sure that you and your family have everything they need for the next couple of weeks. Make sure you are stocked up on supplies and staying home.

After you have taken care of yourself and your family, call and check on your elderly neighbors. See if you can leave anything at their doors or have a meal delivered. Post-mates, Door Dash or Grub Hub can easily do this. In addition, ordering from these sites also supports local restaurants and small businesses that need our support right now, so ordering a meal for a neighbor is a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of small businesses another small way to help is to buy gift certificates from your favorite hair salons or local businesses. This way you help them with cash flow now and have something to look forward in the near future. A small gesture that can go along way.

There are so many people that have been homebound long before the coronavirus and incredible organizations like Project Angel Food have been bringing meals to the sick and elderly. Project Angel Food has been busy trying to prepare additional meals and could use volunteers and donations. On a national level Meals on Wheels is doing the same thing and any donation helps those who can not get out or prepare their own meals, visit their website to find out how to support your local chapter. If you aren’t going out to dinner maybe donating a dinner for someone who needs it will make you feel just as great?

Most schools have now closed or are closing soon, nearly 22 million students receive their only meal of the day at school. No Kid Hungry is determined to help these children through the current crisis. By supporting No Kid Hungry you helping a hungry child here in the United States.

As our elderly and children are the most vulnerable populations during this crisis finding ways to support those in need is important. Save the Children is an organization that has been working with the World Health Organization and around the globe to work with young children around the world. Last year Save the Children helped 134 million children in over 120 countries. In the United States, more than 14 million children, or 1 in 5, grow up in poverty. Save the Children helps children around the globe affected by poverty, famine, and disease.

So, remember that charity starts at home. Start with your own family, then your neighborhood, local community hospital or food bank and then look to the national and global organizations. We are all in this together and every little bit of kindness, compassion, and generosity makes an enormous difference. We will get through this together.

Charity Matters

 

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Uncertainty is a beach

“Life is an exercise in living with the certainty of uncertainty.”

Jason Kilar

As I mentioned last week, I took a little break and vacation, some time to unplug and regroup. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a week on an island would literally feel like an alternate universe. Honestly, in hindsight, it was the perfect time to get away. Who knew that the world would turn upside down in the blink of an eye?

On the last morning of vacation, I had the most glorious walk on a stunningly beautiful beach. A few hours later, on our return home, we were on an empty flight arriving at an empty airport and a whole new world full of uncertainty.  Back in rainy LA without a soul in sight at one of the world’s busiest airports, it was eerie how empty the terminal was with literally a handful of people in sight.

The change was sudden and swift which is usually the way change works. Change doesn’t do slow. Change requires an abrupt disruption to daily life. More than that change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings fear. We are all human and we all experience fear during times of uncertainty, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. You rarely get one without the other. The uncertainty and fear were palpable.

I felt like we were in a different place, it didn’t feel like home. It felt scary and uncertain. I went to the store first thing because we had been out of town and loaded up on groceries because the boys were coming home and the news fed my uncertainty. Within an hour of getting home from the market, videos were popping up showing empty store shelves. The fear and uncertainty were already spreading faster than the virus. So now what?

That is the whole point of uncertainty is that we do not know. That is what life is. Life is full of not knowing. We do not know what comes next.  Life is about taking the moment and making the best of it. So that is exactly what we are doing. The family is home, waiting on one, all working remotely, cooking together, watching movies at night and making the best of our time together. I’m choosing to move past fear, manage uncertainty and simply enjoy the present.

 

Charity Matters.

 

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

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Dream Kit

The founder of my elementary and high school knew what she was doing over a hundred years ago when she made the school’s motto Actions Not Words. That motto has defined my life along with thousands of alumni over the years. It is always so exciting to meet a fellow alumna and someone who grew up with the same philosophy of using their gifts to make the world better. Earlier this week I sat down with Marina Marmolejo, a recent graduate student from Yale with a Masters in Public Health, who decided to stay in New Haven to start a nonprofit to help homeless youth. An inspiring conversation about the launch of her nonprofit and App, DreamKit and beyond amazing what someone so young can accomplish to impact so many lives in such a beautiful way.

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

Marina Marmolejo: We are reinventing technology to end youth homelessness. DreamKit is a web-based App for youth homelessness that supports youth professionally, financially and socially. Specifically through two main functions. The first is to motivate homeless youth, ages 12-25 to attend events, classes, and activities that will help them to escalate out of homelessness. We pay them for their efforts in DreamKit points that can, in turn, be used to “purchase ” gift cards. The youth are essentially earning money to meet their basic needs such as food, clothes, hygiene products. This is our short term solution.

The second part of the App is the long term solutions that are created from the profiles and information gathered on their Dream Kit App that will directly reflect the activities that the youth are attending and track their progress. We then share this information with potential employers, with landlords, mentors in the community to show their positive behavior and the steps the youth are taking to move in a positive direction. The third piece is to engage and connect them to society and the community in trying to reduce the stigma associated with homelessness. Dream Kit is a platform to showcase progress transformation and resiliency among a very at-risk and marginalized population.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Living in Los Angeles homeless is so in your face. People become callus to homelessness because it is so overwhelming and we feel helpless because there are no clear solutions. Living in LA people cannot help to feel guilty. Something inside of me that made me want to use my skills to make a difference and I honestly had no clue how. Then I took a course when I was at Loyola Marymount University on homelessness that spoke to the problem of homelessness from a mental and physical health perspective and public policy perspective.

Part of the class included living homeless for 3 days and 4 nights on the streets of Skid Row and in shelters. I remember the fear, the fear of being so alone, fear of checking our bags and not knowing about our belongings, which was normal shelter protocol. Fear because we were woken up one night and told to leave the shelter because there were too many registered sex offenders in the shelter and the street would be safer. I remember seeing shelter students my age doing their homework and for the first time seeing the juxtaposition between me as a college student, who has been so lucky, and then to witness youth who just were not as lucky as birth. This experience was my tipping point and Ah-Ha moment when the light bulb went off. You don’t really get it until you are in it and I was barely even in it and it was shocking.

So I started doing research at SPY (Safe Place for Youth) in Venice while I finished my undergraduate degree and decided to get my Master’s at Yale in Public Health. When I got to New Haven I got a job at an organization called PAWS (Poverty Alleviation through Washing Soles) where we provided shoes, socks, foot care, hygiene for the homeless. Professor Yusuf read the article about our work and reached out to me. From our conversations, DreamKit was created to track the progress of the homeless much like a Fitbit giving behavioral nudges and creating a points-based economy for homeless youth. We hired a development team and launched our App last week.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marina Marmolejo: DreamKit is not a consumer-facing product that has one customer like selling t-shirts but more of a linear pipeline. DreamKit is so reliant on multiple different communities for it to be successful which is absolutely the hardest part. The biggest challenge is gaining trust with our youth, our service providers, mobile employers. How do we connect all of these partners later down the road with our youth?

In order to end youth homelessness or even to attempt to it takes all hands on deck just to manage our fifteen person team, our partners, stakeholders and trying to take care of myself and protecting my energy as well.  Working with this population reminds me that my own stresses seem small.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Two of the people on our team, Aaron and Ashley, are formerly homeless. I meet with them multiple times a week and hearing their testimonials is what keeps me going. Last week one of our students said, “I’ve never been around so much positivity before.” The work that I’m doing with Adam and Ashley gives me so many Ah-Ha moments. This mutually beneficial relationship makes me feel that I am in the right place at the right time and watching them grow spiritually and emotionally through their work at DreamKit. They absolutely keep me going.

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

Marina Marmolejo: For me moving the needle has been the incredible support from the New Haven community to support me and this work in this very new opportunity. My Ah-Ha moments happen when someone says they have read about DreamKit and for me moving the needle forward means that we are infiltrating the way that people think about youth homelessness and that we are creating space for DreamKit and shifting mindsets on how we can be creative for solutions on homeless youth. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: First, the way we are treating the homeless top-down through government programs and DreamKit is funding and resourcing from the ground up. The metric is if you do X then you will get Y. We are exploring the bottom-up approach. We are paying the homeless whether we like it or not. If we are paying for the homeless regardless of then introducing interventions when they are young helps us create a new pathway to prevent them from ending up in systems such as prisons or hospitals in the long term.  

We might as well put the money in early to use it as a positive reward-based system as opposed to paying for long term prison stays. It is exhilarating to know that if you give people opportunities for positive behavior then how does that impact larger systems like health care or the criminal justice system. As a society, we are really good at tracking negative behaviors but not the reverse. DreamKit introduces a whole new data set on positive metrics. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: I would love to have proof of concept for DreamKit and be able to scale this to other cities. Essentially, I would love to be able to go to other urban markets and have them leverage the App to operate DreamKit in their own cities. Tech makes this scaleable and people do not realize that these youth have phones. Sixty-five percent of our youth have phones and the other thirty-five percent qualify for free phones through government programs.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Overall, being able to code-switch. I find myself moving from marketing to research, from business to grant writing. The lesson has been to be agile and switch really quickly.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marina Marmolejo: I have been in academic institutions my whole life. You learn, you study and give back. I have learned that if something doesn’t exist you are allowed to create it. I am ok with being ok that they don’t exist. I know I have the ability to create jobs and opportunities. We are allowed to create new ideas for our most vulnerable populations and that is what matters.

Charity Matters.

 

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A national day of service, MLK Day

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we celebrate and honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through a national day of service. This is the 25th anniversary of a day of service that celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. Many refer to MLK Day as a day “on” rather than a day off. Today’s holiday is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service encouraging all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

There are a variety of volunteer opportunities if you are not sure where to start, here are a few ideas:

  1. Volunteer Match has an incredible list of volunteer opportunities across the country today.
  2. You can go the National Day of Service site for a list of volunteer opportunities by zip code.
  3. A family go-to for families with young children looking for age-appropriate volunteering projects is  Project Giving Kids.

Running a youth leadership organization we talk all year to our students about being a servant leader. We teach our students that they can not lead unless they serve. When we ask these middle school students to give us examples of true servant leaders Martin Luther King is always at the top of their list. We are never too old or too young to serve and if it isn’t today, no pressure there is always someone in need of a little help.

So take a peek at some of these great opportunities to get involved and ask yourself, “What are you doing for others?” 

Charity Matters.

 

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True 2020 Vision

“The eyes are the window of the soul.”
 English Proverb 

I don’t usually repurpose stories but this one was more than worth sharing and is truly all about 2020 vision. I turned on the TV shortly after New Years to find this story about a young boy named Jonathan Jones. Jonathan was born color blind, as are 300 million people. One in 12 boys in the United States each year is born color blind. Can you even imagine a world without color? What is a sunset like without it?  In November Jonathan was given a special pair of glasses that gave him the ability to see color for the first time. The youtube video below went viral.


What happened next was what I wanted to share. Instead of just receiving the gift that gave Jonathan color vision, he wanted to pay it forward. Jonathan and his mom, Carole decided to start a Go Fund Me page to raise funds to provide even more glasses for other kids just like him. They asked for $350 donation on their Go Fund Me Page, which would pay for one pair of glasses. The first night  Jonathan’s page was already at $1,000.

A few weeks have passed and at last report, Jonathan had raised more than $35,000. When the company that makes the glasses, EnChroma, heard about the story they committed to matching his donation which is already well over 130 pairs of glasses or a world full of color for so many deserving people. True 2020 vision.

Charity Matters

 

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The Kindness Campaign

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” 

Scott Adams

Say what you will about social media but sometimes it brings amazing people together. A while back I was commenting on a LinkedIn post about Kelli Kelly, you may remember her from Hand to Hold in Austin? A fellow Texan, named Andra Liemandt, also commented on the post and her company read The Kindness Campaign. I was naturally intrigued and of course, it was a nonprofit.

I am not a cyberstalker I promise but Andra’s LinkedIn intrigued me. She had a career in large corporate account management and is the founder and drummer of the Mrs, a pop-rock band that has been on Good Morning America and featured in a host of magazines and opened for Bon Jovi. Naturally, I needed to know more. So I reached out to her and we connected via phone this past week for an amazing conversation that I hope leaves you as inspired about kindness as I was. What better way to start a New Year and decade than with kindness?

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Kindness Campaign does?

Andra Liemandt: We are on a mission to normalize emotional health. We all know that bullying, loneliness, and isolation exists but instead of allowing them to go unchecked we provide positive and acceptable tools that really promote emotional health. At the heart of what The Kindness Campaign (TKC) does it aims to create societal change by teaching emotional awareness, empathy, community and most importantly the development of building a healthy positive self-image. The place where we all tear ourselves down the most is with ourselves and that self-image is really where we try to build people up. Bullying has gone beyond the walls of our schools and now we need more help to access our teens and that is why we are building out tools to do that. That is exactly what TKC does.

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

Andra Liemandt: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens. Several years ago this touched my life in a very powerful and profound way when a dear friend of ours took her own life and she was just 12 years old and it was a direct result of bullying.  There was no path for me to start a nonprofit or any inkling that I would be sitting here five years later talking to you about this. That event changed my life forever and was the catalyst for an ongoing healing process with my daughters.

We just couldn’t get our heads around what had happened. As a mom of two girls, I was terrified that something could happen to them. I began worrying what if my daughters felt alienated and I didn’t know, what if there was a bully, so many fears popped into my head. So I started a feelings journal where the girls and I could discuss emotions like grief and anger. From there the project grew to a general feelings journal, which I copied and took into my daughter’s school. Before I knew it the principal asked for a copy of my homemade journal and then shared them with four other schools. In 2015, we launched The Kindness Campaign as a 501c3. It was really something I was being led by and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other as I feel called to do today as this journey keeps going.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Andra Liemandt: Besides the fact that I am working against the second largest cause of death in teens? That is the real challenge. Since the beginning when we started out as this simple little feelings journal, we then just scaled very quickly. By far I think one of our biggest challenges has been ensuring that we are scaling the right way being able to meet the demands for the tools that are being created. I think every entrepreneur has to approach growth differently and because of the nature of our work, it is extremely important that we are serving our end-users, schools, and educators in the most quality way possible.

We have been super laser-focused on proof of concept along with our programs and curriculum. Our biggest challenge is trying to meet the needs of those that we serve. We receive 150 requests nationwide and are currently serving 40,000 students in 82 schools.  This year our curriculum is available nationally through Erin Condren’s stores and the TKC website so we are excited about that. The reality is that the need is always going to be greater than anyone can meet. Partnerships like Erin Condren’s and so many other amazing corporate partners make this work possible in building emotional health a reality.

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

Andra Liemandt: When I got into this work my motivation was simply to save lives. I carry my friend’s daughter in my heart always. Being able to give families and teachers solutions to address emotional health and to have conversations is so powerful and fulfilling.  I was at the gym recently and a woman came up to me that I didn’t know and she thanked me for connecting her and her daughter. The woman said, “You don’t understand we did not speak the way we are speaking now because of the tools you gave us. I can not thank you enough.” We are creating tangible tools for emotional health and I believe that the work we are doing now will have an impact on suicide statistics in the future.

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

Andra Liemandt:  There are so many sweet stories, emails from parents and teachers. We have an event called the KIND5 and it is a four-hour program where I walk away feeling moved by the day and from the difference we have made in our student’s lives. I receive notes telling me about how impactful it was and I’ll never know the complete one hundred percent impact but I do feel that there is trajectory for these students who might not ever have this type of opportunity. We did one recently called I Am Enough and we had our signature activation, the Magic Mirror , which is one of our tools. When I am there with the kids it always reminds me that we are making a difference. It is not about me, it is about the tools and opportunities we create. I am simply a vessel that allows these opportunities to flow through me and happen.

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

Andra Liemandt:  I believe there is a touchpoint from the first time somebody ever felt kindness to when it actually gets played out years from now. What I do know is that from the very first day that I knew this (TKC) was going to be something more than me and my daughters in my apartment working on the feelings journal and was going to become a nonprofit because it was growing so fast.  I said then,”that our work needed to be measurable.” I knew then that we needed surveys to collect data and I do believe that there are direct outcomes from our work. In doing that we have had proof of concept tracking data from the beginning when we were one school and then five and now 82 schools. I do actually believe that there are indirect outcomes to measure emotional health. 

We serve over 40,000 students nationally with our online programming. We just had our second annual House of Kindness event, we don’t do benefits but house parties and we had a great success which will go along way in serving our students. We launched a national PSA before every AMC movie in the fall because we have been so blessed with incredible partnerships. We have a national reach because of our online programming, which we are incredibly proud of.  Success is measured in so many different ways.

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

Andra Liemandt:  I’m a big dreamer. Personally, my dream is for TKC’s reach to be so large, that schools and families can access us anywhere. We mean it when we say we want to raise a generation where emotional fitness is normal – as normal as physical fitness, and just as mainstream, too. We have life-changing tools for students, and we’re constantly innovating. So, my dream is to put these resources within reach for anyone, because children from all walks of life deserve access to this critical health metric.

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

Andra Liemandt: Life lessons evolve as you are on the journey. Where I am today on this journey and what we talk about at TKC is what if emotional wounds showed up on our bodies the way that physical wounds do?  We would all take this conversation a lot more seriously. I think about this on a daily basis.

When I look at my life today, my biggest life lesson is from the Magic Mirror (video above) and that the life lesson is that everyone wants to be seen and heard. The Magic Mirror has also taught me that attention is a really important healer. When we feel safe and secure we then have space for empathy. I have learned that through kindness organic outcomes from emotional health happen when we feel connected to one another, then we feel seen and heard.  Very often the impulse to bully just drops away. When we feel safe and secure we have emotional space for empathy which can be taught and that is huge. All of these lessons are the lessons that have added up in these past six years. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Andra Liemandt: This journey has allowed me to think in a deeper, calmer and more empathetic way for others. It has allowed me to give myself grace and forgiveness.

 

Charity Matters

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The heroes of 2019

“Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

There is nothing I love more than meeting new people. To me, each new person that I come across is like unwrapping a gift. I love learning people’s stories and what makes them tick. Meeting someone new is a never-ending source of joy for me. Some people collect certain things, I collect people because to me they are what matter. This past year I am so excited about the people that WE met at Charity Matters. When I meet amazing people so do you. Who wants to open a gift and not share it? So before we look ahead to 2020 I wanted to take a brief moment and look back at some of the extraordinary humans and their organizations that came into our lives this year.

We began 2019 with Tracy’s Dogs. The founders of Tracy’s Dogs, Tracy and Scott Whyatt, a Texas-based nonprofit that rescues thousands of dogs and partners them with new homes said to me, “People don’t find dogs, dogs find people.” Two weeks after that interview a dog from Texas named Lucy found us. An unexpected blessing of 2019 and the gift that keeps on giving. As they say, “Charity starts at home.”

photo credit: Classic Kids

Animals were not the only last legacy from the year. We met amazing women who turned their life challenges into thriving nonprofits. The remarkable Becky Fawcett who learned what it cost to adopt a child and turned it into her life’s mission to help families fund adoption with Help Us Adopt.

Jill Ippolito who showed us the power of love and healing with her inspirational work in juvenile halls with trauma-informed yoga with her nonprofit Uprising Yoga. Teaching and training minors in jail to learn how to process their trauma and break the cycle of pain. Jill used her past experience to help reform prisons across the country and heal generations of children who have experienced trauma and inflicted it on others to learn a new path towards healing. Jill is a truly lovely human and reminded me that whatever gift it is that we have, we need to share it with the world.

Then there was Marcella Johnson who lost a child at birth and used that pain to fuel her nonprofit The Comfort Cub. Marcella and her team provide healing weighted stuffed teddy bears/Cubs to help those mothers who grieve. We had such an incredible conversation that we set up lunch after and a friendship was born, she is a truly special human.

Marcella wasn’t the only new friend made in 2019, Roberta Lombardi the founder of Infinite Strength was so inspiring with her mission to financially assist women going through breast cancer pay for things such as daycare. We talked for over two hours and could have kept going. She is remarkable with her passion for serving and supporting these women and a true girls girl. I adored getting to know Roberta.

This year was not just about the girls, there were amazing men accomplishing unbelievable work, one of them was Seth Maxwell of the Thirst Project. At 19 years old Seth discovered how many people on this planet live without clean drinking water and made it his life’s mission to change that. Now at almost 35, he has. Seth’s organization has actually taken that number from 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water to 663 million and he is still going strong. More than that Seth is using his passion to inspire thousands of high school students across the country to join him in his mission.

Speaking of missions we met Colin Baden, the former CEO of Oakley sunglasses turned nonprofit founder, who continues to find ways to use technology to support Veterans with Infinite Hero Foundation. Colin’s humility and commitment to our Veterans left a lasting impression on me and the thousands that he serves. Our conversation left me in awe and reminded me that true heroes serve from a place of humility and Colin is a true hero.

While we met so many incredible and inspiring humans this past year there was one person whose positive attitude, commitment to joy and service left an indelible mark on me. His name is Hal Hargrave and he is the founder of The Be Perfect Foundation. Hal is a paraplegic and his organization works to help provide wheelchairs, cars, physical rehabilitation and a list of services for those with spinal cord injuries. Hal is someone who chooses joy and to live his life in the service of others.

All of these nonprofit founders serve humanity each and every day in so many different ways. I loved every single person I had the privilege of meeting this year and I loved introducing them to you just as much, I wish I could highlight them all here. 2019 was an amazing year and I am excited about what this New Year and decade will bring.

I think the perfect way to wrap up 2019 is with a quote from Hal Hargrave. I think Hal speaks for all the remarkable nonprofit founders and heroes when he said, “I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision every day to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. “

Wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Charity Matters.

 

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

Copyright © 2019 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.