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Thankful this Thanksgiving

Today is the day that we take time to be thankful. This year, this day and this moment I am grateful for many things, my guess is for many of the same things you are;  health, family, friends and for all the amazing nonprofit founders who continue to inspire and teach so many invaluable life lessons.

This year has been a challenging one for me personally with more loss than I was prepared for. Yet, every time
I have a conversation with one of these inspiring founders its as if someone hit a reset button for me that leads me to gratitude. Each founder has sacrificed their life to make others lives better. Every one them remind us all what really matters and just how much we have to be grateful for each and every day.

So  today, I am grateful to each person who has come into my life and for all of the lessons they have taught.  Most of all, I am grateful to each of you who continue to inspire, teach and motivate on this journey. To each and all of you, I wish you and your families a very joyous and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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 © 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.

The Power of Storytelling

Some of my earliest memories were the stories my parents told me. My father is Irish and loves to tell a good story. While my mother loved to tell stories of our family’s history and read to us as children. I could never get enough. It wasn’t until years later when I realized that my gift of gab actually was also a gift for storytelling. For the past decade, I have been telling stories to you each week about remarkable humans here at Charity Matters.

So when Professor Biel reached out to me from USC Marshall School and asked me if I would talk to her class about storytelling and nonprofits, I was really excited. I love going back to my alma mater and more than that I love telling stories. Today, rather than a podcast I thought I would share a little about what I shared with the class this past week.

There’s an old American Indian Proverb that says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world”.

I’m excited to talk about the power of storytelling and how we use stories to learn, to connect, and to build relationships and ultimately businesses/nonprofits specifically. If you think about it, one of the first things we learn as children is stories. Our parents read us stories and we watched Disney stories in movies. Stories are part of who we are and where we came from. There is a story in all of us.

The best stories are true, they have a beginning, a middle usually with a conflict, and an ending we hope with a happy resolution.  

So rather than introduce myself properly, I’d like to tell you a story….my story. the one that changed my life from having a  career in the software business to becoming a nonprofit founder, a storyteller, and a person on a mission to make the world better one story at a time.

Spiritual Care Guild

We tell stories get volunteers, communicate our vision, connect a community, to raise money…because in the nonprofit world the product that we sell is humanity….and we don’t sell, we tell…stories.  Stories of those we serve. The stories are the connective tissue for our organization. They are the threads that connect our quilt and in this case, the quilt is a nonprofit. To sell your vision you have to tell the story.

 Neurologists have studied storytelling and there are three main things that happen to our brains when we hear stories like the one I just told you

  1. We remember, our neural activity increases fivefold
  2. Stories generate empathy, like the empathy we just had for the girl with her pink blanket because our brains generate more oxytocin, (OXY-TOE-SIN) which predicts how much empathy we have.
  3. Stories bring us together- we all collectively felt that compassion for that family, the empathy, which is why we watch movies on dates. We just all shared an experience and felt like we were in that room with the little girl.

After a few years of working with an incredible group of volunteers to launch the Spiritual Care Guild, I began to wonder who were these other people who started nonprofits and why? What was their story? At the time there wasn’t People Magazine Heroes Among Us or CNN Heroes or Upworthy…I realized there were 1.5 million nonprofits in the US and I wanted to know who started them and why? So I decided to find these nonprofit founders and tell their stories. 

Charity Matters

I realized that if I can help the helpers I could help the most people. My impact and my skills as a storyteller would do the most good. I also quickly realized that all of these nonprofit founders had the makings for a great story. They had a conflict; a struggle, an obstacle, and that they had overcome their adversity and used it to help others, the happy ending….which was the perfect recipe for great stories. Nonprofit founders wanted to tell the stories of their work and not necessarily their own which was often the most powerful story of all. I am still telling these stories and fascinated by them each week. These are my people, people who have given their lives to serve. They are true leaders.

This leads me to a key component of any business/nonprofit and that is leadership. 

TACSC

 In 2013, I took over a 32-year-old nonprofit in need of some updating. Their messaging and stories didn’t exist but what they did (and did well)  teaching leadership did exist.  So we started by defining the work TACSC does and sharing that message…in order to lead you to need to:

  1. Have a vision, a plan
  2. Be able to communicate that plan
  3. Be a lifelong mentor
  4. You can not lead unless you serve

We began with that message and went in search of stories from our alumni and then found stories from those students we were serving,  what was their story? Those stories took TACSC from serving 300 children a year to 3,000 with only 2.5 employees. That is the power of a story and a message. Each of these stories built and rebuilt three brands. Two of which are nonprofits, Spiritual Care, Charity Matters, and TACSC. They all started with a vision, then a story to communicate that vision, each organization brings along mentors and all three based on serving others. Leadership and nonprofits follow the same path.

Remember the power that stories have to connect us, build relationships, and command the most influence in your community, nonprofit, or business. So if you do one thing with all of this …..think of what your story will be? How will you use your gifts to serve others? 

Make your life a story worth telling!

 

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 © 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 28: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN)

We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month but did you know November begins Pancreatic Awareness month? Believe it or not, November is just days away. A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a new board member of the nonprofit I work for. We were having a fantastic conversation about the nonprofit she works for called Pancreatic Cancer Action Network or PanCAN. She asked me, “Why haven’t you interviewed PanCAN for Charity Matters?” My reply was, “I would love to!” Like that she had me introduced to PanCAN’s first employee, President, and CEO, Julie Fleshman.

I have to admit I was a little intimidated because under Julie’s leadership PanCAN grew from one employee to 150. PanCAN has funded over $149 million dollars in research for Pancreatic Cancer and created a platform that has fueled incredible change for the Pancreatic Cancer community. Despite my fears, Julie was beyond amazing, passionate and so much fun to talk to. Join me today to meet this inspirational leader and learn about her incredible journey in changing lives.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network does?

Julie Fleshman: PanCAN is a national patient advocacy organization focused on pancreatic cancer. Our vision is to create a world in which all pancreatic cancer patients will thrive. So every day, that is what we are focus on. We fund research and clinical initiatives, we provide patient services and we do government advocacy work in Washington, DC to increase the federal resources. And we have an amazing network of volunteers all across the country that are helping us to raise awareness, visibility, and funds for the disease.

Charity Matters: Tell us how you got involved and went from employee number one to CEO?

Julie Fleshman:  I got involved 22 years ago now, it is hard to believe. In 1999, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was only 52 years old. He hadn’t been feeling well, but they couldn’t really figure out what was wrong with him. At one point, he was told to go home and take some time because they thought he was just having indigestion. Unfortunately, it ended up being a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He only lived for four months after his diagnosis and we were devastated.

I had never heard of pancreatic cancer, we really didn’t have cancer in our family. And I could not believe that there was absolutely nothing that could be done that there were no treatments. We were basically told, go home and get your affairs in order. So after he died, I was mad, and I started to do some research back in those early days of the Internet.  PanCAN had just been founded in 1999 by three people who had also all lost their parents the disease. One thing led to another, sort of serendipity,  I ended up being hired as the very first employee in 2000.

Charity Matters: What Have been your biggest challenges?

Julie Fleshman:  I think there are two sets of challenges. One is the challenge of this disease. It is a challenging disease scientifically. Certainly when PanCAN was founded, literally, there was very little known about even why it was challenging. So the baseline was really nothing. There was so little research happening anywhere in the country focusing on pancreatic cancer. So there was that challenge of how do we even attack this? What is the strategy? And what do we do?

Then there’s the challenge of the organization and the operations and raising money and what our programs going to be. And hiring staff and all of those things.  I think we did a really good job in the early days of creating excellent programs, that we’re serving the pancreatic cancer community.  Our patient’s services were literally providing services to patients and families.  Also on the research side, really looking at the big picture and saying, “Okay, at this time, we’re small but where can we have the greatest impact with the least amount of dollars?”  I think we did a good job being smart in those early days about what those things were. You know, we just feel very lucky that it is an amazing community, from the research community to the constituents, volunteers, and donors, who have helped us to continue to grow year over year.

Julie with Patrick Swayze’s widow, Lisa Swayze

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

Julie Fleshman: I think although, the progress is never as fast as we want it to be. But you know, you meet people and you share their stories and you talk to a patient and maybe that they’re not going to beat it, but they want to be a part of helping to make sure that it’s better for future people. That just gives you that inspiration to say, we got to keep doing this for them. If they’re not here to get to be that voice, we have to be that that voice for them. And there are successes, right? It’s not maybe the big win that we all want that there’s a cure, but there are steps every day towards that. So you really have to celebrate sort of those small wins.

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

Julie Fleshman:  Ultimately, we’re trying to change patient outcomes. So for cancer and looking at pancreatic cancer, we sort of use the five-year survival rate.  That’s the kind of Capstone it doesn’t move very quickly, but it has moved from 3% when I started doing this, to 10% today. That is still unacceptable but is absolutely moving in the right direction.

Then you have to look at sort of all the things day to day. Like the research grants that we’re funding and when and those researchers go on to publish that work and that publish work changes practice. Then the next researcher who’s now going to take those that outcome and they’re going to add to it to get to the next step.

 Just last year alone, we had 45,000 interactions with patients and families through email and phone calls and people attending our webinars using all of our different patient services. I know from the feedback that we get, how meaningful that is to people. Especially those families that connect with one of our case managers and utilize them throughout their journey that when that family member dies, usually our case managers get the most beautiful email or card from the family saying, thank you for being there with us through this whole journey and so even though the outcome isn’t what we want it to be yet they add to the making it a more positive experience.

 I can see there is a pancreatic cancer research community today that didn’t exist. There was not a research community focused on pancreatic cancer 20 years ago. There are more resources being put towards the disease across the board and all of that is helping to drive and accelerate progress. I feel like every year now there’s sort of this major scientific breakthrough. That before it felt like it was a really long time between when it felt like we were making progress.  You can definitely see the momentum is picking up and, and the rate of progress is much faster.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Julie Fleshman:  It is hard for me sometimes to believe it was 22 years ago that my dad died. I mean, really, it feels like a lifetime ago in some ways. And in other ways, I can still remember sitting on the couch next to them and having a heart-to-heart. Those are things when you lose a parent, or someone close to you, that are life-changing, and really do change the way you view the world.

I always think God, I’d love, of course, my dad to be back. But I also cannot imagine my life without PanCAN. This has become such an important part of who I am and what I do, and just everything, it’s so important to me. So I feel like, in this strange way, he gave me this amazing gift. Right? And it’s not just doing the work, but I  feel passionate and committed to being a part of changing outcomes.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with 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 27: The Pollination Project

I have to confess, I have never been on a dating site. Recently, one of my team suggested a site called PodMatch. While not a dating app, rather an app for connecting podcasters and guests. I admit, I was skeptical but willing to try. Through the most unexpected and roundabout way I had the privilege of being connected to today’s amazing guest, Ariel Nessel the founder of The Pollination Project.

Ariel is a successful real estate developer by day, a practicing yogi and an inspirational human being. You are not going to want to miss this incredible conversation about what inspired Ari to rethink philanthropy and create  The Pollination Project.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

Ariel Nessel: When you think about what is the most synergistic form of relationship in the world, people often point to pollination.  The reason is because  you can’t have a distinction between who is giving and who’s receiving in that relationship. That’s where the name, The Pollination Project, oriented from.  Like our name, pollination is a process that starts out small but has a huge impact.  Our theory of change is that we work on small grants. We are supporting individual changemakers  who feel a unique calling to be of service in the world.

Our grantees do this work on the basis of volunteerism, as opposed to a place of occupation. We’ve given out over 4000 grants and  most of the grants are $1,000 each. We also provide service to support our grantees in their unfolding journey of service. We’ve placed grants into over 120 countries. The commonality of all the things is that we are creating something that develops more compassion in the world. Compassion, for me, is defined as the longing to reduce the suffering of others.

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

Ariel Nessel: I’ve been active in philanthropy,  before founding The Pollination Project, as an as an advocate for things that I really cared about. Through that process I started giving and contributing to different groups that I thought were doing really good work in the world. My journey of philanthropy deepened but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I would have liked. I was writing bigger and bigger checks but I wasn’t feeling nourished inside by a bigger check.  It was the intimacy I had with philanthropy that felt like a cog in the wheel.  I felt like there was so much more to offer than financial capital.

So what came up for me was this question of how can I expand what I’m calling to offer? How can I feel more engaged in the world than a few minutes being generous, financially?   How can I support and nurture and empower the most good from people? What came out of that was this idea that there’s probably some other people who want to do good in the world.  How do we find those people, make them and acknowledge them? Then, how do we make them move from that point, too wouldn’t it be great if I did something about that?

So the idea that came out of it was to give one grant a day.  Picking a whole network of people to work with in different movements who are asking these questions for themselves. Then to figure out which of those people are at the right point in their unfolding path to to be resourced with these grants to do something in the world. That became The Pollination Project.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ariel Nessel:  There have been myriad challenges along the way. Early on, it was the question of how do we find these people? You want to give a grant every day, you want to find good people. So how do we locate those people? Further down as it was unfolding, became how do we provide more than money? What is it that people really need? Other problems, that came up were questions like how do we change the focus for our grantees? We wanted to know who they become by accomplishing their project?  

We’ve seen so many people who, as they grow their projects,  their original motivation gets lost. Sometimes it becomes about building something, as opposed to like leaning into that seed within them that they cared so much about. How do we  nourish that seed of caring?

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

Ariel Nessel: I think one of things I’ve learned from my business experience is that what gets measured gets done. So it’s really important, what we measure what we’re paying attention to.  For The Pollination Project we have how many grants we’ve given. We measure do they do what they set out to do? How many volunteer hours were provided in it? What do they write about how they were changed the process? Who was who was affected by their project? What percent of our dollars go to grant making versus overhead.?

The impact to be able to tell almost 5000 stories becomes really important to us. And even the stories that aren’t always a success.  It’s not like it’s only worthwhile celebrating if you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish. Our failures often lead to greater success down the road. What do our grantees learn in the process of their mistakes? This is what’s beautiful about the $1,000 grants, they’re small enough that we don’t get attached to every one of them working out. What do we learn from the ones that don’t work out? Where do those people who try it and “fail”, what do they learn from the process? 

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

Ariel Nessel:  I think the biggest dream I have is knowing that we played an enormous part in uprooting apathy around the world.  So that anyone who ever had their own dream of how they can use their unique knowledge to make the world a better place, does something about it.  So that these change makers knew that someone saw them, acknowledged them and was there to resource them. That there were so many grantees around the world that it wasn’t just us but that people copied us all around the world. So that philanthropy wasn’t just done by giant organizations, but there were innumerable smaller positions and individuals resourcing anyone who felt a similar calling.  I think that would be my dream.

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

Ariel Nessel:  So many lessons but asking what do I want for the world? And how can I be a person who helps manifest that? How do I live as an exemplar of what I wish for the world?  Because purpose is such a big part of my life, I’ve created this acronym on what to engage. The acronym is pursue.

P is for personal transformation. Where do I need to grow as a human being?  I started The Pollination Project where I wanted to grow and be able to see the best in others. I wanted to grow having a daily practice of generosity and feeling a deeper embodied sense of service.

The U is for unique.  Where am I uniquely positioned? What am I uniquely called to do?  I felt really called to support changemakers.

The R is for relationships. What are the relationships I have? Which ones do I get to spend more time with those people I really care about and want to learn from?

 The S is serendipity or synchronicity. What is life pushing me towards? What success are you manifesting without too much effort?  Where is there a sense of ease like a finesse that comes from things? 

The U is for understanding.

The E is for external transformation or efficacy. Asking, where can I have the greatest impact? So I try to integrate that with all these other parts of it. A big part of the worlds problem is apathy and indifference. One way to address that is to demonstrate that there are people who have moved beyond apathy.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Ariel Nessel: I think that all of the above has really changed and made this path so much more joyful for me. This is why a harvest approach seems more appropriate to me than the activists. There’s not an exhaustion when you’re just going where there’s flow. You don’t get tired. Rather, it’s a regenerative energy. There’s a joy to giving, to service and life.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with 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.

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

This October, I wanted to begin with a throwback conversation to honor those who began what we now recognize as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In my world, the more people you have helped the bigger the celebrity you are. Three years ago I had the privilege to talk to Myra Biblowit, the President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). I was everything you would be when meeting your hero…nervous, anxious, excited, and truly thrilled to share her remarkable journey changing the lives of millions of women around the globe.

Our conversation was timely because just two days before we spoke, a friend of mine had a mastectomy. Myra was beyond lovely, compassionate, soulful, and truly inspirational in her commitment to prevent and cure breast cancer. Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, this disease doesn’t care what day or month it is. Every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Myra, her team, and a remarkable group of people are all changing the game with their work. After our conversation, I kew that cancer doesn’t stand a chance with this beautiful lady starring it down.

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

Myra Biblowit: We wanted to put an end to breast cancer. Our goal was and is to have no more fear, no more hospital visits, no more side effects, no more needless suffering, and no more loved ones lost to breast cancer. The only way to achieve our goal to prevent and cure breast cancer is through research. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment that The Breast Cancer Research Foundation began?

Myra Biblowit: BCRF started in 1993 but I met Evelyn Lauder in 1985 and we forged an incredible friendship. Evelyn called me and said that she had an idea to create a foundation that focused on breast cancer research. She was concerned after seeing the pace at which breast cancer research was moving. She had looked around the country and there was not one organization that was doing research with a laser-sharp focus.  Evelyn said, “I can do this and if I can do it and I don’t it, it would be a sin. Will you help me?” She had a soul and a heart that was enormous.  Working on the pink ribbon symbol she knew she could make this a ubiquitous symbol of the cause to get this issue out of the closet.

The story doesn’t end with creating awareness, it extends to harnessing dollars towards research to change the future. I told Evelyn, I would help her find an Executive Director and get BCRF off the ground. At the time, I was working at the Museum of Natural History. In 1993, BCRF began at Evelyn Lauder’s kitchen table with our dear friend Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Seven years later, I had had a few job opportunities arise and I reached out to Evelyn and Leonard Lauder for their advice as friends. Evelyn said, “Well this is a slam dunk.  This is bashert!  Yiddish for meant to be….last night the Executive Director told us she wanted to stop working.”

By Monday, I was the President of BCRF. Evelyn gave up the Presidency and became Chairman and Founder and I went to work for my darling friend. I started April 1st, 2001, and I told her I would take the organization internationally, raise a lot more money and create a strategic thoughtful grant program. 

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

Myra Biblowit: We lost Evelyn in 2011, and I do what I do in her memory and in her honor. BCRF is her legacy and I work hard to make sure that we are the gold standard. Our work stands as a tribute to her vision. Today we are the largest global funder of breast cancer research. We are the most highly rated breast cancer organization in the country. Evelyn had such vision and clairvoyance. Breast cancer was in the closet when we started. Thanks to pioneers, like Evelyn, breast cancer, and women across the globe, it is out there now.

The dollars that we are investing at BCRF are not only answering questions about breast cancer today but a multiplicity of other cancers as well. Evelyn would not have envisioned the relevance that BCRF would have.

Myra Biblowit and Dr. Larry Norton, photo credit Suzanne DeChillo

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

Myra Biblowit: Since BCRF was founded there has been a 40% decline in breast cancer deaths worldwide. The proof is in the pudding. Truly we can tell you that BCRF has had a role in every major break thru breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship as well as an advancing knowledge about other metastatic diseases. 

When Evelyn and I were working together we were mainly talking about diagnosis and treatment. We knew then and know even more now that research is THE reason.  Today that continuum begins with prevention and extends with survivorship. The connector is that research is THE reason, it is the glue.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had at BCRF?

Myra Biblowit: I think it is important for people to know that breast cancer is rapidly transitioning to a manageable chronic disease. People need to not be fearful of the stories of the past from their mothers and grandmothers. Treatments are much more targeted. When a woman is diagnosed today they can try to find what type of tumor she has and then find the right treatment for that tumor type, which is huge.

We now know that breast cancer is not one disease but made up of four or five different diseases in terms of tumor types.  Each one has more in common with other forms of cancer than with each other. Today’s treatment has a far greater likelihood of success and they are far less toxic.

One study that BCRF was involved with was the TAILORx, a major multi-year and multi-country study to determine what women needed chemo who had early-stage estrogen-positive breast cancer. We knew women who had a high score needed chemo and women who had a low score did not need it. We didn’t know for the 70,000-100,000 women in the middle range if they needed chemo or not. Today we now know that those women do NOT need chemotherapy.  This study proved the power of research. These are the advances that change the future for our mothers, our daughters, and our friends.

Charity Matters: What is your vision for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation going forward?

Myra Biblowit: In the current year we raised $80 million dollars and we awarded grants of $63 million dollars to over 300 researchers across 14 countries. We could have funded more had we had more funds and we are the engine that tells researchers to take that chance. 

When Evelyn died, we devoted a fund to metastatic disease by creating a Founder’s Fund. We want to use that fund to find more about metastatic disease.  The more dollars we can give to our researchers the more breakthroughs we can make.

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

Myra Biblowit: You know Evelyn gave me an opportunity to do something professionally that touches people’s lives profoundly. How lucky am I? Evelyn was grateful for everything that came her way. She was a child of the Holocaust and her family fled when she was an infant. Everything that she and Leonard achieved was a partnership. She was magnetic and wonderful and when we lost her, Leonard stepped in. I am filled with gratitude every day and for the opportunity to learn from the extraordinary Lauder family. What fed their soul was to make the world a better place and it was infectious. 

 

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 © 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 26: Love Not Lost

I love meeting new people and while Zoom isn’t always the best way to meet, somedays it just has to suffice. The reality is that an amazing conversation can happen anywhere, whether in person or online. Today’s conversation is just that, amazing. When you meet someone you haven’t met before, you honestly never know what is going to happen? This one had me in tears, in the best of ways and I hope it does the same for you.

Join us today for an incredible conversation with Ashley Jones, the founder of Love Not Lost. Ashley shares her journey through grief with the loss of her young daughter and her transformational experience from loss to creating a remarkable organization that provides family photoshoots for the terminally ill.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Love Not Lost does?

Ashley Jones: Love Not Lost is on a mission to revolutionize the way we heal in grief. We photograph people facing
a terminal diagnosis, provide community support tools and resources to help people support others,
and we train leaders in the workplace to create cultures of caring around grief and loss at work. 

Charity Matters: Tell us about your earliest memories or experiences with philanthropy?

Ashley Jones: I have always had a heart to help people. As soon as I was old enough (around middle school), I volunteered in the kid’s ministry at my church and stayed involved for decades. Through a peer-mentorship program at my high school, I volunteered to help severely handicapped children at the local elementary school. After graduating, I went on an ArtsLink trip to support orphanages in Ukraine and also served neighborhoods in Northern Ireland through Youth for Christ.

When Compassion International came to my university, I signed up to support a kid in India. After my daughter died, I volunteered with Help-Portrait, which helped lay the foundation for creating my own nonprofit. I had zero experience starting a nonprofit and leading a charity, but I knew I would figure it out. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Love Not Lost?

Ashley Jones: As I photographed Kevin Hill on his very last day on earth, fighting Stage 4 Melanoma Cancer, I knew this was part of my purpose; helping other people through suffering and loss. When his wife, Rachel, shared the impact the photos had on her kids in their healing, I knew this work was important. I kept volunteering portrait sessions for families facing a terminal diagnosis and launched it into a nonprofit the day my husband came to me and said, “I love you and your giving heart, but we simply can not afford to keep giving everything away.” I knew I could find other people who wanted to help me give it all away to these families. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Ashley Jones: One of our biggest challenges is pioneering in a world that is taboo. People are reluctant to talk about dying and grief, let alone engage with it on a deeper level. Our first hurdle is getting people to connect with our mission. Another hurdle is finding people who are willing to give to support people in grief. It’s hard to understand the depth of impact if you haven’t been through it.

Covid was obviously a huge challenge. We lost close to half of our expected annual donations due to canceled events and people not giving (which I completely understand), and we’re still recovering from that. We’re hoping our virtual wine tasting event will be a big help this year! 

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

Ashley Jones: The thing that keeps fueling me to do this work is the impact. When I hear someone tell me that the photos we gave them helped them heal, or a support tool gave them the courage to reach out to someone to show them love, or I’m talking to someone and can see the “ah-ha” moment when something clicks and they have a moment of healing right there on the spot. It’s a beautiful thing, and that’s how this world is going to change for the better. Each one of us healing our wounds, one moment, one person at a time. 

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

Ashley Jones: We’ve photographed close to 100 families now, impacting thousands of people through their friends and family grieving. We’ve given over 5,000 support cards out, not to mention the visitors and users on the digital version, HowCanILoveYouBetter.com… We’ve given thousands of empathy cards out to people to send to spread love and care through loss. And we’ve done it all on a shoe-string budget, but we’re facing max capacity and we really need to raise more to grow and serve more people. 

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

Ashley Jones: As I dream for Love Not Lost, I imagine a world where everyone feels loved and supported in grief. A world where people know what to say and do, and collectively we help each other heal. I see Love Not Lost having photographers in every major city across the globe. I see us being the number one place people turn to when facing a terminal diagnosis or loss of any kind. We will continue creating tools and resources to help meet unmet needs and build bridges to connect people with empathy and love. 

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

Ashley Jones: I have learned some incredible life lessons on this journey so far, and I am sure there are many more coming my way. The first is that love heals. We all have wounds and we all experience loss. First, we need to love and care for ourselves; do our own work to heal before we can help others who are hurting. I believe hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people. Changing the world truly does start with each of us doing our own work. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Ashley Jones: This journey has broken my heart a million times over. But each time, I get to rebuild my heart. And each time, I find that it gets bigger and bigger. I have grown so much in empathy, understanding, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and seeing people’s pain first. I’m much slower to anger and much more open to possibility. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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Episode 21: The Yellow Heart Committee

People say that youth is wasted on the young and never has that statement been less true than with this incredible nonprofit founder, N’dea Johnson. At only 24 years old she has undergone incredible personal loss and trauma and has used that to help others with her two-year-old nonprofit The Yellow Heart Committee.

Join us today to learn why you are never too young to make a difference and inspire others. Hear N’dea Johnson’s inspirational story of loss and perseverance as she works to heal and serve survivors of sexual assault and trauma.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Yellow Heart Committee does?

N’dea Johnson:  We support the holistic mental health of trauma survivors through policy, advocacy, education, and community outreach. How we do this through the pillars of HEART, which stand for Healing, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relationships in Therapy. So everything we do programming-wise has to fall under those pillars making sure we’re always centering the survivors. A big part of our work is communicating and advocating for survivors. We do that by working with elected officials to help draft legislation for trauma survivors.

Charity Matters: You are young for starting a nonprofit, were you always philanthropic?

N’dea Johnson:  I’ve always enjoyed doing work and volunteering in the community because of my mom. From a young age, she always was the one that was telling me, you have to support others, you always have to be good to others and always help people.  When I was a fifth grade, I was organizing students to get tutoring for the gate program and Star testing. I’ve also learned from her because she did have breast cancer.  Even with all that she was going through, she was always still caring and concerned about the community. And that’s something I replicated.

When my mom passed away, I ended up starting an organization in my middle school a few months after she died. I was in seventh grade and raising money for families with family members who have cancer. The whole point was to donate the money to help support anything that families were missing.  People were always surprised and say, “You’re 12 years old,  your mom just died and you’re doing this?”  That’s how my mom was when she was going through adversity herself. I’m going through it right now. And I know she wouldn’t want me just moping around. This work is how I handle my grieving is by turning it back into community service and doing things for others going forward.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Yellow Heart Committee?

N’dea Johnson:   It started on January 1, 2019, when I was sexually assaulted.  I actually had to go back to school, two days later, because it was winter quarter and I was graduating early from UCLA.  I’ve always been a 4.0 student always and this really destroyed me.  The irony is that I was trained in rape response because I was a Resident Assistant. Rather than letting myself heal, I tried to suppress it because I was so determined to graduate early, to go to Columbia for grad school. I kept it all to myself.

In March of 2019, I had pre-scheduled jaw surgery. I came out of jaw surgery paralyzed. The doctors were said, “How did you have jaw surgery, but your legs are paralyzed?”  Nobody knew what happened, even I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t talk because I had jaw surgery.  I  had to relearn all of my functions; eating, talking, walking everything. Then we realized I had experienced conversion disorder.

 Conversion disorders are when you convert the psychological stress of trauma into a physical reaction. So when I went in for surgery and went under anesthesia, my body thought I was being attacked again. As a result,  I ended up having nerve damage.  Being in a rehab facility in the hospital and that’s where it really made me want to start this.  I gave birth to the Yellow Heart Committee in a hospital bed. Once I could walk again, I knew the first thing I was going to do was report him at the police station.  At that time I hadn’t. The second thing I was going to do was start a nonprofit. So that’s where I really got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

N’dea Johnson:   It is so hard because I’m learning from the ground up. But I’m also learning how to be an adult in the same capacity. So things like you have to pay your taxes for like nonprofits. I’m like, “I don’t know how to do that?”  Those types of things I’m having to learn and becoming an adult while growing up.

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

N’dea Johnson: The individual people one hundred percent. My nonprofit, everybody’s unpaid right now and we all have full-time jobs or are full-time students. We have our days where we have a really rough day at work. The team says,
” All right, what are we doing next? How we’re gonna solve this?” And it’s just knowing that  I can have those moments of vulnerability and say I need support. They have my back and they’re like, “Okay, so what do you need us to do to keep this nonprofit going? How can we support you?” Those individual people in terms of my team are what I love, and it feeds me to keep me going. That and the survivors who reach out to me in times of crisis.

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

N’dea Johnson:  We’re the connectors definitely. We bring the people who are the decision-makers and the survivors to the table.  In six months, we met with 44 elected officials to advocate for our Sexual Domestic Violence Task Force Legislation that we wrote. We are introducing that to California and working to get a federal level hearing.  Our state-level hearing is in  September on mental health and trauma at the Capitol in California. We definitely bring those people who can make those decisions to the table to hear the stories of survivors.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

N’dea Johnson:  I would say my self-awareness has changed, I definitely think that I’m more conscious of not just my own experiences, but also how my words or my actions or anything can impact others. Something that’s really been a big thing of mine is that we may want to judge somebody right away. But let’s think about why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Let’s go deeper than the immediate reaction, and wonder what trauma happened for why did they react, right?

That’s not something that I would have been conscious of two years ago. And I think that I’m more in touch with who I am in terms of why I’m feeling a certain way. Or even how I need to react to a situation and to be more empathetic to people. It is important to realize what is the intent versus impact. The intention may not have been to hurt, but the impact may have hurt somebody. Being aware of those types of things has really been something that has made me grow and change.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:
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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Be Our Guest

Some people love to be the host and others love to be guests. Being more than a bit type A, the role of the host is more of my comfort zone. Truth be told I would rather drive any day than be the passenger. However, when I was recently invited to be a guest on the iSoulify Podcast it seemed like an invitation I couldn’t refuse. So, guest, it was.

You may remember the Charity Matters conversation a few weeks back with nonprofit founder, Dena Betti. It was one of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had and if you missed it you can read it or listen to Episode 13: A lesson in Divine Time here.

Dena and her friend Colleen Gianatiempo have a podcast called iSoulify. It is a podcast where they bring inspiring women together for soulful conversations. We sat down a few weeks ago and talked about the journey of service and the process that leads each of us to serve in different ways. .Today I thought I would share that conversation with you. It turns out that being a guest is almost as fun as being a host. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did!

Tap to Listen to the interview here

 

As always, thank you for listening, for looking for good, and for all you do to make our world better.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Season One..thats a wrap!

Well, we did it! We set out to share these incredible stories of our favorite humans in a different format and sixteen podcast interviews later we have! I am always amazed when I set out to do something I have never done and somehow with a huge leap of faith and a lot of help, it happens. The journey was bumpy, that is for sure! When you look in the rearview mirror there is an incredible sense of accomplishment in seeing how far you have come. Honestly, the journey would not have been possible without all of you, the best traveling companions a girl could ask for.

Like all long journeys, this one began last July with more than a handful of cheerleaders nudging me towards the podcast.  Once the idea took root, it came time to figure out how to make it happen. There were more than a few learning curves along the way, almost all technology-related. Once those hurdles were overcome we were off to the races in January. Now that the first lap of the race is completed, it is time for rest.

Taking a moment to reflect on the lessons learned, the challenges, and the next steps. During this interim, we will still be sending out weekly emails and we will be working on Season Two which will debut in July.  Speaking of July, Charity Matters will be celebrating its official 10th birthday on July 17th. With that milestone comes our renewed commitment to introducing you to amazing humans each week who inspire each of us to give the best of ourselves, to one another and the world.

Thank you again for subscribing and telling your friends about the Charity Matters Podcast. We are so grateful for you continuing to support this work and journey.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

Connect with 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 15: Infinite Strength

I have met so many people in a decade of interviewing nonprofit founders but a select few have left a real lasting impression and Roberta Lombardi of Infinite Strength is one of them. We hadn’t spoken in a few years and I wanted to touch base and see what she was up to, you may remember her remarkable story. As a breast cancer survivor, Roberta wondered about the women she sat with in treatment who didn’t have the same resources she did and was determined to change that.

Infinite Strength began to help underserved women with breast cancer with the financial costs associated with breast cancer. are astronomical. I recently had a chance to catch up with Roberta and talk about how Covid has impacted cancer, single moms, her challenges in trying to support all of the above with her incredible organization.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Infinite Strength does?

Roberta Lombardi: We exist mainly to help single mothers who are in active treatment for breast cancer by giving them grants for what we call basic human needs, mortgage, and rent, car, utility, and phone.  I think we’re one of the few nonprofits to do that recurring funding for women with metastatic breast cancer. These are early-stage breast cancer patients who come to us once in a calendar year.  A patient with metastatic breast cancer, who’s basically going to be in treatment for the rest of their life. Their average lifespan at that diagnosis is two to three years.

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

Roberta Lombardi:  I was in the middle of treatment, and was getting more depressed from all the chemotherapy drugs and the steroids and the loss of hair. One day my husband walks into the kitchen and says, “Honey, we just got a bill for one of your chemos from insurance. But it’s $80,000!  Hon, how do people that don’t have money afford this?”  He throws the bill on the counter and it was like a lightning bolt for me.

All of a sudden, it really made sense to me.  How are these women ever going to be able to stop the cycle because it is a never-ending cycle? The woman we help, they’re already having trouble financially anyway.  How do you get off the roller coaster?

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

Roberta Lombardi: Every single time I have felt a little bit worn out that’s when somebody crosses my path. It reminds me that this is why I do this work.  And it’s the truth. It’s either it’s a patient who’s contacted me, and their story just touches me. It’s meeting their children and seeing what it does to the kids to have their mother ill.

 The women that we support with Infinite Strength, their whole life’s been a battle, they just don’t get a break.  Many of the women we help are black women and are underserved.  They don’t have the access to medical care and this disease hits them harder. Their death rate is higher than a woman that’s white. A lot of these women that I interact with, they’ve just not had a fair shot in life and a lot of things and they’ve struggled. Their kids are a part of this and that’s the heartbreaking part for me. I have to find a way to really make an impact and to give these kids hope that their mom’s going to be okay. Also to remind them that there’s kindness in the world that somebody cares.

Charity Matters: What has your impact been? 

Roberta Lombardi: For me, it’s the emotional impact of the peace of mind, we’re giving to these women. That’s how I measured it. The kind words that they write or when their child says something to me. That is when I know what I’m doing is very worthwhile. And that’s what spurs me on to keep going and to keep growing.

How has this journey changed you?

Roberta Lombardi: I think that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is not to be so judgmental. You don’t know what somebody else’s life is. They show you what they want to show you and you don’t know what they’re going through. Right? You just don’t. The more somebody is maybe aloof or maybe not as kind, maybe the more kind I am because they need it. I’ve realized in my work, just that little bit of kindness or a smile, or doing something extra makes a person’s day so much better. And you don’t know where they were at that moment.  It’s little things of trying to be understanding.  I think that’s one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Connect with us:

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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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 14: Building families with Help Us Adopt

One of the many things I love about finding my tribe and interviewing these amazing humans is the friendships I have made over the years. One of those people is the remarkable Becky Fawcett, the founder of Help Us Adopt. You may remember our conversation from a few years back? We recently caught up and had a fantastic conversation about what motivates this wonder woman, our favorite candy, and her incredible mission to build families.

So join us today for a fun conversation that will have you inspired and remind you that one person can make a difference.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

Becky Fawcett:  One of my favorite topics in this world is infertility and adoption. I tried to do IVF, we did five rounds of IVF. We got pregnant three times and had three miscarriages. It was not easy, it was awful. Everybody knows someone who’s been through what I’ve been through and they probably didn’t get the support they needed.

I never thought it wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to adopt it scared the living bejesus out of me. It then got to a point where it was like either you adopt or you don’t get to become a mom. Not becoming a mother was not an option. This was 15 years ago. No one wanted to talk about this and miscarriage and IVF. There’s nothing shameful about being infertile,  about miscarriage or about adopting.

photo credit: Classic Kids

I won’t lie to you. It’s also very expensive. In order to do the IVF, and then adopt twice my husband and I spent $190,000 and after-tax dollars in our early 30s. I never want to be misleading, I had help from my grandparents. But we spent every single penny in our savings account. We were probably one step shy of taking out a second mortgage on our house.

I had this idea of how lucky was I that I got to do all of this on my own terms. I had nothing left in as far as money goes, but that could be rebuilt. And how could I help people and with no money, being a loudmouth publicist?  So, I wrote a business plan in about 20 minutes and just knew what needed to be done. What needed to be done was an adoption grant program that was all in on the family quality period. That was it.  

We don’t care who you love or who you’re with. We don’t care about any of that. Don’t send us a picture of what your family looks like. We don’t want to know, that’s not why we’re helping you. We’re helping you because you want to adopt a child, you have a valid home study. And you need a little help.

Charity Matters:  What has your impact been? 

Becky Fawcett: How do you put a value on giving this child an opportunity to know you were worthy, right? I mean, that you were worthy, you deserved this family? How do you know?  

Well, my impact is all of the family pictures of the families we helped to build. My impact is the 2000 donors a year who are out of the box thinking who are ahead of the game and philanthropy. Donors who do believe in the nonprofit that came out of nowhere and who support us every year.  Last year, we built 56 families during the pandemic. What is more important than a family?

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

Becky Fawcett: Reading these grant applications. Talk about salt of the earth, good people. Are you kidding me?  I am inspired by our applicants, those who will let me into their life once they become grant recipients. I love staying in touch with them on Facebook, I love watching their kids grow up. Someone once wrote to me, one of the grant applicants, her name is Erica. She wrote to me and said, “Because of your story, I have mine.”

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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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:
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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong. Listening to the call

Have you ever had a call that changed your life? Brian Mavis and his wife Julie both did and that call was to help children. More specifically the 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one.

Join us today for a fascinating conversation with Brian Mavis as he shares his family’s calling and journey in starting America’s Kids Belong. The remarkable story of what one family has done to change what family means for thousands and thousands of children.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what America’s Kids Belong does?

Brian Mavis:  Nationally, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care today. And a way to think about that group of over 400,000, is to then put them into two different groups. There’s a group of those kids about three-quarters of them, who are on a path towards reunification with their family and their parents. Then a quarter of those kids, so just roughly over 100,000, right now, they’re on a different path towards needing to find a new forever family. 

We work with both sets of kids because both groups, there is a deficit of families, a big one, between families who are willing to what we call, for now, families that will say we’re here for you, for now, to take care of you until your biological family can. And then forever families, the ones that will say, will be your new forever family. So we work on both sets.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start America’s Kids Belong?

Brian Mavis:  This story starts in my wife’s heart and began early for her as a teenager. She was living in Southern California, had gone on a high school missions trip with her church into Mexico, and they worked in an orphanage. While she was there, she said, she heard God tell her this three-word sentence. Care for orphans. She knew she knew as a teenager, her calling on her life.

 In 2005, Julie said, “I want to be a foster mom.” So we go to the orientation and so you’re learning about trauma and all that kind of thing.  One of the first things they let you know, is who are these kids? Why are they in foster care? Right? And so, right off the bat, they say, there’s a myth that these kids are in foster care because of what they’ve done.  And that’s a myth because what actually has happened is something has been done to them. 

Brian, his wife Julie, their two daughters, and their first foster child.

Keegan became our first foster child. Two years later, in 2007, I’m a pastor at a church in Colorado a child welfare worker called me and asked, “Can I meet with you to talk about child welfare in our county?” I said, “Sure.” So this woman Cindy comes to visit and says, “In the 27-year history of Child Welfare in our county, there has never been one single day, not one day, where kids weren’t waiting for grownups to take care of them. I have a challenge for you. So this was the three-word sentence that changed my life. My wife’s was “Care for orphans.” Mine was this. She said, “I have a challenge for you. Change who waits. Help me change who waits.”

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

Brian Mavis: Conviction and commitment and this sense of like, there’s an injustice that needs to get set. Right? And then it’s you got to look for the victories. You can look at the numbers and say we increased this by 40%, and all that. But that doesn’t move your heart as much as knowing that  Adrian now has a family. And he had been raised in institutions for the past seven years. And now he’s got a mom and a dad. It’s that kind of thing that says, Okay, I’m gonna fight another day.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

Brian Mavis:  We increased the number of recruitment of foster families by 40%. Statewide, within a year. That is an intellectual case. You know, the emotional cases sharing a kid sharing a story. The transformational case is when a kid goes into a home, and a family changes everything for them, it changes their future, which could be one that is bleak. And to one that is hopeful.

 And what when you come down to saying, Let me tell you the story of it, Adrian he was he went into foster care when he was eight, he’s 15. Today, he’s had no inquiries on his life, he feels unwanted. And we did his video, within three weeks of promoting it, we had 24 families asking about and being their son.  And if he had aged out of foster care, just on the financial side, it would have cost you know, throughout social services hard cost $300,000 of services as a young adult for him so there’s that side to it.

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

Brian Mavis:  I’ve learned a lot. I have a long ways to go still about learning the effects of trauma on people, especially on kids. There are different kinds of trauma, there’s acute trauma, something that happens once. There is chronic trauma, something that’s happened over a period of time. And then there’s complex developmental trauma, which is something that happened in reason it’s complex.

Those first two didn’t happen by the hands of somebody who was meant to love you and care for you. And so that kind of trauma is profound. On the other hand, when there, there are enough skilled people who understand that and understand how to help give hope and healing and love, a lot of that trauma can be healed. I wish people and churches would become trauma competent and formed. It would really help everyone to understand.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Charity Matters Podcast Episode 6: Alma’s Backyard Farms a lesson in feeding the soul

We are excited to share our inspirational conversation with Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia the Co-Founders of Alma’s Backyard Farms. In today’s episode, we discuss the origins of Alma’s Backyard Farms. The journey that brought Richard and Erika to Compton and to begin their nonprofit organization. What fuels them to do this work and the life lessons learned in the process of creating this amazing organization that exists to reclaim the lives of formerly incarcerated people.

Almas Backyard Farm  re-purposes urban land into productive urban farm plots and re-imagine disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles as a hub for transformation. Co-founder, Erika Cuellar is an LA native and first-generation Mexican-American. Growing up in Watts, Erika witnessed how her community has been fraught with challenges in education and food insecurity.  Erika’s co-founder is Richard Garcia whose passion to grow food comes from a long line of Filipino farmers. Before launching Alma Backyard Farms, Richard initiated garden programs for schools and restaurants.   

A few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us about the name of your organization? And who is Alma?

Richard Garcia: There is a lot in a name. Alma in Spanish means soul. Food is what we grow. Our programming and services are intended to nourish the soul. That being community, a place to thrive. kinship connection that’s why we chose Alma’s Backyard Garden because Alma is also the street where we first started our first backyard garden.

Charity Matters: Tell us More about how you began Alma’s Backyard Gardens?

Erika Cuellar:  I went on to work at Homegirl Cafe, shortly after my senior year of college.  And so, Richard had come back to Homegirl Cafe to work with us and help develop a few different components of the training program, including a gardening aspect.

So we started an experiment, the idea of the entire food process of growing, preparing, and serving and so a lot of the women (previously incarcerated) that we were working with had never grown vegetables or had much exposure to what growing food is like.  It was during that work at Homegirl Cafe, that the fire was was was was ignited in our hearts to really pursue to pursue Alma.

And so we really started looking at backyards, like, how can we utilize underutilized space?  How can we take backyards that are not being maximized in Los Angeles, and create these farms? With the goal to grow foods to really nourish people and provide opportunities for folks who are we serving. The first backyard that we had installed was on Alma Avenue. That’s Richard’s house, which still remains a backyard farm.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to do this work? Your work is physically demanding as farmers and running A nonprofit, How do you keep going when it’s hard?

Erika Cuellar:  Good sleep, a good spiritual life, good prayer. And eating well, like, I like those three things. And exercise four things that keep us grounded and going.

Richard Garcia: There is a discipline with love, where you have to choose it every day. So it may not always feel wonderful. But there is a edify, deeper, an edifying feeling of knowing that the choice to love happens. Someone wants to describe farming is you know, picking up picking things up, and putting things down and that sometimes feels like the whole day.

Yeah, you’re picking things up putting things down, you’re loading, you’re offloading. The other day someone picked up kale and they’re preparing this kale for a kitchen that serves homeless folks. And then she looked around and she said to me, “I could see you love what you do.”  And I thought that was one of the nicest compliments.  There is this meticulousness about how we orchestrate the space because our intention is for people to really have a sense of presence in the space. So that is also fuel.

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

Richard Garcia: I think, you know, there’s a life lesson, it’s that God works through the challenges, not apart from it, not a distance from it, but through them. And so, I’m anticipating that there are challenges ahead. And, and I think, growing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, has been one of the lessons that I’ve learned to appreciate.

Erika Cuellar:  The first word that came to mind when you said life lessons was the importance of honesty. To live a life that is honest.  I think there are many life lessons. But if you know we talk about what fuels and what motivates and what gets you going every day, and it’s that reminder to choose to be chosen and to choose love.

I guess it’s more than the lesson…. I think the lesson lies in embracing and accepting honesty. Being honest and all of your relationships and, as a business as a nonprofit business being honest in your transactions in stewardship. So I think that’s at the core of the values and lessons that I’ve learned. It is instrumental to really be able to live a life, not just for myself, but for others.

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:
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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.