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Falling back, a season of change

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

 F. Scott Fitzgerald

It is officially fall, a season of change, and a time to witness the glory of fall leaves and shed the old before moving ahead. It is a season of change.  Living in Southern California Fall isn’t usually a season for us. Sure we all fake it with decor and pumpkins but nature isn’t showing us the way as it does in the rest of the country. So this weekend, as I head to the east to catch a glimpse of real Fall, I find myself pondering the greater meaning of the changing of the seasons.

Change

These past seven months every one of us has faced extraordinary change in one way or another. Whether it’s as simple as not going to church, as difficult as not going to school, or as complicated as health issues, missing elderly family members, financial struggles, or employment. In one way or another, we have all experienced incredible change and loss. Some days it feels as if we are living in an alternate universe with our sense of “normalcy” gone. Many of us are waiting for things to “return to normal.”

LOSS

We cling to the past and life as we knew it. Much as a tree tries to hold onto its leaves as fall tries to shake them down. I think about the changes some of our oldest citizens have witnessed in their lifetimes. Some born before the 1918 pandemic witnessed  World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the list goes on. Each major world event created enormous loss and each event changed life as they knew it forever. The leaves fell off, one by one as each old way of life was blown away. No matter how hard we try to hold on, the change is here and it is inevitable.

Honestly, for me, I think I am just beginning to process it all. So much happened so quickly between the pandemic, the economic aftermath, George Floyd, hurricanes in the south, and then our wildfires here in the west. Those fires, some of which still burn, have destroyed more than a million trees that will not grow this year. Just as the pandemic has taken more than a million lives across the globe. The loss is unimaginable in so many ways.

Regrowth

However, if there is one thing I know about the forest, is that after a fire and complete destruction. The soil is fertilized and ready to begin again. That change, even the change of colors on the most beautiful fall tree will lead to loss. And that loss whether of a way of life, of a loved one, of a job, of school, will inevitably lead to a rebirth.

I will be walking in the fall foliage this weekend, seeing the beauty of change and the shedding of old leaves. I will be thinking about the opportunity for growth, a place to start anew, and a moment to mourn the beauty of what was.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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. So two years ago when 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 to change 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 (the second most common cancer) by advancing the world’s most promising research. 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 and after our conversation, I can see 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 want to put an end to breast cancer and our goal 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 and 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 after seeing the pace at which breast cancer research was moving. Evelyn 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?” Evelyn had a soul and a heart that was enormous. She was working on the pink ribbon symbol and knew she could make this an ubiquitous symbol of the cause and 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 help her get BCRF off the ground. I was working at the Museum of Natural History at the time. 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 when I was working at NYU, I had had a few job opportunities arise and I reached out to Evelyn and Leonard Lauder for their advice as friends and 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 international, I would raise a lot more money and I would create a strategic thoughtful grant program to ensure that the dollars we are raising are wisely meeting the organization’s targets.

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 and 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 and 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 and 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. We are one of the few engines that give resources to cutting edge researchers. We are the engine that tells researchers to take that chance. We are a rare funder in our flex-ability taking research down the path of greatest opportunity because the stakes are so high.

We devoted a fund to metastatic disease when Evelyn died by creating a Founder’s Fund. We want to use that fund to find more about metastatic disease, we want to invest in young researchers, and 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

 

 

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Our Wave

I have to confess that I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love being able to share these stories with you every week and I do not always care for some of the social media platforms needed to broadcast this work. However, when I heard about the nonprofit, Our Wave, and their commitment to use technology to build a community of people affected by sexual violence I needed to know more. It is an uncomfortable topic for sure but when you hear the amazing and inspiring stories of these founders, it is truly a story of hope.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Our Wave does?

Kyle Linton: We really started Our Wave in 2018 with the idea that we wanted to better support survivors of sexual trauma and give them a mechanism to anonymously share their stories.  What we found was that there are all these opportunities for people to share their stories, which are incredible, but they’re very public.  Survivors wanted to see other people’s stories, they wanted to share their own story, but they didn’t necessarily want to do so publicly.

Since we’re technology design people,  couldn’t we create a platform where people could share their stories anonymously, but more so than just sharing?  Could we try to lean into the healing components and leverage research to give people resources as they’re sharing their stories and finding the things that they need so that they can move past their previous instances of trauma? 

Laura Sinko:I had met Kyle at a sexual violence conference because unlike Kyle being tech and design, I am a nurse by training. I’m also a researcher. And so my research was in healing after sexual violence. When I was interviewing survivors, I noticed this gap where people were really longing for community and really longing for a place to really say their truth and also just process their truth. Because I think sometimes you keep it inside and you don’t really even know how to put words what happened.

So I had stumbled across them on a table and they were saying, we want to create this platform. And I was like, me too, but I have no skills and design or tech. I would say that the vision is really to help people tell their stories and then connect them to a community, help people learn from each other, what works for them and what doesn’t.

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

Kyle Linton:  In October 2018, someone in my life, directly experienced sexual violence. Somebody that was very close with and,  for me, it was a really difficult period. Because I was trying to figure out a bunch of different things. I was like, how do I support this person? How do I help them?  And even as I’m feeling all of these things, I can’t even imagine what this other person is feeling who experienced it firsthand.

Then I realized that I am privileged enough that I have the opportunity and experience building companies and products. So I said, “Well, I have the capacity to do something here.” So, I kind of got this idea of, what if we could create a place where somebody like this person very close to me could go and see other survivors and get support and find healing resources?

I started just kind of pulling people from my life and in saying, “I would love your support on this. If you have time?”. Then we found Laura at a conference. I said, “let’s bring it all together into this thing that can help survivors, and then let’s try to scale it like crazy?”  So, that’s really where it started. 

Charity Matters: Was there a back story that led you to this type of work?

Laura Sinko: Unfortunately, being a woman on a college campus, I felt like it was happening to so many of my friends were experiencing these sexual violence experiences. So I got really interested in sexual violence since there are so many people in my life that were struggling to find healing. A lot of the work especially in medicine and nursing is focused on that deficit, like you have trauma, you have depression, anxiety, and there’s so little focus on the healing aspect.

I was getting my Ph.D. in nursing, smack in the middle of my program, when I had my own experience of sexual violence. It was interesting because being a quote-unquote, “expert”, right? You think oh, I’m an expert in healing after the violence. I’m gonna be set. I can do all these amazing things because I know what to do. I have all the tools and it’s different when it’s yourself. It’s a totally different beast.

And so that’s why, for me, it’s really important to really build that community because you can often feel like you’re all alone if you don’t get to share your story in some way. That is that moment when you know this isn’t okay. This just isn’t okay.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Kyle Linton:  I think the biggest challenge for anybody doing this kind of work is how do you stretch, you know, minimal resources to make the most impact?  The beautiful part about our organization is that because it is a technology platform, it has the potential for a massive scale. The trick for us is trying to support all these different populations and individuals who have these different levels of need.

Laura Sinko: For me, being the grant writer of the group, I think funding is our biggest challenge. I mean, it’d be nice for all the work that people are putting in if we could pay some of our staff for their work. And that’s not really me or Kyle, but the designers that are doing all of our content and all of these other people who are really putting in a lot of work. So that’s why my thing is the funding, it’s always about funding.

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

Kyle Linton: I grew up in a household where my mom has run a nonprofit for 20 years maybe. She’s amazing. I grew up in a household that was comfortable and it gave me the opportunity to do impactful work.

 I’m incredibly thankful for growing up with that sort of motivation.  I was not encumbered with student debt and it gave me the opportunity to try to leverage my skills to help people. I’m in a position to do that, and a lot of people aren’t.

Laura Sinko: So for me, it really it truly is this the survivors.  I was a mental health nurse for a while I’m now a sexual assault nurse examiner. Over the past four years, I have met just countless amazing survivors who have given me the privilege of hearing their stories and hearing their struggle. Whenever I have to write a grant or something that feels really daunting, I have this ritual where I like will light a candle and remember why I am doing this.

 It’s like bringing the survivors in the room with me, the people that are counting on me to and our team to really push this forward. And I will also say that being a part of this team of eight completely volunteers, people that give their evenings to this work their weekends to this work. I think that is also incredibly important.  Not every team has that cohesion, but I think we do which was really helpful.

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

Kyle Linton: One of those moments is we ended up developing a presentation that we shared with USA Gymnastics. Obviously, everybody’s depressed and seeing things that are going on and we were able to share seeing the silent signs of sexual abuse. I remember I was in the zoom call helping moderate and support and a survivor of Larry Nasser popped in.

That moment made it clear and sort of brought to life, all the things that we’ve heard and the ability to sort of support individuals who have gone through unbelievably traumatic and difficult things. That moment sort of just brought that to the forefront of our minds and was pretty incredible that we as a tiny nonprofit have the opportunity to potentially impact somebody like that.

Another moment for me was really, this campaign we have been doing with this Instagram account called Unapologetically Surviving.  It is an account that’s grown from 60,000 to like, 140,000. The account specifically talks about healing, supporting survivors, and just being a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

We did a partnership with them where our team takes these questions that survivors have.  And we’ve seen like 10,000 people liking some of these posts and engaging. It’s just crazy to see that a simple cold email that said, “Hey, we’d love to work together. Can we share some of our work with y’all?”  So it’s just been a very just beautiful example of the potential impact we have. 

Laura Sinko: It’s really been the FAQ Fridays. I think putting some questions that I kind of had when I first started experiencing these things, like, how do you manage triggers? Have you ever had that moment where you’re not really sure if it actually happened and you doubt your experience?  It’s like, we’re all looking for the same answers.  I think that participating in that has been really helpful to see really that we’re all are experiencing different things.

But there is some common thread between all of us, no matter how you feel. What we do is all about creating connections and community. That’s really the essence of what nonprofits do is bringing people together to help each other to solve something that’s at the core of what we do. So being able to build a big community like that in such a short time is so incredible.

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

Kyle Linton:  I think that between the content and the platform that we have created we are somewhere between 100 and 200,000 survivors that we’ve been able to access and engage with and support in some capacity. Obviously, our aim is to increase that.  We’re lucky as a technology organization that the number one thing that we have to our advantages is that scale and that ability to very quickly expand our efforts and reach that many people.

Laura Sinko: I think with social media, specifically, the direct messages, I just pulled up one now because it made me feel so good. This person said,” I just wanted to say how grateful I am to have found your page. I’ve struggled with what happened to me. So I really like to say thank you. I know you don’t know me, but just existing You make me feel seen.” And I feel like that is just something that when you think of impact is so important. The thought of being seen when you feel so alone is what keeps me going. 

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

Kyle Linton:  My dream would be to have a full-time staff that can run it this all day every day.  We could increase our outreach efforts and scale this thing. Our vision really long term is what if we could create this online platform where I’m a survivor and I come to tell my story, and I could be at all kinds of different stages of my healing process.

Laura Sinko:  I think really, for me, it’s creating a place basically a virtual healing space. I think so often we rely on people to find their own therapist the battle with their own insurance and all of this is really important to healing. But I noticed more and more particularly young people they’re looking for things online they’re craving that online community for that self-exploration from home. So if there’s a way we could increase access to healing opportunities, I think that that would be my grand vision. 

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

Laura Sinko:  The main thing that I learned is that it’s possible to have an idea that you think fills a need and to and to go out and do it. I think for me, in the clinician role I noticed this gap and I was like,  I’m just a nurse, I can’t do this.  That is really important for to like, no matter who you are, or where you’re at if you have an idea and you think it feels a need, and it’s really going to help people, take a chance on yourself because I feel like you can do so much good for other people.

Kyle Linton: I think internally, it’s been incredible to see how people many people want to give back and contribute to helping other people. I think that’s been really surprising to me. I mean, even just outside of our core team, the number of volunteers that we have that come to us and say,” Hey, I’d love to get back and contribute in some way.  I just want to help.” It’s been, it’s been really inspiring to just see how much people want to contribute.

 I would say just from a purely like, execution, and team standpoint, it’s been really amazing to see what we can do with absolutely no resources and to figure out how to be scrappy and how to create something from absolutely nothing and to have it be so purely good. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Linton: I think for me, the biggest one would be understanding all of the different things that people experience at different points in their life. And then seeing how that impacts them in so many different ways that I could have never imagined really getting a much level deeper level understanding of trauma.

I think makes you more empathetic, thoughtful, and makes you want to listen to people more because this happens a lot more than you can imagine. And it affects people differently. So, really learning to be empathetic, to listen, and to understand has been really beneficial to me.

Laura Sinko:  I think for me, there’s like two things that it has helped. One is I think more internal and I think one is more external. For me, being a nurse, a teacher, researcher, I’ve been in mostly spaces where I’m holding someone else’s trauma. I try to really detach and it’s not about me, it’s about you. This opportunity has really allowed me to look inward in myself and think about if I’m going to be like leading this effort, I got to really do my own internal work to make sure I’m in the right place.  I’m telling everyone else being a survivor is not something you should be ashamed of. I have to practice what I preach here.

So the fact that I’m even like saying this, that it happened to me and it doesn’t make right weaker, it doesn’t make me any less competent. It doesn’t make me a worse researcher, a worse nurse. In fact, I think that there’s a myth that actually helps me understand in a serious way. So I think that piece for me personally has been really beautiful.

But on the other side, I think connecting with folks like Kyle, who maybe didn’t experience it himself, but have that drive to give back. I’ve just been shocked by the people who maybe haven’t had that in their own personal life in terms of direct harm, but still feel compelled to come forward and help. People say,  look for the helpers, but like seeing those wanting to help has really given me a lot of hope for the world. We do this for hope to help other people to move the world forward a little bit,  one person at a time. That’s why we’re here.

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.

Project Hope

Every day the news around the globe seems overwhelming. Where there is darkness, there is always hope. Never did I feel that sense of hope more than from my inspiring conversation with the CEO of Project HOPE, Rabih Torbay, earlier this week. When crises happen around the globe, hurricanes, floods, war, pandemics, Project HOPE is there. The news may tell you every night that the world is dark but I can guarantee you there is hope.

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

Rabih Torbay: We play our role in making people’s lives a bit better. As you probably know, Project HOPE has been around since 1958. So we’re a little bit over 60 years old. And our focus has been mainly on training health workers. Because we believe that the solution isn’t the hand in the hands of the healthcare workers working all over the world, especially the first responders.

So when you go to any disaster area, or when you go to places in Africa, and you see who’s actually carrying the load is the health care workers. So we focused quite a bit on doing that through different interventions. disaster response is one of them whether it’s a hurricane or an earthquake or as We’re seeing now with COVID-19 as well.

We have doctors and nurses that are deploying that are helping other doctors and nurses that are training them. We’re sending supplies, we’re supporting them. We’re empowering those first responders on the ground to do a better job as much as possible. We also focus on infectious diseases, whether that’s HIV, tuberculosis, or COVID-19. We work at the community level because, at the end of the day, the communities have to own the problem. And our role is not to solve the problem for them, our role is actually to support them and empower them because they have the solutions.  We really take pride in, in terms of empowering and supporting those communities to solve those problems.

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

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

We go and ask them, “What do you need? What kind of support do you need? How can we help you?” And that’s how we come in and help them whether it’s an infectious disease or chronic diseases, and maternal and child health, especially the newborn health, which is a focus for us. That’s, that’s what makes us different than that’s what makes us special.

The Back Story

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

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

It was during the Civil War, and I was still doing construction work with my civil engineer. There was a cholera outbreak on an island. And somebody asked me if I would volunteer for their organization and represent them for a couple of weeks until they send a team. So I said, “Sure, I’ll help out, although I have no idea what I’m going to be doing because again, I’m not a health care person.”

And I ended up going to that island. We took a hand canoe with an outboard engine, it took us four hours in rough seas.  But we made it to the island. There are always those triggers that change people’s lives and this was mine. I got to the island which has about 10,000 people, very poor. They had one clinic and one nurse in that clinic. So I walked into the clinic and people were dying from the current outbreak. There was a sick baby by the door. The clinic had no roof, no windows. And frankly, the nurse was actually sleeping. He was drunk and sleeping.

So I walked in and I spoke to the nurse, and I asked him, I said, mean, people are dying. What are you doing? You’re sleeping and you could smell alcohol. And he looked at me said, I have no medicines. I have no medical supplies. I have no support. All I’m doing is seeing people die. What do you want me to do?

And for me, that was a wake-up call.  That baby was dead, the one that I saw at the entrance. So I went back, I went back to the Capitol and I said, “We have to do something.” With a little bit of money that I had, we bought some medicines, we bought some IV fluids, we bought some chlorine. And that’s when I used my engineering background to start coordinating the water and making it clean and we went back to that island.

And from when we went there, the first time there were about 100 people dying every day, within a week, it went down to two people, and within 10 days, there was no more death. Oh my god. And it showed me what a little smart investment could make in terms of an impact on people’s lives. So that’s an I never looked back. That was 1999. And I started doing this work. And yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing ever since.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rabih Torbay: I think one of the biggest challenge challenges is getting people to know what’s going on in the world. When people hear only bad news, they don’t react to the good news that’s going on. So one of our challenges is to bring what we’re doing in the field, whether it’s in Africa and Asia and Latin America, or here in the US, so they would know that there’s a lot of good still happening and that they can actually contribute to that they can do some of they can participate in some of that good.

And that’s why we’re holding the event on Wednesday (tonight). You know, to really bring what we’re doing in the field, to people’s minds to people’s eyes so they can see it and feel it and feel that this they can actually contribute to a good cause. Instead of you know, wallowing in the negativity that we have these days.

Charity Matters: How would you recommend people start getting involved?

Rabih Torbay: Sometimes we look at the problems around the world and it’s overwhelming and we think you know What can I do about it? You know, right, my $1, $5, one hundred dollars isn’t gonna make any difference with the huge problems that we’re facing. And the reality is everything counts every single penny, every single thought and action comes, even for people that cannot donate.

If they spread the word about, what Project HOPE is doing about the needs. And it’s not about us. It’s about the people that we’re helping, right. It’s about the women and the children that we’re serving. If people can spread the word or donate or volunteer, all of that has a huge impact. 

 We actually show them that the world cares about them. So we will present that hope that people need because at the end of the day if people have hope they can survive to the next day with the hope that something good is going to come. Right. And that’s what we do. So partnering with, with our donors, whether the $1 donor or the $100,000 donor, is actually what enables us to provide people with health care and hope, and hopefully a brighter future.

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

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

Rabih Torbay: People always ask what keeps you going? I mean, it’s that human resilience that we underestimate the human resilience is amazing. Whether it’s the people that I saw in Beirut when I went and visited after the blast in Beirut, or in Sierra Leone, or Iraq or Afghanistan.

People’s resilience is what makes us work harder when you see them that they’ve got nothing, but they still have a smile on their face. And they’re pushing forward. They’re trying to make ends meet, they’re still trying to provide that gets the same way we want to provide of our kids, put them to schools, make sure they’re not sick. I mean, when you see How can you give up? How can you sit back and say, okay, I’ve done enough?

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

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

Rabih Torbay: People think that we’re actually helping others when it’s very reciprocal. When you go to a place like Beirut during a blast, and you see the youth who came from all over the country to help clean up the streets, help pick up the pieces, volunteer, donate money, donate medicines, donate food, and they’ve got nothing themselves, but they brought whatever they can to help. I mean, how can you not fall in love with people like that?

People that are actually doing and it gives you an unbelievable sense of, you know, a humility.  They don’t need a hand up. Nobody wants a hand up.  People need a helping hand people and need to be able to help each other and help themselves with pride and with dignity. To be in a position where you could actually help them achieve that. It’s just amazing. It doesn’t get better than that.

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

Rabih Torbay: How can you put a price on somebody’s life? You know, how can you monetize that? How can you say, life is worth $2? That’s life is worth $100,000. Right? You start looking at that. But that being said, donors want to make sure that their money is going to the right people, and that you’re maximizing the impact of that money, and the money’s not being wasted. And, and for us, it’s critical. We take that very seriously.

We work hard for every single cent that we get from our donors. And we appreciate every single sound because we want it we you know, every cent counts and it saves people’s lives.  And one of the most impactful things that we do is actually training. Now, think about the multiplying factor of the training of doctors. If you go in as a doctor and treat 10 patients, that’s fantastic. You’ve just saved 10 patients.

But if you go in as a doctor or as a nurse, and you treat five patients and you train one doctor, who in turn will actually everyday treat 50 to 100 patients, look at the impact of your money, and put the potential of those doctors and nurses will train other doctors and nurses. So the model is the biggest return on investment that anybody could ever have, especially when it comes to health care workers.

And for us, that’s why everything we do, whether it’s during a disaster response or a program that deals with maternal and child health, or tuberculosis or HIV, or diabetes, training of healthcare workers is critical. Because that is the one thing that we leave behind. You can build a clinic, it could get destroyed, right? You can provide medicines and medical supplies don’t get used and they run out. But when you train people, that knowledge stays behind. And it’s a permanent knowledge. And for us, that is the most impactful work that any organization can ever do.

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

Rabih Torbay:  I don’t think it’s going to be achieved in my lifetime. And I hope it does, which is that Project HOPE and other organizations like project top are no longer needed. Because that means the world is in a much better place. Now more realistic and immediate The dream for Project Hope is that we really reach more people.

When you ask about, you know, what keeps me up at night, obviously the safety of our staff,  the next disaster that’s coming, can we actually respond? Can we get the resources to respond to those disasters? Can we actually make sure that we deliver training and we deliver services during COVID-19? The one thing that always keeps me up at night is who we could have reached that we didn’t? 

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

Rabih Torbay:  You know, as an engineer, you want certainty about everything you do, right? You want to know everything before you make any decision, for me, one of the most important things that I’ve learned,
especially stepping away from my engineering world is taking risks.

Take a chance on people take a chance on people’s resilience, take a risk, do something that your gut tells you. It’s the right thing to do. And your brains tell you No, it’s not. Listen to your gut instinct much more than you listen to your brains all the time. And taking a chance on people and believing in people’s goodness goes a long, long way.

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

And, you know, having grown up in Lebanon during the Civil War? I didn’t know that was in me because you grew up in a war and you always wanted somebody to help you. You always want somebody to stop the bomb, and you wanted somebody to make sure that you get food.  This was in me the whole time and I had no idea.

Suddenly, you know, it came back out. And I was like, look, it’s about people. It’s about that extra step. So for me, the one thing I choose is the fact that I can never get enough. I never stop. Whatever I can do. I want to do a little bit more. Some people think I’m crazy. Some people think I’m a workaholic. I just love it. And the second thing is, I love my job. I’m telling you doing seven years of engineering, I hated every second.

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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Using Technology to teach children philanthropy

As millions of children will be staying home this fall and sadly not heading back to school many parents are looking for new ways to keep their children engaged. More than that parents are looking for resources that will help their children develop empathy, gratitude, and hopefully want to put those feelings into action. A number of people and organizations have reached out asking if there are some online tools to help children learn more about giving. So today I wanted to share a number of great resources for kids and families.

Connecting kids to causes

An organization you have all heard me talk about many times, Project Giving Kids, has tons of resources to connect children and families to causes. PGK has a host of nonprofit partners and a wide range of needs from these organizations across all age levels.

Apps for Service

Common Sense Media put out a fantastic list of Apps that help children learn about giving. One of their recommendations is Free Rice is an app where children learn about ending hunger a few grains of rice at a time. (Age 9+).

For older students, (13 years and older)  there are apps like YSA (Youth Service America). Youth Service America’s site provides information to facilitate teen community service and connect them with organizations and grants to help them be successful. It also incorporates an advocacy campaign called Global Youth Service Day in April. Teens can click on a number of projects and campaigns on the site to learn about the many service options.

Using allowance to teach giving

There are a number of allowance apps that also help cultivate giving. A few popular ones are Bankaroo, Rooster Money, Go Henry, and BusyKid. Each of these manages children’s allowance, helps set savings and giving goals in different ways. The age range for most of these is usually between 5-15 and all have some parental oversight.

The overall concept of the apps above is to begin to create healthy habits of savings, goal setting, and giving. With Rooster Money, when children decide they are ready to donate they can click on the apps “give pot” and search for a cause they care about or one of 25,000 charities hosted on JustGiving.

Some of these apps have a monthly or yearly fee so do your homework when researching which is best for your children and family.

Small Steps Add Up

At the end of the day, we all want to cultivate empathy, gratitude, and kindness in our children. Starting new habits at the beginning of a school year is always a good idea. The earlier we start planting the seeds of compassion the faster they grow. Be patient with your self and your children. Have fun and make this a family project. Remember the best way to teach anything is to model the behavior you want for your children yourself.

 

Charity Matters

 

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Project Ropa

If you live in an urban area, you are aware of our national homeless epidemic. Los Angeles alone has over 66,000 people living on the streets of our city, according to the latest statistics. Nationally, 17 out of every 10,000 people in our country are homeless, according to the nonprofit end homelessness.org.  The problem is so overwhelming and huge that most people don’t know where to begin. Everyone except Caitlin Adler that is. Caitlin and I spoke last month about homelessness, COVID, and her incredible work as the founder of Project Ropa.

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

Caitlin Adler:  We started Project Ropa in 2015 to address the challenges that homeless people face in obtaining and keeping clean clothes. Though homelessness is accompanied by many things, one of its greatest indignities comes from the absence of hygiene services.

Most homeless people literally have only the clothes on their backs. Access to clean clothing is essential to the overall well-being of a person and can be the key to opening doors to employment and housing. How you look affects how you feel about yourself and how others treat you. Now, because of the health threats posed by the coronavirus, the need to overcome those challenges has become ever greater.

Project Ropa provides a selection of new and gently used high-quality men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, along with personal hygiene products (donated by local manufacturers, retailers, and nonprofit partners). Each week we bring the clothing throughout the city in a retrofitted van that acts as a mobile walk-in closet. At the same time, the people we serve can take a shower offered by another service provider, called Lava Mae, that we partner with.

Charity Matters: Did you have a background in philanthropy or nonprofit Prior to Project Ropa?

Caitlin Adler:  No, I didn’t have any nonprofit background.  My background was in hospitality. I was a pastry chef for 15 years and had a bakery in Boston. When I moved to LA, I was really burned out and began doing restaurant design. I wanted my life to have a purpose and I had a heart for the homeless but really didn’t know how to make an impact.

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

Caitlin Adler:  I  began volunteering for a nonprofit called Chrysalis, which helps people transition out of homelessness. I helped them sort their clothing donations and quickly realized that they had surplus clothing of some items that they couldn’t use and a shortage of other items. I began to help them redistributing the clothing between six other nonprofit partners.

After talking to other charities it became clear that there was a gap in the system. In 2015, I started Project Ropa by redistributing unwanted donations from local charities with the goal of using the remaining clothes to one day stock a mobile pop-up shop for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Since 2016, we have taken the concept to the streets. Clean clothes and access to personal hygiene products significantly impact a person’s economic well-being, physical health, and emotional resilience. We received our 501c3 in 2017.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Caitlin Adler: We have a few challenges. Currently, with COVID we are the only organization that is handling clothing. The lack of education from other nonprofits on clothing distribution has been challenging. Maintaining good relationships with the city and county can be hard.

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

Caitlin Adler: At the end of the day, when you know that someone who is homeless can get a job because you have provided them access to a shower and given them something to wear. It is a great feeling. Once our clients get jobs they need to come back for more than one thing to wear to work but to stay employed.

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

Caitlin Adler: We had a gentleman come in recently and he literally was in tattered rags and had maggots on him. He had a shower and we gave him new clothes, new shoes, a face mask, gloves and he felt and acted like a new person. He had dignity and a smile. Those are the moments when I know we have made a difference.

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

Caitlin Adler: Since we started we have clothed over 30,000 people. All of that clothing was 84,000 pounds of clothing that did not go into a landfill. I think our biggest impact is the job that clothing helps people get. We have directly provided clothing for more than 800 people for job interviews. Once our clients have a shower, clean new clothes, and shoes, and dignity they are ready to get a job. When they come back for more clean clothes to wear to work that is a huge impact. 

The other impact is basic hygiene such as tampons and clean underwear that we provide. These small items make a huge impact on someone’s life. 

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

Caitlin Adler: I think if we could continue to franchise our model in other areas and build in a way that incorporates social enterprise. We would love to continue recycling as part of our model as well.

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

Caitlin Adler: I came into this experience naive and trusting looking out for the good of the community. I originally did this by myself and partnered with twelve other organizations. Over time I have learned so much more about the multiple facets of homelessness.

How has this journey changed you?

Caitlin Adler: I used to be so afraid of the homeless because I didn’t have any personal interaction. When you know people by name and care for them you learn understanding and compassion and we all need more of 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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How do you choose a hero?

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

photo credit: CNN

I was recently asked who my favorite nonprofit founder or hero is? To be honest, it was as if someone asked who my favorite son is?  There is no favorite. Each person that I am privileged enough to interview brings a unique story and journey that has lead them to serve. These men and women use their lives challenges as fuel to help others’ lives. Honestly, there is no one better than another. They are all amazing! Their stories and life journeys are all lessons for each of us on how we can use our own gifts to the greatest good.

Each hero’s story and cause are different and diverse. Inspiring people like the Vegas dancer, who began My Hope Chest. A former supermodel who has committed her life to serve the homeless with I Am Waters.  Infinite Heros founder, Colin Baden, using his work at Oakley to serve our Veterans. How could you choose or vote because everyone you have met through Charity Matters is a hero.

CNN Heroes

CNN has also been profiling amazing humans for their show CNN Heroes for about the same time that Charity Matters has. They do ask you to nominate your heroes and this got me thinking. How do you pick a hero? I could spend days filling these nomination forms out with all of the incredible everyday heroes I have met. The world is full of amazing people but sadly we are not watching them, our attention is elsewhere.

VOTE

Here is one nominee from a few years back. So take a minute and think if you know someone who is making a difference in your community or world? Nominations are due July 31st, so you have a few days to fill out the application and help a helper. There is simply nothing better.

 

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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3 Dollar Challenge

“I would so much like young people to have a sense of the gift that they are.”

John Denver

You are never too young to change the world. Those are words from my recent conversation with Jack Adler and his twin sister Kate, the founders of the 3Dollar Challenge. Jack and Kate are 19-year-old twins from Villanova, PA who reached out to me a few weeks ago via Instagram about their cause.

While they have not yet started a nonprofit, they have started a movement to inspire giving and action in the face of COVID. It all started in early April when Jack sent his sister a text asking her if she wanted to do something to support COVID relief. Her answer was yes and that was the beginning of the $3 Challenge. I hope these two inspire you as much as they inspired me!

Charity Matters: What was the inspiration behind the 3 Dollar Challenge?

Jack Adler: This whole idea really stemmed from us being forced to leave college early from Coronavirus and we were sitting at home for a couple of months in quarantine. We realized that we were lucky enough to be healthy and not have any of our loved ones struggling and fighting for their lives with COVID. We knew that there are people fighting every day on the frontlines fighting to save lives and fighting for their own lives and it felt selfish to act like just because we were safe we didn’t have to help.

One day and I came up with an idea to fundraise for Coronavirus relief and I called my sister into the room and we started brainstorming different ways. And together we came up with an idea to start an Instagram challenge.

Kate Adler: I thought an Instagram challenge was a good idea but none of the challenges had a donation component. We are both majoring in business, I’m at the University of Miami and Jack is at Syracuse University and we wanted to use our entrepreneurial skills to try and help. I felt like it’d be a really cool idea to make the Instagram challenges into something more like with this donation component for Coronavirus relief. So we brainstormed and we had a whole launch setup where we texted all of our friends that it was coming.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how the 3 Dollar Challenge works?

Jack Adler: The concept is simple. First, you donate $3 via Venmo @threeDC or through bit.ly/lemonadefund (select referred by 3 Dollar Challenge). Then post an Instagram story of something you cannot wait to get back to after quarantine. Lastly,  tag @3dollarchallenge and nominate at least 3 more people to do these steps.

Kate Adler: We used Venmo to make it easy and accessible and set up Go Fund Me to accept donations larger than $3. We partnered with a group called Makin Lemonade that was the same age doing the same thing and the result is over $117,000 raised for Feed America, CDC, and Direct Relief, all split equally.

Charity Matters: Did you have any idea what you were starting?

Jack Adler: Well, we originally were like, let’s raise a few hundred dollars for Coronavirus. Surely it’ll we’ll feel good about ourselves and we will know that we’re making a difference and within 24 hours raised over ten thousand dollars.

It started with us getting our immediate friends to tag their friends who weren’t in our mutual friend circle. It started there and it was just an exponential domino effect of them tagging three people then tagging three people and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of people around the nation who we didn’t even know posting for the three-hour challenge within 24 hours.

We had thousands of posts we reached people that we had, we obviously didn’t know. And it just completely blew our minds. It was so exciting. We had big thousand follower accounts posting for us just seeing it from other people was so cool.  It was really awesome.

Charity Matters: Had you ever done something like this before? What were your previous experiences with volunteering and charity?

Kate Adler:  We hadn’t had a huge background in philanthropy, our parents taught us to give back, and when we were little we did a lot of lemonade stands.  We mostly raised money for different children’s hospitals and our grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Then in high school, we became the co-presidents of a club called Jerry’s Box that supported kids with cancer. We lead a team of 200 students once a month, packaging toys, and then delivering them ourselves. So that was honestly our first big experience in philanthropy and giving back.

Charity Matters: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Kate Adler:  At first we were like, wow, this is so easy because you’re kind of just soaring and donations are coming in. Literally, like 10 donations a second, it was crazy. But then once it started to lose steam after only really only a couple of days, we said we need to figure out a way to keep it going. We don’t want to stop after one burst of Instagram stories. We had to reach out to literally hundreds of people.

We’re direct messaging everyone we knew from different schools, influencers, celebrities, news channels, really anyone we could. Anyone that could probably spread the challenge to their networks and that helped a lot.  After our $10,000 push, we ended up raising another $8000, just from reaching out to people we knew and getting news coverage and things like that. So I think the hardest part is definitely just keeping it going because we want it to keep going for as long as possible.

Jack Adler: Honestly, I think our biggest challenge was raising $10,000 in 24 hours and then knowing that inevitably, we’re not going to keep that same steam because we really had hit our peak of trendiness on Instagram for that one day. And it was really cool because we had to really push ourselves and find ways to keep the challenge spreading. We really got to learn from the experiences of the grind. We had to prove to people that we’re legit

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

Jack Adler: It just feels so good. It’s a really, it’s really cool for us to be able to mix our passion for entrepreneurship with our passion for giving back. We just love coming up with different ideas to help people and it’s fun, it feels good and it really is addicting.

I would say, our realization that we have to keep going with the Three Dollar Challenge is as much as it is a passion it is also a responsibility. At this point to use the platform that we’ve created to continue making a difference and continue helping people. It would feel selfish and wrong to not keep doing it. Because while we are having fun with it, it’s also helping so many people and we want to keep doing that.

Kate Adler:  I would agree, I just think it’s such a drive to keep going.  I think what really helps our momentum is aiming the direction in new ways. So we started a tic toc challenge because that’s been really popular. And honestly, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to. It didn’t really pick up momentum, which was like a great learning experience just because something worked and some things don’t. 

Charity Matters: When did you know you made a difference?

Kate Adler:  I would say a big wow moment was when a couple of accounts were created that are like the $4 challenge. People started other Instagram donation challenges and actually wrote in the comment of their pictures like we’ve been inspired by the $3 Challenge to start this organization.  At first, I thought they’re copying us. But then we actually realized that it is really cool to see other people kind of like taking what we’ve done to make a difference.

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

Kate Adler:  I think besides the funds raised another huge impact was just on people our own age and younger too, because people kind of saw it and they’re like, wow, these kids are our age. We can do things too. And I think it probably motivated a lot of people to look for ways to give back.  I have noticed a lot of people reached out to us asking for ways to get involved and what more they can which was really awesome.

Jack Adler:  I think the realization of the power of social media to see that it can be used to spread a positive message and make a positive difference. And we kind of figured out a loophole, I guess you could say, of a way to use this amazing power and influence of social media and the ability to reach thousands of people so easily. And we used it, not to spread a comedy or entertainment, but to spread a way to help the world out.

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

Jack Adler: I mean, we’ve been working on getting on The Ellen Show, which would help spread the word around the nation. But in terms of like the actual growth of our brand, we really want to turn it into something where we can pivot towards different causes. Whenever we feel that we see a cause it needs our attention, and have the platform to be able to do that and raise thousands of dollars every time.

Kate Adler: I think another one of our big goals is to actually allow other nonprofits to use the concept of the $3 challenge. But we think it’d be really cool if a nonprofit said, “Hey, we love the $3 challenge. We would love to run a $3 challenge through our nonprofit.” 

Charity Matters: How has this experience changed you?

Kate Adler: I know I’m speaking for Jack, but I think our family was surprised that quarantine motivated Jack. He had this new drive and motivation.

Jack Adler: I did take the driver seat, which Kate usually does. We have changed from this real-world experience. This will be a story that will change our lives forever.

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

Kate Adler: It is never too early to start giving. College has taught us so many business strategies but it has been great to learn while doing. We have loved motivating other kids to follow in our footsteps.

Jack Adler: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that we are not too young to change the world, you are never too young to make an impact and we are ready to make a difference.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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.

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Another lap around the sun

The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”

Ernst Nightingale

Today marks another lap around the sun. Another year has passed and there is another candle on the cake. More than the passage of time or the counting of candles a new year brings another opportunity for growth. A chance to do better, to be better, to learn, and to try harder.

With every passing year, I see the hourglasses sand falling faster and realize that each precious grain is a moment. A moment to choose how to spend our time. Each grain is a gift that must be opened, treasured, celebrated, and used to the greatest good. It all sounds so simple and yet it isn’t. The grains fall so fast, the time passes, and then we ask ourselves how did I miss that moment? We find ourselves saying, “Where did the time go?” As the sand keeps on falling…

I chuckle when I think of the opening line from the soap opera my mom used to watch in the ’70s that said, “As the sand in an hourglass these are Days of Our Lives…”  Who knew that all of these years later I would find wisdom in something I once thought so silly? I think that is the pursuit, to continue to search for wisdom, for guidance, for light, and for love.

My life is so full of blessings of health, family, and dear friendships that I must continue to use the time remaining, whatever that may be, to use my gifts to be a voice for others. To be a messenger of hope. To help the helpers and to serve those who serve us.  My birthday wish is clear and I am committing that I will continue to do better, to try harder, to learn more, and to be better in this mission.

A birthday is a gift, just as a day or a moment is….another opportunity to use each grain of sand towards the greatest good. Another day to grow, to learn, to give….

 

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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When the Landslide takes you down….

“I took my love and I took it down. I climbed a mountain and I turned around.”
Landslide, Stevie Nicks
The events of the past few months have been almost surreal, a script that no one would believe had it be written.  Amidst all the chaos the song Landslide has played and always in a moment when I needed to hear it most. Have you ever had a song that shows up over and over almost like a theme song for your life? In the craziest moments, a song that comes on out of nowhere? For me that song is Landslide. It doesn’t matter which version, Fleetwood Mac, Dixie Chicks, any version, anywhere it stops me. It makes me pause and like the lyrics, it literally takes me down. Whenever I hear it, I know there is change, loss, and growth…in the air.
I sat down to write this morning about the pandemic, change, the chaos we have seen, and the life lessons learned, and as I was scrolling mindlessly procrastinating through Instagram there it was…Belinda Carlisle singing Landslide….and I realized that once again I was meant to hear these words and really listen ….
I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Mmm
Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too
Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too
I’m gettin’ older, too
Hearing Landslide, my thoughts shifted to what life feels like for many of us right now.  Change and landslides occur in all of our lives, however, it is that rare occurrence when all of humanity experiences a landslide of global proportions. When we collectively experience fear, loss, uncertainty, anxiety, and wonder if we,”can sail through the changing ocean tides, can I handle the seasons of my life?” What happens when humanity experiences fear and now anger together? We are all watching it unfold….
We are all afraid of change and yet we are all faced with it because somehow the script we wrote for our lives is disrupted. The plan and vision we had shifted and the clear path we thought we were on has been blocked by a landslide.
The high school or college graduation didn’t happen to script, the wedding planned went off script, the job went away and our lives all went off-script. The reality is that as much as we try to script our lives, it just doesn’t always work that way. Life does not follow our scripts. When that happens we feel loss, grief, sadness because we saw so clearly in our minds how it was supposed to be…..and it just wasn’t.
As  “Time makes you bolder, even children get older”  I have realized that the gift of loss is growth. The earthquake brings rebuilding, the forest fire renews the soil and the forest, while death, grief, and loss bring rebirth. WE, humanity, are ready for a rebirth. The rebirth is happening inside each of us as we gather to pick up our pieces and attempt a try at a new script, a new normal. “Mirror in the sky, what is love? Can that child within my heart rise above?”
What more will come from our rebirths?
As we dig out from the landslide and begin to climb the mountain once again….

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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Faces In Between

There has been much conversation about the future of our country and the challenges that many of our young graduates are facing in these uncertain times. If ever there was a bright light that gives us all hope for humanity, it is Danielle Levin, the President, and refounder of Faces In Between. Danielle literally graduated from Columbia with her Masters in Public Health the day before our conversation last week. She is remarkable in what she has accomplished in 25 short years and I know the future is bright with compassionate leaders like Danielle changing our world through her inspiring work serving youth, families, and the homeless.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Faces In Between does?

Danielle Levin: Faces in Between is a community outreach and support organization. We focus on developing different programs that increase the well being of our community members who are experiencing different forms of economic disadvantage. We primarily work with youth and families as well as youth who are experiencing homelessness. Sometimes there are overlaps between those, sometimes there’s not.

For our homeless outreach, we distribute care packages and we’re in New York City so in the winter that looks like sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and things like that. We have a speaker series where we bring individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness into different settings to share their own stories and advocate on behalf of themselves and their community. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing it directly from the source and being able to truly ask the questions that many of us have and don’t really know who to ask or where to go to find the answer.

We also have an after school program called SNACC, which stands versus Stainable Nutrition And Community Connection. It teaches economically disadvantaged youth how to prepare healthily, but affordable meals with items that are available in their local grocery stores. We bring different New York City chefs in to teach students and then we incorporate different social, emotional learning components into each session that we have. However, with COVID, we have not been able to run our programming as we had planned. So we pivoted what we do while keeping our mission exactly the same.

We have developed a COVID relief food program, and we are currently delivering daily meals to over 200 people. We are working with a local farm to table catering company who’s bringing boxes of food directly to the doors, the homes, the shelters of elementary age students and their families. So that’s been our new way of connecting with the community. We are in the process of launching a Chef’s Table page on our website. We’re having chefs send us in video recordings of themselves doing cooking demos for the kids. The chefs are going to show the students and their families how to create healthy and affordable meals with the ingredients provided in the boxes. So we’ve really been creative in our approach and are just trying to meet the community where they are. 

Charity Matters: You are 25 years old and have already accomplished so much, You literally graduated last week with your Master’s Degree in Public Health. have you always been philanthropic?

Danielle Levin:  I’ve always been someone that wanted to be a changemaker; I wanted to be an agent for change. I would spend my summers interning for refugee resettlement organization or running a health clinic and interning  for HIV AIDS facilities abroad. I just always knew that I wanted to do something to increase well being and to help people be able to live their best lives.

Homelessness and economic disadvantage have always been something that’s of particular interest to me. Especially focusing on youth because kids have so much to look forward to and so much potential.  When I moved to New York, I had the opportunity to just really get to know my neighbors who didn’t have homes. There are over 65,000 homeless individuals in New York City on any given night.  I had the opportunity to really understand, and to sit down on the street corners and talk with my neighbors who didn’t have homes, get to know what their needs were, learn their stories, and that’s kind of where the speaker series developed from. Also, all the items that we deliver aren’t because I think that they should be delivered, it’s because I know it from hearing directly from the source.

Charity Matters: Tell us how Faces In Between began?

Danielle Levin: It’s kind of an interesting story and series of events, and it’s all just so meant to be. In 2016, I was moving to New York, graduating undergrad, and I was going to work in a corporate healthcare job and wanted to really do something in my spare time working with homelessness and poverty. I came across this woman who had posted something online about how she started this organization called Faces in Between. Her name is Kendra and she filed the paperwork and set up the organization. She was a psychiatric ER doctor who worked around the clock and didn’t really have the opportunity to actually launch the organization in the way she had planned.

I reached out to her and she brought me onto the team. In 2018, I kinda said, Hey Kendra, nothing’s really happened with the organization in like a year and a half. She said, “Actually, I am going to shut it down. It’s not the right time.”  I said, well if it’s going to shut down now and fail now, why don’t I just take it over? I’ll rework it, I’ll rebuild it, I’ll flip it and keep the general mission exactly the same, but the approach to it will change. I thought it either fails with me, or doesn’t, but let’s see what happens. So she passed it over to me. And so I’m kind of like, the refounder.

 Kendra remains as my incredible mentor and she looks at what we’ve done with such pride. She had no idea that it would then turn into this and she’s watching it from afar and just seeing all the things that we’ve accomplished and the thousands of people that were touching daily. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Levin: I think our biggest challenge is also our biggest strength, the challenge is that we are 100% volunteer-based. Every donor dollar goes directly to the community. I am a full-time volunteer for the organization. I think that it’s our biggest strength but it definitely poses challenges because we make decisions on maximizing community impact versus a business model. I think that it is something so special and I will keep this model for as long as I can. It’s working for us. Upon graduating I’m going to be working full time for another corporation so that I can maintain this model. I think that it’s our strength, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to maximize and how to stretch every dollar to make sure that it’s truly making a difference in the lives of our community. I think it’s also the most beautiful part and it’s what makes us us. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have so much passion for the work that I do that I don’t mind late nights and early mornings and weekends. For me, it doesn’t feel like work, I truly get so much pleasure out of it. Challenging myself to reach the next limit and figure out how many more thousands of people can we feed or how many more meals can we deliver by tomorrow or next week. To me, it’s time well spent.

I think that I have a unique skill– I am really good at creative problem solving when it comes to real-life issues and coming up with effective solutions. I mean, what fuels someone to want to finish a puzzle? There are things that I can contribute, and if I don’t use it, then it’s kind of going to waste. If you have a gift, you might as well share it with the world.

It fuels me to see the recipients, people who are receiving our services, and their reactions to it. When it’s going to be zero degrees out, and someone is handed a sleeping bag, and they know that that’s their lifeline, it fuels me. When kids learn a new recipe and they’re taking home nutritious food to their family, but they might have had pizza for breakfast yesterday, it fuels me. I love learning from other people, strategically collaborating, picking people’s brains, kind of figuring out how to accomplish things that could have at first seemed impossible. But, when you break it down, you realize it’s all within reach. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have two answers. One is in terms of the work we do with homeless outreach. Those moments look like people reaching out who have spoken at our speaker series and saying,” you changed my life, you reminded me that I’m human, you made me feel human again”  and to help someone realize that they are who they’ve always been, is a really powerful moment.

With our youth and families, I think that, honestly, through our COVID relief is how I’ve realized our impact because when you’re teaching kids how to cook, you’re not home with them. You don’t see what they’re doing outside of the program. So you don’t know what type of impact you’ve truly made. But I think that seeing how we can so quickly jump into action  and pivot to support the community because of the infrastructures that are there was powerful for me and the team. Unfortunately, our list of in-need families is growing as the crisis evolves. This week, we officially took every single person off of our waitlist. That’s a really powerful moment to know that every person in this community who’s expressed the need for food, we are able to provide it for them. 

Charity Matters: If you could create a billboard that showed your impact, what would it look like?

Danielle Levin: I think that it would be a picture of our community members, smiling, being part of the community. I think that it would have some kind of message about the individuality of everyone that we serve, and the personal stories– kind of meeting the community where they are. We’re not just providing kids with a meal and saying we changed a life. What we are doing is much more than that.

I think that in all the work we do, it’s important to give people resources and tools, and we can’t expect that they’ll use it in a certain way or receive it in a certain way, or that they even want it but equipping people with resources and tools is so important. I think that meeting people where they are and understanding that one kid might act like they hate our after school program, but we don’t know what’s going on at home. So meeting people really where they are, and letting them participate in the cooking when they want to, let them serve, letting them take extra servings if that’s what they want, or skip out on the servings– I think that it’s really about understanding that we might be serving a community, but within the community, each person has their own story. 

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

Danielle Levin: That there’s no longer a need for us, that we have to go out of business because everyone has the resources that they need to live their day to day lives, and thrive in whatever way that means to them.

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

Danielle Levin: I’ve learned a lot. Every single day I learn something new. I think the biggest one is to take risks because everything I’ve done is a risk. I never knew if any of it would work. I’m 25 years old and I launched an after school program at a New York City public school. We just pitched it. We just went to a school and said we think that we’d be a good fit for your school and we pitched it because we had nothing to lose. If we didn’t take that risk, we would have gained nothing, they would have gained nothing, but we’re now providing their students with these meals during this crisis. I think that one thing is to just take risks and think outside the box.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Levin: I think that my entire perspective has changed. If you told me something, I would question where you learned that from, where you heard that from because to me, I’ve become so used to going to the source and saying to someone who’s experiencing homelessness, I heard this stigma, how do you feel about it? How does that make you feel? I think that hearing the story from the source and learning the facts from who they come from has definitely changed me and my perspective, rather than kind of just accepting what we as a society tend to believe is true.

I’ve always been someone who loves connecting with others, but my ability to do so has become much more well rounded because you might think you have nothing in common with someone who doesn’t have a home and is sleeping outside on the street for the last 10 years, but learning how to connect with someone who seems different, but then finding commonalities with them really changes you. I have become a lot more flexible in my life because when you’re working with individuals who don’t have as much structure as let’s say you and I might have in our lives, you have to learn how to be flexible and adaptable.

I think the biggest thing is knowing how to push limits and knowing that where I am now isn’t the end. There is so much more to do and so much more I will do. It’s easy to stick to the status quo, but to push the limits and see what happens has only led to success and has changed my perspective on how I live my daily life. 

 

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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Calling All Angels

“Sometimes angels are just ordinary people that help us believe in miracles again.”

Anonymous

As long as I can remember angels have been a part of my life. One of my earliest memories was being cast as the Angel of Gabriel in the kindergarten Christmas pageant. At the time I remember thinking it was a runner up spot from the role of Mary, but Mary didn’t have wings so I decided that being an angel was pretty special.

Like most things, once you put a filter on your brain you begin to see them everywhere and angels began appearing pretty early on. Our school custodian was a lovely and kind man named Angel. I realized that I lived in the City of Angels. Over and over the symbol appeared in my life even as a young girl.

When my mom died unexpectedly, my sister had given all of us angel medallions for Christmas. We had never worn them and the first time we saw each other after my mom’s death we all had the angel medallions on, without discussing it. There were so many angel signs then….

A year after my mom’s passing we started the nonprofit Spiritual Care Guild, we asked all of our children to draw pictures and Father John would pick the logo based on his favorite drawing. Low and behold it was little Violet’s drawing of an angel.

My dear friend and mentor, Ron, who helped us navigate Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the early days of Spiritual Care, happened to live on Angelo Drive. Another sign from an angel on earth. There are many more signs and images but these few illustrations explain why I pay more attention these days when a symbol appears.

So the other day when processing everything that is going on in the world right now this ten-year-old song came on, Calling All Angels by Train. As I listened to the lyrics, it seemed as if were written for today, not a decade ago. As we struggle to look for signs it seems that it might be time to call all our angles.

I wanted to share the lyrics here:
I need a sign to let me know you’re here
All of these lines are being crossed over the atmosphere
I need to know that things are gonna lookup
‘Cause I feel us drowning in a sea spilled from a cup
When there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head
When you feel the world shake from the words that are said
And I’m calling all angels
And I’m calling all you angels
And I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I need a sign to let me know you’re here
‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me
And I’m calling all angels

There are so many angels amongst us. I think of our first responders, our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and grocery store workers. We need to see the angels that are here and call upon our other angels. The world needs as many angels as possible 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 R & R

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Anonymous

For almost a decade, I have written weekly for Charity Matters. Sharing the stories of the remarkable humans, who make our world better, is truly my passion and brings me such joy. Each of you has become a part of this growing community of people who crave goodness and positivity. When I meet you and discover the causes that you are supporting because of one of our stories or your volunteer efforts because of something you read here, it is the ultimate gift. Honestly, nothing brings me more joy than inspiring others to serve.

Sometimes, the challenge in being both a messenger of service and in running a nonprofit full-time is getting the stories out week after week. So this next week I am taking a little pause and vacation, something Charity Matters rarely does. A moment to catch my breath, refill the tank and to think about some next steps for this platform and community that I love.

So, if we miss a week know that we will be back ready to inspire you after a little spring break, sunshine, sea and sand. Thank you for continuing to spread the word about our work and making the world a better place.

 

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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