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The Scarlet C of COVID

“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

The Scarlet Letter

My son and husband have COVID. By the time you read this “had” will be more apropos. Not to worry they are physically fine.  I am COVID free. They are only two of over four million people that have had this. The fascinating thing about COVID is not the physical ramifications but the mental. There is a Scarlet Letter C for COVID. For the first time in my life, I can relate to the character Hester Pryne from The Scarlet Letter. We have not hung a huge scarlet C in front of our house but it feels as if we might have one.

the Love-Hate Relationship with COVID Statistics

Every night for months the evening news covers the daily statistics of COVID. The number infected, tested, active cases, deaths, and the list goes on. These numbers are people. They are not numbers and there is a difference. At this writing, there have been over 140, 000 people in the United States who have died.   According to the LA Times, Floridians over 65 are dying every eight minutes, due to this horrific pandemic.

Before I begin my observations on the mental health of COVID, please note that I am in NO way stating in ANY way that being seriously ill or death is a comparison to the mental health aspects of this virus. It most obviously is not. What has been fascinating to observe is how people react and how people treat you when they know there is an active COVID case in your home.

The Human Experience and COVID

When you hear that people are all over the map with their thoughts about COVID. Pro-mask, Anti-masks, Pro-school-Anti-School. That is true. People are emotionally all over the place when it comes to COVID. Wherever you are on this is ok. I am not here to judge but here to tell you what this feels like on the receiving end. Every day for the past 12 days we have felt as if we are in the middle of a bad psychology experiment. When you tell someone your child has COVID and is safely quarantined (as are we) the reactions run the gamut. It doesn’t matter if is your family, dear friends, neighbors, or co-workers. I haven’t tried with strangers yet but maybe their reactions are better?

Our first encounter was with our neighbor who was walking his dog. My husband and I saw him from about thirty feet apart and we spoke telling him that our son has COVID. He literally ran away while suggesting a podcast for good information. His fear was real. Totally understandable but we have never had anyone run away from us before, so that was a first.

 

The Scarlet C

Dear friends have reacted with anger, shock, shamed us, questioned us, and rejected us. The anger, “How could you let your son go on a father-son boating trip in a pandemic? What did you expect would happen? You are an idiot!” For the record, every person on that trip has tested negative twice, so the source is still a mystery. Can you really get COVID from a gas pump? Think we know the answer.

Shock and awe.  Many friends are stunned and curious. Our son is the first person they have known and they have a million questions about exposure, symptoms, how we keep ourselves safe from him, quarantine, testing, and protocol. That is a whole different post on the misinformation of COVID that I will spare you all.

Shame and Shunned

To be told that we are not welcome regardless of testing, quarantine, following CDC, and doctor’s guidelines. Well, I have to admit, that one stung a bit. We have been very honest and open about the situation, obviously. Our medical advice has been excellent, all of which we have followed to the letter. Who knew that Zinc and a thousand milligrams of Vitamin C helps keep you COVID free?

However, being banned/shunned made me wonder if we actually had a Scarlet C on our home or our caller ID? It made me wonder about Hester Pyrene and truly understand how she felt. Just as the book said, “It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself.”  It is bad enough to be away from your other children, your family, friends, and the world for 14 days. It is not fun. It is sad, lonely, depressing, and isolating. That is for us that are “healthy” and without symptoms. I can’t imagine adding being severely ill to how people with COVID must feel?

Kindness and Compassion

To end on a positive note we have had more than a handful of amazing friends who offered to get groceries, run errands, or bring anything we needed. We had one friend drop off beautiful vegetables from her garden. One family has face-timed our son every night just to check in on him and it was honestly the highlight of his day. All of these gestures of kindness were THE best medicine. Feeling loved, connected, and cared for is what we all truly crave in life.

I have to confess that I struggled with sharing these observations.  Knowing that I am opening myself up to a million more opinions and emotions that honestly, I’m not sure I can handle after the past two weeks. However, with all of the overload of information out there I could not find anything about the human reaction to COVID. These are our experiences, perhaps not everyone’s. My hope is that when you know someone who is quarantined (and chances are you do) that you reach out with kindness, compassion, and empathy.

 

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.

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.

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.

Camp in the face of COVID

Each year more than 14 million children attend camp in the United States according to the American Camp Association. Sadly, this summer most children will not be attending their camps due to the pandemic. In the United States, there are over 12,000 camps and 8,400 of those are overnight experiences. In the face of COVID, children are not getting the benefits of independence, self-confidence, and new friends which camp provides.

Leaders are Adaptable

As many of you know I run a youth leadership nonprofit and the highlight of our summer is our Summer Leadership program. Our students (6th-8th graders) leave home for the first time and spend a few nights in college dorms. They learn who they can be and where they can go…. college. However, this past March in the wake of the COVID we were unclear about the path forward. Were we going to be able to host our traditional overnight camp? The answers were not clear.

At TACSC, we teach that leaders are adaptable. So adapt is what we had to do. Throughout the months of March, April and May we planned for two programs, in-person and online. It was a bit like writing two term papers knowing that one would have to be thrown away. In mid-May, we made the decision that we were going to have to go with our new plan for camp online.

How do you provide an amazing experience online?

For thirty-eight years TACSC has taught leadership with peer teaching. College students teaching high school students and high school students teaching middle school students. Our program is a combination of camp meets classroom meets kairos.  How were going to provide this experience to three hundred students online?

First and foremost we realized that kids should not be parked in front of a screen on a summer day. They needed to be outside, riding bikes, swimming, and getting bored. So we decided that the camp would start at 3 pm and end at 8:30. That time of day when parents need a break and kids usually start saying, “I’m bored.” Our curriculum team went to work and we were off to the races.

We Did IT!

After months of planning, shipping camp in a box to 300 campers, we executed our plan. This week we took our 38-year-old program and took it online. I was beyond nervous but our college and high school staff worked for months to create a magical experience. Our students attended the equivalent of an online play (via Zoom) each day, went into their small group classrooms, played games, made new friends, and learned about leadership. At the end of the evening, students had reflection time and families came together for night prayers.

Is the online experience the same? No. Did we create connection, fun, and friendships? Yes. Did they learn? Absolutely! Most of all, we learned that in order to survive and thrive as a non-profit we needed to be adaptable. A skill not just for leaders but for all of us.

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.

Town & Country Philanthropy Summit

photo: via Town & Country

Last week I had the privilege of attending Town and Country’s Philanthropy summit. The 175-year-old magazine highlights amazing people who are doing great work in their July Philanthropy issue and then brings them together for inspiring conversations on giving, social issues and ways to get involved. Sound familiar? Historically, the event is held in New York City. This year due to COVID the event was online. It was so fantastic to listen to incredible conversations.  So I thought I would share a few of the highlights.

Day one: Darren Walker

This year’s line up began with a conversation between Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, and Ava DuVernay of the ARRAY Alliance. The two spoke about race relations in the United States and ways to support causes that can impact change.  Darren Walker said, “What philanthropy can do best is to support people whose ideas change the world. Philanthropy seeks out change-makers and ask how can we help you do that?” Darren Walker went onto say, “Philanthropy can change lives and society together.” 

Photo via: Town & Country

Day Two: Robert E. Smith

The second day was an interview with Robert E.Smith, the infamous billionaire who donated forty million dollars to the Morehouse College Class of 2019’s student loan debt.  Robert came from humble beginnings and amassed a five billion-dollar fortune.  He said,” My wealth is to be used to liberate the human spirit.”  Robert Smith is founding a nonprofit called the Student Freedom Initiative to launch in 2021. The mission is to fund eleven historically black colleges’ students in STEM opportunities for a flexible, lower-risk to high-interest private student loans.

Day three: Matthew & Camila McConaughey

Day three of the Philanthropy Summit was an inspirational conversation with actor Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila. The couple spoke about their nonprofit Just Keep Livin Foundation that they began in 2008. Since that time they have served over 3,500 high students teaching wellness, fitness, and social-emotional learning.

photo credit: Town & Country

McConaughey went onto say that he believes, “It is selfish to give but it feels good.” And when asked, where can you start with philanthropy his reply was, “ In the mirror. We are giving back to ourselves when we give-not giving up.”

photo via: Town & Country

I think the real highlight of the Philanthropy Summit was when a young student (pictured above) from the Just Keep Livin Foundation spoke about her time in the program and her lessons learned. She said, “Giving is the best way to receive.”

 

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.

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.

 

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.

Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

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

Anthony D’Angelo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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Hero Initiative

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

Aesop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Crossroads

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

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

photo credit: MariaShriver.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

charity matters: What change do you see in yourself?

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Brave Gowns

 

COVID is certainly a word that I can’t wait to remove from my vocabulary. It has turned our planet upside down and literally stopped most of the world….with the exception of a few amazing people, one of them who I had the good fortune to talk to last week. Her name is Summer Germann and she is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit, business and most recently reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Brave Gowns does?

Summer Germann:  We manufacture hospital gowns for kids, these are not standard hospital gowns. Brave Gowns transform the spirit of a child and allow them to use their imaginations. We didn’t want to just do a tchotchke gown where we put a design on it, so we recreated an entire design that could access the patient’s entire body without having to move them.  I felt like just because you’re going through treatment doesn’t mean that you should lose like all modesty and pride, right? So teenage girls or women or even boys can stay covered while they access any part that is needed. So that was really important to me that we actually had a quality product that is made here in the United States.

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

Summer Germann: In 2002, I had lost my only sibling, my little brother, Mac who was 10 years old to two types of leukemia. I happen to be 15 years older than Mac and was 25,  when Mac went to heaven in 2002.  He was discharged the morning before Thanksgiving and he was to come home for Thanksgiving the next morning.

Mac was hooked up to a dialysis machine and had never asked my mom to come to lay in bed and hold his hand. He was 10 and all boy, and he said, “Can you hold my hand?” So she crawled in bed with him thinking, maybe it was good to get rest. And she woke up to the machine beeping and Mac in cardiac arrest.

 So honestly,  there are so many blessings in the story. We had a whole year where Mac was in the hospital and we really just had that year to spend with him. We catered to him, with what we didn’t know at the time was a bucket list. It was non stop. I spent that night before he died with him.  So if we had to lose him or for him to go,  it was just the most perfect way. How many people get to have that gift? 

I knew there’s no way I’m going to have this lesson in life and go back to  a “normal life.”  I knew I had to take this experience and do something with it. And it took a long time, it took 12 years, it wasn’t like I walked out of the hospital knowing what that was. I worked with my brother’s stem cell transplant team and his head nurse at the time when he was sick. 12 years had gone past and we created this ultimate gown in 2015.

Charity Matters: Explain what Happy Ditto is and how it is related to Brave Gowns?

Summer Germann: I started the nonprofit Happy Ditto (which is happiness doubled) first because I was so adamant about making sure this work was all done through a nonprofit. Happy Ditto is a nonprofit where people can buy or sponsor hospital brave gowns for children.  Then I got to a point where I had to turn it into a business as well because we were getting orders from hospitals that can’t purchase from nonprofits.   I just made sure all the bases were covered, as long as we get the gowns to the kids.

Charity Matters: How did you decide to get into the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for COVID?

Summer Germann:  Friday, March 13th  I called my designer and I knew we had to figure out a way to help. We had talked about making masks and families have asked us for years. I knew we could make them fun. I called my factory and told them what I wanted to do and they had already started a prototype three weeks before. I said you have to give me a product that I believe in and this isn’t about money. It was supposed to be retailed at $12. We brought it down to $9 and we incur the shipping to get into the hospitals    They sent over the prototype and I said, “Okay, I just launched.” By Monday we had 11,000 orders.

We are breaking even and not doing this for profit,  there probably will come a time where mask are the new norm and someone will be pursuing that but right now, someone will call and say,” I really am in a situation I need a mask.” Then I’m just overnighting it.  

Charity Matters: What is it like trying to keep up with the need and demand?

Summer Germann: We have shipped over 30,000 masks in less than two weeks.  We’re doing mask for the military at Camp Pendleton, for police precincts, I think we have sent to something like 177 precincts for New York. We’ve sent off to over 40 hospitals, we have a huge list.

And then we also have people purchasing masks in bulk and they’re sending them to hospitals with us. So they’re just been going in every direction every which way. And then we have another line that’s for individual orders. And I know everyone’s scared because I can tell you we’re getting 2800 emails a day. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Summer Germann: Staying true to exactly what our purpose is.  To be honest, I’ve received all of these offers to buy our company but they came with manufacturing in China.  I want the children in the best quality gown I can give them as fast as possible. All of our products are made on-demand, they’re never sitting on a shelf and never sitting in plastic. They are manufactured and within three to five days and on a child.  I just think it’s at a time where the kids are so sensitive and from infection, this is not the time to have gowns sitting for six months in a warehouse.

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

Summer Germann:  I think everyone behind the scenes is my grandma or in a family with a medically fragile child, like Mac, and they’re all scared, right? All we did was create a better product and we’re sending them out there. We’re doing the best we can in the midst of this truth. We have three shifts going and opened the second factory. I saw a news story last night that said that the BraveGowns are slowing down the Coronavirus. That people think that, well that’s wonderful. I never even thought about our work like that.  I just feel like I’m just giving people a piece of comfort.  

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

Summer Germann:  I really don’t. I feel like we’re just getting started five years in. I said recently,” I finally see the beginning.” I tried to explain it to someone the other day that is not in business. And I said, “I feel like we’re in the middle of building a house. And all I see is I’m standing in a kitchen that’s just gutted and chaos all around me.”  

The first two weeks of the 2800 emails and I was like, oh my god this isn’t working. I was still like, I’m still trying to stop and make dinner and do dishes like you know, like still just normal.  I think that article yesterday would be the first time where I actually thought wow,  people are believing in me a lot more than I see what I’m actually doing.

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

Summer Germann:  I know it’s bigger than me. And it’s time for me to be a really great ambassador for it and say goodbye.  I think there’s so much potential for Brave Gowns to be the new norm, it deserves to be the new norm.  I think it’s time for me to be the voice of Brave Gowns and show up where I need to, but let someone else run the show.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Summer Germann: I haven’t changed I think in that’s what was really important to me, I really haven’t changed and  I would still give the shirt off my back for anyone. I am still the person that walks in the post office and says something to make everyone laugh.  I think my story is about just believing in yourself and knowing that you could do life differently, right?

It was not easy and but I stayed true to exactly what we started and who we wanted to be. And I think that’s really what this is all about. I hope that someday my whole story shows that you don’t have to do it a nine to five in a cubicle. You can take the risk you know,  there’s so much more in life than just being okay and surviving. Go live. Right? And I think that’s what the whole thing.

There are so many times where my family only had faith. Faith was all we had. I don’t go to church. I just know that I’ve always had this in me.  It’s not like I believe in God, so everything worked out. But I believe that everything that I went through and every hard moment, he had a greater purpose. 

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

Summer Germann:  I can see so many lessons where I shot myself in the foot. I think just knowing your way. It’s like it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. Right?  I’m just saying to the woman that has this vision and dream. It doesn’t matter where or what’s behind you, we are in a world of opportunity. Everything is so untraditional right now, tech companies are going back to hiring people without a college degree because they need people that think outside the box. Just always know your worth.

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

Summer Germann: We have given over 450,000 Brave Gowns in 387  children’s hospitals in seven countries.  I spent five years not building a business, I built relationships with people. I built trust. Someone will text me and say,” Is this really Summer?” Yes, this is really Summer. I got a call from a nurse in Florida who has COVID her husband’s deployed. Her parents are in Texas. And she’s like, I just have no one to talk to you right now and she talked to me. And this was two days ago, that’s exactly why I’m here.

 Those are the moments that I think are worth it. At the end of my life, I hope to God people really know that I cared. It wasn’t about like yes, I have this wonderful life now. It’s just the blessing of just being there for people.  The impact is to think that I’ve brightened up inside the hospital walls and that the kids are in superheroes and princess costumes and that’s miraculous, right?  But I also know there are 3.4 million children in the hospitals and I’ve only gotten 450,000 gowns out there.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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