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Episode 79: Growing to Give

As most of you know I have spent the past few months wrapping up the book. In the process, the publisher is an amazing connector and loves to bring all of her authors together for weekly coffee connections via zoom. It is so great to meet other female authors and some of the most interesting and inspiring women. A couple months back I was in a zoom chat room when I met Siobhan Shaw, a fellow nonprofit founder.

I’m so excited to share  Siobhan and her husband, John’s, incredible story in the creation of their nonprofit, Growing to Give. Their story is a beautiful full circle reminder of following your heart, your roots and always thinking of ways to serve others.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Growing to Give does?

Siobhan Shaw:  Our mission is to provide sustainable agricultural systems to small scale community farmers in marginalized and climate vulnerable communities. We help them grow more food with less resources, specifically water, fertilizer, space, labor, and increase their production and the quality of the food coming off their farms and gardens. So that when they’re giving the food they grow to food banks, or they’re selling it through farm markets to actually support the operations, their nonprofit operations, they are actually turning a profit in a nonprofit way. 

We want to free people from hunger, we have partners in Africa and 60% of the population of Africa is going hungry. There’s to be no one going to bed hungry at night, by choice.

Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic family?

Siobhan Shaw:  I grew up on a farm. I was the lucky one. My mom was the farmer. My dad went to work. They had both served in World War II. Not only had my parents served their country, and sacrificed greatly. They lived through the Depression as young people and then they raised five children.

We took not only care of the environment, and we took care of other people. If you didn’t have something, somebody else had something. There was a lot of trading and there was always people coming to our home. We had this big dining room table, and it was full with family as well as with people that didn’t have a place to go.. Helping people was just in my DNA.

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

Siobhan Shaw: My husband John grew up on a farm as well. So we had already been together, almost a decade. I was in the film industry in casting and producing. John was in construction and our life was amazing. Then I got a call from John that he’d been rushed to the hospital. He just received a call from the doctor and he was told he had stage four cancer.  It was the moment in my life, where my entire world just collapsed.  This was out of left field and there was so much heartbreak and fear.

So oncome, the surgeries and the chemo rounds and then one day, he went up for a nap. When he  came down a few hours later he said, “I think I died. I saw the white light. There was a big glowing light. And I’m back, because I have something to do.” John didn’t know what it was but he was absolutely changed from that moment on. He had this profound near death experience and with it a renewed purpose in life. So he went traveling because he didn’t know what it was he was supposed to be doing here.

During his travels, he noticed that there was a lot of a lot of mention about farmers committing suicide.  What was happening around then was that the rain belt had shifted from the breadbasket of Australia.  So this was natural rain that farmers used so they didn’t need irrigation. Now their crops were being destroyed and the farmers were giving up. John came back and he just started tinkering and started cutting holes in pots. I had no idea, I thought he’d lost his mind. John learned how to write his own patents and he developed all kinds of different systems: water reduction systems for agriculture. 

We were ready to start manufacturing when John said,”We can get these units on the shelves at the big box stores, but I don’t feel that’s what I was called to do.  I feel like I need to give this away to the world and to people that really need our help. I want to find a way to help them and give it away to them.  If we can give somebody the tools that they need to have a productive farm, then they won’t need help anymore. That is how we started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Siobhan Shaw: We received our nonprofit status on December 24th, 2019 and just months later the world shut down. So that was a challenge. We were just getting started. Like all nonprofits, funding is always a challenge.

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

Siobhan Shaw: I think John keeps me going. And then the fact that we both grew up in rural communities, we know what hard work is.

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

Siobhan Shaw: We’ve grown and given away over 100,000 pounds of produce to local food banks.  We will never know the impact from the people who received that food. We do see an impact with the community of volunteers who work on the farm with us.

In addition to our work here in Arizona, we partner with other nonprofits in communities around the United States, in the Caribbean, and Africa. These are three areas that really need our help. So we have about 30 partnerships and we’re working to write grants to help us give these people sustainable systems from The Crop Circle Farm and Garden Systems. 

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

Siobhan Shaw: I don’t think when we had the idea of Growing to Give that we’d really thought about anything other than we just want to free people from hunger around the world. I guess that was the big idea, right? That was the moonshot.

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

Siobhan Shaw:  That you can turn adversity into opportunity. That’s beautiful opportunity for community. Because it’s not about you. There are lots of people who are self-serving. It was all about me and then life changed for me and for John, too.  We went from things being all about us, to what can we do to serve? How can we help? You know, and so we transformed. It’s taking that negative and transmuting it. So even if any negativity comes into your life, look at it as a divine moment. You can transmute that negativity into positive, life affirming opportunities that help everybody.

I just want to leave you with something John told me when he was really close to death. He looked at me and said,” Love is the only thing you take with you and the best thing you leave behind.”

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Strong women

 

I was recently scrolling through Facebook and saw my cousin’s post. He was visiting Kalamazoo where his mother and mine grew up.  In his post he shared this picture of my grandmother pouring coffee at her restaurant. This image really got me thinking about the women who came before me.  I can not think about these incredibly strong women without thinking of all the challenges their lives presented and how they faced them.  The old adage of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger comes to mind.

My grandmother, Dorthy, was my mom’s mother. She was widowed with four children at age thirty-five in 1947 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My grandfather had been a well known race car driver and was killed in a racing accident. How did a widow in the late 1940s support four children? My grandmother was incredibly smart but she was also a very good cook. So she used the skills she had, rolled up her sleeves and opened a restaraunt. I have no idea the struggles she had to endure or the details. Seeing this picture makes me think of all she had to juggle as a single parent of four.

My great grandmother, Dorthy’s mother-in -law, lived next door. While mother and daughter in law relationships tend to be sticky, as this one was, my great grandmother jumped into help. My great grandmother was the antiques buyer for Marshall Field Department stores. When I think about my great grandmother’s career in the forties and fifties, as a woman, it is also beyond inspiring.  My great grandmother was very active in raising my mom and her three other grandchildren.

My mother was famous for telling my sisters and I almost daily, “Life is tough, toughen up!” I know my mom witnessed the women in her life struggle and overcome. I watched my mom with her challenges and she always came through with a smile and incredible joy. So often we are hyper focused on ourselves that we don’t take a moment to pause and look at who created the paths on which we walk.

I’m so grateful for this post that made me think about these amazing women. I wish I had my Grandma Fisk and Great grandmother Heid to know more about their lives, their struggles and their joy. They shaped my mom, who was hard working, kind and always joyful. I am beyond grateful for the strong women who blazed the trail for me and my sisters. My mom was right, life is tough but each hurdle we overcome with grace makes us stronger and ready for the next one. If we can work hard, have a heartful of gratitude then we are incredibly blessed.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2024 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.

 

Nothing better than the 4th of July

“For you have been called to live in freedom. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

Galatians 5:13

The 4th of July is one of my favorite days of the year. Today we will be packing up the car and heading to the lake for fireworks, family, friends, fun, and sun. Nothing better than having the holiday fall on a Thursday so we all get a little extra slice of summer squeezed in.

I hope you this finds you getting ready for some fun and enjoying a much deserved long weekend. So forgive the lack of a larger post this week but I am taking some much-needed R & R for the next few days and it seems that I am already checking out a little early….hope you are too!

Happy 4th of July and God Bless America!

Charity Matters.

 

 

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Running towards the finish line!

I have never run a marathon or even a 5k. I have, however, been a runner for most of my life. Maybe a jogger, I’m not sure of the difference but I have always liked to run.  For decades I would run a few miles a few times a week.  In recent  years, I have done much more hiking and walking and a lot less running. I have to say that writing this book feels like running.

Getting started my legs felt like cement and the writing process was painfully slow. Whether you are running or writing, starting is always the hardest part of anything new we take on. Starting the book in January was daunting and filled with self doubt, stress, and deadlines that I was unsure I would make. Each new page felt uncertain and tentative. I have never heard my “negative Nancy” so loud in my head before. Usually I can keep her quiet but when the book began Nancy really ran on about how I couldn’t do this. Half of my energy was used silencing her never ending loop in my head.

After a while, my footing became steady and that negative voice slowly drifted away. Little by little my pace picked up, my confidence increased and I was keeping pace with the publisher’s deadlines. There were moments when I felt like a real runner again hitting my stride. Never fast but slowly and steadily making each mark, until I didn’t. I missed two deadlines. Not by too much, but it felt like a huge personal setback. The mental piece of starting again when you feel like you have fallen was much harder than I anticipated. Picking yourself up again and taking just one step forward was not easy, but I did. Each time I was proud of myself for moving ahead.

Now, as I am rounding the corner and see the finish line after literally just completing Chapter 11! I am on the home stretch, one chapter to go. So close to the finish I can practically see it! It is so crazy to fathom that when I began I didn’t know how long it was going to take me to get to my destination. Making the time to fit this book into my life has been a huge challenge. I’m so grateful to all of you with your patience as I have juggled the nonprofit, the podcast, this blog and the book in addition to life. It hasn’t been easy but like all challenges the reward comes from the hard work put into it.

Instead of sharing the final podcast for Season Seven, I am going to keep running towards that finish line and Chapter 12. My goal is to finish before the 4th of July and then finish Season Seven of the podcast the week after. Then another week of camp and a little break to catch my breath. Hoping to launch Season 8 of the podcast in August. Whew! So much to do and to look forward too. Thank you all for standing on the sidelines and cheering me on. So grateful for each of you and the movement we are creating together in making our world a better place.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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It just isn’t summer without camp

 

 

Friday marks the first official beginning of summer.  Each year over six million American children participate in some sort of day or overnight camp each year. Many of these camps are nonprofit organizations. Camp is a summer ritual for many and for other young students an opportunity for reinvention. To show up without past labels, to be at a place where no one knows who you are but who they see. That reinvention also allows children to feel great about themselves, after being away from home and independent for a few days or weeks.  This generation is connected via devices but not authentically connected and camp gives these students a place to unplug and actually make real authentic connections.

As many of you know, I did not go to camp as a child but my day job is running a non-profit youth leadership organization, which also has a summer camp program. We have incredible high school and college students volunteering to serve as camp counselors and mentors. Many counselors are alumni of our program and want to give back to an organization that changed their lives.  Students teaching students to be the best of themselves. Showing one another respect, how to learn from different opinions, and how to work together towards a resolution. Ultimately, teaching students how to lead.

 

Tomorrow, I will happily be greeting hundreds of smiling faces as our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders arrive with their nervous parents. For some, it will be their first time away from home.   It is such a great feeling to bring everyone together. There is no greater joy than knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself and that your work makes a difference. This video below from one of our students a few years back, pretty much says it all.

Nothing brings greater joy than planting the seeds of compassion in these incredible students year after year.  When the world seems to get a bit crazier, these students give me hope. I can’t help believe that our children will be better than we were, they will learn, listen, come together to lead us all. These children are our hope. As one of our students said, “It is an eyeopener to learn that you can do something to change the world...”

Charity Matters.

 

 

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

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Dirty Windows

I had my windows washed for the first time in a long time. This is not newsworthy, of that I am aware. What is worth a conversation is how could I live that long without seeing clearly? It is actually astounding that day by day and week by week and month by month all the dog slobber, grit smudging and pollen built up went unnoticed.  I am obviously not a clean freak and talking in metaphors. Everyday I think I am looking at the world clearly until one day I wake up and realize I hadn’t really seen anything clearly, until I did.

Getting my windows washed was my birthday gift to myself and honestly, it was the perfect gift. Yes, the light is amazing and everything just seems cleaner. More than that, as I celebrate another lap around the sun, I feel ready to move forward in this new year ahead with clarity. We can accumulate a lot of build up in a year of life. Each day a little something sticks to us that we don’t see and then a little more until one day we decide it’s time to get rid of it.

There are many things that build up over time. Friendships that slip away because you let another day go by without picking up the phone, time with aging parents that you let escape you, one cookie too many I may have decided to eat…each of these tiny decisions builds up and over time creates a lack of clarity. Yes, what’s one cookie? I’ll call her tomorrow. My parents are fine, I’ll check in later….until you can’t and your clothes don’t fit.

None of us are perfect and none of us make perfect decisions everyday. I’ll choose the cookie almost eveytime…is the right choice? Maybe.  Each choice we make is like cleaning our dirty windows. We can choose to see what really matters or we can put it off until it’s too late. So with that I am eating the cookie, walking with my dad, calling my friends and trying oh so hard to choose what matters. I am also enjoying my squeaky clean view.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

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Episode 78: Words Matter

Many of us grew up with the childhood slogan of, ” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Hundreds of years later we now know that they actually can.  Words can cause long lasting scars on our children as nonprofit founder, Jessica Bondy shares with us with today’s inspirational conversation about the power of our words. Join us for an enlightening discussion from across the pond about this amazing new nonprofit, Words Matter.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Words Matter does?

Jessica Bondy: Words Matter is the first organization in the world focused solely on addressing the issue of verbal abuse of children by adults. It is so pervasive, it goes so unnoticed and not properly recognized. Yet it affects two in five children. And of that two in five children over half experienced verbal abuse by adults weekly, and one in turn every single day of their lives. Hearing words to blame, shame, belittle, criticize, and it’s not just shouting and screaming, it can be quite insidious, and subtle.

And I think that the thing that is most concerning about childhood verbal abuse by adults, is the life long damage it can do to children. Because words matter. They stick, they last a lifetime. They shape who we are and who we become. So we are on a mission to end verbal abuse of children by adults.

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

Jessica Bondy: I set it up having spent decades in communication, and working for some of the biggest brands in the world Samsung, British Airways, FedEx, Procter and Gamble, working as director and MD of some big firms and then setting up my own agency.  I also coached and mentored a lot of young people helping them realize their potential.  I did a course all about women finding their voices and speaking up and I had a eureka moment. This eureka moment came on when we were given a topic to talk about with this group of women all on zoom from around the world. The topic was if you are going to die in the next six months, what do you want your legacy to be?

This thing came from me out of nowhere.  And I said, “If I’m going to die in the next six months, I don’t want my legacy to be that I am a good aunt. I don’t want my legacy being that I’m a communication specialist. And I don’t want my legacy being that I coach and mentor young people to help realize their potential.” I don’t want it to be on the good old, I’m a communication specialist, or mentor young people, even though all of those things don’t too many people would be hugely worthwhile and satisfied, right? I looked down the barrel of the camera on my Zoom computer. And I said, “If  I’m going to die in the next six months, I want to end verbal abuse of children by adults, because words matter.”

Wow. And I said this, because of my own lived experience and was getting so locked in my head. So many of the people I coached had been so impacted by what they’d heard when they were growing up.

I think what’s so fascinating with what I’m doing now, and Words Matter, it kind of all makes sense. Because there I was communicating on behalf of businesses and brands, then I was helping young people communicate, and market themselves. Now I feel I’m almost the voice of children say, enough is enough words matter.  I feel it is my purpose, I strongly believe that the only reason I’m on this planet is to do this thing.  I just don’t want it to be that way for the next generations and generations to come.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jessica Bondy:  I think part of the challenge is when you believe something incredibly passionate yourself, and there are people that don’t necessarily believe in what your cause is.  And I found there’s a real dichotomy of people that get it. I’ve had people who’ve literally burst into tears and said, Oh, gosh, I haven’t spoken to my father since I was 14. It’s so brilliant, you’re doing something about this.

I think the other very challenging thing, given the environment we are in today is fundraising is very, very hard. Because particularly if you’re a new charity, because so many funders want to be reassured that you’re going to succeed. And if you’re new and different,  it’s hard. When I ran my own agency, and people were buying the services they were getting something in return. Philanthropy is very, very different. People are doing it because they believe in your cause. They believe that you’re gonna make a difference in the world.

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

Jessica Bondy: I think what fuels me is an absolute passion and belief in the need for this to happen in the world.  Actually, knowing  what I’m doing is changing people’s behavior. So that fuels me knowing that we can make a difference.

I think the other thing that fuels me is this incredible network of experts, supporters, and my fellow trustees, who have that belief, that you’ve cracked so many nuts, you’ll be able to crack this.  I feel like I’ve kind of got almost a rocket of support underneath me to try and make it a success.

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

Jessica Bondy: September 2023, our website went live.  We released the findings of our children survey and the most helpful and hurtful words that children said.  We have  three pillars, research and what we see is in terms of delivering outcomes, and outputs with data validation of the scale and impact. Then the next  pillar is about awareness. And that’s trying to change perception and increase understanding and awareness.

Then the other thing we’re developing is training, education and information. We developed some resources on how to talk to children, from adults, for parents, for teachers, those with lived experience.   We had the first international conference on childhood verbal abuse with University College London and the World Health Organization, we had over 1300 people registered to attend and actually 98% said it had made them they’d found it useful, and they would apply the information to their learning to their jobs. Over 90% said it would change their own their own behavior.

It’s called Words Matter, impact and prevention of childhood verbal abuse.  So we’ve developed this program, we’re piloting it.  Hopefully, it’ll be extended through our network of partners. So we’ve got a number of different leading charities supporting our mission, who are service providers, and we’re hoping to do the training through them and their networks.

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

Jessica Bondy:  if I could dream, any dream it would be that in everybody’s public consciousness, they would think about, be aware of, and acknowledge the harm that words adults say to children can have. They don’t understand it. What I think is so interesting is, as soon as you ask adults themselves to think about what they remember, when they were a child, so many, the vast vast majority can remember what was said to them that built them up. And what and who said it to them that knocked them down. But they don’t somehow apply it to their own lives when they are an adult. Right, that kind of disconnect. So I’d like widespread acknowledgement of it.

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

Jessica Bondy: So often in life one tries to mold oneself into something to be liked, approved or understood by someone and it just it never feels comfortable. One should  surround oneself with radiators, not drains.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jessica Bondy: I’m somebody that is a survivor.  I think I’m quite a resilient person. And resilience is so important.  I just think it’s about somehow dusting yourself off if you have a knock back. It’s not easy to do. People who experienced verbal abuse or any form of abuse is that you just need one or two people in your life that really build a venue that really believe in you that you can talk to, and get that support for.

We all know it’s so important to have that connection and support from a very, very young age.  I’ve had a few people in my life who I feel have really been there for me and who really believed in me. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen and heard, for who we are and valued for who we are.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

The Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Have you ever picked up an old photo album and come across memories and before you know it you have been transported down memory lane? Last week that happened to me when I went looking for interviews to include in my book. Before I knew it I was years into Charity Matter’s post and it felt like finding old friends.

This post from 2018 struck me because the past few weeks, I have been speaking to hundreds of school principals for TACSC. My message for all of these schools is that when we tie a child’s shoe, we don’t help them, as intended. Instead, we tell the child by our action that they can’t tie their shoe. That they are not capable. Our mission at TACSC is to empower these students and tell them they can be anything and do anything they set their mind to. So when I came across this old post it felt just as relevant and worth a re-share. I did update the numbers served, so those are current.

A few years ago, a young lady that has helped start and run a local nonprofit asked me to write her a recommendation for The Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I happily did. This high school girl is extraordinary and I was thrilled to help.  More than that, I was  excited to learn about this incredible award and nonprofit that inspires and encourages students between the ages of 8 and 18 to use heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance to make a positive and significant impact on the world.

The prize was started by New York Times best selling Children’s author, T.A. Barron seventeen years ago and named after the author’s mother. His hope was to inspire children that could make a significant difference in the world. The founder’s fear was that  perhaps, they wouldn’t be able to find these children. However,it was just the opposite, hundreds and hundreds of applications would begin to come in.

Twenty-three years later, the Barron Prize for Young Heroes has honored over 575 young heroes who have  all done remarkable things. One prize winner is Alexa, who created a nonprofit called Bags of Books, which she started at age 10. Her organization distributes gently used and new children’s books in free pop-up stores in underserved communities. She has donated more than 120,000 books and inspired hundreds of volunteers to distribute books in homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and after school programs.

One  young prize winner founded NY is a great place to Bee! to educate the public about bees about the importance of healthy bee populations. She built a team of volunteers and they have educated over 14,000 students about ways to protect bees through her advocacy.

Another inspiring change maker,  Jahkil, founded Project I Am to help the homeless in Chicago. In one year Jahkil and his team distributed more than 3,000 Blessing Bags filled with toiletry items, towels, socks and snacks through his drop off sites and bag stuffing parties all at the age of nine!

While I could go on with hundreds more of these incredible young nonprofit founders and budding philanthropists, these 575 Barron Prize for Young Heroes winners have combined raised over 28.5 million dollars for their causes in the past twenty-three years. The real winners of this prestigious award are the incredible communities served by these extraordinary young leaders and their enormous compassion to serve. Each of them give us hope for a brighter future of kindness, caring and service.

 

charity matters.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Charity Matters has a new platform

I hope everyone has had a great week and are counting down to the long weekend ahead. I wanted to thank all of you who helped with the book naming survey, we are still narrowing it down but definitely getting closer! So thank you to all who voted, reached out and shared ideas. So grateful to you all. I promise to let you know once we have an official title.

Since our last book update, I had missed my April 30th book deadline and was more than a little stressed.  I picked up my pace and kicked things into high gear Mother’s Day weekend. As a result,  I am thrilled to report that I finished Chapter 6. Then I wrote the entire Chapter 7 and am now finishing Chapter 8. It feels great to be back in the race. Definitely feeling more secure about being past the halfway mark and heading towards the 12 Chapter home stretch in July.

Someone recently asked me, “Why are you writing this book?” My immediate answer was that I am writing it for myself, which is true. I am stretching myself and doing something I have always wanted to do and something I wasn’t sure I could do. Each chapter I prove to myself that I can. We all have a purpose on this earth and I believe that I was put here to help the helpers and to amplify their voices in any way that I can. This book helps that mission and will hopefully help the helpers and teach people that when you help others you end up helping yourself, your community and your world.

As a messanger of service, I am always looking for new ways to amplify these stories of modern day heroes. We started with the blog over a decade ago and then added the podcast. It turns out that so many people listen to their podcast on Youtube, who knew? I am thrilled to share that our podcast is now available on YouTube.  

So if you like reading our interviews and articles here via email every week that is great. If listening to our Charity Matters podcast while you drive into work is how you like your content then that is terrific too. Now for those of you that love YouTube, we will be there for you hear our interviews. Lastly, for our book lovers our book will be out October 1st.

Thank you for being a part of this movement for believing that people are good and for helping to amplify these stories of real angels on earth. Together we all make a difference one small act of kindness at a time.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Episode 9: America’s Kids Belong

Did you know that there are more than 400,000 children who are part of the foster care system in this country. Three-quarters of those children will be reunited with their family or another family member. The remaining 100,000 children need forever homes. What these children have in common is that they all need a home whether a temporary or a permanent one. May is National Foster Care Month and I thought it was a great time to revisit the incredibly eye opening conversation I had a while back with my friend Brian Mavis the founder of America’s Kids Belong.

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

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? 

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

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

The Mavis Family and their foster grandbabies.

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

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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Charity Matters Episode 7: Song for Charlie

Last year over 70,000 Americans died from fentanyl. The drug  is now the leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 18-40. Today, May 7th is Fentayl Awareness Day .It isn’t just numbers but these are people, fathers, mothers, sisters and children who are dying every day. So today, we are re-sharing this very important episode and conversation with my friends the Ternans.

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

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

 

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Ternan: Charlie and helping others to save lives.

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Is it all in the title?

I need your help. Having never written a book, I thought that the title would just come to me somewhat like naming a baby. Like pregnancy you kind of figure things out as you go, you think you all this time to come up with a name. Afterall you have almost nine months, in the case of the book I have eight. The draft is due at the end of July. Just for a reference we didn’t have a name for our youngest son. The night before he was born we went to our favorite restaurant  and the bartender, a friend of ours, asked us what the baby’s name was going to be? We didn’t have an answer, so he named the baby Ford. True story. So if this is any indicator, well I  might need the bartender’s help too!

At our last update, I was having a really hard time starting. My procrastination skills were beyond impressive. When my husband left for a boy’s weekend, I was sure I was going to at least bust out a chapter. Instead, I headed to Target buying organizing containers and organized under my kitchen and bathroom sinks. Who does that? That’s how hard it was to start. I equate it to training for a marathon, which of course I have never done either. From what I hear, you have to start out slow and little by little your pace picks up.

Believe it or not that is exactly what’s been happening. The publisher gave me three months to get the first three chapters done. I was incredibly proud when I turned them in two weeks early, despite all the procrastination. I thought I had found a rhythm and so I rewarded myself with two weeks off after submission. In hindsight, that was  probably not a great call on my part.

The reason that wasn’t a great idea is that our next publisher “check-in” my darling publisher, Michael said, “Ok, great that the first three are in but now we need chapters 4-6 and the title by the end of April.” Wait, whaaat? How did I have three months for three chapters and then one month for three chapters?’ Sweet Michael said, “That most authors begin to hit their stride by the middle of writing.” Since I’m not officially in the middle I am waiting for that moment to just take off.  I am, however, happy to report that it is the third week of April as I write this post and I am starting chapter six and might, just might make my deadline….with one exception, the title.

When the initial panic ensued on the title, I thought who can I possibly ask for help? Who understands what I am writing about? Then I realized that you do! You have been following my crazy journey for over twelve years. You know my story of loss, of starting a nonprofit with a group of friends and my mission to help the helpers by amplifying the amazing nonprofit founders’ voices and work.

The book is my story of stumbling into this work after the loss of my mom. The lessons learned from loss and service and even more the lessons learned from the hundreds of interviews I’ve done this past decade, the ones you read each week. The thesis is that service is the silver bullet. If you want to heal yourself, your family, your community and your world then do something for someone else. It’s pretty simple. The untitled book is a little inspiration and a little self help.

I like to think of Charity Matters as a patchwork of stories and the book will be the quilt where they all come together. More than a few people have asked why not just call the book Charity Matters? My answer is that I wouldn’t buy a book called that. Would you? However, I do think you can give the book a short title and then as the byline say: Why Charity Matters.

We made it easy with a poll you can click here and take the survey and make sure to pick one choice to get to page three to suggest your own idea. So here are a few of the tentative titles and I would be beyond grateful for any suggestions you may have or your vote. My list is even longer and maybe your idea is even better?

  • How to become your own hero- Changing your world and ours
  • Help yourself by Helping others
  • We before me: Why Charity Matters 
  • The healing lessons of helping
  • The secret of living is giving 
  • Helping is Healing

If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be a Charity Matters with thousands of followers and subscribers.  Let me know what you think? And thank you for going on this journey with me and for helping us get the word out that there is SO much good in our world if we just look.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2024 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Episode 4: Cathy Gott, Danny’s Farm

Before Autism Awareness Month comes to a close I wanted to make sure that we are highlighting incedible work that so many are doing for Autism. I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I’ve known and admired Cathy Gott for a very long time. We both raised our sons in the same small town outside of LA. A small city where everyone knows everyone and supports one another. Cathy has always been a bright light, someone with amazing energy, and a person who makes things happen. She and her husband, (legendary baseball pitcher) Jim Gott have two sons, Danny and Nick. When Danny was diagnosed with autism Cathy and Jim went to work.

Cathy is the co-founder of Education Spectrum, a social skills, and community integration program that supports children and their families with developmental needs. Cathy didn’t stop with Education Spectrum, she kept going to found Danny’s Farm an amazing nonprofit that is so much more than a petting farm. It is a place for the community to come together while employing adults with developmental differences.

Join us today to learn about Cathy’s journey, the challenges she faced as the mother of a child with autism, her journey of service, and to learn about the incredible work she is doing today for adults with developmental needs. She is a true inspiration!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Danny’s Farm does?

Cathy Gott: Danny’s Farm is a labor of love, no doubt about that. It is a petting farm, that employs adults with developmental differences. We provide a lot of volunteer opportunities and vocational training. In addition, we go out into some of the most underserved communities and special needs communities in Los Angeles, either through our mobile petting farm and visit groups of kids who sometimes never even seen a farm animal.

I mean, it’s remarkable and is a really interactive, lovely experience. Then we also have hours at the farm where we host field trips and tours and individual visits depending on the needs of the individual. So it’s an inclusive nurturing loving place. We share the property with another organization called Special Spirit which provides therapeutic horseback riding. So, it’s hard to separate because you know, you can’t pass up a pig pen when you’re going over to ride your horse or a sheep or a goat or a bunny or you know, it’s just really fun. So we share a lot of that.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Danny’s Farm?

Cathy Gott: Well, when Danny was little as with many people with autism, there’s a number of sensory issues and in particular, sound sensitivity. And lots of different ways to take in the environment tactfully from touch to you know, just how we move in our body and space. He had a lot of difficulties navigating things like amusement parks or baseball games or things that a family would typically enjoy. It would be very overwhelming for Danny.

One of the few places that he loved to go, were petting farms, wherever we were because they’re quiet and they’re peaceful.  He got a lot of tactile input by petting and holding and squeezing and hugging and loving all those animals. Danny has always had a tremendous affinity for animals. So that’s the background story.

Then somewhere in the early to maybe 2010, something like that Danny was a teenager. I was attending a conference at this taskforce Blue Ribbon Commission for autism in California. I learned about some grants that were available to fund micro-enterprises or small businesses. That’s when the light bulb went off, you know because a lot of parents as their kids are about to exit high school or thinking what’s next? What is my child going to do and have meaningful employment in life? And it just all clicked together. That’s what we decided to do and it truly is Danny’s Farm. He has a lot of pride and works very hard. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Cathy Gott:  We had some location issues but you know, they all turned out great in the end.  The first location we opened was an Altadena at a beautiful little horse stable. We used a lot of the grant money to build a barn that served a number of wonderful things.

What happened is we were a victim of our own success because once the word got out about Danny’s Farm we were very busy, very fast serving kids in and around Los Angeles County. And this poor little neighbor. Bus after bus come in and out and the neighbors were not happy. So we politely had to close our doors there and that was devastating.

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

Cathy Gott: I have learned so many lessons. I think the one that comes to mind is the saying, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I used to be such a planner. I had planned where Danny would live and work and I learned to let it go. We adapt to do the best with what we have. We learn to manage our expectations and disappointments. Being able to pivot is extremely humbling.

I feel closest to God now when I just listen. It is such a privilege to simply listen.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
  • Post a screenshot & key takeaway on your IG story and tag me @heidimcniffjohnson and @Charitymatters so I can repost you.
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Episode 77: Filling In the Blanks

Did you know that there are over 13 million children in the United States who live with hunger? One in five children does not know where or if their next meal will come. Those facts are shocking to anyone who hears them. However, it is the rare person or people who actually act when hearing those numbers. Today’s guests not only experience food insecurity they have acted to create a nonprofit called Filling In Blanks.

Tina Kramer (left) and Shawnee Knight (right) Founders of Filling In the Blanks

Join us for an inspirational conversations about two next door neighbors who are changing lives and the face of hunger.

 

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Filling In the Blanks does?

Tina Kramer: Shana and I started Filling In the Blanks 11 years ago. And what we do is we provide food on the weekends to children that are struggling with food insecurity. So we provide a bag of food for the kids ages preschool through high school, that receive meals during the week at school, but don’t have anything over the weekend. So we’re covering that weekend meal gap.

Charity Matters: Did Either of you grow up in families that were very involved in their communities?

Shawnee Knight:  My family was always thoughtful of other people, but we didn’t do a lot in terms of being out in the community as much as Tina and I are now. I grew up in a single family household and so I kind of understood.  I was on the free and reduced lunch and so I understand the pressures that these families are facing. I think that really was kind of one of my main motivating factors for starting Filling In The Blanks. Being in Fairfield County, CT there’s so many different volunteer opportunities and ways to give back. 

Tina Kramer: I grew up in a similar household as Shawnee with a single mom who works all the time. My grandmother pretty much raised me. So there wasn’t really an opportunity to give back to the community at that point in time. When we moved to Connecticut, there are so many volunteer opportunities and that’s where I really learned about volunteering.  We decided that we wanted to do something together and  that’s how we founded it Filling in the Blanks. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Filling In the Blanks?

Shawnee Knight: We were riding with a friend into the city,  and we were just talking about sports and our kids. And my friend was saying,” The other students on the opposing team don’t often have snacks. So they would bring snacks for the other team.” I was kind of like,” Wait a minute. There’s kids in Fairfield County that don’t have food. Like how I don’t understand that? That can’t be possible. Look at where we live?”

I think Tina and I were at the age where our kids were getting a little bit older. So we were both trying to find something to do, we were next door neighbors.  We did some research and learned that there really are food insecure children in our community. And for us, the thought of a kid going without food is just shameful. It’s just wrong.

Tina Kramer: So we saw an article in a magazine about a nonprofit that was a national organization that provided food on the weekends to children. So we became program coordinators. That was our first step and we did the fundraising. We did all the purchasing, but the national organization was more of the parent company.

We would give them our fundraising efforts and they would reimburse us. And we are very type A, we are very gung ho about projects we work on.  We decided after probably two or three weeks to use the information from the national organization structure on how to run a nonprofit because neither one of us had ever run a company or any kind of nonprofit before. So that was our stepping stone to the blank.

So we learned how to incorporate our trademark, our logo, articles of incorporation and bylaws. We surround ourselves with good people to help us structure all these things. We started packing bags in my house for 50 kids. We’re tying grocery bags, going to the dollar stores, Costco and loading our Suburbans up which we’re dragging on the floor. And we just learned as we went, and it was so very grassroots in the beginning. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Shawnee Knight: I think definitely finding food suppliers and finding families. and reaching more families. We needed to get a warehouse because we had outgrown Tina’s living room. We had too many kids, and you have to store these bags. We just needed more of a structure for that. And so I think there were challenges, just in doing and getting things done. Realizing people don’t get things done as quickly as we wanted them to get done. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face now are reaching more parents.  There’s definitely still a lot of parents who don’t know about us and our services.. And I think procuring food, and food costs rising because we purchase all of our food. So we’re fundraising to buy food and with food costs going up,  we have to fundraise even more.

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

Tina Kramer:  I don’t think we mentioned this earlier but Shawnee and I are both volunteers. We don’t get paid to run Filling in the Blanks.  We have a real desire to help the kids because we both at some point in our lives dealt with food insecurity, one of us in our childhood, the other in our adult life. That really fuels us because we know what these parents are struggling with, and how hard it is. Just to wonder, can I feed my child today? Or do I have to pay the electric bill? So it’s really ingrained in who we are.

We have a great staff that surrounds us and a great group of volunteers. We have a leadership committee of about 10 people, mainly women. Then we have 11 full time employees that really help with the day to day. Besides the bags were packing, we have 7000 volunteers come through our doors on a yearly basis. Wow. So it’s not just Shawnee and I, and our desire, it’s our community. We’re all lifting up our community and the surrounding communities. And that’s really what fuels us. 

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

Shawnee Knight:  We do a lot of surveys, to the families,  the children, parents,  the social workers and teachers at the schools. So we’re able to measure some of those outcomes for students. Then we track the number of meals and we’ve served over 3 million meals. Every week we have 7500 kids that get our weekend meal bags. We’ve launched our Mobile Food Pantry, fresh food on the move. We’ve been distributing about 20,000 pounds of food at each site, which they operate twice a month.

We’ve partnered with Stanford Health to provide various health and wellness wraparound services, so we’re able to see how many people they register for or how many flu shots they gave out. It is really hard because we don’t have access to kids grades, so it’s hard to measure that. But we do measure things like the teacher saying that the child is less disruptive in class.. We’ve had a teacher tell us a story of this. One child she had that just was out of sorts at school and she kind of made him in charge of helping her with the backpack club as they call it, which is when they get their bags. And she said, that she noticed a change in his personality and his self confidence was improved. So we hear little antidote or things like that. Then from our pre-programmed surveys and post-program surveys, we see an increase in happiness or of the child’s well being.

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

Tina Kramer:  It’s a simple concept that everyone should have access to food and healthy food items. Our volunteers are little kids to adults. We make sure that we can create volunteer opportunities for them to create an impact within Filling in The Blanks.. We’ve created snack bag programs, in addition to our regular weekend meal program. So the younger kids can have a packing event at their home and pack little snacks in a little brown bag that gets distributed to the kids too. So we’re trying to make sure that our volunteers feel the impact that they are creating.

As Shawnee mentioned, we just started a mobile pantry back in October, and we’re serving 1000s of families through that initiative. Through that we’re able to communicate directly to the families and the parents. They tell us the impact that the 50,000 pounds of food they get at the mobile pantry has on their family. Many turned around and now want to know how they can volunteer with us, and how they can give back and how they can help. And that’s just so rewarding. It comes full circle.

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

Shawnee Knight: For us to be out of business.

Tina Kramer: This year alone we will serve over a million meals and the need is not not going away. We’ll probably serve about 10,000 kids this year, every weekend. We created a year round program for all. Our big dream is potentially it’s on the back burner  but I’ll put it out there. We would like to franchise to other states or communities, or do some drop shipping/fulfillment centers to have food delivered directly to the schools. We  would take away the need for additional trucks and drivers. We’re trying to figure out how do we replicate or duplicate our program outside of our like immediate area. 

Charity Matters: Do you have a Phrase or Motto that you live by?

Tina Kramer:One of our board members always said, “If you can, you should.” And that  kind of really encompasses Filling in the Blanks. Because really, anyone, a little kid to a senior citizen can make a difference here, it’s packing the bag, spreading the word, liking something on social media, it doesn’t have to be dollars, it could just not just it can be your time, even if it’s five minutes. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Shawnee Knight:  I think so. I think we were nervous when we first started this. We didn’t know what to expect. You never know how much pressure you can take or how much weight your shoulders can hold. So I think we’ve grown a lot in that sense. I mean, we’re running a really big nonprofit with a big operating budget and expenses. You never know how much of that stress you can take and I think we’ve learned to stomach quite a bit of it.

Tina Kramer: We’re the perfect ying and yang. I think it’s given me a lot more confidence than I had before. I never thought I could run my own business and didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet. And now we’re dealing like Shawnee said, with a multimillion dollar budget. It’s given me confidence in who I am, not only here, but in normal life and at home. It’s just been a great learning experience over the past 11 years.

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

Tina Kramer: That people are good. And they want to do good.  I come from nothing and I’m not used to being encompassed or embraced by our community. This community that we’ve created together, really has shown me how good people are and how they’re always willing to help. It’s just a beautiful thing.

Shawnee Knight:  If you build it, they will come.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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