today is National Philanthropy Day and it seems only fitting that it is also my ten year anniversary as the Executive Director of TACSC, a youth leadership organization. It is amazing how fast a decade can fly by when you are having a great time. These past ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye. It is hard to fathom that our sons were in middle school when I started at TACSC in November of 2013 and today they are grown men who are launched. More than my actual children, it is awe-inspiring thinking of the 22,789 students that I have been privileged to serve over the past decade. Students who were also in middle school in 2013 and today are in their twenties. To witness these young leaders’ development has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
My first summer at TACSC, I sent our youngest son to Summer Conference as a 7th grader. To be honest he went kicking and screaming saying that he wasn’t going to go to “Crazy Catholic Council Camp.” What he wanted to do instead was to go to surf or lacrosse camp that summer, not a leadership camp. Well, he went, and within five days he identified himself as a leader. Once he did that, he truly became one. The transformation I saw as a parent was unbelievable. That experience and so many others had me hooked at the beautiful positive and transformational experience TACSCis.
It is this same transformation that I see year after year, generation after generation, leader after leader of young students changing the world that has kept me doing this important work for ten years. It gives me hope to see our students learn about goal setting, communication (the old fashioned in person kind with real handshakes), becoming mentors and serving others. It all sounds so simple and basic, but it is so much more.
Each student inspires the next generation of leaders and does so much good for our world. As I wrap up this decade at TACSC, I am grateful for the gift of this work. It has been a gift to witness kindness, empathy, faith, compassion, and leadership. We have never needed kind good moral leaders more. I continue to be grateful for the tens of thousands of TACSCleaders making a difference in our world each day.
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:
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.
YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT, IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.
“i raise up my voice-not so i can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard….we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
There are so many things that make us uncomfortable. ….driving past the homeless and seeing the ravages of war on the nightly news but this topic is beyond being uncomfortable, it is down right unimaginable. The topic is human trafficking or modern day slavery. It is something that we want to believe only happens in other countries but the harsh reality is that it happens here in the United States of America to over 300, 000 children a year. Children who are sold and enslaved into prostitution, like a product or good sold….but these are our children.
Last week, I was invited to a friend’s home for a Friends With Causes dinner. Her guest was the nonprofit Saving Innocence and the speakers were the Executive Director and a young girl who was sold here in LA at the age of 11. We will call her O and her story was truly unbelievable and haunting.
This inspirational twenty-two year old girl told us her unimaginable story. Raised by a loving single mom who worked two jobs to support them in house full of love and extended family. O accidentally discovered at the age of 11 that she was adopted and the news sent her reeling. She was confused, angry, sad and upset. At the same time, her mother had just broken up with her boyfriend. The boyfriend came to O’s school to ask how she was doing and offered her a ride home. That moment changed everything because he kidnapped her and sold into sex trafficking at age 11, right here in LA.
Founded in 2012 by actress, Kim Biddle, Saving Innocence are the first responders when trafficked children are identified by the police or other authorities.
The nonprofit arrives within 90 minutes with a Child Welfare and Probation officer. They take the child to the hospital, provide, food, clothing, emotional support and a safety plan and housing for the child. The child is given up to nine months of time, support, love, counseling. Saving Innocence works with the child to see the perpetrator through the justice system and then continues empowerment programs with these young children.
This incredible nonprofit has contracts with the probation offices, judges and prosecutors to help these children through the system and have shown the courts that children who have been commercially sexually exploited need intensive aftercare.
Today, O is working for Saving Innocence and helping the girls get through their ordeal of being held as part of a human trafficking ring. She mentors young girls, works with the police, social workers and empowers these children to become survivors, just as she has done, because of this remarkable organization. As I hugged 22 year old O and told her what an incredible inspiration and leader she is, she cried and said, “No one has ever called me a leader.” When I told her that a leader is someone who uses their gifts and experience in the service of others, she smiled, hugged me again and said,”Then I guess I am a leader.”
Sharing is caring, if you are so moved or inspired, we would love you to share this to inspire another.
Yesterday, I was at a work event with someone who also raises money for a living. This counterpart said to me, “What is your strategy?” I looked at him a little bewildered by the question. Strategy and making a difference in the life of students doesn’t always align in my mind. My bewilderment wasn’t because I didn’t have a fund-raising plan, but rather because my fundraising plan is more philosophy, than plan. I looked at my counterpart and said, “My “strategy” is simply to help everyone. My competitors, anyone who ask, simply everyone…because the more people who I genuinely help the more people help me.” The gentleman looked at me as if I were insane. I shrugged and said, “We all have our own philosophies but this is mine and I think we are all here to work together to help one another, it’s pretty simple.”
Don’t get me wrong, I completely admire people with strategic minds, but I do not really have one. I run more on heart, instinct, intuition and what feels right in my gut. So far, helping people has never let me down, in fact is just the opposite. Last night at dinner, I was sharing the story of my day with my family, the evening news came on, as I shared about my day, this was the story that aired…
The story of 18 year old Evoni Williams from La Marque, Texas who was working as a waitress when an older gentleman asked her for help. It seemed that his hands were not working so well and he needed help to cut his meat. Without missing a beat, Evoni just helped. What makes this story unique is not that she helped but rather that someone snapped a picture of her helping that went viral.
The result of Evoni’s helping hand was not only a news piece, thousands of Facebook shares but even more was a college scholarship, simply for helping someone. Helping isn’t strategic and Evoni’s innate kindness is a perfect example. Helping is simply what we are here to do, to help one another. We all need it and we all are capable of giving it. It is just that simple.
Sharing is caring, if you are so moved or inspired, we would love you to share this to inspire another.
One of our dear friends lives in Athens, Greece and recently introduced me to a very special lady, Maria Kostaki. As most of you know the Syrian refugee crisis has had an enormous impact on Greece. While we all watch the news here in America with horror, many in Greece watch in person while children are orphaned and abandoned.
So many in Greece can barely take care of themselves with the financial crisis and feel helpless, but not Maria, she decided to act.
She did so in the most beautiful of ways, Maria wrote a children’s book, called When Clouds Embrace. Her mission to use her gifts, as an author, to help those in need. I had the opportunity to speak to Maria recently and here is our inspiring conversation, from this remarkable woman, who can no longer sit by and watch, but rather, who is using her talent to inspire, educate, and help these abandoned children.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act?
Maria: The day that I woke up to the photograph that shocked the entire world. It was of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore on a beach of Lesvos, an island that I visited many times for vacation. He was dead.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Maria:The feeling that one day, I will make a difference, and maybe inspire others to do the same. I know that selling books won’t save the world, but I’m a writer, that is what I do, that is what I have to offer. I hope that people around me will realize that any help and kindness we can spare, on any level, can have an impact on the lives of others.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Maria: I like to believe that I already have. I’ve raised awareness in my own circle, few people would have known that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of kids, alone, without shelter, without access to food and clothes, without a grown up hand to hold, roaming a country, foreign to them. It’s terrifying, devastating, if you think about it.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
A large part of the funds for the publication of “When Clouds Embrace” was actually crowdfunded. I had contributions from all over the world, from people I did not know, from friends who I know are in tight financial spot here in crisis-stricken Greece. It was a humbling experience. But it was just the beginning. Success will be success when I donate the all of the proceeds to Giving for Greece, an organization that is doing wonderful work for unaccompanied minors.
But the first sign of success was seeing the “temporarily out of stock” alert for “When Clouds Embrace” on Amazon. It was its publication day.
As Pablo Picasso said, ” The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Thank you Maria for reminding us that there are so many ways we can help, support and inspire one another.
I was at the bookstore recently and came across a book entitled, If Nuns Ruled The World. I thumbed through it because I have an aunt I adore, who is a Sister of the Holy Child. Like most nuns that I have met, my aunt is an exceptional human being. Intrigued by the book title, I flipped through the pages and found ten nuns who were profiled for having done extraordinary things and one in particular caught my eye. Her name is Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald.
Tesa Fitzgerald was born into an Irish Catholic family on Long Island and surprised them all when she entered the convent after graduating from high school. Sr. Tesa worked in Catholic schools as a teacher and ultimately a principal, until her life had a change of direction.
Another nun, Sister Elaine Roulet, had created a program that helped incarcerated women to stay with their newborn children until they were at least one year old. Sister Elaine reached out for help with the problem.
Learning that there are approximately 150,000 women incarcerated nationwide, Sister Tesa wondered what happened to these women’s’ children? So, in 1985 Sister Tesa answered Sister Elaine’s prayer by becoming a foster parent and turned a convent into a home for six children, with the goal of maintaining the bond between mothers in prison and their children.
In 1992, she created Hour Children as a nonprofit to offer supportive services to other children of incarcerated mothers and to the mothers themselves. She named it to reflect the hour of the mother’s arrest, the hour visit allowed to the children and the hour of her release.
Today, Hour Children oversees three apartment buildings, three thrift stores, a day care center, an after school program, a group home, a food program, a mentoring program and four communal homes, all while continuing to work with women during their incarceration. Sister Tesa has been recognized by the White House, received the Opus Prize and of course was featured in the book, If Nuns Ruled the World……which just makes me wonder what our world would be like?