A Season of Giving


“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”

H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Yesterday was Giving Tuesday which means officially that the season of giving is upon us, a time of year when we feel kindred spirits towards our fellow man.  City streets are decorated and the clanging of the Salvation Army bell fills us with joy as we drop a few dollars in the shiny red bucket. For about forty days a year, we are called upon to be charitable. Why is giving only expected just once a year? More than that, how can we incorporate a little holiday season throughout our entire year?

Why We Give

We give gifts to those we love throughout the holidays for a number of reasons. First, we want to show those that we love by giving them something that will make them happy. Another reason we give gifts is to acknowledge our appreciation to someone such as a business associate,  a neighbor, the dry cleaner, or anyone who makes your life better. When we give these gifts it is typically the gift giver that receives the most joy in the giving. Charity is no different. It is the giver of a gift that feels the resounding joy and goodwill from making another’s life better.

Where to begin?

For many of us, we want to help but often don’t know where to begin. While dropping a few dollars in a red bucket at the holidays is nice it is not a long-term solution to incorporating charity into your life. Like any lifestyle change, it takes a few things to begin. First and foremost, is your goal or intention. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you want to find a like-minded group of people to volunteer with? Perhaps something has happened recently in your life and you would like to find a way to help an organization that helped someone you care about.  Maybe you have been the recipient of someone’s kindness and would like to pay it forward. Or perhaps you are trying to be an example for your children. Think about what you would like to accomplish. There is no wrong answer.

The next step is to identify a cause or nonprofit organization. With 1.5 million charitable organizations in the United States alone, it can be overwhelming. First, find the area of interest, is it education, health, military? Fortunately, there is an abundance of online resources.  For volunteering, there are great sites like VolunteerMatch.org or CatchAFire.org that match you with nonprofits based on your interest and location. PointsofLight.org offers a variety of online or virtual volunteering opportunities.

Make giving part of daily life

For people looking to incorporate giving more into a habit, there is a host of apps for your phone. The app Daffy helps you make giving a habit by setting up daily, weekly, or monthly giving goals and delivers the funds to your cause of choice. Other options are incorporating apps like Roundup App that round up your change and donate it to your favorite cause on purchases you make throughout the year. There is even an app that helps you shop finding sustainable products and brands called the Good Human App.

Here are a few tips to remember as we approach the season of giving:

  1. Set a goal or intention for what you want to achieve. Volunteering, giving back, raising philanthropic children
  2. Find an area of interest. Think about what is important to you? Health, education, military?
  3. Do your homework. Utilize online resources and apps to find ways to incorporate giving into your daily life.
  4.   Make giving habitual by being consistent. Whether it’s a holiday tradition, something you do at birthdays, or every day, be consistent. Establish giving as a tradition and habit. The more you participate the easier and more fun it becomes.
  5.  Emphasize the joy and the experience of giving rather than money. Philanthropy is about being a part of something bigger than yourself. Make it a joyful experience and something that makes you feel great.

This holiday season; enjoy the process of giving in whatever ways you decide to participate. Ultimately, we get so much more when we give. With a few simple changes, you can experience the season of giving all year long.





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Episode 28: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN)

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

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

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What Have been your biggest challenges?

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

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

Julie with Patrick Swayze’s widow, Lisa Swayze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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



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Gordie, a story worth retelling 17 years later

Gordie's story

This week we are heading to Texas for Parents weekend to see our youngest son.  He attends a big college football school where weekends included tailgates, football games, and obligatory fraternity parties. With so many students heading off to college and parents concerned about COVID and so much more, it seemed like the right time to reshare this story.

Gordie Bailey was a college freshman who died of alcohol poisoning from hazing his freshman year of college. September 17th marks the 17th anniversary of Gordie Bailey’s death.  His parents created a nonprofit organization, The Gordie Center,  as Gordie’s legacy to educate college students about drinking.  The story is tragic and the lesson is invaluable. Sadly, it needs to be told over and over to each new generation of college students.


So often we do not make discoveries or connections until it is too late.  We do not realize the value of a friend until they have moved away.  We do not appreciate our children until they have left for college.  Often, we do not realize the value of one’s life until it has passed.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? How is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? This story is perhaps no different. However, the beauty of it lies in the ability to take that clear vision and create something that matters.

This month thousands of college freshmen have left home. Many students are beginning the process of Rush as they look to make new homes away from home in sororities and fraternities across the country. That is exactly what Gordie Bailey did in September 2004, as an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Gordie’s Story

Gordie, a fun-loving freshman who had been the Co-captain of his varsity high school football team, a drama star, a guitar player, and a walk-on at Boulder’s lacrosse team was adored by all. He pledged Chi Psi. On the evening of September 16th, Gordie and twenty-six other pledge brothers dressed in coats and ties for “bid night” and were taken blindfolded to the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest. There they were “encouraged” to drink four “handles” of whiskey and six (1.5 liters) bottles of wine.

The pledges were told, “no one is leaving here until these are gone.” When the group returned to the Fraternity house, Gordie was visibly intoxicated and did not drink anymore. He was placed on a couch to “sleep it off” at approximately 11 pm. His brothers proceeded to write on his body in another fraternity ritual. Gordie was left for 10 hours before he was found dead the next morning, face down on the floor. No one had called for help. He was 18 years old.

Turning Grief into Hope

The nonprofit Gordie Foundation was founded in Dallas in 2004 by Gordie’s parents as a dedication to his memory. The Gordie foundation creates and distributes educational programs and materials to reduce hazardous drinking and hazing and promote peer intervention among young adults.  Their mission is committed to ensuring that Gordie’s story continues to impact students about the true risks of hazing and alcohol use.

There has been at least one university hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017 according to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer. Over 200 university deaths by hazing since 1839.  There have been forty deaths from 2007-2017 alone and alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death. As Gordie’s mother Leslie said, “Parents more than anything want their dead children to be remembered and for their lives to have mattered.”

In almost seventeen years, the Gordie Foundation which is now re-named Gordie.Org has made an enormous impact on hundreds of thousands of students across the country through its programs and educational efforts. If you have a college-age student, think about asking them to take the pledge to save a life, possibly their own.

Why is it that we wait to make these connections? How is our hindsight is so crystal clear and our day-to-day vision so clouded? Why is it that we do not know the value of one’s life until it has passed? Perhaps more than a decade later, our vision is becoming clearer and we realize just how precious each life is……

Charity Matters.


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September 11th Twenty years later

We all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001. It is a moment forever burned into our memories. The people we called, the shock, the horror, and the enormity of it all was more than one could process. None of it seemed real. Tomorrow, we will honor the 20 year anniversary of that fateful day that changed the world forever.

Remembering September 11th

It was a day full of loss and unparalleled tragedy.  The 2,977 lives lost that day, the 6,000 injured, the first responders, the plane in Shanksfield, and the Pentagon. The ripple effect touched every single person in this country. However, like all losses, amazing things came out of it. That day we saw the best in humanity as people helped one another. First responders rushing up the stairs to save people and strangers helping strangers navigate their way out. Our country came together in unbelievable ways, hanging their flags, donating to causes to support the victim’s families, and coming together in an unprecedented unity showcasing to the world the best of America.

The Best of America

We as Americans didn’t stop there because we are a country of doers and action. One of the beautiful legacies of September 11th was the incredible amount of nonprofits that were created. The IRS fast-tracked over 300 charities in the wake of September 11th to serve numerous causes. According to the IRS by 2006, as many as one-third had closed. Many of the organizations that completed their missions such as The September 11th Fund and The United Way of NYC distributed more than 534 million dollars to victims, their families, and first responders.

A lasting legacy of Service

According to the Nonprofit Times, today there are still at least twenty-eight nonprofits still in existence. The 9/11 Memorial Museum an experience that every human being should have and a lasting tribute to that fateful day. Families of Freedom Scholarships have provided over $178 million dollars to over 3, 759 children of 9-11. Causes such as Tunnel to Towers which was created in memory of Stephen Siller. He was a firefighter who gave his life to save others that fateful day, along with 343 others. This year Tunnel to Towers will give 200 mortgage-free homes to our nation’s heroes. This year 9/11 Day.org  is asking all of us to come together and to do a simple good deed tomorrow. Please watch their video above.

September 11th was one of the worst days in our nation’s history but it did bring out the best in all of us. We came together in kindness, in compassion, we helped our neighbors and hung our flags. We realized that we are all Americans. Tomorrow is a new day and another chance for all of us to remember and come together once again in unity and compassion.



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

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Season Two Episode 20: Once Upon a Room

In full disclosure, there is nothing more fun than talking to your friends about their nonprofit work. Especially when their work involves creating magic for very sick kids with extreme hospital room makeovers.  Think of your favorite HGTV show with the recipient being a sick child and the makeover being a hospital room. Many of you may remember the incredible story of the nonprofit Once Upon a Room that I shared a few years back?

Ford and Heidi Johnson, Jennifer Hull, daughter Josie and Sienna Dancsecs

Join us today for a fantastic conversation with the three Once Upon Room founders; Jenny Hull, her daughter Josie Hull and Josie’s best friend Sienna Dancsecs. Where we will learn about Jenny Hull’s incredible journey from being a celebrity assistant to an adoptive mother and nonprofit founder. These three remarkable humans will inspire you with their friendship, love, and beautiful work helping thousands of children and families each year.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Can you share Your journey with Josie prior to beginning Once Upon a Room?

Jenny Hull:  I was with an amazing family in Malibu that I worked for and they were very involved in an organization called Healing the Children. Subsequently, I became involved with them too.  What we did there was bring kids here to the United States for surgeries, and then we’d send them back home after they were healed.  Long story short, we got this request for these two adorable high conjoined twin little girls.

It was kind of our mission to bring these babies( Josie and Teresa) here to America and they were conjoined at the head. They were separated at UCLA Medical Center and had a 23-hour surgery. Our girls were the first successful girls to be separated successfully.  Long story short, I am now the very, very proud adoptive mother of Josie, one of the twins. Josie’s other twin is with another amazing family in Valencia and we’re really close together.  The birth parents are really the heroes in the story, selflessly allowing their children to be in America because that’s the only way they would have survived. They really are the unsung heroes in this, we are so grateful to them.  

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Once Upon a Room?

Jenny Hull: We spent we have spent over the years, I can’t even count the number of days and surgeries there have been too many!  We did we personalized Josie’s room every single time. Everybody would walk in with and they would look at it and say, “Oh my gosh Josie you love pink!” Then they would recognize her as a person instead of her what she was in there for and it really touched our hearts.

We realized it was especially important in a teaching hospital when you have so many new residents, for them to recognize the person is so important. So at 11 years old, we were laying in bed one night and I vividly remember this and Josie leaned over and says,  “Mom, I really really need to be doing something for someone else. I want to help other kids in the hospital.” I said, “That’s a great idea!” We called Sienna who was the same age, 11 years old, and told her the idea. Sienna said, “Let’s go in and decorate these hospital rooms.” Then Sienna came up with the name.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jenny Hull: Definitely fundraising is a big challenge. In all honesty, we thought when we started we’ll do 50 rooms a year at CHLA. Period. We thought this is great and it’s something that will inspire the girls and they can inspire other people. We didn’t think much of it and we ended up doing 102 or 105 rooms our first year. Our town is so supportive, and they really rallied behind what we were doing and really supported the effort and we were so grateful for that.

Then we started expanding, all of a sudden, it was like the universe opened.  It’s really kind of because the girls took this on. People see the greatness and what it does for the hospital’s families and especially patients.

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

Jenny Hull: What really keeps me going is these two amazing faces next to me. Literally, there are times that I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m exhausted and fundraising is so hard. We just want to change the lives of these families and these patients so much. Every room is our heart and soul goes into.

Before COVID, we were at anywhere between 40 and 70 rooms a week. There’ll be nights I’m like, we’re done and then I look at Josie and Sienna.  It’s their dream, journey, and vision.  I feel like I cannot let down for a second if we just need to keep going.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and the impact of Once Upon a Room?

Sienna Dancsecs:  In terms of impact, we started in one hospital at CHLA in Southern California. Since we began we’re now in 12 hospitals across the country. We have had three new people and new states and new hospitals reach out in the past five days, about opening.  It continues to grow, we’ve done over 4000 rooms.

  I also think one of the things when it comes to impact is the impact we have on the kids and their families with their hospitals days and medical journeys. More than that we have such an impact on the volunteers, the hospital staff, and our donors.  I have had friends that have come to the hospital to volunteer, in high school and college, not knowing what they want to do when they grow up and leave saying, “Oh, I know, I want to be a nurse or I want to be a child by specialists.” One volunteer is now working in the foster care system because she met people through her work with us at the hospital. So I think it’s everybody around that really is affected by it, not just the patient or family. It’s everybody involved.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jenny Hull:  I’ve definitely learned so much about human compassion. To walk into rooms and the life lessons that we’ve just learned from our patients.  Watching their journeys being able to sympathize and empathize with what they’re going through and just to look at the world with such love, and try to figure it out.  There are people you walk by every single day that you just know are fighting some battle. It’s how to appreciate the people you are asked to be with on a daily basis. The greatest gift I’ve been blessed with of all the people we’ve been surrounded with, Josie and Sienna. Literally, truly the best gift we could have ever asked for. So, gosh, I’ve learned so much and I’m so incredibly grateful that we’ve been led down this road. You know, we didn’t we didn’t pick it. It picked us.

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

Sienna Dancsecs:  I learned a lot about the business of nonprofits and how all these things work. Walking into kids’ rooms, every day who were super sick, or they were at the end of life made me realize how lucky I am just to be healthy.  I think it’s something that we all take for granted. So that’s something that I quickly learned,  talking to these kids, watching them fight for their lives, watching them lose their battles to cancer, it was really hard to watch. But it made me so grateful for everything that I have.

It also taught me from a young age, how important it is to give back and to help other people. I feel like it’s a really great gift that I got from Jenny and Josie that I learned that this was something that made me feel so good and made me feel like I was doing something to help other people. And it’s something that I continue to do. I know, I’ll take it with me wherever I go. Prioritizing, helping other people giving back, brightening somebody’s day, even if it’s something small. You never know what kind of difference that you can make.




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Season One: A place to call home

There are a few things that most of us assume will happen every day; the sun will rise, the sun will set and we will have a place to call home. However, for many that isn’t the case.  In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated by some reports that we have more than 100, 000 people living on our streets.  Homelessness is a growing epidemic and not a problem that is easy to solve by any stretch of the imagination. This season I had the privilege of interviewing three incredible women who have set out to tackle this problem in a variety of different ways. Today, I wanted to re-introduce you to  Eyvette, Sr. Judy, and Abeni. They are amazing!

Urban Possibilities

The first is Eyvette Jones-Johnson. She is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Eyvette shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to becoming a successful television producer and now an entrepreneur nonprofit founder. She and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities A nonprofit that provides homeless or inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Alexandria House

Join us to hear our fascinating conversation with Sister Judy Vaughan. We discuss everything from her work in founding Alexandria House to her tattoo, her motto, her sheroes, their feature in Justin Beiber’s video, and most importantly to her tireless dedication to the community. The Tory Burch Foundation and the Upworthiest nominated Sr. Judy as their Empowered Woman and once you listen to this conversation you will see why. I knew Sister Judy Vaughan was someone special the moment we began our email exchange and she did not disappoint. A third-generation Angeleno who has been on a mission to serve women, children, and families with transitional housing for 25 years since founding Alexandria House.

Haven House Youth Services

Abeni Carr is not only a high school principal in Compton, CA but in addition, had started a nonprofit when she realized a number of her own students were homeless. I am so excited to share our conversation about Abeni’s work helping high school youth deal with homelessness, her journey in founding Haven’s House Youth Services, and how she juggles it all. Shortly after our interview Abeni was featured on The Ellen Show for her inspirational work in service to homeless youth. Abeni is a true leader and role model for all!

I’m thrilled that you had a chance to get reacquainted with Eyvette, Sr. Judy, and Abeni. Three inspirational women have dedicated their lives to helping the homeless in three very different ways. Each one uniquely different and making a huge impact in their communities as they tackle homelessness. If you are looking for a little summer inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.  Now you can do a little binge-listening….enjoy!



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Charity Matters Episode 7: The Ternans, Song for Charlie

There is nothing more painful or devasting than the death of a child.  When Charlie Ternan died last spring at age 22, just three weeks shy of his college graduation, from fentanyl poisoning it devasted his family and the community.  The pill he got online turned out to be a fake painkiller made of the dangerous opioid a fentapill.  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.



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Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Thank you all for your wonderful support of our Charity Matters Podcast launch. We are so excited to share our first episode with you next week.  It seems only fitting as we talk about service that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We do so through this national day of service that many refer to as a day “on” rather than a day off.

This amazing man left us with a legacy of love, compassion, acceptance, and tolerance.

If you’re not sure about the best way to celebrate this day of service, Volunteer Match has an incredible list of volunteer opportunities across the country today. You can also go to Americorps to find a variety of great resources for service.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “What are you doing for others?”

Charity Matters.


Copyright © 2021 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Honoring our Veterans

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who gave us the freedom to demonstrate

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag.

And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

I have to confess that I have needed to do a little digital detox since the election. The news has been draining and taken a toll on many of us, regardless of your politics. One thing that I hope our country can agree on is our veterans and today is Veterans Day. We have 22 million Veterans in the United States.  When I think of the men and women who have served our country, I am humbled. The sacrifice, bravery, and commitment are like no other form of service. Today, I wanted to look back at a few of the people and organizations we have met that honor our veterans.

Team Rubicon

In 2013 we profiled Team Rubicon that was founded by two Marines who met in sniper school.  Jacob Wood and Clay Hunt returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other Veterans who were no longer sure of their purpose. That all changed when an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Jacob Wood, Clay Hunt, and a host of other Veterans decided to deploy to heal others in need and in the process began to heal themselves. Today they have over 130,000 veterans helping people with disasters around the world.

American Women Veterans

When we think of our soldiers, the image that comes to mind is usually of a man. I remember interviewing Genevieve Chase in 2016 when she told me, “Not every GI is a Joe.” Genevieve is the founder of the nonprofit American Women VeteransAt only 38, she has served two tours in Afghanistan is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Action Badge.

Genevieve had trained for two years as a counterintelligence agent and was in Afghanistan for only two months, in April 2006, when a car bomb detonated and changed her life forever. At the end of 2007, Genevieve came home, depressed, unsure about her purpose, and began volunteering for another military non-profit. She began to realize that women veterans were not being heard, served, or listened to. More importantly, she discovered that there are 2.2 million women veterans in the United States. She has devoted her life to serving and honoring the women in our military.

Veteran’s Career xchange

In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark Brenner served in Vietnam. When he came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said, “The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”

Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran unemployment  and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” Mark spent his career in job recruitment and decided instead of retirement to create a  non-profit called Veterans Career XchangeHis mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.

photo via: Womensconference.org

Operation Gratitude

One of my first Charity Matters interviews was with a woman named Carolyn Blashek. On September 11th, 2001  she was sure that her parents were in the World Trade Center. Thankfully they were not. Out of gratitude for her parents being spared, she tried to join the military, all branches sent her home. Instead, she began sending care packages to troops deployed all over the world to thank them for their service.

Today, Operation Gratitude annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene, and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Their mission is to lift the spirits and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than One Million Care Packages.

We have interviewed organizations from Soaring Valor that honors children of fallen Navy Seals to Higher Ground a program that helps Veterans deal with their PTSD and so many more incredible nonprofits serving those who serve. Today let’s come together to honor and thank our veterans for their service.





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Creating the Change

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”  Margaret Cho

Rather than focus on the election today, I wanted to focus on what makes me happy. Honestly, nothing makes me happier than planting the seeds of compassion in our children. A few years ago, that common thread connected me to the nonprofit founder, Molly Yuska of Project Giving Kids. We met when I interviewed her for Charity Matters.  Project​ ​Giving​ ​Kids​ ​(PGK)​ ​is​ ​a​ ​nonprofit​ ​organization​  that cultivates empathy in youth by connecting them to meaningful and age-appropriate service activities.  Their mottos is,“connecting kids to causes.”

 Project Giving Kids was initially launched ​in​ Boston in ​November​ ​2013 after realizing there was no source for families to find age-appropriate service projects for their children. Molly saw clearly that there was a need to leverage technology to make it easier for kids to​ ​be​ ​powerful​ ​agents​ ​of​ ​positive​ ​change​ ​in our​ ​world.​ ​

Project Giving Kids reaches out to nonprofit partners to find volunteer opportunities for a multitude of ages. Four years ago Project Giving Kids hosted their first Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Day​ ​. These days across the country provided a chance to come together as a community to help the amazing nonprofits in our own backyards. More importantly, Create The Change Days teach our children about the importance of service and the power we each have to make a difference.  There is nothing better than combining nonprofit partners and families wanting to instill empathy and kindness in their children. 

However, this year COVID put a damper on this annual tradition. PGK was committed to ensuring that Create the Change Day went on so they will be hosting Create the Change Week. An entire week of free virtual service opportunities for kids and teens. Next week from Saturday, November 7th until Saturday, November 14th  your children can volunteer and participate in amazing virtual service opportunities.

PGK will offer a series of free virtual service activities via Zoom tied to the eight causes on their website. Everything from helping isolated seniors to protecting the environment to helping other kids and fighting hunger.
They will also have a special Teen Track for older youth, so there really is something for everyone.

As Molly said, “We are hopeful we can catalyze a small army to commit themselves to join us in the simple acts of goodness that add up and truly make a difference”  Create​ ​the​ ​Change​ ​Week ​is ​the​ ​perfect way​ ​to introduce young children to the joy of service to others.” 

With all the craziness happening in our world right now, doing something positive to help someone seems like a good idea. So register your children for Create the Change Week . 

As Margaret Cho said, “Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else’s life forever.”

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….





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Be Perfect Foundation

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment as best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that gentleman – you’re perfect!”

Friday Night Lights

Two weeks ago I was in Canada with my husband on a business trip and we grabbed a cab with another couple we didn’t know attending this work event. We began to chat and this amazing couple told us that they had started a nonprofit with their son who is a quadroplegic to support other paraplegic patients with their organization the Be Perfect Foundation. As my husband said, “Heidi only you would share a cab with nonprofit founders.”  We chatted with our new friends, the Hargraves,  exchanged information and then we went on to take our youngest son off to college.

While we were getting our son settled I reached out to the Hargraves and was connected to their son Hal Hargrave Jr. via email. Hal Jr. and I set up a time to talk the morning I returned home from dropping our son. I was devastated and a mess and wondered why I had agreed to the conversation at that time. I will tell you that God sent this remarkable man into the world to lift us all up and I have thought about Hal Jr. a million times since we spoke. He had a profound impact on me with his incredible unflinching optimism and grace. He reminded me that we each choose our attitude everyday and we all have the power to lift others by choosing to be joyful. I hope our conversation is as impactful for you.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Be Perfect Foundation does?

Hal Hargrave Jr.:  The Be Perfect Foundation is a nonprofit that’s mission is to provide direct financial and emotional aid to individuals living with paralysis. 

Twelve years ago I was just graduating from high school and had aspirations of taking over my dad’s business. I was set to go play college baseball at Cal State Long Beach and pursue a business degree and in a wild twist of fate, God had bigger plans for me and put me exactly where I was supposed to be. Some might say that I was physically weak but I was more spiritually and emotionally strong and capable to go out and serve others. I had a huge change of perception of what is important in life and that is serving others.

After a roll-over car accident took my arms and my legs I recaptured my heart and my mind where it was time to go serve. Although I was deemed a quadriplegic, I had never been so capable and able to light the world on fire. Like everybody in this world you have that AH-Ha moment when you identify with things around you and mine was the realization of the lack of support from insurance companies and the inability that many had to fundraise for themselves because of paralysis. That was the need I had identified and I went to my parents and said I think this is what I have been called to do. 

My parents said, if you are going to do this you will not expect a dime from this, you will give out of grace and expect nothing in return and as a family, we will support you through this endeavor. The Be Perfect Foundation was kind of born overnight, nine months after my injury in 2007. The mission is to provide direct financial and emotional aid for individuals living with paralysis by providing resources for paying medical expenses, restoring hope, and encouraging personal independence through a non-traditional method of exercise-based therapy.

The mantra of Be Perfect to me means being the best version of yourself that you can be every single day and that starts with your philanthropic heart. Twelve years later we have raised over seven million dollars for those living with paralysis for things like medical supplies, wheelchairs, vehicles, handicap accessible homes, and keeping people in exercise-based therapy programs.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Post-injury in ICU Care there are over 200 people holding a vigil outside of the hospital room and all I can think is what can I possibly do to repay these people? That answer came about on day five in ICU. A friend of mine named Katie came into my hospital room and she breaks down sobbing. At that moment I realized that every action I take and every decision I make affects somebody around me. I realized at that moment that I could play the whoa is me a card or change my attitude.

I said, Katie what are you crying about? She said, “But your not the same.” I said, But I am the same, Hal. I have a heartbeat, I’m here, I can smile, I can laugh, I can communicate with you. Everything is going to be ok. And in that minute she smiled and hugged me and that was the beginning of me realizing that I and all of us have the ability to have a positive effect on people. My approach to emotional intelligence transcended at that point. I believe we can control two things in life. One is how we feel about ourselves and the other is how we behave.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.:Let me just start with the most important number which is zero. I think our biggest impact has been that we are a one hundred percent volunteer endeavor and that zero dollars go to administrative costs. You will do this to serve others for the rest of your life because this is about other people and it is not about you. I want people to know that this mom-and-pop organization gives 100 percent of funds to those we serve through program services. We have raised over seven million dollars providing over seventy-five wheelchairs for people in need, we have helped over 400 people stay in our exercise-based therapy programs. We meet people in the acute care setting typically within 72 hours of their accident to talk to remind them of the great possibilities that are out there. We also treat people with all types of neurological disorders now outside of spinal cord injuries. Be Perfect is a way of life and we want everyone to try to be a better version of themselves.

In addition, my family owns an outpatient recovery center called the Perfect Step. We went into business twelve years ago with a local gym called the Claremont Club. The gym wanted to know how they could be a part of my recovery. The gym built out the racquetball court and I was the sole client. Now the facility is 7,000 square feet with 100 clients. While my family owns this business 100% of the proceeds go to the Claremont Club. We see 100 clients a week and many of our fundraised dollars go into making it possible for these patients to receive the exercise program. I am the facility director at The Perfect Step and Executive Director of The Be Perfect Foundation.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: I went to the University of LaVerne for my undergraduate degree and then I got my Masters in Leadership. I also met my beautiful wife there as well. We were married last September.  The University President asked me to stay and help them fundraise for their annual giving. Through that experience, I realized that our biggest hurdle is from an annual giving perspective of getting those repeat donors. Seeing those dollars and cents in that continuous repetitive transaction create value in people’s hearts. We are also trying to empower others and give them the platform and the voice in the community to raise funds for us.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for The Be Perfect Foundation, what would that be?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Our intent is to take the Perfect Step national. We want to provide Perfect Steps in every major region across the country so these patients have access to a low-cost recovery model.  They are similar to fitness clubs which help our patients with long-term sustainability. We would like for The Be Perfect Foundation to grow in tandem with The Perfect Step.  The dream would be to have the nonprofit be able to raise money for local chapters across the country to give patients access to this program. The dream for the Be Perfect Foundation for the next five years is to create an endowment that would sustain the organization for life. I want to have a broader vision to ensure that our work is carried on for years to come.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.:To be quite frank about it, I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision every day to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. 

There is a level of excitement for me when I wake up every morning because I don’t always know what is going to be. Sometimes something seems negative because not everything in life is rainbows and unicorns in life. When we try to see the good in everything in life, we can always have a positive outcome with what surrounds us. There is a sense every day, philanthropically speaking, that if my face is attached to this foundation then it better be the best and be the most authentic and sincere way possible. At the end of the day, there is one thing that matters to me in life and that is my authenticity and sincerity is what matters. If you are going to be perfect you have to get up and be the best version of yourself every day. God has great plans for me, I need to listen to him and I need to stop talking about all the problems in the world and I need to be a part of the solution.

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.: Sometimes as simple as it is, getting a thank you note from someone. Having humility is one of the toughest things to have in this world. There are a lot of takers in the world but when someone comes up to me and says, “How can go out, and can I pay it forward?” When someone wants to know how they can be there for others. When I can get someone to say how can I be involved, I know that is what the intent of this is for, to not only show people how we can be there for them but how they can get back up on the high horse and start being there for others. When we can create a world where everybody is a giver and not a receiver….can you imagine what this world would be like?

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

Hal Hargrave Jr.: We live a life with underlying intent. We all believe that we are at the center of our own universe and with everything that is going on around us rather than what is going on within us. We act to take of ourselves and not others. We are hard-wired to protect ourselves first. I have had to learn to get out of my own way and that it doesn’t start with me but with others. I have to remind myself when I’m stressed to remove myself by one degree and say to myself that A) I can handle anything. Nothing has ever taken me down. B) Find a way to put others before yourself.  C. Always lead with empathy, go to the depth to find out what is below someone’s surface-level because sometimes we don’t someone’s whole story. Life is about others. D) Everyone can coexist if we always lead with respect. How you treat one person is how you treat every person.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Hal Hargrave Jr.: On July 26th, 2007  the morning of my accident the person that I was was driven by dollars and cents. It was all about how I was going to school for me, how I was going into the business school to make money for me, how I was going to make money for myself working for the family business, how I was on a baseball scholarship for me. Everything was me, me, me, me. Today that me word or I word is never used. Today I live for others before myself. 

Charity Matters


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Why seems to be a word on many people’s minds since the tragic and devastating shootings this past weekend. Why? Such senseless and tragic events. It simply doesn’t make sense, all of the insanity in our world. Most days I can barely get myself to turn on the news.  While the events themselves are beyond heartbreaking, the shock, anger, sadness followed by the blame,  played out like theater in the media, makes it that much more painful for everyone.  It is like watching a car accident over and over, simply horrible.

Rather than focus on all the sadness, I choose to focus on the good. The police officers that arrived in seconds, the kindness of people helping each other in that Walmart. I look for the good everywhere I can. I edit out my news each day and truly search for the good in all things. Luckily for me each week I interview amazing humans that remind me of all the goodness out in the world. I, in turn, make sure that you get to meet them as well.

In the past few weeks alone you have met Sara from the Kula Project who is on a mission to empower the people of Rwanda.  Officer Jason who is working tirelessly in communities to connect the police, students, people in jail and so many more to create a bridge between police and communities.

You were reintroduced to Jenny Hull of Once Upon a Room, one woman and her daughter Josie on a mission to redecorate children’s hospital rooms transforming children’s spirits and lives. And last week you met Mari, a nurse whose gratitude for all this country has given her, has set out to serve the underserved children and families in her community. And these are just a few of the incredible nonprofit founders you have met.

So when people ask me why? My answer is I believe in goodness. I believe that people are innately kind and goodness always wins over evil. I know this because of the people I meet.  I believe that when you choose to focus on the good in this world and when you see the good in people it becomes easier to motivate yourself to be of service to them. When we serve others and give others value we not only make their lives better but over time you tend to get back way more than you ever gave….even if that wasn’t the intention. The result of that is that the people you helped are now inclined to help other people. And so together over time, you create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and grows until it becomes stronger.

So instead of watching the nightly news tonight, I am going to think about those who need our help, our prayers, and our support.  I am going to continue to find these everyday heroes to remind each of us how good the world is and I know that when we all come together to help one another we will create that upward spiral of positive change. That is the why that counts.

charity Matters

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Becoming a leader

” Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis

As many of you know I run a nonprofit that is a youth leadership organization. During the summer we run three separate weeks of leadership camp, where middle school students stay on a college campus for a week away from their parents, learning, having fun and having time to reflect on who they are and where they want to go. This past week we just ended our first session of camp with almost two hundred students transformed by their experience.

Our students do all of the traditional camp activities like talent shows, biathlons, a dance, cheering …you know the drill. What makes us unique is that students also learn a curriculum about becoming a leader. They learn to have a plan, a goal, how to communicate those plans, they learn to be life long mentors to others and most importantly they learn that you can not lead unless you serve. It is truly students teaching students leading by example showing the best of themselves and who they can be.

So often in the nonprofit space, we are running a business like almost any other with budgets, timelines, goals and the list goes on. What makes our work (nonprofit work) different is that unlike a company when your numbers are down, fewer people profit. In the nonprofit world, when you don’t make numbers, someone doesn’t go to camp, get fed, receive medicine and the list goes on. The stakes are real and there is a person affected by each choice, for better or for worse.

The other challenge in the nonprofit space is that you can often feel separated or removed from those you serve.  We work all year (our staff of two and 150 amazing volunteers, who will serve over 3,000 students) to send one-third of our students to camp with scholarships. Then the moment happens, we see their faces, we watch them grow and learn all week and our efforts beyond worthwhile. Children who live in the inner-city, who have never been on a college campus let alone stay on one and then to hear them share their experiences….well there simply are not words with how incredible it feels.

Each volunteer gives of themselves to change the life of another. You can feel the love, the kindness, the joy, the gratitude between our campers and our volunteer staff. Regardless of what is happening in the world, I know that our amazing college and high school volunteers are transforming hundreds of children’s lives for the better….renewing my faith in humanity and inspiring me to strive to serve more.

charity matters



Copyright © 2019 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.