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Episode 8: Rhonda’s Kiss, a Mother’s Legacy

We never know when life is going to change in an instant. Kyle Stefanski is one of five children who grew up with a big happy family in Cleveland, Ohio. Kyle’s mom Rhonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and passed away eight short weeks later. Their family was devastated but knew that their mom, Rhonda would want them to do something positive for others. The result and legacy is a nonprofit called, Rhonda’s Kiss. a nonprofit organization that supports cancer patients with the non-medical expenses that come with cancer.

Families experience loss all the time but not all families take their grief and turn it into something positive for others. I am excited to share the story behind Rhonda’s Kiss and more than that, the beautiful legacy that this mother has left her children and all those they serve through their incredible organization. Join me for an inspiring conversation with Rhonda’s son, Kyle Stefanski about his and his family’s work in creating this beautiful legacy in honor of their mom.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Rhonda’s Kiss)

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Rhonda’s Kiss does?

Kyle Stefanski: Rhonda’s Kiss raises money for the non-medical expenses tied to cancer.  It’s covering expenses like keeping your lights on, food in your fridge, wigs, childcare, rent, mortgage, and rides to and from the hospital. You see a lot of cancer patients either not going to the hospital because they can’t afford the ride, or stuck at the hospital for hours after their meeting with their doctor.  It’s just all these hidden costs that people don’t even think about because they’re just focused on cancer. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you all knew you needed to act and start  Rhonda’s Kiss?

Kyle Stefanski: So I think it really came about when the family came together maybe a month or two after my mom passed. We were trying to figure out what happened and trying to say that we needed to turn this into something. So we sat down and said there’s so much money going into cancer. Why not put some money into something that we can actually tangibly feel is affecting people? Once funds are donated, the money goes to that partner hospital, and the social workers immediately start executing grants right away to help these cancer patients.

Charity Matters: This is hard work, running a nonprofit, what fuels you when the days are long and the work is hard?

Kyle Stefanski: How do I keep going? That hospital floor, where my mom passed, at the Cleveland Clinic, has stuck with me so, so deeply, I will never forget that feeling. When I walked away from her after she had taken her last breath, and I  just walked by myself through the hallway. I just felt the energies of each room and wanted to remember every piece of it.  So that’s a huge piece for me to always, always, always remember. 

You don’t have to have it emotionally bring you down, but it will never leave. And so I go to bed, it’s a thought of mine. When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thought of mine. That is something that I live with, and everything else circles around that.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had?

Kyle Stefanski: In only five years we’ve been able to donate over $1.5 million through all of our partner hospitals.  The Cleveland Clinic, Cedar Sinai, and the City of Hope, Cleveland Clinic Florida, and we are coming to New York City this spring. When we started the Cleveland Clinic had only three social workers in their cancer department working with patients. Just three workers. Since we’ve started this program that has grown to 28 social workers and that is just one of our hospitals.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kyle Stefanski: Well, this process has taken me on such a spiritual path as well. A lot of it has been opening my eyes because we live in this very capitalistic society. And that’s a big reason why we don’t see the people in front of us and we don’t connect.  There is no human condition to really feel because we’re moving so fast and worried about ourselves. And so when you feel that gratitude, our spiritual side of how we’re supposed to be there for others. You realize we’re all in this together.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

 

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.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

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.

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 6: Alma’s Backyard Farms a lesson in feeding the soul

We are excited to share our inspirational conversation with Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia the Co-Founders of Alma’s Backyard Farms. In today’s episode, we discuss the origins of Alma’s Backyard Farms. The journey that brought Richard and Erika to Compton and to begin their nonprofit organization. What fuels them to do this work and the life lessons learned in the process of creating this amazing organization that exists to reclaim the lives of formerly incarcerated people.

Almas Backyard Farm  re-purposes urban land into productive urban farm plots and re-imagine disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles as a hub for transformation. Co-founder, Erika Cuellar is an LA native and first-generation Mexican-American. Growing up in Watts, Erika witnessed how her community has been fraught with challenges in education and food insecurity.  Erika’s co-founder is Richard Garcia whose passion to grow food comes from a long line of Filipino farmers. Before launching Alma Backyard Farms, Richard initiated garden programs for schools and restaurants.   

A few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us about the name of your organization? And who is Alma?

Richard Garcia: There is a lot in a name. Alma in Spanish means soul. Food is what we grow. Our programming and services are intended to nourish the soul. That being community, a place to thrive. kinship connection that’s why we chose Alma’s Backyard Garden because Alma is also the street where we first started our first backyard garden.

Charity Matters: Tell us More about how you began Alma’s Backyard Gardens?

Erika Cuellar:  I went on to work at Homegirl Cafe, shortly after my senior year of college.  And so, Richard had come back to Homegirl Cafe to work with us and help develop a few different components of the training program, including a gardening aspect.

So we started an experiment, the idea of the entire food process of growing, preparing, and serving and so a lot of the women (previously incarcerated) that we were working with had never grown vegetables or had much exposure to what growing food is like.  It was during that work at Homegirl Cafe, that the fire was was was was ignited in our hearts to really pursue to pursue Alma.

And so we really started looking at backyards, like, how can we utilize underutilized space?  How can we take backyards that are not being maximized in Los Angeles, and create these farms? With the goal to grow foods to really nourish people and provide opportunities for folks who are we serving. The first backyard that we had installed was on Alma Avenue. That’s Richard’s house, which still remains a backyard farm.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to do this work? Your work is physically demanding as farmers and running A nonprofit, How do you keep going when it’s hard?

Erika Cuellar:  Good sleep, a good spiritual life, good prayer. And eating well, like, I like those three things. And exercise four things that keep us grounded and going.

Richard Garcia: There is a discipline with love, where you have to choose it every day. So it may not always feel wonderful. But there is a edify, deeper, an edifying feeling of knowing that the choice to love happens. Someone wants to describe farming is you know, picking up picking things up, and putting things down and that sometimes feels like the whole day.

Yeah, you’re picking things up putting things down, you’re loading, you’re offloading. The other day someone picked up kale and they’re preparing this kale for a kitchen that serves homeless folks. And then she looked around and she said to me, “I could see you love what you do.”  And I thought that was one of the nicest compliments.  There is this meticulousness about how we orchestrate the space because our intention is for people to really have a sense of presence in the space. So that is also fuel.

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

Richard Garcia: I think, you know, there’s a life lesson, it’s that God works through the challenges, not apart from it, not a distance from it, but through them. And so, I’m anticipating that there are challenges ahead. And, and I think, growing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, has been one of the lessons that I’ve learned to appreciate.

Erika Cuellar:  The first word that came to mind when you said life lessons was the importance of honesty. To live a life that is honest.  I think there are many life lessons. But if you know we talk about what fuels and what motivates and what gets you going every day, and it’s that reminder to choose to be chosen and to choose love.

I guess it’s more than the lesson…. I think the lesson lies in embracing and accepting honesty. Being honest and all of your relationships and, as a business as a nonprofit business being honest in your transactions in stewardship. So I think that’s at the core of the values and lessons that I’ve learned. It is instrumental to really be able to live a life, not just for myself, but for others.

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

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.

 

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 5: Amel Najjar, Children of War Foundation

A few months back a girlfriend of mine set up a lunch to introduce me to her incredible friend, Amel Najjar. Our lunch began at noon and ended at four and could have gone on all day. Amel is one of the most interesting, inspirational, and real people you will ever meet. I am excited for you to get to know Amel and her amazing journey from growing up in Jordan and witnessing war firsthand to beginning the Children of War Foundation.  When people say one person can not make a difference, they have not met Amel Najjar!

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about the Children of War Foundation?

Amel Najjar: So as of 2020 Children of War Foundation has two priority focuses. And that’s health and education. Our mission is to make these two essential in really fundamental human, basic human rights accessible to anyone at any time, from anywhere. I also think that it’s really important to shed light on where we were 10 years ago and how the organization has really evolved since then.

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

Amel Najjar: So 10 years ago, I had an opportunity to save one child’s life. And that was a nine-year-old boy who was a victim of war. At that time, I didn’t have experience managing a nonprofit, my only experience was volunteering with small organizations and bigger organizations. And at that time, what I had to offer was that could help this boy. I knew the region because I had lived there off and on as a child.  I also had family and friends in the region who could help me.

More importantly, I had access to resources and organizations that could help in Los Angeles. And so Children of War Foundation was born for the sole purpose of saving an innocent child who was caught in the crossfire of war. And I helped that one child successfully get to the US, secured a medical visa, and ensured that he had almost nine months of surgical care. My husband is a pediatric surgeon, here in Los Angeles, and between the both of us, I had my international experience, and he had his medical network, and I used that to my advantage. I used that network to build on to do more.

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

Amel Najjar: Okay, so I’m the type that is either go big or go home. This may sound really ridiculous. And I don’t care because that’s how I started in the first place. When I said I’m going to Iraq to bring a kid to LA, which sounded ridiculous at the time. But look what’s happened?  

My dream is to be the organization that drives change and influences world peace. This would lead to less poverty, by providing that access to health and education.  Which is the ultimate key to better decision making, becoming more compassionate people, healthier people who want to contribute to their communities, people who have something to live for. Overall, this would contribute to raising a future generation that understands what it is to learn, to be knowledgeable, to have choices to be healthy. And to give back. That’s my dream.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please:
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YOUR REFERRAL IS THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT,  IF YOU ARE SO MOVED OR INSPIRED, WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND INSPIRE ANOTHER.

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.

Charity Matter’s Podcast Episode 4: Cathy Gott, Danny’s Farm

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.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

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

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 3: Eyvette Jones Johnson, Urban Possibilities

There are no words to contain my excitement about today’s episode of the Charity Matters Podcast. Eyvette Jones-Johnson is one of the most soulful and remarkable humans I have ever had the privilege of talking to. Get excited as she shares her amazing journey from growing up in the Southside of Chicago to a successful television producer and now entrepreneur nonprofit founder. Eyvette and her husband are the founders of Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit that provides inner-city job seekers the tools to reach their highest potential from the inside out. This episode is good for your soul!

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about Urban Possibilities?

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: Well, we teach homeless job seekers and low-income workers, the tools to reach their highest potential. And our approach is inside out. And why that is, is because success is an inside job. It’s really born out of what we think what we believe, which dictates how we act, what we believe about ourselves and the world dictates everything.

So there are so many forces that lead to someone becoming homeless, or people living in poverty. There are so many circumstances, so many systemic forces that cause that to happen. And so what I realized is that the person that’s being affected, if they are empowered, they can begin to navigate all of those barriers themselves.

So we are an empowerment company. And I know that words been overused, but it really is. How do we build power specifically and particularly with marginalized populations? And how do we do that from the inside out?

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

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: Well, I mean, when we look at the numbers and 75% of our students with, after they’ve graduated, are either working or in school. These are people who lived under bridges on bus stops in their cars at shelters. But the biggest impact I think we have is that part of our program is also when we talk about the tools of success is how do you give?  How do you make a personal impact?

And so we have students who were formerly addicts who are now drug and rehab counselors. They’re paying it forward. We have people who lived under a bridge, who now have reunited with their family and working and have their kids in private school. We have people who are looking at starting their own nonprofits so that they can reach out to people that they were once like.  I think our biggest impact is graduating people that not only understand at a deep level, their self-worth. They understand now that they are gifted in whatever way that is and then they are applying those gifts in the world.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Eyvette Jones-Johnson: That’s a big question.  Well,  the entire orientation of my life has changed. I’m not chasing the next show the next job or the next assignment. My focus is no longer primarily on myself and my career and why I can achieve it is I’ve hooked myself to something bigger and that has changed everything.

I’m stronger emotionally because I’ve had to hold the space for people to be able to lay down some of their burdens as they pick up a new way of being. So I think that’s one of the ways I’ve changed. And, you know, I know what I know, what I know.

I want people to understand what you and I have felt that transcendent joy. Like there’s nothing like that transcendent joy. And it doesn’t take starting a nonprofit to feel that way. No, even though that was our call, right? But other people can do that, too. And I think I’ve become one of the ways it’s changed me is being bolder, and trying to call that forth and other people.

 I really am an advocate for the expansion that happens when people start to spend their energy and their time. Really going after something big, like changing the world.

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.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
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  • On IG @Charitymatters

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

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Charity Matters Podcast Episode 2: Rabih Torbay, Project HOPE

Have you ever had an impactful conversation that stayed with you for a long time? That is exactly how I felt about the conversation I had with Rabih Torbay, CEO of Project HOPE. You may remember the Charity Matter’s post a few months back?  Today I am excited to share that very special conversation with you, as I speak to our very special guest, Rabih Torbay. When crises happen around the globe, hurricanes, floods, war, pandemics, Project HOPE is there. The news may tell you every night that the world is dark, but I can guarantee you there is hope and this conversation is a good place to find it.

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

Project HOPE places power in the hands of local health care workers to save lives around the world.  In this episode, Rabih and I discuss how he – a civil engineer with no medical background – became involved with the work of Project HOPE and how that experience has changed his life forever.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

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

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

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

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

And for me, that was a wake-up call . . .  And that’s when I used my engineering background to start coordinating the water and making it clean . . .

…The first time there were about 100 people dying every day.  Within a week, it went down to two people, and within 10 days, there was no more death.

. . .It showed me what a little smart investment could make in terms of an impact on people’s lives . . . and I never looked back. That was 1999. And I started doing this work. And yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing ever since.

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

People always ask “what keeps you going?”  I mean, it’s that human resilience that we underestimate.  Human resilience is amazing. Whether it’s the people that I saw in Beirut when I went and visited after the blast in Beirut, or in Sierra Leone, or Iraq or Afghanistan.  People’s resilience is what makes us work harder – when you see them that they’ve got nothing, but they still have a smile on their face.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

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

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

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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.
  • Leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts
  • Subscribe for new episodes each week
Connect with us:
  • www.Charity-Matters.com
  • On IG @Charitymatters

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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Introducing the Charity Matters Podcast: Episode One

Charity Matters Podcast with Heidi Johnson2021 is here and it is time for new beginnings. There seems no time like the present to dive right in.  As I launch the new Charity Matters podcast, my goal is to share the stories of innovators, entrepreneurs, and inspiring modern-day heroes who set out to solve the problems of humanity with their incredible journeys of service.

With my first episode, let me re-introduce myself to those of you who are just joining us. My name is Heidi Johnson and I am the founder of Charity Matters.  Ten years ago, after starting a nonprofit with a group of friends,  I decided that the world was focusing on the wrong people.  I began a search to find my tribe, an incredible group of entrepreneurs who worked tirelessly to solve the problems of humanity.  Nonprofit founders.  I was one but I wanted to understand why millions of people across the country started businesses to help people?

I invite you to listen to our first episode.

Not only did I find my heroes but we had these unbelievable conversations. Now, a decade later after sharing these enlightening discussions via the Charity Matters blog, I decided it is time to share it all.  The result is the new Charity Matters Podcast.  Today the tables are turned and I am answering the questions instead of asking them. Honestly, I prefer it the other way around.

Here are a few highlights from today’s episode:

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

Heidi Johnson:  Charity Matters is a filter for goodness that connects people and causes.  We use our platform to spread the message of extraordinary humans who are using their lives to serve others. Our goal is for these incredible stories to act as a mirror for reflection. Our hope is that they inspire others to look at ways that they can serve, connect, and make a difference in their world.  

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

Heidi Johnson:  To quote Martin Luther King,  I had a dream. I rarely remember my dreams but this one woke me up with a jolt.  So, I got up in the middle of the night in early 2011 and wrote down the dream.  The dream was about being a messenger for all of these extraordinary humans. The next day I decided to figure out how to build a website and I went to work starting Charity Matters.

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

Heidi Johnson:  First, is the life lessons I learn from these wise, interesting, strong, and compassionate humans. It is a guilty pleasure.  I have never ended a conversation without being blown away.  Secondly, the feedback I get from all of our subscribers. The beautiful notes, the stories they share about acting because of another story we have shared. To witness the circle of positive energy and goodness is addicting.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Heidi Johnson:  I’d like to think that I have become a better person for having learned from these people who are my heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint and still have the mouth of a sailor some days. However, when you talk to these incredible people who have literally given up their lives, changed careers, and completely devoted themselves to something bigger than themselves, it changes you. 

The biggest change is my gratitude. I am reminded daily from these conversations how blessed I am to have love, family, food, a hot shower, and my health.  That gratitude fuels me and there is no joy without it. 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

Charitable children a season of giving and lifetime of joy

 

“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I am always so amazed that is the same time each year that I find people asking me for suggestions for raising philanthropic children. As a result, I share this post once again as a refresher for all, holidays or not.

When my sons were younger I wondered if they were really understanding what we were doing as a family for others? We wanted to raise compassionate and charitable children, good humans. While my sons are far from the poster children for philanthropy. As young men, they certainly do a lot to help others. I am proud that each of them has found different ways to give back and share the gifts that they have been given. My oldest has a passion for serving inner-city children. His younger brother has recently gotten behind Movember and men’s health through his fraternity. The youngest is involved with a nonprofit, Once Upon a Room, that does hospital room makeovers for very sick and young patients.  He has helped bring a new chapter of the nonprofit to his college town of Fort Worth, Texas.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we sit down as a family and decide what our family will do this season to help others. We have adopted soldiers for a year, adopted families over the holidays that could not have Christmas, we have wrapped gifts at local Children’s’ Hospitals, and voted on which non-profits we want to support. Each person trying to convince the others why their cause is most worthy.

Where to begin?

The reality is that there is no simple answer to this question and that raising charitable children is an ongoing process. With 1.7 million charitable organizations in the world, where do you begin to find service opportunities for young children or even teenagers?

Families now have resources such as the nonprofit Project Giving Kids, which cultivates volunteer opportunities for young children and families. I read an article recently that said role modeling philanthropy is simply not enough. The article referenced a new study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. The director, Debra Mesch, said “the research showed that talking to children about giving increased by 20 percent the likelihood that children would give.”

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

Six Tips for Raising charitable children:

  1. Start early, as early as 4 or 5 years old. Giving becomes a habit.
  2. Talk to your children about what causes interest them and bring causes to their attention.
  3. Be intentional by involving your children in your own charity endeavors.
  4. Use online tools to research organizations to involve your children
  5. Be consistent. Make charity a part of your traditions, the holidays, and birthdays.
  6. Emphasize the joy because giving feels great.

Benefits of raising charitable children:

  1. Opens children’s eyes to the fact that others are not as fortunate as they are
  2. Develops empathetic thinking
  3. Fosters an appreciation for what they have
  4. Enhances self-esteem
  5. Correlates to improved performance in school

While this topic is relevant for the holidays, it is important to remember that giving does not just happen once a year. Teaching the gifts you receive from giving should be a part of the year, not simply the season. Once your children feel how great it is to give, their lives will forever be altered in wonderful ways.

Charity Matters.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

The word of the year

2020 has certainly been a year. So many of us have added new words to our vocabulary, pivot, adapt and of course COVID. I was not looking for a new word for this year but this word seemed that this word picked me. For the past six weeks, I have been part of a workout program that has asked me to pick a word each week. It has been amazing how just one small word can really transform your thoughts. I picked many words during the six-week workout journey such as strength, determination, detox but never the word patience. For sure a quality that I need to work on but never one, I would choose.

Making an intention

Somehow this word chose me. This past week I  hopped onto my Peleton bike, and the instructor, Ali Love, had a word….patience.  As I peddled Ali love said, “When we are patient letting go frees us.”  Her words spoke to me. Now that this word has chosen me I can think of nothing else but how to attain this elusive virtue.

The Waiting Game

All of us have had to be patient since last March. We have all been in some sort of waiting game and that wait has required patience. We have waited for lockdowns to end, for life to return to “normal,” for the political landscape to quiet down, for a vaccine and now we wait for vaccine distribution to begin. I don’t know about you but I have been waiting in line at Trader Joe’s for months.  All of this waiting requires a skill set that I realized I simply do not possess, patience. Is it the waiting that is causing impatience? Or the thought that maybe each of us had plans other than a pandemic? Perhaps our expectations that things are happening in a different order than we had planned?

The Sign

I’m honestly not sure of the answers. As I pondered these questions, the strangest thing happened. This quote popped into my Instagram feed and stopped me.

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

The Process

The quote is from a German poet named Rainer Rilke (photo above). So I began to try to break his message down.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.” This sounds so much easier than it actually is. Having patience with everything is impossible but trying to love the questions is a process that seems much more reasonable. To love the questions. This is something I can try to do.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.” This one really got to me. We are all looking for the answers. When can I see my family and friends? When can our children go to school? When will my life feel normal? Rather than to ask why and look for reasons we need to simply live. Enjoy each moment with the family in front of us. Find a way to appreciate this time with our children at home and realize it isn’t forever. Searching makes us impatient.

“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” We need to embrace the life we have. Take in every precious moment like it could be our last. Find beauty in everything and everyone. Perhaps, this is the real lesson in patience.

“Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” I do love this. The idea that we can live ourselves into the answer. If we can just be and not wait then we will not need the answers. We will live them. This gave me peace. We will see if it gives me patience. Maybe the Peleton instructor was right? Letting go is what frees us.

The Answer

We are all dealing with so many of the same frustrations and yet each of our journeys is unique. 2020 has brought loss and gifts to each of us. Patience may still not be my favorite word or strength but it is a gift. Realizing that the only thing I can control is my reaction and managing my expectations. This is the first step on my journey towards becoming patient. As Rilke said, ” Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always. The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things. The only journey is the one within.”

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Giving Tuesday is here

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, a successful black Friday, are enjoying your cyber Monday, and are now ready for the most important day of all…today’s #GivingTuesday. What is #GivingTuesday, you ask? It is a movement that began in 2012 to celebrate and support giving and philanthropy. This year with COVID and the devastating repercussions on so many nonprofits Giving Tuesday is especially important.

Giving Tuesday History

Giving Tuesday began as something to counter Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was started by New York’s 92nd Street Y, which has over 140 years of fundraising experience. They reached out to the United Nations Foundation and joined as partners. Soon after, big corporations and non-profits signed on to help spread the word and the rest is history, as they say.

More than that, #GivingTuesday has become a global movement that last year united over 98 countries around the world by sharing our human capacity to care for and empower one another. And today more than ever we need to be doing a little bit more of that…

Volunteering

What I think is even more fantastic, is the volunteering efforts that go along with the day.  If you are not sure where to start then merely go to the #GivingTuesday link here and you will find a list of local volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

Last year alone over 700,000 people volunteered for clothing drives, tutoring projects, and a wide range of activities aimed at helping local non-profits across the country. Almost 40,000 charities, corporate and civic partners registered to officially be a part of Giving Tuesday this year.

Sheila Herring from the Case Foundation was quoted as saying,”The biggest thing for us is that Giving Tuesday directly challenges Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What if, as a nation, we focused that kind of attention on giving and we wanted that to be our identity?”

The Impact

On GivingTuesday, December 3, 2019, the global giving day generated $2 billion in giving, just in the United States, and inspired millions of people worldwide to volunteer, perform countless acts of kindness, and donate their voices, time, money, and goods.  Each year Giving Tuesday has grown in its impact and reach. The result is that millions of people in need are helped. As we begin the season of giving think about those causes that you care about and how you can support them.  When we come together in unity, we can make beautiful things happen.

Charity Matters.

 

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D’Veal Youth and Family Services

The world has been enduring mental health challenges since COVID began last March. A recent study by the CDC claims that from March to October, the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health increased 24 percent for children aged 5-11. While teenagers’ (ages 12-17) ER visits spiked 31 percent compared to the same period the previous year. So when a friend reached out to introduce me to John McCall, the founder of D’Veal Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that has been helping children and families with mental health for decades, I was excited to learn more.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what D’Veal does?

John McCall: D’Veal Youth and Family Services is a community based mental health agency that provides outstanding services to children and families. Our motto is to balance children’s lives because children come from families and families come first.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  D’Vray?

John McCall: I’m from Louisiana. In my senior year of high school, I did an internship at the VA hospital. I thought I wanted to become a physical therapist. My boss came to me one day and she said, “John,  I know you want to be a physical therapist, but I see that you’re writing letters for other patients.  That’s not what a physical therapist does, that’s what a social worker does.  Would you consider spending the remainder of the year interning as a social worker?   I discovered as a senior in high school, I wanted to be a social worker.

I went to Northwestern Louisiana and the University of Houston for grad school. Then headed to California to stay with my sister and I began working at Five Acres. I was promoted from a youth social worker to the Chief social worker, Director of social work, and co-director of the whole treatment program. We were doing these heroic efforts to reunite families dealing with trauma and abuse. I just loved it. One day, and it just hit me. Why isn’t someone doing early intervention and prevention?

In the early 80s and 90s, the intervention was not on anybody’s radar screen. Five Acres gave me free rein to do some of the most innovative things.  And I just kept saying, more needs to be done. If there’s more on the prevention side, you can prevent these things from happening. But there was no money back then for that. And so I had an idea and as fate would have it, I met the right people at the right time to make the idea happen for D’Veal Youth and Family Services. Leaving Five Acres was really hard.

Charity Matters: What do you think makes D’Veal different and sets you apart from other organizations?

John McCall: Our philosophy of mental health has always been different. Mental health is about how you think, how you feel, how you behave. If you don’t think well and don’t feel well. You can’t behave well.  Help is about how you think, how you feel, and how you behave.

So our approach to understanding has always been different. We’ve carved out our niche among the largest number of agencies, and we discovered what we do well and we stick to what we know we can do well.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

John McCall: The challenge for us has always been funding. We’ve relied on our contracts and being able to stretch a dollar as far as we could. I would like to leave D’Veal better off than when I founded it.  Historically when the founding director retires the outcomes haven’t been good. And so I’m mentoring someone now who I think is a good fit.

Stress has never bothered me and I’ve always worked two jobs.  Long hours have never bothered me, I just got accustomed to it growing up working hard. But other people don’t have that same kind of stamina. Oh, here’s the other part of my story. I’m a pastor as well. I pastor at a local Baptist Church in Pasadena. And people ask me if it is tiring? The answer is no because I see it as one. Let me understand the people I’m pastoring and trying to get them to grow and help them to lead by themselves.

Charity Matters: You are a true servant leader! What fuels you to keep doing this work?

John McCall: Do you remember the TV show the A-Team? Well, I love it when a plan comes together! If one kid gets better, if one family gets better, then it’s worth the effort. To me growing up in the south, one of my internships was at the state hospital there. I got to see the room where they actually did electric shock treatment. Ah, geez. And when you look at how far we’ve come, just a short time of understanding behavior, understand health, and particularly in the minority community. 

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

John McCall:  In 1992 when we began we only had two after-school contracts to service students. Each year the number of kids that we serve increases. When we began our budget was $280,000 and today it is close to seven million dollars. We have seen a 68% growth in the number of clients served in the past five years. Last year we received the Gold seal standard which is the highest rating in our industry.

 Probably one of our most successful models is that we have staff who are trained in multidimensional family therapy. It’s an intense model of therapists’ evidence-based practice model that’s geared for primarily minority families and kids who have substance abuse. Very intense. The kids who complete that program are 80% less likely to come back into therapy.

 In our Family Preservation program (a total of 261 family members)  the overall success rate for keeping families together was 89%, which has been consistent over the last few years. In addition, we are feeding about 20 families per week since COVID started. Those are just a few of our impacts.

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

John McCall: I would dream for us to be the premium model and leader of what to do for community-based mental health, of what community-based mental health should look like. And that D’Veal Youth and Family Services would be the leaders in that and it wouldn’t be based on politics. It would just be based on a service delivery model that we think works. That’d be my dream.

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

John McCall: People are people everywhere. People are people and understanding people or human behavior makes a difference. Being a minority leader brings with it its own set of stressors. As a CEO,  I’ve never forgotten the bridges that crossed me over. I’ve never forgotten the people who played the role in my life to help me learn and accomplish.  You know, because of friendships, camaraderie, and collaboration I learned what I know now.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

John McCall:  I used to be intense and now I am much more mellow. I’ve led protests in community protests. I’ve gone to the city council to advocate for things. And now you look at the bigger picture and I’m now more systematic and bigger picture.  I’ve learned to say no, in 100 different ways. I’ve learned how to be nice about it. I know where I am, where I’m headed, and what I shouldn’t be doing.  I can’t get sidetracked from things that don’t edify or benefit my purpose now.

So close out strong. To know, you can’t control stuff and to do my best while I’m here. And when I go, I want to be gone. I want to release it and appreciate the journey.  

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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

 

 

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

Copyright © 2020 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.