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How do you choose a hero?

Nothing is given to man on earth-struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible-the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

photo credit: CNN

I was recently asked who my favorite nonprofit founder or hero is? To be honest, it was as if someone asked who my favorite son is?  There is no favorite. Each person that I am privileged enough to interview brings a unique story and journey that has lead them to serve. These men and women use their lives challenges as fuel to help others’ lives. Honestly, there is no one better than another. They are all amazing! Their stories and life journeys are all lessons for each of us on how we can use our own gifts to the greatest good.

Each hero’s story and cause are different and diverse. Inspiring people like the Vegas dancer, who began My Hope Chest. A former supermodel who has committed her life to serve the homeless with I Am Waters.  Infinite Heros founder, Colin Baden, using his work at Oakley to serve our Veterans. How could you choose or vote because everyone you have met through Charity Matters is a hero.

CNN Heroes

CNN has also been profiling amazing humans for their show CNN Heroes for about the same time that Charity Matters has. They do ask you to nominate your heroes and this got me thinking. How do you pick a hero? I could spend days filling these nomination forms out with all of the incredible everyday heroes I have met. The world is full of amazing people but sadly we are not watching them, our attention is elsewhere.

VOTE

Here is one nominee from a few years back. So take a minute and think if you know someone who is making a difference in your community or world? Nominations are due July 31st, so you have a few days to fill out the application and help a helper. There is simply nothing better.

 

Charity Matters

 

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

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

Camp in the face of COVID

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

Leaders are Adaptable

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

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

How do you provide an amazing experience online?

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

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

We Did IT!

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

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

Charity Matters

 

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

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

3 Dollar Challenge

“I would so much like young people to have a sense of the gift that they are.”

John Denver

You are never too young to change the world. Those are words from my recent conversation with Jack Adler and his twin sister Kate, the founders of the 3Dollar Challenge. Jack and Kate are 19-year-old twins from Villanova, PA who reached out to me a few weeks ago via Instagram about their cause.

While they have not yet started a nonprofit, they have started a movement to inspire giving and action in the face of COVID. It all started in early April when Jack sent his sister a text asking her if she wanted to do something to support COVID relief. Her answer was yes and that was the beginning of the $3 Challenge. I hope these two inspire you as much as they inspired me!

Charity Matters: What was the inspiration behind the 3 Dollar Challenge?

Jack Adler: This whole idea really stemmed from us being forced to leave college early from Coronavirus and we were sitting at home for a couple of months in quarantine. We realized that we were lucky enough to be healthy and not have any of our loved ones struggling and fighting for their lives with COVID. We knew that there are people fighting every day on the frontlines fighting to save lives and fighting for their own lives and it felt selfish to act like just because we were safe we didn’t have to help.

One day and I came up with an idea to fundraise for Coronavirus relief and I called my sister into the room and we started brainstorming different ways. And together we came up with an idea to start an Instagram challenge.

Kate Adler: I thought an Instagram challenge was a good idea but none of the challenges had a donation component. We are both majoring in business, I’m at the University of Miami and Jack is at Syracuse University and we wanted to use our entrepreneurial skills to try and help. I felt like it’d be a really cool idea to make the Instagram challenges into something more like with this donation component for Coronavirus relief. So we brainstormed and we had a whole launch setup where we texted all of our friends that it was coming.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about how the 3 Dollar Challenge works?

Jack Adler: The concept is simple. First, you donate $3 via Venmo @threeDC or through bit.ly/lemonadefund (select referred by 3 Dollar Challenge). Then post an Instagram story of something you cannot wait to get back to after quarantine. Lastly,  tag @3dollarchallenge and nominate at least 3 more people to do these steps.

Kate Adler: We used Venmo to make it easy and accessible and set up Go Fund Me to accept donations larger than $3. We partnered with a group called Makin Lemonade that was the same age doing the same thing and the result is over $117,000 raised for Feed America, CDC, and Direct Relief, all split equally.

Charity Matters: Did you have any idea what you were starting?

Jack Adler: Well, we originally were like, let’s raise a few hundred dollars for Coronavirus. Surely it’ll we’ll feel good about ourselves and we will know that we’re making a difference and within 24 hours raised over ten thousand dollars.

It started with us getting our immediate friends to tag their friends who weren’t in our mutual friend circle. It started there and it was just an exponential domino effect of them tagging three people then tagging three people and before we knew it, there were thousands and thousands of people around the nation who we didn’t even know posting for the three-hour challenge within 24 hours.

We had thousands of posts we reached people that we had, we obviously didn’t know. And it just completely blew our minds. It was so exciting. We had big thousand follower accounts posting for us just seeing it from other people was so cool.  It was really awesome.

Charity Matters: Had you ever done something like this before? What were your previous experiences with volunteering and charity?

Kate Adler:  We hadn’t had a huge background in philanthropy, our parents taught us to give back, and when we were little we did a lot of lemonade stands.  We mostly raised money for different children’s hospitals and our grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Then in high school, we became the co-presidents of a club called Jerry’s Box that supported kids with cancer. We lead a team of 200 students once a month, packaging toys, and then delivering them ourselves. So that was honestly our first big experience in philanthropy and giving back.

Charity Matters: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Kate Adler:  At first we were like, wow, this is so easy because you’re kind of just soaring and donations are coming in. Literally, like 10 donations a second, it was crazy. But then once it started to lose steam after only really only a couple of days, we said we need to figure out a way to keep it going. We don’t want to stop after one burst of Instagram stories. We had to reach out to literally hundreds of people.

We’re direct messaging everyone we knew from different schools, influencers, celebrities, news channels, really anyone we could. Anyone that could probably spread the challenge to their networks and that helped a lot.  After our $10,000 push, we ended up raising another $8000, just from reaching out to people we knew and getting news coverage and things like that. So I think the hardest part is definitely just keeping it going because we want it to keep going for as long as possible.

Jack Adler: Honestly, I think our biggest challenge was raising $10,000 in 24 hours and then knowing that inevitably, we’re not going to keep that same steam because we really had hit our peak of trendiness on Instagram for that one day. And it was really cool because we had to really push ourselves and find ways to keep the challenge spreading. We really got to learn from the experiences of the grind. We had to prove to people that we’re legit

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

Jack Adler: It just feels so good. It’s a really, it’s really cool for us to be able to mix our passion for entrepreneurship with our passion for giving back. We just love coming up with different ideas to help people and it’s fun, it feels good and it really is addicting.

I would say, our realization that we have to keep going with the Three Dollar Challenge is as much as it is a passion it is also a responsibility. At this point to use the platform that we’ve created to continue making a difference and continue helping people. It would feel selfish and wrong to not keep doing it. Because while we are having fun with it, it’s also helping so many people and we want to keep doing that.

Kate Adler:  I would agree, I just think it’s such a drive to keep going.  I think what really helps our momentum is aiming the direction in new ways. So we started a tic toc challenge because that’s been really popular. And honestly, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to. It didn’t really pick up momentum, which was like a great learning experience just because something worked and some things don’t. 

Charity Matters: When did you know you made a difference?

Kate Adler:  I would say a big wow moment was when a couple of accounts were created that are like the $4 challenge. People started other Instagram donation challenges and actually wrote in the comment of their pictures like we’ve been inspired by the $3 Challenge to start this organization.  At first, I thought they’re copying us. But then we actually realized that it is really cool to see other people kind of like taking what we’ve done to make a difference.

Charity Matters: Tell us about the success and impact you have had?

Kate Adler:  I think besides the funds raised another huge impact was just on people our own age and younger too, because people kind of saw it and they’re like, wow, these kids are our age. We can do things too. And I think it probably motivated a lot of people to look for ways to give back.  I have noticed a lot of people reached out to us asking for ways to get involved and what more they can which was really awesome.

Jack Adler:  I think the realization of the power of social media to see that it can be used to spread a positive message and make a positive difference. And we kind of figured out a loophole, I guess you could say, of a way to use this amazing power and influence of social media and the ability to reach thousands of people so easily. And we used it, not to spread a comedy or entertainment, but to spread a way to help the world out.

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

Jack Adler: I mean, we’ve been working on getting on The Ellen Show, which would help spread the word around the nation. But in terms of like the actual growth of our brand, we really want to turn it into something where we can pivot towards different causes. Whenever we feel that we see a cause it needs our attention, and have the platform to be able to do that and raise thousands of dollars every time.

Kate Adler: I think another one of our big goals is to actually allow other nonprofits to use the concept of the $3 challenge. But we think it’d be really cool if a nonprofit said, “Hey, we love the $3 challenge. We would love to run a $3 challenge through our nonprofit.” 

Charity Matters: How has this experience changed you?

Kate Adler: I know I’m speaking for Jack, but I think our family was surprised that quarantine motivated Jack. He had this new drive and motivation.

Jack Adler: I did take the driver seat, which Kate usually does. We have changed from this real-world experience. This will be a story that will change our lives forever.

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

Kate Adler: It is never too early to start giving. College has taught us so many business strategies but it has been great to learn while doing. We have loved motivating other kids to follow in our footsteps.

Jack Adler: I think the most important lesson I have learned is that we are not too young to change the world, you are never too young to make an impact and we are ready to make a difference.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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

Why’d you stop me? WYSM Foundation

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

Anthony D’Angelo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters

 

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

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.

COVID, Caterpillars and Courage

“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”

Plato

 

As the world opens and we all slowly come back out of our cocoons like caterpillars who turned to butterflies navigating life from a somewhat different perspective than ninety days ago…I find myself flying above my former self in search of my mojo. The metamorphosis has happened to us all. A mere three months ago I was high functioning, multi-tasking, get it done sort of person. I could be on a conference call while emptying the dishwasher, texting, and juggle a multitude of tasks all of which made me feel successful, productive, and most importantly busy. Always busy.

COVID

Every pre-COVID moment from the 5:45 am wake up until 11 pm at night was scheduled, programed, crammed full of tasks, meetings, calls, and to-dos. Then after March 13th all of that changed. The first few weeks of quarantine were rainy, cozy, and almost felt like a holiday break with everyone home. I have always worked from home so that wasn’t anything new to me.

However, having the whole family at home working and going to school remotely was new. Making fifteen meals a day again was new. No early mornings at the gym and navigating new ways to manage exercise and stress were different. And as each little piece of my previously scheduled life eroded so did my mojo. Like sand in my hand, it just slipped away one grain at a time.

Caterpillar

The early morning dash to the gym became coffee in bed until seven. The online workouts became less about exercise and more about noticing every home improvement needed in the room. Once the “workout” was over, I stayed in my workout clothes until late in the day. Why not?  There was nowhere to go.

Lip gloss and makeup were reserved for Zoom meetings only. The days to do list became shorter and shorter until they didn’t exist. Time and urgency seemed to disappear. The cocoon became a safe harbor from all of the chaos outside.

Courage

Then suddenly, the announcement came that the world would begin to reopen. Little by little our cocoons were broken open. Now that we were “free” to go, I wasn’t sure that I wanted too. My former self, the one that made the cozy and now organized cocoon, would have boldly dashed out into this new world without fear and a to-do list a mile long. However, my post-COVID self was a fragile butterfly that came out ever so slowly was not the same creature pre-quarantine. The mojo and courage were nowhere to be found. A metamorphosis had occurred.

The fear lingered and my fragile wings slowly began to flutter outside of the cocoon. Ready to explore but there was no urgency or speed. Time had dissipated, what mattered before no longer made sense. Schedules, planning, and lists all seemed like things of the past.

The courage came to be, and stay in the present. Slowly, the new butterfly saw all the beauty around, the faces of her family, and the beauty of each moment. The mojo was gone and replaced with what matters….health, family, love, security, and faith. The butterfly’s voice said, “What good are wings without the courage to fly?” Ever so slowly the butterfly fluttered out into a brave new world.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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.

We Lift You Up

A few months ago before the world went mad, and in the early weeks of COVID, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa McKenzie, the most extraordinary human. Lisa began her career as an events planner and entrepreneur. Life had a different plan for her. Lisa was running a company called Ooh La Bra when her life took a turn. Using all her gifts in business and event planning came this opportunity to make an enormous difference for women recovering from cancer. Lisa founded the We Lift You Up Fund with multiple programs to support women recovering from cancer. She is a true inspiration and a bright light in our crazy world.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what We Lift You Up Foundation does?

Lisa McKenzie: We create empowering group experiences for women with cancer. For a lot of women, the scary part is when they are released from the care of their physicians and friends think they are “cured.” The survivor feels like she came back from a war zone and she is still in the trenches.

Their bodies might be totally mutilated, or their relationships are severed, and now they’re living with the constant fear of recurrence. And then, of course, just the damage it does to a lot of families financially,  just to the family structure itself, the kids are scared, and so, we are that part that picks up from that point. Doctors and hospitals will refer the patients to us because they don’t have time to deal with the emotional struggle, right? So if they’re sitting in a waiting room with a woman, and she starts expressing any kind of fallout, they’ll say, call We Lift You Up and so our organization is comprised of all survivors, and by the way, I’m not one.

Get acquainted with You Night from You Night Events, LLC on Vimeo.

Charity Matters: Wow, that is so interesting. So What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  We Lift You Up?

Lisa McKenzie: My mom is a cancer survivor but actually I have two friends who were the catalyst for all of this. So I was watching these two women who were movers and shakers in society completely confident, you know, going along with their lives and often they both got cancer and they totally changed, their physique changed, their confidence changed. Meanwhile, though, I had just come out of two years of total darkness because my marriage crumbled, my husband had cheated on me. And I went from this peppy person, a leader, confident and happy, and then all of a sudden I was dealing with clinical depression.

 Over time little resources, like the book The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer started filling my mind with truth. I woke up one morning knowing that I didn’t want to feel miserable anymore. I had been a prisoner of my own mind and I began to find positive messages to retrain my mind and I began listening to podcasts and read books with positive messages

God still had a perfect story for me. I was running an accessory company and the tag line was, “We lift you up.” I wanted to do a runway show to model my product and I decided to use my friends who had had cancer and that was the beginning of You Night. After that first runway show, I approached the hospital and said I would love to gift this experience to cancer survivors. These survivors walked a runway in front of 500 people, their families, doctors, and nurses cheering them on. 

You’re like you’re cheering for these ladies, not because they have a pretty gown on or because their hair looks beautiful, right? They have fire in their eyes. That is like, you just you could feel it in the air. There’s so much energy coming from these ladies.  So it’s like a pay it forward program because in the audience are the women who are bald and defeated and thinking I’ll have whatever that runway model just had. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Lisa McKenzie: I’ve always wondered why can’t people collaborate who are doing good things? Why does this happen?  When you offer something for free in emotional support sometimes we can end up with more than we can handle. If we are doing the best work we can to serve humanity then why are we judged for our overhead as nonprofits? My motivation is so pure, why would people question your intentions?  These challenges became the catalyst to stay in my lane and stay the course.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The women. I have actually heard women say, “I’m glad I got cancer so I can join this organization.” Oh my God, because they have learned things about themselves that would have never been possible. And one of them who had stage four cancer said, “I wasn’t giving myself permission to smile anymore because I’ve labeled myself as a stage four cancer survivor. I thought that that’s like my death sentence and my black cloud.” Now she said, because of us now she can smile. We provide opportunities for people to find their smile again and say, yes, you do still have permission to enjoy life. 

My other inspiration are the children who come to see their mother’s walk the runway. So there was this little girl she was probably eight years old and her mom is a mom of four really who was really sick,  like 70 tumors, and struggling. But this little girl followed her mom the whole way down the stage, and then followed her mom back. When she went home that night, she got this box and scissors and fabric and her Barbies. Her mom’s said, “What are you doing?” She said,” I want to design gowns for Barbies that make them feel as beautiful as you looked on stage.” Oh my god, the stories.

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

Lisa McKenzie: I will tell you because there are endless stories of women’s lives we changed, like just to give you an example, a woman who calls and is suicidal and comes to the very first meeting and has her shoulders slumped and she’s got a chemo beanie on and she’s looking down at the ground. Then, slowly but surely you start seeing week after week and get together after get together, her posture changes. And then after she graduates, and after they get all this encouragement and attitude they want to go forward and be part of the organization. So I have 50 volunteer participant leaders who are all not on the payroll and are graduates of the program..

We sort of realized that our empowerment experience is a two year experience, the first year is giving them back their own self-esteem and their life and their attitude. And then pulling out you find out so many things about them like they’re amazing skills, and these are women are not defined by cancer.

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

Lisa McKenzie: Give people a literal platform. We have done 14 runway shows in seven years with two classes of fifty women a year. The show is a huge celebration. We show photos from their worst moments and the most painful pictures of their journey. The storytelling allows them to be real and the oncologist says they can tell the difference between women who have been through You Night vs those who have not.

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

Lisa McKenzie: To have a women’s conference, Tony Robbins style and fill a stadium with cancer survivors. Scaling to grow the You Night runway to raise awareness for emotional care in survivorship.

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

Lisa McKenzie:  The first lesson is that I can leave a legacy for my daughter by showing her by example that you can use your talents and skills to help others. I can plant a seed of compassion in my children to carry on for generations.

The second lesson is that we live in one of the kindest worlds you can imagine. I can not believe how many really good people there are who want to help. I have never seen so much love and kindness back and forth between people. The love is the addiction. 

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Lisa McKenzie: I have learned to be more organic in how life unfolds. You can have a pity party and be at peace at the same time. I’m learning to let God unfold the story at his pace.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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Another lap around the sun

The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”

Ernst Nightingale

Today marks another lap around the sun. Another year has passed and there is another candle on the cake. More than the passage of time or the counting of candles a new year brings another opportunity for growth. A chance to do better, to be better, to learn, and to try harder.

With every passing year, I see the hourglasses sand falling faster and realize that each precious grain is a moment. A moment to choose how to spend our time. Each grain is a gift that must be opened, treasured, celebrated, and used to the greatest good. It all sounds so simple and yet it isn’t. The grains fall so fast, the time passes, and then we ask ourselves how did I miss that moment? We find ourselves saying, “Where did the time go?” As the sand keeps on falling…

I chuckle when I think of the opening line from the soap opera my mom used to watch in the ’70s that said, “As the sand in an hourglass these are Days of Our Lives…”  Who knew that all of these years later I would find wisdom in something I once thought so silly? I think that is the pursuit, to continue to search for wisdom, for guidance, for light, and for love.

My life is so full of blessings of health, family, and dear friendships that I must continue to use the time remaining, whatever that may be, to use my gifts to be a voice for others. To be a messenger of hope. To help the helpers and to serve those who serve us.  My birthday wish is clear and I am committing that I will continue to do better, to try harder, to learn more, and to be better in this mission.

A birthday is a gift, just as a day or a moment is….another opportunity to use each grain of sand towards the greatest good. Another day to grow, to learn, to give….

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Faces In Between

There has been much conversation about the future of our country and the challenges that many of our young graduates are facing in these uncertain times. If ever there was a bright light that gives us all hope for humanity, it is Danielle Levin, the President, and refounder of Faces In Between. Danielle literally graduated from Columbia with her Masters in Public Health the day before our conversation last week. She is remarkable in what she has accomplished in 25 short years and I know the future is bright with compassionate leaders like Danielle changing our world through her inspiring work serving youth, families, and the homeless.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Faces In Between does?

Danielle Levin: Faces in Between is a community outreach and support organization. We focus on developing different programs that increase the well being of our community members who are experiencing different forms of economic disadvantage. We primarily work with youth and families as well as youth who are experiencing homelessness. Sometimes there are overlaps between those, sometimes there’s not.

For our homeless outreach, we distribute care packages and we’re in New York City so in the winter that looks like sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and things like that. We have a speaker series where we bring individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness into different settings to share their own stories and advocate on behalf of themselves and their community. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing it directly from the source and being able to truly ask the questions that many of us have and don’t really know who to ask or where to go to find the answer.

We also have an after school program called SNACC, which stands versus Stainable Nutrition And Community Connection. It teaches economically disadvantaged youth how to prepare healthily, but affordable meals with items that are available in their local grocery stores. We bring different New York City chefs in to teach students and then we incorporate different social, emotional learning components into each session that we have. However, with COVID, we have not been able to run our programming as we had planned. So we pivoted what we do while keeping our mission exactly the same.

We have developed a COVID relief food program, and we are currently delivering daily meals to over 200 people. We are working with a local farm to table catering company who’s bringing boxes of food directly to the doors, the homes, the shelters of elementary age students and their families. So that’s been our new way of connecting with the community. We are in the process of launching a Chef’s Table page on our website. We’re having chefs send us in video recordings of themselves doing cooking demos for the kids. The chefs are going to show the students and their families how to create healthy and affordable meals with the ingredients provided in the boxes. So we’ve really been creative in our approach and are just trying to meet the community where they are. 

Charity Matters: You are 25 years old and have already accomplished so much, You literally graduated last week with your Master’s Degree in Public Health. have you always been philanthropic?

Danielle Levin:  I’ve always been someone that wanted to be a changemaker; I wanted to be an agent for change. I would spend my summers interning for refugee resettlement organization or running a health clinic and interning  for HIV AIDS facilities abroad. I just always knew that I wanted to do something to increase well being and to help people be able to live their best lives.

Homelessness and economic disadvantage have always been something that’s of particular interest to me. Especially focusing on youth because kids have so much to look forward to and so much potential.  When I moved to New York, I had the opportunity to just really get to know my neighbors who didn’t have homes. There are over 65,000 homeless individuals in New York City on any given night.  I had the opportunity to really understand, and to sit down on the street corners and talk with my neighbors who didn’t have homes, get to know what their needs were, learn their stories, and that’s kind of where the speaker series developed from. Also, all the items that we deliver aren’t because I think that they should be delivered, it’s because I know it from hearing directly from the source.

Charity Matters: Tell us how Faces In Between began?

Danielle Levin: It’s kind of an interesting story and series of events, and it’s all just so meant to be. In 2016, I was moving to New York, graduating undergrad, and I was going to work in a corporate healthcare job and wanted to really do something in my spare time working with homelessness and poverty. I came across this woman who had posted something online about how she started this organization called Faces in Between. Her name is Kendra and she filed the paperwork and set up the organization. She was a psychiatric ER doctor who worked around the clock and didn’t really have the opportunity to actually launch the organization in the way she had planned.

I reached out to her and she brought me onto the team. In 2018, I kinda said, Hey Kendra, nothing’s really happened with the organization in like a year and a half. She said, “Actually, I am going to shut it down. It’s not the right time.”  I said, well if it’s going to shut down now and fail now, why don’t I just take it over? I’ll rework it, I’ll rebuild it, I’ll flip it and keep the general mission exactly the same, but the approach to it will change. I thought it either fails with me, or doesn’t, but let’s see what happens. So she passed it over to me. And so I’m kind of like, the refounder.

 Kendra remains as my incredible mentor and she looks at what we’ve done with such pride. She had no idea that it would then turn into this and she’s watching it from afar and just seeing all the things that we’ve accomplished and the thousands of people that were touching daily. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Danielle Levin: I think our biggest challenge is also our biggest strength, the challenge is that we are 100% volunteer-based. Every donor dollar goes directly to the community. I am a full-time volunteer for the organization. I think that it’s our biggest strength but it definitely poses challenges because we make decisions on maximizing community impact versus a business model. I think that it is something so special and I will keep this model for as long as I can. It’s working for us. Upon graduating I’m going to be working full time for another corporation so that I can maintain this model. I think that it’s our strength, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to maximize and how to stretch every dollar to make sure that it’s truly making a difference in the lives of our community. I think it’s also the most beautiful part and it’s what makes us us. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have so much passion for the work that I do that I don’t mind late nights and early mornings and weekends. For me, it doesn’t feel like work, I truly get so much pleasure out of it. Challenging myself to reach the next limit and figure out how many more thousands of people can we feed or how many more meals can we deliver by tomorrow or next week. To me, it’s time well spent.

I think that I have a unique skill– I am really good at creative problem solving when it comes to real-life issues and coming up with effective solutions. I mean, what fuels someone to want to finish a puzzle? There are things that I can contribute, and if I don’t use it, then it’s kind of going to waste. If you have a gift, you might as well share it with the world.

It fuels me to see the recipients, people who are receiving our services, and their reactions to it. When it’s going to be zero degrees out, and someone is handed a sleeping bag, and they know that that’s their lifeline, it fuels me. When kids learn a new recipe and they’re taking home nutritious food to their family, but they might have had pizza for breakfast yesterday, it fuels me. I love learning from other people, strategically collaborating, picking people’s brains, kind of figuring out how to accomplish things that could have at first seemed impossible. But, when you break it down, you realize it’s all within reach. 

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

Danielle Levin: I have two answers. One is in terms of the work we do with homeless outreach. Those moments look like people reaching out who have spoken at our speaker series and saying,” you changed my life, you reminded me that I’m human, you made me feel human again”  and to help someone realize that they are who they’ve always been, is a really powerful moment.

With our youth and families, I think that, honestly, through our COVID relief is how I’ve realized our impact because when you’re teaching kids how to cook, you’re not home with them. You don’t see what they’re doing outside of the program. So you don’t know what type of impact you’ve truly made. But I think that seeing how we can so quickly jump into action  and pivot to support the community because of the infrastructures that are there was powerful for me and the team. Unfortunately, our list of in-need families is growing as the crisis evolves. This week, we officially took every single person off of our waitlist. That’s a really powerful moment to know that every person in this community who’s expressed the need for food, we are able to provide it for them. 

Charity Matters: If you could create a billboard that showed your impact, what would it look like?

Danielle Levin: I think that it would be a picture of our community members, smiling, being part of the community. I think that it would have some kind of message about the individuality of everyone that we serve, and the personal stories– kind of meeting the community where they are. We’re not just providing kids with a meal and saying we changed a life. What we are doing is much more than that.

I think that in all the work we do, it’s important to give people resources and tools, and we can’t expect that they’ll use it in a certain way or receive it in a certain way, or that they even want it but equipping people with resources and tools is so important. I think that meeting people where they are and understanding that one kid might act like they hate our after school program, but we don’t know what’s going on at home. So meeting people really where they are, and letting them participate in the cooking when they want to, let them serve, letting them take extra servings if that’s what they want, or skip out on the servings– I think that it’s really about understanding that we might be serving a community, but within the community, each person has their own story. 

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

Danielle Levin: That there’s no longer a need for us, that we have to go out of business because everyone has the resources that they need to live their day to day lives, and thrive in whatever way that means to them.

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

Danielle Levin: I’ve learned a lot. Every single day I learn something new. I think the biggest one is to take risks because everything I’ve done is a risk. I never knew if any of it would work. I’m 25 years old and I launched an after school program at a New York City public school. We just pitched it. We just went to a school and said we think that we’d be a good fit for your school and we pitched it because we had nothing to lose. If we didn’t take that risk, we would have gained nothing, they would have gained nothing, but we’re now providing their students with these meals during this crisis. I think that one thing is to just take risks and think outside the box.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Danielle Levin: I think that my entire perspective has changed. If you told me something, I would question where you learned that from, where you heard that from because to me, I’ve become so used to going to the source and saying to someone who’s experiencing homelessness, I heard this stigma, how do you feel about it? How does that make you feel? I think that hearing the story from the source and learning the facts from who they come from has definitely changed me and my perspective, rather than kind of just accepting what we as a society tend to believe is true.

I’ve always been someone who loves connecting with others, but my ability to do so has become much more well rounded because you might think you have nothing in common with someone who doesn’t have a home and is sleeping outside on the street for the last 10 years, but learning how to connect with someone who seems different, but then finding commonalities with them really changes you. I have become a lot more flexible in my life because when you’re working with individuals who don’t have as much structure as let’s say you and I might have in our lives, you have to learn how to be flexible and adaptable.

I think the biggest thing is knowing how to push limits and knowing that where I am now isn’t the end. There is so much more to do and so much more I will do. It’s easy to stick to the status quo, but to push the limits and see what happens has only led to success and has changed my perspective on how I live my daily life. 

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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

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Crossroads

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

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

photo credit: MariaShriver.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

charity matters: What change do you see in yourself?

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

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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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Calling All Angels

“Sometimes angels are just ordinary people that help us believe in miracles again.”

Anonymous

As long as I can remember angels have been a part of my life. One of my earliest memories was being cast as the Angel of Gabriel in the kindergarten Christmas pageant. At the time I remember thinking it was a runner up spot from the role of Mary, but Mary didn’t have wings so I decided that being an angel was pretty special.

Like most things, once you put a filter on your brain you begin to see them everywhere and angels began appearing pretty early on. Our school custodian was a lovely and kind man named Angel. I realized that I lived in the City of Angels. Over and over the symbol appeared in my life even as a young girl.

When my mom died unexpectedly, my sister had given all of us angel medallions for Christmas. We had never worn them and the first time we saw each other after my mom’s death we all had the angel medallions on, without discussing it. There were so many angel signs then….

A year after my mom’s passing we started the nonprofit Spiritual Care Guild, we asked all of our children to draw pictures and Father John would pick the logo based on his favorite drawing. Low and behold it was little Violet’s drawing of an angel.

My dear friend and mentor, Ron, who helped us navigate Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the early days of Spiritual Care, happened to live on Angelo Drive. Another sign from an angel on earth. There are many more signs and images but these few illustrations explain why I pay more attention these days when a symbol appears.

So the other day when processing everything that is going on in the world right now this ten-year-old song came on, Calling All Angels by Train. As I listened to the lyrics, it seemed as if were written for today, not a decade ago. As we struggle to look for signs it seems that it might be time to call all our angles.

I wanted to share the lyrics here:
I need a sign to let me know you’re here
All of these lines are being crossed over the atmosphere
I need to know that things are gonna lookup
‘Cause I feel us drowning in a sea spilled from a cup
When there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head
When you feel the world shake from the words that are said
And I’m calling all angels
And I’m calling all you angels
And I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I need a sign to let me know you’re here
‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me
And I’m calling all angels

There are so many angels amongst us. I think of our first responders, our doctors, nurses, pharmacists and grocery store workers. We need to see the angels that are here and call upon our other angels. The world needs as many angels as possible right now.

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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A little kindness goes a long way

 

“Gentleness and kindness will make our homes a paradise upon earth.”
C. A. Bartol

Last week the world went a little crazy. This week we are all taking a breath, a pause and most of us are working from home. Schools are closed and we are self quarantined and wondering what do we do now? I think the answer is simply to be kind.  Every act of kindness creates a ripple effect.

I witnessed the most beautiful act of kindness yesterday when going to the grocery store. I arrived 45 minutes before the store opened, on accident. The first person in line was a homeless man, the second person was Tom who owns a local restaurant and I was the third in line. The homeless man and Tom told me to stay because the line would grow. The first act of kindness. It was cold and started to rain.  Tom, the next in line, gave us purell wipes for our carts from his car. Kindness act number two. I gave the homeless man the $10 in my pocket, he thanked me so kindly and sincerely and asked if I was sure. I said I wish I had more. I then asked the man behind me to come out of the rain and moved the line-up and he then gave his umbrella to the man behind him, kindness number five, and the kindness just kept happening. It overwhelmed me and made me cry to see such kindness and compassion.

There are so many ways to be kind and it just feels good to help one another, especially in times like this. So to keep this ripple effect going I thought I would share a few suggestions to help in ways little and big. Every little gesture moves us all forward in a better place.

First and foremost charity starts at home. So make sure that you and your family have everything they need for the next couple of weeks. Make sure you are stocked up on supplies and staying home.

After you have taken care of yourself and your family, call and check on your elderly neighbors. See if you can leave anything at their doors or have a meal delivered. Post-mates, Door Dash or Grub Hub can easily do this. In addition, ordering from these sites also supports local restaurants and small businesses that need our support right now, so ordering a meal for a neighbor is a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of small businesses another small way to help is to buy gift certificates from your favorite hair salons or local businesses. This way you help them with cash flow now and have something to look forward in the near future. A small gesture that can go along way.

There are so many people that have been homebound long before the coronavirus and incredible organizations like Project Angel Food have been bringing meals to the sick and elderly. Project Angel Food has been busy trying to prepare additional meals and could use volunteers and donations. On a national level Meals on Wheels is doing the same thing and any donation helps those who can not get out or prepare their own meals, visit their website to find out how to support your local chapter. If you aren’t going out to dinner maybe donating a dinner for someone who needs it will make you feel just as great?

Most schools have now closed or are closing soon, nearly 22 million students receive their only meal of the day at school. No Kid Hungry is determined to help these children through the current crisis. By supporting No Kid Hungry you helping a hungry child here in the United States.

As our elderly and children are the most vulnerable populations during this crisis finding ways to support those in need is important. Save the Children is an organization that has been working with the World Health Organization and around the globe to work with young children around the world. Last year Save the Children helped 134 million children in over 120 countries. In the United States, more than 14 million children, or 1 in 5, grow up in poverty. Save the Children helps children around the globe affected by poverty, famine, and disease.

So, remember that charity starts at home. Start with your own family, then your neighborhood, local community hospital or food bank and then look to the national and global organizations. We are all in this together and every little bit of kindness, compassion, and generosity makes an enormous difference. We will get through this together.

Charity Matters

 

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My Friend’s Place

So often in my life, multiple people point me in a singular direction and if I pay close enough attention I get the clue. A girlfriend of mine has been telling me about My Friend’s Place, a youth homeless organization, for years. A girl I work out with at the gym and her husband are very involved and have mentioned My Friend’s Place to me a number of times. Then over the holidays, I met a board member from My Friend’s Place who introduced me recently to the lovely Executive Director, Heather Carmichael. We finally connected and I am so thrilled we did. Heather’s insight and perspective on what is happening to these young people who are experiencing homelessness was so insightful and inspiring. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what My Friend’s Place does?

Heather Carmichael: My Friend’s Place is a 32-year-old organization that is a change maker in young people’s lives who are in the throes of experiencing homelessness. We are about creating a connection so that young people might begin to trust this community of support. We are a safe place to be in their crisis and a place that can help them stay connected to themselves, who they are and who they want to be in their future.

We want them to see that their current situation is hopefully circumstantial and that when their homelessness comes to an end that they are still who they are and want to be. If these young people can survive the trauma, make meaning and find opportunity then what they can contribute to our community is profound.

We try to help these young people to craft a whole identity. Developmentally, at 18 they have little or no training, minimum wage jobs do not resolve their problems. Living on the streets can be a very hostile experience trying to navigate life at age 18, 20, or 24. We do everything that a family or a friend would do to support someone at that age to find their way.

My Friend’s Place Founder Steve LePore and Executive Director, Heather Carmichael

Charity Matters: Tell us about how My Friend’s Place started?

Heather Carmichael:  In 1988 Steve LePore and Craig Scholz saw a rise in youth homelessness in Hollywood. The draw of Hollywood and the entertainment business has always made Hollywood a lure for many. In the mid-1980s Steve and Craig started to address the issue with a very grassroots organization originally called The Lighthouse.

They were scrappy opening up the back of their trunk to give kids something to eat, someone to relate to and listen to them and then eventually a place to stay. Hunger was one of the main issues then. Today we have taken the work that they began and expanded to a staff of thirty that provides legal aid, mental health, a host of outreach programs to create a one-stop community center. 

We now serve 1400 youth a year with about seventy-five to eighty coming in each day to eat, rest, shower, receive clothing and programming. We address both the immediate crisis and their long term goals and needs. Doing what any family would do for one of their children who was trying to get on their feet. We want to help these young people with their pain and find their potential of who they can be.

Charity Matters: How did you get involved with Mt Friend’s Place?

Heather Carmichael:I arrived at My Friend’s Place over twenty years ago, in the mid-1990s. I was working with youth runaways in San Francisco and doing a suicide assessment of programs with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and saw first hand the work that was being done for youth homeless and how young people responded to different environments. An opportunity surfaced when Steve LePore stepped away and a Clinical Director position opened up at My Friend’s Place in 2000 and I came on board and have been here ever since.  I knew that I loved the way that My Friend’s Place engaged with the young people but what I didn’t understand was that this would become a place where who I am as a human being would match my professionalism in such a deep way.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Heather Carmichael: There are so many. The landscape around addressing homelessness is under such dynamic change. For years, no one spoke about homelessness and now we have an epidemic crisis. Communities are overwhelmed and LA is in such pain about this. How do we continue to engage communities in meaningful ways so that we maintain momentum towards a solution? 

I feel very grateful to be doing the work at My Friend’s Place, where our main priority is to resolve these young people’s homelessness while continuing to create meaningful opportunities to see the impact and to feel involved. How do we scale to that in a meaningful way? A multitude of things got us here and it will take a multitude of things to fix this. We need to create meaningful opportunities to get our community and supporters involved in understanding and being a part of the solution.

There needs to be advocacy to ensure that these young people are not lumped in with adults.  How these young people entered into this horrific situation is hopefully just a moment in time and very different for each person. We have folks with jobs and young intact families but with rent increases can no longer afford a place to live, if you can re-stabilize a family like that they will probably be able to continue on with a healthy stable life. Then you have folks with mental health issues and the intervention is different than with that intact family. Then you have someone experiencing domestic violence and that intervention is different. The Foster Care kids come out ill-prepared for adulthood without family, or any community support to manage their transition into stable adulthood. There are so many issues and what is the right intervention for one person is always different. for another. We really have to be thoughtful about what is the right way to support and help these individuals for their particular crisis and not approach this only as a housing crisis.

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

Heather Carmichael: I think understanding that I can be a part of a community that can create connection and opportunity that can be a game-changer for one young person, a hundred or thousands…it just blows my mind. To be a part of that moment in time when a young person makes a connection. It is like watching your child take their first steps and watching that is what it feels like. The only difference is bringing the community in to watch it and to be a part of it.

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

Heather Carmichael: My primary interaction with our young people is my foundation for this work. I yearn for this work but now I feel that my role is to bring the community in to witness the work we are doing. Recently we had a young woman, in her early twenties, who was in great distress. To be there to witness, the vulnerability, to hold the pain and the possibility of something different. This is really about being a part of a community, keeping us connected to beholding one another. I think this is a role that both faith-based communities and nonprofits share, keeping us connected and beholding one another.

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

Heather Carmichael:  The 1400 youth who come to My Friend’s Place each year are impacted by feeling safe, cared for and by the opportunity to partner with us to change their lives. The thousands of people who come to be a part of a transformational community. Both are super valuable impacts. We are all the same in our desire to feel whole and to contribute. Every day we work to make the ordinary extraordinary.

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

Heather Carmichael: I have had to challenge myself to be seen, to step on stage, to walk that carpet, that goes on the radio or television and to develop an extroverted part of myself. That being seen does not drive me but I have learned to express my love and confidence in what happens at My Friend’s Place. Our mission and our youth. fuel me but being out front does not, I want the spotlight on this mission.

How has this journey changed you?

Heather Carmichael: I am so steeped in this work. Who I am as a person is who I am in all parts of my life. I feel very grateful to be where I am so I can be who I am. My intention was never to be the Executive Director and I stepped into this role with great hesitation but my love for these young people won. 

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for My Friend’s Place, what would that be?

Heather Carmichael:  My dream for My Friend’s Place is to be resourced in order to resource the staff and to swiftly resolve the crisis of youth homelessness. My dream for our young people is to achieve their dreams.

 

CHARITY MATTERS.

 

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Dream Kit

The founder of my elementary and high school knew what she was doing over a hundred years ago when she made the school’s motto Actions Not Words. That motto has defined my life along with thousands of alumni over the years. It is always so exciting to meet a fellow alumna and someone who grew up with the same philosophy of using their gifts to make the world better. Earlier this week I sat down with Marina Marmolejo, a recent graduate student from Yale with a Masters in Public Health, who decided to stay in New Haven to start a nonprofit to help homeless youth. An inspiring conversation about the launch of her nonprofit and App, DreamKit and beyond amazing what someone so young can accomplish to impact so many lives in such a beautiful way.

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

Marina Marmolejo: We are reinventing technology to end youth homelessness. DreamKit is a web-based App for youth homelessness that supports youth professionally, financially and socially. Specifically through two main functions. The first is to motivate homeless youth, ages 12-25 to attend events, classes, and activities that will help them to escalate out of homelessness. We pay them for their efforts in DreamKit points that can, in turn, be used to “purchase ” gift cards. The youth are essentially earning money to meet their basic needs such as food, clothes, hygiene products. This is our short term solution.

The second part of the App is the long term solutions that are created from the profiles and information gathered on their Dream Kit App that will directly reflect the activities that the youth are attending and track their progress. We then share this information with potential employers, with landlords, mentors in the community to show their positive behavior and the steps the youth are taking to move in a positive direction. The third piece is to engage and connect them to society and the community in trying to reduce the stigma associated with homelessness. Dream Kit is a platform to showcase progress transformation and resiliency among a very at-risk and marginalized population.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Living in Los Angeles homeless is so in your face. People become callus to homelessness because it is so overwhelming and we feel helpless because there are no clear solutions. Living in LA people cannot help to feel guilty. Something inside of me that made me want to use my skills to make a difference and I honestly had no clue how. Then I took a course when I was at Loyola Marymount University on homelessness that spoke to the problem of homelessness from a mental and physical health perspective and public policy perspective.

Part of the class included living homeless for 3 days and 4 nights on the streets of Skid Row and in shelters. I remember the fear, the fear of being so alone, fear of checking our bags and not knowing about our belongings, which was normal shelter protocol. Fear because we were woken up one night and told to leave the shelter because there were too many registered sex offenders in the shelter and the street would be safer. I remember seeing shelter students my age doing their homework and for the first time seeing the juxtaposition between me as a college student, who has been so lucky, and then to witness youth who just were not as lucky as birth. This experience was my tipping point and Ah-Ha moment when the light bulb went off. You don’t really get it until you are in it and I was barely even in it and it was shocking.

So I started doing research at SPY (Safe Place for Youth) in Venice while I finished my undergraduate degree and decided to get my Master’s at Yale in Public Health. When I got to New Haven I got a job at an organization called PAWS (Poverty Alleviation through Washing Soles) where we provided shoes, socks, foot care, hygiene for the homeless. Professor Yusuf read the article about our work and reached out to me. From our conversations, DreamKit was created to track the progress of the homeless much like a Fitbit giving behavioral nudges and creating a points-based economy for homeless youth. We hired a development team and launched our App last week.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Marina Marmolejo: DreamKit is not a consumer-facing product that has one customer like selling t-shirts but more of a linear pipeline. DreamKit is so reliant on multiple different communities for it to be successful which is absolutely the hardest part. The biggest challenge is gaining trust with our youth, our service providers, mobile employers. How do we connect all of these partners later down the road with our youth?

In order to end youth homelessness or even to attempt to it takes all hands on deck just to manage our fifteen person team, our partners, stakeholders and trying to take care of myself and protecting my energy as well.  Working with this population reminds me that my own stresses seem small.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Two of the people on our team, Aaron and Ashley, are formerly homeless. I meet with them multiple times a week and hearing their testimonials is what keeps me going. Last week one of our students said, “I’ve never been around so much positivity before.” The work that I’m doing with Adam and Ashley gives me so many Ah-Ha moments. This mutually beneficial relationship makes me feel that I am in the right place at the right time and watching them grow spiritually and emotionally through their work at DreamKit. They absolutely keep me going.

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

Marina Marmolejo: For me moving the needle has been the incredible support from the New Haven community to support me and this work in this very new opportunity. My Ah-Ha moments happen when someone says they have read about DreamKit and for me moving the needle forward means that we are infiltrating the way that people think about youth homelessness and that we are creating space for DreamKit and shifting mindsets on how we can be creative for solutions on homeless youth. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: First, the way we are treating the homeless top-down through government programs and DreamKit is funding and resourcing from the ground up. The metric is if you do X then you will get Y. We are exploring the bottom-up approach. We are paying the homeless whether we like it or not. If we are paying for the homeless regardless of then introducing interventions when they are young helps us create a new pathway to prevent them from ending up in systems such as prisons or hospitals in the long term.  

We might as well put the money in early to use it as a positive reward-based system as opposed to paying for long term prison stays. It is exhilarating to know that if you give people opportunities for positive behavior then how does that impact larger systems like health care or the criminal justice system. As a society, we are really good at tracking negative behaviors but not the reverse. DreamKit introduces a whole new data set on positive metrics. 

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

Marina Marmolejo: I would love to have proof of concept for DreamKit and be able to scale this to other cities. Essentially, I would love to be able to go to other urban markets and have them leverage the App to operate DreamKit in their own cities. Tech makes this scaleable and people do not realize that these youth have phones. Sixty-five percent of our youth have phones and the other thirty-five percent qualify for free phones through government programs.

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

Marina Marmolejo: Overall, being able to code-switch. I find myself moving from marketing to research, from business to grant writing. The lesson has been to be agile and switch really quickly.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Marina Marmolejo: I have been in academic institutions my whole life. You learn, you study and give back. I have learned that if something doesn’t exist you are allowed to create it. I am ok with being ok that they don’t exist. I know I have the ability to create jobs and opportunities. We are allowed to create new ideas for our most vulnerable populations and that is what matters.

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.