A Series of Rebirths: Talking GOOD with Nick Ellis

Last month, United States Marine Corps veteran Nick Ellis celebrated his 30th birthday, standing on a South Florida beach with wife Kelley by his side, salt water lapping at their bare feet. In one hand, Nick held a piece of paper. In his other hand he held a lighter. Slowly, with resolve and purpose, Nick lit the paper and watched as the long list of words on the page browned and turned to ash. He then dropped what remained of the flaming embers into the water. Nick was reborn … once again.

Nick Ellis grew up on the South Side of Richmond, Virginia in a low-income neighborhood where young African American men, particularly those in their teenage years, were educated primarily on the street. Nick knew he needed to remove himself from that environment, so at age 17 he joined the US Marine Corps. Rebirth. For several years, Nick travelled the world as a combat cook, but in 2005 he deployed to Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart for valor shown during the Abu Gharib prison attack. During the battle, Nick sustained shrapnel injuries to his face and head. “The jail was booby trapped. It was a freaking nightmare.” That day, Nick and all 33 of his comrades-in-arms escaped death. Rebirth.

Nick’s recovery from that traumatic brain injury has been slow and painful (and continues even today), but he returned to active duty after 30 days at a medical center. After an honorable discharge in 2006, Nick struggled with maintaining employment and personal finances. He had troubles with his identity and isolated himself as he missed the camaraderie and structure he was accustomed to from the military. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2008.

“After my discharge, I was stubborn and egotistical. I didn’t want to hear the truth about my injuries, or be branded as an ‘injured vet’ in other people’s eyes. In truth, I felt completely worthless. I had not yet learned the importance of emotional health and spiritual health. Those were painful, but critical lessons to learn. I was going to have to rebuild my life.”

Nick married Kelley in 2010 and started pursuing his bachelor’s degree. He was on the right track, but still struggled to find a much desired sense of personal purpose. One night at 3:00 am, sleepless, intoxicated, Nick Googled “Veterans - Nonprofits – Resources.” That was when he learned about the Mission Continues. “On the website I read about their core values, and I felt an intense pride, the first time I had experienced that since serving with the Marines.” Rebirth.

Nick was awarded a Mission Continues Fellowship that brought him back to his roots, mentoring at-risk youth and their families for 20 hours a week at the Florida Community Alliance. He focused on helping kids 13 to 18 years old develop life skills, seek gainful employment and improve family conditions. “I had settled and become complacent, but The Mission Continues brought energy back into my life. I was again part of something larger than myself. It brought me back to teamwork, group dynamics, and organization.

In the 18 months since completing his Fellowship, Nick achieved his B.A. degree in entrepreneurship. He is a husband, a father of two, an actively engaged member in his community, a volunteer, an entrepreneur, and an inspiration to other veterans who struggle to find a sense of purpose. “Veterans all have a chance to rewrite how society views us. We need to grab that opportunity. Don’t be a dead veteran.”

Nick smiled as the ashes of his 30th birthday note were swept away by the tide. “It was a list of everything negative in my life. Excuses. Guilt. Unhealthy emotions. It was time for me to let all of that go.”

Thank you, Nick, for sharing your journey with us, for continuing to serve us here at home, and for allowing us to get to know you better this Veterans Day.

1. WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE HERE AT HOME? One does not become a Marine with the flip of a switch. It is a lifetime decision.

2. OF WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD? My accomplishments as a USMC Veteran, husband, and father.

3. DESCRIBE A MOMENT THAT CHANGED YOU. When I took my Mission Continues fellowship oath in New York at ground zero. It felt as if I was redoing my vows to my country. I cried like a baby.

4. WHAT DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH THE MOST SINCE STEPPING DOWN FROM ACTIVE DUTY? I miss my brothers. The things one can do with a Marine Corps fire team is unbelievable to those who haven’t experienced it.

5. WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE VETERAN COMMUNITY? I would want to communicate how capable veterans are. After all, we are professionals in life and death. So if your issues have less at stake … then we’re capable of handling that! Veterans are great people, but we’ve developed some scar tissue. We’ve also developed a very serious resistance to anti-American rhetoric.

6. WHO IS A PERSON YOU ADMIRE AND WHY? WHAT WOULD YOU ASK HIM/HER IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Denzel Washington. To date he has donated thousands of dollars to military/veteran causes. Not once has he sought attention for these contributions.  I would want to know what military and country mean to him. What does patriotism mean to him?

7. WHICH ISSUE FACING YOUR COMMUNITY WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING GREATER ATTENTION TO? Education – plain and simple. How can one think effectively if they have not been taught how to think effectively?  Fear and uncertainty are consequences of a lack of education.

8. WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU? In high school I was in the show choir.  Also, I am a practicing astrologer of 9 years. I co-run a Facebook page called "Proud to be a Scorpio" and we have more than 7,200 members.

9. MY LEGACY TO THE WORLD WILL BE: Leadership. Inspiration. Purpose. I believe the best way to show anything is through action.  I want the world to remember me for my actions, not my words.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: What is one way the Veteran community can improve? ANSWER: MAN UP! We have a chance to redefine how the world views us – let alone how we view ourselves. We need to accept our uniqueness and put it to good use. It would be nice to see more veterans involved with the country than just on Veterans Day only.

In recognition of Veterans Day, Talking GOOD has partnered with The Mission Continues to shine the spotlight on veterans who are making a difference here at home. Drawing from The Mission Continues’ community of more than 3,000 fellows and service platoon members, we are profiling three veterans who continue to give back, even as they endeavor to find their own paths. Their stories are intensely personal, and at the same time, they represent a generation of men and women. These are their words.


ORGANIZATIONAL LINKS: The Mission Continues, TMC's Miami Service Platoon, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube

Strength in Community: Talking GOOD with Jeffrey Courter

By the time 49-year-old Jeffrey Courter left for Afghanistan, the husband and father of three had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist, and an Army National Guardsman. Despite his many years of military service, this was going to be Jeff’s first experience in an active combat zone. In his 2008 book, Afghan Journal: A Soldier’s Year in Afghanistan, Jeff wrote about the time he spent supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, working with Afghan security forces who were fighting against the Taliban. “I volunteered for this mission, believing it was important to do so …I considered it a matter of personal integrity.”

Jeff’s year in Afghanistan changed him forever. “It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before.”

Indeed, Jeff’s time abroad was rife with new experiences, but it also buttressed many of the values that he already held dear. Volunteerism, service, commitment, integrity, faith – these are things that Jeff, who is also a full-time seminary student and ministry intern with the U.S. Presbyterian Church, identifies with on a very personal level. But perhaps the value that trumps all others for this veteran is that of community.

In his book, Jeff wrote about the vital peer-support that his wife and children received during his time overseas. “Military families share much more with each other than most communities. They help each other and rely on each other, because they need each other.” But for Jeff, community is about more than just the social safety net; it’s fundamental to the human condition. He lays it out plainly: “We can’t live by ourselves … We must learn to work together to safeguard our world and each other … learning together, working together, playing together – these create relationships which allow us to live in peace together.”

For all of Jeff’s experience, education, training, virtue, wisdom, and drive, he finds himself today unemployed (save for the small amount of drill pay which he receives through the National Guard).  “Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, there is active discrimination against veterans by many hiring managers.” Still, Jeff does not wallow in self-pity, nor does he equate being out of work with being unable to contribute.

Jeff has found myriad ways to serve, while creating that sense of community for which he still yearns.  In 2014 he joined The Mission Continue’s Chicago Service Platoon, dedicated to improving health and wellness for the 122,000 Chicagoans who have little access to healthy food options. As part of this community of veterans, Jeff works in low-income neighborhoods, educating individuals and bringing communities together to promote healthier lifestyles. “Too many people don’t have the time to volunteer anymore. Programs like The Mission Continues are a great way to encourage volunteerism, while giving back to the community.”

Thank you Jeff for inviting us to get to you know better this Veterans Day.

1. WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE HERE AT HOME? Service is the gift we give to the world. It's what makes us human.  It is also what gives our lives meaning.  Serving my country is part of serving humanity.

2. OF WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD? I am proud to say I was able to do something significant in life, something positive. I have served in the military, volunteered in my community, earned academic achievements, but my favorite title of all is "Dad." Relationships are what count most in life.

3. DESCRIBE A MOMENT THAT CHANGED YOU. My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, "A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference." I have learned to strive for large differences, but to be content with small ones. Trying to be humane and just in a war is difficult, but it differentiates us from despots and dictators. I am proud I serve in a military with rules of engagement that seek to protect innocent life, as we have in OEF. I am proud to have served with people who joined our military for the right reasons.

4. WHAT DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH THE MOST SINCE STEPPING DOWN FROM ACTIVE DUTY? Unemployment.  Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, there is active discrimination against veterans by many hiring managers today.  It seems to me, one who has been seeking work for some time, that many of the companies declaring their intent to hire vets to be more PR to make their companies look good for other Americans, rather than actually hiring veterans.  If companies want to hire vets, there are plenty of us looking for work - it shouldn't be too tough to hire us.

5. WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE VETERAN COMMUNITY? Many people ask questions about what I did in Afghanistan - was I in combat, did I kill anybody, etc.  While plenty of military personnel engage the enemy, there are more people in support roles than on the front line.  These support personnel also risk their lives, but their tasks are different.  Surprisingly, even support personnel can get PTSD - there are horrifying events and memories that can affect us as human beings.  Vets want and need community, just like everybody else.

6. WHO IS A PERSON YOU ADMIRE AND WHY? WHAT WOULD YOU ASK HIM/HER IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? A person I admire is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany who actively worked against the Nazi regime, which led to his execution in a concentration camp.  He began as a pacifist, but then came to believe it was necessary to kill Adolph Hitler in order to stop the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis.  If I could ask him a question, it would be what he thought about America today - he lived briefly in New York in the 1930's, and I wonder what he would think of our society now.

7. WHICH ISSUE FACING YOUR COMMUNITY WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING GREATER ATTENTION TO? So many vital causes! We must learn to work together to safeguard our world and each other; education is the key. Learning together, working together, playing together - these create relationships which allow us to live in peace together. Many people think people in the military want war.  They are wrong - almost all of us really want peace. It's why we joined. Relationships create peace.

8. WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU? My wife and I are opera lovers!  Such beautiful music inspires me.

9. MY LEGACY TO THE WORLD WILL BE: A life full of love, family, friends, faith and hope … hope that I leave the world a better place.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Will war ever end? ANSWER: I wish I had an answer to this question myself - it is certainly within humanity's power to prevent it!  However, evil has always existed and will probably always exist in our world, so I think some form of violence and warfare is the unfortunate result, and we must prepare for it.

In recognition of Veterans Day, Talking GOOD has partnered with The Mission Continues to shine the spotlight on veterans who are making a difference here at home. Drawing from The Mission Continues’ community of more than 3,000 fellows and service platoon members, we are profiling three veterans who continue to give back, even as they endeavor to find their own paths. Their stories are intensely personal, and at the same time, they represent a generation of men and women. These are their words.

JEFF'S LINKS: LinkedIn, Twitter

ORGANIZATIONAL LINKS: The Mission Continues, TMC's Chicago Service Platoons, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube

A Veteran Fosters “Care”: Talking GOOD with Tina Thomas

Marine Corps veteran Tina Thomas is 34-years-old, but she’ll be the first to say that she looks young for her age. Tina’s youthful countenance, combined with her positive disposition and high energy are infectious. They also serve as an effective mask, concealing the trauma and struggles that she carries with her from a grim childhood. “I’m shy, and I take everything to heart. My outgoing personality is a front to hide the vulnerable me.”

Born in 1980 in Harvey, IL, a suburb of Chicago, Tina spent the first 18 years of her life moving around between 13 different foster homes and five group homes. In her own words: “Growing up in the foster care system left me feeling empty and incomplete.” Beyond the lack of familial support and consistency, Tina – like an unfortunate too many other kids in foster care – was the victim of physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. In early 1996 (despite never having broken the law), Tina was assigned a probation Officer, Mary Beth Ryan. That summer, Mary Beth invited Tina to be a peer mentor at a special camp for abused girls. It changed her life forever.

“That weekend was the first time I felt needed and that I belonged. It is also when I realized that I wanted to make an impact on people's lives.” In 1999, two weeks after graduating high school, Tina enlisted in the Marines. She served for four years, stationed in Camp Pendleton, just off the Pacific Coast in southern California.  Military service not only allowed Tina to grow as an individual and a professional, but it provided her with a sense of belonging, something for which she had so yearned as a child.

Tina wants people to know that she is not a victim. She likes to say that she wasn’t a ward of the State; rather she is a survivor of the State. She also wants people to know that no person should be defined by their past: “If I’m a victim of sexual trauma and foster care, the statistics say I’m supposed to be a certain way. But I’m me … I’m not a number.”

In 2013, Tina moved from Chicago to Washington, DC, along with her daughter Arianna, now age eleven. She works as an administrative assistant at the Federal Aviation Administration, and continues to serve her community as a serial volunteer, often alongside her daughter. In 2013, Tina joined The Mission Continues’ DC 1st Service Platoon, fighting malnutrition and obesity in the nation’s capital. She intends to also join the DC 2nd Service Platoon, helping youth develop lifelong commitments to personal health and fitness. “All of this service work provides me with structure and growth. It keeps me motivated and gets me out there so that I can continue to make a difference.”

Thank you, Tina, for your strength and perseverance. Thank you for continuing to serve us here at home, and for allowing us to get to know you better this Veterans Day.

1. WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE HERE AT HOME? I continue to serve at home because this is my home and these are my people. I see first hand the great need within my community, and so I take on its struggles as my own.

2. OF WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD? Being humble is my greatest asset and what I'm most proud of. I have never had an easy life but I have never wished for a different one. My struggles and achievements have allowed me to impact lives with not only book knowledge but life experience. It is that, that has allowed me to relate directly to others. Knowing you are not alone and feeling not alone are two different things. Being humble has allowed me to connect with individuals on an emotional level which in return develops a sense of trust, loyalty, and commitment that replaces the empty feeling of being alone.

3. DESCRIBE A MOMENT THAT CHANGED YOU. Growing up in the Foster care system left me feeling empty and incomplete. In 1996 I was assigned a probation Officer Mary Beth Ryan, I was none the less displeased with that assignment. I had never broke the law nor was I ever kicked out of a school. I avoided contact with this women at all cost, we were two different races and classes of people. In June of '96 she caught up with me and asked that I come to camp with her as a peer mentor. It is that moment that my life changed forever. The camp was a special camp for abused young girls. That weekend was the first time I felt needed and that I belonged. It is also when I realized that I wanted to make an impact on people's lives. I joined the Marines two weeks after graduating from high school and continue to fly back for camp each summer until funding was eliminated. It was the most rewarding and life changing experience I've ever had.

4. WHAT DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH THE MOST SINCE STEPPING DOWN FROM ACTIVE DUTY? The hardest thing for me has been finding work and affordable housing. It’s a big misconception that once out of the military, that a job will be easy to get. And with no job, I faced homelessness. It was a struggle to find a safe place for me and my family, as many VA shelters accept neither women nor families.

5. WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE VETERAN COMMUNITY? That we are still here to serve. That we still love our country and fellow Americans. That we are not immune to the hardships that civilians face, and that we are not a generation of entitlement but one of hard work and determination.

6. WHO IS A PERSON YOU ADMIRE AND WHY? WHAT WOULD YOU ASK HIM/HER IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I admire my foster mother, Barbara Carter. When everything and everyone else had turned their back on me, with Barbara, I had a place to go home to. And not just me but the more than 10 other kids she raised. And even though I’m the most stubborn one (as she calls me), she has never turned her back on me. I would love to know why? Why did she continue to take in kids? Even while fighting cancer last year she still opened her heart and home to new kids.

7. WHICH ISSUE FACING YOUR COMMUNITY WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING GREATER ATTENTION TO? Foster care. No one gives a second thought to a child that was raised in this system after they reach a certain age. No one checks to see if they have a home for the holidays or soup when they are sick. They are America's dark little secret. They are often left homeless and alone. In 2012 in the United States, 23,439 children in foster care turned 18 and were "emancipated" or "aged out."  Where do they go? Who helps them now?

8. WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT YOU? That I’m shy, and that I take everything to heart. My outgoing personality is a front to hide the vulnerable me.

9. MY LEGACY TO THE WORLD WILL BE: That even at my lowest points in life, I've still reached out to help others to lift them higher.

In recognition of Veterans Day, Talking GOOD has partnered with The Mission Continues to shine the spotlight on veterans who are making a difference here at home. Drawing from The Mission Continues’ community of more than 3,000 fellows and service platoon members, we are profiling three veterans who continue to give back, even as they endeavor to find their own paths. Their stories are intensely personal, and at the same time, they represent a generation of men and women. These are their words.

ORGANIZATIONAL LINKS: The Mission Continues, TMC's Washington, DC Service Platoon, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube

Talking GOOD with Kay Chernush

Kay Chernush believes in the power of reinventing one’s self. It’s a central theme in her photography and the narrative of her own life.

She describes the moment following her double mastectomy when everything changed: “I experienced a strong sense of emptiness, as though I was dangling over a void. In that moment of facing ‘nothingness,’ I realized what a full and fortunate life I had: a wonderful and supportive husband, friends, security, and most importantly more life. I didn’t know what I would do or how I would reinvent myself, but I knew I wanted to take my photography in a different direction, and use what was left of my life to make a difference.”

When we face our own mortality, accomplishment does not always equate to meaning. Here was Kay Chernush, an award-winning photographer who had travelled internationally on behalf of Fortune 500 companies and NGOs; she had served with the Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development; and she was a recipient of a coveted Fulbright grant to India, where she studied contemporary Indian literature in English. Nevertheless, as Kay sat in the hospital, reflecting on her past and a future unknown, she yearned for greater meaning and purpose.

That purpose was to be found three years later, in 2005, while on a photography assignment for the U.S. State Department, which brought her face to face with the evils of human trafficking and modern slavery. Challenged and appalled by this gross human rights atrocity, Kay began working with anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. and in cities around the world. She soon developed an innovative approach to the subject, using collage and constructed imagery and “sound narrative” that dignifies trafficked persons and re-frames how their stories are portrayed. After all, everyone deserves the chance to reinvent themselves.

In 2011, to broaden the scope of her project, Kay founded the nonprofit ArtWorks for Freedom, which uses the power of art to fight modern day slavery. The organization partners with artists and anti-trafficking organizations to create multi-faceted arts events that focus attention and inspire action against this global criminal enterprise. Kay’s art series, “Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking,” has been exhibited in outdoor art installations in major international cities (click on this link to listen to survivor stories). “My goal with this work is to prompt dialogue and creative action as viewers re-consider the commodification of human beings and the de-humanizing social interactions that make it possible for slavery to exist today, in every country, 150 years after we thought it had been abolished.”

Kay is fully dedicated to this work. She wants the world to know not only of the misery and horrors suffered by modern day slaves, but also of the many survivors whose indomitable spirits allow them to rebuild their lives. Today, Kay Chernush knows what her purpose is. Following is my interview with her.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? My purpose in life is to create something of beauty and meaning that will change the world for the better.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? Running a nonprofit organization after working as a freelance photographer for more than 25 years has been a huge challenge. It has taken over my life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and frustrated.  But working directly with trafficking survivors and seeing their courage and resilience puts everything in perspective and inspires me to greater efforts.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? My life is made more meaningful by sharing my skills and resources to help marginalized and powerless people.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. Having lived and taught in a Muslim university in India, and knowing the oppressive social and religious mores faced by girls in so many countries, I see their actions as truly heroic. I would ask Malala how she conquers fear, both physical and psychological.  What is the source of her spunk and her capacity to forgive? I would ask her father how he would teach other fathers to let their daughters fly.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Human capital, in the form of passionate and energetic partners and a dynamic executive director to run our program. Creative capital, in the form of imaginative works that transform how people think about and deal with modern slavery. Financial capital, to underwrite a small staff and enable AWFF to commission new art so that we can engage an ever broader audience and build on our successes in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? How can we change the moral landscape of our time so that modern slavery is seen as unacceptable? What more can we do to reach the hearts and minds of people in a way that will unleash their creative energies in the fight against this horrendous human abuse?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? A Re-invented Life: How I Became an Artist-Activist. I decided on this title because I want to emphasize the importance of seizing new opportunities and possibilities. In my case I re-invented my life by blending my photographic skills with my desire to do good for others.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? When I was young I thought I wanted to be a writer, but writing turned out to be incredibly painful for me and I’ve discovered that I’m better as a “do-er”.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Follow your heart and do what gives you the most satisfaction, because that is what you will do best. That is what will make you the most effective. Be persistent but flexible. Be open to possibility. And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You’re not expected to know everything. Most of all, get started.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: What were the greatest influences on you? ANSWER: There were three things, each leading to the other. First, my fabulous high school teacher kept a sign on the blackboard that said, “Your teacher could be wrong, think for yourself!” That opened up a new way of learning. Then, living in India after college exposed me to a whole new world that I had to grapple with and learn to navigate. It was a life-changing experience. Being a photographer further broadened my horizons and allowed me to explore worlds that were not my own and eventually brought me face-to-face with global human trafficking.

LINKS: ArtWorks for Freedom, Twitter, Facebook, Kay Chernush Professional Website


ALL NEW: Talking GOOD with Kay Chernush

Landscape Card

Kay Chernush believes in the power of reinventing one’s self. It’s a central theme in her photography and the narrative of her own life. In our newest Talking GOOD interview, Kay explains how she turned her life around after a double mastectomy, drawing upon her decades-long career as an international photographer, and tackling head-on the horrifying issues of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Today, Kay is the Founder and Director of ArtWorks for Freedom, which uses the power of art to fight modern day slavery.

See the Talking GOOD profile and interview HERE.


Talking GOOD with Corinne Hindes

Entrepreneurism 101: Look for simple ways to solve real world problems. We don’t typically cite this axiom in the nonprofit world. Perhaps it's because of the inherent complexities of mission-based work – gauging needs, measuring outcomes, and so forth. Still, “million dollar ideas” do exist.

In 2011, at the age of 11, Corinne Hindes and her childhood friend Katrine Kirsebom came up with an idea for aiding homeless people who suffered from a lack of warm clothing. Corinne and Katrine were ski racers. One day at practice, Corinne went to the lost and found to look for a hat that she had misplaced, and saw a huge pile of lost coats, hats, and gloves.  She asked the resort if she could donate the pile of unclaimed clothing to her local homeless shelter. The resort said yes and the nonprofit Warm Winters was born.

Entrepreneurism 201: Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. Let’s be honest, Corinne could have dropped off that first heap of clothing and left it at that. Most people would never have even thought to do that much. Nevertheless, something compelled Corinne to sustain the giving; to continue working with ski resorts and homeless shelters. What was it?

As a young child, Corinne started giving to her community after one of her closest friends died at age 6 from leukemia. Heartbroken by the loss, she started a program called Harmonicas for Happiness, raising money to buy harmonicas and bring them to kids in the hospital fighting cancer. Corinne knew at an early age that making other people smile felt good. Yet even as Corinne aspired to help others, she herself was the victim of bullying, something that continued throughout her middle school years. As a way to cope with the anxiety and even depression that came from the bullying, Corinne channeled her energies towards helping others. When she could help someone else smile, it helped her smile.

Entrepreneurism 301: Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Just three years in, Warm Winters has donated more than 5,000 items of warm clothing to 2,500 homeless people. The organization works with six ski resorts in California and Nevada, and they have engaged a volunteer base of 50+ youth, by working with Girl Scout and Brownie troops, as well as high school ski teams throughout the region.

Things are looking exciting for Corinne. In 2013, she and Katrine received the prestigious Jefferson Award for their work with the homeless and today Corinne is receiving leadership training from The Jefferson Awards GlobeChangers Leadership Program. Next, she plans to finish her high school education by doing independent study, to allow more time for growing Warm Winters and to pursue her love of music (she’s a gifted musician and can play flute, saxophone, clarinet, piano, and she sings!).

Recently, Warm Winters was endorsed by the National Ski Area Association, and the organization is poised to go national. Their 5-year goal is to be in 10 states, working with 50-60 ski resorts, with 75-125 teen leaders, distributing warm clothing to 50,000 homeless people. Let’s see what Corinne has to say:

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? My purpose in life is to positively impact the lives of people around me in as many ways as I can.

2. DESCRIBE A MOMENT THAT HELPED YOU GAIN CLARITY ABOUT YOUR PURPOSE. There was a time a few years back where I saw a homeless man in a T-shirt and jeans on a terribly cold day in winter and I was horrified by how cold he was, and the fact that he had no jacket to shield him from the cold broke my heart. That was a moment where I gained clarity about my purpose because I knew that I had to help him and others like him in any way that I could, and I had to do all that I could to make their situation better. When I gave my first coat to a homeless person, the smile on his face gave me the most rewarding feeling I had ever felt, and it still does today.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Giving back to the community and the people around me gives me the satisfaction and joy of knowing that I helped to make someone else’s day a little bit brighter. Making someone else happy never fails to make me happy, and that’s why I put so much effort everyday into trying to put a smile on as many faces as I possibly can.

4. WHAT IS A BELIEF THAT IS CORE TO YOUR BEING? I believe that nothing is impossible or beyond reach and anything and everything is accomplishable. There are so many different paths in life and so many different steps you can take to reach your goals and dreams that even if you fail on one path, you can always find a crossroad and take another that will lead you in the same direction…or a better one! I also believe that you can never be too young or too old to conquer your dreams and make a difference.

5. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Most of the people who I consider to be my heroes are close to home and very involved in my life. A hero I have yet to meet is Demi Lovato. She has been through so much with bullying, family issues, and struggling with self-harm and eating disorders, and If I could ask her only one question, it would be: “How did you manage to push through and keep going, despite all the awful things you had weighing you down?”

6. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? Despite the fact that I tend to come off as very confident and outgoing, I am actually quite insecure and not at all confident in the things that I do or say, but I am learning to overcome that because I believe that confidence on the outside and the inside is the true key to success.

7. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO LEAD A LIFE IN PURPOSE? Don’t ever give up. Nothing is out of reach, and no dream is unrealistic or unimportant. You can accomplish anything if you put in the effort and keep yourself motivated, and it is never too late or too soon (you can never be too young or too old) to conquer your obstacles and get to where you want to be. If something seems too hard or seems impossible to accomplish, GO FOR IT! Tackle any obstacles that come across your path because I can promise you that you will be able to overcome them, no matter how big or small they may be.

8. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE AND WHY? Crossroads Intertwined. I believe that there are an infinite number of paths in life, and if one path should take a wrong turn, you can always find a crossroad that puts you back where you want to go. It’s easy to get lost in life, or to forget where you are going and what you want, but it is equally as simple to get back on the right track.

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? “Never give up, and always work harder than anyone expects you to. Fight on.” This quote was originally said by a good friend, an incredible mentor, and a true inspiration and hero of mine, Ellen Wleklinski. Despite the fact that this quote is short and simple, it holds a lot of meaning for me and never fails to keep me motivated in achieving my dreams.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: What never fails to make you smile? ANSWER: I smile a lot, it’s just kind of what I do, so it isn’t hard to put a grin on my lips. But something that can always make me smile, no matter what the context or situation, is making other people happy. I get no greater joy than making other people feel good about themselves and their lives. Putting a smile on another person’s face, or making another person laugh gives me the most incredibly rewarding feeling of happiness and satisfaction, and it helps me to feel better about myself too.

LINKS: Warm Winters (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube)

Talking GOOD with Mark Brodinsky

Mark Brodinsky Photo_Small

Many people believe that what separates humans from the other species is our ability to form scenarios in our mind, and then turn them into reality. See your future; make it happen. By this definition, Mark Brodinsky is a purveyor of humanity and a shining example of what it means to turn big dreams into meaningful reality. Mark has seen his future, or as he calls it, his Why. “My Why is to positively impact the lives of a billion people and to help them find their Why and their Way.” A billion people. Perhaps I should back up a few years, to the time before everything changed.

In April of 2012, Mark’s world was rocked when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up until that moment, life seemed ... well … fine. A former Emmy Award-winning TV producer with WJZ-TV in Baltimore, MD, Mark successfully transitioned to the financial services world in order to provide a more stable lifestyle for his wife and two daughters. Mark excelled professionally, but still missed the thrill of bringing stories to life and sharing them with the masses. Then came Debbie’s diagnosis.

Almost out of instinct, Mark began a Caringbridge.org journal to chronicle his family’s collective journey and cope with his personal fears. His writing was emotionally honest, but also captivating, as evidenced by the comments he received after sharing his posts on Facebook. “My wife’s breast cancer diagnosis brought me back to my roots of being a writer. It gave me catharsis and helped me reconnect with who I truly am.” Friends began urging Mark to write a book based on his journal entries. At the time, Mark was ravenously demolishing the program Living Your Best Year Ever, so he rightly identified the import of the moment. Carpe Diem! Mark educated himself on the ins and outs of e-Publishing and never looked back. On September 26 of 2013, roughly 16 months after Debbie’s surgery to remove the cancer, his book It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story, was published on Amazon. Five days later, it was declared a #1 Amazon Best-Seller.

It Takes Two Trailer from Maryland Photo Video on Vimeo.

But his book was just the beginning. Here Mark would want me to quote the other Mark (Twain that is): “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Equipped with his Why, Mark launched a blog/website, “It’s just About … Life” and “The Sunday Series,” chronicling stories of courage, hope and inspiration. [Full disclosure: I’ve been featured in the Sunday Series … call this inspirational reciprocity]. Mark likes to share lessons and stories on personal growth, helping others to find their WHY and find their way. His blogs have also been picked up by Huffington Post, where he is making the Sunday Series a regular column.

Mark’s experience in finding his own Why has brought a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment to all aspects of his life. In 2013 he received the Professional Agent of the Year Award with New York Life in Baltimore, and he is a three-time Qualifying Member of the Million Dollar Round Table for financial services professionals. He actively speaks on the topic of finding your Why, and has a second book in the works.

A billion people served? That’s ambitious. Will he reach it? I don’t think it matters. Mark would tell you that life is not about some end-game, rather it’s about the journey and how you choose to live the days you’ve been given. I’m proud to know you Mark and look forward to seeing what comes next.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To inspire others to find their Why; to start small, dream big, and live the life they deserve -- through my writing, speaking, and sharing all that I learn about personal growth and gratitude.

2. WHAT DO YOU KNOW TODAY THAT YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN TEN YEARS AGO? I wish I knew about the true power of gratitude and of “purposefully” becoming a better person, not just saying you will, but actually taking specific measurable steps to make it happen and tracking those activities. The magic of splendid discipline. I wish I had started all of this ten years ago, and planned my financial future back then to support my dream today instead of having to balance both at the same time.

3. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? A living hero: Darren Hardy. He is my best friend and he doesn’t even know my name, nor have I ever spoken to him, but I listen to his interviews on CD’s in my car, and his interview subjects inspire me, teach me and make me dream even bigger, and Hardy’s recap each month has literally brought me to tears tapping into every emotion I have to live a life as big as humanly possible. If I were to meet him I would ask him what started it all for him, and how has he so successfully built this business which is everything I want out of life.

4. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I had a speech impediment when I was younger. I can still remember in 4th grade when the teacher called on me to answer a question and the answer was the Declaration of Independence. I knew the answer. But I couldn’t get the “d” out for fear of repeating it over and over in a stutter. So I pretended I didn’t know the answer. That was the beginning of the end, and a life I’m not proud of because I avoided situations and words which would lead me to stutter. I never told my parents, though plenty of times I wanted to so badly. I bailed on the big high school play, with two people to go before my reading for tryouts because I was afraid I would stutter. I went into TV as a producer, not a reporter because I was afraid I might get in to a breaking news situation in front of the camera and not be able to say certain words. Even when I did get an on-air role I used every synonym you could think of to not say the words which would cause me to stutter. I still do that to some extent today, though it is much more infrequent then it used to be. I am embarrassed and sad about hiding it for so long because it definitely affected the trajectory of my young life and early adulthood.

5. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I get the satisfaction and magic of gratitude and sharing something of value. I love to give to other people, especially when it can change someone else’s life. In life you must give, give, give before you earn the right to ask. It should always be about what you can do for others first, before what you get out of the deal. Give and receive cannot be over emphasized. When you give it comes back tenfold, maybe not right then, but over time.

6. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST? That’s easy: Michael Jackson. I was so impressed and enamored with his God-given talent and his ability to touch people all over the world. I'd ask him what it’s like to be the most famous person in the world. How do you do that; how do you get there? My favorite song would be Man in the Mirror because of the lyric: "if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change." We all must hold ourselves accountable to being the best we can be, it’s the reason we must find our WHY. If we look in the mirror and truly look into ourselves, we can harness the power. I know because I’m living it. I’m trying to make a dream come true and it’s not an easy process by any stretch of the imagination (nothing worthwhile ever is), but it’s rewarding.

7. DESCRIBE A BELIEF THAT IS CORE TO YOUR BEING. I believe that we are all meant for something big in life which fulfills our purpose, and is fueled by our passion. But we must figure it out, it doesn’t just happen. We are all meant to shine. If you can identify your true gifts, you can discover what you love to do. That intersection means you will never again work a day in your life. It’s the day you stop working and start really living. It becomes something you never want to retire from. The power is within every one of us and I’m not preaching that right now, I’m telling you I believe it with every ounce of my being. It's not an easy thing to do. You just don’t trip over it. You must go after it and make it your reality. I wrote a blog about this very thing … and took it from the most inspiring wrap-up from Darren Hardy I ever heard, I must have listened to it 50 times. It’s actually the subject of the blog I wrote called Passion. Read it, you won’t be sorry.

8. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO LEAD A LIFE OF PURPOSE? To lead a life of purpose you must begin from the inside-out and find your why. Without the why, the how, the what and the way do not matter. Because if you pursue something that is not in line with your why you will never feel truly fulfilled. It is difficult if not impossible to be significant without this inner purpose. And whatever that purpose is it will no doubt be something which is in service to others because that is what life is all about. You will do something which either relieves someone else’s pain or helps them gain. And understand you cannot pursue success, you must attract it by the person you become. “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job” :-)

9. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR NEXT BOOK BE? I am seriously considering the title of my next book to be Making a Difference. Stories of Courage, Hope & Inspiration: The Sunday Series, with Mark Brodinsky

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: When you see people who are successful, do you ever stop to wonder how they got there, or do you just look at them and think, “well they’ve just got It, or they are just lucky?"  ANSWER: Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles. Everyone has something in their life that has happened, or is happening. You have no idea what they went through to get where they are now, what obstacles they had to overcome, what struggles they faced, nor do you see the hard work they put in to making a dream come true. You can’t compare your backstage to someone else’s stage-front and find happiness. Comparison is the thief of joy. Success doesn’t bring happiness, happiness brings success


It's Just About Life & The Sunday Series

Mark's book: It' Takes 2

Mark on Huffington Post

Mark on Facebook

Mark on Twitter

Talking GOOD with Augie Nieto

3/14/14San Diego, CAMDABash for Augie's QuestPhoto Credit: Steve Cohn© 2014 Steve Cohn Photographywww.stevecohnphotography.com(310 277-2054

When 47-year-old Augie Nieto learned he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in March of 2005, he reacted as anyone else might: he went into denial. He became angry. He asked “why me?” and “what did I do to deserve this?” Then, just three months later, he tried to take his own life.

Rewind to that moment just prior to receiving the diagnosis. Up until that pivotal moment, Augie might have defined himself as a loving husband, father to four, and founder of the immensely influential company Life Fitness, pioneers of the indoor cardiovascular revolution. For a man whose life was literally about fitness and staying active, the idea of not being able to move or speak was unfathomable. How do you come to grips with such a thing? How do you find the will to move forward?


Augie didn’t just come to grips with his ALS, he began to persevere and overcome. He summoned those same rare qualities that made him an effective and respected leader, and applied them to his new reality. As Augie accepted the hand he’d been dealt, he and his wife Lynne, launched Augie’s Quest to fund research and drug development aimed at ending ALS. “It’s this work that has kept me motivated and inspired to keep on living,” Augie now says.

Today, eight years after his diagnosis, Augie is one of the most driven people you’ll ever meet. He remains extremely active as a leader in the fitness industry, and is tireless as a crusader to find a cure for ALS. He's also happier than he's ever been in his life (his words). Augie's zest for living is evident in his eyes and in his smile. It’s there when he’s pictured with his family (he’s now a grandfather); when celebrity musicians are writing songs in his honor, and when he discusses his intent to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding this year (yes walk!!).

Augie is so inspiring not because he lives with ALS, but because his pathway to acceptance was inextricably tied to a need to help others. Help others, help yourself. Thanks for speaking with us Augie and for sharing your wisdom.

May is ALS Awareness month, so I humbly encourage you to share this interview with your networks. Help Augie spread the word!!


2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? There is a sense of urgency with the work I’m involved with now. People’s lives are at stake, including my own.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I believe in reciprocity … giving without the expectation of receiving anything in return.  When you do this, you get more than one could ever imagine.  Lynne and I are inundated with emails and Facebook messages from people who have been inspired by our story.  These stories keep us motivated to keep giving, and keep asking others to give.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I have a lot of heroes … everyone who generously donates to my Quest year after year.  I’d like to sit down with all of them and really find out more about what motivates them to continue giving!

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Anyone that knows me, knows that I set really big goals!  ALS is an under-funded disease so I guess the main thing I would want is more awareness. This interview and others are a great start!

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? What makes you give and keep giving?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Well I’ve already written two: Augie’s Quest and Reciprocity. I hope the 3rd book is called Augie’s Cure. A good friend of ours (and the current President of Life Fitness – Chris Clawson) once said, “They may call it Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but they’ll call it Augie Nieto’s Cure." I hope to make that come true!

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? ALS effects voluntary muscles ... my willy still works!

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.  Do your homework and make sure the money or time you are spending is being used efficiently.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: What is the difference between being successful and being significant? ANSWER: Before I was diagnosed with ALS, I had success. It wasn’t until after my diagnosis that I became significant. Being significant has more to do with being worthy of the attention and importance placed on your success. You have to ask yourself, “what will I be remembered for?”  If you’re successful, you might not be missed. If you’re significant, you will be missed.

LINKS: Augie's Quest (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)

VIDEOS: Today Show segment




Talking GOOD with Sarah Gardner

Sarah Gardner

A recent article in Forbes says that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It sounds cliché, but it stands to reason. I wonder: Does a person who perspires a lot – say a personal trainer or certified yoga instructor – possess a greater capacity to transform innovative ideas into realities? I have no way of knowing, but after meeting Sarah Gardner, I’m inclined to say hell yes!

Sarah is indeed a personal trainer and yoga instructor, hailing from Wayland, MA (just west of Boston). She recalls driving down a major highway in 2009, and saying out loud, "I want to have a Yogathon at Gillette Stadium to help kids in need." For the sake of context, Gillette Stadium is the home of the New England Patriots. It’s a big venue. Up until that moment, Sarah had never spearheaded and organized a fundraising event in her life. [That moment in the car was the 1% of inspiration.]

Fast forward to Sunday, April 27, 2014, when more than 1,000 people will pack Gillette Stadium’s Dana Farber Fieldhouse for the Yoga Reaches Out (YRO) Yogathon, benefitting Boston Children’s Hospital and Citizen Schools. Since Sarah’s first Yogathon in 2010, YRO has held annual Yogathons on both coasts, has raised more than $1 million, and distributed those funds to numerous organizations focused on helping children and their families. [These last two sentences … these describe the 99% perspiration.]

In a 2012 article, Sarah spoke about her motivation and purpose: “I started YRO to bring the yoga community together to create seva (selfless service). If we can take the power of yoga and direct it toward helping children in need then what we practice on our mat is taken off the mat to truly make a difference in the lives of others. It’s simple, helping children in need is my main goal and the mission of YRO.”

Sarah believes “we all have at least one brilliant gift,” which she encourages people to give away in order to make this world a better place. Undoubtedly, she has figured out which of her gifts need to be shared. In Sarah’s bio it says that “Yoga Reaches Out has brought her profound purpose and deep joy.”What else could anyone want?

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? There is no greater joy than helping others and when I realized that was my purpose, life became so clear, so simple.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? Without a doubt I have never worked harder, but I have never been happier. It took me 40 years, but I realized that it is not about me. It's about making a difference in the lives of others. This work has shown me what is most important in this world and it has brought great clarity and purpose in every aspect of my life.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? What I get from giving is happiness. We all spend so much time looking for happiness. Thinking it can be found in material goods, greener grass, etc. but what is so beautiful is when you realize that complete happiness is found by giving of yourself to help others. I truly believe we all have at least one brilliant gift. Follow your passion, find out what that is and then educate it, practice it, deepen it and then give it away to make this world a better place. Share your gift to help others.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? My living heroes are children and their families who spend every day battling a health condition with hope, grace, and resilience. They show us what is truly important.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? The power of connection. I would love to know of ways that like-minded service oriented people could connect to help each other. Social media has been phenomenal in spreading the mission of YRO and our events and it would be fantastic to grow that networking into connecting with corporate sponsorship, fellow yogis that are focused on seva, and connecting deeper with the yoga community.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? I would love to ask the yoga community: What is more important to you: doing yoga or being yoga? Yoga is so much more than the postures. I honestly feel that you don’t do yoga, you are yoga. You live a life of being present, a life of compassion, a life of light-heartedness, a life of service.

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Take the Ordinary and Make it Extraordinary. One of the greatest shifts in my life is when I chose to appreciate all that I have in my life, instead of wishing it was something different. I began to be so grateful for all that I have and then realized I didn’t need anything more.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I married my college sweetheart a year after I graduated. It was everything I could have dreamed of. I wore my grandmother’s wedding gown, all my friends and family were there and it was a beautiful day to begin my “forever” future. Four months later, my husband said that it was not what he wanted. As difficult as it was, it turns out that it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I learned two life-changing things: one, that I loved Sarah and two: that you never know in life. Be present and open to what life may bring you.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? My advice would be that every person is possibility; every person can make a difference. Don't feel that any dream is too small or too big. Focus your attention on letting go of fear. It is the number one obstacle.  I remember driving down a major highway in my area and thinking out loud, "I want to have a Yogathon at Gillette Stadium to help kids in need." I wasn't afraid to try, even if some encouraged me to start smaller. I have learned in life that you must not "mind" what happens. Open your heart, follow your dreams and know that if your intention is to be of service - you will find your way.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: If you could go back and change things in your life would you? ANSWER: I actually wouldn’t. Each challenge in my life has taught me something and helped me to grow into a better person. I firmly believe that you have to go through it to get through it. No matter where you are in your life, it is where you are supposed to be.


Yoga Reaches Out: http://yogareachesout.org/

YRO on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yogareachesout

YRO on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yogareachesout

YRO on Instagram: http://instagram.com/yogareachesout#

YRO on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/yogareachesout/

Talking GOOD with Audrey Forshey


Ever had an “a-ha” moment? They seem to spontaneously arise out of nothingness. A fleeting image or a random thought ignites a chain reaction as previously unintroduced synapses exchange business cards in our brains. A second or two later, we are forever a new person. Audrey Forshey had her a-ha moment at the outset of the great housing crisis of ‘08. A residential real estate agent from Gaithersburg, MD, she often worried about how to protect the material “things” in her life. And with the housing market starting to turn drastically south, she wondered what she would do if the world she knew crumbled. Then came that moment. “I thought ‘Get over yourself … really, get over yourself. You are blessed to have everything on the Earth, while there are people who struggle for food and water. They sleep on dirt and don't have access to an education. Snap out of it!’”

Audrey had always been a “giver,” but she now felt compelled to do something more personally meaningful. She needed to roll her sleeves up and become fully invested in a cause. She wanted to find a purpose.

One of Audrey's friends, Racquel "Rocky" Turner, had started a small nonprofit called Mothers Fighting for Others (MFFO), providing orphans and vulnerable children with loving and nurturing environments and quality education. This was what Audrey was looking for. She began by making donations, and then upped her involvement by organizing a fundraiser. Education was paramount for the kids that MFFO was helping, so Audrey decided to champion that slice of the pie. She soon launched the annual MFFO Gift of Education Fundraiser. The first event was conducted in her home; it raised $10,000.

Today, the Gift of Education exclusively supports the St. Monica's Children's Home, just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Just five years after her first event, Audrey’s 2013 fundraiser (which is now so large it’s held at a Hilton Hotel), raised close to $50,000 in a single night, covering most of the education costs for the 44 girls at the home. In 2011, Audrey met the girls in Kenya to whom she had so completely dedicated herself. The following video captures that meeting (Audrey speaks directly to the girls at 3:00 minutes).

Audrey teaches us that you don't have to begin with exact knowledge of WHAT the difference is that you intend to make. It's enough simply to know that you want to make a difference, and then to begin trying things out. On that note, I'll share Audrey's favorite saying, which comes from Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A. Milne): "Some people care too much. I think it's called love.” Thanks for sharing your story with us Audrey, and for caring so much.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To share love and kindness with as many people as I can, while passing my time here on earth.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU?  The success of the kids at Saint Monica's Home has, unapologetically, become my passion and my goal. Never before in life have I been so driven to make something successful. The fundraiser started in the living room of my house and now, five years later, it is hosted by our MFFO team at the Hilton Hotel.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? It's twofold. The joy I experience when I go to Nairobi, Kenya to see the 44 children and how much they have grown and learned since I first met them; their determination and the sound of their laughter makes my heart sing. The kids have said to me, "we can never pay you back for helping us."  I told them the way they "pay us back" is to do their best in school, dream, and be anything they want to be. Like a parent, I am proud to say that we have four girls currently in college - one headed to law school - and six girls will graduate from high school this year.  We at MFFO are very proud of their accomplishments.  It proves what we are doing is working.  We are making a difference. The second thing that I get from giving is community. I am filled with pride and honor when I see folks in our Maryland community volunteer at and support our annual fundraiser, united by the shared mission of helping the children in Kenya.

4. WHO IS A HERO, AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Nelson Mandela. How could he be persecuted for so long and still have so much love and goodness.  Where does that come from?  Most people would be resentful and be filled with hate.  How did he make it through all of those years of prison, isolation and still come out and make a positive difference in his country?

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS?  $12.00.  A simple program we have at Mothers Fighting for Others is called 12 for 12.  It is a commitment to donate $12 for 12 months to help pay for the running of Saint Monica's Home, and school fees for the children in Kenya.  If we could inspire 1,000 people to commit to $12 a month we could change our 44 girls' lives.  It would enable us to help the 45th child and so on.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY?  What are some of the most successful fundraising ideas or advice that you can share with me. I am driven to do the work to raise the funds to support the kids in Kenya, but I wonder if there is something someone could share with us to help us reach our goals?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE?  Girls Rule. Our group began by supporting girls because girls don't usually have a chance to obtain a higher education in third world countries.  By educating the girls we have a better chance to help the community by making them self sufficient and having them go back to their community to continue the education of orphan girls.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC?  Sometimes I am really scared. I can be described as a "grab the bull by the horns" kind of person and fundraising is a 100% volunteer side job for me and my other volunteers. But we are  making it up as we go along.  What if no one comes?  What if I say the wrong thing? We want to be successful so our kids are successful.  There is a lot on the line.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS?  You are stronger than you think. Have really big dreams and ideas, you have the power to make them happen. We have to believe in ourselves, just like I tell the kids, I am telling you and myself - we can all do what we set out to do. Whatever your passion, you have it in you to reach inside and make a difference.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG AND WHO IS THE ARTIST? "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" by Tears for Fears. The opening line: "Welcome to your life, there's no turning back ..." 

LINKS: Mothers Fighting for Others (Blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), Audrey on Facebook

Talking GOOD with David Burstein

David D. Burstein

How shall I describe David Burstein? Let’s do some test messaging … 1) David Burstein is an energetic tsunami of thought leadership. Too overbearing and a bit redundant. 2) David Burstein is a dynamic change-maker, leveraging today’s digital and idea economies to pave the way for a better tomorrow. Too jargony and rather evergreen. 3) David Burstein is an impassioned evangelist for Millennials, who uses all forms of media to advance the ideas of his transformative generation. Grandiose, yes … but I think it’s accurate. In truth, David himself is a grandiose guy. At just 24 years of age, he has a book, a TEDx talk, crazy amounts of press, and a bio that would make even the most seasoned of geopolitical pundits green with envy. But it’s not just David’s ability to promote (both himself and the Gospel of the Millennials) that has helped catapult him onto the global stage. David has the unique ability to mobilize and to inspire; to bring people together around a common cause and to create movements. That sort of thing is rare – no matter what generation you claim as your own.

David is the founder of Generation18, a nonpartisan young voter engagement organization. The organization grew out of the documentary film, 18 in ’08, which David directed and produced about young voters in the 2008 election. From 2007-2008, Generation18 registered over 25,000 new voters, held over 1,000 events in 35 states, and produced a get-out-the-vote PSA series with stars including Olivia Wilde and Maggie Gyllenhaal. For his work, David received a 2009 DoSomething Award and his story was featured on several million bags of Doritos. His 2012 follow up film, Up to Us, produced with OurTime.org and Comcast, focused on the optimism and resilience of the Millennial Generation in the face of the economic crisis and their continued desire to vote and participate in public service. Up to Us was screened across the country in the lead up to the 2012 election.

In speaking about his generation of peers (the largest generation ever to live on planet Earth), David says: “we’re writing a new operating system that’s governing the world we’re all living in.” I believe he's got that right. And, I like knowing that there are people out there like David who are both leading the way and chronicling it as they go. Thanks for speaking with us David!


2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? I know how to do things I never would’ve learned how to do if I had set out to learn them. In other words, when you work in the kind of stuff that I do, it’s just creating your own work. It necessitates having to understand how to learn new skills on a regular basis. I’m much more open to new things and new ideas than when I started ten years ago. I learn things faster. It’s also made me more fearless in the things I can and can’t do. I rarely look at something and say “I could never do that.”

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? The ability to have impact and the ability to see impact in real time. For me, that’s the thing that’s really exciting - to be able to do something and see that come right back.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO, AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? There’s a guy named Jeff Skoll who runs a company called Participant Media who’s a real hero of mine because he’s thought about how film, media, and culture can help us solve social problems. It’s a great example of the idea that to get people excited about social issues and change we don’t have to do things that are boring or explicitly related to policy. He’s really challenged that. Olympia Snowe is also someone who’s been a hero of mine. She’s fought to make government work better, to make our political system more effective, and has such determination to bring more reasonable problem solving into government.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? There’s never going to be a better time (and I see it in my work all the time) to do so much with powerful ideas and intellect. Intelligence and the resolve to say “this something I’m really passionate about,” those can power everything. Passion is the raw fuel for any kind of movement to generate impact. If you don’t have passion, no amount of money can help you solve the problem, and if you do have it, you still need some resources but it makes it a lot easier to obtain them and get through it. People can tell when they sit down with you if you really care about something or not and if you’re more passionate about it, people feel you.

6. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? I wrote one! Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Your World.

7. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN-PHILANTHROPISTS? Make sure that you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. One of the most common challenges I see is that people don’t have a long term picture of where their work is going. If you’re thinking small, it’s actually more challenging than if you’re thinking about changing the entire system. It’s important to have in mind a big problem you want to solve first and then to go from there.

Everyone also needs to know what it is that they are good at – what skills they have. Individuals will find that their ability to create impact is found at the intersection of their skills and passion. You may have a great idea to do something but if it doesn’t line up with any raw skills you have, it’s probably going to be pretty challenging to do it. Or you need to figure out a way to make your raw skills fit into what your passion is about.

You also have to be regularly reflective about why you’re doing something. The more reflective you are about what you’re doing and why you do it, the more success you’ll have. Understanding why you’re behaving a certain way and making time for reflection on everything is really, really important and makes you stronger.

8. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATION SAYING? "I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” ― Paul Newman

9. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? Everybody should ask themselves the question – how can I help make the world a better place.  Is there some small way in which they can make things better or at least not make things worse?  What is it that you would like to make better?  What is it that you can do?  Maybe it’s not today, maybe it’s in three years, but be intentional about it.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG? My favorite song is Dignity by Bob Dylan.  In addition to being a major lifelong Bob Dylan fan, it’s just a great song about perspective and what it means to have dignity and integrity and where the value of dignity sits in our world.

LINKS: DavidBurstein.com (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)

Talking GOOD with Laura Senturia

Laura Senturia_Slider

Emily Michael passed away on October 19, 2008 at the age of nine. She was in the fourth grade. This sweet child from Centreville, VA suffered from “heart disease,” yet ironically, it was the strength of her heart that would become her greatest legacy. Laura Senturia, Emily’s fourth grade teacher at Colin Powell Elementary School, is personally invested in all of her students’ lives. Not only was Emily’s passing an emotional blow for Laura, but she had the unenviable task of delivering the news to Emily’s classmates. How does anyone find meaning in the death of a child? How do you explain it to other kids? How do you move forward productively and with hope? Laura’s approach can be found in one of her favorite sayings by novelist Vivien Greene: “Life isn't about waiting for the storms to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.”

In 2010, Laura’s school was participating in a community service program to help raise funds for and rehab a schoolhouse in Lilongwe, Malawi (Africa). Laura was able to obtain the necessary approvals so that the schoolhouse would be renamed in Emily’s loving memory. The effort galvanized an outpouring of funds and volunteerism, but it also galvanized something inside Laura. She wondered why this one effort half a world away should be the only living memorial to a girl whose sole purpose in life was to make other children feel better? Laura was now on a personal mission.

In 2011, Laura spearheaded the formation of Emily’s Hope, an organization dedicated to fulfilling the promise of Emily Michael, by making the lives of children better in small and large ways. This was uncharted territory for Laura. With no prior experience in the nonprofit sector, she was acting on instinct, compelled to find personal meaning by perpetuating the memory of another. On December 6, 2012, Laura had this to say on Facebook: “I have never been so happy to get a letter from the IRS. Emily's Hope is officially a tax exempt, tax deductible donation charity!!!”

It’s now February of 2014 and Laura continues to push this endeavor forward with determination and grit as President of the organization. It’s not easy. Still a full time teacher, she seeks mentoring, marketing assistance, and all of the resources that will allow her to continue honoring the legacy of her former student. Earlier I asked how one moves forward productively and with hope in the wake of an unthinkable loss? This is how. Laura is teaching her students – and all of us – an important lesson.

Thank you Laura, for telling us more ...

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To make the world a more meaningful place for others, and help others live life to the fullest.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? It has opened my eyes to how little it takes to make a difference for others, from the recognition that they are worth something to those around them, to the larger acts of rebuilding school buildings at an underfunded orphanage or funding school libraries where the money has run out.  All people simply want to matter to others.  Starting Emily's Hope has brought that point home to me.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? A true sense that I am part of a larger community, and that any act of kindness can truly make a difference.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO, AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Children are my heroes, especially those who are living with scant resources and/or through difficult situations.  Children are remarkably resilient and aware, and they know what they need in order to thrive.  That's what I want to ask:  what do you, as a child, need in order to live a meaningful and joy-filled life?

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? The most important resource we are in need of to achieve our goals is time.  Time to help us spread the word about what we are doing, time to help us set up creative fundraisers, time to find new projects that need our help.  Definitely, time!

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? Since we are a small and relatively new organization, I would ask others in this community what advice they would give to philanthropists that are just starting out.  What makes the greatest impact?  What messages speak most loudly and clearly to you?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Live With A Smile On Your Face. While a challenge to pull off at times, everything really is better when you smile and laugh your way through.  I try to really love life, and live it with a smile on my face and the faces of those around me.  Of course there are times to be sad, and mad, and so many other emotions.  But if you have smiled every day, and laughed every day, and made others smile and laugh with you, then that is an accomplishment!

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC. I want to see the St. Louis Cardinals play in every stadium in Major League Baseball, and I'm almost 1/2 of the way there.  As a child in St. Louis, we went to many games as a family.  Baseball became important to all of us as a source of joy, entertainment, and shared history  After my mother died when I was16, I held on to baseball as one of the gifts she gave me.  As our family has changed over the years, baseball is our constant.  My brother and father will be at a game in St. Louis that I'll be watching on my computer in Virginia, while on the phone with my sister in New York, all of us smiling.   Walking in to a stadium to see my hometown team makes me as excited as I was as a child, and I know my mom is cheering with me at every game.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN-PHILANTHROPISTS? There will always be obstacles, but if it means something to you, if it inspires you, DO IT!  You can make a difference for others, but not if you stop yourself from trying or talk yourself out of it.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Who is your inspiration?  ANSWER: My inspiration is the namesake of our organization, Emily Michael.  Despite spending her all too short life fighting a heart condition, there was not a day that I saw her--hospital included--without a smile on her face, and she was always doing acts of kindness for others.  Emily really and truly lived every day, and lived it in the fullest sense of the word.  The optimism, kindness, and joy with which she lived each day is what I want to share with the world.

LINKS: Emily's Hope (Tumblr, Facebook)

Talking GOOD with Susan Langford

Susan Langford, Magic Me, portrait July 2013

In indigenous societies, the concept of the “tribal elder” is universal, and age is synonymous with wisdom. In such cultures, elders remain vibrant members of their communities, while younger generations are beneficiaries of the elders’ many gifts. Conversely, the elders remain enriched by the ever-present vibrancy of youth. But in contemporary western societies, community-wide inter-generational engagement is no longer the norm. It’s a loss … for everyone.

Enter the United Kingdom’s Susan Langford. Her “magic” power is the ability to connect the young and the old (can we still use that word?) around profoundly engaging and creative activities. Through her organization, Magic Me, Susan is rekindling that inter-generational dynamic, enriching everyone who is touched by it.

Back in 1986, a 25-year-old Susan Langford was working in London as a community artist. It was around that time when she attended a talk by Kathy Levin Shapiro, a Baltimore, MD native who founded Magic Me to link at risk school students with nursing home residents. Inspired by Kathy’s work, Susan saw that the model could be applied in her own community, but she wanted to put her own spin on the program, building it around the arts. After several years of fundraising and pilot programming, Susan (along with colleague Stephen Clark) launched Magic Me as an independent charity in the U.K.

“I started setting up Magic Me when I was 28 and I am now 54. I am sure that my own aging has been affected by working on a daily basis with people aged 9 to 90 plus. Meeting regularly with people in their 70s, 80s, and more gives me a really healthy perspective on life.” Susan continues, “We live in a world so dominated by pressures to look and act ‘youthful’ and deny our natural aging, that I feel lucky to be able to accept and explore this process as my life's work.”

Right now, Susan is leading an inter-generational group, creating a short animated video for an anti-ageism campaign. 17 and 18 year old high school students are meeting with seniors (citizens) from East London, along with a photographer and storyteller from Magic Me. The gang has only a few months to learn animation techniques, develop the storyline and script, and produce/edit the film (not to mention orchestrate a marketing and social media campaign to get it to a worldwide audience). The film will premiere at the prestigious British Film Institute in London on May 14, 2014.

Thank you Susan for your work, for answering these questions, and for showing people how to fearlessly pursue a passion.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To make the most of all that is best about life on Earth and to enable others to discover and experience this for themselves.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? I started setting up Magic Me when I was 28 and I am now 54. I am sure that my own ageing has been affected by working on a daily basis with people aged 9 to 90+. Meeting regularly with people in their 70s, 80s and more, gives me a really healthy perspective on life, and I meet many individuals who are using their so called retirement years to learn, take on new challenges and try things they never had the chance to do before. We live in a world so dominated by pressures to look and act ‘youthful’ and deny our natural ageing, that I feel lucky to be able to accept and explore this process as my life's work – including feeling relaxed enough about my age to publish it on this website!

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Energy. Taking action often gives me energy and giving to others means that the action is bigger because I’m not doing it on my own.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO, AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Malala Yousafzai, campaigner for girls’ right to an education. Her calm strength and ability to grow as the situation demands is very inspiring. She is however just an extreme example of the many thousands of young women around the world fighting for justice, and I admire the way Malala gives them hope and a voice. I would ask her “what will you do next?” because I am sure Malala has a lifetime of achievement ahead.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? A Room of My Own, as Virginia Woolf put it. What I mean by this, is time and space to pause and reflect. In a busy day, and a world where busy-ness is one of the most valued things to be, I regularly need time to stop ‘doing’ and take stock. As an organisation Magic Me needs time for our team and our participants to sit and reflect together, to understand what we are doing and tune in, to plan so we know our goals are the right ones. Finances for 'thinking time' can be the hardest to raise – but the most important.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? What techniques and tools have you found to be successful to engage other people in your cause? The individual campaigner or social entrepreneur is a key in many campaigns and programmes, but can’t achieve much without building support and keeping others involved.

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Sharing the Experience is the title of my book – written with my long term colleague and friend Sue Mayo, Associate Artist at Magic Me, back in 2000. Our aim was to capture Magic Me’s philosophy and practice and share it with a wider community of artists, community builders, educators and care givers, interested in running their own inter-generational arts projects. But the philosophy rings true for our organisation – everything we do is a partnership with schools, older people’s groups, artists. No-one has all the answers and we need contributions from many points of view to create a rich and worthwhile experience for all.  The book combines text, photographs and stories, because each format speaks to us in different ways.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC. In my first ‘proper job’ with a graphic design agency, as a young graduate, I was too shy and socially inexperienced to pick up the phone and talk to strangers. In my first week I waited till colleagues went out to lunch to make phone calls. I wasn’t born with this essential skill; I had to learn it. It’s good to remember, when I am mentoring shy volunteers and students, or going into a new situation.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN-PHILANTHROPISTS? Don’t try to do everything yourself. Respect the talents, skills and viewpoints of other people and remember – they will be better than you at many things. By bringing together many perspectives, experiences and people, you will do more, build sustainability and stay in touch with other people’s day to day experiences and realities.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Where do you relax and find new energy after a hard day? ANSWER: One special time and place each Wednesday evening is my stained glass class, run by artist Sheenagh McKinlay in her East London studio, with a great team of classmates. If I arrive feeling too tired to be creative I always gain inspiration and energy from the beautiful glass – choosing just the right blue to go next to a particular red or green. A 7th century art form using lead and glass is my perfect antidote to IT problems!

LINKS: Magic Me (Facebook)

Talking GOOD with Renee Farwell

Renee Farwell 3

When asked for a favorite inspirational saying, Renee Farwell cites author/artist and fellow Iowan Brian Andreas: “There are things you do because they feel right and they may make no sense and they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other…” A statement like that, for many, evokes a warm smile and a nod. We relate to it because it touches that part of our brain which yearns to be carefree, spontaneous, impractical. Perhaps we might tweet it. But it’s only once you know the life path which Renee Farwell chose for herself that you can fully appreciate how profound and auto-biographical that saying truly is. “... they may make no sense and they may make no money …”

I wonder what Renee’s parents said when she first told them that she would be returning to Ghana, the West-African nation where she took her semester abroad while attending Chicago’s Roosevelt University. Did they think her decision was misguided? Were they supportive? Perhaps better than anyone, Renee’s parents recognized their daughter’s propensity for doing good and foresaw the seismic impact she would have in a community halfway around the world.

A few years earlier at the University of Ghana, Renee had met a young man named Eric Kwame Agoe.   Kwame, a native Ghanaian, lost his father at a young age and was forced to drop out of public school due to his inability to pay the required fees. As he grew, Kwame saw other young children in his Kissemah Village also suffer from an inability to afford schooling. After talking for a while with Renee at the copier, Kwame invited her to visit his village and help with the seven children being home schooled at Kwame's mother's house. She accepted his invitation. The experience changed her life.

Within a year, Kwame and Renee together established a free education and care facility in Kissemah Village. By January 2010, Mawuvio's (God's Children) Outreach Programme became a registered non-governmental and social welfare organization in Ghana. In November 2011 Mawuvio's Outreach Programme (MOP) became a registered 501(c)(3) organization in the United States. MOP provides educational and development services to orphans and disadvantaged sons and daughters on the streets who cannot afford the required fees to attend government schools in Ghana. Mawuvio's Outreach operates under the Ghana Education Service providing Nursery through Primary 6 basic education; English, Math, Science, Religious Moral Education (RME), Information Communication Technology (ICT), Citizenship Education and Creative Arts to children free of charge.

“… and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other…”

According to MOP board member Elena Arosemena, “Renee embodies the spirit, courage, and conviction of following your heart! She is an example to the world and what can be accomplished if you stick with your dreams and goals. She has overcome cultural, language, age, gender barriers, and is providing hope, opportunity, and education to amazing children who otherwise would not have a chance.”

This coming September, after a multi-year fundraising and construction effort, Renee, Kwame, and team will finally open the Mawuvio's Outreach Programme school building (classes are currently held outside). With the new facilities in place, their student population will grow appreciably. Now, their top priority will be to secure ongoing funding to keep the new school open and operating. Renee elaborates on this in the following video:

What began with just seven children on the porch of Kwame's Mother's home, has grown into a major operation that provides education, opportunities, and purpose to so many people; no one more so than Renee. As she says below, “I cannot imagine any other life than the one I am currently living.” Thanks for speaking with us Renee!

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To inspire youth to use education as a means to excel themselves, their families, and their communities out of the impoverished situations they come from and help them become successful, contributing members of society.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? Because of this work, I have found my purpose in life. Now, I cannot imagine any other life than the one I am currently living. It has made me more appreciative of everyday luxuries-- from running water to having access to education. Most importantly, I am single handedly assisting in, and witnessing, the development of the next generation of leaders in Ghana and the world at large.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Seeing my students make steps in their education, making sense of letters and numbers – putting them into words, sentences, math problems and being able to understand what they have just learned-- is a huge reward for me. Listening to students, who once had no dreams or purpose, as they talk about becoming a doctor, a teacher, president gives me hope for the future -- both for these children and the children Mawuvio’s Outreach Programme has yet to reach out to.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Any individual working to provide a means for youth to rise up out of poverty and lead successful lives; I would ask them how they do their work, what has worked well, what has not worked well, and can we keep in touch if I have more questions in the future?

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Ghana is a country with an immense amount of natural resources that can help our school become self-sufficient. We can utilize our land to farm food to feed our students 3 meals a day and sell remaining crops to generate income to support our monthly expenses. If we had program vehicles, we could operate them as public transportation when the program does not need them. A simple plot of farming land and a few buses would dramatically help us achieve our philanthropic goal of being a self-sustaining entity that does not rely on foreign funding.

6. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? “There are things you do because they feel right and they may make no sense and they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other.” ~Brian Andreas

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? “Stories From the Bench: Creating a One-Room School Under a Tree”

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? My father recently suddenly passed away. I was in Ghana when it happened and had to quickly travel home to the states. A lot of family and friends felt very bad that I was so far away at such a difficult time however I feel differently. The community I work in in Ghana has become a second family to me, they have met both my parents and care for me in the same way I am cared for by the family that raised me. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to grieve with both of my families during such a difficult time in my life.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Follow your instincts and do not over-think things.  Everyone has a purpose in this life and if you are patient and open to things, your purpose will find you.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: At what point did you know this was the work for you? ANSWER: The first day I visited Kissemah Village and met our initial group of 15 children. One little girl, Mary, held my hand asking me question upon question for the entire four hours I was there.  Although I left with an extremely sweaty hand I knew that I would return and continue returning to Kissemah to answer as many questions as I could.

Web sites:  Mawuvio's Outreach Programme (Facebook, Twitter)

Talking GOOD with Joyce & Ted Kruse

Joyce & Ted Kruse2_Slider

Joyce and Ted Kruse are wealthy beyond measure. Both in their 60s and retired, this husband and wife team of 23 years travels internationally, they operate their own charitable organization, are active members in the church community, and serve as an inspiration to many. Co-founders of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Neighbors Near & Far, the Kruses' operation is set up in the basement of their Baltimore, MD row house. Together they offer all of their support to the local community food bank Assistance Center of Towson Churches (the "Near"), and to the Christian Concern for Haiti and its two orphanages, Kay Papa Nou and Unity House (the "Far").

According to friend and fellow traveler Wayne Fritze, “[Joyce and Ted] are tireless in their support of the children in Haiti. Joyce has visited 14 times in four years, often sleeping on the floor of the orphanage so she can better understand how the girls live. She does not want to be thought of as a privileged ‘Blanc,’ as white Americans are generally thought of in Haiti.”

Prior to their marriage, both Ted and Joyce lived in Saudi Arabia. Joyce spent much of her childhood there while Ted worked in Riyadh in the 1980’s. Later, Joyce was a packaging engineer with Unilever and Ted, a college librarian. In fact, it was Ted’s contacts with magazines and newspapers which became their primary source of charitable funding. According to Ted, “most of our support comes from the sale of donated books. Magazine and newspapers regularly receive free books from publishers in the hope of a book review or other mention. Some publications receive more than three hundred books per month and are very willing to donate these books to a worthy cause that will remove the books from their offices.”

To bring this full circle, when I say that Joyce and Ted are “wealthy,” I’m not referring to the size of their bank account (of which I have no knowledge); I’m speaking in the more humanistic and spiritual sense of the word. The Kruses are wealthy because they have dedicated their second act to making the world a better place. Their time, money, talent, networks, resources, all of it is spent in the service of others. Clearly their lives are richer for what they’re doing, as are the communities and the people they touch. Thank you both for your generosity in answering these questions.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? The purpose of life is to serve others, especially the poor. 

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the work in Haiti has renewed our belief that there is much good in the world. People unknown to us have supported Neighbors Near & Far financially. In Haiti, people who have very few material possessions are often willing to share with others.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Neighbors Near & Far is very small, but we will make a big difference in the lives of the 30+ children in Haiti. Just because we cannot solve all the problems of poverty in Haiti does not mean there is nothing we can do.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? We are fortunate to have a living hero, Dr. Cecil De Sweemer, who we communicate with regularly. Dr. De Sweemer is a medical missionary in rural Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is 74 years old and has Parkinson’s but still regularly sees patients and administers the project, Butoke.  All her pension and Social Security income is used to run Butoke. She is a model of sacrificial living.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Haiti and our orphanages have a host of needs.  Because of the lack of infrastructure, the only ways to transport goods to Haiti is by airline luggage or large overseas shipping containers. These transport restrictions mean we must turn-down most material donations. Financial support is the best way for donors to support Neighbors Near & Far.

6. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? The Second Half is the Best would be the book title. We hope our work in retirement with Neighbors Near & Far will be the most productive part of our lives.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? We are both rather private persons so sharing personal thoughts with others is difficult. So, what we rarely share would be a long list.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Many people are purpose-driven philanthropists but fail to do the basic setup for a sustainable organization. At the very minimum, get a bank account in the organization’s name to separate personal and charitable funds. Incorporate to further support the separation and to get certain legal protections. Get 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service to insure donations are tax deductible.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: Why do you want to be on this blog? ANSWER: We were reluctant to submit to Talking GOOD because we believe the focus should not be on us (Matthew 6:1-4). Our hope is that readers of this blog will be inspired to start their own projects. It really is possible to run a charity that makes a difference out of a basement of a Baltimore row house. Our belief is retired people have a lifetime of experience and many contacts will be even more successful than younger purpose-given philanthropists.

LINKS: Neighbors Near & Far


Talking GOOD with Zach Bonner

Zach Bonner_Slider2

Who would play you in a movie about your life? That was the hypothetical question I used to ask people featured in this series. So I wonder what young Zach Bonner thought when he learned that there was going to be a movie about his life. Barely a teenager at the time, Zach's story would soon be made into a major motion picture from the director who brought us Rudy and Hoosiers (quite possibly the two most inspiring movies ever made). In case you're wondering, the role of Zach was given to child actor Chandler Canterbury, born in 1998 -- just a year after Zach.

So who is Zach Bonner and what did he do to have his story told on the big screen? (**SPOILER ALERT**) Perhaps it's the fact that at the age of seven, he started a nonprofit to aid poverty-stricken children. Or perhaps it was his 2,500 mile walk from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans at age 13, raising awareness for homelessness. Maybe it's because he's a really great guy!! According to producer Dr. Michael Guillen, "Zach Bonner represents everything that is good in the American character ... the best of vision, of courage, of perseverance."

When Hurricane Charley hit Tampa in August of 2004, a seven year old Zach Bonner pulled his little red wagon from house to house, collecting 27 truckloads of disaster supplies, including tarps and bottled water, which he then distributed to families affected by the devastation. One year later, he established the organization "to continue helping kids more efficiently"and because federal law restricted how many donations he could receive. The organization was christened the "Little Red Wagon Foundation."

What soon followed was an epic series of increasingly challenging walks to raise awareness, funds, and resources for impoverished Americans. 2007: Tampa to Tallahassee, FL. 2008: Tallahassee to Atlanta, GA. 2009: Atlanta to Washington, DC. And 2010: Tampa to Los Angeles, CA. That last walk took Zach six month. By 2010, a thirteen year old Zach Bonner had logged almost 4,000 miles on his young legs and had created a movement in the process. After all, how many teenagers do you know that have their own Wikipedia page, received the Presidential Service Award from our Commander in Chief, been named a hometown hero by Reader's Digest, and perhaps most notably, have Paris Hilton gushing over them on YouTube?

This past March, Zach lived seven days in a 512 cubic feet plexiglass box in a field. With plywood serving as the box's bottom, pieces of cardboard, and a sleeping bag, Zach aimed to recreate a homeless person's lodgings. Naming his fundraising effort "Zach In A Box", he encourage people to donate nonperishable food. He wanted to coat all four walls of his box with donated canned food items (see picture). After seven days of donations and financial contributions, Zach presented 6,000 cans of food to a local shelter.

At the end of his cross-country walk, Zach quoted an ancient Chinese proverb: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." He followed this wisdom up with some of his own: "Most people don’t walk a thousand miles, or 2,500, but … we all need to take that first step to get something big done." I know that Zach has many more meaningful steps ahead of him, and would be honored to walk alongside him. Thanks for answering these questions Zach!

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To make a positive difference in the lives of others.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? I believe it has shaped me into a better person. I have grown up in a world of philanthropy and because of that, I have experienced a lot more than the average 16-year-old.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I get a feeling of fulfillment, in every way, that nothing else in life can offer.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I have several heroes in life. Oprah, whose story from her childhood is a large part of why I do what I do. President Clinton, Mother Teresa, and Bill Gates - for obvious reasons. Elton John would have to be my greatest hero. He had it all and realized he really had nothing without helping others. He uses his fame now for positive purposes and has helped more lives than anyone could ever count. I am not sure what I would ask him but I would love to be a tag-along on one of his trips to Africa and meet the kids that he helps everyday.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? A million dollars would be a great start. However, I do believe that we don't really need anything more than just random acts of kindness to solve many of the worlds problems. Imagine how awesome the world would be, if every day every person just did one kind act towards another.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? After reading about me, what will you go and do to make a difference in the world?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? I would entitle it “The Beginning of Me.”

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I have a major crush on Maia Mitchell who stars in The Fosters. I would love to meet her.

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? Just get out and do it. If you think about it too much you will think of a million reasons why you can't do it. Realize that you have incredible power as an individual … you really can change the world.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG AND WHO IS THE ARTIST? “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I really believe that we could cut the numbers of homeless youth in the USA by a substantial amount if people would be less judgmental. Here in the USA 40% of homeless youth are GBLTQ; in Canada the number is 5%. Why?

LINKS: Little Red Wagon Foundation (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)

Talking GOOD featured at TechBreakfast

Last month, I presented the brand new Talking GOOD platform at a TechBreakfast in Baltimore, MD. With me was my friend Hunter Barrington, principal of FTW Development, the firm that developed the new site. Seven minutes is not much of a window to present, and I'm certain that I spent way too much time discussing the WHY behind the project, as opposed to the WHAT and the HOW. Nevertheless, it was fun sharing Talking GOOD with the local technology community and some interesting opportunities have arisen as a result. Thanks to Ron Schmelzer at TechBreakfast for inviting us to present!

Talking GOOD with Derrius Quarles

Derrius Quarles_Slider_Small

Derrius Quarles is a “million dollar scholar” from the south-side of Chicago. It’s a rare juxtaposition, but simply uttering those words makes you realize that Derrius is a rare individual. Still in his early 20s, Derrius is proud to relate his “hero’s journey” (a journey he is still very much on), and hopes that his many experiences will inspire others who face their own uphill climbs.

From his bio: “As a product of the Illinois foster care system and the south side of Chicago; higher education did not seem like a feasible possibility for him. More accessible were the fleeting opportunities of the urban streets.” When Derrius was four years old, his father was murdered, and the following year he was taken away from his mother’s custody. “Traversing the foster care system for nine years, the challenges of the inner-city almost led him down a path of crime and fast money.”

Everything changed one morning in high school when a caring biology teacher said to Derrius: “You have so much potential, and yet you choose to waste it.” Those simple words were an awakening to Derrius. “Of course I can do it” he thought. And he did. In just the next few years, he was awarded more than $1,000,000 in academic scholarships – an amazing feat for any student (the following video details his journey from childhood to college).

Although there were many potential scholarships available when Derrius sought financial aid, there were no resources on how to apply effectively. Upon his college graduation, Derrius made it his mission to help other promising students tap the potential financial resources available for higher education. He founded Million Dollar Scholar, a social business that bridges the scholarship information gap and provides tangible resources to help students gain financial-aid to fund their dreams. He talks about his business and “how-to” book here on CNN.

Million Dollar Scholar offers writing tips and free writing feedback, resume help and templates, simulated interviews and more. With the tools and training necessary to have a winning shot in the “scholarship race” readily available, Derrius is attempting to make college more affordable for those who need it to be. My sincere thanks Derrius for leading by example, for morphing your struggles in to wins (both for you and others), and for taking the time to answer our questions.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To create change in my community and the world by being a gentleman when difficult, a servant when needed, and a rebel when necessary.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? It has changed me in many ways. It has helped me identify the most important features of a personally fulfilled life. For instance, achieving personal goals like becoming the first in my family to gain a college education is amazing, but through helping other students do the same with Million Dollar Scholar, I have realized that being a catalyst to others' goals is much more challenging and rewarding. Now, I cannot imagine giving effort to a profession that did not have this dynamic – catalyzing others – at its core. This work has shown me that entrepreneurship is not the paradise life so many websites, personalities, and organizations these days are promoting it to be to my generation. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I am a part of a generation being inundated with too much positivity when it comes to entrepreneurship. Now this is Talking GOOD, so of course we rep the positive, but I realize now that there must be a greater balance in the message because the reality of entrepreneurship is that the struggle is real. It requires a tenacity and tolerance for risk that cannot be fully understood when you are only doing it part-time as a hobby or side-hustle. Thus, this work has helped me see that some things can only be fully comprehended from the inside looking out. I am more patient today than I was previously; I place greater value on being a leader than I do being in charge and I owe all of this to the work I have committed myself to.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I once wrote in my journal “to give selflessly, is my selfish motive.” This statement not only rolled off the tongue well, but also it perfectly summarized what I receive from giving: joy. Like many change makers, I derive a unique happiness from giving and am not ashamed to say that, especially giving things that cannot be easily quantified unlike money or time.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Nelson Mandela is definitely a living hero for me and if I had the privilege, I would ask him two questions

1. What advice would your 30-year-old self provide to young leaders who want to create change in their local and global community? 2. What wisdom do you currently offer young leaders who want to create change in their local and global community?

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Well, in the world of social entrepreneurship we could all use some more funding; it is surely no different with my goals at Million Dollar Scholar. However, greater than the funding, I would say quality business advisement and mentorship in the realms of business, scaling and sustaining social impact, will be key resources in this arduous journey to growing Million Dollar Scholar into the first financially sustainable educational technology and services company focusing on financial accessibility of higher-ed. We are also currently looking for someone to manage our social media so we can increase awareness and enhance our visibility.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? How expensive does higher education have to become before we pause and realize that we have made something so integral to the progress of society inaccessible to the average citizen.

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Well, humbly I have authored a book already, but it's a how-to for students looking to go to college for free; one can learn more about that here. Now it sounds like you are looking for a memoir-esque book title and that would be The Star Amongst Darkness.

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? Actually, this is something I have never shared in public. I only have one picture of my father in my possession. It is a picture I received when I was 15 years old. I keep the picture taped to the last page of my passport.  For me, this is a very special place to keep it because I know that my father never had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States. Really, he did not have the opportunity to do many things because he was murdered in his early 30s. I often ponder what his dreams were – where did he want to go, what did he want to do, what was on his bucket list? Essentially, there is no right or wrong answer because I was so young when he was murdered that my memories of him are basically stories other people have told me, thus, the possibilities are endless. I have traveled to 15 different countries in four years and I have traveled with him by my side on every adventure. Even if he never wanted to go to any of those places (though I believe he did), I have dragged him along with me and in my heart I feel that he would be both grateful and proud of me for it.

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? "The entire world will move for a person who knows where they are going."

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: What is your definition of failure? ANSWER: Accepting mediocrity when greatness is possible.

LINKS: Million Dollar Scholar (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn)

Talking GOOD with Nancy Lublin

Nancy Lublin_Slider

Many companies have CEOs and CFOs, but only one has the COP, otherwise known as the “Chief Old Person.” For DoSomething.org, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to giving young people the resources to begin campaigns for social change, Nancy Lublin serves as the CEO and COP. Now 41-years-old, Nancy isn’t exactly what you'd call an “old person;” rather, her title reflects the experience and insight that she's gained over the course of a dynamic career.

Taking a small start-up or a dwindling giant and making it thrive again is no easy feat; Nancy has done both. First, she parlayed a $5,000 inheritance into Dress for Success, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women transition from welfare to the work world (to date they’ve served more than 700,000 women). In 2003, after ensuring the sustainability of Dress for Success, Nancy left to turnaround and radically reshape a slumping not-for-profit called DoSomething.org. The organization had recently laid-off nearly every employee and it was $250,000 in debt.  Nancy closed its brick and mortar offices and moved the entire operation to the Interweb, utilizing online marketing and social campaigns to the organization’s advantage. Her plan worked. Within six months, DoSomething.org was back on its feet and better than ever. In 2012 alone, over two million people took action through the organization.

Although very different situations (a start-up and a turnaround), the common thread in both of these experiences was that Nancy built something big, beginning with very little. She wrote about this core leadership strength in her first book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business (Portfolio Hardcover, 2010). Within its pages, Nancy explains how to get more done with less – an art that she has clearly mastered. Watch Nancy explain how she secured office space for her first non-profit in the attached video. You'll see what she's talking about. More with less.

At the risk of over-hyphenating, Nancy Lublin is a tenacious, tell-it-like-it-is, won't-take-no-for-an-answer, get-the-job-done, leader. I admire those characteristics tremendously and firmly stand behind her "do something" approach to work and living. And as a fellow 41-year-old, I want to say how awesome it is that she has accomplished so much at SUCH A YOUNG AGE! Thanks for answering these questions Nancy.

1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? To help other people make good shit happen.

2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? It’s made me fat and happy. Literally.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? The cliché - “you get by giving" - is true...and not true. Actually, some people you invest in can really disappoint. Sometimes people aren't ready, or aren't interested, or aren't grateful. I don't give to people because I expect a reaction. I lean into people because I think it’s the right thing to do, regardless.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? Nelson Mandela. He went to prison for three decades, came out, and forgave his captors--not because of religious conviction, but because it was what was best for his country. He could have been king or president for life, but he stepped down at the end of his term to give way to the democratic process in South Africa.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? It would be super awesome to be rich. I think I'd be a really good billionaire.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? When is the last time you laughed so hard that you cried?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? I'm working on my next book now. It’s called "Things Old People Should Know About Young People."

8. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I'm a sharer. Can't imagine anything I've kept private.

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Are you creating a new term here? Philanthropist means MONEY, not action. So, I guess my advice is marry rich, buy low and sell high, and play the lottery. And, if you want to be a great citizen, ask questions, often.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? Never be too proud or too busy to stop and pick up a penny in the rain. (I made that one up; it’s my personal motto.)

LINKS: DoSomething.org (Facebook, Twitter),  Nancy Lublin on Twitter

Talking GOOD with Arthur Morgan

Arthur Morgan_Slider

Arthur Morgan’s eyes are wide open. As the downtown Baltimore farmers’ market winds down for the day, he watches as vendors dispose of their unsold produce; the fresh fruit and vegetables ending up at the bottom of trash bins instead of hungry stomachs. Not being one to stand by idly, Arthur identifies the problem, recognizes an opportunity, and acts on it. In so doing, he changes the course of his life as well as thousands of others. It is in Arthur’s DNA to take action. “If you see a problem … fix it,” he says. And food waste is the mother of all problems. Every year in the United States, 19 billion (yes, billion) pounds of healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables are left to rot, never finding the way to wanting mouths. What happened that day at the farmers’ market ignited a passion in Arthur that has now evolved into the community-wide endeavor, Gather Baltimore.

Gather Baltimore (“Gather” in shorthand) is a volunteer-based program that collects produce donated by local farms, farmers’ markets, and produce distributors. The organization then transports and distributes all the healthy food to financially challenged families in communities where fresh food is not readily available. Farmers no longer have to dispose of leftovers and low-income families gain access to carrots, corn, and a host of other healthy foods. It’s an elegant solution to a daunting problem.

Arthur began Gather from humble beginnings. With only his pick-up truck and a few plastic storage bins for food, he would routinely transport as much as he could carry to a local nonprofit. However, as Gather began to expand, a few bins turned into dozens, and the pick-up truck turned into a full-fledged refrigerated truck.  According to Arthur, "there’s always more that can be done." In 2012, Arthur received a $60,000 fellowship from the Open Society Institute to continue scaling his efforts.

As an example of how much food we’re talking about, the 2013 Baltimore Running Festival had over 12,000 pounds of bananas, apples, oranges, and other fruit leftover from the race. Thanks to Gather, every last pound was taken to the Oliver Farm Stand in East Baltimore where it was all distributed to very appreciative families. This kind of mobilization involves many people. And Arthur is the first to credit Gather Baltimore's success to the efforts of volunteers who collect, pack, transport and distribute food to those in need.  Right now, it's a numbers game. As volunteerism rises, so to does the organization's capacity to provide healthy produce to low income families. If after reading this interview, you feel moved to volunteer, please visit this link and give Arthur my regards. Thanks for all you do Arthur!


2. HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU? It has allowed me to see more people that need help. The more I see and the more I connect with communities, the more I know there is so much more to be done and more people to help. As I connect with more farmers and food distributors, I see just how much more food could be captured and used to feed the hungry.

3. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? Giving helps me stay busy, keep active, and gives me more energy to help more people.

4. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I don’t have any living heroes. I respect a lot of people who work really hard and understand that life is hard. You have to work to get things and make a difference, whether it’s in your family, your community, or in the world.

5. WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS? Funding seems to be the biggest barrier to getting Gather really going full steam ahead. We need operating funds to build and run coolers to store the food we gather. If we had access to refrigeration, we could double the amount of food we save and distribute from 30,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds a week.  We could use funding to hire a volunteer coordinator to help work with the hundreds of volunteers. We have amazing community support and small funders and donors; without them, we could not have gotten this far. We are looking for a way to make Gather a sustainable organization that does not need to rely on grant funding, but rather just some general operating funds to secure salaries and equipment – this would really help us get to the next level.

6. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? How, with the abundance of food that exists in this country, are any of our citizens hungry, and how can so many of our fellow citizens not know where their next meal will come from. How is access to healthy food a problem in this country, and how can there be so much food waste in this country? How do we put the pieces of food waste and hunger together on a large scale to make both of these problems cancel each other out?

7. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? I am not a writer and could never write a book. But, if I had to come up with a title it would be “The World is Full of Bullshit and Bullshitters." I’m not trying to be a smart ass. I just see that there are doers and there are "talkers." You just gotta find the doers to get stuff done!

8. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

9. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS?  Do not listen to the negative. If you see a problem and have an idea to try and fix it, give it a shot. There is always more that can be done.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? I wish you had asked to take a tour of the operation. I would have said "yes." Then I would have shown you the locations where we gather the food and the places we take it. I would have introduced you to all the great people who are working to make Baltimore a better place. Gather Baltimore is not just me, it is the different organizations and groups that we bring food too; it’s the farmers that work hard every day to grow the food; it’s the produce distributors that donate food; it’s the volunteers that show up every Sunday to collect produce at the farmers market; and it’s the hundreds of people that wait in line for hours each week for access to food to feed their loved ones fruits and vegetables.

LINKS: Gather Baltimore (Facebook, Twitter)