Finding My Calling as an Animal Lover & Advocate

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Growing up, my heart would break for animals that I would see roaming the streets and highways alone.  They needed a loving home, and I always wanted to give it to them. I was that little girl who gave guinea pigs as birthday gifts in elementary school. Sadly though, I think I was more excited to give them than my friends were to receive them.

We all have moments in our lives that mold us into who we are. When I was 19-years-old, I lived in Salinas, California. One day as I was driving, I spotted a small huddle of people surrounding an injured dog on the side of the road. I parked my car and began to hurriedly make my way over. The dog looked severely hurt, and the pain in his whimpers brought tears to my eyes. None of the other bystanders wanted to approach the injured dog, as she had begun growling and showing her teeth out of fear. I slowly kneeled down and looked softly into her eyes, assuring her that I was a friend. The whimpers slowly subsided and she began to slowly move her snout in my direction. I gently reached my hand to her head and began to comfortingly pet her.

She tried to get up but her back legs were paralyzed and could not support her weight. I asked the man standing there to open my trunk and take out the back board covering my spare and to bring it over. He brought it and we slid her on to the board and gently put her in my back seat.

I rushed her over to the pet hospital. When we arrived I had an emergency vet help me bring her inside. As I supported her head in my hands, I shouted that my dog had been hit by a car and if there was anything they could do to save her.  That poor angel looked into my eyes one last time, and passed away in the arms of people who loved and cared about her.

Pets occupy such a large place in so many Americans’ hearts. The connection we forge with these animals goes so much further than we even realize. It’s so important that we as people care for these animals that have been neglected and not given warm, loving homes. I’ve made it my mission to help as many dogs as I can.  My passion for pets has since led me to launch my own company, ZuGo Pet.  Through ZuGo, I created the first multifunctional pet carrier for small pets that incorporates a carrier, purse, leash, bed and carseat into one innovative safety product.   Additionally, for every product purchased, we donate a portion of the sale to Dogs Without Borders.

It’s no secret why we refer to dogs as, “Man’s best friend.” One quick glance and their loyal, unconditional love is made clear. That is why I feel so strongly about caring for dogs and animals. Shouldn’t we reciprocate the same love and loyalty they offer to us?  Keep that in mind the next time you see an abandoned or hurt animal. We’re all here to be loved and cared for. Be sure your pet knows how much you love him or her by giving him/her the love, safety and care they deserve.

 

 

 

How to Give Back Even If You Don’t Work For a Non-Profit

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While getting ready with my friends to go out on New Year’s Eve, I asked one who works finance how her work was going. At our age, we should be proud when our friends are excelling in their fields – after all, we did graduate from college during one of the worst financial crises in history. My friend mentioned she had just been promoted, and I cheered and told her it was a great way to ring in the new year. She frowned and quickly said, “But it’s not what I want to do, I want to do something that makes a difference.”

I was shocked. As one of the few from my group who ventured into the nonprofit world, most of my friends didn’t understand why I would want to work in this field. I was even more shocked when the rest of the group started commenting on how they had a desire to do something that makes a difference but did not know how to do that and stay in their current career fields. I kept repeating the same sentiment: that they could keep their careers and give back at the same time.

Charities have a history of focusing on the older generations for philanthropy. That trend has changed in recent years as Generation Y entered the workforce, yet as I saw with my friends, many millennials do not know where to start when they want to contribute.

Here is a helpful list that I share when discussing philanthropy with my friends.

1. Give Your Time and Money:
People often see volunteering time and donating money as mutually exclusive – you do one of the other. But I believe that doing both creates a real relationship between the nonprofit and the donor. Were you active in a youth group in high school? Donate directly, learn how your support is used within the organization and then volunteer to be a part of that work.

2. You Can Have A Heart and a Voice:
I have friends that tell me they give to charities but often feel voiceless when they disagree with policies or read the news about a charity taking on a project that does not align with their mission. A great way to have a voice is to join a junior board. Charities are focusing on creating a pipeline of support, and junior boards are comprised of liked-minded young professionals who want to give back and want a place at the table. Don’t know where to start? LinkedIn makes it easy to search for board positions as well as volunteer positions. You can also view profiles of nonprofits to learn more about the responsibilities that are associated with serving on their junior board.

3. Do Good Together
We often want to get involved, but really don’t want to do it alone. Create a spin team to cycle against cancer or organize a group to cook a meal at the Ronald McDonald House. People often talk about how if you have a buddy to go to the gym with, you are less likely to skip working out. I often tell people to find a philanthropic activity you can participate in with friends. If friends are involved, you’re more likely to show up, and volunteering together can be a great way to bond.

We are all busy with work and stressed out by deadlines, and as millennials we often share this feeling of wanting more out of our daily routines. Luckily, it is easier than you may think to find ways to give back that you can really feel good about.

(Photo by Emily Long)

 

Fashion With a Purpose: Be stylish and do good

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Photo submitted by author

The fashion world can be polarizing – you’re either “in” or “out”, “hot” or “not”, “fresh” or a “fad”. But whether you think the wide world of fashion is fabulous and fierce or elitist and bizarre, there’s probably one word that doesn’t immediately come to mind: philanthropic. In reality, social good and fashion are more connected than you may think.

Recently, the idea of “fashion with a purpose” has taken the industry by storm, with brands like TOMS Shoes trailblazing the concept of giving back while getting something fashionable and on-trend in return. But while some may believe TOMS is the first to make the connection, the roots intertwining fashion and philanthropy go back even further.

I can remember first coming across the fashion with a purpose concept in my teens through Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, an initiative of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This initiative kicked off in the early 90’s, selling one-of-a-kind T-shirts to benefit breast cancer charities. While I was too young to understand the deep connection to this important cause, I did understand that when I bought one of their bulls-eye designed T-shirts, I was supporting a good cause. Sold! It was more than enough for me to fork over my hard-earned weekly allowance to support a good cause while wearing something that looked cool. From then on, I’ve been motivated by the idea of fashion with a purpose, and eventually found a way to incorporate it into my start-up.

I started my for-profit business, UChic, with the goal of selling products that help young women pursue life-changing experiences. After wrapping up a successfully funded Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, we’ve initiated production on our first tech fashion product – the “Gracie” computer case. At UChic, it’s not just about creating trendy accessories; it’s about giving back to our community and doing the most amount of good through every product we sell. In fact, a portion of our product sales will go to support our 1,000 Dreams Fund, which provides scholarships to help girls access opportunities and cover educational expenses that support their academic and career goals. With the help of the Indiegogo campaign, we now have the capital needed to launch our company’s mission to fund 1000 dreams through our product sales – and we’ve started by funding the dreams of the first 13 remarkable girls. Who knew a computer case could have such power?

Of course, my company is not the only one operating in this fashion with a purpose space. Many brands have ventured into social enterprise, defining success by not only sales, but by how much good they can create in the world. Below are some of my favorite examples of fashion and beauty brands doing right by their customers and the greater community:

Sevenly: To date, online fashion retailer Sevenly has raised over $4 million for causes ranging from anti-bullying to education to protecting young girls in Africa, and much more. The brand goes a step further to raise awareness, working to integrate the causes they champion into the design of the products they sell. It’s not just about selling products, it’s about starting conversations about things that matter. For every product purchased, Sevenly donates $7 to a chosen cause.

Feed Projects: Founded by Lauren Bush, Feed Projects is dedicated to providing meals to children around the world. Each bag sold is tied to a specific, tangible impact. For example, by purchasing the FEED 1 Bag, you’re providing one child with school meals for one year.

MAC: You’ve probably heard of the popular cosmetic brand, MAC, but you may not know the incredible philanthropic impact they have through the “Viva Glam” product line. Over the past 18 years, MAC has created seven exclusive Viva Glam makeup products and donates 100 percent of the purchase price toward helping women, men and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

As a high-profile industry with a tendency to disrupt the status quo and start conversations, fashion has a unique power to raise awareness for important causes and affect change in a big way. And you can help. By supporting brands that give back, you’re playing a role in changing the world around you. Just by stocking your closet and makeup bag with responsibly-made and responsibly-sold products, you’re making the world a little more fabulous each time.

As we approach the new year, I’m incredibly inspired by the potential fashion has to positively impact the world in which we live, and can’t wait to see the kind of innovation that the new year will bring.

 

My Personal Battle Versus Pancreatic Cancer

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Photo submitted by author

There is no test to detect pancreatic cancer early. It’s the most lethal cancer there is. Luckily for me, it was found by chance, so I am here today as a pancreatic cancer survivor.

In 2011, I was a busy, 18-year-old college freshman suffering from back pain that was so intense I couldn’t even sleep. Despite multiple doctor visits, no one could identify what was wrong. They thought it was kidney stones, or stress, or I needed a massage. This was so frustrating, as I now know that back pain is one of pancreatic cancer’s silent symptoms.

During this time I had some routine dental surgery, but my recovery went terribly wrong. I went into septic shock. That’s when an emergency CT scan revealed I had pancreatic cancer. I was terrified. A friend’s father and my uncle had passed away from pancreatic cancer, so I knew how quickly this disease could progress. Here I was at 18 having to face the same thing, thinking, am I next? It is extremely rare for someone my age to get pancreatic cancer, but it can happen. This disease can strike anyone at anytime.

Since then, I feel as though pancreatic cancer has completely changed me physically, mentally and emotionally. I have undergone an operation called the Whipple, a complicated procedure involving the pancreas and surrounding organs, and one of the few treatment options available to patients if the disease is caught in its earliest stages. The result means that unlike other people my age, I have to think twice about where I go, what I eat or drink, how late I stay out or how often, because I can become really ill.

I also find it harder to relate to my peers when they worry about typical stuff like dating. Things like this are not a big deal to me. I am a much stronger person, having gone through this trauma at such a young age. I also remove anyone or anything that is negative from my life much more quickly than I would have if I hadn’t had this experience.

However, one of the things that has remained the same is my desire to make a difference. That’s why I joined with The Lustgarten Foundation, the largest nonprofit funder of pancreatic cancer research in the U.S. I first got involved with their Pancreatic Cancer Research Walks, especially since every single dollar raised or donated to the Foundation goes right to research (find more information at www.curePC.org). So I signed up my friends and family to walk at Jones Beach on Long Island and in New York City where I was first invited to share my experience in front of thousands of people. And I have been sharing my story ever since.

It is really inspiring to see the positive reaction to my involvement. This drives me to not let the ups and downs of this disease get in the way of what I, like any normal 21-year-old, want: to travel, graduate college, move out of my parents’ home, buy my first car, and do something meaningful with my career. I’m a nursing major and dream of becoming like one of the great nurses who took care of me. I want to reach people in ways that they’ll never forget.

No matter what I do, beating this disease and helping others by raising awareness about pancreatic cancer will be a part of it. Anyone can get pancreatic cancer, that’s why we need everyone to join us in this fight for a cure.

Check out the curePC Courage Project, an online video series from The Lustgarten Foundation and Cablevision Systems Corporation’s curePC campaign, featuring stories from Alicia and others who also have been impacted by pancreatic cancer ”.  And consider making a donation here – every dollar goes straight to research.

 

More than a Vacation

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Photo by Emily Long

My passion for traveling has allowed me to experience different parts of the world and see some amazing landscapes, try exotic foods and get lost in new environments. Yet, at times, I have found that my travels feel a bit selfish and just contribute to my own need for adventure and escapism. I only get a taste of the culture from an outsider’s view and never fully understand the lives of the native people or make a genuine connection.

Deciding to take a chance on a new kind of travel experience, my boyfriend and I signed up for a volunteer trip with Waves of Hope (WOH) in Nicaragua, a country we have always wanted to visit. Without knowing what to really expect, we went on the trip with open minds and a hope to at least bond in a new way. Upon arrival at El Coco Loco in Manzano Uno we were greeted by an enthusiastic group of North Americans committed to improving the lives of the surrounding community and to providing a memorable experience for all volunteers.

A typical day with WOH started with a morning surf at sunrise, connecting with the other volunteers and enjoying the beauty of the Nicaraguan coastline. For me, surfing requires patience, courage and presence to fully experience the moment and connect with the ocean. Thus, the perfect start to the day! A much needed, breakfast was comprised of homemade peanut butter, bread and granola as well as seasonal fruit and a full hot breakfast. Incorporated into daily meals were superfoods from the region, raw ingredients and antioxidant rich fresh juices. The food was creative, delicious and served in appropriate portions that left us satiated without the typical American food coma.

Next we headed out for the service part of the day with three local Nica WOH employees; Katya, Lester and Ezekiel. These three were the perfect hosts, guides and leaders who were always quick to help us with our broken Spanish or answer a ridiculous question or keep us on track at the worksite. After spending a week sweating, playing, laughing and talking with our new friends I learned a lot about their lives, their perceptions of gringos and our shared aspirations for the future. At last I had found the connection with locals I’ve been seeking while traveling!

The main reason we were in Nicaragua was to help build a new elementary school. Upon seeing the state of the current school I felt sincere gratitude to have the opportunity to help give the children a new structure that will provide shelter and cultivate a much better environment for learning. As the kids were taking lessons under a thatch roof held up by a few poles and corrugated steel we were 15 meters away digging trenches for the foundation of the new school. The new school is being built with concrete to protect from the wind and rain and keep the kids, desks and school supplies safe. Let’s be honest, digging trenches, carrying bricks and moving rocks is not exactly my strong suit, but it was by far my favorite part of the volunteer experience. Working with the local contractors, seeing our progress and giving back felt extremely gratifying. And of course interacting with the kids and finding ways to communicate without sharing the same language was a humbling experience.

We wrapped up each day with a restorative yoga session in a beautiful open-air, raised studio. The hour allowed our bodies to relax while listening to the ocean, birds, breeze and insects. The yoga provided a time to reflect on each day and reconnect with our intentions for the trip. I cherished the evenings after yoga when we all shared stories of the day and dreamed up ways to further help the community that had given us so much during our stay. As I left the eco-resort I felt that I was leaving a smaller footprint than I usually do on my travels, and had a greater understanding of the Nicaraguan culture and people.

Looking back on the trip now I can say that the experience greatly exceeded my expectations in many ways. Having had a few days to reflect and process it all, I realized that working with Waves of Hope resonated so well with me because the founders, staff and overall vision align so well with my personal beliefs. As a health coach, I incorporate physical activity, good nutrition, community involvement, spiritual practice and overall connection into my everyday life and was so excited to meet like-minded people on a trip so far from home. It all seems like a fleeting memory, but I am keeping the Nica and WOH people in my heart until the next trip.

 

Learning to Fight Pretty: An interview with Fighting Pretty founder, Kara Skaflestad

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Editor’s note: Meet Kara – a quarterlette with a truly inspiring story. At age 26, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five years later, she is healthy, happy, and running her own nonprofit, Fighting Pretty, that helps other women battling cancer to maintain hope and stay positive through their treatment.

Quarterlette: Tell us about yourself – education, career background before starting Fighting Pretty?

Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do as a profession. After going to school at York College of Pennsylvania where I majored in Marketing, I knew I wanted to be a “business woman.” Growing up in a small town, I was nervous to work in Manhattan – but that excited me.  So I decided to apply for a job in advertising working on the “Got Milk?” campaign. After working there for roughly two years, I moved on to another ad agency and really spread my wings working on brands from Procter & Gamble’s Pepto-Bismol, to L’Oreal’s Garnier Nutritioniste, to Hilton Hotels and more. It was at this ad agency, Publicis Worldwide, where I grew up.

Most people at 26 are dating, having fun with their friends and trying to figure out their career. For me, I started dating the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with, and was diagnosed with Stage 3b Breast Cancer.

Publicis was incredibly supportive. During the time of my diagnosis, I was up for a promotion and once I came back to work after going through several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Publicis awarded me my promotion. I truly became the “business woman” I had set out to be.

In 2010, I set out to Bloomberg LP working in their newly formulated Marketing Department as a Global Program Manager managing integrated marketing communications for their media arm. At Bloomberg, I was surrounded by a philanthropic community.  We were constantly encouraged to work on outside projects and get involved. Not realizing at the time, that this was the best decision of my career. It was setting me up to truly explore my passion: helping other people.

Qlette: Fighting Pretty is all the more special because not only does the organization have a wonderful mission, but it grew out of your own personal experience. Tell us about how the idea for Fighting Pretty came about.

While going through something that traumatic at such a young age, I saw so many people come out of the woodwork to show their support. The strength that I received from these people is what kept me fighting all the way through.

One of the gifts that meant so much to me was a pair of mini pink boxing gloves. They came from my best friend’s mom, who was also a breast cancer survivor. She wrote this long note that said “Never stop fighting!” So I hung them on my bedpost, and would look at them every day – even after my hair started to grown back – to remind myself that I needed to fight through the treatment, the pain, the pity, the insecurities and ultimately, everything that cancer hit me with.

About one year after my treatment finished, a family friend, Jen, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I wanted to send her something. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “You know, I’m doing fine. My fight is over, her fight is beginning. She needs my mini pink boxing gloves.”

So I sent a care package with my mini-pink boxing gloves, along with other items. She loved them. She fought her fight, and now those gloves have been passed along to 4 other woman – battling all different types of cancers.

I also knew that during my cancer journey, I tried my best to “feel good.” I would wear lipstick, would wear heels to my doctor’s appointments and get dressed up to go to chemo. Cancer takes away your woman parts…and I wasn’t going to let cancer take away feeling like a woman. And this was an important part of going through this process.

Women at the hospital would stop me all the time, asking why I looked so good. It was only because I tried. I wore bright head scarves, bright lipstick and heels! I needed to feel like me – even if I didn’t look like me.

Looking back on my journey, these were two things that kept me going: strength and beauty. I knew that Colleen’s mom passed on her strength to me, and that I passed on my strength to Jen, and she passed on her strength to the other women. This idea of sharing your strength, was something that really mattered. And something that really worked. I needed to share this. The idea of working to feel beautiful, and even sexy, keeps you feeling good – like yourself!

Qlette: So how does the organization work, what’s your mission, and how long have you been operating?

The mission of Fighting Pretty is to help women feel strong and beautiful during and after cancer treatment.  Our main operation is sending care packages, known as “Pretty Packages” to women battling cancer. In the package, we include:

  • mini pink boxing gloves
  • brightly colored scarves
  • makeup such as lipstick, blush, eyeshadow
  • brightly colored nail polish
  • a journal for inspiration
  • magnets with uplifting sayings (like Never Never Never Give Up)
  • pink panties
  • seasonal items such as socks, hats, sunglasses

Fighting Pretty was created at the end of 2012, when a high school friend of mine was diagnosed with lymphoma, and that really hit me hard. I was so sad for her knowing that she was about to start her own cancer journey. I reached out to her, and formalized the idea of Fighting Pretty.

I sat with a coworker to come up with the name, started a Facebook page, and started posting inspirational posts and asking if there was anyone out there going through cancer that deserved a Pretty Package. Through my own network of friends and family, Fighting Pretty gained traction. We sent out three Pretty Packages in January 2013, and 70 Pretty Packages in December 2013.

Qlette: Sometimes the hardest part of running a business or organization is just taking the first step. How did you get started?

I started by working with a branding consultant at my current company as a favor. I told him about the company and he immediately helped me think through the brand attributes and what the mission of the company would be. As soon as you start having conversations about it, you kind of owe it to yourself to make it happen. I didn’t want to be a liar!

So we got to a name that I loved – Fighting Pretty. It meant exactly everything we were looking for. It’s not only that cancer is “fighting your pretty” but that you ARE Fighting Pretty. I love it.

Once that was set, I started a Facebook page, developed a logo and announced it to the world in that way. We quickly got followers from my network of people. Then a friend reached out stating she had contacts with a pro-bono law firm. I took a leap of faith, got connected with them, and now we are 501(c)(3) incorporated, have a website and over 1600 followers, and have sent over 400 Pretty Packages to women all over the world including Canada and New Zealand.

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Qlette: What has been the most exciting moment with Fighting Pretty?

The most exciting moment for me has been to see the reactions we get from the women who receive our Pretty Packages. I have had the honor of meeting a few women, and have hugged them, cried with them and laughed with them. I go to the post office and receive the most unbelievable “Thank You’s” and cry every time I’m there.

The posts on Facebook of the women bringing their gloves to treatment, wearing their scarves or even just showing how they got dressed up makes all of the hard work of starting Fighting Pretty beyond worth it. We are truly helping people get through their cancer journey feeling strong and beautiful!

Qlette: Now that you’ve beaten cancer and really moved on with your life, is continuing to hear about the struggles of others fighting the disease as part of running Fighting Pretty ever difficult? Do you ever wish you could simply leave that part of your life in the past?

Of course, hearing the struggles of women going through treatment can bring back memories. While I went through the disease, I kept asking myself “Why me?” Now I know it’s because I learned a lot during my experience and I’m meant to help people get through their own cancer journey. So though I am heartbroken for each woman diagnosed with cancer, I know that I can help them because I’ve been there, and I truly understand.

Having cancer changed me. I grew up at age 26, and was faced with really hard decisions. And going through something like this never really goes away. Under my clothes, I have a constant reminder of what I went through.  So even if I tried, I could never leave it truly in the past. It’s made me what I am today, and I am actually really grateful to have gone through it. I found the greatest love during my cancer journey and finally became the woman I was always supposed to be.

Qlette: What’s next for Fighting Pretty?

This is just the beginning.

Right now, Fighting Pretty is still in its early stages. Though we have sent out over 400 Pretty Packages in one year, that is a very small sliver of what we can do. With the help and support of individuals and companies for donated goods, monetary donations and funding, we hope to send Pretty Packages to all of the millions of women who are diagnosed with cancer every year. But of course that takes time!

In the meantime, anyone interested in donating can visit our website at www.fightingpretty.org or visit our Facebook Page / Donations Tab.

To have a Pretty Package sent to a woman battling cancer, they can fill out the request form on our website too!

 

 

READ for Change

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Image provided by READ Global

Ten years ago, a trip to Nepal changed the course of my life and career. After a decade working as an attorney and legal recruiter, I traveled to Asia as a volunteer with an international educational non-profit.  I was yearning to have a more positive impact on the world through my work. During this trip, I finally understood the stark difference between growing up female in the United States and being female in a developing country.

This wake-up call was echoed by a woman named Chuna Devi who I later met in Nepal, who once said that “being born as a girl is worthless.” As a girl in rural Nepal, Chuna’s education was never a priority. She grew up illiterate, herding goats and cows. She was married at 16 and soon had two daughters.

By the year 2030, 130 million girls just like Chuna will get married before the age of 18 – ending their education and resulting in early pregnancies. About 493 million women worldwide are illiterate, and more than half live in South Asia.  Many of these women must seek permission from their husbands to leave their homes and face gender discrimination in their communities.  Living in poverty, they often can’t support their families because they lack marketable job skills.

For four years now, I have been fortunate to lead READ Global, an international nonprofit that serves more than 2 million incredible women and men across South Asia. We establish community-owned libraries called READ Centers in rural, marginalized communities that would not otherwise have access to key resources such as computers, books, and educational trainings in literacy, livelihood skills, health, and more.  We place special emphasis on serving women, because we know that they will in turn pay it forward to their children and the rest of their community.

In my work with READ, I have met countless women like Chuna Devi.  At the age of 47, Chuna changed her and her daughters’ lives by taking the courageous step of finally learning to read at a READ Center. Her newfound literacy skills gave her the confidence to take other trainings at the Center such as leadership development, and income-generating programs like vegetable farming. This past year, Chuna launched a women’s study group, and started saving money to invest in her daughters’ education. Today, she proves to other women that it’s never too late to learn. You can watch a short video of her story:

It is true that global poverty is still a crushing problem and we are not making progress quickly enough.  Women are half the population of the world and yet, in many countries, they will spend their entire lives cut off from education and opportunities to build a better future.

But when I visit South Asia, I see the smiles on the faces of countless women like Chuna – and the confidence and self-esteem that now emanate from them. I know that the progress these women have made in life will have exponential positive effects on their families and communities for generations to come.  And I know that if we are to make meaningful change happen, we must focus on women.  They are powerful change agents who are waiting for the rest of the world to awaken.

Tina Sciabica is the Executive Director of READ Global, an international nonprofit organization working in South Asia to provide education and economic opportunity to rural villagers. You can follow READ at www.readglobal.org, www.facebook.com/readglobal, or www.twitter.com/readglobal.

 

 

 

Giving Good with GoodyBags

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Quarterlette: Tell us about yourselves – education, your career backgrounds before starting GoodyBags?

Rena: I got my BS from Cornell University and my Master of Social Work from Yeshiva.  I ended up in advertising my first year out of college while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  As I was trying to figure out what really motivated and inspired me, I realized that all of my volunteer and philanthropic efforts throughout the years were what I really enjoyed.  I decided that I wanted to turn that into a career instead of a hobby and so I applied to social work school.  I’m now a licensed social worker and would eventually like to be able to do private practice for children and families and run GoodyBags.

Morgan: I studied Art History and German at Princeton University and then worked as an investment banking analyst right out of college.  I enjoyed the fast-paced action of a bank and loved working with incredibly smart people; however, I wanted to be waking up every day to talk about something I really cared about, which ultimately was not corporate derivatives.  I went back to school and got my Master’s in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, where I discovered that my interests lay on the non-profit side of things. I’m still in the art world but love being able to run our own philanthropic organization as well – both endeavors feed my creative side, and I feel so lucky that I get to work with one of the smartest people I know (and my best friend).

Qlette: So tell us about GoodyBags. How does the organization work, what’s your mission, and how long have you been operating?

GoodyBags gals: Our mission is to provide backpacks of items to children living in unstable living conditions—i.e. foster homes, homeless shelters, or extreme poverty. Our official mission statement is “GoodyBags provides backpacks of items to children seeking safety from dangerous or unstable living conditions.  In times of trauma and upheaval, GoodyBags offers the tangible and enduring sense of security, comfort and relief that all children deserve.”

We started working on GoodyBags about a year and a half ago and we’re currently waiting for our 501(c)(3) status to be cleared so we can really go full steam ahead. We are all set for our pilot program to take place in December this year.

Qlette: How did the idea for GoodyBags come about?

GB gals: GoodyBags was developed after many brainstorming sessions! We knew that we wanted to start a philanthropic organization together and GoodyBags was really the culmination of figuring out what population we wanted to target and what we could start without a lot of overhead costs.

Qlette: It’s not easy to find a great business partner. How did you two meet?

GB gals: We met while working together at a non-profit in Manhattan. We became fast friends and as we talked about our individual career goals we realized that we both had a desire to help others and wanted to also run our own enterprise.

Qlette: Sometimes the hardest part of running a business or organization is just taking the first step. How did you get started?

GB gals: We are extremely lucky to have very talented and successful friends who are willing to give their time and services to us at very low costs or free of charge. Once we figured out our idea and what we wanted to do, we prioritized what key elements we would need to grow our business—in our case, it was a logo/branding and legal help. We were very lucky to have two good friends to provide branding and legal services for us quickly and for a very fair price!

Qlette: Which communities are you serving with GoodyBags now, and how did you decide to start there?

GB gals: Our pilot program is taking place in St. Elizabeth’s Parish, Jamaica. Rena met someone through her current day job who is from St. Elizabeth’s Parish and has been running a family foundation (The Bernice & Melvin Clayton Foundation) dedicated to helping the children of the parish for years.  They were worried that they would not be able to provide the necessities this year due to lack of funding and we decided it was the perfect fit for GoodyBags—St. Elizabeth’s Parish is extremely poor and the children certainly fall under the umbrella of living in unstable living conditions—extreme poverty, crowded housing, very chaotic. We will be going over there in person to help with the distribution and volunteer in the Parish.

Qlette: What has been the most exciting moment with GoodyBags?

GB gals: The most exciting moment was when we met all of the members of the Bernice & Melvin Clayton Foundation and saw just how appreciative and grateful they were to us for coming in and pledging to bring backpacks and necessities to the parish. It was a really incredible moment because we got to see firsthand the positive impact that something we had a hand in creating had on other people.

Qlette: What is the most fun part about running your own organization?  What are the challenges?

GB gals: The most fun part is being able to make all of the decisions—there’s no “corporate ladder” to climb so you get to wear all of the hats of running a business which is a lot of responsibility.  It’s great to know every single thing about an operation from the ground up, from small things such as how to manage our bank account or our website to having phone calls with potential investors.  It’s also fun to be able to work anytime, anywhere—we’ve had many phone calls in our pajamas where no one is the wiser!

The most challenging thing has been separating business from friendship. We are best friends so sometimes we’ll have one sentence about business, and then the next sentence will be about planning Morgan’s wedding, and then back to business! We were worried about being able to maintain our friendship while also being business partners since we’ve heard so many horror stories, but we manage it really well—we know each other so well and we make sure to always communicate which is definitely important.

Qlette: Are you running GoodyBags full-time?

GB gals: Not yet! Once we get our 501(c)(3) status this answer may change…so stay tuned!

Qlette: Any advice for others aspiring to start a non-profit?

GB gals: Go for it! I don’t think there can ever be too many non-profits—the world needs as many philanthropic organizations and people wanting to “Give Good” as possible!  I think it’s very important to research so you make sure you are creating something that is a niche—figure out what is lacking in your market and the real need of whatever community you are trying to help.

Qlette: What’s next for GoodyBags?

GB gals: We’re all set for our trip to St. Elizabeth’s Parish in December which is our first official pilot program.  We had an event in the Spring and we’re hoping to do another event this Fall to raise more funds for the children of the Parish. Unfortunately, until we have our 501(c)(3) status it’s hard to raise substantial funding since companies and big investors need their contribution to be tax deductible. Once we have our status, we will of course be on all of the fundraising websites—the I Do Foundation, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, etc. There are so many children around the world that can benefit from what we are doing and we can’t wait to be able to expand our reach.

goodybags logo

 

Want to Make a Difference? Be a Little Selfish (and a lot Smart)

Photo: Emily Long

On a summer evening a few years ago, I was approached by a sidewalk crusader for one of those charities that sponsors underprivileged kids in faraway countries. I stopped and listened politely (as a fledgling New Yorker, I didn’t know any better). When she finished her spiel and asked me to commit to a sponsorship, I told her I’d think about it and started to walk away. But she kept talking, rattling off what my monthly contribution could buy for a child in need, all for the same cost as just a few Starbucks lattes.  Surely I could afford to give up one or two caffeinated beverages a week to SAVE a CHILD!  She pushed the clipboard full of sign-up sheets into my hands.  And I gave in.

Each month, the sponsorship fee appeared on my credit card statement and I received a mailing from “my” child: a photo, or a letter he’d written on that flimsy gray paper with dotted line ruling and a space at the top to draw a picture. These tokens were accompanied by pamphlets from the charity about the conditions in the country where “my” child lived, the daily comforts we privileged Americans take for granted that he and his family lacked, and requests for additional donations to provide gifts on holidays. This collateral was worded to be uplifting, overflowing with gratitude and praise for sponsors’ generosity, encouraging us to take pride in the difference we were making in the life of a child who had so little.

But, I did not feel proud or uplifted by these monthly progress reports.  Instead, I felt uneasy and manipulated.  Rarely do I make decisions on the fly: I buy running shoes at the stores that let you try them on and jog around the block first and I read online reviews for everything from kitchen appliances to hotels. I’m sure the T-shirt clad do-gooder who stopped me on the street had the best of intentions, but she had cheerfully bullied me into the act of philanthropy. I hadn’t had time to research the organization, consider alternatives, and choose the one that I believed to be most worthy. As a result, I grew resentful. When I got a new credit card, I canceled my sponsorship.

You might be judging me right now: isn’t charity supposed to benefit others, as opposed to making the giver feel good? Maybe, but giving is not necessarily a zero-sum game. When you genuinely believe in the cause you’re supporting, you’re more invested in the organization, and that benefits both parties: you’re more apt to make giving a long-term habit, and potentially to increase your involvement over time.

On top of that, charity is inevitably personal. You’re giving up a resource that is of value to you (either your money or your time) of which there is a limited quantity. For some people, knowing that their contribution will help someone less fortunate is enough, and I admire their unconditional generosity. For me, it’s important to make a difference in a way that resonates with my own experiences and beliefs. I know that $1 a day can feed an orphan in a faraway country and I respect the organizations and individuals who take up that cause. But it didn’t feel right to me to send money away to another continent when there were people here in my city without food to eat or a roof over their heads, especially after Sandy’s devastating impact. So at least for now, volunteering and donating to causes here in New York is how I’ve chosen to give back – and it feels good.

Whether you prefer to contribute financially or volunteer your time, be mindful of the impact you’re having. Websites like GiveWell.org and Charity Navigator are free tools for evaluating non-profit organizations based on the information they disclose about how they distribute funds and use resources.

Do a little homework and follow your heart, and you will make a difference in your own life as well as the lives of those in need.

 

What if?

Photo Credit: Emily Long

Frank had sent all of us an Evite save-the-date over a year ago to mark our calendars for when he’d be running the Boston Marathon.  There was no question in my mind as to whether or not I’d be there to cheer him on from the sidelines.  After all, the Chicago Marathon we’d done “together” (I say that loosely since he finished nearly 3 hours ahead of me) had been his qualifying race.

Since the Boston Marathon is a straight shot from west to east and the T (Boston’s metro system) that day was painfully slow, we’d only be able to catch Frank once during the race.  Knowing that mile 21(aka the “Golden Mile,” “Heartbreak hill” and where you can witness Boston College kids stumbling around before 11am) might be when he hit the proverbial marathon wall, he asked us to hang out there to hand off a fresh water bottle and exchange some high-fives.  Then we’d try to beat him to the finish line to welcome him home.

The marathon overall is an incredible celebration.  Since we claimed our spots on the early side we were able to catch the inspirational wheelchair racers flying by and the elite women who jetted by just a few minutes before the elite men came chasing after them.  Then came the hordes of Boston Marathoners – the best of the best being that the 18-34 year-old qualifying time is 3 hours 5 minutes for men and 3 hours 35 minutes for women.  It was crazy to think that these folks running 7:20-minute miles were just kind of your average runner.

Photo Credit: Emily Long

After Frank passed us, stopping only to give his girlfriend a kiss and his buddy a high-five, he went on to finish the race before we even made it back downtown – finishing at 3 hours 35 minutes.  Seriously, he beat the T back.   Since we didn’t have to meet him at the finish line, we skipped the Copley stop (on Boylston street) to get off at the next stop, Arlington.  Coming out of the metro to see all the finishers wrapped in their foil and with their medals hanging loosely around their necks while painfully walking down the steps was inspiring to the runner side of me.  A feeling of pride washed over me knowing that our own runner was waiting for us to congratulate him.  We made a bee-line for the Revere hotel where Frank was already waiting in the lobby.  We ushered him up to the hotel room and popped open bottles of champagne.

I don’t know exactly what we were doing the moments of the explosions, but we were fortunate to have the safety of several blocks buffering us from the attack.   We were far enough away that we somehow did not hear the sounds and dismissed the responding sirens as typical city noise.

It was a friend’s “Are you okay?” text that signaled us to what was happening behind the tall buildings separating us from the scene.  Confused looks between those of us in the hotel room quickly turned to horror after we flipped to the local news and Twitter to find out what he meant.  My face turned pale as I rushed to text my friend, Michelle, who had been watching the race at a hotel near the finish line to ask her if she was still there – already calls were not going through.  It was hard for me to imagine how grim the circumstances could be, but I understood more when her response was “No, we ran.”

The next few hours were eerie.   Our group of 13 eventually trickled away from the hotel’s TV to find a late lunch.  After all Frank had just raced 26.2 miles and needed more than granola to keep him up straight.  The original plan had been to eat near the finish line and then make our way to the after party, but uncertainty about what might happen next led us to a quieter, non-touristy neighborhood in the opposite direction.

Conversation at lunch was light as we tried to ease each other’s worries.  Yet, mainly we were keeping wary eyes on our cell phones to calm the concerns of friends and family who had heard the news.   We were happy to let them know we were safe.

My boyfriend had to keep an arm tight around me as I could barely keep my body from shaking between the thoughts of how we could have been down there, what I could have done to make sure my friends hadn’t been and wondering if another attack was imminent.   But, once I had confirmation that Michelle and her husband had escaped unharmed and after a few beers (yes, necessary), my brain let up a bit.

Yes, we were okay and thankful for that fact.  Yet, when I started talking to people about the attacks when I returned to NYC, I could feel the stress of the events pour out of me as my body began shaking again.  No matter where you were that day, it was frightening.  When reading the coverage over the next two weeks it became hard not to place myself in the shoes of those who were at the scene.   They conjured many “what-ifs” in my mind.  “What if we had gone straight to the finish instead of meeting Frank?” “What if I had gone down earlier to meet Michelle and Kyle?” “What if Frank had been slower that day?” The what-ifs can drive you mad.

In an attempt to put those what-ifs behind me, I’ve been working to change my thoughts to the positive, and we at Quarterlette are looking to find ways to help those whose lives will never be the same.  If I’ve learned anything through talking to people about it over the last few weeks, it’s that all of us are somehow tied to Boston.  Despite the events being confined to one city, it’s a global event.  We all had a friend or family member running or watching; we all know someone who lives there or is going to school there.  So, we’re in this together and will work to recover together.

Oh, and Frank is planning to run Boston again next year (no big deal; he qualified when he ran the Chicago Marathon a second time – crazy).  You can be sure if he does we’ll all be there to cheer him and the rest of the city on.

Looking for a way to support the victims of the Boston Marathon?  Here are a few fund-raising pages we have found:

Have another one?  Please share in the comments!