Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Ring of High Hopes

It's always exciting when someone calls, inquiring about how they can help or offering assistance with raising funds or goods. The people who contact us are usually full of heart and spirit. One woman in Florida has been especially supportive, emailing words of encouragement, offering support, and helping out some of our families in need. Today in Walmart, I ran in to a neighbor who had purchased a gift certificate at Cascata Spa in Morristown to help raise money for Focus America. The other day, I received a phone call from someone in Wisconsin (at least, I think that's what he two children were racing around, screaming and playing...he called during the evening "witching" hour). This gentleman wanted to verify we were still operational and to learn more about what we are doing. He followed up with a nice email and a referral to another organization that sounds like a charity we could team up with!

Occasionally we get phone calls from people who offer services or hopes of great things to come but...nothing materializes. I hold my breath, hoping that something might happen when these promises are made. However, over the past two+ years, I have learned that hope can lead to disappointment. Not everyone believes in the cause...not everyone wants to help. Complete strangers have provided more support to this cause than most of my own friends and family.

But there is a positive note behind the hurt of disappointment. Out of the ashes rises a phoenix that is much stronger...the determination to succeed on one's own without hand outs, without assistance, without begging for family and friends to help out. And when the recognition is is much sweeter to know that, indeed, the acknowledgement of a job well done is true and honest. By helping the children and by supporting the people, we have impacted someone's life. If friends and family do not care to share that glory for whatever reason, there are many strangers who become friends and family who cheer and cry with job alongside me. We cannot make people believe in our cause. We can only make them believe in the results. That's enough for me...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Starving Families in Need

When I receive the emails and phone calls from social service agencies, requesting assistance for a family that is struggling to make ends meet, my heart breaks. Right now, we have about 20 families on our list and we are barely able to supply these people with food on a semi-regular basis. Without funding and without a dedicated force of volunteers, it's so hard to motivate those volunteers who do contact us.

If I could help them all, I would. The woman who was living in a motel room, paid for by her social service agency, with three small children. The man who is working for minimum wage but can hardly put food on the table for his four children and wife. The woman with stage four cancer who can barely afford medical treatment, nevermind food for her two children. Their stories break my heart over and over again. Each time a volunteer contacts me, my hopes swell, hoping so much that this time, they will help just one of these families. Some do, like the woman from California who mailed two huge boxes of food to a family in Michigan. Others don't and, while I understand that there are reasons why, it doesn't make it any easier to know that we cannot help every family that is on our wait list.

Of course, with the help of local organizations and churches (like Assumption Church who has consistently support our efforts!), we can make a difference...even if it is only one family at a time.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Welcome to the Blog

Over two years ago, I founded Focus America after reading an article in the New York Times about a poor community in Pembroke, Illnois. I suppose what bothered me the most about the article was the timing. Our nation had just observed the first anniversary of 9/11, a defining moment for all of those who watched the horror of the Twin Towers collapse, the burning of the Pentagon, and the smoldering wreckage of Flight 93 in Pennsylvanian. Our nation was entrenched in the war against terror. While we were liberating Afghanistan, the country watching the Middle East, I realized that the distraction of current events was creating a negative butterfly effect: forgotten were the children in this country starving to death, forced to become adults before they have tasted the joy of childhood.

Starting a 501(c)(3) non-profit (and volunteer run) charity was not easy. I fell into it by accident and, strictly by stubborness, I saw it through. As a professional adjunct professor at several colleges near my hometown of Morristown, NJ, I knew this could be a wonderful way to provide my students with an amazing, hand-on and real world experience. My circle of "favorite" students quickly agreed and the then-chair of the Business Department gave me the thumbs up to incorporate service learning into my marketing and management classes.

As I continue my blog, I will share some of the experiences I have encountered with creating, organizing, implementing, running and funding a volunteer-run charity. There have been high-points such as the days when volunteers distributed 600 coats to the needy at the St. John's Soup Kitchen in Newark, NJ or when we distributed thousands of gifts to the new generation Americans at the Market Street Mission during the past holiday season. I hold dear the moment when a larger and older woman, a bit sweaty from trying to weed through tables and tables of gifts and new clothing to find the perfect gifts for her four children, came up to me. She grabbed me by both shoulders and gave me a kiss on both cheeks then clutched me to her chest. In broken English, she said "Thank you, thank you. God bless you." Nor will I forget the moment when I stopped my white mini-van on the streets of town in front of the day laborers. I pulled over and they stared at me, wondering why the young white woman was getting out of her van and flipping open her trunk. My son leaned over the back of the seat and helped hand me grocery bags filled with food as I shouted, "Comida! Libre comida para tu!" in my broken Spanish. The men converged on me, grabbing at the bags, laughing at their good luck of finally being in the right place at the right time. As I drove away, one of the men shouted out, "You are an angel! God bless you!"

These are the moments I hold dear. These are the moments I remember when times are tough, when volunteers let me down, when those people closest to me disappoint me, and when opportunities slam the door shut in my face. By sharing these moments and these stories, I believe the world can understand the motivation behind true charity...the type of charity that, indeed, can move mountains, even when obstacles seem to block the path to success.