When “Bad” Means Good

When “Bad” Means Good

Tiffany Rowe’s wish in 1988 was to meet Michael Jackson. That was the first time she heard of Make-A-Wish – when they showed up at her door.

In 1984, at just 11 years old, Tiffany was diagnosed with bone marrow failure. Doctors told her she had three to six months to live and she spent the next several years fighting to survive.

After a relapse in 1988, Make-A-Wish arranged for Tiffany to meet the star backstage before a concert in Chicago. However, much to her surprise, during the concert a security guard passed her a note, “Michael Jackson requests your presence on stage.” And with that, her wish was granted as she danced to “Bad” with Michael Jackson himself. The opportunity allowed Tiffany to take a step back from her incredibly difficult circumstances and be a kid again, a moment that changed her life.

Now, 29 years later, Tiffany is the Chair of the Make-A-Wish National Board Alumni Association, having spent her life as a Make-A-Wish spokesperson, volunteer leader, and advocate dedicated to giving back to the organization that inspired her during her difficult times as a young girl. She helps other children tap back into that feeling of what it means to be a kid, having big dreams and and believing in the future, often during times of great uncertainty.

 

Tiffany Rowe

Giving Hero of Make-A-Wish Foundation

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Family Acceptance, Love and Giving

Family Acceptance, Love and Giving

At just 16 years old, Skylar Lee ended his life. The loss was shocking to his community— Skylar was known as an energetic, vibrant activist for LGBTQ issues. The death devastated Skylar’s mother, Joanne.

In 2014, when Skylar came out as transgender to his mother, she was in shock. Her conservative upbringing guided her toward shutting down and shutting out her child, a decision she would never quite recover from.

After Skylar’s death to suicide in 2015, Joanne began the process of learning about her son, his work as an activist in the LGBTQ community for intersectionality, acceptance, and equality. Her son’s words, and his final wish – that it be understood he was not committing suicide because he was transgender and that he did not want to become a “sob story” – drove Joanne to action.

In the time since losing her son, Joanne has continued her son’s work, teaming up with Human Rights Campaign as part of its National Parents for Transgender Equality Council, telling Skylar’s story, and teaching other parents of LGBTQ teens to accept and love their children as they are. She has passionately taken on Skylar’s mantle, fighting not only for the LGBTQ community but for a broad range of minority groups, living up to her son’s message of social justice for all marginalized communities.

Joanne is seeking justice for the LGBTQ youth and, this time, she’s not leaving anyone behind.

 

Joanne Lee

Giving Hero of Human Rights Campaign

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Fostering Wanderlust in the Windy City

Fostering Wanderlust in the Windy City

None of his friends or family expected Jahmal Cole to go to college, let alone graduate, but he did; and that was just the beginning.

After college, Jahmal returned to his hometown of Chicago as a Microsoft administrator at a trading firm. In the time he had to spare, Jahmal volunteered with the juvenile population at Cook County Jail. For three years, he listened to the children, learning that outside Cook County’s walls much of their experience took place in just one or two blocks.

Jahmal spent his time bringing these young people down to see where he worked, showed them alternative career paths and it helped broaden their world view. He started with one or two kids he would drive downtown himself in his car and developed into multiple trips with children piled into vans to see a part of the city they had never seen before. This experience was the beginning of My Block, My Hood, My City (M3).

Jahmal and M3 now have over 120 teenagers, from underserved “Level 3” schools (lower performing schools with less than 80% attendance) who they bring on explorations around Chicago to explore and broaden their world view from their block, to their neighborhood, and to their city.

Last year, M3 trekked outside the city and took 25 students to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, a trip that brought these students their first experiences with boarding passes, airplanes, and travel outside their own comfort zone. This year, their first graduating class will set the stage for the future.

Jahmal hopes to show these students that, in a city like Chicago, you can broaden your worldview and bring new options to young people.

 

Jahmal Cole

Giving Hero of My Block, My Hood, My City (M3)

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www.medalofphilanthropy.org

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NFL Star J.J Watt Rallies for Harvey Relief

NFL Star J.J Watt Rallies for Harvey Relief

J.J. Watt of the NFL’s Houston Texans is best known for sacking quarterbacks and being one of the best defensive players in the league. And while he’s won a lot of awards, including the NFL Defensive Player of the Year (three times, no less!) his ambition is equally impressive off of the gridiron.

Just after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Watt set up a YouCaring.com fundraiser, with the goal of raising $200,000 for relief funds from small donors around the country Watt, per usual, exceeded expectations. Individuals, foundations, and corporations eventually raised over $37 million from more than 200,000 donors.

While this staggering amount is just a small portion of what’s needed for hurricane recovery, this gift will assist many of those in need through partnerships with Americares, Feeding America, SBP, and Save the Children. The donation will be distributed in two portions, $31.5 million will be given to these partners to rebuild homes, help restore community centers and childcare, provide food, and address health needs of Houstonians. With a portion of the funds contributed to Feeding America, Houston Food Bank will be able to add four mobile pantries to its fleet, enabling them to take supplies to where they’re needed most. The remaining funds will be distributed in 2018.

Watt’s goal of raising money from the community for the community was just the start and he’s making sure the funding goes to organizations that will have a direct impact on those who need it most.

 

J.J Watt

Giving Hero of YouCaring.com

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www.medalofphilanthropy.org

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Grief, Growth & Giving Back

Grief, Growth & Giving Back

Losing one parent, especially when young, is an enormous loss. Losing both can be unthinkable.

After Auston Scancara (15) and Melessa Peck (9) lost their parents Lindsey and Shane to separate incidents earlier this year they spent a lot of time discussing grief, growth, and giving back with their Aunt, and now guardian, Lacy Parker. Auston and Melessa channeled their grief toward helping other children learn to cope with the loss of a parent.

In November, Auston and Melessa donated approximately 150 grief kits to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho. These kits, designed as part of Sesame Workshop’s “When Families Grieve” initiative, are meant to help families, children, and caregivers express themselves after loss.

After losing their parents, Auston and Melessa received help and support from friends, family, local community centers, and religious organizations. The unbelievable show of support inspired them to help others with their grief while still overcoming their own and giving them a chance to “pay forward some of the support they received,” said their Aunt, Lacy Parker.

At such an early stage in their lives, Auston and Melessa’s dedication to guiding other children, despite their own enormous personal loss, is beyond admirable.

 

Auston Scancara & Melessa Peck

Giving Hero of Sesame Workshop

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One Woman Creates a Movement in Africa

One Woman Creates a Movement in Africa

You might not have heard of Fiona Mavhinga, a woman from rural Zimbabwe, but she has created a movement.

Fiona grew up in a small village in the Wedza District in rural Zimbabwe—the oldest of five siblings. The nearest primary school was 10 kilometers from home. Secondary school was twice the distance. Her grandmother lived closer, so she stayed with her, and helped sell vegetables to pay school fees. She studied late into the night next to a paraffin lamp.

Fiona was the first in her family to finish high school—her test scores were the highest in the province. With the support of Camfed, an international non-profit that tackles inequality by supporting girls’ education, she was able to continue on to the University of Zimbabwe and a law degree, despite her family’s poverty.

In 1998 she helped to found the CAMA network of women leaders, former Camfed-supported students who came together to multiply the impact of donor funds by offering training, technology, business loans, and mentoring support to young women at the critical time when they leave secondary school.

CAMA began as 400 women in Zimbabwe yearning to lift up their communities. It is now a powerful pan-African network on track to grow to more than 130,000 by 2019—a unique movement of rural philanthropists. At the end of 2014, Camfed and CAMA set themselves the ambitious goal of supporting one million adolescent girls to go to secondary school within just five years. After two years, at the end of 2016, they had passed the halfway mark.

The CAMA network that Fiona has helped build is a powerful force for social change, even systems-level change. “Perhaps in the next 20 years we’ll have a million members in the CAMA network,” said Fiona. “Can you imagine: we will have doctors, teachers, lawyers, political leaders. We might even have a president from within CAMA.”

 

Fiona Mavhinga

Giving Hero of CAMA

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One Student Blasts Off and Dedicates Over 500 Hours to STEM

One Student Blasts Off and Dedicates Over 500 Hours to STEM

It’s pretty impressive that The Liberty Science Center (LSC) in New Jersey has over 600 volunteers and interns who donate more than 50,000 hours of their time, but one really stands out…

Since March, Sparsh Desai, has donated more than 568 hours and counting. His true passion for learning and, in particular Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) has made him quite the volunteer. In his time at LSC, Sparsh has learned all the exhibits across the 295,000 square foot facility and takes guests of all ages around, sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the science and the Center.

Sparsh just loves his work. He regularly goes on the Science Summer Camp and, on the last one, he even volunteered to be shot across the LSC parking lot in order to demonstrate Newton’s Third Law! Needless to say, LSC is really looking forward to having him return next summer.

In addition to being fun to be around, Sparsh is professional, courteous and really embodies the core values of the Center. Just this year, he was awarded the New Jersey State Governor’s Award in recognition of his work and commitment to LSC and public service.

 

Sparsh Desai

Giving Hero of Liberty Science Center

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Sheltering 30,000 Children from Genocide

Sheltering 30,000 Children from Genocide

Marguerite Barankitse still believes love transcends all obstacles. That’s after fleeing her country following war, massacres, and genocide.

In Burundi, a civil war pitted Marguerite’s people, the Tutsis, against the Hutu population. Marguerite – blind to such artificial barriers and at the height of the war – sheltered a group of Hutus at the Catholic diocese where she worked. Marguerite has since expanded her “family” to include tens of thousands of children whose lives she saved against the most difficult odds, bringing hope to those who need it most.

To-date, Marguerite has come to the aid of more than 30,000 orphans and children in need. She has reunited children who were separated from their families, whether by war or through incarceration and created a new “home” for orphaned children.

Today, Marguerite and her colleagues care for children orphaned by AIDS, rather than war, not just in Burundi, but also in Rwanda where she now lives, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As the inaugural Laureate for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, Marguerite was awarded one million dollars to donate to the causes of her choice.

Marguerite choose three organizations that provide child services and support young refugees in Rwanda, Brazil, D.R. Congo and Ethiopia.

 

Marguerite Barankitse

Giving Hero of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity

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Let the Music do the Talking

Let the Music do the Talking

Learning an instrument takes time – and money. When Pharez Whitted isn’t playing jazz at some of Chicago’s top venues, he’s busy changing the lives of students around the city through music.

When Pharez joined Jazz At Lincoln Center’s (JALC) Jazz for Young People tour, he’d long been a popular fixture on Chicago’s jazz scene. Through his work as bandleader and primary teaching artist for JALC in Chicago, Pharez reaches thousands children in high-need schools on the city’s south side each year, and provides free private lessons to talented young musicians who could not otherwise afford them.

Pharez aims not only to inspire a love of music in young people around the city, but to foster a love and understanding of American history and culture. “We talked about inclusion, individuality, creativity, fearlessness, freedom. Every component that makes jazz what it is, is what makes this country what it’s supposed to be.” Said Pharez to the Chicago Tribute.

Pharez is a jazz player who gives back to his community and likes to let the music do the talking.

 

Pharez Whitted

Giving Hero of Jazz at Lincoln Center

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A Great-Grandmother, A Great Giver

A Great-Grandmother, A Great Giver

In 1964, Virginia suffered something every mother fears. Her daughter, Pam, was born a “blue baby,” born with cyanosis. Fortunately, Virginia had access to the medical care that would save her daughter’s life.

As Mother’s Day approached, Virginia began thinking about all the mothers she knew in her life and how lucky these women – like her – were to have access to health care. How could she celebrate their good fortunes while at the same time help those mothers and babies in need?

Rather than spending money on Mother’s Day cards that would likely end up buried in a drawer, Virginia decided to donate $10 on behalf of each woman she would usually send a card to. Virginia’s thoughtful act enables Project HOPE to provide Kangaroo Mother Care wraps for moms and special health care worker training, which support the critical, lifesaving bonding between mothers and newborns immediately after birth.

To further her impact, she sent a free Project HOPE card to each woman, telling them of the donation that was made in their honor, informing them of the cause, and raising awareness for the #SaveNewbornsNow campaign.

Virginia says she has chosen to become a supporter of Project HOPE “because they can be ‘my hands and feet,’ going where I can’t go to help people that I can’t help.”

Today, Virginia is mother to three children, grandmother to twelve grandchildren and great-grandmother to six great-grandchildren. And while she may not be able to travel the world to help mothers and babies in need, she came up with her own solution.

 

Virginia Grove

Giving Hero of Project HOPE

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@carnegiemedal
www.medalofphilanthropy.org

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