The results are in!
From November 17th to December 31st, the #MyGivingStory contest asked individuals to reflect upon why they give and to share these personal stories on social media. The nonprofit organizations featured in the winning entries received $2,500-10,000 grants.
We received over 600 entries--all incredibly moving stories about what inspires people to give. From educating others, to bridging cultures and communities, to rescuing animals and helping people in need, the stories shared captured the spirit of #GivingTuesday and show how anyone, anywhere can make a difference.
The entries with the greatest number of likes on Facebook were entered into the final judging round, where they were read by a distinguished panel of judges, including Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, Andrea Perez (Hispanics in Philanthropy), Braden Lay-Michaels (Chief External Relations Officer, STORYCORPS) and Marlo Thomas.
We are so grateful to all who participated, and are proud to announce the 2016 #MyGivingStory winners!
And the winners are...
"The Haitian Woman I'll Never Forget" by Megan Silk, supporting Life Connection Mission
On my first mission trip to Haiti I was witness to a mastectomy surgery. Our small clinic at Life Connection Mission in the town of Montrouis, Haiti had no operating room, no anesthesia, no recovery unit, and no air conditioning. What we did have was a padded gurney in the middle of an exam room, an American doctor volunteering his time, a Haitian nurse to translate and assist, and a small group of non-medical personnel willing to help wherever was needed. I arrived to the clinic about an hour in to what was supposed to be the removal of a small amount of tumorous tissue.
Our clinic does not normally take on large procedures because of the limited resources we have available. I was informed that there was much more tumorous tissue than was expected, and the doctor was doing his best to remove all of it. Having no medical training, my role during the procedure was to clean the surgical tools and hand gauze pads to the nurse. Another member of our group made sure vials of lidocaine, our only source of pain management, was in reach of the doctor when needed. Others held the woman's hand and prayed over her, offered her a cool washcloth on her face, and tried to make her as comfortable as possible during the three hour procedure.
When the tumor was finally removed, the woman was stitched up and bandaged, and was sent home with her daughter on foot. She had to WALK home right after having a mastectomy. Two days later we left Haiti and everyday for the next year I thought of that woman. Was she ok? Was our doctor able to remove all of the tumor? Was she still alive? When I finally returned to Haiti a year later I was informed that she lived for two more months before dying. All I could think was had she had regular access to doctors and hospitals she may still be alive.
I was devastated. but a friend reminded me that it was two more months with her family she might not have otherwise enjoyed. When I returned home from that second mission trip I enrolled in nursing school. I keep the only picture I have of the woman on the inside cover of my notebook. She is my inspiration to help others in Haiti who do not have access to medical care. Our clinic at Life Connection Mission now has a full time Haitian doctor and nurse, and I hope to continue to see it thrive and help more and more people. That is why I give to Life Connection Mission - to change the lives of the people in Haiti and give back to the place that changed my life.
"Changing Afghanistan One Child At A Time" by Terry Cardwell in support of Afghan Child Education and Care Organization
During the time of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, my heart broke for the women who were prevented from achieving their dreams and for the children who no longer had access to education. I spent several years looking for ways to help but few were available and none inspired me to action.
In late 2004 I heard about a young Afghan woman, Andeisha Farid, who had started an orphanage for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Her goal was to raise the next generation of Afghan citizens to be strong, productive, thoughtful members of society. Girls and boys would be taught tolerance, respect for diversity, respect for the rights of others and strong values of integrity, honesty and caring with educational programs that extended well beyond the public school system. I immediately knew this was an organization that I wanted to be a part of and began sponsoring three children.
One child was 10 years old and had never attended school. A second was 9 years old and a shepherd who would walk 2 hours to school after tending the village sheep. The third was a young girl from a remote region of Afghanistan with a significant Taliban presence and a literacy rate of less than 17%.
I had the opportunity to meet Andeisha when she was moving to Kabul and starting the Afghanistan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO, www.afceco.org). I was so impressed with her work that I considered increasing my involvement by sponsoring a new AFCECO orphanage. At Christmas Eve service that year I prayed for a sign to help me decide what to do. On Christmas morning I received an email with a Christmas greeting from AFCECO that included a photo of some of the children holding a sign wishing me a Merry Christmas. I took this as MY sign and immediately contacted AFCECO to sponsor an orphanage.
My heart will always be with the three individuals that I began this journey with. Over the years we exchanged letters/photos, celebrated birthdays via Skype and spoke about their hopes and dreams. I watched them grow from young children into adults that live the values defined in AFCECO’s vision. I am proud to say that one graduated high school and is working to provide for his family, the second is a Junior at University majoring in Biology and the third is a young woman who upon graduating high school spent a year teaching the children in her remote village per the request of the tribal elders. She is now happily married and both she and her husband are attending University.
So many of the AFCECO children have similar stories full of tragedy and adversity as well as inspiration and hope for the future. Each of the AFCECO children and its founder inspire me everyday to continue my involvement. I cannot express the impact that being a part of the AFCECO family has had on my life. My heart continues to break for the challenges and adversity facing the Afghan people but it is also full of joy for being part of an amazing organization that continues to raise the next generation of Afghan citizens and hope that one day an AFCECO child will lead a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
"We Give to Help Children Find Their Brave Voice and to Break The Stigma On Childhood Mental Health" by Jenny Foster in support of Child Mind Institute
Our Family supports the Child Mind Institute because they gave our daughter her voice! Our daughter was diagnosed with selective mutism when she was four. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder which leaves individuals unable to talk in certain places or to certain people. Our daughter was completely mute in public, including school, but a chatterbox while at home. We struggled to find the proper help locally for this misunderstood anxiety disorder. With the help of financial aid, we packed our bags and traveled across the United States, to The Child Mind Institute in NYC to take part in a week of intensive behavioral therapy. During this week we met the most amazing clinicians who dedicate their lives to helping children with mental health and learning disorders. Best of all, after one week with her incredible clinician, my daughter found her brave voice. She talked to more people in that one week than she had her entire life. When we returned back home, she was able to keep the momentum going and many teachers and peers heard her voice for the first time at 8 years old.
Our family is forever grateful for the support that The Child Mind Institute gave us, including a travel stipend to make our trip possible. Our daughters wanted to give back over the summer to help other children find their brave voice too. They sold some of their old toys and purchased prizes to send to The Child Mind Institute for their brave store, as rewards are a huge part of treatment to help children build their bravery in order to find their voice. They attached little notes of encouragement onto each prize to make it more meaningful.
Being able to give back to a place that forever changed our lives is an incredible feeling for our entire family. The Child Mind Institute is very deserving of any and all donations. They are providing services to many children all over the country and doing groundbreaking research. They are helping to erase the stigma on childhood mental health and spreading the word that mental health is just as important as physical health! They are speaking up for children and helping children like my daughter speak up for herself! Because of donations to The Child Mind Institute and the amazing clinicians that work there, my daughter has a voice in all settings. She can now advocate her needs and express her wants. My wish is that with continued support to The Child Mind Institute, many children will be able to find the Brave inside of them.
"My Love For Scout" by Felicity Cantrell in support of American Asthma Foundation
#mygivingstory is a simple one, but one filled with pure love. On October 29th, 2014 my beautiful 9 year old daughter Scout passed away unexpectedly from cardiac arrest due to an asthma attack. She was a vivacious, loving, brilliant fourth grader who's goal in life was "to make the world a little bit better place" She was a smart student, a gifted competitive swimmer, and she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up.
She believed in helping others from a very young age. She volunteered at our local Feed My Starving Children, she volunteered time and held supply drives for our local animal shelter, all of our pets are rescue animals because of her, and any charity work her school did, she was always the first to sign up.
Because her passing was so senseless, because she was such a beautiful light in this sometimes discouraging world of ours, my other beautiful daughter Katie and I knew we had to do something to honor Scout and her legacy and to keep her light shining in this world, and to continue to "make the world a little bit better place" for her.
We started the For Scout Foundation one year ago with a very simple mission-to support the causes that Scout believed in while she was alive, and to honor her life and spirit the best way possible.
We have donated over $15,000 to the American Asthma Foundation, who are working tirelessly to find a cure for asthma, and who have a special group working in Scout's name because of the funds we have donated to them.
We have donated over $10,000 to the Anderson Animal Shelter to ensure that as many cats and dogs can be rescued as possible, and so that just like Scout did, more families can provide a forever home to these lovely animals.
We have donated over $50,000 to the public schools in our district specifically towards their arts education programs, because Scout felt that music and art were a crucial part of every student's education. She played Viola in her elementary school orchestra.
We put in $10,000 worth of ADA compliant playground equipment at Scout's school so that every single child could know the joy of playing on a playground during recess-Scout never wanted anyone to feel left out.
And lastly, we have created the Scout Cantrell Scholarship Program within the St. Charles Aquatics Program, so that every child can have full access to swim lessons and swim teams, without worrying how they will pay for them. Scout lived swimming and was brilliant at it, and wanted to make sure no child ever felt left out in the pool
In the last year we have donated over $100,000 to the cause Scout supported and believed in, and those that now honor her incredible spirit. The notes we get from families in our community who are directly benefiting from this For Scout Foundation, and Scout's legacy are truly heart-warming, and in a special way help our family make sense of the loss of our beautiful Scout.
Scout was a beautiful soul who only wanted to do and see good in the world. She loved to give to others. So #mygivingstory is continuing to give to the causes Scout believed in. I know it is what she would want, and in every donation we give and receive, I feel Scout's love.
"Helping Westchester Residents One Step At A Time" by Lisa Moore in support of Gullotta House
My first experience with my organization came back in June of this year. A close family’s 3 month old was diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma, a type of cancer unknown to the medical field. I reached out to them for help and they came through with “emergency funds” to assist the family to help out with money for parking, gas, or food while the baby was undergoing treatment.
This began my relationship with Gullotta House. I became a Community Advisor where I refer families in need, and I volunteered my time at various fundraisers. The more I learned about Gullotta House, the more I wanted to be a part of it. Gullotta House ( www.gullottahouse.org ) is a non-profit organization who aids Westchester County residents that are faced with hardships financially, health related, or in other ways. They have donated numerous food vouchers, gas cards, and clothing to those in immediate need. Recently they partnered up with other local merchants to aid several families burnt out of their condominium complex right before the holiday. This year alone, they built a ramp that aided a resident to return home, assisted with burial expenses for a sudden tragic loss, helped out with a 12 year old cancer survivor’s birthday party, gave a disadvantaged child their first pony ride, built an entire patio and backyard to help a quadriplegic rebuild his life with his family, aided with education expenses, sponsored family fun days in several communities, gave local youths many opportunities to interact with the Westchester Knicks, collected 123 turkeys to be handed out, served 135 hot Thanksgiving meals to those alone or in need, and most recently provided food for after the funeral for the baby I recommended who lost his cancer battle two weeks before Christmas.
This is only a partial list of the many things that Gullotta House has done for our neighboring community this year. They just celebrated their one year anniversary and are excited to continue helping others. They are constantly seeking opportunities to increase funds so that they can continue helping others in need. Donating my time to this organization has given me a feeling that can’t be fully explained in words alone. My heart is flowing over and it’s the best feeling ever. Watching the reactions of recipients, reading their letters, and just knowing that you have made a positive difference in someone’s life is absolutely priceless.
I have recently expanded my volunteer responsibilities with Gullotta House by coming aboard as a new Board Member. Their involvement, care, and love for the community have led me there. I proudly support Gullotta House, and I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with them making a difference in the lives in our community. Please visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gullottahouse for updated pictures and news. Gullotta House makes a difference and I know that they have made a difference in my life!
"All in for Ethan" by Elaine Cinkay in support of All in for Ethan
In 2014, I met a young boy named Ethan. My daughter was spending the day with him and I was introduced to his parents. After speaking for some time, I learned that at the age of 6, Ethan was diagnosed with an extremely rare and terminal disease called GAN. GAN (Giant Axonal Neuropathy) is an inherited condition that involves the dysfunction of protein in nerve cells. Children affected gradually lose the use of their limbs and eventually rely on ventilators and feeding tubes. The diagnosis forced his parents to take on the task that no parent should ever have to...find a way to save their son.
In 2012, Ethan's parents began a foundation for their son to raise money and awareness about GAN, as well as assist other families in providing a better quality of life for their children. GAN is so rare that to date there are only 73 children worldwide who have been diagnosed. My heart ached thinking about the struggles they had already endured and knowing what the future held. I knew I couldn't leave without asking how I could help. She informed me that they were in the process of having their 2nd annual fundraising event, and wondered if I would be interested in joining their committee. Without hesitation, I agreed.
Serving on the board for All in for Ethan has given me the opportunity to witness firsthand how children and their families have benefited from donations. The money raised thus far has been used to provide medical supplies, food, and other amenities directly to families across the U.S. whose children are stricken with the disease, but who lack the means in obtaining necessary supplies. There is such a small community of GAN patients and families that are spread out all over the world. It has been a necessity to utilize the internet and social media to not only spread awareness of the disease, but to act as first responders for newly diagnosed children. Last year, a donation of $20,000 was given to Dr. Steven Gray of the University of North Carolina. His groundbreaking research has put GAN on the map and has led to clinical trials that are currently underway at the National Institute of Health.
The bond that I have formed with Ethan and his family is stronger than most familial ones. The other day I called Ethan and this was our brief exchange:
"How was your day, are you feeling OK?"
"No, not really.. What's wrong?"
"I don't feel OK, I feel perfect"
Currently Ethan is confined to a wheelchair and has limited use of his hands. His speech is slow and labored, however the words that emerge from his mouth are profound. Perfect. This is who Ethan is. Who he is not, is a victim of the disease. Ethan has never let his physical limitations define him, and when you are in his presence, it's hard to remember he has them. What is apparent is his desire to express love. It's a guarantee that the moment you meet him, you will be greeted with a tight embrace, followed by a peck on the cheek, and an indelible mark left on your heart.
I am All in for Ethan. I carry his optimism with me daily and hope that his words and fight will inspire everyone to answer "Perfect", when asked how they are feeling.
Honorable Mentions - Spanish Submissions
"John Ball Zoo" by Lisa Bol, in support of the John Ball Zoo
Fourteen years ago, I volunteered at the Zoo through our Teen Volunteer Program. I not only got to have a fun summer with my peers washing windows, cleaning exhibits, helping zoo educational programs, but it planted a seed of passion. Four years of working with animals, adult volunteers, keepers and Zoo staff in my youth helped me to plan for a career in biology. Although I ended up with a degree in philosophy and minor in biology, the passion of animals, conservation and education never left. I eventually come back to the Zoo. I now get to live my dream job every dayâ€“ maybe not in the way I originally thought, but in a way that is even more rewarding. Today, I am able to help spread that passion of conservation and philanthropy. I believe in the Zoo, in conservation, in education and in keeping the Zoo accessible for everyone. I give to the Zoo in order to give back to our West Michigan community, but also in honor of how it has shaped who I am today. As I see children come to the Zoo with families, students come on field trips, youth come for summer camp, conservation projects from tigers to turtles and our staff who endlessly work towards making the world a better place, I am reminded again and again of what the Zoo means to so many people and why I give to John Ball Zoo.
"Appreciating the Help" by Ester Ortiz-Allgower in support for TAPS
Six years ago my son, Richard, a CPL in the Marines, died of cerebral cystitis. Nothing prepared me for the death of my 29-year-old son. During that first month we buried my son and the reality of his loss was so difficult to accept, TAPS was there with a phone call to let us know that we were not alone. They sent us a resource kit full of cordial thoughts and information about the organization that would become our second family. Since then my family has benefited from the seminars and retreats we have attended and have met many surviving companions whom we call family. I know that every day there is a family loses a loved one who is serving our country and that is why I donate to TAPS. I want to help TAPS help these families as they helped my family.
Honorable Mentions - Video Submissions