Dawn McMullan and Gorethy Nabushosi with some of the students in the Congo Restoration sewing school.

Restoring Women’s Lives in the Congo

When Dawn McMullan visited Africa in 2007, she never dreamed it would change her life in so many ways — or change the lives of others. “I went to Rwanda on a trip with my church and saw things I didn’t know existed,” says Dawn, a freelance writer and editor in Dallas, Texas. The country had been ravaged by civil war in the mid-90s; more than 1 million people died in Rwanda and 6 million were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’d seen deep poverty [on other mission trips], but I hadn’t seen a lack of infrastructure where basic human needs were just unreachable.” That experience was still fresh in her mind when she met Gorethy Nabushosi less than a year later. Gorethy, a refugee who had fled the Congo in 1997 and raised her six children in Dallas, had visited her home country to see how she could help. A decade after the genocide, she saw a system that was completely broken. [caption id="attachment_19859" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Gorethy Nabushosi with twin fifth grade students from the Congo Restoration sewing school.[/caption] “She went to a village and basically found a lot of orphans and took in all 30 kids,” Dawn says. “Then she called her husband and said, ‘I need $1,000 to figure out what to do with these kids. I can’t leave them.’ And that’s how it began.” Unsure of where to turn, Gorethy returned to Dallas and reached out to a Methodist church for help. The church connected her with Dawn, who immediately jumped on board. “When Gorethy came into my life, I was already somewhat familiar with the situation and had this great, inexplicable passion for it,” Dawn says. “From there, we started what became Congo Restoration.” Changing Africa One Woman at a Time The first order of business was to secure a home with caretakers for the 30 orphans Gorethy had taken in. Then, they focused on empowering women through education. In 2010, they started a sewing school that provided girls with a skill and a six-month education. In the Congo, girls and women are usually sent to work in the fields; Gorethy knew that offering them an education would be life changing. “Not only does that give them a way to make money that they didn’t have before, but it also raises them up in society,” Dawn explains. “They’re no longer the lowest ranks of society; they are respected women, because they have a business. They can send their kids to school. They’re in charge of their financial destiny. And that is not a thing in the Democratic Republic of Congo that a woman would usually be in charge of.” Initially, it was a hard sell to convince parents to take their daughters away from working in the fields to teach them a skill because it meant the girl wouldn’t be bringing home money during that time. Sometimes, Dawn says, they had to offer the family things of value like soap or salt to seal the deal. But the sewing school has now graduated more than 800 women, supplying each one with a sewing machine and a sewing kit with everything they need to start their own business. Creating a Brighter Future “Now when we're about to graduate a class, hundreds of women line up wanting to be in that next class,” Dawn says. “Their families cry when they get their diploma. It’s a shift in how the community sees these women.” She also sees dramatic changes in the women who attend the school: “We teach them a lot of things in those six months. Sewing is one of them, but there are other things we teach them about how valuable they are. And by the time they graduate, you can see that in their eyes.” Congo Restoration continues changing the lives of families in the Congo, but Dawn says she is the one who has gained so much from the work. “When I go to Congo, when I’m doing things for the schools, I get so much thanks from the people there,” she says. “But they have no idea how much they’re changing me, how much they’re teaching me. I wish everyone could find the one thing they can do like that that lights them up. “If everybody did something with a passion to do good in the world, there’s just no way the world’s not benefiting from all that good energy.” [caption id="attachment_19865" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Gorethy Nabushosi with recent graduates of Congo Restoration's sewing school.[/caption]
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Live Happy Stands with Ukraine

Put Empathy Into Action

Practicing happiness in uncertain times often begins with doing something for others. Research suggests that happier people are more likely to be empathetic to others, especially when it’s needed the most. Our empathy gives us the ability to want to understand what someone else is going through as well as the desire to help alleviate the suffering. In essence, we are trying to share the pain so we can heal together. We understand that there is great sadness and strife around the world that is seemingly out of our control. It may seem futile to even attempt to help and you may not even know where to begin. The good news is you can turn those feelings of helplessness into helpfulness with empathy. You can start by asking yourself these important questions when you see people in unfortunate situations: What are these people feeling right now? How would I feel if I were in that situation? What would I need if I were in that situation? This exercise can help build your empathy by making you more willing to help and may even give some good ideas on how you can make a difference. A good place to start your empathy journey is by putting it action to where people in this world are really suffering. Currently, the people of Ukraine are in dire need of assistance due to an unprecedented attack on their country. Organizations like UNICEF have a long history of relentlessly helping children and mothers get emergency food, water and health care in countries being ravaged by war, such as Ukraine. Even though you may never see the end result of your acts of empathy, if we all collectively continue to focus on others instead of ourselves, a tiny ripple of goodness can turn into a tidal wave of greatness that may just make the world a better place for all to live.
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Ilustration of charitable states

Top 10 Most Charitable States

This is the time of year when we are reminded to be thankful for thegood things in our lives, and to try to help those lessfortunate. Research shows thataltruistic people are not only morelikely to actively engage in theircommunities, but generally havea higher state of wellbeing.Utah gives backAccording to a recentnationwide Gallup poll,the good people of Utahare leading the chargein charitable acts, with nearly half ofall Utahns polled saying they havedonated money and volunteered tohelp a charity within the last month.America gives backAnd while Americans across the boardare more likely to donate money to anorganization than time, we still get agold star when it comes to giving back to our communities when compared to therest of the world.You can give back, tooHappiness and kindness go hand inhand, so give a little extra this holidayseason, and feed your soul.
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Paula Wolfert

Recipe for Compassion

In 2012, when a journalistinterviewed Paula Wolfert about her latest cookbook, The Food of Morocco, she had forgotten thebeginning of his question by the time he reached the end of it. Paula improvised. “That’s a brilliant question,”she told the reporter. “But let metalk about the magic of tagines.”Mediterranean mavenRecounting the story to a group ofabout 200 chefs and foodies gatheredin a downtown Los Angeles parkinglot that has been turned into a pop-upMediterranean restaurant, Paula laughsas she says, “I can talk about tagines forever.” Everyone chuckles, but theyknow the author of nine acclaimedcookbooks—and a five-time winner ofthe James Beard Foundation Award—issharing more than just amusing talesfrom a book tour.After that exchangewith the reporter, Paula saw her doctorand had a series of tests, includingan MRI, that led to a devastatingdiagnosis. Her memory lapses weren’tjust “senior moments”—she hadBenson’s syndrome, a variant ofAlzheimer’s disease.Friends step in to helpThe event, organized by Paula’sgood friends, chefs Susan Park andhusband Farid Zadi, hosted more thana dozen top L.A. chefs preparing theirfavorite Paula-inspired dishes for a feastbenefiting the Alzheimer’s Foundationof America.“I’m not in denial—that’s not anoption,” Paula says. “I’m not going tobe ashamed. I remember the days whenpeople didn’t say they had cancer. Samewith HIV. Then some people came outpublicly, and they helped bring attentionand funds to their cause. That’s wherewe are with Alzheimer’s today.”Similar fundraisers will take placeacross the country. Serge Madikians,the chef-owner of Serevan in NewYork’s Hudson Valley, is here to gainsome tips for an event he’s planningat his restaurant this fall.From author to activist“Paula’s aninspiration,” he says. “She shows thatyou don’t surrender to adversity. Youfigure out what you have control overand what you don’t, and then you come up with a plan.”Paula agrees. “I can’t writecookbooks anymore,” she tells thecrowd. “But I have too much energynot to do something so I’ve become anactivist.I don’t know if this is going tohelp me. But I’m not feeling sorry formyself. It may help you.”Late Summer Saladby Paula WolfertWhen tomatoes are ripe and summer bellpeppers are local and at their sweetest, thisraw salad really shines. It helps, too, to usea really great mono-floral honey such aslavender, eucalyptus, clover or acacia that isliquid, delicate and well-balanced.3 medium tomatoes, peeled,seeded and cubed1 large farm stand or organic redbell pepper, peeled, cored andfinely diced1 large farm stand or organic greenbell pepper, peeled, cored andfinely diced1 red onion, finely diced1 tablespoon liquid honey1 tablespoon lemon juice ormild cider vinegar4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oilSea salt and freshly groundblack pepper1 ½ tablespoons finely choppedcilantro leaves1½ tablespoons finely choppedflat-leaf parsleyMix tomatoes, peppers and red onionin a salad bowl. Mix honey, vinegar, oil, saltand pepper and toss with the vegetablesin the bowl. Sprinkle the chopped herbs ontop. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve(This recipe is from The Food of Morocco,HarperCollins, 2011.)
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Holly Robinson-Peete and RJ Peete

Finding Strength in Adversity

It’s not the hand you have been dealt, or even how much the deck is stacked against you. It’s how you play your cards.At least, that’s HollyRobinson Peete’s perspective. Holly and her husband, former NFLquarterback Rodney Peete, have beenblessed with success in their careers. Butcaring for Holly’s father, who wassuffering from Parkinson’s disease, tooka toll on their family, both financiallyand emotionally.Inspired by herpersonal adversities, the actress-turned-philanthropistnow advocates for thecauses dear to her. Wanting to give back “It’s such a take, take, take world, and when you give back, you balance outall of the things and the blessings you have received,” Holly says. “It has mademe a less judgmental person and a morepatient person. My desire to live a life ofservice all comes from situations thathave happened to me.” Holly says she spent years feelingsorry for herself, saying, “Why me?”“Why is this happening to my lovedones?” But shifting the focus fromwhatever is going on in her life to helpingpeople who are suffering has been a verycathartic process. Drawing strength from family She and Rodney started theHollyRod Foundation in 1997 to helpthose dealing with Parkinson’s diseaseafford their treatments and medications.And in 2000, their mission expanded toinclude autism when their eldest son,Rodney “RJ” Peete Jr., was diagnosedwith the disorder. “We try to do a lot ofawareness and alleviate some of theirday-to-day stresses,” she says. “Both themission and the desire to raise funds andadvocate for families came out of twosituations, one with my father and onewith my son.” Compassionate care By partnering with the Parkinson’sDisease and other Movement DisordersCenter at the Keck School of Medicineof the University of Southern California,the HollyRod Compassionate CareProgram provides assistance withconsultations, physical therapy,swallowing treatment and ambulationaids. In 2010, the HollyRod Foundation teamed up with nabi tablet creator Fuhu Inc. to launch the Give the Gift of Voicecampaign, offering nonverbal autisticchildren a means to communicate. “These kids can’t talk, but they havea lot to say,” Holly says. “We have to givethem the tools to be able toexpress themselves.” Looking toward the future Holly is trying to bring issues like autistic kids' tendency to wander off, and the transition fromadolescence to adulthood into thediscussion. The same questions andfears she has for her own son, she has forevery child growing up with autism,including, “How is he going to live onhis own?” “Who is going to hire him?”“How will he adjust and become aproductive citizen?” Holly and RJ were on a flight homeafter a trip to the Super Bowl in NewYork. The seats were small andconfined, and 6-foot-2-inch RJ was fidgety. Midway through the flight, thegentleman in front of RJ turned aroundand scolded him for kicking the backofhis seat. Putting it in perspective “There was a time when they wouldhave had to haul me off. As a mom,I would have said, ‘How dare you bedisrespectful,’ ” she says. “Now I say,‘I understand what you are saying,and if I were in your position I wouldfeel this way, too, but here’s the deal.’He moved on, and I could tell he feltbad….I think that is the difference in the15 years we have been dealing with this.” Because of their experiences, Hollysays she and her family are stronger,more gracious and happier. That’s theirwinning hand.
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Father and son with a box of items to donate

Teaching Kids to Give Back

Almost nine of 10 households donate to charity, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and that’s especially apparent as the holidays approach. With giving this widespread, it makes sense to wonder whether sharing time, talent and treasure comes naturally.Since most of us don’t wake up one day and say, “Now I’ll be philanthropic,” how does generosity develop? We’re learning that the rewards of sharing begin long before someone writes a check.Empathy for a cause—you might call it our “generosity gene”—typically kicks in when a family is just starting out under one roof and may not have a significant sum to give. In fact, early charitable acts may not even involve money.Many can recall baking cookies for a fundraiser, volunteering or donating clothing, and sharing time is also sharing wealth. According to Independent Sector, a nonprofit advocacy group, 64.3 million Americans gave 15.2 billion hours of volunteer time in 2011, worth nearly $300 billion.Children can donate their time, too. Even preschoolers can empathize with the needs of others, but they may need help to realize they can make a difference. Nurture generosity with ordinary opportunities to share time and money as a family:Participate in a charity walk/runCoach youth teamsCook meals for othersBuy magazines or cookies from neighbor kidsContribute to your church, synagogue or other place of worshipGive away clothing or booksTake gifts to new parentsHost parties and events in your homeShovel snow for shut-insServe on committeesPhilanthropy evolves as families become aware of community issues, take an interest, show preferences and seek action.HERE’S HOW TO BEGIN GET TOGETHER.Hold periodic family meetings to discuss and come up with a plan of action. Whether a family consists of young children, teens or married couples, find ways to work toward common goals.Be "Hand's" On.Visit or work at shelters, events or community projects. Learn how giving affects the giver and the receiver.Make a Plan.Discuss what to save, spend and give. Knowing why to give and when is as important as knowing how much.Set Priorities.Learn to maximize the impact of your gifts. A good resource is charitynavigator.org, which rates charities based on financial health, accountability and transparency.Encourage and Model Good Spending, Saving and Investing Habits.Families need assets in order to give. In short, model a spirit of giving. It’s never too late to leave children a legacy of generosity.
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Warrick Dunn talking in front of flags

A Perfect Day

My hero, John Wooden, once famously remarked: “You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”Recently, I got to witness a perfect day.I was in Topeka, Kansas, visiting the insurance-marketing company Advisors Excel. It was my third time speaking for the company at its headquarters, and I always enjoy my visits to the city. This time, however, they had a surprise in store for me.After the speech, company executives informed me that they had been inspired by the story I had shared previously of retired NFL running back Warrick Dunn and his incredible journey of healing and generosity.You see, Warrick Dunn grew up as the oldest of six children under the care of their mother, Betty Smothers—a dedicated single mother and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer. Money was always tight, so the family often moved from house to house, trying to save on rent while dreaming of one day buying a home of their own that they would never have to leave. But Betty never lived to see that dream realized. On January 7, 1993, Corporal Smothers was shot and killed in a botched robbery attempt at a bank, and 18-year-old Warrick’s world collapsed.Despite his incredible performance on the field in college, his heart was breaking as he worked to keep his grades high and to step up as the man of the house as he raised his siblings from afar, with the help of his grandmother. The men accused of murdering his mother were convicted and sent to death row, but Warrick still struggled with how to move past the tragedy. Through it all, Betty Smother’s words kept ringing in her oldest son’s ears: “In life, you’re going to face difficulties, but you have a choice. You can either use them to make you bitter, or to make you better. Choose to be better.”In his very first year in the NFL, Warrick decided to he wanted to invest his salary in making the dream of home ownership come true for hard-working single parents—men and women just like his mother. In this way, the Homes for the Holidays program began. Through his foundation, Warrick Dunn surprises a family by providing the down payment, all the furnishings, and a fully stocked pantry, cabinets and lawn-care shed for single parents who have taken financial management classes and invested sweat equity with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. He does it in honor of his mother’s memory.As I stood on that stage in Topeka, I could see how the legacy of Betty Smothers’ words to her children had not only prompted them to choose being better over being bitter, but now she was inspiring others, too. After hearing me talk about Warrick’s incredible story, the employees at Advisors Excel had decided to invest in their own community by helping to build and outfit a home for a single mother of four who works as a home healthcare aid. And they had arranged it so that I would be there when she was handed the keys to her family’s new home—that very morning.As we drove to the site, I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t even text Warrick to tell him about the incredible act that his efforts inspired. It turned out, I didn’t need to: When we arrived at the house, Warrick Dunn was waiting there for me with a huge grin on his face! As his foundation looked to expand into more cities, Topeka was on the list, and together, they partnered with the folks at Advisors Excel to make the first house happen.But as incredible as the surprise was for me, it was nothing compared to the surprise of the family when they arrived. They had no idea that their house was being furnished and stocked, and the down payment covered, by a local company and a national sports hero.I was overwhelmed as we presented the mother with her key, and she was overwhelmed as the reality of homeownership became real. “Is this my new address?” she asked with a smile and tears in her eyes. But I think the most telling moment of the whole day was when one of her sons, upon opening the pantry and cheering at the supply of macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables, pasta, and other non-perishables inside, remarked: “You know, they’re doing a food drive at the shelter. Now we have stuff we can take!”This morning, 348 children woke up in their own home—with a sense of permanence, security and pride—because of this foundation. In fact, the University of South Florida partnered with the Warrick Dunn Foundation to examine just what kind of far-reaching impact his work might have on the children, and the results were incredible. Two-thirds of the parents were able to pay for more extracurricular activities for their children, more than half reported an increase in respect from their children, 70% reported an increase in their children’s educational performance, and 76% reported a sense of hope for better futures for their children—all after the family took possession of their new home.As I had the privilege to witness in Topeka, the spirit of giving that Warrick Dunn has embraced through his grief has not only changed the lives of the families he has helped, but it has also inspired countless other men and women—and children, too—to pay it forward and to use what they have to bring hope to someone else.Yes, I witnessed a perfect day, indeed.
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