What a thrill to fly across the country for Craiglist Foundation Bootcamp. Sparks were evident as 1,500 social entrepreneurs lit up the room, especially noteworthy as it was 8 A.M. on a Saturday morning. Then Arianna Huffington, our morning keynote, channeled inspirational people who helped shape her life-long passion for service. Starting with Mark Twain's quote "To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble"; continuing with her mother's lessons in empathy, compassion, and caring for others from her early days in Athens as she connected with farmers at the market, invited the postman in for coffee, and always treated others with warmth and respect.
Arianna shared a personal story of a transforming day that inspired her and her two daughters on a life-long journey of volunteerism and self-discovery. It was early in the day on her daughter's fifth birthday -- complete with the perfect mermaid cake, dozens of sweet friends, lots of activities, well-wishes and lots of presents. Right after the party, she took her two daughters to A Place Called Home. It happened that on this day, a five year old girl was also celebrating her birthday. The entire celebration and present consisted of a cupcake. Arianna's daughter turned to her and said, "Mommy let's go home. I want to get all of my presents and give them to her." And they did.
During the morning Q&A, I asked Arianna, "what is the professional accomplishment of which she is most proud and why?" She shared the writing of one of her 12 books, The Fourth Instinct, which illuminates the phenomenon that people's desire to be part of something larger than themselves.
I could relate because it's this same desire that has inspired me to devote the past eight years to launch Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and families to "Never give up!"
I started Soaringwords after three experiences with death and illness in my family. Within a ten-month period, my only sibling died suddenly, my dad had his second bout of cancer and was hospitalized for several months, and my 10-year-old son Jonathan, was catastrophically ill. I was inspired to start Soaringwords while walking along the beach during the height of Jonathan's illness. The doctors told us sea air would help our son heal, so we rented a cottage near Coney Island. My son had a lot of pain so I slept in his bed to soothe his tired limbs and jangled spirits. My son was heavily medicated to prevent seizures and we were involved in his care 24/7. In the morning, I walked along the beach to sing, pray, and cry. The rest of the time I was strong for my family. Suddenly, the name and the feeling "Soaring words" popped into my head. When I got back to the cottage, I scribbled the name "Soaringwords" in my idea pad.
From this experience, I learned that when a child is ill, the whole family is in crisis. Fortunately, my son recovered and started fourth grade in the fall. I realized my life would take a new direction. I created a charity to embrace ill children who have serious illnesses and provide all of the things we needed when Jonathan was ill. I closed my successful marketing company and the morning after my 40th birthday party, I began the Soaringwords' business plan.
Each year, 22 million children in the US suffer from chronic or serious illness? That's 20% of all children. Soaringwords has embraced over 250,000 children nationwide and invited them to "pay it forward" to do something fun and meaningful -- to inspire other ill kids to heal.
If you're looking to do something with your co-workers, family and friends join Soaringwords Facebook Causes. You'll learn about upcoming events and opportunities to volunteer. For example, later this week, Hershey is donating $35,000 if we get 10,000 people to complete a survey in 10 days. Please sign up on our cause and we'll share the link with you.
Soaringwords was invited to be a national charity partner for Make A Difference Day, the largest day of volunteering, sponsored by USA Weekend. Our goal: to inspire 1 million people to volunteer at 100 Soaringwords events on Make A Difference Day, Sat. Oct 24, 2009. Please send us an email if you want to be a part of Soaringwords' Make A Difference Day activities in your town/city. You are also invited to join me in NYC in Times Square for the "World's Largest Soaringwords Nia Dance Jam" and two days of fun-filled volunteer experiences in NYC.
Together, we can inspire millions of ill kids and their families to "Never give up!"