We're happy to see you here at the Benevolent Blog. Please also visit us at www.benevolent.net!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Anthony Says You’re Great Humanitarians - Prove Him Right (again)

Hey, You Great Humanitarians!

Today’s a big day at Benevolent. Today and tomorrow we’re closing out our biggest-ever matching grant and striving to help the ten people whose needs with expire if we don’t get them completely funded by midnight tomorrow.

Alicia is a mom who’s in school to be a nurse and needs a laptop to help her make it through school so she can support her three daughters for life.

Robert got out of prison recently and is ready to turn his life around and be a great dad and grandpa. He needs to get ahold of his citizenship papers so he can apply for jobs and step up.

and her husband fled persecution in Honduras and need beds to help their daughters settle in and head out to school in their new home in the U.S.

You give $30 and the need gets $60. It could not be more simple and wonderful. Help us make this first big match a success and demonstrate the power of the Benevolent community.

So what’s up with the Great Humanitarians thing? Read this AMAZING note from a recipient, Anthony, who wanted to be sure that all of us know what a difference we make when we help:

Words are not enough to express how extremely grateful, humbled and happy I am at this moment! Now that this need has been met, I am confident that I will be able to advance in my career and training going forward. This just reassures my faith in humanity and that there are some truly beautiful people and wonderful organizations in the world that will lend their resources, time and attention to those who might be a little less fortunate and for that I sincerely give thanks. A special thank you to ALL OF THE 18 DONORS that helped me achieve my goal and a SUPER SPECIAL THANK YOU to the donors who contacted me with such hope, motivation and well wishes to me and my journey. You all are so loved and blessed. Keep up the great works and deeds you mighty humanitarians! Many, Many Blessings.” - Anthony

- megan kashner
 founder & ceo

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Much has been made of a recent research study published in Science Magazine about the impacts of poverty on people’s ability to function and thrive. The researchers found that living in poverty is like trying to cope having lost a full night’s sleep – every day.

Similarly sobering news is that a recent Pew study found that 70% of those who grow up in poverty in the U.S. (in the lowest 20% of household income) will never make it past the median income in the U.S. Certainly paints a bleak picture, eh?

So here’s what I’m thankful for in light of this dreary outlook. I’m thankful for the determination of people like Lorena who stepped forward this fall to ensure that her little sister gets the opportunities she didn’t. Lorena asked for our help in paying college application fees for her sister. Here’s what Lorena said:

“My goal is to give my sister the opportunity to be the first out of our family to receive a bachelor's degree. That will be a great start for her independence and have something to hold on to in the real world.”
Lorena hasn’t given up for herself, her family or her sister. She’s seeing the glass as half full and she believes that her sister can and will overcome the poverty and tragedies that have touched their family’s life.

The numbers support Lorena’s belief that with the benefit of education, her sister can rise above her family’s circumstances. While only 30% of those who grew up in poverty rise to the middle or upper income levels, 86% of people with college degrees make that positive move up the income ladder. With a college degree, Lorena’s sister will have much more than a fighting chance.

Here’s another. Shirley, like so many low-income breadwinners, can secure only part time work. Shirley knows full well how difficult it is for a low-wage worker to secure full-time employment. In fact, this year’s numbers show that around 75% of new jobs created were part-time. Shirley, though, is determined to be one of the few who secure a new full-time job this year. She knows that new full-time jobs are coming open at the hospital where she works part-time as a security guard. 

To get one of those jobs, she needs to move a roadblock. She knows that without glasses to see, read, and apply she won’t even be in the running. Shirley is doing the hard work of believing and working towards her goal despite the odds against her, and I’m grateful that something as attainable as prescription glasses can help fuel her in her quest.

It would be so logical to lose hope in light of today’s economic realities. This Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful that my kids and I can learn from and be inspired by those who see that sliver of light and drive directly towards it.

Thanks to those of you who set an example of what it means to be a parent, a citizen, a community, and who find hope in overwhelmingly tough situations. Thanks to those who keep alive the spirit of American determination and caring and who help us remember what it means never to say “never.”

- megan kashner
  founder & ceo

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ready to Go!

What happens when a young adult is ready to move out and find his or her own way? What did you do? Maybe you moved on to college after high school. Maybe you worked and went to school at night. Maybe you worked, traveled, lived with friends, did a year of service or followed your favorite band.

It’s no different when young adults age out of programs for foster youth. They take many different routes, too. Like young adults of all backgrounds, they sometimes just need a hand. On the Benevolent site, we’ve had many needs posted in which we hear from a high school grad who’s about to head off to college and needs a laptop, bus or train fare to get to college, or basic dorm room furnishings -- sheets, towels and the like. 

- Photo of Lemia -
My goal is to graduate college,
join the army, and be independent. 
I would like to attend a university
and work in the health field.
Today, though, we’ve got a need posted to the site that’s new for us. Lemia is ready to make the move from the group home she’s been living in with other older youth in the child welfare system. She’s getting her own place and she’ll live independently while she’s in school studying for a career in health care. On the Benevolent site, Lemia’s asking for help with the funds necessary to get herself situated in her new place.

Lemia doesn’t have a family basement or closet to raid for towels or kitchenware, or a folding table to borrow while she works her way towards more “real” furniture and slowly accumulates the things that make an apartment a home. I have no doubt she’ll make her place into a warm and peaceful home, but it’ll take some time and some help.

That’s where we come in. We can step in where family would have handed down the folding table from the hall closet, where the lamp no one was using would have been pulled from a box of old things and where a parent or uncle would have joined in a trip to the store and footed the bill for a few essential pieces.

We can do this for Lemia who has already beaten the odds simply by graduating high school. The stakes are even higher now. While she is one of the 70% of former foster youth with a desire to attend college, barely 5% wind up completing either a two-or four-year degree.

Some sobering facts: 50% of “aged out” foster youth are homeless within 18 months of emancipation, 25% are incarcerated within two years, 60% of these young women become mothers themselves within four years. Lemia’s got clear and impressive dreams and they bear no resemblance to those difficult statistics.

I spent a few years running group homes in Chicago and I can’t tell you how incredible each of those kids was. Every one of them had been through many foster care homes and each one had lived through situations that no child should experience. That’s where their similarities ended. They were as different from one another as kids should be and their gifts, strengths and dreams were inspiring.

I have no idea what Lemia’s seen or what she’s had to overcome to thrive. What I know is that she’s ready for what’s next and eager to get started. She’s generous enough to share her story with us, and she’s hoping we’ll believe in her. Let’s.

- megan kashner
  founder & ceo

Monday, July 15, 2013

Prison Babies

This past Saturday, it took only a few hours for Benevolent donors to step up and help Brianna keep her baby. It's not often that a small amount of money can help a mom and baby stay together, but this was a special circumstance. Brianna needed $210 to pay off a traffic fine so she could keep her baby and raise him from the moment he’s born. The baby’s due next month, and Brianna’s in prison. There’s a special program that will allow her to stay with and keep her baby, but not if she has any outstanding fines.

There was something about the simplicity and raw humanity of Brianna’s need. She’s a mom who wants to nurture her infant when he’s born. We can envision what it will look and feel like when Brianna holds her son. We can also imagine what it would feel like if he were taken from her. We’ve been parents; we’ve been parented; we’ve held newborns close and we’ve suffered hurts. We can feel the urgency of this even if we can’t imagine what it’s like to be in prison and to face the reality of a child being taken away from us.

Over 64% of the women in prison in this country have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, mostly property or drug offenses, and over 2,000 women in prison will give birth this year. Most of us know that babies are born to women serving time in prison and that the vast majority of women who give birth while incarcerated in the U.S. don't get to stay with their babies for even a week after they're born. We don’t often get the opportunity to change that for a mom and her baby. This week, we did.

I knew it. I knew that women in prison in the U.S. have their babies taken from them when they’re born. But I’ve got to tell you, I've never signed a petition, called my legislator or lobbied to urge policymakers to change prison policies and programs to allow women to remain with their babies, if they choose to, after birth.

When Brianna's need came to us, though, I felt an immediate surge of adrenaline. I knew we had to help this young woman get into the program that would allow her and her son to remain together, and I knew that donors would feel as I did. I was right. Seven donors from five different states took only seven hours to completely fund Brianna’s need.

If the donors felt anything like I did, it didn't matter to me how many times Brianna might have been arrested (only once, as it turns out), what the traffic tickets she had left unpaid were for, how many children she had (this will be her first) or whether she had made poor choices rather than paying her fines. All I could think about was the hours and days after my own children’s births, about the sweetness of their new skin, about the way they smelled, cried, and felt in my arms, about all the protectiveness and responsibility I felt for the fragile life in my arms.

In the U.S., we seem to cherish parenting for ourselves, but not always for others. Paid parental leave is not a protected right; all parents are expected to work starting as soon as six weeks after birth; and babies are taken from prisoners at birth. This makes us very different from many other countries and cultures.

In Germany, for example, mothers serving jail sentences can have their children remain with them until age four or six and some are allowed work-release privileges to go and parent their children. That's right; moms leave prison in the morning like anyone else headed off to a work-release job and their work is getting their children ready for school, taking care of their children's needs, and doing everything associated with being moms to their kids. At the end of the workday, they head back to prison like any other work-release prisoner. In Germany, being a parent is considered a vocation; a child’s need to have his or her mom present is valued; and systems are put into place to make the situation work.  

We helped Brianna and her baby to stay together.  What could we do to help the other 2,000+ moms who will give birth in prison this year to have the same option? I checked into it, because it seems to me that when a need we encounter on the Benevolent site strikes us as powerfully as this one struck me, we should find out how to get involved and become a part of the solution for people beyond the one we’re helping through the Benevolent site.

Here’s what I found...
  • The Women’s Prison Association appears to be one of the strongest organizations engaging in research and advocacy work around the issues of women in prison. Their program work seems to be only in New York state, but their policy and advocacy work extends nation-wide. Interestingly, the president of the Board of Directors for this organization, Piper Kerman is the author of the book and new Netflix series about women in prison - Orange is the New Black.
  • The National Institute of Corrections maintains a list of programs for women in prison state by state. You could use this website to find out how to get involved as an advocate or volunteer in your area.

So these are places for us to start. I hope that Brianna’s story touched you the way it touched me. I hit “send” on the payment to Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers earlier today so that Brianna’s fine can be paid and she can qualify for the program that will keep her together with her son when he’s born. I’m so glad we were there to help.

- megan kashner
  founder & ceo

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Traits of a Great Dad

What does it mean to be a great dad, to live up to the hype of Father’s Day?  Here are some thoughts about that, accumulated over years of watching great, imperfect dads in action.

  1. Great dads care how their kids are doing. Whether they express it perfectly or not, when dad is pressing us to achieve, criticizing our decisions, asking us a litany of questions, giving us advice or simply telling us he cares, it’s all the same. He gives a hoot.
  2. Great dads feel responsible. It could be a sense of responsibility to teach us, support us or protect us, or it could simply be that they know their actions and opinions have an impact on us. Great dads feel like they’ve got to be able to be relied on.
  3. Great dads see us for who we are. Whether we’re walking in their footsteps or blazing new trails, great dads see us for how we’re distinct from them, from their hopes and dreams for us, and from what we might have been like in an earlier era.
  4. Great dads have reactions. Those reactions might not be expressed or framed in a way we know what to do with right away, but a great dad reacts to things he believes will affect our lives. Because they care, great dads react when they think we’re on or off course, in or out of a good circumstance, and more.
  5. Great dads are embarrassing. Yep, it might be that they wear their pant cuffs too high, walk out of the house with a bit of tissue on a nick from shaving, cheer too loudly from the sidelines, or hold and express opinions far different from our own. We get embarrassed because they’re ours; and despite our embarrassment, we’re glad they are ours.

So, this Father’s day, all of us here at Benevolent want to celebrate our imperfect, embarrassing, reactive, insightful dads who give a hoot by doing something they taught us to do. Great dads stick their necks out and step in.

In honor of Father’s Day, let’s do that, too. Let’s step in and react to someone who’s in a bind. Let’s embarrass dad by honoring him for the guy he really is - the guy who’s made a difference in our lives and taught us how to make a difference for someone else.

I’ve created a special Father’s Day giving page highlighting some of the stories on the Benevolent site that I think might pique the interest of the dads in our lives. Here’s a link to it.

Last year, I made my dad cry when I contributed to someone in his honor. This year, let’s make all our dads know how much they’re appreciated, in all their imperfection.

- megan kashner
  founder & ceo

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fresh Starts and Faith

What would it take for you to feel like you were making a fresh start? We start over so many times in a lifetime – when we begin living independently as young adults; when we first share our hearts with someone; when we start parenting, caring for aging parents; when we take a deep breath and reinvent ourselves. Many of the people whose stories are on the Benevolent site this week are making fresh starts, too, important ones. One that stands out for me is Kena’s story.
“It's just me and God in this apartment.” - Kena

Kena seems like someone we’d all like to know – now. Not so long ago, Kena was living a life driven by her addiction. She tells us about years of making bad choices. Now, however, Kena is in recovery, living independently for the first time, and ready to build towards her future.

As many know, recovery from addiction is a very personal and often spiritual process. In fact, Kena tells us “It's just me and God in this apartment.” She’s sleeping on an air mattress in an unfurnished apartment and working towards employment and stability. She has a part-time job and is working hard to make ends meet.

This is Kena’s fresh start. She’s coming to life in ways she hasn’t been able to in years, and I am touched that she shared it with us and is trusting us to help.

The very first need we met on the Benevolent site was for a woman named Anne who was also sleeping on an air mattress. Laughingly she told us that every night she went to bed fearing that the bed would pop and she’d wake up on the hard floor. 

This fresh start for Kena is about so much more than a bed. It’s about her determination, optimism, hard work and belief in herself. What we can give her is way beyond furniture. When you reach out and enter Kena’s circle, she’ll know that she’s not walking this new path all on her own. Our recipients tell us all the time that just knowing that there are people out there who believe in them makes a world of difference. I’m glad we can be that world of difference for Kena this spring.

I can just picture it. When Kena gets her new furniture and bed, she’ll know that in addition to her and God in her apartment, a little bit of each of us will be there as well, reminding her that we believe in her and in her new start.

- megan kashner
  founder & ceo