Tag Archives: community

The Best Holiday Gift

The Children’s Organ Transplant Association is an organization to which we have guided many of our donors over the last several years. Last week, they provided us with a beautiful holiday story about one of the children that donor funds helped. In the spirit of the season, I thought it appropriate to share here.


During a season filled with lists and wishes, the holiday gift one Utah couple hopes for is one often taken for granted: a healthy family.  For this family, one wish has already been granted.  Now they wait for the ultimate gift … the gift of life.

Last November, Brian and Emily Hoopes received a precious gift in the form of a long-awaited adoption.  Their story began on Halloween 2008 when Baby Patrick was born in Michigan.  The young Salt Lake City area couple adopted Patrick when he was just one-week-old, bringing him home to Utah a month later.  From the outset of the adoption process, Brian and Emily knew Patrick was a very sick infant.  They were told the baby only had a few centimeters of small intestine and until he could get an intestinal transplant, Patrick would require constant medical attention.

“Beyond knowing he would need lots of medical care we also knew Patrick’s life had been a series of miracles up until that point. We hoped those miracles would continue and we decided to forge ahead with hope, despite an uncertain future,” said Emily.

Knowing the road ahead would be rocky given Patrick’s diagnosis of short gut syndrome, Brian and Emily joyfully initiated the adoption process and returned to Utah to their large network of family, neighbors and church friends.  Their network of acquaintances expanded rapidly to include Patrick’s medical team of gastroenterologists, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, developmental specialists and many more medical professionals.  This couple’s dedication and commitment to a tiny infant remained unwavering even as they discovered the harsh realities that laid ahead for each of them. 

The specialists at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, told Emily and Brian they would need to go to Seattle Children’s Hospital, an 840-mile trip, to further investigate the possibility of a life-saving small bowel transplant.  They made their first trip to Seattle in early 2009.  That trip was successful and Patrick was listed for a small bowel transplant. That’s when the waiting began. 

Just to maintain Patrick’s health while he waits for his transplant, the Hoopes’ pay co-pays for every doctor and therapist visit, and for every trip to the hospital emergency department in Salt Lake City.  Sometimes Patrick is in the doctor’s office more than once each week.  There are also co-pays for his medications; deductibles, and the costs of living at a hospital for a week or more at a time.  According to Emily and Brian, the Hoopes family has had to tighten their belt because Emily’s current full-time job is taking care of Patrick.

Intestinal transplants are a fairly new procedure.  With Patrick being listed for transplant at Seattle Children’s, Emily and Patrick need to travel to Seattle every three months for evaluations.  Each visit involves airfare and food and lodging for at least a couple days.  They also pay charges associated with seeing doctors outside of their insurance network.  When the transplant call does come and they need to get to Seattle quickly, Emily and Brian may need to charter a $10,000 flight to get Patrick to the hospital within the narrow time frame allowed by the surgical team.

It became very apparent, very quickly, that Brian and Emily Hoopes needed help.  Even though the Hoopes’ have health insurance coverage, they soon realized that regardless of how ‘good’ their insurance is, they are facing a huge financial burden — in addition to the stress of Patrick’s medical care they face on a daily basis.  In the midst of these difficult days, Brian and Emily heard about the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA). 

“With the amazing assistance that COTA provided, we were able to pull together a group of friends and family who are working together to raise funds for transplant-related expenses, and to raise awareness of the transplant journey our family was facing,” said Emily.  Almost immediately, Emily became a regular contributor to Patrick’s website journal at www.COTAforPatrickH.com.  And, just as quickly, bloggers got online and started reading, and responding to, this mother’s riveting words of gratitude and hope.

After Patrick’s transplant, he and Emily will need to stay near the hospital in Seattle for about six months.  This family will split Brian’s income across two households in two states.  Undoubtedly, their out-of-pocket insurance costs will skyrocket and they will have co-pays for bi-weekly biopsies; for anti-rejection medications, and for IV nutrition, feeding therapy and home nursing. 

“When I consider the price of Patrick’s transplant journey, it is overwhelming.  However, COTA has given us hope, making it seem that one more miracle is possible,” said Emily.

Emily continued, “We have witnessed many little miracles since we found COTA.  Family, friends and neighbors have come together in amazing ways.  Strangers in our community have reached out to us.  Every little miracle gives us hope that a bigger miracle — a transplant — is in our future.  We’ve always considered Patrick’s life a gift.  We feel privileged to be his parents.  Some may think we gave our baby a gift by adopting him, but the reality is that he is giving us the ultimate gift by being our son.” 

The Hoopes family is getting ready for the holidays.  They are grateful for the ongoing support their COTA team continues to provide; they are grateful for their COTA website Journal readers and Guestbook visitors, and mostly, they are grateful for the selfless gift an anonymous family will soon give to Patrick … the gift of life. 

Truly the best holiday gift that can be given.



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Perfection Not Required

I’m well aware of the pressures parents put on themselves to be perfect – though fortunately my children are too young to roll their eyes at me or tell me that I humiliate them every time I put the trash out in my bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. Yet, as I potty train my toddler or get up to feed the baby at oh-dark-thirty, I am constantly critical of how well I’m playing the role as the adult who shoulders the incredible burden of bringing up the next generation.

I have a laundry list of parenting faults – I’m a little high-strung, I hate to mop the kitchen floor (negating any 30-second-rule for fear my kids will die of whatever has taken up residence there), I don’t find the emptying of an entire roll of toilet paper or tube of toothpaste particularly humorous and sometimes I put the pillow over my head and mutter, “if I ignore you can I sleep just 20 more minutes?”

And yet, my kids are lucky – they have parents who love them and are fiercely devoted to giving them the best life we possibly can. And that is enough perfection for them.

It is also the reasoning behind this month’s National Adoption Month theme: “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent: There are thousands of teens in foster care who would love to put up with you.”

Last month, President Obama declared November as “National Adoption Month”, to “honor those families who have strengthened America through adoption, and we recommit to reducing the number of children awaiting adoption into loving families,” and to “renew our commitments to children in the foster care system.”

The observance of National Adoption Month is more than just a celebration of adoption, it is a cry for more than 120,000 children who are in foster care awaiting a permanent family and an end to a life of turmoil. These are children who are not in the “system” by their own choosing, but have become without permanent home, family or support through tragic circumstances and the unfortunate choices of others. National Adoption Month aims to focus on the needs of these children, nearly 25,000 of whom age out of the foster care system each year and to remind each of us of our responsibility to the rising generation.

Every year, we are losing alarming numbers of these young adults who have “aged out” to cycles of poverty, crime, incarceration and death at far above the rate of their peers. Without a support system to prepare them for life on their own, many face an uphill battle that is rarely won.

It is this alarming fact that has lead AdoptUsKids, a  cooperative agreement between The Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children & Families and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, to highlight the message of “anti-perfection” – that even the quirkiest of us have something to offer a teen in foster care. Their PSA campaign reminds us all that each of us – foibles included – can make a difference in the life of a child in foster care by being a mentor, a foster family or by giving a foster child into a permanent, loving home.

We work with many individuals and organizations who champion this same message. This past year we helped Christmas Box International with their Lifestart initiative to help arm teens aging out of foster care with basic necessities. We champion the ideas set forth by Judy Cockerton of The Treehouse Foundation for their ability to make an impact. And we embrace the idea of reminding us all about the “forgotten children” who live among us.

At the very least, we ask that you hug a child in your life today. You’re a far greater parent, example or mentor than you realize. After all, you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.



Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

Giving Time.

Last fall, it was easy to get bogged down and think that the brink of economic disaster was upon us. At the same time, it was easy to become jaded as story after story ran about companies and people serving their own self interests, which helped spiral into one of the worst economic recessions in world history.

Nine months later, there are glimmers of hope – Standard and Poor reported today that the housing market might be showing the first signs of coming back, stocks have stabilized and the job losses have slowed some. What gives me the most hope, however, is realizing that humanity is still alive – that we as people aren’t letting the economic times get us down, but rather are reaching out to lend a hand to others.

Earlier this week, The Corporation for National and Community Service issued a report on the state of volunteerism throughout the U.S. in 2008. Last year, 61.8 million Americans donated 8 billion hours of service to organizations, neighborhood causes and community action groups, up 1 million from the prior year.

What is most startling – and exciting – however, is the number of people who joined together to solve community problems in less formal ways. Last year saw a more than 30% increase in the number of people joining with neighbors and community members to solve local problems – at a time when many were likely on less-than-solid economic footing themselves.

It is inspiring to hear, it is even more inspiring to see. We are lucky to be based in the state that had the highest rate of volunteerism among every state in the nation – 43.5% of residents donated their time in some fashion to a cause or community endeavor. More than a third of the population of Salt Lake City were actively engaged in volunteer work in 2008 – the third highest rate among large cities. The spirit of people helping people is contageous, and we’re grateful to be based in a community that is so committed to helping others.

Another thing that inspired me as I read this week’s report was the increase in the number of teens and college-aged youth who are volunteering – kids giving back to communities that have raised and nurtured them as they begin life on their own. These survey results and others indicate that the millenial generation really means it when they say they want to see change – they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside everyone else to make an impact in their corners of the world.

With the economy and traditional nonprofit funding sources still on shaky ground, nonprofit organizations are more dependant than ever on people giving of their time – helping keep operations and programming viable as charities shore up reserves and work to help an fill an ever-increasing need.

I have been involved in a number of community organizations over the years – from literacy to helping the blind to youth programming – and my life has been richy blessed as a result. I issue a challenge to all of our readers and supporters to take a few hours of time out of your day this summer and volunteer – in your neighborhood, your community or for an organization that could use your help. Besides the warm fuzzies and feeling of accomplishment you get, it is also a great way to network, meet others and become more aware of what difference you can make as a single person.

Let’s make August a month of giving back – in gratitude and appreciation for everything we have.

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Out of Tragedy Springs Hope

I’m getting ready to jump on a plane again to go to New Orleans.  This time, it’s to attend the Domino Effect concert tomorrow night at the New Orleans Arena.  This tribute to Fats Domino will feature Little Richards, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Wyclef Jean, Junior Brown and a bunch of other great performers. Drew Brees will emcee with comedian Tracy Morgan.  A significant portion of the proceeds will benefit the “Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans” campaign.

If you are planning to be in New Orleans and want to be a part of the show (and a great cause), come on by!  You can also watch the show via the web here.

We’re counting on the show to get us closer to our goal of raising $1.8 million for the children of New Orleans.  We still have two projects to complete funding for – New Orleans Outreach and Best Buddies Louisiana – and I’ll blog about those two great organizations in the near future.

One project that is nearly complete is the athletic field at Lusher Charter School.  Lusher is the largest public high school in New Orleans, but it has never had a decent athletic field since moving into their current building after Hurricane Katrina.  Finally, thanks to the generosity of donors like the National Automobile Dealers Association Charitable Foundation, the Allstate Foundation, XanGo and Drew and Brittany Brees themselves, they are close to having a beautiful, new athletic field.  The new sod has been laid, the track is in place, the lights are up, and the fence is built.  The scoreboard and bleachers will be installed in the next few weeks.

The football team is eagerly looking forward to their first game of the upcoming season on September 4. They’ll also dedicate the field that night; I can’t wait to be there! It will be such a great way to kick off a new school year, 4 years after Hurricane Katrina devestated the city.

The Lusher soccer and track teams also look forward to using the field, as well as other schools who will also be given access to the facility. 

Lusher held their senior graduation last week – the first class to complete 4 years there since the storm.  Drew Brees was the commencement speaker.  I congratulate the entire Lusher senior class on their graduation, and wish them much success in the future.  And I applaud the staff, teachers and volunteers at Lusher for all they’ve done to create such a successful and wonderful school.  Well done!

Well, off to New Orleans. Hope to see you there!


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Filed under Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Project updates, Reconstruction

Signs of Greatness in New Orleans

I just returned from New Orleans after nearly a week of shooting a video for the upcoming Domino Effect concert.  Once again, I’m so impressed with the progress being made there, especially in the area of education.  Let’s face it, for many years New Orleans was not exactly widely known for the quality of its education.  I don’t like to say that, but it’s the truth. 

Hurricane Katrina certainly caused a lot of harm, but there is a silver lining.  As administrators, teachers and community leaders struggled to re-open schools in an educational environment that was already under tremendous stress prior to the storm, they found a new willingness by the community to listen to innovative ideas and try new approaches to learning.  It was: “don’t worry about the bureaucracy, just get the schools open. But make sure they perform!”  Boy, are they performing!

At places like Lusher, Sci High, Sam Green and Arthur Ashe schools, children from often difficult circumstances are now succeeding academically in every measure.  Here are some reasons why:

  • I’ve lived in several states and known a lot of great teachers and administrators, but  don’t know any that are more committed and hardworking than those I know in New Orleans.  They know they have a special task – to try to save a generation that has been stricken by tragedy – and they dedicate extra hours (after school, on weekends and during the summer) to their students.
  • Some teachers go home after a normal day, but many others continue to give instruction as part of the extensive after-school programming that is provided to many students in New Orleans.  Those students don’t go home at 3 or 3:30; instead they stay at school until 5 or 5:30 and take classes in art, music, gardening, foreign languages, science and literature.
  • New Orleans schools are taking the lead in implementing innovative programs like gardening and cooking.  When children spend a regular portion of their school week on planting, maintaining and harvesting their own food, plus cooking, eating and selling it, they receive all kinds of benefits that include better physical and emotional health and improved academic performance.
  • Schools in New Orleans now have much higher standards for academic achievement than in years past. As an example, all high school students must now take four years of science and four years of math.  That exceeds the requirements for most U.S. students.
  • Finally, educational leaders in New Orleans have implemented ways to significantly increase parental and community involvement in the schools.  This critical element allows students to learn from multiple adults, and to take what they learn home with them, where those concepts and learning can be reinforced in their families.


Is all of this working?  Absolutely.  Test scores are up significantly everywhere and graduating seniors are receiving opportunities to attend college that probably wouldn’t have existed in the same numbers prior to Katrina.

I had a great week. I learned from a second grade student at Ashe that monarch butterflies like to lay their eggs on milkweed plants, while tiger swallowtails prefer fennel.  I for the first time experienced the beauty and power of spoken word poetry from students at New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School.  I watched a well-known opera singer teach music to elementary students at Green as part of New Orleans Outreach’s after-school programming.  I listened to several families describe their hopes that people would continue to move back into their still-struggling Gentilly neighborhood – and show off the new park and playground that they had recently joined together to build. 

I witnessed an attorney take time out of her morning to lead 8th graders thru an exercise on how to locate jobs and prepare effectively for interviews. When asked what they most appreciated about their school, I heard students at Lusher say it was the school’s diversity and the opportunity to have teachers and classmates from multiple backgrounds and ethnicities.

The progress of rebuilding in New Orleans might appear to be slow, but it’s also unmistakable.  New Orleans is coming back, in some ways better than ever.

I’m glad to have been able to be part of this community, in some small way, over the past two years.


On a side note …

 Do you wish you could help?  Well, if you live in New Orleans or will be in-town on May 30, consider attending the Domino Effect concert at the New Orleans Arena.  Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Wyclef Jean, Junior Brown and others will be there, and a significant portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans campaign in New Orleans.  Check it out at www.dominoeffectnola.com!

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A Move Toward Greater Responsibility?

Given the chance, would you like to try your hand at solving the nation’s problems?

It is an interesting question with an equally interesting answer. In his New York Times article, With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King? Steve Lohr addresses a current situation wherein the taint on Wall Street and finance jobs may be changing what college students now aspire to.  

Steve writes:

In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war Communist challenge. Yes, the jobs beckoned and the pay was good. But those careers, in their day, had other perks: respect and self-esteem.

Could it be that the careers of choice, given all that we have been through since 9/11 and continuing right up to the current financial crisis, could lead to aspirations of service?

Today, the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years.  But choosing a career is a guess about the future in which economics is only part of the calculation. Prestige, peer expectations and the climate of public opinion also matter. And early indications suggest new career directions that are tethered less to the dream of an immediate six-figure paycheck on Wall Street than to the demands of a new public agenda to solve the nation’s problems.

 “In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

It is interesting to note that the circumstances of each generation actually influence that generation and can change priorities.

Perhaps if history proves to repeat itself, the economic meltdown of late will leave behind some positive residues – a workforce less focused on self, more focused on community; a nation less focused on getting and one more focused on giving. After all, what has been dubbed the “Greatest Generation” evolved from the trying years of the Great Depression, which itself had been preceded by years of relative prosperity on Wall Street.

Lohr shares that based on graduate school applications, undergraduate course enrollments and anecdotal accounts, it seems there is becoming a profound shift in career trends toward things such as public service, government and teaching, while fewer “shiny, young minds” are choosing education and careers in finance and consulting.

It seems more people are changing direction with a course toward aimed at greater societal responsibility. I would hazard a guess that this is the case among some adults as well – downsized from corporate America and using the opportunity to embark on new path of social good.

It is interesting that within every challenge is an opportunity. It is an interesting question to ponder: What if many of the best and brightest minds emerged from the educational process, not seeking a six-figure income on Wall Street, but rather seeking to solve problems? What if we all focused a little more on the collective good versus individual advancement? What might that mean to our future?

From my perspective of addressing need on a daily basis, it is a thought I enjoy entertaining. What do you think?

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

Beacon of Hope in New Orleans


When Rick Larsen and I started visiting New Orleans in early 2007 to identify charities for the “Operation Kids: Rebuilding Dreams in New Orleans” campaign, one of the first people we met was Denise Thornton.  Denise was the founder and president of what was, at the time, a brand-new and still small charity called Beacon of Hope Resource Center.  Denise and her husband Doug had founded “Beacon” after returning home following Hurricane Katrina.


You can imagine the challenges they faced as they tried to repair their flood-damaged home.  They had to coordinate the clean-up, turn back on utilities, purchase tools and materials, and hire contractors.  It was daunting.

For many of their neighbors, it seemed too daunting. Those residents postponed their return or gave up entirely because they didn’t see how the city could recover or how they could survive while the neighborhoods around them were so badly damaged.  So while most people waited, the neighborhood languished and the recovery stumbled along. 

Except for Denise and Doug Thornton and their friends and supporters.  They formed the first Beacon of Hope in their Lakewood neighborhood to provide information, support, and resources to residents wanting to return home.  They later added services in the form of advocacy, community programs and coordination of external volunteers in order to ensure that whole neighborhoods could recover and, eventually, they would help a city thrive.

The Beacon concept was an amazing success.  Today, the organization supports 12 resource centers (Beacons) servicing 22 neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Beacon serves an estimated 10,000 children living in 20,000 households in the Lake Area (Lakeview and Lakewood neighborhoods), Gentilly, Pontilly, and the Lower Ninth Ward in Orleans Parish. Those neighborhoods range from 79% recovered (Lakewood) to 19% (Lower Ninth Ward).  

And Beacon has even assisted communities outside of Louisiana that are trying to recover from their own natural disasters.  No wonder that it has been recognized locally, nationally and even by the United Nations for its community rebuilding efforts.

In 2008, Operation Kids and its partner, the Brees Dream Foundation, contributed $60,000 to Beacon to continue its important rebuilding efforts. Bacon will use the funding at several neighborhood centers, including on projects planned for the still-recovering Gentilly community.  In October, for example, Beacon hosted its largest volunteer project ever when nearly 2000 volunteers turned out to rejuvenate the Mirabeau Gardens neighborhood in Gentilly. They installed a new playground, planted 300 trees, cleaned and cut down 85 overgrown lots, and assisted 58 homeowners with rebuilding their properties.  

The Beacon of Hope Resource Center staff and volunteers continue to do tremendous work. We’re proud to support them in their efforts.


Steve Reiher, VP of Marketing & Development





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