Tag Archives: Operation Kids

New Home For Blog

Over the last quarter, we at Operation Kids have worked very hard to refine our mission and provide additional emphasis on our donor-led philanthropic services. As a result, many of you have seen several changes – both to our website and our blog – including additional regular blog authors and new perspectives.

And now we introduce one more change: after more than 2 years publishing on WordPress, A Voice for Children is moving over to our own, self-hosted page at http://blog.operationkids.org. This move is being done to provide you easy access to any Operation Kids resources, information and updates that are on our website, as well as allow us expanded custom options and the ability to provide additional functionality.

We sincerely appreciate the readership and resources a WordPress platform has brought us, and look forward to embarking on a new journey. We invite you to join us there, beginning today, Thursday, December 17, 2009.

If you have kudos, concerns or questions, we invite you to leave a comment or contact us.


The Operation Kids Blogging Team

Rick B. Larsen
Don Stirling
Christopher Lindsay
Sara Brueck Nichols


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Filed under Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Stronger Charities = Greater Impact

Growing up in middle class America, I remember vividly the first time that I encountered poverty. As a young boy, my family took a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. There, recklessly wandering through side streets, I saw living conditions whose depravity can never adequately be captured by camera or pen. But it was looking into the eyes of a hungry boy, who could not have been older than me, as he begged for change that left the indelible impression.  Shortly thereafter, I saw the same look in a young homeless girl outside of a restaurant in New Orleans. I recognize now in their expressions the hopelessness shared by many in impoverished circumstances. They were “tired of wishes, empty of dreams” to borrow Carl Sandburg’s phrase.  It was my first lesson that hunger and despair are very real, and they know no borders or boundaries.  

Unfortunately, the plight of these children is not unique: it is legion. Many of the children in our country face seemingly insurmountable challenges.  These types of social problems are not new nor are they ever going to go completely away.  But how our society combats these issues is constantly evolving and being refined.

We live in a very generous nation, and this generosity has contributed to a vibrant community of nonprofit organizations. While many of these charities are founded and staffed by individuals who passionately care about ameliorating the circumstances of children worldwide, the ability of these nonprofits to show results for their work varies greatly.  Because of this, it is often difficult for donors to judge which charity will most effectively put their donation to work. 

This is one of the reasons why Operation Kids’ model is so valuable.  Each potential charity partner is carefully screened to ensure that it is indeed “best-in-class.” For us this assessment begins by carefully reviewing the organization’s tax filings, overhead expense ratios, program budgets, and fundraising activities. We go beyond the financials, however.  We want to know if the charity can clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of its programs and if it is achieving operational excellence in its given area of focus. This is a hands-on process, and it allows us to become intimately acquainted with how each charity operates – both financially and programmatically. After all, donors deserve to know where their giving is going, and they deserve to know it is making a real difference.

We do not just stop there.  Our charity partners are integral parts of the social fabric of their communities.  For many who are underserved and in desperate situations, these organizations are able to treat the root cause of their problems, not just the symptoms of hunger or addiction that the rest of us see. So we work closely with these charities to increase their effectiveness, diversify their funding sources, and collaborate with other community partners to better serve those in need. As the capabilities of these nonprofits grow, their ability to meet and solve important child-related needs expands.

Our model is a double-lift.  It provides donors with the transparency they need to make important decisions while ensuring they see their Return-On-Contribution™ once their gift is made.  It also builds the capacity of charities so that they can more efficiently provide services and be able to attract the support they need. Of course, the real beneficiaries of this entire process are ultimately children in need, the reason behind everything we do.


Christopher Lindsay recently joined Operation Kids as a Sr. Charity Analyst. You can read more about his background here.

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A Welcome Perspective

I would like to welcome a new employee to Operation Kids whose background and expertise, represents everything we are about. The prospect of bringing greater accountability to charitable giving, is something that we have to work at every single day, and Christopher Lindsay, our new Senior Charity Analyst, helps our mission in several important ways.  

Christopher joins us from his most recent post at the Electrical Safety Foundation International where he was Director of Programs. Prior to that, he served under the previous administration in the lead White House office for nonprofit policy issues. While there, his responsibilities included evaluating the results of Federal programs focused on mentoring, substance abuse recovery and prisoner re-entry. In addition, he played a pivotal role analyzing data and reporting trends on over 25,000 nonprofits who partnered with the government in providing social services – representing billions of dollars. 

This experience is unique and we are fortunate to find someone with such a background. One of our primary goals at Operation Kids is to refine the process of vetting and managing charitable giving. We often ask the question of donors, “Do you know where your last charitable gift went?” The answer is typically, “Yes, it went to (name of charity here)!” But when the question is more directed, and we ask donors if they know where it went within the organization – to  which program or which part of the organization, the response is far too often, ”I don’t really know.”

America is the most generous nation on earth – giving well over $3 billion to charity last year alone – and we give despite a general lack of trust when it comes to large charitable organizations. I have cited before the recent statistic that only 1 in 10 Americans “trusts” major charities. That is troublesome on its face and mystifying when we realize people have a need to give back, despite expressed concerns with where their giving may ultimately end up. It makes me wonder how many more people would give – and how donations might be even more generous, if they had confidence in what their money was doing and who it was helping.

This is exactly WHY we as an organization are here. And it is why we are thrilled to have someone like Christopher on our team asking the “hard questions.” I am thrilled when I consider the direct benefit this is going to have for donors and charities alike, as we are further able to provide a better understanding of how donors’ dollars are put to use and what kind of impact it has.

We have said for a long time now that when it comes to giving, caring is only part of the process. In addition to that, there must be analysis, there must be expectations and there must be accountability. It can be done. We have seen it in New Orleans, in post-tsunami Thailand and in virtually every state in the nation. It is a contagious attitude because once you see what can be done when all of a gift makes it to the child in need, you will insist on that efficiency from then on. I can promise you,  we will continue in its commitment to deliver those elements to caring donors.


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Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations, Initiative: Thought Leadership

14 Days and Counting … Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back

This week has been quite the week at Operation Kids, as we prepare for the Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back – which starts in just two weeks.

Four years ago, Operation Kids began working with Ragnar Events in a joint effort to improve children’s health and fitness along the Wasatch Back relay route. When Ragnar launched the Ragnar Relay Series and began to expand nationwide in 2006, they asked us to join them as their national charity partner.

Over the last year we’ve really ramped up our efforts with a goal of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for children’s health and fitness programs in the 11+ metropolitan areas through which a Ragnar Relay runs. This year, we are celebrating our biggest Ragnar fundraising effort yet at the Wasatch Back relay – which runs 188(ish) miles from Logan to Park City, Utah.

It is significant because it’s virtually in our own backyard, but also because the charity to which we’ll distribute funds is one of our long-standing “OK-Approved” charities, Best Buddies, where the funds will go to provide opportunities for kids with intellectual disabilities and their buddies along the Wasatch Front to participate in their own Best Buddies Utah 5k Walk/Run (scheduled for spring 2010), as well as to provide seed money for new chapters along the race route.

It’s easy to take for granted that I (were I in good shape and desired to do so) could enter a race – virtually any race – or lace up my running shoes and run out my door and down the street – but many kids with intellectual disabilities never get those same chances. I am so excited to work to try and make that possible for hopefully thousands of kids next spring.

As we gear up a great fundraising effort, we have generated dozens of spreadsheets, checklists, e-mails, field trips and a lot of formal and informal meetings. Operation Kids is helping Best Buddies put on a spectacular breakfast at Exchange 30 Saturday as one of the fundraising initiatives. I can’t wait until I can share the menu – it’s not your typical fundraising breakfast, for certain!

I love working on projects like this – to see everyone so energized about an event that is going to help raise money for such a great cause. There is a vibe around the office that is almost like what you felt just before Christmas or summer vacation as a kid – a sense of great anticipation and eagerness to see it all come to fruition.

You can keep up on all the crazy progress by following us on Twitter @OperationKids or keep an eye out on the  blog for pictures, updates and a recap of the fundraising success.


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181 Miles or Bust – Running to The Bronx

My fellow Operation Kids colleague Don Stirling and I just returned from representing Operation Kids at the Ragnar Relay New York race. This first-year event was a rousing success.  More than 75 teams competed in the Kingston (just south of Albany) to New York City race, running through some of the most beautiful country imaginable.  The Friday start was a gorgeous day; then clouds and cooler temperatures rolled in overnight for the remainder for the race.  The runners said they actually preferred the cooler temperatures. 

Don and I had the opportunity to talk with many of the runners both during and after the race.  They couldn’t stop talking about what a great experience they were having, and how they couldn’t wait to run again in next year’s race.  Many also planned to run in other upcoming Ragnar races in New England and Washington, DC.  Those sentiments came as no surprise; in every race we’ve attended we hear the same things from the runners.  And then the race grows exponentially the following year. 

What is it about running a Ragnar race that makes it so cool?  Is it the physical challenge of the race – each participant running 15-20 miles, divided up into three legs, with a few hours of rest between legs?  Is it the unique experience of running at night? Or getting to traverse 200 miles of some spectacular country?

It’s probably a little of all of the above, though I suspect the biggest single factor is how fun it is to do an all-nighter with 11 friends in a crazy running experience over several hundred miles.  Being together at the end, running across the finish line as a group, often in costume, to celebrate having conquered the event definitely provides an adrenaline rush unrivaled in other races.  For many teams, where they finished in the standings is inconsequential. The fact is that they finished and had a great time together. It’s no surprise they keep coming back.

We are there because Ragnar runners are encouraged to donate to Operation Kids as part of their race experience.  We, in turn, forward all the funds we raise to local charities in the race community that provide health and fitness programs to underserved children.  It’s a great opportunity to fund effective programs serving needy and deserving kids.

Many Ragnar runners are still just learning about the Operation Kids connection, but every time we tell the OK story, the runners are interested in the opportunity to help. We look forward to taking more opportunities to explain the great programs we support, and to giving runners another great reason to run.  

For Don and I, our most cherished memory from the race may be the opportunity we had to serve as volunteers.  I staffed Exchange 13 in front of the local Baptist church in Highland, New York until 1:30 am., while Don was a few miles down the road at Exchange 14.  It was great meeting and assisting the runners while making sure that our section of the race was working smoothly. It was a great time – I can’t wait to do it again next race.

We’ll see you at Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back in 4.5 weeks!

Here are some experiences Ragnar Relay New York runners have posted on their own blogs:

Run, Drive, Sleep … Repeat. Ragnar Relay!
Rangar Relay – by Sohail
Jane’s Journey – Ragnar Relay New York
The Team – Ragnar Relay 181 Miles


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12 Runners + 202 Miles = Healthy Kids.

I just got back from the Ragnar Relay Del Sol in Arizona. It was my first Ragnar event, and believe me, it exceeded every expectation I had going into it.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ragnar, they put on long distance running relay events around the US. Races are typically 180-200 miles long and have 12-person teams where each runner runs 3 legs of 3-7 miles. The fastest teams complete the race in 20-21 hours; the slowest up to 30 hours. Each team has two vans, which is where most of the participants hang out when it isn’t their turn to run. Runners come in all skill levels, from 5-minute milers to 10- and 12-minute milers. Teams can be all men, all women, or mixed.

More than 200 teams, or about 2,400 runners, competed in the Del Sol race.

The race kicked off in a beautiful state park just north of Prescott, Arizona. Most of the runners were enthusiastic and eager to get started, although a few of the newer runners were also a little bit nervous. Who wouldn’t be? After all, what is it like running at night, sometimes alone along a deserted stretch of highway? What is it like to run three times in a day for 15-20 miles? And how about spending the rest of a time in a van with six other runners be like?

They got their answers soon enough. As I watched team after team cross the finish line on Saturday afternoon, their exuberance at having completed the race was overwhelming. They’d also done it with their friends, in an experience most people can never even imagine. The finish line area also provided free massages, photos, food and drink for the runners, as well as a live band that played all afternoon.

I talked to dozens of runners after the race. Everyone said they had a fantastic time, and couldn’t wait to do it again next year!

My favorite memory of the race will be of the time I spent volunteering along the race route. I was at Exchange 15, about 5 miles north of Wickenburg, along an empty stretch of highway. I purposefully chose the 11 pm to 3 am shift; I wanted to understand what it would be like to run at that time of day.

It was great! The other race staffers, volunteers, runners and I would patiently watch in the dark looking for a sign of the approaching runners. Suddenly, we’d see a little white light bobbing in the distance slowly coming toward us. It was the headlamp of a runner! Eventually they’d make it to our station and hand off their baton to the next runner, who’d take off down the road. This time, it was the red flashing light that those runners wore on their backs that we’d watch get smaller and smaller until it too disappeared into the darkness. Everyone would cheer for each runner, while the runners vans parked along the side of the road were the site of both team celebrations as the race went on or runners trying to catch precious sleep while awaiting their next turn on the course.

The Del Sol race was an unforgettable event. And the best thing is it also raised money for Operation Kids and our locally benefited charity – Future for Kids. Future for Kids will use the contribution to fund fitness and sports programs for at-risk children in the Phoenix area.

Ragnar Events and Operation Kids decided last year to  increase their partnership for Ragnar’s future races. Many runners like to run for a cause; the Ragnar relays are a great opportunity for runners to contribute to healthy living education and sports opportunities for the next generation of Americans.

The next Ragnar race happens in April in Los Angeles. I can’t wait!


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