When I was 20 years old, I spent 6 weeks in an impoverished village outside of Guayaquil, Ecuador. It transformed me.
I was in awe to realize that the pennies I had been collecting for UNICEF throughout my childhood could really add up and make a giant difference in individual lives. I was all of the sudden aware that if every person mobilized and focused on giving – time, money, talent, energy – we could live in a better world within a shared human experience. I graduated college and went on to work in television production at NBC News but kept coming back to memories from that service trip. And it was during the production of a story about the women living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that I realized I could not continue working behind the camera. I wanted to dive in to help women in the refugee camps and children needing education and play. I quit my NBC job and went to graduate school at Princeton to study international development and public policy. Yes, it felt reckless to leave a great job I loved, but the pull to make a difference was stronger than my salary or the accolades of that career. I needed to live out my purpose and follow my “why.” That leap of faith led me to a job at UNICEF creating and then managing the first ever Sports for Development Office, where I worked with FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to bring sports programs to children in conflict zones, but also as a means to achieve critical goals for children in health, education and child protection.
I had the privilege to work in countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa and spent time with kids that stole my heart. From Mali to Guinea, and Rwanda to South Africa, I was able to merge my passion with purpose. After I left UNICEF to spend more time with my own children, I again followed my “soul whisper” and co-founded a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children with disabilities through the power of sport. In addition to raising money for programs for children who are blind and vision impaired, we helped hundreds of children on 5 continents shift their mindset and focus on what they could do, rather than what they could not do. We used our athletic endurance challenges and adventures to inspire children from Tanzania and Peru to China and New Zealand about what can be done if you see through the lens of possibility…even if you can’t see. I felt like I was reliving parts of my former career at UNICEF and again the sense of mission and purpose fulfilled my reason for being.
This merging of passion and purpose, and developing an understanding of the rewards that come from giving, is what I help you do in my workshop, Press Play on Life.
But here, I simply want to encourage you to see more broadly to gain perspective, and also to give. Give time. Give money. Volunteer. Devote pockets of energy to something outside of yourself. Share giving ideas with friends. I promise by helping others, you will not only make a difference in one or countless lives, you will gain a perspective that will remind you to cherish all that you do have in your one precious life.
Below are organizations where I have had personal experiences, from my career to volunteer efforts and service trips that I regularly take with my children. I chose organizations that are big and small, global and local. They involve children and adults, and their missions range from education and equity, to the fight against poverty and disease.
You don’t have to choose these in your giving efforts, find what speaks to you. I am making these suggestions to help get you started, and also because a portion of what you spend on Press Play on Life will be donated to a fund that is shared among these beloved causes.
Whether you give money or donate time, whether you physically show up or simply share this giving effort by talking to one person today and spreading the love…
Whatever you choose, I applaud you, support you and love you fiercely.
UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to protect the rights of every child, everywhere.
Cookies for Kids' Cancer is a national non-profit organization inspiring grassroots bake sales to help fund research on pediatric cancer.
School the World is a nonprofit organization committed to solving extreme poverty through the power of education.
The Kenya Education Fund is a non-governmental organization that gives high school scholarships to financially challenged students.
Epic is a global nonprofit that fights to change the lives of disadvantaged youth and advocates for a fight against social inequalities.
The Brotherhood/Sister Sol provides comprehensive, holistic, and long-term support services to youth ranging from 8-22.
Join the Movement to fight for Freedom, Liberation and Justice by signing up for updates, supporting, checking out resources, following on social media, or wearing our dope, official gear.
Youth Rebuilding New Orleans is a nonprofit founded and run by youth to help rebuild New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
The Center is the heart and home of NYC's LGBTQ community, providing programs for health, wellness and community connection.
Together for Girls is a global partnership working to end violence against children, stop child abuse, and create a safer world.
Team See Possibilities inspires and empowers young people with vision loss to thrive and excel.
The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) works to overcome prejudice, violence, and misunderstanding by activating the power of the city’s grassroots religious and civic leaders and their communities.