For many people, the holidays inspire a spirit of giving. From Thanksgiving through to the New Year we’re encouraged to spread some holiday cheer and generosity by donating unused toys to children or giving canned goods to help feed those those less fortunate than ourselves. This surge in holiday magic, philanthropy and giving back is great, but the reality of the situation is that people are in need year round.
Organizations like Bert’s Big Adventure (BBA), try to fill that gap. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, BBA works in tandem with Atlanta’s “The Bert Show” radio show to provide magical, all-expenses-paid, five-day trips to Walt Disney World for children between the ages of 5-12 with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families. That may seem like enough charitable giving for one organization, but that’s not where the magic ends.
BBA provides support for the families with initiatives throughout the year. Along with the annual trip to Disney World, BBA provides programs such as the Reunion Adventures, which brings together families who have participated with BBA over the years to create a sense of community and family. The Fairy Godparent volunteer program sends volunteers to visit children in the hospital daily and provides quality time with the kids -- freeing up time for mom, dad or other relatives to run errands or take a much needed break.
Molly Darby is the Executive Director for Bert’s Big Adventure and after interviewing her, I could tell that her involvement with BBA runs deeper than it just being her job. Molly is passionate about charitable giving and is excited to have a platform suchas BBA to put help put forth her efforts.
Jasmin Martin: What made you want to want to work with Bert’s Big Adventure?
Molly Darby: I can only explain it as an addiction… and I mean that with the most positive connotation. Some people are addicted to running or smoking or chocolate or shopping….I’m addicted to Bert’s Big Adventure. Once you see or interact with any of the Bert’s Big Adventure kiddos, you’re addicted to that experience and you just want more. My first interaction was when I was doing the public relations for the organization and I attended the send-off party. A kid I’d never met walked right up to me and gave me a hug and said ‘thank you’....and I knew that morning that I wanted to be a bigger part of it and not just a person working in the peripheral vision. I wanted to do whatever I could to make myself an integral part of the team so that I could have these inspiring experiences more often!
JM: Describe your day-to-day responsibilities as the executive director for Bert’s Big Adventure?
MD: I have the best job in the world as the Executive Director of Bert’s Big Adventure! Basically, that means that my job is to make sure our team is doing everything we can to make sure that each Bert’s Big Adventure child gets spoiled with magical moments– whether it is during our annual trip to Walt Disney World, during one of our family reunion events or during a Fairy Godparent visit. I’ve been with Bert’s Big Adventure serving in different roles since 2007, and I’ve enjoyed being part of its growth.
JM: We’re sure going to Disney World with VIP status is memorable enough, but has there been any success stories or reunions with kids that you just can’t forget?
MD: One year I was partnered up in Disney with one particular girl named Gracie. Gracie had been fighting a battle against a cancerous brain tumor and had lost all of her previously long, blond hair. We decided to surprise her and take her to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique- a magical beauty salon where little girls can get princess makeovers. At the boutique, they put fake hair pieces in her hair, put on nail polish and makeup...and when they turned her around so that she could see herself in the mirror, you could just see on her face how beautiful she felt that moment. Of course, I thought she was just as beautiful before the makeover, but she FELT beautiful...and every girl knows how good that can feel. We all cried, of course! I’ll just never forget her face and how special that moment in time was to me. It’s times like that that I say to myself, “this is why we do it...for these moments.”
JM: What’s the best part of your job?
MD: I think the best part of my job is always hearing from the families after the trip. Most of them tend to say that before the trip, they felt alone or unheard or ignored. But when they return, they typically feel like they are part of something ...like they’re part of a community of other families that finally understand their struggles.
Plus, the hugs. When you get a hug from one of those kiddos, it just melts your heart. When the Bert’s Big Adventure kiddos are with me, they get whatever they want...I’m such a sucker.
JM: What has been the biggest risk you’ve taken professionally and how has it paid off?
MD: I’m not really a huge risk taker...I take calculated risks though! Probably the best thing I ever did was to start taking things off of my boss’s plate without asking and just doing it. I figured if I wanted that job later (which I got this year!) I had to learn how to do it sometime! So I would start researching sponsorships, or benefits packages, or insurance policies, or budgets and I would brainstorm new marketing materials, new events, etc...all in hopes that my boss would realize I could do it on my own. It paid off :)
JM: What’s one piece of advice you would give to young women aspiring to work in the non-profit sector?
MD: Be a soldier! Do whatever you need to do to get the results you need, whether it’s part of your job description or not. Whether that means making sure there is hot coffee or pulling a budget together ...just do whatever you can to keep everyone moving toward the goal. You’re much more valuable when you wear many hats!
Live where you would vacation...there are nonprofits everywhere that need your help! Volunteer as much as you can, that will at least get your foot in the door!
JM: What can we look forward to from Bert’s Big Adventure in the future? Any big collaborations or projects you can tell us about?
MD: Well, I suppose you’d be one of the first to know that Bert’s Big Adventure is the official beneficiary for the 50th Annual Atlanta Steeplechase on April 18th, 2015. I’m personally excited because we’ve been going for years as spectators and I know how much fun this event will be.
We are also getting ready to launch a vehicle donation program that will be announced in December!
JM: Your work is so inspiring and you’re helping to change lives. What inspires you?
MD: The Bert’s Big Adventure families inspire me everyday! I can barely keep up with my two dogs and laundry, and then I look at these families and see the hardships that they face every single day...it inspires me to be better, to do more, to be more positive, to try harder, to not take shortcuts, to be a better listener, to ask more questions, to always be kind and to appreciate my health!
The holiday spirit motivates many of us to open our wallets and give as much as we can to our loved ones. In fact, maxing out credit cards, camping out in parking lots in the dead of winter, and braving the early mornings, crazy crowds and lines have [somehow] become the hallmarks of the holiday season in America. Talk about pressure. According to recent statistics reported by the American Psychological Association, 69% of people are stressed by a lack of money and 51% feel stressed out over the pressure to give gifts.
But consider this: Buying a tea set for your mother that she’ll never use, a handbag for your sister that she’s going to return and a sweater for your boyfriend that he’s too embarrassed to wear are not the only ways to spread the holiday spirit. Devoting our time, expertise or energy can improve the lives of others in ways that marked down goods simply can’t. If we aspire to give more of ourselves this holiday season, we’ll enjoy much more than the fleeting satisfaction of mere gift giving. Here are five ways to bring good cheer to your loved ones and your wallet:
1. Deliver meals to those in need: To help out members of your community who are sick or elderly, try Mealtrain.com. It makes it easy for friends, family and neighbors to sign up to prepare meals for those in need.
2. Donate: Clean out your closets and donate gently used winter clothes to Goodwill or The Salvation Army. You can also donate toiletries and canned goods to support families in need during the holiday season.
3. Volunteer. Anywhere. Helping out at your local food bank, church or homeless shelter are all great ways to give back to your community. Nonprofit organizations can always use the extra help. Idealist and Volunteer Match are online resources that can help you find volunteer opportunities in your community based on your interests.
4. Offer your expertise: Are you a financial guru, a fabulous beautician or an expert party planner? These are all services that people want and need this time of year, but often can't afford. Your knowledge and skill will be greatly appreciated.
5. Be of good cheer: A positive attitude can go a long way. Offer emotional support in the form of a words of encouragement for a student stressed out during finals, a hug for a lonely friend or a smile to a stranger. It doesn’t cost a thing and no one will want to return it.
The holiday season can be a great time to reflect and be thankful for everything that we have. Whether it is wealth, health, friends or family, we all have something that we can be grateful for this year. Giving back helps to nurture your assets and your relationships. And it will last longer than any holiday fruit cake!
The holiday season is right around the corner. That means cocktail parties, cocktail dresses, and of course, the classic LBD. What that also means is you’ll need to gain the will power to "just say no" to your pants with the elastic waistband this Thanksgiving and in the weeks that follow. Here are few simple, easy-to-follow tips to enjoy your holiday eating and imbibing without the guilt.
Exercise in the morning
Plan a hike with your family and/or visiting guests, join a local group bike ride, or check out local fitness facilities that offer special Thanksgiving or other morning classes. On Turkey Day, check to see if your hometown holds a Turkey Trot or another fun 5k or 10k race on Thanksgiving morning. Many of these races exist around the country and most of the proceeds benefit food banks and local charities trying to feed the hungry.
Including physical activity on the mornings of the most gluttonous season of the year means you will be able to increase your metabolism for the day and will likely make better food choices when at the dinner table. If you decide to indulge in an extra slice of pie or glass of wine, at least you’ve burned a few calories first!
Maintain your workout schedule
Company, club, and family parties may interfere with your regular workout schedule. Checking your weekly schedule at the beginning of each week is a good practice to keep, and even more so during this time of holiday commitments. When holiday parties interfere with your workouts, reschedule your workout at a different time. Don't skip your workouts, even if it means abbreviating them. Squeezing in 15-20 minutes will still provide you more benefits than not doing anything at all.
Don’t skip breakfast
In order to prevent guilt-ridden overeating and letting out the waistband on your trousers, eat breakfast. Do not skip meals earlier in the day. Prepare healthy meals or snacks before your dinner to avoid feeling famished, which can result in overeating.
Use smaller plates
I know... you are already dreaming about plates laden with Thanksgiving goodies. But if you want to keep your summer shape, you will have to serve yourself smaller portions all winter long. Serve yourself 1/3-1/2 of what you would normally put on your plate. If you opt for a second serving you should still serve yourself a smaller portion. With this approach you will consume at least half the calories of holidays-past.
Practice conscious consumption
Rather than eating mindlessly while deep in conversation, look at what you stick your fork into before putting it in your mouth. Enjoy the flavors while savoring the food as you chew slowly. You will be less likely to eat the food that is not as satisfying to you, become satiated faster, eat more slowly (which means you will have less time to go up for seconds), and enjoy the taste of your meal at the first plate.
Enjoy this holiday season! And if you follow these tips, you'll be able to do it while staying the same size into the New Year's Eve party. Read: you won't be one of those frantic weight loss fanatics fighting over the treadmill at the gym, madly trying to lose the nine pounds gained over the course of the five weeks of winter holiday festivities. Instead, you’ll look stunning and chic as you ring in 2013.
We are not the first generation of Made Women. There is a whole generation of confident, down-to-earth, career-driven women--with the enviable social life--who came before us. And some of us are even lucky enough to call one of these women “Mom”. They are the women who taught us to mind our manners but never be afraid to speak up, who took their hands and carefully trained ours to use our first curling-iron, and who taught us that a good education, an open-mind, and a wide smile would open countless doors as we navigate life.
As Mother’s Day approaches, we know that it can be a process to find that ideal Mother’s Day gift — especially for women like this. How can we say all that we mean in one gift-wrapped box? We probably can’t, but if selected right, our gift can be the perfect start to a day spent reminding Mom that we’d never be as “Made” as we are now if she hadn’t been there to pave the way. Here are a few unique gift ideas that will hopefully be a perfect fit:
Does you mom have a taste for one-of-a-kind jewelry? Then she’ll probably appreciate these hand-engraved rings with her children’s names and birth-dates. Extra special bonus, no two can be exactly alike!
An Excuse to See You Whenever She Likes
Does a plane-ride separate you and your Mother from sharing gossip in person? Why not pre-fund an upcoming trip of hers with an American Airline gift card? And for every $50 worth of travel dollars, American will donate $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. You get your Mom, your Mom gets you, and millions of women everywhere will get the benefit of your gift.
Your Mom has taught you countless lessons throughout your life, now let her sit back and enjoy the lessons preached from one of the most graceful, Made Women we know: Coco Chanel. (And be prepared for her to look up from the book every once in a while to point out a line and say: “I told you so!”)
Whether its jotting notes while flying back from business trips or making her grocery list, give her an organized, personalized place to put it all -- a place that will always remind her of you.
For all those tech-savvy Mom’s out there, why not get her an iPad case that protects her precious sidekick and looks great while doing so? We love this version by Michael Kors for its sleek design and eye-catching color.
Have any other ideas for the perfect gift for Moms this Mother’s Day? Tell us in the comment section below. Better yet --tell us one thing your Mom always said that still resonates with you today.
May this year’s Mother’s Day be one of the best!
Novice shoppers walk into a mall during the holiday season trying to remember how many family members, friends and co-workers they need to get gifts for. They spend hours wandering aimlessly from store to store, hoping something will scream out "Buy me! I’m the perfect gift for your mother and I’m on sale." Come closing time, they are probably over-budget, overwhelmed and over it all. Bah humbug. Well, I’ve had many years of shopping experience and I can tell you it all should start with planning. While setting up a budget doesn’t seem like the first step toward Christmas cheer, it can help you spread more holiday spirit than an IOU.
Making a List, Checking It Twice…
First things first, make a list of all the people you need to get gifts for; don’t forget your co-workers! You see them every day and giving them a little sumthing sumthing this Christmas can only improve your working relationship.
Naughty or Nice?
Once you have the list, go over it and decide how much you want to spend on each person. People should fall into three categories: Splurge, Bargain Shop or Homemade. Don’t feel bad for breaking the list up this way. You can’t buy everyone a diamond ring this year, even if you love them all. Plus, homemade gifts show that you went the extra mile and created something unique. If you have the money, set it aside for a few small gifts in case you happen to forget someone. This can save your butt when the next Secret Santa party comes around.
Once you have decided how much you are going to spend, it's time to hunt down a bargain. Check online for deals first so you can compare prices without driving around town. If you are into eBay you can try bidding online to get a cheaper price.
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Planning...
Okay, I hereby officially remove the stigma from re-gifting. Let’s face it: the economy outweighs your delicate sensibilities. Besides, your friend Sarah might look great in that dress your aunt gave you that was two sizes too small…. Your aunt was probably trying to be funny anyway.
Christmas is also a great time to put reward points to use. Most people rack them up and forget about them. Check with your credit card company to see what deals they can offer.
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…
An easy way to stretch a dollar and spread some cheer is to cook a gift instead of wrapping it. A co-worker of mine gave out homemade jam around the holidays last year. It was a tasty treat and completely unexpected. You can try that or whip up a batch of Christmas tree-shaped cookies, gingerbread men or Rice Crispy Treats, bag them and add a bow. Ta Da! Christmas right out of the oven.
This holiday season do all you can to spread the love, but stay within your means. If giving a gift to someone is detrimental to your finances then the spirit of the act is lessened. Your loved ones wouldn't want you to go bankrupt in order to get them pricey stocking stuffers. So have the best holiday season ever!...No Pressure.