Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Exciting New Chapter for Open Heart Big Dreams Fund: Supporting Literacy, Education, Leadership Development to Equalize Opportunities in Ethiopia

When we brought our little girl home from Ethiopia in 2008, we committed to her and ourselves that we would make a positive impact in her birth country.   
Leyla arrives in Seattle on my birthday 2008
And with her substantial involvement, we are thrilled to share we have done just that and are ready to do more.  We started by donating books and then funding a library in Bahir Dar, her birthplace, which we have been able to visit twice so far.
Visiting the site of the Bahir Dar Library in 2011
Dimitri reading to Leyla in the Bahir Dar library in 2014
Leyla with the plague in her honor in school "February 23"
Then we took a big leap of faith and launched our first OHBD event on a wing and prayer plus an amazing network of support.  I remember waking up the morning of gala having just had a nightmare no one showed up.  But thankfully, people who cared about kids in Ethiopia showed up.  In fact, so many we had to turn some away; all with Open Hearts to support Big Dreams for deserving children. 
Thank you card front for OHBD 2011
And they continued to show up in bigger numbers each subsequent year growing OHBD to an event that consistently raised over $100K.
With Jane Kurtz (Advisory Board Member) OHBD 2012
Leyla wants all kids to get to go to school OHBD 2013
Thank you card back OHBD 2013
Our goal with this event was to create a predictable source of funding to one organization, Ethiopia Reads.  It was doing great program work in country but every year required many people taking on small fundraisers.  We worked with Ethiopia Reads to test other vehicles, on-line and family friendly events, plus provided strategic advice and guidance.  As we grew and raised close to half a million dollars in total, we realized we needed a different structure to continue to increase our impact beyond one organization and one event.
OHBD 2014 with Betty Gronneberg (Advisory Board Member)
Leyla speaking for up for kids and education OHBD 2014
My husband Michael and I, with the support of a talented group with HUGE hearts, are now ready to take these efforts formally to the next level.  Through doing so, we hope to dramatically increase our reach.  So we took another leap of faith and created a stand-alone “Open Heart Big Dreams Fund” Not for Profit.  (I  have heartd from some who thought this was already the case.)  
OHBD 2015 -- Family Affair -- everyone is growing up; both Damian and Leyla spoke
We want to support more good work being done for kids in Ethiopia by organizations like Ethiopia Reads, Seeds of Africa and International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia, each founded by one of our Advisory Board Members.  

should NOT depend on where you are born

The need and opportunity is greatEthiopia’s population is 44% children ages 0-14 (43 million out of 97 million total).  Only 5.5% of children attend pre-school or kindergarten.  Only 68% of ages 7-12 attend primary school.  Adult literacy stands at 49% with men at 57% and women at 41%.  Only 7.5% of the adult population have any post-secondary education.

Currently we have an amazing board, advisory board and volunteer base who has signed on with us to get started on this important work.  We will feature their stories in the coming months - each is inspiring!  Our 5013c paperwork is submitted, our website in development, and Yeggy Michael, long time supporter and amazing artist, is designing our new logo.  
Yeggy Michael at OHBD 2013
Our target “customer” is the small to medium sized not for profit (501(3)(c) working in Ethiopia focused on literacy, education, and increasing leadership capabilities.

Our Mission:
Inspiring and enabling youth, their parents, their communities and the organizations who serve them by providing literacy, education, and leadership opportunities.
We plan deliver against the mission in three ways:
  1. Raising funds and providing grants to organizations for projects that deliver these services in Ethiopia.  They will need to meet specific criteria including working with local populations, impact, sustainability, and collaboration.  We are targeting one large event as we successfully done previously (raising over $450K over the last 5 years, $100K or more the last three), and testing 2-3 other models including on-line.
  2. Sharing expertise, best practices, and resources for 1) fund raising through traditional donations and commercial efforts, 2) creating and running this type of not for profit focused on areas they can benefit from traditional small business approaches and the use of technology, and 3) volunteer and donor recruiting and relations.
  3. Connecting volunteers (board and project based) with the organizations we support who need them.
Our initial focus will be raising fund and providing grants.  We will share expertise, best practices and resources opportunistically as we build up on webpage content through our board and volunteers as well as those associated with the organizations we support.  We will begin to build out a platform to connect volunteers with organizations and projects likely end of 2017 or early 2018 although we will be opportunistic there too.

We want to take the best of business and technology to increase impact and drive collaboration. We are excited for the future of these new efforts and the futures of the kids they will support.  Thank you all for your amazing support, friendship and inspiration.  We look forward to seeing that continue in this new chapter.
Leyla and OHBD Fund Board Member Rajitha Boer at Efeste kick off event 2016
Selam!  Onward!! 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday to My Deep and Thoughtful Daughter

How have 7.5 years since our lovely Leyla joined our family flown by so fast?!?! I find myself as often the student as the teacher.  She want to understand and grapples with complex issues as they enter into her awareness.   She constantly strives to contribute to our family at the same level of her brothers who are 15 and 19, although we remind her our expectations are age specific. 
She wants to know what is happening so she can help. Recently, I had some professional challenges I was working through.  She could see my frustration and sadness.  I was walking her to school, always a fertile time for deep discussions. I asked her if her dad or brothers had shared anything about what was going on with me at work.  She answered back emphatically and the indignation came through in her tone, “No, Mama.  They won’t tell me anything because I am a little girl.  And I know if I knew what was going on, I would be able to comfort you.”   Hearing her complete confidence in her ability to heal reminded me of what children often have that adults lose.  The optimism that solutions are accessible to us individually.  And she was spot on; her simple words did effectively comfort me.  
"Look Mama, we made an "L" for "Love!""
She asks me questions for which I have no good answers.  On another walk, she asked me:  “Mama, what is the point of being grown up.”   I gave this a bit of thought but really couldn’t come up with anything I thought would actually address the inquiry.  So I responded candidly, “I really don’t have a good answer to that question.”  I expected that would be the end of the discussion.  But no, she added kindly, “Don’t worry, Mama, I am not ashamed of you that you don’t know the answer.  We can’t all know the answers to everything.”   I was not sure whether to feel amused or insulted.  But it was clear she was deadly serious and had added this comment to ensure I feel didn’t bad about my inability to provide an answer so I went with amused.

Then she asks me questions I know I have to answer.  We had an expected death in our family when our beloved Papillion Bella passed with no warning at the tender age of 4.5 years.  Bella joined our family when Leyla was three so she doesn’t remember a time when Bella wasn’t with us.  Leyla took the news very hard.  Her words to express her grief cut through me.  

“It feels like we are not a family any more.  We are just five people living in a house with a bird.”  

“Please, please tell me this is just a really bad dream.”  

“Our family lost its heart or at least most of it.”

 “Are you absolutely sure she is not coming back?”  

She then asked the deepest human question: “What is the point of life if we are all just going to die anyway?” 

I knew this was a question I couldn’t dodge and my response was super important.  I looked into her tear filled big black eyes and took a deep breath.  

“We had a wonderful 4 and half years with our Bella.  She traveled the world with us and gave each person in the family many special moments and memories.  Knowing she would leave us before she was five, would you rather we never brought Bella into our lives?”  

I waited anxiously for her answer.  

She responded emphatically, “Of course not, Mama!”  

“And that, my sweetheart, is the point of life.”  

We then “hugged it out” with her thin little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. 

As we celebrated her eighty birthday at a favorite Italian restaurant, Leyla leaned over and asked me to get everyone's attention. There was a spirited dialogue with her brothers and dad she couldn't quite break into.  She then told us in her most serious tone, "Thank you for a great birthday.  And the best part is being with my family.  You never know when family won't be with you any more, like Bella."

Thank you my beloved daughter for approaching life with unflinching introspection and for asking the truly tough questions for which I don’t always have any or adequate answers.  

You stretch, teach and comfort me more than you will ever know.  

Celebrating 8 with her new Beanie Boos from her Aunties and Purse from Oma
We are so blessed you joined our family. And I am so honored to be your “Mama” and guide as you navigate some deep waters. Happy Eighth Birthday Leyla Marie Fasika Angelidis!!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy Birthday Happy Homecoming 2015: “You are grounded!!”

In October and early November, I had to travel a fair amount for work. Michael and I also planned a couple’s weekend to Vegas as well as me joining him for his first ever marathon in his home country of Athens, Greece.

When I had a couple trips under my belt, I was sitting down with Leyla to talk through the rest of my schedule. I could see she was not happy (she is pretty easy to read).  She looked me dead in the eyes and told me quite sternly, “Mama, you are grounded!!”  

I was speechless.  I wasn’t at all sure the right way to respond; this was completely new territory for me.  Should I start by telling her kids don’t get to ground their parents?  Or should I explain again why I thought it was important to take these trips?  Or run her through all the things we would do together when I was back?  

I decided none of those responses were the right ones looking into her deadly serious face with tears threatening.  I could see she felt powerless in that moment.  So instead, I sat down with her and created a calendar so she could mark off each day and see how many were remaining until I returned, my heart aching as we did it.  And I was rewarded with a trademark Leyla grin.

I thought a lot about her surprising words in the following days and weeks.  They had a variety of different meanings for me than those originally intended.  She has grounded me in so many ways since she joined us our family on my birthday seven years ago.

1.      She grounded me in what family really means; an intense connection and acceptance that transcends time and circumstance.

2.      She grounded me on actively addressing inequity in the world because to her it is simply unfair and mama can and should do something.  And she is someone I can't bear to disappoint.

3.      She grounded me in the power of love to multiple.  My love for her, hers for me; the love between her and her brothers and the special place she carved out as daddy’s little girl.

4.      She grounded me in how inexplicably pain and joy can simultaneously coexist as she has cried in my arms for her first mom.

5.      She grounded me in committing to being the best version of myself because I want to be the person she thinks I already am.

This little girl with the crazy awesome hair, the tinkling laughter of an angel, the squeezy hugs which warm from the inside out and those pointed questions that probe gently, and sometime not so, into the heart of things.  Every bit of her complex and beautiful soul has grounded me in important ways; giving me priceless gifts I am just beginning to fully appreciate.  

Thank you my sweet daughter.  I am looking forward to spending this birthday, and hopefully many, many more, with you, your big brothers and your dad, celebrating the day of my birth but more importantly the day you joined our family!  I am happy to be grounded.