Giving Back One Small Step at a Time

Earlier this year a foster youth's cry for help pulled me into a new paradigm. I was dragged out of my bubble and onto the front lines of a very complex issue -- foster youth who age of the system. The statistics on foster youth, as they exit the system -- predict that they will fail. The likelihood of them becoming homeless, imprisoned and unemployed is higher for this vulnerable population than any other in the U.S.

Typically, when exposed to a mountain of wrongs that need to be righted, I want to fix all these problems, at once, with one big bold stroke. Inevitably I cannot figure out where to start nor how to put one foot in front of the other. I am left feeling powerless and paralyzed. But in this instance, I simply did what I could. Cue the lightbulb switch!

Barry, the youth who reached out to me, had never been adopted, so once he aged out of the system, he had nothing and no one. He asked me for help with his first apartment. I didn't see anyway he could surge a path forward to success without a place he could call home. Seeing Barry without so much as a box to study on, or a table to eat off of and his belongings in black garbage bags, I promptly posted on Facebook for friends to donate furniture for Barry's first apartment.

Within 24 hours, I had donations from friends that would enable me to transform his spartan section 8 apartment. Others volunteered their time to help Barry and I collect these items. As a group we furnished his space and it quickly became a beautiful, cozy, functioning space that felt like "home". Later, Barry and I went shopping for inexpensive, healthy groceries and together we cooked for his housewarming party where volunteers and donors came to celebrate his new beginning. That night I saw Barry feel, for the first time, "a sense of home." The impact was powerful. I saw Barry transform.

The other foster youth I met at Barry's housewarming were smart, creative, talented, charming, witty, wise and... very determined to break the cycle. They have the same needs as Barry. They need us, as a community, to be the village that it takes, for a child to grow into a productive, contributing member of society. Could I continue to nurture the creation of more homes and rally volunteers to help these young people so full of promise? Could it be repeated over and over. It was entirely dependent on others showing up. Again and again. A constant flow of small acts of kindness.

I repeated my call for donations. This time for two homes. For Marcellia and Melanie. Plenty of donations came in. And more volunteers showed up. Two more apartments became beautiful homes. Through the creating of the homes, I noticed that the project of making the space a home was a bridge -- an opportunity for the broader community to show that they care, connect with and empower these deserving young adults. In that process -- seeds of friendship between volunteer and youth were planted. And those seeds flourished. And a village began to take shape. I repeated my call for donations -- this time for four homes. Again, the donations and volunteers came forth. This time foster youth came wanting to help one another. Each volunteer ended the day by asking to sign up for the next one. The furniture donations kept coming. So did the foster youth in need.

Sixteen homes later, we have now formed the nonprofit, A Sense of Home (ASOH, It was created not only to fill a void but founded on the belief -- that people are looking for meaningful ways to give. To give their time and give away the stuff in their home that they no longer need. Crowdsourcing has changed the way money transfers hands, turns an idea into a business and a concept into a movement. As we launch our crowdfunding campaign in conjunction with #GivingTuesday -- I can see that #ASOH, a single idea that gained traction on social media is in itself a form of crowdsourcing. Sourcing furniture to change lives. Our crowdfunding campaign is to raise funds so in 2015 we can create 300 homes in Los Angeles and take it across the country in 2016.

When Barry emailed me asking for my help, having witnessed me doing my design & cooking thing online, I didn't know how I could help and I certainly didn't think my humble culinary and decor talents could make the world a better place. But all it takes is simple, small acts of kindness to change a single life for the better. When we all do it together, our collective efforts create real change. I have stepped into this new paradigm of giving of myself into something bigger than me, everyday, and now truly understand that "the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." {Picasso} I hope and trust that ASOH inspires a paradigm shift for all we touch and that giving becomes an inherent part of our daily routine.