Bob Carr and Tony Robbins are both highly successful individuals, but this is not all they share in common: they both possess a strong desire to make a difference in deserving children's lives, like someone did for them.
For Bob Carr (commonly known as "Roc"), it was a $250 college scholarship he received from the Lockport Women's Club that showed him someone believed in him and sent him a message no one had ever sent him before: You're worth it; go to college no matter what it takes. Tony Robbins recounts a similar scenario of a stranger knocking on his door to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner to his family, which couldn't afford it themselves.
Carr and Robbins both vowed to repay these acts of kindness in the future--and they have. They both went on to create charities that help people in need: the Give Something Back Foundation and The Anthony Robbins Foundation. They recently met at a fund-raiser to launch their partnership and bring their two charities together. They called their first joint fund-raiser the "ROC 'N ROBBINS CHALLENGE," and during a ceremony they presented $1 million checks to each other's foundations. This partnership focused on two important goals: to help send kids to college who would not otherwise have the chance, and to feed the hungry.
I had the pleasure of attending this incredible event and interviewing both Tony Robbins and Bob Carr, as well as other key members of their organizations, to find out more about their charities and what their visions are for the future.
Bob Carr, founder and former CEO of Heartland Payment Systems, founded the Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF) in 2003, with the mission to send as many low-income, Pell Grant eligible kids as possible to college as an expression of gratitude for the $250 scholarship he'd received. Since then, GSBF has donated more than $20 million in college scholarships, and plans to donate $20 million more.
The $1 million that best-selling author and life coach Tony Robbins donated at the ROC 'N ROBBINS CHALLENGE event was matched by Bob Carr and will be used to send 100 low-income kids through pre-med and on to medical school. Normally GSBF full scholarships are for undergraduate degrees earned in 4 years, debt free. But this particular partnership focuses on the need for medical professionals from low-income families.
Besides giving eligible students a completely free, pre-paid college education, which includes tuition, room and board, GSBF does something unique: it pairs the students, selected in 9th grade, with mentors. These academic and life skills mentors stay with the students all throughout high school, to make sure the scholars stay on the right track (GSBF requires scholars to maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout high school to receive the college scholarships). It is this mentor-student relationship that sets GSBF apart from other scholarship programs and ensures its success.
Bob explained to me how he arrived at the decision to prepay colleges, and why it's so important: "When I first started the college program, the very first time we gave scholarships to seniors in high schools, we were confronted by students who had been promised scholarships, but there was no money to pay them. And we learned that it's not all that uncommon. The last thing I wanted to do was promise a kid that we're putting them through college and then I get run over by a bus and something happens. So in order to solve that, we said when we promise somebody that they're going to go to college, we're going to negotiate a deal with the university that they can invest the money and earn more money--maybe even double the money over an average of a six-year life of the fund--and the money is there, the kids are safe, regardless of what happens."
Of course, providing the funds for these students to attend college is an integral part of his foundation's work, but he also stressed to me that "the mentoring is just as important as the money, if not more important." He said: "Money is important, but if a kid gets to be a senior in high school and they don't have calculus, AP history, and honors English, they're not going to be able to get through college successfully. So our goal is not to get kids to college, our goal is to get kids graduated from college, in four years, with no debt. And so we have to help these kids. We have to first of all get them motivated to want to study. And if they start off in ninth grade and they have no hope of going to college, [they think] why should I bother taking this hard class? They won't take the hard class. But when they know that they have a scholarship waiting for them, that's already paid for, it completely changes their attitude about everything, and that's what is so great about our program. We're getting them ready for college so they're successful in college. We've had 41 students graduate thus far, and that's 41 out of 43 students, and those 41 all graduated in four years. Which is unheard of. So I figure once they get through high school they're going to succeed in college. That's been our history so far anyway."
Steve Cardamone, an executive director of GSBF, told me more about GSBF's selection process: "Kids with a 3.0, kids of good character, we look at their hobbies, we look at what they do, and then also look at their Pell-Grant eligibility." He also shared this touching anecdote about one of the scholars that was accepted into the program: "I go back to a young lady that we worked with who had a four-page handwritten note by a neighbor, a very elderly woman, a widow. Was she the best student GPA wise? No. Was she a good student? Yes. But this note talked about baking her a cake, shoveling her walk so she didn't slip when she went to get the mail. This young student took care of this woman for all these years. And I said, 'That's a Give Something Back kid. This is a kid that is going to be great in our program.' And this is also a student that was in college and was pregnant and had a child and still made it. So these stories don't happen in the general public that often. So you like to think that she got a little dose of confidence from us. We had her back."
Bob hopes that, just as he was inspired to give back after he received a scholarship, the students he helps will have that same desire to give back. "When we accept a child into the program, we have a Spring event welcoming the new families into the organization and inviting all the existing families back, and I tell them two things, every one of them: Look, if you're a recipient of a scholarship, you can never ever say in your life that you never got a break. The second thing I tell them is when you graduate from college, we ask that you give back. You may not have money at first, but you can give back in mentoring. And most of our graduates are mentors. They love being mentors and they feel like they are giving back that way. And it's life changing to these people."
That strong desire to give back was felt by Frances Brodeur, a graduate from the inaugural group of the Give Something Back Foundation. The lasting impact of Bob's generosity inspired her to actually join the foundation herself. Frances now works as the Director of Philanthropy at GSBF, and it is her personal mission to "believe in kids and to help them, just as Bob did [for me]."
She got emotional when she talked to me about the incredible impact this program has had on her life: "I see people in the foundation that are mentors now, like myself and others, and we all want to give back. And we all want to do exactly what Bob did. Maybe not on that scale, but it engraved something in us from a young age and it's very powerful. When you have someone that has done a lot better and they give, it's a belief. It's like saying 'I believe in you and I want to give you a chance, too. And even though you've had this situation growing up, it doesn't have to define you.' And I think that's the best gift you could get. It's more than the education. The education is great. It provides a lot of things: structure and a future. But to me, I think that the money means a little more than that. It has really helped in a different way."
Fellow philanthropist Tony Robbins is also someone who knows all about that desire to give back and make a difference in people's lives. He created The Anthony Robbins Foundation (ARF) in 1991, with the aim of increasing the quality of life of those forgotten: youth, homeless and hungry, prisoners, elderly and disabled. The $1million Bob Carr donated to his foundation at the ROC 'N ROBBINS CHALLENGE event, which Tony matched, will provide 22 million meals for families in need.
He shared with me how much his charity has done in terms of feeding the hungry: "I fed 101 million people last year--58 million I personally took care of, and with Feeding America I provided matching funds to do it. I'm going to do it again this year. I'll feed a quarter of a billion by the end this year."
Like the Give Something Back Foundation, ARF also places a lot of importance on mentoring. Tony told me, "Mentoring is the only thing that has been statistically proven to change the quality of a young child's life--[having] a caring adult in their life. They don't have to be perfect, they don't have to be a genius, if they just truly care, they meet with them regularly, and they show a love for them. The biggest thing with mentees is they've usually been through pretty rough times in their life, and they're very jaded, protective of their own emotions, they don't want to open up. And the way you win them over is by loving them when they're not lovable. And teaching a mentor to do that is a big part of what we do. So they don't take things personally. They realize this is just a test and if you can survive this test and care for this young person, you'll own their heart, you'll own their soul. But when people have been injured and hurt, they shut down, and the only way to open them up is not through words, it's through actions. I always tell people, 'You don't have to listen to my lips move, watch how my feet move.' You've got to do that with young people. You've got to show them by your actions not by your words."
Part of ARF is called Global Youth Leadership, which is focused on empowering tomorrow's leaders. Tony's Program Coordinator Amanda Maldonado was able to tell me a little more about that program:
"For the Global Youth Leadership, what we focus on is just touching lives of different individuals as far as limiting beliefs, teaching the leadership skills, how to be a servant in their community and how they can always give back to different others. With Tony Robbins, a lot of his work is about empowering individuals--letting them know that you can make a difference and once you understand that, how can you do it? So with this Global Leadership teaches them: You have these leadership skills within you. Let it out. What is it that you want to do? What's the purpose of it? Kind of guiding them in knowing that you need to help your community and make that difference."
When I asked Tony to tell me more about why focusing on youth is so important and what his hopes are for his foundation, here's what he said: "We all know the next generation is going to be what's going to shape our lives. I want to see that generation prosper, and the best way to do that is really provide great mentoring, great opportunities, put them through environments that allow them to execute their vision, not just dream. Dreamers are a dime a dozen. But to be able to take your dream and put practical steps to it, to fight the battles and solve it. There are so many young people that already have that, so I just want to expand that. So my goals are I want to feed a quarter of a billion by the end of this year, half a billion within the next four, a billion people is a number I will hit within the next ten years. And I'm going to continue to expand mentoring on a massive scale, and even outside of mentoring continue to bring more of those young leaders into the environment where I can take what I've learned in the last 38 going on 39 years here, and pour it into them so they can tinker with it and take it to the next level. That's really my vision."
It was very moving to experience first-hand the spirit of giving at this event--to see the genuine commitment Bob Carr and Tony Robbins have to making a difference for people in need and the powerful impact they have had on the lives they've touched. And it got me thinking how much of a difference any of us could make, by giving back just a little--whether it's money or time.
As Tony told me, the idea behind the event was to "create kindness, create a possibility and show people what's possible, then unleash a few. And it doesn't take everyone to do it. It's the 80/20 rule: 20 percent of the people do 80 percent. I don't need everybody, just give me that 5, 10, 20 percent that's serious, and let's do what we can together."
You can find out more about the Give Something Back Foundation at www.givesomethingbackfoundation.org, by visiting Bob's blog, robertocarr.com, and by reading Bob Carr's autobiography, Through the Fires: An American Story of Turbulence, Business Triumph and Giving Back. For more about Tony Robbins and his work you can visit tonyrobbins.com and The Anthony Robbins Foundation at www.anthonyrobbinsfoundation.org.
Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, CNN.com, AOL Build, the Women's Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's website and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.