Every time we do a mitzvah (a blessing, a positive action) an angel of light descends to earth and there is a little less darkness in our world. I truly believe in giving what I know freely to those trying to help others. I am just a single candle, but together we are a torch.
Asa part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lauri Burns.
Lauri Burns is the founder of The Teen Project charity, an author, speaker and a business entrepreneur. It is not what she has done that makes this the best story, but moreover how she got there. Lauri grew up in a Jewish family in Long Island, New York. She went to Hebrew school, played the viola and excelled at math. No one would have guessed she was suicidal as the result of years of physical abuse. Her downfall and rise back up is nothing short of miraculous. Most girls in Lauri’s circumstances died young or are behind bars. Transparent and candid to a fault, this story is sure to bring hope to the hopeless and inspiration to philanthropic minds everywhere.
For more information about Lauri, you can go to www.theteenproject.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
Thank you for having me and yes, I would love to share the story!
I was fourteen years old when my dad’s abuse was witnessed for the first time. Fearing that he would be arrested, he hid his handgun and told the police that I had it and was homicidal. Since my parents had been covering up the abuse and my unexplainable anger by schlepping me to psychiatrists for years, this was not a long shot by any means as far as the police were concerned. On paper it looked like I had severe anger issues, was suicidal and was suffering from schizophrenia.
I was immediately removed from my home and committed to an insane asylum, where I was tied to a bed in a straight-jacket and drugged. This would be the spiritual downfall that would rule my life for the next ten years. Following my stint at the asylum, I was shipped to the first of the many group homes I would live in.
I lived in nineteen different places between the ages of fifteen and eighteen and was known as a “level-fourteen” kid due to my propensity for running away and suicide attempts. I first began shooting up drugs at the age of sixteen while living in a group home. By the age of eighteen, I had emancipated from the foster care system and was homeless. Pregnant shortly thereafter, my drug use caused my own daughter to be placed in foster care. For the next five years, I spiraled downward into heroin addiction and began working the streets as a prostitute.
At the age of twenty-four, I was abducted by two gunmen one evening while working the streets. The men, who spoke broken English informed me that a prostitute in the neighborhood had recently killed a gang member and my life would be taken in return for his. The plan was to rape me all night and kill me in the morning. They drove to a remote canyon and raped me repeatedly. They held the gun to my head so that I wouldn’t try to fight back. My life for the past few years had been very much like that of Aileen Wuornos, depicted by Charlize Theron in movie “Monster.” The years on the street were nothing short of horrific, but this night was the worst yet.
At some point during the assault, I made the decision that I had nothing left to live for and was ready to die. The best way to say it is there was nothing left of me to save and I knew it. Convinced that if I screamed loud enough, the men would pull the trigger and my worthless life would finally be over, with a fierce conviction, I launched into blood-curdling screams “KILL ME! KILL ME!” My voice echoed through the canyon.
What happened next, was nothing short of a miracle… The turning point that would permanently ultimately alter the course of my life.
The gunmen must have gotten scared someone would hear me and would be coming soon. In order to shut me up, they beat me until I was unconscious, dumped my body in the roadside brush and took off. A few minutes later, a man traveling down the dark road must have seen my body as his headlights lit up the hillside. He carried me to his car and rushed me to the hospital. I call this man “my angel.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, I was offered a scholarship at a woman’s residential drug treatment center, therapy and a chance to get my daughter back if I turned my life around. Committed to getting my daughter back, I went to the treatment center and asked one of my long-time regular Johns for help, the right kind of help for once. He was a recluse paralyzed Vietnam war veteran who tinkered with computers and knew a lot about technology. He also had left home at a young age due to abuse, so he and I had a strange bond. He agreed to teach me everything he knew so that I could get a legal job and regain custody of my daughter.
Relentless at altering the course of my life, by the age of twenty-six I had my daughter back from foster care and took in another abused kid I knew. It was at that time that I had first applied to be a foster mom. When the authorities brought up my arrest record, I knew it was a lost cause, but it didn’t stop me from helping kids. By the time I was thirty, I owned a successful tech firm and shortly thereafter bought a large home so that I could take in more kids.
A few kids later, the authorities contacted me to inform me that they were waiving my record because they need my help with some more troubled teens. They asked me to serve on the foster care advisory board. Only a handful of foster parents are asked to serve. The board consists of probation officers, social workers and county officials. They saw that I was taking the most difficult kids, those with multiple placement histories, and not only were they were staying with me… they were getting better.
It was on that board that I learned that kids were still going homeless after foster care. Since my kids and I agree that we don’t like court, we never went to emancipation hearings when they turned 18. We would have a birthday party and go on with life as usual. I had no idea other foster parents were kicking their kids out when they turned 18 and the checks stopped.
It was after that advisory board meeting that I started researching on Google and learned that 65% of the 25,000 foster kids turning 18 years old each year in the United States were instantly homelessness after care and foster kids were 60% of the human trafficking cases in our country. I was so pissed off; I was on fire! I launched The Teen Project nonprofit in my off hours to help those kids and continued to work in the tech world. I raised $180,000 in the first year and bought the first house for the charity.
Insistent that people must know what happens to foster children in America, in 2010 I published my life story, Punished for Purpose, which brought worldwide press. By 2014, as a result of substantial financial success in the tech world and a foster care system that continued to fail, I retired from the tech world and dedicated my life to saving the kids.
Today, The Teen Project has one-hundred and twenty-six beds and eight sites throughout Southern California. The Teen Project provides the very same things I received, free residential drug treatment, lots of therapy and free vocational schooling, resulting in a full life transformation. When people ask me, what is different about our charity, I say “We are a parent to the parentless.” “We don’t have a static list of services; we give each kid whatever they need to turn their lives around, just like a parent would.”
The Teen Project consists of a college housing program, a seventy-four-bed residential drug treatment center in LA called Freehab, a sixteen-bed crisis center for girls who have attempted suicide, overdosed or are experiencing a mental break and a beautiful site in Orange County dedicated to human trafficking victims, the first in the state to offer free detox and drug treatment to this population.
The Teen Project has received over 50 million in grant awards. My good friend Kelly Kester and I still write all grant proposals. I recently completed the film script version of my life story in the hopes that it will being awareness and hope to foster and abused kids all over the world.
As of today, I have raised thirty-nine foster children in my home. I am thirty-three years sober and my biological daughter (who was returned from foster care at age four) graduated from Columbia School of Social Work with dual master’s degrees in social work and special education. She is happily married and has two children.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?
Well first I’ve got to tell you; I love to laugh. I use humor as a tool to defuse kids who are getting too heated. This is one of the good things I inherited from my dad… a crazy sense of humor. I have no problem laughing at myself and I love it when I see my kids picking up this trait.
I thought it was funny when a bunch of my kids and I were at the bank one day. We were all huddled together in the little cubicle with a banker making changes on the charity account. The banker looked up at our diverse group ranging from age fifteen to twenty-two all different colors and sizes. She said, “what kind of group are you?”
One of my kids, seemed offended and said, “We are not a group!” We are a family!” The banker looked both confused and embarrassed. Before she could say anything else, one of my other kids barked, “We all have different dads!” The kids all laughed as the banker looked at me with judgement in her eyes. I just smiled. The kids loved this!
I laughed every time I thought about it for the next week.
My takeaway was that foster kids shouldn’t have to feel shame about their circumstances. The more knowledge we can give them about their own parents, addiction, the cycle of abuse, the more pride they have in being exactly who they are. My kids know that I am counting on them, if anything happens to me, they will be responsible for carrying the torch!
What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?
I wrote a chapter in my book about the methodology I used to start the charity. I call it mastering my dreams. Of course, since I am in a 12-step program, I live the “one day at a time” way of life. This basically means, I really don’t stress too much on the work or problems of tomorrow, next week or next month, but I do really pay attention to what I can do today. I had a sponsor that used to say “Lauri, good is good enough.” The point was, don’t stress out so much, just do what you can do in a day, the rest can wait until tomorrow.
I created an acronym to help me do what I could towards my goal. M.A.S.T.E.R.
M — Maintain the belief that you can do this. Do not let the smallest amount of doubt slip into your mind. You must not only believe you can do it; you must plan on it.
A — Add to your goal every day. If it is a monetary goal, set money aside a little bit every day. However small, you must keep the forward momentum. If it is a goal to start a new business, design your logo, begin a client database, create a mission statement, research similar businesses, interview people who started a business like yours. You must add something every day.
S — See your goal. You must have a picture that represents your goal in a location you are sure to view every day. If it is money, you can have a picture of money or what you will buy with it — a house, a car. If it is a business, make a business card with your name and title on it. Put it in the bathroom where you get ready. See it every day.
T — Talk about your goal. Talk about your goal as it exists now. Talk about it repeatedly and to everyone you know. Describe it. Breathe life into it. To speak is to create. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Words create. With every person whom you bring into supporting your goal, your goal is that much closer within reach.
E — Eliminate negative people. Only talk about your goal with people that support it. If there is someone who puts it down or doesn’t believe you can do it, don’t share it with them anymore, and if at all possible, separate from them. They are the number-one enemy of your goal.
R — Relationships with others. Whether you like it or not, you become like people you surround yourself with. You pick up mannerisms, phrases and beliefs from the people closest to you. Choose a few people that have been successful in life and have what you want. Spend time with them, whether in the office or leisure time. It makes no difference where. It is only important that you watch them. You will pick up their successful energy.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
As weird as it seems, it was a lady I barely knew. It was my birthday and for fun, my mom took me to dinner and to see a psychic. I was immediately impressed with how sharp this lady was. She knew my sister had twins; my mom had a brain tumor… things a stranger wouldn’t know. That said, she was telling me things that I already knew! So, what purpose what this, other than to impress me with her psychic skills?
She was in the middle of ratting off information, and then she stopped and looked down at her desk, as if she was thinking. She slowly lifted her head and looked me right in the eyes and said, “One day you will be a little girl swinging on a swing… and the next you’ll be an old lady… your life is going to go by like that!” She snapped her fingers loudly as she said it in order to emphasize how quickly our lives can pass us by. Then she said something that would ultimately become the engine for my inner drive. She said, “Make sure you do what you are here to do before it is over.”
As crazy as it seems, I didn’t ask another question, I knew exactly what she meant. She was telling me something I had already started to realize but couldn’t put into words. My childhood was not punishment from God like I thought when I was young. It was karate kid style wax-on wax-off training. Thirty-three years ago, that horrific night in the woods was the end of the preparation and the very next day, I started on the path of fulfilling my life’s purpose. It couldn’t be clearer… She was telling me how very important it is that I take risks and trust that the universe will respond because this is what I am here to do.
I have since learned to say yes to opportunities even when I have no idea what I am saying yes to. People often ask me how did you do all of this? My standard answer is “I wake up, have three shots of espresso and ask the universe what’s next.
I talk a lot the universe and God, but it is important to note that when I got sober, they told me I could believe in anything as a god, as long as it wasn’t me. Since I thought God was punishing me as a child, I didn’t want to start praying to him again. In my mind once I started praying, he would locate me again and crap would begin again! But I remembered seeing a movie when I was young called “Oh God Part II” and I loved it! So, I started praying to George Burns. He was the actor who played God in the movie. The surprising thing is, my prayers have been answered! I guess George has been passing my notes along to the big guy!
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
I am sharing with other agencies that are helping youth. I had a bad experience when I first started my charity. I asked a lady that knew more than me for help. She did help, but not until she charged me several thousand dollars for her “expertise.” At the time, I remember feeling like she was out of integrity. If she was truly looking to heal the world and already earning a salary, why would she make me pay when she knew we had nothing to support the charity? That bad experience impacted me.
My rabbi says that every time we do a mitzvah (a blessing, a positive action) an angel of light descends to earth and there is a little less darkness in our world. I truly believe in giving what I know freely to those trying to help others. I am just a single candle, but together we are a torch.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
This cause chose me. My first foster kid came to me from a girl I didn’t know. I was babysitting and the mom never returned. I did not plan it and may not have thought of it on my own. I probably just would have been grateful to have lived through the tragedy and went on to raise my daughter. The first few kids came to me by way of pure synchronicity. When it kept happening, I realized I was a magnet to kids in need. It was a natural progression.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Over the past fifteen years or so, I have been fortunate to tell my life story in many different places throughout the U.S. and the world. In 2007, I was invited to speak at a sober convention in Tucson, Arizona. When I was finished speaking and headed down from the podium a woman rushed up to me and said Peter is looking for you! You must find him! He wants to help you! Well, there were a lot of people there, so trying to find someone I didn’t know and wouldn’t recognize was nearly impossible. It was quite a while later that day when this man Peter finally located me.
He told how much he enjoyed my story and explained that he was an orphan too. He said he had grown up in the U.K. with a mom, a brother and a deadbeat abusive, cheating dad who abandoned them when he was just a young boy. He described his mom as a saint who had limited resources but would give up her life for her children. During World War II, she protected young Peter from a missile headed for their home by shielded him with her body. Lacking the support of a husband, she struggled financially, but Peter said, “Even when we were forced to sleep on the floor of a cold flat with no heat or toilet, I was happy as could be, because I was with my mum.”
Peter then put his head down and said, “My mum died from cancer when I was just a teen, at which point, I became an orphan.” He went on to say he wanted to help me. He said he would be wiring a bit of money as soon as he returned home from the convention. A week or so later, he did donate, and that donation ended up funding the tuition for one of our girls to attend the school she had dreamt of as a child, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Since that time, Peter has donated every year and his donations have grown over time.
This story moves around a bit, but in the end, you will understand why…
When I first became an official licensed foster mom (around 20 years ago) I went to meet a young girl at a group home. The social worker said she was ready for a family setting. She explained to me that this girl had been living in a group home for several years and was very compliant. She gave me the location and the meeting time.
When I arrived at the site, I was dumbfounded. It was the most breathtaking site I had ever seen in my life and it was for foster kids! I couldn’t believe it! The site consisted of five homes on a private cul-de-sac at the top of canyon road with 365-degree views down to the ocean. The homes were expansive single level ranch style homes. One even had an Olympic size pool behind it!
When I knocked on the door, a young couple answered. As they introduced me to the kids in the house, each one approached me with a smile and shook my hand… very weird for troubled group home kids. They were so happy and confident! I met the young girl that I had an appointment with and a few days later she moved into my personal home.
After I left, I did some research on the site and was surprised to learn it was Boys Town founded by Father Flanagan in 1917. It registered immediately because I had seen the original Boys Town movie with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. I was instantly obsessed. Over the next 20 years I learned everything I could about the organization, their methodology and the business model. But most of all, I was impressed with the site. You could tell how much the organization cared about the kids, by the way they lived.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018! So, in spring of 2018 I was looking at the county supervisor’s minutes. I do this from time to time just to see what’s going on. In the minutes I saw Boys Town closed. I couldn’t believe it! Boys Town has homes throughout the U.S. What did they mean? All the homes? They couldn’t be talking about the majestic site in the canyon. I called the assistant to the Director of Social Services in our county and asked her what this meant. She explained it was for sale and went on to say she hasn’t heard anything about a buyer and as far as she knew, it was still for sale. I couldn’t believe it! The site had to be worth 8 million minimum.
I looked it up online and then called the original site in Nebraska. I was informed that they had closed all homes in New York, Arizona, California and Nevada. I was heartbroken for the kids and all I could think was, we have to resurrect this site! I saw online it was for sale and contacted the realtor immediately. I was right, it was very expensive! Our charity certainly couldn’t afford it, so I did what I considered to be the next best thing. I posted the whole story on Facebook and forwarded it to tons of investors pleading with them to save the place for the foster kids, but no one bit. It was just a few weeks later that I was informed an investor bought it. My heart sunk. The place was a gold mine. He would fix the place up, flip it and make millions. I had lost this battle, but I had to think for some reason, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Two months later, I was called in to see the Juvenile Justice Commission in the county where I live. The Juvenile Justice Commission works in partnership with the judges in our county to advocate for children in the system. They called me in to talk about the free drug treatment that I have in Los Angeles. Since they are in Orange County, where I live, they had been transporting youth out of county to our place to get help
I told them about our center and went on to tell them my life story (the short version). After I spoke, the admittedly told me they knew nothing about me before I came in, other than the program I had created. The woman in charge looked at me and said,” Are you kidding?” “You were a foster kid in our county, and you were a street prostitute?” “We have an entire unit of girls in juvenile hall right now that we are holding on petty charges like probation violation so that the pimps won’t get them again.” “You are the perfect person to help!” “You were one of them!” “You need to open a place for them here!”
Well at this point, I was just opening a crisis center in Los Angeles and funds were tight. I told them it costs around two million a year for operations, which we don’t have right now, and we would also need a building. They exchanged a look and said, we don’t have any money, nor do we have anything to do with grants.” I left the meeting with a feeling of helplessness. I opened my first place in LA because that is where the money was, but now kids in my hometown needed my help, and I lacked the resources to do anything about it.
For the past ten or so years, I have made a habit of attending an annual sober convention. It is in a different country every year. It is my favorite vacation! Peter also attends these conventions. I forgot to mention, Peter is a toymaker, so he lives in China now. This is my one chance every year to see him and thank him personally for saving so many of our kid’s lives! The convention in 2018 took place in Canada.
It was my first day at the convention when I ran into Peter. He immediately asked me about how the charity is going. Of course, I told him it was going great! We exchanged some small talk and then I told him I had to run to my room. I turned and started to walk away, and he said, “Lauri, come back, I want to tell you one more thing…”
He said, “Something just hit me.” “I was going to leave you money in my will for your charity.” I said, “Peter, that is nice, but I don’t want to think about you dying.” He said, “I just realized how stupid that is… I will never know what you did with the money!” “I have decided to give it to you now, so I can see what you do with it!” “I am going to wire 1,000,000 U.S. when I return home.” “I don’t want to spend it on recurring operations, I want you to buy something permanent for the kids.” I was so excited; I was crying and overwhelmed! We exchanged a huge hug and I walked away in a state of shock.
When I got home, I connected with my Chief Operating Officer, Bert and told him what had occurred. We discussed purchasing a home in Los Angeles where most of the girls were. The plan was to purchase a home where they could live, attend college and begin their careers while saving money.
The very next day I received a call. The man on the other end said, “Hello Lauri, my name is Gregg Stone. I am the investor that purchased the Boys Town property.” I responded by saying, “Yes, I know Gregg.” “I have been stalking you!” He chuckled and said, “Well you know that property is 60 acres and I truly believe the 15 acres where the homes sit should really go to provide for foster kids, or similar people in need.” “So, I put out an RFP (request for proposal) to my favorite charities and I am asking them to send me a synopsis of what they would do with the land, as well as a bid proposal.” “I really like what you do but have to be honest; you are the smallest charity of the group.”
Then he went on to name some very large charities that have been operating for several decades. He made mention of their 990s (tax returns) and how large the others were compared to ours. He told me our chances were slim, but he still wanted me to apply.
I said, “Gregg, there is no way I can compete with those guys.” I told him which one was my favorite of the charities he named and suggested he sell it to them. He thanked me for the vote of confidence for that charity, but asked again… “Are you sure you don’t want to bid?” I told him I was sure and then I hung up. I just knew they had millions in the bank to back their play, and I didn’t.
A few minutes later, it hit me! Peter’s donation! Maybe I could use that money as a down payment! Peter never said he needed to be included in my decision, but I wanted him to be. Since he is in China, we communicate on Messenger. I sent Peter a long message telling him about Boys Town and about the kids in juvenile hall. I knew he wanted to buy something with the million dollars, but for this property, his money would only be enough for a down payment, if that.
The next morning, I woke up to a message from Peter… It said, “Lauri, Spencer Tracy thinks it’s a good idea (I guess he saw the movie) and George is puffing on his cigar in agreement. Let’s do it!”
Important to note, we were still competing against twenty-six other charities! So, I wasn’t getting my hopes up! That said, I immediately called Gregg and coordinated a site visit with my team. I called everyone on our steering committee, executive team and board to join us. A few days later, we all marched up the hill. It was on that hill that I met Gregg in person and told him about my obsession with Boys Town, the kids, and how my life had been transformed by my angel in the canyon.
A few days later, Gregg called. I was in my LA office and I grabbed my COO and put Gregg on speaker phone. Gregg told us that he really liked our team and went on to say that I was not your typical Executive Director. He then reiterated that our chances or getting the property were still very slim. He said he spoke to his people and I needed to get a lot of documents together or we wouldn’t have a chance.
As he started rattling off the requirements, my COO and I looked at each other and shook our heads. There was no way we were going to get all of the documents he mentioned in such a short time frame. Then something weird happened. Gregg stopped talking and said, the hell with it! Get me an approved loan letter Friday! Well, it was Tuesday and at this point I knew enough about the home loan process to know that it would take an act of God to get a letter by Friday!
The moment we got off the phone, I thought of the bank that loaned us the money for our first house ten years prior. When they gave it to us, we were brand new, had no history and no employees. We never missed a payment. I quickly dialed and asked for a lady I knew. She was very familiar with the Boys Town property and said, “Wow, what a great opportunity!” “Let me see what I can do!” Well, by Friday, we had a loan letter!
For the next month I meditated, prayed and hoped, but also tempered my excitement, because truly this acquisition was beyond my wildest dreams. Well, on the last day of Chanukah, God gave me Boys Town!
I contacted Peter on Messenger; I was so excited! I told him how grateful I was and asked if I could name the property after him. He told me that he appreciated my intention but would prefer to remain anonymous. As much as I wanted to respect that, I was not happy about it. This man’s donation would save so many children’s lives! Then it hit me, Peter’s mom… We could name it after Peter’s mom! For her short life to be remembered in this way would be beautiful. After all, she was a loving, protective mom. I wrote to Peter with the idea and he loved it! The site is now named Vera’s Sanctuary for Women and is dedicated to victims of human trafficking 15–26 years old. The impact on Peter and was tremendous, but the number of miracles that have occurred since the acquisition are numerous.
I knew I needed a gate at the site entry to protect our girls, but I had no idea how much an electronic gate would cost, so I Googled gate company and found what looked like a massive company. I wrote a message on their website, explaining what we were doing and our need for a gate. I received a message back from the owner asking if he could meet me onsite. The next day, I met him onsite. He looked at me for a long stint and then said, “How did you know I was a foster child?” Holy moly… I couldn’t believe it! What are the chances? He donated a beautiful electronic gate with cameras, video and a keypad at the entry. Our VSW (Vera’s Sanctuary for Women) logo is beautifully etched into the gate’s face.
A few weeks later, a young girl I had met in Juvenile Hall several years prior called me. I was sent there to tell my story and donate some books to the kids. At that time, she wrote down my number and kept it. She told me she was desperate for help and went on to tell me some of her struggles, which were very similar to mine. She also told me she was in foster care and that she too had grown up in group homes. I told her I was excited because I finally had a place for girls like us in our county!
When I gave her the address, she was quiet for a minute and then she said, wait… that is where I grew up…” “Are you at Boys Town? My heart raced! I couldn’t believe it! There are five homes on the hill, and she was best suited for house four. When she arrived, she walked in and looked at me in astonishment and said, “This is the house I grew up in.” “God brought me home.” I still get chills as I write it! She graduated the treatment program and is still living with us. She is currently going to school to become a Medical Assistant. She will graduate in less than a year.
So, while this story is about the impact on me, Peter, the gate man and the young girl, the number of lives that have been impacted are numerous and I am certain the impact will continue to grow.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Individuals can give monthly donations online or contact us directly to provide a larger one-time donation.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- I wish someone had told me that many people will be inspired to help and will make a commitment, but only a small percentage will have the integrity to follow through. I wish someone would have told me not to focus on those people that fall away, but to focus on the small few who follow through and that many more will come to replace the others. Story: When people fell away, I kept thinking this is never going to work. I felt like every time someone left, my candle’s flame was blown out. It got harder and harder to reignite it again. It took a few years to realize new people always replaced the flaky ones.
- I wish someone would have told me not to pay that woman thousands of dollars to help me, that I could get all of the help I needed on legal zoom or other similar sites. Story: The item I paid thousands of dollars for was a business plan that I never needed. No one ever asked for it.
- I wish someone would have told me not to stress out when funds were low, but to remember this is not my project, it is God’s project and if he wants it, it will be no matter how it looks right now. And more importantly, if he doesn’t want it… don’t take it personally, he will assign you another position in life. Story: I was so stressed at one point, that several different people told me I needed to learn to meditate. I am so hyper and ADHD, when I am meditating, I am thinking about everything I need to do. I tried it with people, online and when it didn’t work, so I gave up. Then I received an email from a woman I didn’t know at an event site near my house. Our charity did an event there once. It is a private property with a small game reserve… tigers and monkeys and other animals. The message said, “The Dalai Lama is coming to teach people how to meditate this weekend. We happen to have a few spare seats. It is free. Would you like to join? God doesn’t whisper to me, he SCREAMS! Anyway, long story short, I learned to meditate and turn it over from Dalai Lama.
- I wish someone would have told me to have someone else answer my phone and limit my speaking engagements to people who would make some sort of contribution to the kids. Story: I ran myself ragged going to rotary clubs, committees and other groups that never helped. The ones that did help were fantastic, but I did not have a way of determining their intention prior to the meeting. The result was sheer exhaustion, too many miles on my car, not enough time with my foster kids and a resentment.
- I wish someone would have told me not to date people that are not supportive of my charity or are threatened by my commitment to my kids, the foster children in my home, the kids at my charity sites and girls calling from the street. Story: I recently broke up from a three-year relationship. Something I talk about in my book is painting the red flags green in relationships. I knew this was an issue from the start, but I ignored it because I was romancing the idea of what it could be rather than looking at the reality of what it really is. I had the knowledge, but never applied it. It was only a short time before my green flags started turning orange. I really loved him, but in the end, it came down to the original problem. He would never be #1. I am okay being alone, but also know God will bless me with the right person when the time is right.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Fix the foster care system. They need to stop dumping kids out and finish the job. Foster kids can get free college, but the downfall is, who can go to college when you are homeless, have no car, cell phone, food or transportation? The ROI (return on investment) is solid. They spend billions on foster care and the kids are ultimately failing and reentering the system, costing us even more on food stamps, Medi-cal, welfare, jails and of course their kids going into foster care.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi. I am the change. I have forgiven my abuser and have since learned he was a foster kid too. I was able to foster my dad. He lived in our home for a year after his heart surgery. I told the kids he would be the oldest foster kid in the house and would need to be treated with love, compassion and kid’s gloves. He was grouchy a lot, but we loved him out of that mode. When he was really grouchy, we made matzah ball soup. That always worked.
Being the change is big. A lot of people think they are the change because they don’t beat their kids, like their parents… but if they still hate or resent their parents, they are clearly not the change. Their anger is just shooting in a different direction.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to meet with Kristen Stewart for a bite, but only if she has interest in playing me in the movie. I believe she has what it takes to play the tough parts, on the street and as a young mom fighting against the system that failed her. I also believe she has the right personality and voice to talk to media after the movie and advocate for the rights of abused and sex trafficked kids.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!