Community//

“Why you should take it one day at a time.” With Ben Ari & Lysa Heslov

A few months ago, when COVID began to rear its head, I got a call from a friend of mine who shared with me that the Watts community was suffering immensely. She said a woman cried when she received an orange. The next week I gathered a bunch of volunteers and we took fruit to […]

A few months ago, when COVID began to rear its head, I got a call from a friend of mine who shared with me that the Watts community was suffering immensely. She said a woman cried when she received an orange. The next week I gathered a bunch of volunteers and we took fruit to Watts. We’re now in week eight and we have hundreds of volunteers each week and are delivering semi-trucks full of food, shoes, dental supplies, clothing, diapers, wipes, and masks. The area we serve is the forgotten area of Watts. It’s my firm belief that if we continue to lift up this community, they will begin to have the same opportunities as we have. Change is coming. And I will continue to go every week until they don’t need me.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Lysa Heslov, Founder of Children Mending Hearts.

In 2005, filmmaker Lysa Heslov took in a family displaced by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, an act which inspired her to visit the war-torn country of Sudan later that year. These experiences changed her life forever. Struck by how children who struggled in war-torn countries faced similar battles as underprivileged children here in the United States, she began to dream of a way to empower children everywhere and teach them how to become empathetic global citizens through art, creativity and connectivity.

Over the next two years, Lysa’s philanthropy efforts became more focused. In 2007, she participated in an aid trip to Darfur’s refugee camps where she was confronted by the devastating effects of genocide on the country’s most vulnerable victims — children. Lysa sought to connect with them through art. She made kites with a group of children who beamed with rare smiles as they watched their hand-made creations take flight. For a brief period of time, they experienced nothing but the simple joy that comes from creative work.

This connection had a profound effect on her, and she found herself wanting to help children in the U.S. to understand empathy and help other children affected by poverty, violence or other painful circumstances.

Soon after, Children Mending Hearts was born. The organization has served the city of Los Angeles for the past ten years, combating bullying and intolerance by inspiring empathy in children through art and service-learning programs. It seeks to empower at-risk children in the United States by connecting them with other children both here in the United States and around the world.

Lysa’s dream is to inspire future generations of compassionate and socially conscious citizens who will change a culture of bullying into one of empathy and action. She believes that empathy is transformative; that it can reduce the chance of a child being bullied, enable world leaders to find peaceful solutions, inspire nations to open their doors to families fleeing war and violence and inspire future generations of loving and compassionate global citizens. She believes that empathy can change the world.

Children Mending Hearts started with 39 kids. Since that time, the organization has provided free art education programs to thousands of children throughout Los Angeles County. In 2018 the organization expanded and now has a CMH classroom in all fifty states and Washington D.C.

Lysa and her husband — writer, director, producer and Academy Award winner Grant Heslov — have two daughters of their own.


Thank you so much for joining us Lysa! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

Myhusband Grant’s career kind of took off very quickly. I had two small children, so I stopped producing films and went back to school to study child development. I became obsessed with the word ‘empathy’ and was curious to see if I could create a program to teach empathy to children that was fun and engaging, sort of akin to accidental learning.

I then spent a couple of years traveling the world to come up with a plan. I went to the Congo, Darfur, Haiti, Rwanda, and other places. Eventually, Children Mending Hearts was born.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Well, it’s not funny, but I was working in a refugee camp in Darfur. There were fourteen thousand children in the camp. The conditions were deplorable, a young boy kept trying to sneak into my tent, the elders kept beating him with bullwhips and threw him out of my tent. When I asked about him, I was told he was ‘retarded’ and didn’t speak and that he was trouble. I told them to go and find him. It took three days to find him. Once they did, I took him into my tent and gave him paper and markers, and he drew a picture of his father. His hands were tied in front of him and the rope was tied to a horse. He had watched as his father was drug to his death. He then began to weep, and then to speak. He told me he wanted to be a doctor, that he wanted to find his family, that he no longer dreamed. I gave him enough paper and markers to last him quite a while. I told him to draw, to write, to hope and to never stop dreaming. That moment changed my life forever. Often, we judge others without hearing or knowing their stories. Everyone has a story. We just need to listen.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

“No” and “never” are two words that need to be removed from your vocabulary immediately. Everything is possible.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I was mostly raised by my grandmother. I was actually born on her birthday! I remember every Christmas Eve when most people were drinking egg nog and decorating the tree, my grandmother would put me in her baby-poop green station wagon and we would drive to Sears and buy as many TV’s as we could fit into the car. We would go to the most impoverished communities in Savannah and hand out television sets. I also remember hungry people showing up on my grandmother’s back porch daily and she would always have a warm plate waiting for them. She taught me that giving was a character. She said I should lay my head on my pillow at night knowing I did the best I could to help others every day of my life. I will never forget that.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting cause you are working on right now?

A few months ago, when COVID began to rear its head, I got a call from a friend of mine who shared with me that the Watts community was suffering immensely. She said a woman cried when she received an orange. The next week I gathered a bunch of volunteers and we took fruit to Watts. We’re now in week eight and we have hundreds of volunteers each week and are delivering semi-trucks full of food, shoes, dental supplies, clothing, diapers, wipes, and masks. The area we serve is the forgotten area of Watts. It’s my firm belief that if we continue to lift up this community, they will begin to have the same opportunities as we have. Change is coming. And I will continue to go every week until they don’t need me.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by Children Mending Hearts?

Oh my god, Ruben. In the beginning of Children Mending Hearts, I did a workshop in New York with over a thousand homeless children and met a young boy living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. He told me he wanted to play football and loved Chad Ochocinco. Ruben and I started talking on a regular basis. A few months later I heard that Ruben has lost his entire family in Haiti. I was heartbroken. I called a friend who worked for Deion Sanders and he agreed to pay for Ruben to come to his football camp. I also called Under Armor and they lovingly secured all his football gear. We then flew Ruben to Los Angeles. He had no idea why he was coming. We simply told him we wanted him and his mother to come to our event. Halfway thru the event, we called Ruben on stage and had Chad come out and surprise him with all his goodies. Ruben’s life changed. He was a big hit at camp and began to get straight A’s in school. I just heard he graduated. Sometimes it simply takes one person to believe and then you can believe in yourself.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Listen, get educated, and get involved!

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.

1. A charity is a business. I just thought once I started CMH grants and money would just start rolling in. We almost closed our doors on several occasions. It was a painful learning experience. Start small. Stay small. It’s about the work not the size of your staff or the celebrities in your wheelhouse.

2. Not all organizations share your values. I always thought as a founder that my end game was to close my doors. Part of our mission has always been to work with other charities to end the band-aid syndrome and create sustainable growth, so in the end, we could close our doors. I found out the harsh truth the hard way.

3. Don’t host big fancy events. We tried to hold a couple of big events that ended up being so expensive that our mission got completely lost. Yes, we secured sponsors, but it wasn’t who we were or want to be. We now have one poker tournament and a family day in the summer. We are grassroots and want to stay that way.

4. As a founder, you must know when to walk away. Don’t suffer from founder’s syndrome. Before we hired our Executive Director, I came very close to having a nervous breakdown. I then realized for CMH to become sustainable I had to leave. So, I built a great team and joined the board. I turned over the day to day to my staff and began my career as a director. It was like giving up a child: gut-wrenching, painful, and a big blow to my ego, but it was the best decision for the organization. And CMH has never been more successful.

5. One day at a time. When I started CMH I wanted to help every child in the world. My dreams were big, my purse was small. I learned the hard way to take your time, figure out your space in the scheme of things, and just do the work every single day. If you simply do the work, the rest will come. Don’t take on too much or you will burn out and so will your organization. Helping change one child’s life is far better than trying to change a million and failing.

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.

If we continue this mission in Watts and other low-income communities and give them the chances and opportunities they deserve, things will change. I believe in my heart people are good, decent, and kind. We must lift each other high and take care of each other. Empathy Rocks. We are living through a revolution, so let’s be the change.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“You just can’t let life happen to you; you have to make life happen.”

I have suffered from dyslexia and learning differences in my entire life. I was bullied as a kid and both my parents were alcoholics. I never felt safe as a child. I learned at an early age that my life could end up with a very sad ending unless I made the choice. I had to make my life happen, and not let it happen to me.

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?

Damn, that’s a long list. I would say Michelle Obama. We did meet at a small dinner but didn’t really get to chat too much. She is the embodiment of what it means to be a strong, beautiful, powerful woman. She is everything. I’ll have what she’s having.

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