Thelma Rimber – I Use My Talent To Lift Someone Else Up

“It was worth all the rejection, tears and sleepless nights. I used my talent to lift someone else up.” –  Thelma Rimber.

Imagine that you are a child, living in destitute poverty in a slum with absolutely no opportunities to do anything.  Then imagine that there is a woman who comes into you life, helps you to develop your innate gifts and talents and inspires you to do more and to be more.  And, she shows you how. 

This woman is Thelma Rimber.  A woman who is so talented that she can have her own successful solo career as an artist and entertainer, but, she chooses to stay and help young people.   We are so honored to have her share her journey and her mission with us here. 



You teach piano, voice and acting. We would like to know about the piano first. When did you start to learn how to play and why?

I would always watch pianists on the keys doing their thing and I’d get fascinated, but somehow it never occurred to me that I could ever play. About four years ago I started a youth choir at church and I would get so frustrated at the lack of our very own keyboard player. We were constantly let down or they would turn up with an arrogant attitude because they knew we needed them. Eventually I felt enough was enough and decided to learn how to play. I didn’t have an instrument though. What’s more, I didn’t have money to get one. On my birthday that year, by some miracle my family surprised me with the first instrument I have ever owned and I was thrilled! A Yamaha keyboard. Another miracle happened and the choir director at my church decided to sponsor my lessons at the one music school I really wanted to get piano lessons from. It’s now my third year as a piano student and I’m still falling deeper and deeper in love with those enchanting black and white keys. Am currently doing Grade 4 & 5 concurrently.


Incidentally my youth choir drifted apart because everyone seemed to be relocating or moving in different directions but am glad it was the push I needed to learn how to play piano.


You are a naturally skilled singer. In order to each others, did you take additional training or learn other methods or do you just teach what you know?


teerimberPeople usually laugh when I tell them I started out as a terrible singer. I would break into a sweat and tremble or even not be able to breathe properly on stage. The result, as any singer can imagine, was a terrible performance. Yet, people would come up to me and say they love my voice. I couldn’t understand why! However, I loved singing too much to do it as awfully as I was at the time so I began to pray for a miracle. I just told God I couldn’t stand being that bad a singer. One day, a friend at church asked me if I would like to download a set of vocal training programs he had on his computer. I did and they had an amazing effect on my voice. My own family couldn’t recognise my singing. I started to share those lessons with children in a choir I taught at the time and then gradually found myself in vocal coaching. I still would love to get expert one-on-one training from a seasoned teacher but so far I teach what I have learned and know. I think starting out as a bad singer helps one know what not to do if you’re to sing well. I also love to read off the net what I can of singing and proper techniques and share these with students.



And acting — was acting natural for you also, or did you take additional courses?

I marvel at how the one thing I do not at all struggle with, of all my talents and skills, is acting. I did take at as a course at school but it was more out of a passion than a need to learn how to do it. It helps me direct from my heart when I’m instructing my students but then again, I do read about it just to grab theoretical aspects that present interesting debates.



Africa is the land of music. Even the languages that people speak on the continent are very melodic. Did you grow up listening to music and if so, what kind of music was prevalent around you and where was it, in the home or in the community?


My paternal family is musical. My dad’s brother is an incredible concert pianist, or was, because he’s retired now. My father has always had a guitar somewhere to whip out whenever we were bored and we would sing along as he played. In Kenya, we have the coastal tribes which mostly speak Swahili. Swahili originated from the African Bantu tribes and the Arab traders mingling with each other along the East African coast. I come from one of these coastal tribes called the Giriama. During weddings and celebrations, we have a genre of music called Bango (pronounced Bang-go) and this is what my ear was tuned into from childhood. Bango is the most beautiful mix of Caribbean sounding Swahili music, sang with saxophones, large drums, guitar and keyboard or marimba (xylophone) accompaniments. This music was always playing at home or in my dad’s car because they’d remind him of his home back in the Coast of Kenya (we live in the capital city, Nairobi, which is a six hour drive away).


My father also loves Jazz and this sank into my system from childhood. He seemed to own endless Jazz music and so, to this day, it is my first love when it comes to choice of genre.


Kenya has an amazing mix of music because it seems almost every tribe has its own interpretation of music. We have 42 tribes in a not so large country yet all these blends fit and express themselves culturally. When we want to reach all Kenyans we sing in Swahili because that’s the national language. More commonly, many youthful musicians sing or rap in Sheng’ which is our local slang (a blend of English and Swahili). So all these, plus music from our neighboring countries were around me as I grew up.



Who were some of your favorite singers when you were growing up?

I think the among the first singers I grew up wanting to emulate were the Maranatha Singers and Ron Kenoly because my mother would play their music while dropping me to school almost every morning. As I gained understanding and more exposure, I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, as well as Nat King Cole because of dad and his jazz. But as I became more aware of my own tastes in music the late Whitney Houston, the late Tabu Lei, Yvonne Chakachaka, the late Lucky Dube, Chaka Demus, Toni Braxton and Tevin Campbell were all favorites that defined music for me as I grew up in the 90s.



What were some of your favorite bands?

When it came to bands, those that played Bango music locally were among my top favorites-we had the Pressmen Band that were a top hit back in the 90s. I also loved another Kenyan group called Safari. Spice Girls too I must say were a favorite as I entered my teens, and the ever lovable Morgan Heritage.


When you were 16, you performed Miriam Makeba’s song, “Malaika” and left the audience in awe and received a standing ovation. What did that experience leave you with?


When I was 17 my dad sent me to South Africa to finish high school and for the first time I was in a school offering drama as a subject, that was heaven to me. For the final exams we were to prepare a monologue to present. I included the song Malaika in mine. In East Africa we know it to be Fadhili Williams’ original composition so I had his version in mind as I sang. I didn’t think of myself as a singer so I was pleasantly surprised when the school principal invited me to sing it at the school’s end of year award ceremony. The audience looked humongous with just over 500 people. It changed my life, hearing the applause and seeing the moved emotions throughout the hall. That was the beginning of me discovering my singing talent.


Even with this confirmation of your natural talent, you did not pursue additional performance opportunities. Why not?


After that, I enrolled into a university in South Africa, Rhodes University, to do a Bachelor of Arts majoring in performing arts. Sadly, I problematically completed only one semester before dropping out and going back home to Kenya. The major reasons were that I was feeling pressure from my family to enroll into law school instead, because it seemed to them that a career in performing arts just did not present a promising future. It became too painful to think of acting or singing while in law school so I shut my mind and heart to it completely.


So, your parents encouraged to you do business studies while you were in college. In conflict with your heart, you studied law instead of the arts. After completing school, you gave yourself permission to go into the arts anyway. What happened within you that allowed you to give yourself permission to do that?


By the time I reached 4th year of law school, I knew I could not live without the arts. I started praying like there was no tomorrow for a way out of law as a career. The chance to pursue a Master of Arts in theatre in Perth, Australia came up and I applied just as I was graduating from law school. I think my father realised he had pushed me into a career I had not wanted for myself and he graciously agreed to sponsor my studies in Australia. Once there, I rolled up my sleeves and got into learning everything I could about script writing and producing for theatre and screen. I however found myself getting thoroughly depressed with the unfamiliar culture and atmosphere that after completing one year, I opted to come back home to Kenya to start off a career in the arts.


How did your parents feel about it?

When I got home, my parents had mixed feelings about me looking for jobs in film and theatre instead of applying for a ‘serious’ job as a lawyer. The journey was heartbreaking for me because one, they never knew what to tell family or friends about what I do because they didn’t understand it and two, they just didn’t seem proud of what I thought were great accomplishments. One day a cousin sarcastically asked me ‘You left law for this?’ I had to grow some thick skin against all the criticism flying about me from family over my career choice. What’s worse is I was still financially dependent on them even after all their investment in my education. I was an embarrassment and it was obvious.


You said it was difficult to “penetrate the [media and film] industry…without any qualifications.” What kind of qualifications were those people looking for and do you think, given your outstanding talent, that they were being realistic or discriminatory? The break the question down a little further, do you think you had the ability to perform to the level that was needed or do you think you had more to learn?


When I came home from Australia, I asked my theatre lecturer to write me referral which I intended to include in my acting portfolio. This prestigious man blew my mind when he said in his recommendation that I was one of the best performers he had seen in 20 years. When I began auditioning locally, one of the directors also seemed stunned by my talent, so did many actors. However, I just have never been successful at local auditions. In the most recent rejection I got, someone on the inside who had been part of the casting team admitted to me what I have always suspected is the reason behind it: bias. He told me he tried to fight for me to get the role but the director had already made up his mind on who should get the role, even though we had not been given an opportunity to audition. I think I have what it takes to take acting in my continent to a new level, but I also think the local casting directors I have come across just might not be ready for that change. I do believe that with God’s time I will meet the right match of directors to work with.



This dream that you had to open a performing arts academy in Kenya. Where do the roots of this dream stem from?


When it became obvious to me that I was being turned away time after time, I realised that I might die old with my dream to become the best performer I can be unfulfilled. I was facing a very dry period with no jobs coming up and no money, when I just got on my knees and asked God to show me what to do. I remembered the biblical figure Moses and I believe I heard God ask me in that moment the same thing He asked Moses, ‘what do you have in your hand?’ My answer was ‘I can act, You can use that, God.’ Then I believe I heard the voice resonate so deeply within ‘Go and lift someone up with what I have given you. I will use that.’


 And this is where Rimthel Creative Arts Company came from?

Yes. The picture then came so clearly to just teach those who are talented but less privileged than I am in the performing arts. I don’t know how I got the courage to do it but I went to the slum called Kibera, and I walked around looking for young talented actors. My life was threatened in the process by a Mafia leader there. Apparently if I was not going to pay him anything to walk freely in the slum, I couldn’t walk around at all or rent premises there to teach from. It got so bad he arranged a mob one morning to accost my assistant and I as we came to teach. The area chief took his side when I took the matter to him and so, I looked for another option. The students agreed to come to a venue half an hour’s drive from the slum every Saturday morning. At first I could afford to hire a van to bring all 20 of them but once things got dry for me financially, they started to walk to my venue and back to the slum. I was teaching them at no cost but a friend in the UK heard about my work and would send me little money by Western Union to keep the workshops going.


What kind of help could you use from others?

Today, I feel pained that I could not go on with my children in the slum because it just got too difficult financially. With financial support, I would be able to pick at least two talented slum dwellers and take them through intensive training to help them build their own platforms to earn a living through performing arts. Without career prospects, they become criminals, prostitutes, contract STIs or get pregnant. These are youth who cannot afford high school so imagine a 14 year old who will never again enter a classroom struggling to survive in a slum for the rest of their lives. Those I worked with even won a trophy in a contest in the slum conducted by an NGO. They had self-esteem and a sense of belonging and I would really hope to restore that. Anyone who would be willing to walk that dream with me can send whatever amount of money is possible for them, or drama resources or anything practical to assist. I have built a small stage in my garage for them to act from during our workshops and I am making monthly payments for an upright piano I took last year to teach music from. With help, I can do so much more.


How does training in the arts help children?

Currently I am doing a Master of Arts in Education Leadership and for my thesis, I have been doing research on the benefits of music for preschoolers. For children, research shows that music raises the IQ, helping with the development of literacy, numeracy and spatial skills. Basically, a young child taking voice lessons develops their aural, oral and reading skills much faster than a child who is not. Reading music and interpretation of note values from the written symbols greatly helps build a child’s mathematical skills. Looking at drama lessons, they really aid in children’s development of self-confidence and creativity. The eye-hand coordination in a child also grows as they learn to play an instrument; this is good for their reflexes. Adults are not left out since studies show that a musician’s brain works differ due to playing an instrument enhancing certain functions. Because of developing their listening patterns, musicians are likely to remember details in every day life more than a non-musician. The processes of reading music and quickly interpreting it as one plays enhances brain functions which makes researchers believe that the brain of a musician possibly acquires a different shape from that of a non-musician. Incidentally, the benefits are more evident in children whose brains are still developing so that their IQ is raised due to participating in musical activities.



When all is said and done, and an 80 or 90 year old Thelma Rimber is looking back on her life, tell us what she sees.


First I want to give credit where it is due. Despite the long route I have taken to finding myself in performing arts, I would want it to be known that I believe my parents did what they thought was best out of love for me and concern for my future success. Today, because of much prayer and dialogue, we remain very close and I am glad to say they are my biggest fans. They graciously continue to support my musical journey and because of that am able to afford my piano training.


I always pray that I will die empty, having given everything God created me to give to this world. I see the massive and international Rimthel Performing Arts Academy with open doors for the talented, whether rich or poor, to come and refine their gifts and skills in acting, music and movement. I see them graduate and have access to fair opportunities to perform worldwide. I see Rimthel working with the Kenyan legal system to enforce the rights of performers against unfair pay packages, discrimination and piracy among other forms of injustice. Whether or not by the time I am 80 I have won an award or too myself, I see my students accepting Oscars and Grammy Awards as I humbly watch on and nod my grey head saying ‘Ah yes, it was worth it. It was worth all the rejection, tears and sleepless nights. I used my talent to lift someone else up.’


It is never just about us; with performers, it’s about sharing our hearts and souls with a world that may or may not recognise us, but is changed because we passed through it long enough to plant a seed.


Tee R.

Piano, Voice & Acting Coach

Rimthel Creative Arts Company

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Tasheena Womack Striving for A “Brighter Within”


Did you have your own experiences with dating violence?

Yes, unfortunately at the age of 17 & 22 I experienced dating violence.



How did you come up with the concept for Brighter Within

I came up with the concept of Brighter Within in graduate school. I knew what I went through and after doing tons of research, turning in my thesis and consulting with other students. I knew there was a true need for the program in my community.



People begin or support organizations that they are passionate about.  Why are you passionate about the services that your organization provides?

I’m passionate about the services BW provides is due to the need in the community. I remember growing up and the same programs today being offered. I wish there was a program when I was growing up like BW. Due to the violence in my community, I could not take full advantage of some of the programs. I take boys and girls from five different towns/cities in a non-judgmental, non-bullying event and provide them with the tools they need to be successful in life.


Brighter Within supports both females and males.  Is your male participation where you would like it to be? 

Actually, our boys program has exceeded my expectations. The boys are really committed to the program and love coming.



Are the young people responsive to the techniques that they learn in workshops?  Can you give some success examples?

Almost a lot of the services we provide for our youth. Our main goal is to provide them with the tools they need to be successful in life. Our youth have been very responsive. For instance we had a youth who who’s friend showed signs of being aggressive in a relationship. His friend was very controlling and verbally abusive to his girlfriend. The friend was in college and the girl friend was still in high school. That day we went over teen dating violence and after our group. I was approached by the young man and I was able to arrange an intervention with the parents. Once the young man saw what path he was going down he changed his ways. I actually received a Thank You card from the girl friend and the family. They had no idea what was going on.



Why do you personally think that dating violence is a reality?  How is society responsible for the actions of young people?

Unfortunately we hear too often about dating violence. From the news to the celebrities below:


Jovan Belcher victim: Kasandra Perkins

Ray Rice victim: Mrs. Rice

Chris Terry victim: Wife

Ray McDonald victim: Fiancé

Society is responsible when they see a need and does nothing resolve the problem.



What kinds of things need to happen or change in society to make a difference for young people today?

A lot of our youth follow everything that see, from in movies, videos, and in the music industry. Our youth need more people that would like to step up to the plate as role models.



How can young people learn to be different when they are bombarded with sex and violence through a variety of media?

A strong foundation at home will assist youth with the peer pressure today. Teaching our youth early to not be a follower, and to carry themselves as a positive role model as well, because our younger children are looking up to them.



How long has your Brighter Within been running?

Brighter Within was founded in 2012. However, the concept was created in 2010.



How many young people has the organization been able to help?

Brighter Within has been able to assist over 200 people with our various services.


Why kinds of things do you need to, first, keep the organization running and second, to be able to grow to accommodate more young people?

Without funding, the support from our community, and a larger space it’s would be impossible to keep BW growing and running smoothly to accommodate the need in the community.



Where do the adult volunteers come from and how do they find out about you?

Most of our volunteers find us through social media and word of mouth. Our volunteers are mostly in college and/or recently graduated.



Tell us about the Women’s Circle.  How did that get started, who is invited and what is the goal?

The Women’s Circle started as a club for Women entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. This group was started as a support system for female entrepreneurs. One of the biggest reasons businesses fail during the first five years of starting is due to the lack of support and education. The goal of the services is to be a support system for women who are entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools they need to keep their business open.


What plans or aspirations do you have for the future for Brighter Within?

The possibilities of BW are endless. I would love to have our programs/services fully funded and free to youth in NY/CT and MA.


For more information or to find ways that you can help, please contact:

Tasheena N. Womack
Chief Executive Director
Brighter Within, Inc.

Phone: (860)580-9511



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Janele Mckay – Looking to Do Something Meaningful

Janele Mckay posted a request for school supply donations on LinkedIn.  When we saw that, we knew we had to reach out to this woman, who like so many others in this world, is trying to make a difference by helping others.  Many of us would like to do charitable things, but don’t move beyond the thought or the idea. However, we are willing to donate and share if asked.  It takes a special kind of person who wants to dedicate the time in their life to help others, especially children.  We wanted to talk to Janele so we could learn a little more about her and what she wants to do.



You went from political work to teachingjanele-mckay.  What inspired the change?

The political work was an internship and a very amazing and insightful experience that I had the opportunity of doing while completing my A.S. in Human Services. I’m very interested in doing work in which I can make a difference. After obtaining  my A.S. I struggled with finding positions in my field. So I went on to obtain a B.S. in Healthcare Administration and found my self in the same position. I currently work part time as a substitute teacher until I find more stable work and/or graduate with my M.S. At this point I wouldn’t mind being a college professor but would really prefer to do something more meaningful. Something that wound bring about recognizable change.


You are reaching out to people asking for school supplies for children.  What prompted this?

A family member of mine is an advocate for gun violence and invited me to join her cause. I helped to chaperone the Jr. Newtown Action Alliance Teen Summit and now I’m helping her and another friend with the back 2 school function. We hope to have our own non profit in the near future. In the mean time I’m looking forward to dedicating my time to more functions similar to the two mentioned and find my footing so that I can fulfill my need to help others in need and do something inspiring.


How is the back 2 school supplies collection going and what items are needed most?

I personally haven’t revived much response. However, my partners have received a surprising amount of donations including clothing.

I would say backpacks and three ring binders are needed most. These items are a little more pricey. We tend to receive many items for grade school but could use some middle school items as well. However, all donations are accepted and appreciated.


What school district are you working with?

I usually work with the Terryville and Plymouth school districts as a substitute teacher through Kelly’s Educational Services.


What age groups?
I have worked with all age groups.


What are some of the more specific needs of these children beyond the need of school supplies?

They need attention! They are bored! They need a place to go. A place where they can be themselves. A place where people will listen and take interest in their ideas vs. shoving the need to go to school down their throat. Education is extremely important but its nothing if one doesn’t have a sense of being and confidence.




What else are you trying to do for these children?

My long term plan is to open a recreation center with an Arts and History focus/theme in mind. In the near future I hope to organize a successful Christmas toy drive.


What other avenues are you seeking for school supply donations?

This was an idea that started small and became bigger than expected. I just jumped on board and continuously offer my assistance as needed.


Do you have an organization or do you plan to start one?
I definitely plan to start one. I have big dreams but I’m hearing I need to start small.  So I’m currently helping when, wherever, and however I can. In doing so I hope to be able to immediately give back to the community and connect with individuals that may help me support future projects.


Are you working with other people?

Yes. My cousin September Chatfield, and those in which she has connected with throughout her advocacy.


Have you reached out for corporate sponsorships or donations?

No. We are looking forward to starting a Hartford chapter with the Newtown Action Alliance group. However, I would like more information on how I can reach out to sponsors who would fund a recreational center. Our kids need an inspiring place to go. One in which they can both learn and fulfill their dreams.


What kind of help do you need?

We could use some guidance so that we can continue to work efficiently and effectively.  We could also use some direction on how to obtain funding for larger projects. I’m currently writing our business plan and would love if someone could proof it and provide some expert opinions.


If people want to send donations or to help in other ways, how do they reach you?

My email address is  From there, we can share phone numbers.  I would love to speak to anyone who is interested in helping or donating.


What are your own personal goals for your future?

I’d like to run a non profit organization that help children change the way they think. One that would appeal more to their dreams while helping them understand the importance of education. Most of all give them a place they not only enjoy going but one they will truly grow from. I also hope to start a group for battered women. The group will not only give them a peace of mind, but will provide them with the skills and resources they need to truly be free and live a normal life. Again I’m looking to do something that is meaningful. Something that will change lives.

What inspires your desire to set up a group for battered women?

My inspiration for a battered woman group comes from personal experience. Much of the assistance available is not advertised. You really have to do your research and dig for it. This can be hard for individuals who are suffering from domestic violence. They need guidance support and direction. Many have asked how do I do it. My response is just that I do what has to be done. My children in all honesty have been my true motivation.


Please reach out to Ms. Mckay if you would like to donate items for children or if you are interested in helping her develop the non-profit organization to help children and/or battered women!  You can also visit her website at


Donate Your Hair

Do you have long, lovely locks?  Ever consider donating your hair to a cancer organization or other charity?

Here are the general guidelines that some of the organizations may follow:

  • Hair that is colored or permed is acceptable.
  • Hair cut years ago is usable if it has been stored in a ponytail or braid.
  • Hair that has been bleached (usually this refers to highlighted hair) is not usable.  If unsure, ask your stylist. We are not able to accept bleached hair due to a chemical reaction that occurs during the manufacturing process. **If the hair was bleached years ago and has completely grown out it is fine to donate.
  • Hair that is swept off of the floor is not usable because it is not bundled in a ponytail or braid.
  • Hair that is shaved off and not in a ponytail or braid is not usable. If shaving your head, first divide hair into multiple ponytails to cut off.
  • We cannot accept dreadlocks. Our manufacturer is not able to use them in our children’s hairpieces. We also cannot accept wigs, falls, hair extensions or synthetic hair.
  • Layered hair is acceptable if the longest layer is 10 inches.

donate hair2

  • Layered hair may be divided into multiple ponytails.
  • Curly hair may be pulled straight to measure the minimum 10 inches.
  • 10 inches measured tip to tip is the minimum length needed for a hairpiece.
    Shorter hair will be separated from the ponytails and sold to offset the manufacturing costs. Although the shorter hair cannot be used in the hairpieces, it still greatly helps to reduce costs.
  • Gray hair will be accepted and sold to offset the manufacturing costs.
  • Colored hair is not usable if it is colored over bleached hair.
  • Some places create custom hair pieces and are unable to accept donations of wigs, falls, hair extensions or synthetic hair.

If you are brave enough to cut all of your hair off and are now facing a regrowth period, you could always switch up and get a professional wig at henry margu wigs.

Do an internet search for places that accept donated hair and choose the one that vibes most with you.

Catherine Cazes-Wiley & Tinaliah

A conversation with Catherine Cazes-Wiley, her hats and homeless people.  She’s having an interesting journey in life.  We won’t tell you about it, we’ll let her tell you.


talking heads


When I started this social enterprise I had no idea that a common thread was already running among job creation, social justice and the fashion industry. What seemed so far apart is now looking plain. Let me explain. Most quality homeless shelters in the US have some sort of job program and most job program revolve around computer skills, sometimes AC and heat tech., trucking and security guard licensing. Not everybody qualifies. Are we omitting manual skills and becoming too brainy?

I think so. Overseas we do farming, we sew, we craft and we create micro enterprises. Do you see what I see? America is becoming a third world, small jobs are resurfacing. Folks are readier to rethink their environment and are creating new methods for survival, but a lot do not have the skills. In Thailand, Cambodia and North Carolina rescued young women from the sex trade have no skills either but agencies are already in place and the young ladies are learning how to sew, creating clothing, bags even jewelry. There are more opportunities for men than there are for women in the U.S. and most of the time the small alterations businesses, which I do on the side, are held by foreigners like myself. Learning how to sew can lead to that and much more.



Hats from the catwalk to weddings, diner and more...What is your passion with creating beautiful hats? Where does that come from?
Thank you for the compliment. This passion came from my heart where Jesus resides. I am inspired by flowers, by my childhood in the New Hebrides Islands, also by the fine craftsmanship of fashion houses in Paris, by fashion from the 40ths among other things.


Where does the name Tinaliah come from and why did you choose this as the name for your mission or business?

Tinaliah “the one who perseveres” is a tribute to myself for all I’ve had to overcome along my life’s journey. I was raised in Cameroon, France and the South Pacific and arrived to the U.S. as an exchange student. I found myself destitute on more than one occasion, but these unique circumstances opened my eyes to the reason for the U.S. homeless population, especially its women.


Are you a nonprofit organization, or are you just operating from your heart?
How did you know, I am working on becoming a nonprofit right now, for my heart is bleeding!


How is your marketing working? Are you getting enough people to come through and purchase products from you and all of the people that you are helping by selling their products?

I do shows, business expos, hat parties and I am expanding into bridal wear. People can find me on Etsy, It is fun and exhausting at the same time but it is far from being enough, this is why I am looking forward to becoming a nonprofit or a benefit corporation to look for grants.

Crafting with homeless women is helping to forget and refocus.


You worked in shelters as a craft instructor. Was that something that you proposed and organized or did they have such a program already established?
It was something that I was in my heart to create but when I arrived in New Haven such programs already existed. As I was looking for an apartment to rent I found laying on the rental agency counter a flyer advertising the very program I was imagining! I contacted them right away, the director asked me for a demonstration and I was hired that quickly.


How many different crafters are you working with right now?
There are the crafters and the artists. The crafters are part of a sewing group of seven women operating in a New Haven sewing studio. They produce shawls, scarves, wraps and aprons. I am now able to contract with them for my bridal veils. The artists draw and I coach them to produce saleable art such as hand painted caps, Tee-shirts and cards when we will have added capital.


You were homeless for about five years. How did you come to be homeless and what got you back “on your feet,” so to speak?
I was a missionary willing to experience the “open field”; I had some home bases where I would return after being sent to different locations and states. It came upon me as a surprise for I did not know it would last that long.


Homelessness is usually seen only as a curse but I now see my time as a homeless person as serendipity. Even though I was never in the streets, five years was a long time. And while it was extremely hard at times, I now see this period as a gift, just as someone who recovers from a major illness values their new found life. During that time I became more aware of who I was becoming and what I did not want to become “a cliché-women” modeled after societal stereotypes.

As Carl G Jung puts it in his memoir: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “people can be unhappy because their life does not have sufficient content. People seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they are seeking. If they are unable to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis (the unhappiness) generally disappears.”

2014 Bridgeport Biz Expo. New bridal line whose edges are finishing by wome in recovery.
During those five years I was forced to rethink a lot of things. For example, being disabled, I am never going to be willing to be put on the shelf. Another twist to my call was the ongoing challenge of fitting the high end of fashion design while dealing with the heart in a social enterprise. It is still a thought mix.  Thank God my faith kept me afloat. It just happened that when I was finished learning what I was to learn, it was time for me to get a job and to create Tinaliah and its caring Co-op.


Is this how you became interested in helping other homeless people, because you could relate to them and wanted to help?

Yes, I already had a good education but was in need of the actual experience. After my roaming period, I felt like I finally had both parts of the puzzle and Tinaliah “the one who perseveres” was born.  I continue to build the environment, in which I move today, that attracts others like you since you invited me for this lovely chat.


It is true what you said about the lack of people developing craft skills in the U.S. Why do you think it’s like that – teenagers and adults alike don’t learn how to make things?

catherine2It is not the custom any longer. Society undervalues manual skills. The US marts galore sell cheap everyday objects which end up as trash somewhere. It is easier to buy, replace and not rethink consumerism meanwhile we stay poor, enslaved and ignorant. My teaching, coaching might just be a drop in the bucket, but I know many would find joy in learning how to make things. We might just create a revolution!


You see this as something that is coming back in this country. How so?
I really cannot answer that as bad habits are hard to change. What I can tell you is only what we personally are doing to help change that as value with education is added to the process. Value because when you make a hat with your own hands or an object or still, when you put your heart into writing a good article you feel good about yourself. The education will come through discussions like this one, with time and with the help of other crafter teachers I am networking with to broaden Tinaliah product line.

Unisex 2013 fall beret with Eiffel Tower


What do you do for a living now? How do you support yourself?

I also work as a French interpreter in the Court, plus I have an amazing husband.


What would you like to see happen with Tinaliah and how can others help with that vision?

I am thinking about a store near New York, possibly in the Bronx, with a warehouse to host classes for the community.  I am looking for grant avenues that would benefit such venture, creating employment with the homeless and strengthening the ones in recovery. Feel free to contact me at if you want to help, have questions or suggestions.   God bless, thank you.


A Way to Help Incarcerated Women


Imagine that you made a mistake for whatever reason.  You made a mistake and the penalty is that you are confined to a facility for years – decades or for life.

You are cut off from regular interaction with your family.

If you are a mother, you can’t raise your own children.

You are cut off from regular interaction with your friends.

You are cut off from the world.

You are cut off from technology.

Do you have windows?

You will never take a walk in the park again.

Everything that you do each and everyday follows a structure that you did not set up for yourself.

You don’t see your son or daughter take their first steps.

You won’t be there when your child is sick and in need of their mom.

You won’t be there to see your daughter off to the prom or to watch your son get married.

You’re a woman and if you don’t have children and time does not allow, then you will never be able to.

You will never know life growing inside your body.

You will never have the incredible, incredible joy of looking into your baby’s eyes.

You won’t go for a night out on the town.

No more stockings, high heels, fancy dresses and dinners at fine restaurants.   Even McDonald’s is off your list.

Drive a car?  Never again.

Making love to that special man?  Nope.

Loneliness is always.

Sadness and depression is forever.

You can’t attend funerals for your parents and other family members or friends.

If you are young facing decades, then whatever you thought you would be when you grew up is gone.  Now you have to find a way to be something else.

Dreams are dead.

Be a pen pal to an incarcerated sister.  Be an ear, be a voice, be concern and sharing of hope, caring and love.  You could take a few minutes out of your week to write a letter.  Inmates do have jobs and do get paid, but only pennies per day.  So, maybe they might need help buying stamps.

Better still, get with you fraternity sisters or other organization and target a women’s prison.  Go speak to the resident pastor or community facilitator.  Between the two of you, a group of women prisoners and outside women can be matched together to be pen pals.   The organization can find a way to make sure that stamps, pens and writing paper are provided to the female inmates so they write to their new found associates on a regular basis. Embrace all women everywhere.  No one is perfect, we all make mistakes and we are all deserving of compassion and friendship.


Debra Britt – Celebrating History through the Eyes of a Black Doll Collector

Debra Britt is the founder of the Doll E Daze Project &  Museum, Inc., the national Black doll museum.  They have a collection of over 6,000 dolls; they provide education and workshops and raise self-esteem in young Black children.  She tells us how it all got started.

I guess the biggest question is why did you decide to open a Black Doll Museum?

There was never a plan to open the museum. I am a Christian and I believe that my life purpose was to open this museum. As a business person, I  know that  failure to plan is a plan for failure.  However, the events in my life called me to this ministry. Entering the 5th grade, my teacher had difficulties accepting a black child in his room, therefore I endured pain and humiliation on a daily basis being called a monkey and taunted by him. I knew this not to be true and tried to ignore him and educate myself with history and geography while I was in his class. I have a seizure disorder that in 1996 left me disabled and unable to travel alone or long distances. I began to research dolls I had collected.  In 1999, my husband and I adopted two girls who had been emotionally and physically abused.  They needed love and positive reinforcement about who they were.  In 2004 I began my journey with my sister Felicia Walker and Tamara Mattisson to ensure that all children have the tools to become strong, confident, loving, lovable and independent. That begins with positive self-esteem – accepting the skin you’re in and loving it.

The museum chose me.

I acquired 3000 dolls on my own.  I know what a powerful impact is made to see a doll in your image that you can

Debra Britt, Founder Doll E Daze Project & Museum
Debra Britt, Founder Doll E Daze Project & Museum

call beautiful. In addition, through my research I have actually proven that teaching history with artifacts is an empowering experience. The museum’s physical space allows me to do that on a daily basis. We enlighten and uplift a child in crisis.


Where do your dolls come from?

The dolls at the museum come from all over the world.  When my baby sister Kareema Thomas was 25 years old, she had a stroke. There was no medical reason. They told us she would not be able to walk again as she was paralyzed. She saw Byron Lars “Limelight” Barbie in an Essence magazine and told her four older sisters she wanted it. That weekend we put her in a wheel chair and took her to several malls looking for the doll. It was nowhere to be found. However, we told her she could have any other doll that she wanted if she attempted to get the doll. She knocked a couple down and we brought them for her. Every weekend after that for at least a year, this was a ritual – getting her to take small steps. It then became a bonding for us.  My mother eventually joined us.

We then began traveling across country, all the while searching for dolls during our vacations, at flea markets and doll shows. We used timeshares and discovered conventions and other collectors. While Kareema ‘s interest was in Barbie, we all took on different interests.  I like vintage dolls, Felicia loves Native American dolls, my mother – porcelain, Tammy, miniatures and clothing and Celeste likes African dolls. We also uncovered the collecting bug of “action figures” in my brothers, as well as Barbie’s and fashion dolls they said it was for their daughters. That was almost 17 years ago. We still travel and now the daughters ,granddaughters cousins and nieces all join us. It is a family affair.


How many do you have in the collection at this point?

At This point we own 6,273 dolls of which none are duplicate.  This does include my extensive collection of Black Santa’s, Angels and cloth dolls, We keep 1500-2000 dolls on the floor daily. We rotate the displays every 6 weeks and also put dolls on display in several libraries that we collaborate  with.


How many do you plan to have? 

Felicia Walker
Felicia Walker

I actually have no idea how many we will have. We tell the African American experience with our dolls and history never ends.  If someone donates a doll to us and if we already own that doll, we clean and restore it.  If we are called during the holidays, we use those dolls for our doll giveaway.  They are given with love to girls in foster care, homeless shelters and battered women’s shelters.


If this a nonprofit or for profit business?  Are you looking for donations?

We are a registered 501(c) 3 non profit organization and do accept and need donations to sustain the museum.


What supports the museum financially?

The museum is supported totally by donations and through our doll making workshops and bully prevention program we have created partnering with schools. We currently work with Hartford Performs in the Hartford Public School system. Our programs meet the curriculum framework standards for social studies, history and the arts. Readers can support us through donations, memberships, volunteering and the purchase of merchandise.


Are any of the dolls for sale?

We do have dolls for sale at the museum. The dolls range from African wrap dolls, fashion dolls, and soft sculptured dolls. Many of our dolls come from the cottage industry of black doll artists. We also partner with several small businesses such as River Trading and Pretty Brown Girls.

Tamara Mattison
Tamara Mattison

Understanding that your dolls are probably from a variety of time periods, what is the range?  How old is the oldest one you have and where did she come from?

The dolls range from the late 1700-present in all mediums. We have sold some dolls to keep our doors open.  We have an 1847 wishbone doll, 1885 paper doll and a bottle doll from 1830. My oldest doll is from 1796 and I received them a set from the house I moved into as a child. They will be leaving soon as I need to sell so we can keep our doors open.


There was a time when Black dolls just were not made in America.  When was the first time you had your own Black doll and what did it mean to you?

This is true.  Black dolls weren’t readily accessible in America, my grandmother Jessie was a maid and she often bought home toys and clothes from the children she took care of. She would painstakingly take the white dolls apart and dye them in a pot with rite dye to provide me with a black doll.  She made me an African wrap doll and gave me a history lesson on the origin when I was just 8 years old. So memories of black dolls have been there for me.

In 2004, I wrote the a book entitled “Legend of Cecilia.” It is a story of the first African princess, the princess of courage. It will be available in September and is also a musical that is in process. It will be on our website for sale during our Grand Opening Celebration Black Doll Fest, Sept. 27-29,2013.  The National Black Doll Museum presented by the Doll E Daze Project is located at 288 N. Main Street  in Mansfield, Ma .


Please tell our readers where the museum is located and what your hours are?  And how can they find more information?

We are open Thursday-Monday 9-5 pm.  We are open in the evening by appointment and closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays.  Our admission fee is $13.00 for adults and $9.00 for children and seniors. We can provide an hour-long tour of the museum.  More information is available at our website or by calling us at (774) 284-4729


Doll E Daze Project & Museum, Inc.

288 N.Main St.

Mansfield, Ma 02048


Read about them in the Boston Globe

Join them on Facebook:  National Black Doll Museum

Doll E Daze blog

Seeking Soul Satisfaction – Kim Chernecky


Do we know why we’re here?  Do we know what to do with ourselves and our gifts?  All of us are on a journey.  Sometimes we’re blessed early on to see the signs and hear the messages that give our lives direction.  Kim Chernecky devotes her life to helping others through the charity that she established and through the motivational services that she offers.  She tells us how she got there.



From a very early age, you were subjected to a myriad of circumstances that you had no control over. For instance, you were moved so much that you attended a total of 11 different schools. You chose not to be a victim. At such a young age, how did you know not to be a victim of your circumstances? Who taught you to look at things objectively and to learn from them?

Like so many people, I come from a broken home. My father and my birth mother were just kids when I arrived on the scene. They weren’t ready and didn’t know how to be parents, but they did their best. My birth mother’s mother (my maternal grandmother) offered her no support. She was, let’s see how we can say this…not a nice woman. I learned later that her mother’s abusive behavior was the reason she got pregnant in the first place; to escape from a miserable home life. I don’t really know the details, but she never gave us the warm, grandmotherly-loving feeling, for sure.

Fortunately, my paternal grandparents were much more supportive. Disappointed, perhaps, but still loving and supportive. They loved her like their own daughter. With my grandparents’ help, she and my dad married and settled into the proverbial “happy married life”, but it wasn’t long before things fell apart. As is typical of teenage love, the relationship quickly became strained. My dad went to work full time and my mother threw herself into being a full-time mother, singing songs with us, taking us to the park, even ironing my diapers!  But unfortunately, in my experience, babies raising babies almost always ends in failed relationships. After just a few short years, my birth mother, who was still just a kid, just couldn’t handle raising what was, by now, two small children. Overwhelmed by marriage and motherhood, she left to find herself.

Throughout the turmoil of these very early years, my grandparents, especially my grandmother, played a big part in my life. My grandmother was my rock. Our relationship has always been more of a mother-daughter relationship than grandmother-grand-daughter. (My grandmother passed away recently but I know she is still with me and I still turn to her for guidance.) When my father was drafted into the army, my grandparents became our legal guardians and we were blessed to live with them for a while.

My father’s decision to remarry so we could “have a mother” was a big turning point in my life. His second wife wasn’t any more prepared to raise children than my birth mother. In fact, because we weren’t her children, she was probably even less prepared, and we suffered for it. At first, we idolized her. She was a beautiful woman, tall, brunette…she wore fancy makeup. In the beginning, she tried to be nice and fill the “mom” role. But soon it was obvious she resented our presence and the attention our father gave us. I did my best to be the perfect kid, always being extra helpful but it would never be good enough.

Without going into details here, let it suffice to say that it didn’t take long before I became depressed and suicidal. I fantasized about running away and living in a cave in the woods, just to escape. But it was during these years that I think my character was really tested. And it was during these years that I learned just how strong I really was.

The defining moment for me came when I was just in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I can remember exactly where I was standing, at the foot of my bed with the sun shining through the window. I could see the house next door out the window. My beloved Siamese cat was on the bed. At that moment, I had the thought that I should go to the kitchen, get a steak knife, and slit my wrists. I pictured doing it. But in that second, I also got a distinct message that told me “it’s not you, it’s her”. Maybe it was a message from God or maybe it was my guardian angel that showed me in that moment that the problem was her, and that I didn’t deserve the abuse I was experiencing. Killing myself wasn’t the answer. I never considered suicide after that.
As a life coach, you help others fulfill their “soul satisfaction.” How did you get started with helping others to achieve their dreams?

I think many coaches will agree that our nature is to help others, so coaching and mentoring become a big part of who we are. We tend to go through life helping and coaching, as volunteers, as friends, as family members, and ultimately as paid coaches. For me, typical corporate jobs don’t offer the soul satisfaction I need. The opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of others is generally limited or non-existent in a typical working environment. Except in really unique jobs, I think we all tend to find ourselves searching for something more. My desire to coach as a profession grew out of that inner need to help others and to really make a difference. From a spiritual perspective, I believe we all have a purpose for being. We have lessons to learn, and lessons to teach. It’s a calling. I believe it’s part of my purpose here in this life.

How effective are your clients in creating change for themselves with your guidance?

A coach’s job is to offer guidance and support. My job as a coach is not to provide you with all the answers. My job is to help you figure out the answers on your own. Like a good leader, your team is strongest when you allow them to come into their own power. A coach’s job is not to micromanage or tell a client what to do and how to do it, per se. My job as a coach is to empower my clients to find and create their own solutions.

We all have the power within us to create the life we want. The problem is most of us let our fears, our doubts, and even the fears and doubts of others to hold us back. Change hard and taking a leap of faith is incredibly difficult for most people. For most people, the pain of their current situation must outweigh the discomfort that comes with change to take that leap. It’s easy to be complacent. While we may not be happy with our current situation, taking steps to change requires real effort and can be very scary. Success comes in baby steps. It comes from changing your mindset and believing you can. My job as a coach and mentor is helping clients take hold of the power within themselves. We all have everything we need to be successful in life.

Is there one thing that people may struggle with the most? What is it and how do you help them overcome it?

I think self-doubt and procrastination are probably at the top of the list and definitely go hand-in-hand. In my opinion, both carry equal weight when it comes to personal struggle. So many people doubt their abilities, underestimate their talents, listen to negative talk from others around them, and these things result in constant, negative self-talk. The result is we convince ourselves it can’t be done. Rather than finding reasons that something can’t be done we need to focus on what we can do. The self-doubt ends up resulting in chronic procrastination because when you don’t believe something is possible, you have no incentive to make an effort to achieve it.

I approach personal goals like business. Starting with what’s known as a SWOT analysis, if we examine a problem, obstacle, or sticking point from this perspective, we can determine what our: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are. We then create a plan of action taking all of these things into account. Often, just by making a list of strengths and opportunities, it reinforces just how capable we really are. That’s a mindset change! Being aware of the weaknesses and threats to achieving your goal simply allows you to plan accordingly. You don’t have to go through the mountain. You just need to know it’s there and find a way over or around it.
Let’s talk about Compassionate Community Services. What is your overall goal with the organization?

My primary goal with Compassionate Community Services is and always has been to help individuals on a one-to-one basis. Our public assistance programs fail to reach far too many people in need. Red tape, lack of transportation, language barriers, social stigma, pride…these things all come into play for many people who really need assistance. My overall goal is to allow others to replicate what we have done all around the country. We have been able to collect and distribute millions of dollars of in-kind donations to those in need with an all-volunteer staff. No salaries, little to no overhead. It can be done.

But another very important aspect of what we do is how our organization impacts our donors. Accepting help is a tremendously humbling experience. It is incredibly difficult for many of our recipients to ask for and receive assistance. Critics will point fingers and accuse people of milking the system, but the truth is these are often our friends and neighbors. Of course, there are those that systematically take advantage, but the majority are just people who fell on hard times.

Many of our recipients are struggling middle class families, who suffered a job loss, fire, illness, death…We help the homeless, single moms, elderly, chronically ill…It is often said that you get more from giving than getting, and in so many cases I really believe that’s true. The expression, “there but for the grace of God, go I” often runs through my head. And for my donors and volunteers, I think their involvement reminds them how blessed we all are. It has always meant more to me on a soul level to be able to help than it does to “have stuff”. I am not a material girl!

There is a scene from Schindler’s List at the end of the movie when he realizes he is still wearing a ring and a pin that could have saved the life of another person. The personal anguish is palpable in this scene and just thinking about it makes me cry. As an individual, I understand that anguish. I know how much it pains me not to help when someone needs it. We can all do something. My organization has allowed and encouraged others to reach out and help in whatever way they can, big or small. To know we can do something to help is empowering and gratifying to all of us. As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”

Why did you start it?

My girls were little at the time. Janice, the oldest was about three and Jennifer was just a baby. My boys came along later. They all grew up with the organization. I remember sitting in my living room and literally having an epiphany. That’s the only way to describe it. The idea just popped into my head that I should do something to help others who didn’t have anything. It was almost like, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we need to get milk and eggs.” The idea was just suddenly there. I started with small collections and it quickly grew.

Your organization has been active since 1988. Is it easy to find and maintain funding in this economy?

It’s never easy to raise funds in our society. Raising money can be a full-time job, unless you have connections in really high places. But to me, that’s wrong, anyway. We are all familiar with pork projects and lobbyists. If getting needed funds is going to depend on compromising integrity, it’s not worth it. We see many non-profits that have huge budgets where only a fraction of the money taken in goes to the actual cause.

We don’t work like that. We function at a grass-roots level, on the front lines. Person to person. In our case, we have been fortunate to have been able to function on a shoestring budget. Because it’s an all-volunteer organization, there is no need for high overhead, big salaries, bonuses, rent, etc. People just come together to get the job done because we want to.

It’s always been quite easy to get donations of things. Donors appreciate the fact that everything they donate is given directly to the people in need. You have boys clothes that don’t fit your child? We have a little boy that needs them. You have food in your pantry to share? We have families that are hungry. You received a gift you’re never going to use? We have a single mom that would love to get a bottle of cheap perfume. Your church wants to provide Thanksgiving baskets to families that need it, we can drop it off for you. It’s personal.

One of the things that keeps our donors motivated is sharing stories of individuals that their donations have helped. One story I often share is about a little, 8-year-old girl. Each Christmas we match donors from the community, and a dedicated group of BIC Corp. donors and volunteers with children and families they can help. We give each family a wish list where they can tell us the child’s sizes, and any toys they might want. One year, on the wish list, when asked what she wanted for Christmas, this little girl wrote “washcloths”. She didn’t ask for toys. She didn’t ask for a fancy gadget. She just wanted washcloths.

To me, this is a perfect example of the disconnect in America. The haves and the have-nots. When an 8-year-old living in the wealthy Northeast asks for washcloths for Christmas, something needs to change. And this simple story reminds us all that we can all do something to help, and we should all feel morally obligated to do so because we can. It’s these kinds of scenarios that happen over and over again that make me want to keep on helping.

Unfortunately, getting donations of money is harder. But we have been fortunate to always have enough to make a real difference. And when a specific need arises, we can count on our long-time supporters to help by just simply putting the word out. Getting people to volunteer their time is the hardest. Many of us have good intentions but life gets in the way. But for those that do volunteer, they are in it for life.

CCS has helped lots of people. What kind of help do you need from others?

My vision for the organization has always been to replicate what we have done in Connecticut and help others around the country. Rather than focus on one area of the nation, I would love to see others start similar programs and organizations where they are. Look around you. The need is there. A guide is in the works to help others who are interested in creating their own organizations in their local communities. They are welcome to reach out to me for more information about that.

I recently moved to Florida, and the need here is just as great, if not greater. The baton has been handed off in Connecticut to capable volunteers who continue to help those in need. I still hear from many of my CT clients on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I definitely foresee new programs here in Florida.

I am currently working on a nationwide youth leadership program that will enable at-risk kids to lift themselves up and break the cycle of poverty. It is a coaching program specifically targeting young people. The goal is to make the program available to inner-city schools around the nation, where many of these kids live. I am seeking corporate sponsors for the program if anyone is interested in making a contribution to this worthwhile cause. All donations are tax-deductible but more importantly, it will change lives for generations to come. I would love to hear from anyone interested in helping with this much-needed project. (They can contact me directly through Linkedin.)

Maintaining a positive outlook for your organization and helping others to find brighter horizons for themselves takes energy. How do you recharge yourself?

Creative people will understand when I say this, but doing this type of work is actually energizing! It pumps me up! When you are passionate about what you are doing, the energy just flows. My advice for anyone looking to feel that energy: get involved! Start your own program! Help someone else! It’s better than a bottle full of adrenalin! Helping my clients excites me. I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish!

Not long ago, I was attending a baby shower and struck up a conversation with the woman next to me. It turns out she desperately wanted to write a book. In fact, she had been dabbling in it for years, a novel. Our conversation energized us both. I was so excited for her and gave her advice and encouragement to pursue that dream. I even gave her some assignments to do when she went home to keep her on track. She ended up having a mini-coaching session right there at the shower!

I believe everything happens for a reason. We experience the things we need to experience so we can learn and grow. We meet the people we are meant to meet. Maybe they are here to teach us lessons. Maybe we are here to teach them lessons. Some are in our lives for a lifetime while others come and go. The point is, each of us has a purpose in life and if we hold ourselves back, whether out of fear, ego, procrastination, or what have you, we are squandering the gifts God gave us, and we aren’t serving that purpose. Our souls remind us of what we really want and what we are here to do. I would advise anyone who feels themselves pulled in one direction or another to go for it! There’s a reason.


Kim Chernecky’s Links:

 Linked In
Seeking Soul Satisfaction

Compassionate Community Services



Lois Pope and the Road Less Traveled

If you had every door in the world open for you, what dreams would you chase? Most of us immediately start thinking about building mansions and traveling around the world, but most of us aren’t Lois Pope. The widow of “National Enquirer” titan Generoso Pope could live extravagantly and chase her every whim. Instead, she has quietly worked to better the lives of children, vets and the disadvantaged all over the world. Mrs. Pope’s philanthropic efforts are inspiration to learn, get involved and help better the world around us.

Toni Holt Kramer and Lois Pope

Photo of Lois Pope (right) by State Farm via Flickr

U.S. Veterans: Mrs. Pope co-founded Leaders in Furthering Education (LIFE), which is a large organization that spearheads numerous charitable endeavors, mostly for U.S. veterans. She lobbied for a memorial to be built in their honor in Washington D.C., and she has personally donated more than $9 million dollars to their health and wellness.

The Arts: Mrs. Pope sits on the board of the Palm Beach Opera, the Armory Arts Center and Florida Atlantic University. She is passionate about preserving culture and legacy for generations to come.

Around the World: Mrs. Pope is very blessed, and she knows it, which is why those who aren’t are of such high concern. She has donated over $300,000 to the Genocide Response Team and started a clean water project in Guatemala. Pope’s efforts have touched countless children, veterans and animals worldwide. When she’s not single handedly helping save the world, you might find her training and competing in the New York Marathon, five times. Hats off to Lois Pope, a woman worth celebrating.



Submitted by Lucy Kim

Lucy is a mom and avid environmentalist who runs a social media company from her home.

Gizmo, the Wonder “Doglet” & His Mom

We’re talking to JenniferAdams,who is Gizmo’s handler, but we like to think of her as his “People Mom.”  We asked her to tell us the story about Gizmo the Wonder Doglet, the tiny little dog with a huge, healing heart.  She walks us through their journey together.



gizpspWhere did Gizmo come from? How did the two of you meet?

After my 19 year old therapy dog dachshund (Mr. Moxie) passed away, I searched several shelters to adopt another dog to follow in his footsteps. However, I was repeatedly turned away for various reasons such as not having a fenced yard, etc. Meanwhile, I was researching small breeds that make good therapy dogs, and Gizmo’s breed kept popping up. I had never heard of his breed before. Then a short time later I was in a doctor’s office, and the classifieds were open to the pet section on the table next to me. I saw a picture of an adorable little black and white puppy and took a closer look. It was the breed that I kept coming across in my research, of all things! So I called the number, did more research and discovered this was a reputable breeder, and picked him up the next day. As soon as I saw him, I said, “There’s my dog!” The rest is history.

Did you have an interest in providing therapy to people through an animal previously, or was this an idea that occurred because of your new acquaintance with Gizmo?

gizcitationBefore Gizmo I had a miniature dachshund named Mr. Moxie, who went to schools with me all over the country. The difference Mr. Moxie made in so many young lives is remarkable. Kids who never wrote before suddenly started writing letters, and even books, about Moxie. Owies were healed, tears were dried, anger dissipated and love prevailed, all because of him. Before he passed away at the ripe old age of 19, I promised him I would find another canine angel to continue his legacy.

What about him led you to believe that he should be a therapy dog and how did you and he get started?

I think the deciding moment came when we were walking in the woods one day. Gizzy was less than a year old. There was a teenage boy sitting off the trail a ways, leaning against a tree by himself. Gizmo confidently walked gizctcatover to him and sat at his side until the boy started petting him. Then Gizzy climbed on his lap. I called Gizmo back, but he simply would not budge. So I stayed in the area to keep an eye on him as I continued walking my other dog, Cooper. That’s when we met a woman on the trail. She identified herself as the boy’s mother and explained to us that the boy had just lost his father, and was inconsolable. It was clear that Gizmo knew just how to console him. Since then, Gizmo has shown his gift for sensing emotional need and seeking people out who need him. It’s really quite stunning to watch him sometimes!

How does he help people in his therapy work? What does he do for them?

Gizmo, like all therapy dogs, has a soothing effect on those around him. People seem to be drawn to his friendly, nonjudgmental, loving nature. He has been shown to lower blood pressure while turning frowns upside down! Many times he has motivated residents in a senior living environment to eat, get out of bed, converse, and laugh. He has motivated school-aged children to read, write, and commit random acts of kindness. He is an outlet for many of them to vent when they’re angry or cry to when they’re sad. I will never forget the day a sulking boy stomped into my office and exclaimed, “I have GOT to get this off my mind! Can I PLEASE speak with Gizmo in private?” I stepped right outside the door and watched him as he held Gizmo close and whispered into his ear for several minutes. Then he gently placed Gizzy back onto his blanket, stepped out the door, smiled at me, turned and said, “Thanks, Giz. I’m going to have a good day now, I hope you have a good day too!” and went on his merry way to class.gizallstars

Gizmo’s Frens page on facebook has over 11,000 people, which is remarkable. How long have the two been doing this work?

Our page, Gizmo’s Frens, has been active since December, 2012. Our nonprofit, Gizmo’s Frens, Inc., has been in existence since August, 2012. Through this, we raise awareness of charitable causes and great things happening in our community. Gizmo’s FB page is a great catalyst for this. Some people refer to Gizmo’s Frens FB page as “a channel for positive news” and a colleague stated, “Gizmo is like a lens – through him we see good in the world.” If it were just me out there saying, “Hey look at this wonderful group helping their neighbors!” people would probably be all, “Oh ok that’s nice.” But when Gizmo gets on with a picture of himself and a group of people helping their neighbors and says, “Look! These people are helping their excellent neighbors today!” the response seems much greater! J

What kind of places do the two of you go to and what do you do there?

That’s a loaded question! We go to all kinds of places, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we go to places where Gizmo is needed as a therapy dog, like The Village at Buckland Court assisted living community in South Windsor, where he has been visiting on a regular basis since he was a puppy. Sometimes we are at Gizmo’s “excellent high school”, where he works as a therapy dog and is a mascot for their website. Sometimes we just go out and attend events in the community to draw people to the event and to support great causes and other peoples’ efforts to make the world a better place. Sometimes we just show up where we catch people being kind…like an Eagle Scout candidate working on his project or a group of kids helping an elderly woman by cleaning up her yard. And sometimes we are fundraising for our nonprofit, through which we assist many other charities by donating 100% of our proceeds to others. Wherever we go, it always seems we are somehow just where we are meant to be.gizwcgcl

Talk about his nonprofit situation. When did that come about and what is the purpose of it?

The mission of Gizmo’s Frens, Inc. is to raise awareness and funds for charities. Gizmo has always attracted a lot of attention. I wanted to do something good with his rising popularity, to paw it forward for all those angels who spend their lives helping so many. I approached some pet store managers and asked if we could fundraise for rescues. I was told over and over that in order to fundraise, we needed to be a nonprofit. So I finally decided if we need to be a nonprofit in order to make a difference in this capacity, then a nonprofit we shall be! Today we are blessed to be able to raise awareness and funds on a regular basis for a number of charitable causes at Pet Supplies Plus and Wicked Chic, both in Manchester. We are at Wicked Chic, located at 687 Main Street, every Thursday from 6 to 8. Visitors are welcome to come out and meet Gizmo and browse the beautiful, unique items available inside the store. We are still in the process of having 501(c)3 status, so we are well on our way to being able to affect change for many, many more pet rescues and other charitable organizations such as food pantries and organizations that help at risk youth.

What are Gizmo’s future plans? What’s up and coming?gizgratitudejarcloseface

Gizmo has always just gone where the road leads him. We have no specific plans at this time, other than to trust that the people who cross our paths are there for a reason, and we will be just where we are meant to be. A production company (Hudson Street Productions) has been filming at some of his events, and a made for public television documentary (with plans for a future series) is being created as we speak. They plan on filming over the course of a whole year, so look for the release in the next year or 2!

Geri Jones wrote a poem about Gizmo and included it in her new book. How did she and Gizmo meet?

Geri Jones is a perfect example of how people come into our lives when and where they are meant to. We both drive MINI Coopers, and as such, we are on some MINI forums. While we never knew each other on the forums, some other people (from all over the country) mentioned to both of us that we should meet. Then I found out she lives within driving distance, so on July 4 of I don’t remember the year, we met Geri, to help her celebrate her first 4th of July as a US citizen. I knew right away what a super special soul she is because Gizmo was unusually enthusiastic about her presence! To this day, he still dances and marfs whenever she visits.

Where can we buy Gizmo Frens t-shirts?gizdrcbunnyears

Gizmo shirts are not for sale. Rather, they are given in exchange for a donation to Gizmo’s Frens, Inc. 100% of the donation is in turn donated to other charities. We have even given shirts to people who have donated directly to their favorite charities! For us, it’s not about the money. It’s about assisting those who assist others. For more information, contact us on Gizmo’s FB page at

He’s such an adorable little “doglet.” Will people be able to buy stuffed toy Gizmos for themselves at some point?

Yes. We are currently looking into a prototype that, when squeezed, says, “Cuz we’re frens!”, which is Gizmo’s motto, and the reason why he does everything he does. If anyone reading this would be interested in helping to create a prototype, please contact

Is there anything else that Gizmo would like to say to our readers?


Gizmo has 4 toy-sized “frens” (Nina, Lacey, Lilly and Cooper) who visit the assisted living community and make community appearance with him as needed. If anyone would like a visit from Gizmo or his PFF frens, they are welcome to contact us on our FB page ( or email We are willing to provide animal assisted therapy, or we can come out to an event to support a charitable cause, which we will promote on Gizmo’s Facebook page. All of our visits/appearances are free of charge. Cuz we’re frens!

Visit  Gizmo’s FaceBook Fan Page


Queen Afi’s Battle – Domestic Violence Wears Many Tags

Here is another organization to help stop and prevent domestic violence.  We are sharing the work and the life passion of Queen Afi Gaston.  We seek a time when there is no need for such organizations in our world and we thank those who work tirelessly to make that happen.


Photo from DMWMT
Photo from DMWMT


Domestic Violence Wears Many Tags (DVWMT) is an anti-domestic violence, advocacy and educational non profit organization based in Washington D.C.  DVWMT is “Pro-Active” for reaching out to the nation to educate and encourage those who are living and have lived with domestic violence. The organization works with children, teen, men and women and willing to lend a helping hand to all those in need.  Utilizing small groups, one on one session’s and offering a safe place to speak and share experiences, DVWMT is able to reach victims and abusers with the approach of being family and trusting in the process.

DVWMT has several innovative aspects that include:

A.  Inviting artists, performers, film makers, etc to share their work as it pertains to encouraging and informing victims of domestic violence. On behalf of Johnson Memorial Baptist Church we were able to bring to the community of Ward 7 the movie “Dear Daddy” A Documentary Produced by Janks Morton. This film premier brought out so many youth and young adults because it is what every young girl feels from having an absentee father.

B.  Introducing the topic of domestic violence and participating at other local and community events thereby supporting their endeavors and informing the public on domestic violence, self-abuse, and VERBAL ABUSE being the #1 Killer.

C.  DVWMT founder has a monthly radio show. The show gives DV advocates and experts an opportunity to appear as guest and give valuable information to wider audience and the opportunity for victims and abusers to call in with questions or for resources. Our talk-show is “Domestic Violence Let’s Talk About It” is reaching so many around the world, and can be found

D. DVWMT also brings in speakers, professionals and experts whose knowledge may not necessarily be that of domestic violence but one that has a significant role in the victims and or abusers life such as, drug treatment professionals, juvenile justice, at risk youth advocates, teen pregnancy, homelessness, etc.

Here is an interview that was posted with Queen Afi:


For more information about DVWMT, contact:

Queen Afi, Founder
Domestic Violence Wears Many Tags
(202) 821-8933
“Women, Men, and Teens are Victims & Women, Men, and Teens are Abusers
DVWMT Singles Out No One From Change”

(Reprinted with permission of

(Image of Queen Afi courtesy of


Hello Kitty, Gudbye Dawg and Barbara Hamilton

The goal is to always dream your dream, then build your dream.  Barbara Hamilton, mother and grandmother is doing just that.  Wanting to make a difference on a variety of levels for a number of causes, she started a nonprofit organization last year to do that.
Where did the concept of GudbyeDawg come from?
The concept for Gudbye Dawg came from Hello Kitty, she’s loved by young girls to the not so young girls. I thought why not have something for the young boys to the not so young boys to love also. I gudbyedawg-wanted a dog – opposite of the kitty.
You chose a pitbull as the GudbyeDawg character.  You said you wanted to help change the pitbull stigma.  Why is that so important to you?

Many dogs came to mind to use however I thought the Pit Bull would be the perfect dog to use to represent my company. Society has placed such a bad stigma on such a nice animal.  Pit Bulls by nature are not bad dogs.  They are just like any other breed of dogs and it’s all about how they are raised.    The bad reputation needs to be softened and eliminated, just like the diseases that our Gudbye Dawg represents.


Speaking of diseases, the dog bone colors on the shirts reflect the different organizations that people can choose to wear/sponsor through Gudbye Dawg.  Which colors represent which organizations?

Breast Cancer – Pink Bone, Autism – Red Blue Yellow, Heart Disease –  Red, Alzheimer’s – Purple and  last but not least, Animal Cruelty – Silver.  The bone in the dog’s mouth takes on the color of the causes.
So how does the Gudbye Dawg organization work to help eradicate illnesses?
We donate 20% of all purchases to the organization that the purchaser chooses to sponsor.  So, if you want to donate to an animal cruelty organization, you would purchase one of our shirts or other merchandise and receive the  Gudbye Dawg with the silver bone.

Why have you chosen the specific charities that you sponsor?

There are many great foundations out there and it was a tough choice.  However, I chose the ASPCA, Alzehimer’s Foundation of America, American Heart Disease, Autism Society, and the Beast Cancer Research Foundation because I feel they held the best representation.  The majority of the donated funds go straight to funding research.

You have a background in working with autistic children and you mentioned that has stayed with you. Did that influence your decision to create a charitable organization?

Yes.  I worked with Autistic children for some ten years and those children became my children.  It never left me and I always wanted to find some way, no matter how big or small, to help them.  I also have close friends who are right now fighting their bouts with Breast Cancer.  This too influenced me to want to make a difference.   I love to be able to say Gudbye Dawg had a tiny part in helping get rid of these diseases.
GudbyeDawg is to be a collector’s item for little boys.  Do you have plans to have stuffed animals available in the future?

gudbyedawg3I have looked into making a stuffed animal of Gudbye Dawg.  Hopefully it will be in the very near future. I would love that.

What are your other goals for your organization?

My goal is to take my company nationwide and make Gudbye Dawg a household name, to have men and women, young and old supporting their favorite cause with a Gudbye Dawg bone. That would be wonderful .

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about my company.


For more information, check out
* * * * * * * * * *      * * * * * * * * * *      * * * * * * * * * *

gudbyedawg-4From the website:

Gudbye Dawg is proud to support charities that impact the friends and families of those that enjoy wearing Gudbye Dawg swag proudly.

Gudbye Dawg is dedicated to saying good-bye to the illnesses that affect our friends and loved ones.  That’s where the idea of Gudbye Dawg came from … telling these illnesses that it’s time to go.

The American Pit Bull Terrier has long been a brave and courageous protector of American families.  With Gudbye Dawg swag, you can let the world know the proud heritage of this much misunderstood breed, while supporting the research that will ultimately allow people to say their final good-bye to a disease that may be affecting their life, or the lives of friends and loved ones.

We don’t know who will be struck down next with heart disease, Alzheimer’s, autism or breast cancer.  It could be one of us…or one of your friends…or a family member…or even you.  Maybe you already know someone affected by these illnesses.  What is certain is that, until research gives us a way to say good-bye to these diseases forever, we are all at risk.

Buying Gudbye Dawg swag will help to further research that may save the life of someone you love – or even your life.  It’s a good thing to do for those you love and even those you have yet to meet.

Darlene Theodore – The Influence of Patrick


If we listen, our children tell us things that we need to know and help us understand the things we should do.  They can awaken a duty within us to help not just them and ourselves, but others.  Darlene Theodore is the Director of Training and Development at Patrick’s Academy, Inc.  She is not only the director, but is also the owner.  She was inspired by her son.  We spoke to her briefly about her schools.


You own a school. It’s a brick and mortar school and an on-line institution. What made you decide to open up your own school?

Patrick’s Academy, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3). It is governed by a Board of Directors. There is no owner. I am the Founder of Patrick’s Academy, Inc. I have a gift for teaching people to become better skilled and more productive. We offer onsite and distance learning classes.

What is the focus of the training that you provide?darlene-theodore-patrick
For the children, our focus is supplementing their existing curricular.
For the adults, our focus is to get them certified in primarily IT occupations.

What do students gain from attending? — why would someone want to go to St. Patrick’s Academy?

Learners attend Patrick’s Academy, Inc. because they believe that we can help them. The parents of children with autism see progress in their children and gain an understanding of how best to support and help their child to develop socially, and mentally.

Adults attend Patrick’s Academy, Inc. because we have a success rate of 85% in helping people to get placed into full time employment. We are also successful in helping them to achieve certification.

The name – St. Patrick’s Academy – how did you derive the name? Does it have any special significance?
My youngest son’s name is Patrick.

Who do you serve? Are your students from just a few states or can your service anyone who is looking for certification?
Mostly locally within CT.

How did you establish your physical locations? Are you located inside of other schools?
We lease our locations.

Usually when someone creates a venue to benefit the autistic, it’s usually because someone close to them has autism. Is this why you established St. Patrick’s ?
Yes. My son Patrick was diagnosed with Autism at age 2.

How did you decide what kind of programs and training to provide for the students?
For the children, we collaborate with the public school system personnel and parents.
For the adults, our staff earned the certifications, and researched high demand occupations.

Is this training done exclusively on-line?

Do your students find value in what you offer?

If someone wants more information about either school, who should they contact?
They can call me directly at (860) 754-4263


Edith – 8 going on 20

Do you remember what you were doing at the age of eight?  Was it something like playing with dolls, roller skating or watching tv?  Children in other countries or in other situations have a different kind of childhood.  Adrian is a member of the nonprofit, Roll Out The Barrel organization.  He tells us about a different kind of childhood for a lot of children – boys and girls.  
Many of us are in shopping mode with the Christmas holiday coming up.  Remember that you can give someone else a gift in honor of someone else.  So, if you a buying a gift for someone who already has everything, maybe you can donate to an organization and give that person a card indicating that a gift was made in their honor.  That’s the kind of gift I would love to have.  They’re the best kind!
Edith’s story submitted by Adrian from the UK
This is about she who will become a woman, a different woman because she will no longer have to carry the family’s water.
Edith………….8 going on 20……………

Recently Stewart and Diane Mackie, from Rothwell in the UK,  who are associated with the scouting movement asked if they could take a couple of Rotary barrels with their luggage on their 28th trip to Uganda and the Mackie School.


Stewart and Diane travelled up country about 30 miles.  They found a young girl, Edith, collecting the family’s water as she does every single day, three times a day.

They had arrived in time to see her doing what she always does…………she is 8

Straight away they gave her a barrel to fill at the pump which she then rolled home within 10 minutes instead of 45/50 carrying and dragging.

Stewart took it upon himself to inscribe the barrel with a club name.  Vectis Sunrise Rotary Club (in Africa!!!)
Her 3 younger brothers and sisters will never need to carry water as they grow.
Another barrel into this family will further improve health and well being and give all the children the opportunity to be educated properly.
With the next barrel we will be sending some flip flops or even shoes….!

Join Us.  One barrel makes a real difference and you CAN change lives, forever!

Mildred’s Story – Rolling Out the Barrel



We are sharing a story submitted by Adrian in the UK.  Often women spend money on makeup, getting their hair done, buying new clothes, etc.  Many of us complain about things that pale in comparison to the plight of others.  Adrian shared Mildred’s story with us.   

Submitted by Adrian at ROTB.


Mildred Nkhata from Chitambo, Zambia is an amazing person. She became totally blind after an illness struck her at the age of two.  She is a single mom and has 2 children, Rainford, 4 and Luwa, 7.  They live in a small 2-room house, the size of a tool shed.  Mildred cooks with fire and has to do so outdoors to avoid a smoke-filled house.

Twice a day Mildred would take her large basin and collect 40 liters of water from the new village pump 500 meters away.  Her daughter Luwa would collect another 20 liters. Their daily travels equaled miles and hours along a dirty and uneven path.

Mildred cares for her children the best she can, feeds them with what she has.  Mildred was fortunate and was sponsored to help her obtain a teaching diploma.  She currently works voluntarily in Mfuwe Basic School.  Though she has a non paying job, she gets a very small allowance from friends (£40 per month).  She hopes that her efforts will encourage the government to employ her at the school, earning as much a £80 a month.

The organization Roll Out the Barrel, is in Africa providing as many women as possible with barrels to help them collect life giving water.  When the Rotary Club of Mfuwe presented Mildred with a Rotary barrel from Roll Out the Barrel and Rotarians in UK, she was overcome, squeezing the hand of Rotarian Anna in appreciation.  Her children loved it, played with it, filled it and rolled it. Local children joined in with the filling, the pushing the pulling!

Instead of maybe half hour per journey it is now down to 10 minutes. No longer will Mildred have the challenge of collecting water, as Luwa and even her 4 year old brother can collect the water from the pump within minutes. They can do three, four, five even six journeys with no problem, in fact it is FUN!!
The organization is responsible for providing women like Mildred and their families with rolling barrels that they can collect and transport their water with.