Cradles to Crayons: Serving Children in Need
Podcast #30 — Aired May 29, 2014

What if all children had the essentials they needed to thrive? That’s the mission at Cradles to Crayons, a non-profit that supplies kids with those essentials free of charge by “connecting communities that have with communities that need.” Joining us this week on BetterWorldians Radio is Michal Smith, Executive Director at Cradles to Crayons. Smith will discuss the impact her organization is having on children in the Philadelphia area and how Cradles to Crayons offers meaningful volunteer opportunities to thousands of individuals and families each year. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

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Michal Smith
Executive Director, Cradles to Crayons

Michal Smith joined Cradles to Crayons as Executive Director in November 2010. Following a B.Sc. (Hons) in Applied Biology from London University, Michal became a management trainee and executive coach at Harrods. After moving to the United States, she co-founded Silicon Gallery Fine Art Prints which became one of the nation's leading large format fine art digital print making studios. Recruited as Executive Director for The Print Center in Philadelphia, to broaden her fundraising experience she moved to Project Forward Leap, whose budget increased from $1.6 to $2.6 million during her tenure. Michal’s fundraising, managerial, marketing, and production experience is supporting Cradles to Crayons in its continued growth in services.

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi, this is Greg. I'm so glad you can all join us here on BetterWorldians Radio. Let me first just tell you a bit about my dad, Ray, who you just heard from. He is a serial entrepreneur who successfully founded and, with MarySue, took public a national marketing firm. Giving back has always been really important to dad, who supports cancer research, disabled children, and disadvantaged families, among many other causes. And by the way, we're the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds, while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. To date, over 22 million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more that 2 ½ million people. And in the month of May we teamed up with Cradles to Crayons, a non-profit that provides children with the essentials they need to thrive. This week on BetterWorldians we're actually talking with the Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons, Michal Smith.

Raymond Hansell
Michal Smith joined Cradles to Crayons as Executive Director in November 2010. Following a degree in Applied Biology from London University, Michal became a management trainee and executive coach at Harrods. After moving to the United States, she co-founded Silicon Gallery Fine Art Prints, which became one of the nation's leading large format fine art digital print making studios. Recruited as Executive Director for the Print Center in Philadelphia, to broaden her fundraising experience, she moved to Project Leap Forward, I'm sorry, Project Forward Leap, whose budget increased from $1.6 to $2.6 million during her tenure. Michal's fundraising, managerial, marketing, and production experience is supporting Cradles to Crayons. Michal, it's great to have you on board today on BetterWorldians Radio. Thanks for joining us.

Michal Smith
Thank you so much for inviting me.

Raymond Hansell
Why don't we start out by just asking you a little bit about the history of Cradles to Crayons? I like that story.

Michal Smith
Well, Cradles to Crayons is an organization that was founded originally in Boston in 2002 and came to Philadelphia in 2007. And it is an organization that was founded by a woman called Lynn Margherio who was a logistics and supply chain specialist who'd also worked in the Clinton administration for a number of years. And what she was seeing in her family was the fact that - she has a large family - that many of her nieces and nephews had clothing and items that they weren't using. They'd either grown out of them very quickly; they'd grown out of them sometimes before they had even had a chance to wear them. So there were many items around the house - she was looking after her nieces and nephews - that just weren't being used. And she certainly knew from her work in communities that there were many families who didn't have those vitally needed items. And so with her logistics expertise, she came up with a model; Cradles to Crayons. Basically, we do two things. We get vitally needed everyday essentials to children in need in communities. We supply kids with stuff, the stuff that they perhaps don't have access to. So it's anything a child between the ages of 0 to 12 might need. It might be diapers, it might be Pack and Plays, it might be high chairs, strollers, and then a week's worth of clothing, school supplies, books, sneakers, and warm coats, certainly, in the wintertime. So that's one piece of it. But the unique thing about the model is the fact that we do that by collecting from communities that have excess, and then by using volunteers any age from six to 86, they pack and sort those items and ensure that they are of a very high quality to go out to the children that we serve through our partner in human services agencies. So there's two things we do. We get kids stuff that they need in low income situations, and we also help to connect families who may not be aware that there are other children who need items. And so children participate in giving back to communities, which is the second part of our mission, which we regard as being very important and very congruent with BetterWorldians because it's helping families and communities give back.

Raymond Hansell
That's really great. Tell us a little bit about your role at Cradles to Crayons, if you would.

Michal Smith
I started three years ago when Philadelphia was only about four years old, and my job was to help the organization follow along the guidelines and the structure that Boston had created in a little bit more closely. The model is incredibly efficient. We rely on communities to bring product to us, and that may be coming from families, from schools, from faith-based organizations, from corporations, and they drop it at our warehouse and there we process it. And we engage about 1,700 volunteers a month; again, those same corporations, schools, faith-based organizations. And then we have a CRM, customer relations management, a piece of software which is really unusual in a non-profit, and this is where we operate a bit more like a business. And we connect our agencies that we serve, about 240 of them in the five-county region around Philadelphia, and they become our partners, and then can order online as if they're ordering from Amazon. So they order custom packages for the children in their care. So they put in the name of the child, the age of the child, and they can then order the items that this child needs; whether they have big feet, or whether they have motor skills challenges, or they like Spiderman. They get everything that that child might want. Now my job is just keeping all of that in balance, making sure that we have all of the product coming in, we have the volunteers needed to pack and sort those items, we have the right balance of partners; because if we have too many agencies serving children, because it's a donated product stream, we may not necessarily get the right items or sufficient quantities of them. And I think the thing to recognize here is that quantity volume and efficiency are our focus because we're serving about 50,000 children a year.

Raymond Hansell
Fifty-thousand children a year?

Michal Smith
Fifty-thousand children a year. So it's keeping that product in balance, keeping the volunteers in balance, keeping our partners in balance, and of course, ensuring that we have enough money to keep the lights on, which is another piece of my job.

Raymond Hansell
So you've got a pretty big job there. That's important.

Michal Smith
It's a wonderful job, and it's community powered, so it's very exciting. I get pushed along by our community that helps to make that mission happen.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, that's wonderful. Now Backpack-A-Thon is a signature program at Cradles to Crayons. Tell us a little bit about those backpacks and what's included in them.

Michal Smith
Well, as I'm sure you probably know, in children living in low income situations, you are dealing with children who often start school two years behind their more advantaged peers, or children living in slightly better resource situations. And so at Cradles to Crayons we ensure that every child who receives a kid pack, our standard offering, always gets books and always gets school supplies. But just before school, we want to do a really big push to ensure that children who are starting school in our region get the backpack, a newly filled backpack. And backpacks are expensive to put together, so what we do is we will pack this year 24,000 backpacks that Lincoln Financial filled, with the aid of over 500 volunteers and we will get them into the hands of children so that they're ready to start school with a fully packed backpack. We pack them with composition books, rulers, erasers, glue, ballpoint pens, colored pencils, folders, and binders, anything a child could need, and those children start school with a brand new backpack. The great thing, too, is because Cradles to Crayons has a commitment to keep children in school year-round, we keep those backpacks filled year-round, and so the agencies can come back to us and get them refilled.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, that's great. Now it must take a big effort, as you're describing this, to get all the volunteers necessary to get those backpacks actually packed. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Michal Smith
Well, everything that Cradles to Crayons does relies on volunteers. And I think it's a really great reflection of our community that there are so many people who feel engaged to give back. So we are looking for volunteers, not just for the Backpack-A-Thon, which is a great event and is always very, very high energy because we pack those 24,000 backpacks in less than about 90 minutes. That's one time a year. But we are looking for volunteer assistance all year-round because, unfortunately, need in children isn't just once a year, it's all the year.

Raymond Hansell
M-hmm. You talk about this volunteer effort from that point of view. Let's shift gears a little bit. What does it mean to the child to actually have that new backpack filled with the things that they need to start the school year?

Michal Smith
I think if you can think back to your own childhood, and you think what it was like to have that new pencil case, or to have that new set of pencils and a new backpack when you went to school.

Raymond Hansell
Right.

Michal Smith
And to compare and contrast that with the children we often work with who perhaps might only have one pencil, and it'll only be with one composition book, and it'll be in a plastic bag, and you just don't fit in with the rest of the other children. And not fitting in is probably one of the worst things that I think a child, you know, there are many other things that they can face, but it's not a good feeling when you don't feel you fit in.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah.

Michal Smith
And what we enable a child to do is to feel they fit in. And as importantly, any mom wants to do the best for their child no matter what circumstances they're in. So it makes the mom feel good that their child has the right things to start school, and it leads to the excitement that it'll help a child to learn.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, I was just having a flashback on my childhood, remember how exciting it was as you sort of wound up your summer vacation, lamenting that that's going to be over, but then thinking about, oh, I've got to get a new pencil case, oh, I've got to get a new, you know, something for a lunch pail, or I've got to get a new this, so you get all that kind of getting ready thing and it creates the anticipation of a fresh new year that always felt, to me, almost like this must be the beginning of the year. It's really the beginning of the school year, but it feels, I think, to the child as if this is the start of a whole new year of my life. So it's got to be exciting for the kids. And probably very disappointing if they get on the other side of it that don't have that to look forward to. Tell us a little bit about your, you know, what drew you to Cradles to Crayons and what this has meant to you.

Michal Smith
Well, it's really funny because I was working in another non-profit and I was exposed to the Cradles to Crayons model. When it first came down to Philadelphia in 2007, although I was working somewhere else, I was at a presentation where the founder in Philadelphia was talking about the model, and I thought this was just the most amazingly efficient model that I had seen in non-profit because, basically, it's donated product, volunteer labor, and some financial support certainly, and what we're providing is high quality custom packages for children when they need them, and exactly what they need, too. And I watched it grow. And, in fact, the funny thing is I actually applied to work at the organization twice, and the first time I wasn't successful for a number of reasons, partly my own situation in life, and I was very lucky to get employed the second time around and ended up heading the organization, which I think calls upon pretty much every tool I have used in my for-profit life in order to benefit the children that we work with.

Raymond Hansell
Oh, there's no coincidence there. Perhaps this was all meant to lead to this position for you to do at this particular time. You know, it's a great story that you're telling here. We like to support these kinds of organizations. People just asked us a questions recently about the kinds of charities that we support at BetterWorldians Radio and at A Better World, our social game, and this is exactly the model; efficient, really a nice cause and effect where you can actually point to, you know, this kind of money went to these specific, specific situations, with these kinds of outcomes, for these kinds of kids. So my compliments to the organization and to your joining it. We're going to take a break right now, but we'll be back shortly to talk more with Michal Smith, the Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons, and my co-host, MarySue. In the meantime, I'd like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts, no matter how small, are making a difference in the lives of other people, we'd love to hear about them. Please send us an email at Radio at BetterWorldians dot com. We'll be right back.

Raymond Hansell
You're listening to BetterWorldians Radio. We're speaking with Michal Smith, the Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons. And now let's welcome back Michal and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Michal.

Michal Smith
Hello, good morning.

MarySue Hansell
Good morning to you. Do you have a favorite story about a child receiving a backpack?

Michal Smith
I think there are so many of them, to be honest, and I think one of the memorable ones is when we were delivering backpacks to children, and it wasn't actually the child, it was the mom who came up to us and said, I cannot believe that there are so many people who care, and who don't even know me and my child, that are giving me this wonderful, brand new backpack. And I think that's the great thing; this connecting people who don't even know each other to do great things for kids who so desperately need these vital school essentials.

MarySue Hansell
And how about any story about a child? You know, do you think they realize what they're getting, even if they're small?

Michal Smith
They may not actually articulate it but it's one of the things we absolutely love to do. Because what you see is a child unpacking, unzipping, a backpack and pulling out the items one-by-one, and they always have the most amazing smile on their face because, you know, everything's new, everything's shiny, and everything's just for them. So I think it's those smiles that you see over and over again, and we're going to do it 24,000 times this year.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's great. I know you have some of those smiles on your Facebook page. We want you to take a look at that. You know, we've read on the page there that poverty among children is the highest it's been in 50 years. Can you tell us about the real need for programs like Cradles to Crayons?

Michal Smith
It's the highest it's been amongst children for 50 years, and I think what is interesting for us, and I think probably interesting for many people, is the fact that poverty is increasing faster in the suburbs than it actually is in the inner city.

MarySue Hansell
That's a surprise.

Michal Smith
At the rate at which it's growing in the suburbs is about 53 percent and about 26 percent in the inner city. And I think we don't think of poverty as being an issue for suburban children, but sadly, it is. Locally here, in Montgomery County, food stamp usage has gone up about 112 percent in the last few years. And I think that that is a real challenge for us because we do think of our big cities - Philadelphia, locally here, is the second poorest large city in America and has the highest rate of deep poverty - and we sort of think of that as a place where poorer children are living. But we don't think - it's more invisible in the suburbs and we don't think about those people that we really should be helping in the suburbs too.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, I think we were all surprised here to hear that it's growing at almost double the rate in the suburbs. Where do you think that's attributed to?

Michal Smith
I think we're still seeing the effects of the recession in 2008. I think we're still seeing a lack of bounce-back of jobs. I think, also, corporations have leant to be more efficient in that down time, and so there is a lot of unemployment, a lot of part-time employment, a lot of families where one person has lost a job. And when you're earning a lower wage, unfortunately, it isn't really quite enough to help a family survive. The living wage in the suburban counties around Philadelphia is around about $60-$70,000 for a family of four. However, the poverty level for a family of four is around about $22,000. So that's a very, very big gap, and it makes it very, very difficult to afford the things that you'd really like to supply for your children and family.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah. You know, according to your website, and you also just mentioned it earlier in the broadcast, is that, you know, children who grow up in poverty are typically, you know, far behind their peers when they start school. And how do you hope that, you know, starting off with these right supplies helped them. How does it help them?

Michal Smith
It's a piece. I think the one thing we have to recognize, that when a family is living in poverty, there are probably a number of things that they need. Clearly, their first focus, they want to get a job so that they can provide for their family, too. But there may be challenges putting food on the table. There may be challenges in housing and safety associated with that. And so when those are a priority, the focus on having books, having the time to read to your child, having the clothing that enables a child to go to school so that they fit in with the rest of the group, or the sneakers so that they can play on the playground, some of those things are just not as easily accessible. So by Cradles to Crayons providing those books, those school supplies, the clothing, we equip a child so that they are able to read at home, they're able to do their homework with the supplies that they have, and they're able to go to school and be more successful. An average low income home doesn't have books within 300 feet of the home, and we all know that having a favorite book is something that is really important to a child, and hopefully having more than one book. In every kid pack that we put together, we try and put between five and seven books of age and gender-appropriate reading material.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's wonderful. And you mentioned that, you know, in that warehouse they put it by age and by size, and I thought that was very interesting. So I guess by grade level, too? You pick certain books that are good for those areas?

Michal Smith
Yes, we do. And, in fact, on the order form the social worker or counsellor has the ability to identify whether a child is at or above grade so that they can ensure that the books, you know, even though a child has an age of six, they may be reading above grade, in which case, we make sure that they have books that challenge them and interest them.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's really good. Sounds like a very sophisticated operation there. Go ahead.

Michal Smith
It's helped by the software that we use which enables us to really drill down on the data. And I think it's a very good point that you say it's sophisticated. It needs to be because we need to know when we're short on pants of a certain size, or we haven't got the right number of books in-house, because we want to minimize our out-of-stocks to ensure that children have what they need. And when you're serving almost 50,000 children a year, clearly, you're dealing with large volumes and you have to track it.

MarySue Hansell
So I guess when that happens, then you have to, say, or if you know you're short in a certain area, then you go to, you know, promote for those type of things that you're short on?

Michal Smith
Absolutely. And that's where our website is absolutely crucial to help us in reaching our community so that they can and do rise to the challenge of finding those items that we're often short of.

MarySue Hansell
That's very impressive. Another signature program that I've heard about that you have is something called Un-gala. What is that?

Michal Smith
Yes, it's really fun.

MarySue Hansell
Okay.

Michal Smith
I think all of us have been through those dress up, eat rubber chicken, sit through speeches, be wowed by a presentation perhaps, or just think oh my goodness, I need to get home. This is the complete antidote to any kind of boring fundraiser you've ever been to. And this is a time when families come to our warehouse, and they don't have to dress up, we provide them with lots of delicious food, lots of entertainment, but we make people work. And at the end of the day you can say you have helped X number of children, and you can say you've had fun, there's been lots of music, and we just call it our antidote to the average fundraiser.

MarySue Hansell
So I guess you don't see many evening gowns and tuxedos there, huh?

Michal Smith
Absolutely not. It's jeans and sneakers and roll up your sleeves.

MarySue Hansell
Sounds like a lot of fun. I bet you feel really good when you're finished that, too, because, you know, you see the good that you've done for the children.

Michal Smith
I think it's that but it's also a chance for families to volunteer together. What we see there are children, parents, and grandchildren, all volunteering together and learning that even at an early age, or even in more mature years, you can actually give back and help children in the region in a very practical and grounded way.

MarySue Hansell
It teaches them good values. I'm very impressed with that. On your website you mention that you have the most needed items. What are some of those things you always are running out of? You mentioned shoes and sneakers. Any other things?

Michal Smith
I think we're always looking for older children's items. I think when children are younger they grow out of things very quickly, and often they are only gently used by the time they get to us. Unfortunately, children's growth slows and so they tend to wear clothing longer, and boys are particularly hard on items. So we're always looking for older children's shoes, adult sizes one through eight. We're always looking at older children's pants and shorts size age 10 to 12. I'm always looking for older children's books, 9 to 12-year-olds. And we're always looking for warm coats. We can accept clothing all year round, so even if it's the summer and you're cleaning out and you have winter coats that you know your children are not going to wear next winter, we can certainly take them. And we need baby items often; bedding, carriers, strollers; some of those bigger items that it's very expensive for a family to buy; Pack and Plays and so on.

MarySue Hansell
Speaking of babies, I know you have a virtual baby shower. Can you tell our listeners what that is?

Michal Smith
You can find it on our website www Cradles to Crayons dot com, dot org, excuse me. And what that is, it's a virtual listing of, well, it's a real listing of items for virtual babies. But rest assured they will actually go to actual babies. And what you can do is buy items that a baby might need, or that we need, to ensure that a child has, some of our youngest children, have all of the items that they need to thrive. And so you can just buy for a baby.

MarySue Hansell
So anything that you - just think that you're going to a baby shower and say, hey, I'll buy these things and drop them off there.

Michal Smith
Yes, and they can be shipped to us, too. So you don't even have to attend the shower. It's a bit like our Un-gala. We can make it easy for you.

MarySue Hansell
Yes, I think I saw the website that you could actually purchase them right on your website.

Michal Smith
It's a connection through our website. Yes.

MarySue Hansell
M-hmm. That is easy to do. You know, another thing is I see that you also mention you partner with over 250 human service agencies. What kind of agencies are there and explain to people how that works. In other words, you get the items and then how does it get distributed through those agencies?

Michal Smith
Yes, we partner with agencies who service children in low income situations. So it might be a homeless shelter, could be a domestic violence shelter. In some cases it's foster homes. In some cases it is teen moms. We're trying to keep the teen moms in school, and we want to provide a support framework to help them stay in school by getting their babies all the things that they need. It could be a school itself where there are children who are attending on Free and Reduced Lunch who need those everyday essentials to keep them in school. So it's pretty much anywhere where a child is living in a family that is in reduced circumstances.

MarySue Hansell
Now will they use that software that you mentioned? In other words, they're all connected into that and they can say what they need for a certain timeframe. Is that how it works?

Michal Smith
Absolutely. So the agencies become our partners, and they have a password and access to our website, and then they log on - and are ordering weekly often for the children in their care - log on, enter the child's name, their age, we know a little bit about their parents, and then they order all the items that a child could need. So from a week's worth of clothing, including brand new socks and brand new underwear, shoes, sneakers, at this time of year sandals, and they get this big long list that then prints out here in our warehouse, and then we use volunteers who take the order when it's printed out and literally shop free of charge, they don't have to - all they do is walk around our shopping section and add the items into their baskets for this particular child, and at the end of the process they have a giant plastic bag full of all of the items that this child might need. Then the agency will pick it up about one or two days later. So the turnaround time from the point where an agency orders something for a child will be about three to five days. And, obviously, if you have a child who is the victim of domestic violence or perhaps a home fire, we will get all those items to that family within a matter of hours if necessary.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's wonderful. So I didn't realize you have kind of an emergency relief system, too.

Michal Smith
Indeed. Yeah.

MarySue Hansell
M-hmm. I saw on the website that you have a Corporate Champion Program. Can you tell our listeners about that and what kind of corporations help Cradles to Crayons?

Michal Smith
Well, what many corporations are discovering is that the new breed of employee is looking to see what their corporation is doing in the community, and it can be a leading factor in their decision to join a company to see whether it is active philanthropically in the community where they do business. And so many corporations in our region are looking for opportunities that they can set up for their employees to come out and volunteer together. It's also partly teambuilding. But for us, it's an absolute bonus because we need 1,700 volunteers each and every month. And as we get towards the end of the year, we need even more volunteers, because order volume certainly picks up in the colder weather. And the great thing about corporations is that they are motivated and often highly competitive with each other, so we get a large volume of work done in our warehouse. And the most successful corporations come back multiple times and they compete for what we call our Corporate Challenge, which is awarded quarterly. And each year we also have a final annual corporation who wins the award. And it's a combination of how many times they come and volunteer with us, how much product they collect, and also the financial support that they provide to keep that third leg of our store steady to ensure the organization's continued success.

MarySue Hansell
Sounds like a great program.

Raymond Hansell
That's an amazing program. We were just thinking about next week, we're going to actually have on our show a program called One Simple Wish which works on foster care support. Just a few months back we had a program called Operation Warmth which supplies coats for kids, specifically kids with their names in it. So they get that same feeling at the wintertime that you're talking about supplying to these children on a regular basis as they begin the school year. We're going to take a break right now. When we come back, we'll talk more with Michal Smith, the Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons in Philadelphia, and my co-host Greg. We'll be right back.

Raymond Hansell
We're back live now with Michal Smith from Cradles to Crayons, a non-profit that provides children with the essentials they need to thrive.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Michal, this is Greg.

Michal Smith
Hi, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
You know, I wanted to start, as I announced earlier, Cradles to Crayons was our charity partner in the month of May, and I'm happy to report to our listeners that our players reached our goal of 500,000 good deeds in May, and so A Better World will be donating funds to provide 100 children with backpacks full of clothes and books. So we wanted to thank you, Michal, for the opportunity to let our players help support your mission.

Michal Smith
Wow, 500,000 great good deeds. That's absolutely fabulous. And thank you so much for this very generous donation. It will go immediately to good use. Thank you.

Gregory Hansell
You're very welcome. It was our pleasure. And, you know, I know there's a lot of other ways that people can help support the mission at Cradles to Crayons, so I wanted to talk a little bit about those now. One was the birthday club. I'm hoping you can tell us about that. It sounds like a really cool way to get involved.

Michal Smith
Yes, and it's one that children really absolutely love to get behind, that and our bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah clubs, where children can elect to celebrate those milestones that are so very important to them by giving back to the community. And instead of having a traditional birthday party, what they do is ask their friends to bring gifts for children to our warehouse where we do have a setup for a party, so they certainly have pizzas often and soda, but then they also take those gifts and put them immediately to use by packing them into packs for children. And some of the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah projects have been very ambitious. And we have had children collecting sneakers. I think one young man collected 846 pairs of sneakers to help the children that we serve. So it's a model that allows children to construct ways of helping other children in ways that are fun, but also are very important to them as they celebrate those important stages in their lives.

Gregory Hansell
I love that. What are the age ranges on that?

Michal Smith
We can start as young as six and go right through.

Gregory Hansell
That's great. Even my 3-year-old, you know, she has some sense of there being people, you know, in need in the world and wanted to make a difference. I think that's really great. You know, I know you also have a team leadership corps. Tell us about that.

Michal Smith
That's another very important program that we initiated. And this is directed, actually, at - I say children but really it's not - it's young people as they reach the end of their high school years. And, frequently, schools have a requirement to do community service in and around graduation. But this is a way that teenagers can come to our warehouse for about a week, we make it short because we know how many commitments that many young people have in their lives with sports and other things, but it's a week of concentrated activity where they graduate at the end of the week, and then they come back as trained leaders to help us run sections in the warehouse. So it's great fun. We have, basically, people who have not graduated high school leading groups of corporate executives around our warehouse and showing them how they can pack items so that they're high quality for the children that we serve. And I think it's really fun to see the young people change as they engage in this week. And in fact, we had one young man, I think, who started the week really very, very quiet - this was last year - and he was incredibly quiet and reserved, but at the end of the week he was actually, we had a graduating ceremony when their families come in, and he led a group of people around the warehouse and his mother and father literally were standing there with their mouths open. They could not believe that this young man was confidently articulating the mission and goals of the section and telling people what they should be doing. They said that they have never seen him so outward looking, and engaged, and composed, and professional, and they were absolutely staggered by it. So it's an environment where almost anyone can thrive.

Gregory Hansell
I think that's really great. You know, leadership skills are so important, especially right now with how competitive things are in college and, obviously, after. So it's wonderful that you're able to, you know, support the mission and also teach these skills to kids.

Michal Smith
And we're now working on a program called Kids Care Corps that starts this September, and that will engage younger children eight and up in activities to enable them to give back more meaningfully to our community. Just trying to meet children where they are so that they can help the children we serve.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, I think that's wonderful. And you also have programs for young professionals. I think you have the Young Friends. Tell us about that program.

Michal Smith
We have two tracks for that. We have a track for 20 to 30-year-olds, and then a track for 30 to 40-year-olds; loosely interpreted because we never actually ask anybody their age. It's where they choose to identify. And those groups come to our warehouse on Wednesday evenings and they volunteer for a couple of hours, it's a chance to network professionally, and then typically, I believe, they go out for fun and frolics afterwards. I don't inquire too much about that. And then we do also have extra social events that are around the volunteering that are fun for those groups. But I think it's really impactful, we had a Wednesday night only about two months ago when a group of young people from a corporation who came in together to volunteer as a team and also to network with other young people, and three women were working in our shoe section and they realized that there weren't a certain size shoes for the kids that they were trying to help, and they left home barefoot, they left our warehouse barefoot and went home without shoes because they had three pairs of really great gently used sneakers that they felt would be better used and better served by being in a kid pack for a child than on their feet. So it really is a deep connection that we make even with our younger professionals, too. And it's fun.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, that's really beautiful. What's some of the things that they can do? What kind of professionals are you really looking for?

Michal Smith
We are looking for anyone who is interested in helping kids, honestly. If you are interested in networking, that's part of it. If you're interested in giving back to kids, that's part of it. And if you're interested in having some social fun around those activities, we can provide all three.

Gregory Hansell
Oh, wow. So I know you also have the Family Leadership Circle which is a great way for families to spend time together and give back. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Michal Smith
We have about eight events during the year specifically for families. As you can imagine, we run shifts during the week, which are very easy for corporations to support, but sometimes busy families, it's tough to squeeze things in. And so we provide opportunities at weekends that are especially designated as family activities, and that's a chance where we would invite you, Greg, to come and join us with your 3-year-old, because on a normal shift we don't encourage children that young, but on our family days we can engage with younger children. It's a little less crowded, it's a little less noisy, and there are extra special activities that we put on. We try and put in a well-wish card at the start of every year for every backpack that we give out, and so the children can work on those kinds of things. And we also set up those dates on Sundays and on Saturdays; on days when it might be easier for families to come and join us.

Gregory Hansell
And that's great. What's the best place of finding out about that? I know my wife would love it, so I'm sure she's listening also, so you can see us there.

Michal Smith
Everything that you might wish to know about Cradles to Crayons can be found on our website and that's www Cradles to Crayons dot org.

Gregory Hansell
Perfect. Now I hear that even the Philadelphia Eagles volunteered, and I'm a big Bird's fan, so I think that's pretty cool. How did that get started?

Michal Smith
The Eagles are very community-minded, as I'm sure you already know, and we kicked off our year last year with Brandon Boykin coming to organize a wonderful mini Backpack-A-Thon at our warehouse where we engaged about 100 young people in a chance, A, to meet Brandon Boykin, but more importantly, to pack almost 250 backpacks in the space of about half an hour.

Gregory Hansell
Wow.

Michal Smith
So they have continued to support us with technical advice, with a camera to help us film what we're doing and post on the website. And they have been wraparound supporters of our mission and the children we serve.

Gregory Hansell
Wow, well it really sounds like Cradles to Crayons is growing. There's just so many opportunities and so many programs. What do you see as the future of the organization?

Michal Smith
In our community right now there are 317,000 living in poverty. Right now we're only serving 50,000 of them a year. And we'd probably like to serve children multiple times a year. Our vision is ultimately that those 317,000 children have the everyday essentials that they need to thrive at work, I mean at school, at play, and at home. And so that's our vision. It's an ambitious one. And we also have the goal of not just doing it in the Philadelphia and five-county region here; we have the vision of going national one day so that we can address more children.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm. You know, with all of this volunteer effort, you know, everyone from the Birds, from the Eagles, you know, all the way down to, you know, hopefully my 3-year-old soon in the weekend coming, what have you learned from people with everything they've done for the organization?

Michal Smith
I think the most remarkable thing about this model is the fact that everyone, no matter how modest your means, everyone has the desire and the capacity to give back and help in some way, however modest. And this model makes it easy to do that. You know, just a few pennies can buy a pair of socks or some underwear, so the financial support can be modest. Just bringing in some socks, or underwear, or a warm hat, or a pair of gently used sneakers, is important. And then, of course, giving up valuable time, just a few hours, to help kids is something that they can do. And it's something people want to do. And I think that's the remarkable thing. The generosity of communities to help children in need is just an inspiration every day.

Gregory Hansell
What has that generosity meant to you?

Michal Smith
For me, it means that I wake up every day and come into work feeling that what I'm doing is important, significant, and valuable, and it means that it's never a chore to go to work, which I think is one of the greatest things that you can have in your life-work balance. The fact is that your work is overwhelmingly positive both personally and also for a broader community.

Gregory Hansell
You know, one question I ask every guest every week, you touched on this a bit just a few minutes ago, but I'm going to ask you to expand. What's your vision for how the work being done at Cradles to Crayons will help make it a better world? You know, what's your big vision, your big hopes, your big dreams, and how do you want to see the world a better place because of your mission?

Michal Smith
I think I alluded to it a little bit is that the vision is that one day every child in our community, and in the broader community, has the vital everyday essentials that they need to thrive.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm.

Michal Smith
So that they are not having to put on a torn or dirty t-shirt because they have to. I look back at a child - somebody was telling me about a child whom she ran into, she was a social worker, and she ran into this child who was wearing odd socks, they didn't match, and she teased the child about that, and the child finally burst into tears and said, well, I've only got seven socks and none of them match. And we supplied a kid pack to the child, and about two weeks later the same social worker was looking at the child and she said you've got two odd socks. I thought we'd given you a kid pack from Cradles to Crayons and you should have had three pairs of socks in there that matched. And she turned to the social worker and she said I'm wearing odd socks because I have the choice.

Gregory Hansell
Wow.

Michal Smith
And I think that's the important thing. If we can provide a child with choice, I think that is a difference that we can make in the lives of children.

Raymond Hansell
You certainly are making a phenomenal difference. I'm so inspired on a weekly basis, and particularly this week, because this is another example for our BetterWorldians community to celebrate an organization, and people that volunteer with that organization, that create opportunities for people to give back. So many of us have so much time, or extra times, stuff in our houses that we don't use, but others desperately need, and this is a great example of an organization that creatively unleashed that kind of capability and has now found a way, in a very efficient fashion I might say, to give back. So for all of our listeners out there, you can find out more about Cradles to Crayons by going to Cradles to Crayons dot org. Michal, once again we'd like to thank you for joining us on BetterWorldians Radio today, and for all the great work that you're doing at Cradles to Crayons.

Michal Smith
I'd love to thank you, Ray, thank you, Greg, and thank MarySue for the opportunity to talk more about an organization that's so dear to my heart.

Gregory Hansell
My pleasure.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, you're so welcome.

Raymond Hansell
Absolutely. Next week for our BetterWorldians guests, we are going to be highlighting another organization at a very grassroots level called One Simple Wish with their founder, Danielle Gletow, whose basic mission is to grant the wishes of children in foster care and another example, once again. There's so many organizations like this around the country that we're uncovering, but we can't uncover all of them, so I'd like you to reach out to us, and if you know of an organization or people who are doing this kind of work to make the world a better place, please send us an email at Radio at BetterWorldians dot com. Once again, we'd like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the millions of people playing our game on Facebook called A Better World at Facebook dot com A Better World. And don't forget to check out the Legends of Oz collection in our game where a lot of our players are taking advantage of some of the amazing art and animations that we have brought to bring that brand to our game as well. And until next time everybody, please be a BetterWorldian.