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How to launch a charity while being a mom

Rochelle de Goias, GEM’s Founder, was interviewed by Love, Mom on how to lead a charity that is changing the lives of high school girls in Toronto while being the mom of two little ones.  Read her full interview below.

LM: What’s a secret power you count on to keep it together?
R: “Determination. At work, I’m always thinking about a goal, for example right now, growth is top of mind. I’m singularly focused and know the team can make our charity better and bigger so we can help more people. I’m that person who to call if you have any self-doubt or if you’re having a bad day and I’ll say, ‘you can do this; you can do it with your eyes closed’. This level of motivation and intensity has allowed me to grow GEM from an idea into a reality.
I know I bring that intensity home too. I have this desire to ensure that my kids have this incredible childhood and create as many special moments as possible for them. Like so many moms, I would love them to look back on their lives and think they had the best mom. I know I stress myself out about it though. I’m really working on accepting that I can’t do everything and I have to be okay with doing what I can. I’m still getting the hang of it; I’ll stay up at night and send emails and take care some of online errands, then I’ll catch myself and shut it all down. I’m slowly figuring out the difference between being determined and doing too much.”

LM: Is launching a non-profit similar to growing a business?
R: “From the beginning, we wanted to create a charity that thought like a business. Our clients are our mentors and mentees and our investors are our donors. We’re intent on running GEM efficiently and at a low cost. For example, we have a large team of volunteers that help us reach our goals and we moved our office to the Centre for Social Innovation, a shared office space that keeps our nuts and bolts costs down.
We’re also growing the program strategically. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort on design thinking. Instead of taking a top-down approach where a goal is determined and then the steps towards that goal are created, I wanted to do it in reverse. We designed a program that began with our mentees to help us determine the goal. We spent six months consulting with local girls to discover what they needed. We also created a mentor advisory committee and asked them how we could make it easier for them to volunteer as busy working women who want to help. Then we did a pilot run, got feedback, and redesigned our approach based on what we heard. Every year we get new insights and then we tweak the program to make it better. Like any business, we have to be nimble and we can’t get stuck in one way of thinking.
The biggest difference with a traditional business, however, is that if we’re not profitable, we’re not reaching our goal of helping people. A charity relies on kindness, a compelling story and on donors and volunteers who want to make their cities and countries better. If people stopped having open hearts, a non-profit like us wouldn’t survive.”

LM: Describe a challenge you’ve had to overcome at GEM.
R: “We’re growing faster than I anticipated. It’s a good problem, but also stressful. With that growth, comes pressure to fundraise. There are a lot of girls requesting mentorship and we can only provide it for 1 in 4 girls, so we need more funding to support our programs. There are also so many areas that we want to be involved with beyond Toronto. There’s a huge need and we’re only a drop in the bucket. A part of me thought this was going to be a grass roots organization forever, and now I’m thinking about what growth looks like every day I go to work. This expansion is so exciting and the best outcome I could’ve hoped for, but naturally I wonder how am I going to manage all this while finding time to enjoy my young family?”

LM: Name a leap of faith you’ve had to take recently.
R: “Letting other people help me. When I started this, I was doing everything, then I brought in a bigger team and expanded the board.  Once I became pregnant with my second baby, my load became impossible to manage. We’ve grown to two full-time consultants (a project manager and a communications lead), a graphic designer and seven board members. Of course, I had an initial reaction to taking less of a hand’s on role. Relinquishing that kind of control took adjusting, and now I love it. I’m running the organization with women who are incredible while giving myself more time with my family.”

LM: What’s an a-ha moment that has surprised you most? 
R: “Deep down I trusted that GEM was going to help girls and I knew those girls would get to where they wanted to go. What I didn’t expect was that the community of mentors we have established would become so strong. They are incredible and like-minded women who want to hang out and create deep relationships with each other. The program gives us a chance to find out our interests, backgrounds and passions and it’s proving as valuable to the mentors as it is to the mentees.”

Interview taken from: Love, Mom.

Haute Nature

GEM would like to send out a big thank you to Stephanie De Gasperis, founder of HUSK, for providing our GEMgirls with a wonderful Valentine’s Day giveaway featuring natural beauty products and healthy treats for their special day. Continue reading to learn find about Stephanie’s take on entrepreneurship, natural beauty, and healthy living.

Based on the lessons you have learned and the challenges you faced, what do you think it takes to become a thriving entrepreneur?

It takes vision, positivity and faith as well as hard work in the form of attention, focus and being present.  I think as women we need to continue to pay attention to self care and balancing work with our home life as this will help keep the passion of your work alive and keep you energized.

Did you encounter any difficulties setting HUSK apart from other natural cosmetic boutiques? If so, what were they? 

I think it’s a fairly new and small industry. Since all-natural is a newer concept and people are more familiar with bigger brands available at pharmacies, I knew it would take some time to convince people that these products are not only a better alternative for our skin and overall health, but effective and truly beautifying.

What impact did your background in nutrition and fitness have on the creation of HUSK?

It showed me the importance of taking care of ourselves, each other and the planet. Learning about many of the man-made toxins that have made their way into our skin care products and our environment was quite eye opening.  When you realize your skin is your body’s largest organ and that everything you put on it has a good chance of making its way into your blood stream, it really makes you stop and think.  Many of these chemicals are new and scientists are just discovering their harmful effects, such as being carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or endocrine-disruptive (changing the way our hormones naturally work). However, when I saw the fabulous things that all-natural brands were capable of, I realized there was hope.

What methods and exercises do you practice regularly which help you create harmony between mind, body and spirit?

I think a more holistic and balanced approach to fitness is the most effective and sustainable tactic for long term well-being.  With work requiring much of my energy, I have found that constantly moving, making the right food choices and checking in with myself every day through meditation, are the most important things in keeping my mind and body in good shape.

Could you tell us more about your favourite green food with beautifying benefits and how you incorporate it into your daily eating habits?

I think almonds are truly beautifying for many reasons.  They are high in the top most beautifying nutrients – such as heart-healthy Omega-9 fatty acids (same that is found in high quantity in Olive Oil) and skin healing Vitamin E.  Because they are rich in healthy fats, they help keep us satisfied longer and provide a sustained source of energy.

In a world where our eyes remain glued to a technological device for the most part of a day, what is the importance of devoting quiet time solely to eating a meal without any distractions?

With so much constant stimulation around us via technology we quickly forget to be mindful and present.  When eating, it is especially important to remember to chew your food.  Remember that your stomach doesn’t have teeth and the more you can break food down in your mouth, the easier you can digest.  This has effects on your whole body.

What was one obstacle in your life which seemed most impossible to overcome and how did you tackle it?

One of the obstacles that I faced was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. I was the only female in the group and I had to make it up the difficult climb. On the second last day, when it seemed near impossible – getting through the hardest part where you want to give up or turn back – I saw the light at the top of the Summit.  The feeling was one of sheer joy, a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

 

Stephanie De Gasperis founded HUSK in the fall of 2013. As a fitness specialist and holistic nutritionist, she has always been inspired by her own quest for health and balance – and has now created the perfect way to share this knowledge with others. Stephanie is passionate about simplicity, tradition and the beauty in the Earth’s elements, and has brought her aesthetic vision to the HUSK shopping experience. Stephanie has travelled the world to source the cleanest, purest and most effective products for the skin and body. All the ingredients she uses support optimal wellness and positive transformation. Her support fro local producers is also very important, as you will find Toronto-based and Canadian brands throughout the HUSK store. Stephanie and her team have a mission to introduce the very best non-toxic and healthy self-care alternatives for women, men and children so they can lead cleaner, more vibrant lives.

On January 31, 2015 GEMgirls were invited to Roots Yoga Studio for a complimentary yoga session. Roots Yoga instructor Charlene Yeh guided GEMgirls through a gentle beginner yoga class, which included interactive partner exercises and guided meditiation. This moment to relax and unwind could not have been offered at a better time. The girls had just completed a stressful exam period and were getting ready to plunge into a new semester.

Yoga workshop 1

Our GEMgirls had an incredible time.

Here’s what they had to say …

“I’d never done yoga and had previously thought it was just stretching, but the instructor explained its not. It’s about understanding the way your body and mind moves”

“After doing yoga I felt relaxed, calm and happy. I walked away with so many different techniques and skills that could help me when I’m feeling stressed or unhappy”

yoga workshop 2

“I tried yoga for the first time at the Roots Yoga Studio last weekend and loved it! It was the perfect way to let loose and feel more comfortable in my own body.”

“My experience at Roots Yoga was uplifting. I enjoyed spending time with GEMgirls doing something new together”

Yoga Workshop 3

The GEM team would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Denyse Green of the Roots Yoga Studio for providing our girls with this opportunity.

Roots Yoga Studio is ecofriendly and offers a variety of classes seven days a week. The instructors are skilled in classical Hatha, Ashtanga/Vinyasa, Iyengar, Anusara, Kripalu, Keeds and Teen Yoga. Visit www.roots.com/yoga for more information. 

By: Natalie Anthony

Congratulations. Your exams are over! Hopefully you feel less tight and happier. To close things out for our 5-week yoga series, I’ve saved my favourite poses for last. Say “hi” to your hips!

Hips: Tight hips are very common from sitting. Too much tension in this area could even begin to affect your lower back.

  • Bend your right knee into your chest and flex your foot. Place the area just above your ankle on the very bottom of your left quadricep (above the knee). Keeping the right foot flexed, gently press down on the inside of your right thigh. The stretch should be on the outside of your right hip and upper thigh. Try the same pose on your left side.
  • Hug your right knee into your chest and hold the stretch. Do the same with the left knee. This pose can be done standing by using a ledge to deepen it.
  • While standing, find your balance. Cross your right knee over your left, and begin to bend the left knee. Try to keep your torso upright. This pose if known as ‘eagle legs.’ Consider adding your ‘eagle arms’ to deepen the pose (see shoulder section). Repeat on the left side.

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Tip: If the stretch feels good, add more pressure as you press on your inner thigh or hug your knee.

There you have it. These are some of my favourite poses to perform after sitting at my desk. All of these poses can be taken in stages and should be held for about five breaths (on each side). You may find that one side of the body doesn’t feel the same (or as good) as the other. That’s normal.

As a bonus, here is my last tip for releasing tension after studying for long hours at your desk. Get up and walk around! Walk down the block, meet a friend in the park, or take a stroll to the community centre. In my experience, movement and stretching are a great ways to de-stress your body and mind.

 

Natalie Anthony, Yoga Instructor B.A., Corp. Comm., RYT-200

As a former triathlete, turned corporate leader, turned yoga instructor, Natalie discovered yoga makes her strongest and happiest.A serious accident brought Natalie to yoga. A passion for making others happy keeps her on the mat. Natalie is an internationally certified and registered Vinyasa and Yin yoga instructor. She currently teaches customized group and private sessions at Balance Fitness and at various corporate offices in downtown Toronto. Natalie also combines her love of yoga with a passion for communications and is a regular contributor for Village Living magazine. 

 

 

 

By: Natalie Anthony

I hope the poses we’ve explored over the past few weeks have helped you. Feel free to do your favourites as much as you’d like. Up next? A part of the body that’s often overlooked – your wrists.

Wrists: Using a computer mouse, writing, and practicing yoga put strain on our wrists. Here are some easy ways to release fixation and tension in this joint.

  • Extend your right arm and make a stop sign with your hand. Bring your left palm over your right fingers and gently draw them back. You should feel the stretch in the bottom of your right wrist and forearm. Slowly release. Then, bend your right wrist so your fingers point to the floor. Gently press the left palm on the back of your right hand. Shake out your wrist after you hold each variation for a few breaths. Do the same stretches with your left wrist.
  • Circle your wrists slowly – in one direction and then the other. Try to circle the wrists the same number of times in each direction.
  • Clasp your thumb and index finger around your wrist joint (above the bone) and squeeze gently. You can also do slow pulses on the joint. Repeat this on the other wrist.

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Tip: I like to perform wrist exercises in the morning to wake up the joints, and in the evening after a day of typing and teaching yoga.

 

Natalie Anthony, Yoga Instructor B.A., Corp. Comm., RYT-200

As a former triathlete, turned corporate leader, turned yoga instructor, Natalie discovered yoga makes her strongest and happiest.A serious accident brought Natalie to yoga. A passion for making others happy keeps her on the mat. Natalie is an internationally certified and registered Vinyasa and Yin yoga instructor. She currently teaches customized group and private sessions at Balance Fitness and at various corporate offices in downtown Toronto. Natalie also combines her love of yoga with a passion for communications and is a regular contributor for Village Living magazine.