Founding a Non-Profit – The Legacy We Leave

genesis surf genesis surf2genesis children

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

As I review this year of posts, travelling back and forth across the events that have led me to my current career, I am reminded that every day I have the opportunity to make a positive impact to the lives of others. Whether it is a quick email to someone for doing a good job of managing a project meeting with a cc to their manager or just a simple thank you for being on call for the evening as we do a push to production, it is this capture of those moments and expression of gratitude that can make the difference between just doing a job and knowing that your contributions are noticed and appreciated. I would like to think that these simple things make a lasting impression on others and that they “pass it on.”

While on the topic of making a positive impact, I wanted to take this last post for 2013 and share a life changing experience. This experience gave me not only a greater appreciation for what it takes to build a business from the ground up but also for the dedication of individuals like my brother-in-law Greg and his wife Patti (to understand them a bit better read “It’s Not What You Said, It’s What They Understood That Matters” posted in June, 2013). The story starts in 1991 when Greg and my husband Ken started thinking about how they could combine their interests, skills, and talents to build a business. They also shared a common goal of having a positive impact on the world around them. Living close to the border, they were well aware of the immense needs of the children in Mexico who live in Orphanages or Casa Hogars. It was with all of this in mind that they began to do the research for what it would take to build a strong non-profit organization that would give these children the life experiences they miss by not being a part of a family.

These years included a lot of travel from the Tijuana border down to the tip of Baja Sur. That was a lot of time spent and miles driven in what we fondly called our “Baja mobile.” This was a little Chevy Blazer with the bumpers that had to be wired up because all of the bolts worked their way loose from travelling over the bumpy pot holed roads. Those first years, Ken spent more time in Mexico than he did at home in California. Today we joke that while we have been married over 35 years we really have only been together for 25 of them. The earliest years, Greg worked as an expert witness for litigations around construction and shared his earnings with Ken. Patti and I were working in order to fund the vision of Genesis. While it took many years and a lot of hard work, today Genesis has grown into Genesis International Orphanage Foundation (GIOF), a non-profit in Mexico and a 501(c)( 3) non-profit in the United States ( . Greg and Patti now live in Mexico and both work full-time for GIOF.

I am sharing this because it was a life and career shaping experience for me. Some of the lessons I learned were professional and some were personal. On a professional level I learned that it takes a lot of special “influence” to start a business in Mexico, especially a non-profit business. You first must establish trust and then be able to communicate your vision. Another lesson was that not only is accounting for a non-profit different, but accounting in Mexico has its share of differences. I learned that because of these and many other differences it is much better to have a local accountant and office manager to handle all of the details. On a personal level, I learned that no matter how much time Ken spends in Mexico he will never be able to speak Spanish. I also learned one hot summer day when the lights went out that the circuit breakers were located outside the garage. Then one Sunday night when the water heater decided to start a river running through the garage I learned where the shut off valve was located out in the street. As you can tell, some lessons I would rather not have had to learn.

I look back on these years fondly and am proud to have been a part of this vision. When I think of Genesis I always think of this quote from Neil Postman, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

As you read the opening quote from Ray Bradbury, I would ask you to think about this question. Are you just a “lawn-cutter” or are you a “real gardener?”


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