Monday, April 29, 2013


With such amazing parents, this kid is going to kick some serious butt someday.

Tara, a family friend, and her husband Zach are my favorite philanthropic duo. Even as brand new parents, they are changing the lives of children and families both domestically and internationally. Tara is a teacher at the Monarch School in San Diego, serving students impacted by homelessness. Zach is the Movement Director for Invisible Children, the organization behind the viral video KONY 2012. (If you haven’t seen it, you must live under a rock!) I had the opportunity to interview Tara (thank you!) and couldn't wait to share her insights on philanthropy and her thoughts on what's important in life. Click to check out this post to learn about Tara and Zach's interesting career paths, the organizations they work for and her definition of philanthropy. She's a smart lady and one I admire greatly.

Name: Tara and Zach Barrows
Age: 30 and 31

I originally went to school for radio broadcasting thinking I wanted to work in the music industry. In college, I worked for my school's radio station in Promotions. I really enjoyed that. However, after graduating, I quickly learned that jobs were hard-to-find and the industry was rapidly moving towards a much more corporate model and that didn't really appeal to me. But, luckily, with my experience in Promotions, I was able to land a job with the American Cancer Society as a temporary Recruiter for their Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. This position launched my career in the nonprofit sector. I then went on to work in Development for a small private school for kids with special needs in Hanover, Massachusetts. 

The thing with entry-level Development work is that you're doing the same kind of entry-level work as your friends in the for-profit sector, but you're getting paid pennies. I knew the work I was doing was making a difference for kids, but I didn't feel part of it. There was no connection. The job was kind of boring. So I went back to school for teaching. I was placed in Brockton, Massachusetts for my student teaching. That was the first time I ever met a child who was homeless. She was eight years old. 

In the summer of 2007, I had the opportunity to travel to northern Uganda. That was the first time I had ever witnessed abject poverty. It forced me to think very critically about charity, power, and privilege. Seeing what the long-term impact of colonialism and a lack of resources can do to a region is pretty devastating. But, seeing the resiliency and ingenuity of people, despite living in dire circumstances, is awesome. I left Africa with a great sense of pride in my new profession as an educator because I felt stronger than ever that education is the best way to overcome poverty and injustice. 

Meanwhile, my husband Zach's experience went the other way. He went to school to be a history teacher. He graduated and taught high school for four years. We went to Uganda with the organization Invisible Children (IC) together in 2007 because Zach's students raised a ton of money to help them rebuild schools that were destroyed by the rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA.) When we returned from our trip Zach was spinning with ideas on how Invisible Children could grow and improve their Schools for Schools program. He approached them about a job and was hired originally as their Education Manager. He eventually became the Movement Director, which meant his job was to oversee the tours that go out on the road to schools as well as various other awareness initiatives here in the US.

A little bit about Invisible Children:
IC was founded in 2003 by three filmmakers in their early 20s. The group that started IC had no experience in the nonprofit sector. It was truly a grassroots organization that sprung from three guys witnessing the aftermath of a 20 year rebel war in northern Uganda and wanting to do something about it. They learned quickly that the best way to help is to partner with local leaders.  Their Ugandan Country Director identified the greatest need to be education. Since the LRA abducts and forces children to be soldiers and sex slaves, the war took a real toll on the youth of northern Uganda. IC created a mentoring program and funded the rebuild of numerous schools. As the rebel war spread into various other countries in central Africa, the need to stop Joseph Kony's LRA and their reign of terror seemed more pertinent than ever. So in their push to make Joseph Kony a household name with their viral video KONY 21012, Invisible Children became one too. Now with the exposure they have garnered over the past year, IC is in a position to continue to evolve, innovate, and carry out the amazing work that they do. 

IC fundraises in a really unique way. Unlike the traditional model of development where most American nonprofits rely on grants and large-scale events, IC's fundraising dollars come mostly from small donations from American high school and college students. For the past 10 years, IC has sent teams of volunteers out on the road to show their films at high schools, colleges and places of worship. The sale of T-shirts and other merchandise help to raise money for schools and other programs in northern Uganda. This is the first season in 10 years that IC hasn't had a team of roadies out showing their films in the US. With this change, Zach's job is evolving yet again. He is currently part of the team preparing and planning for what is to come next at IC. It is all very exciting! 

Invisible Children brought us out to San Diego. At the time, I didn't have a California teaching credential. So I started looking for jobs in the nonprofit sector. That's how I found Monarch School. 

Monarch is a unique school that exclusively serves students impacted by homelessness in grades K-12. The school is a public/private partnership. The San Diego County office of education funds the teachers, textbooks, and basic school necessities while the Monarch School Project (a 501c3 charity) provides additional services such as access to clothing, food, health care, tutoring and extracurricular activities.  It is the only public school of its kind in the nation. I originally went to work for the Monarch School Project as their Volunteer Coordinator. I got to oversee their tutoring program and help build partnerships between the community and the school. Eventually a teaching position opened up just in time for me to finish up all of my California teaching credential requirements. Now I teach second and third grade. I can't imagine a more rewarding and fun job. My students are impacted by homelessness, but that does not define them.  They are just as smart and capable as students at any other school, however they often need access to resources beyond the scope of what a traditional school can provide.  I feel strongly that the public-private partnership model of the Monarch school is the best way for a community  to serve its most vulnerable student population. It will take changes in legislation and a whole a lot of fundraising, but the dream is that someday there will be a Monarch in every city in the US.

Zach and I are lucky to have such cool jobs that directly impact lives both here in the US and in the developing world, as we both feel strongly that where you live shouldn't determine if you live and have the opportunity to thrive. But I always say that you don't have to work in the non-profit sector to make a difference in the world. I believe fully that the world is better off when people find what it is they are best at and give it everything they have, whether that's working with people, crunching numbers, fixing cars, painting, or writing code. Whatever it is, if it inspires you or even if it just pays the bills but leaves you feeling fulfilled, you're contributing to the greater good. And that's what is most important for progress, innovation, and real change to occur. People are in a position to be philanthropic-to help others in need and advance humanity-when their own basic needs are taken care of and they've reached that self-actualizing tier of Maslow's hierarchy (aka find their meaning in life.) So find what you love and get after it! 

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