Beau Bressler demonstrates the power of one individual to transform the world through DIY fundraising.
Welcome to the inaugural blog in our DIY Fundraising blog series! In this series of posts, we will be sharing fundraising ideas for individuals so that YOU can help the Just Like My Child Foundation reach our goal of transforming the lives of one million girls.
In this story, we’re going to go travel back in time…to 2007 and 2008.
The story of Beau Bressler is timeless and touching—and a testament of the power of one teenager to effect change in this world.
In 2007, Beau was beginning to prepare for his bar mitzvah. One aspect of this sacred coming of age tradition is a mitzvah project, which is a good deed led by the child who is transitioning into adulthood.
As they discussed the upcoming event, Beau’s mom, best-selling author and life coach Debbie Ford*, presented an idea to consider for his mitzvah project — for Beau to donate his bar mitzvah gifts to help children in need.
Beau eventually agreed and what happened next was nothing less than extraordinary.
Here is the full story of Beau Bressler and Just Like My Child that was featured in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2008:
By Sandi Dolbee | Religion & Ethics Editor | San Diego Union Tribune | March 16, 2008
The Torah is full of stories about how one person can make a difference. Moses. Joseph. Noah. Beau.
OK. Maybe not Beau.
Beau Bressler, who is 13 years old with tousled brown hair and a love for Super Smash Bros. video games, is more 21st century than those other guys.
But his story also is about the power of one.
In this case, it’s about how one boy turned a religious rite of passage into an enormous act of charity for an African village he’s never seen and children he doesn’t know.
About a year ago, Beau was in the dining room of his mother’s home in La Jolla, with picture windows that frame the azure sea below. He was preparing for his coming of age ceremony in Judaism, called a bar mitzvah (son of the commandment). As part of it, he needed to do a mitzvah project (a good deed).
His mother, best-selling author and life coach Debbie Ford, had a suggestion. Instead of people giving him gifts, how about if he asked them to donate money for a school in Kikoiiro, a rural village in central Uganda?
But the more he thought about it, the more he warmed up to the idea. The typical bar mitzvah gift is money, and Beau couldn’t really think of what he’d do with it. Maybe he’d buy a couple more video games, he thought, but that was about all.
“I probably wouldn’t do anything useful with it,” he said.
So he agreed. The shiny brown-and-black announcements of his November bar mitzvah were sent out, decorated in an African theme and a drawing of a giraffe. While Ford and Beau’s father, San Diego physician Dan Bressler, invited people to the party at the Torrey Pines Hilton, Beau asked guests to donate money for the Children’s Academy for the Global Heart via the Just Like My Child Foundation.
Four months after his bar mitzvah, more than $100,000 has been raised with pledges for another $180,000, according to Ford. The campaign continues to be nudged along with help from his mother’s newsletter and other publicity efforts.
Beau’s perspective has grown with the dollar figure.
A bar mitzvah is more than just a ritual. It is a calling to become part of a new community. “I’ve been taken care of all my life,” is how he puts it. “Now that I’m 13, I’m supposed to give things back to the world.”
Beau’s been nominated for the 2008 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awards, which recognize efforts by California’s Jewish teens to help repair the world. If he wins, he said he’d probably tell them how easy it was to do. “It doesn’t even take that much,” he said. “It just takes a little bit of effort and time.”
As for giving up the personal gifts, he said that wasn’t such a big deal, after all. “I’ve gotten my fair share of gifts,” Beau said.
His rabbi, Baruch Shalom Ezagui of Chabad of La Jolla Shores, notes that all bar (boy) and bat (girl) mitzvah students perform a community service or act of charity as part of their passage. “We’re not only doing a good deed, we’re also getting connected to God,” Ezagui said.
The rabbi is hesitant to measure one good deed against another. Still, he acknowledges, “to take it to the level that Beau has taken it is unique.”
But none of this would have been possible had it not been for a family friend who has made it her mission to change the destiny of Kikoiiro, Uganda.
Vivian Glyck, an author and consultant who lives in University City, started Just Like My Child Foundation after she went to Africa to see the needs up close and personal.
Her first trip was to Senegal, in west Africa, in September 2005. Her son, Zakary, was 3 at the time and she had suffered two miscarriages, the second one coming only two weeks after seeing the fetus’ heartbeat. From that came a lesson: “Life is short. If I’m not doing what is calling me, there’s no other time to do it.”
She also is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, who taught her that it’s not OK to stand by when other people are hurting.
So Glyck went on an African relief trip, sponsored by Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City. While she was there, she heard about the Bishop Asili Clinic in central Uganda run by a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Ernestine Akulu.
Glyck traveled to Luweero, Uganda, in May 2006 to meet Sister Akulu, who in turn introduced her to the villagers of Kikoiiro.
She founded Just Like My Child two months later. Since then, working out of a small office in her family’s tract-style house, Glyck and her foundation have provided the clinic with a generator, a full-time doctor and other assistance. Future plans include building a surgical suite. Sister Akulu is enthusiastic in her praise. “This is an organization that is very much on the ground here supporting us to provide essential services in the area of health, education and microfinance to support women and vulnerable people, especially children and HIV/AIDS patients,” she wrote in an e-mail from Uganda.
She said Glyck visits at least twice a year – both at the hospital and Kikoiiro. The foundation is supporting four children from the remote village to attend boarding schools in Luweero, said Sister Akulu.
But the big hope is for a school, along with supplies and teachers, that will serve the village itself.
Enter Ford, her son, Beau, and his mitzvah project.
“I was so thrilled and so full of the rightness of it,” said Glyck, when Ford told her what Beau was doing.
“The idea of a rite of passage came to be because there has to be a tunnel that you go through where you emerge as a responsible part of the community,” said Glyck, who also is Jewish. “A bar mitzvah is really about when you stop taking and start giving.”
Beau, she said, “got it.” At the bar mitzvah party, Glyck said the other kids were “blown away” by the video he showed. She’s hopeful his example will be contagious.
“There’s a lot of power in turning kids on to looking through the kaleidoscope a little differently,” she said. “I think we’d have happier kids.”
The school project, complete with staffing for one year, will cost about $150,000. Beau and his mother are so optimistic that they’re planning a trip to Uganda this summer to see the work in progress.
Ford said the lesson for her son is more than about money.
“I wanted Beau to have an experience that would change his life,” she said. “I wanted Beau to really see the impact of one’s personal generosity. I wanted him to see that one person really could change the world.”
The first school built as a result of Beau donating his mitzvah project was the Children’s Academy of the Collective Heart—or “Beau’s School”—for the children of Kiwanula, Uganda, a very remote village with a surrounding community of 30,000 people.
The children of Kiwanula were at extreme risk; many were orphaned, the HIV rate was over 30%, and there was no adequate educational facility. The research is clear—children in circumstances like this, especially girls, die without education. Beau raised a significant portion of the funds necessary for this project and Just Like My Child Foundation committed to working with the community to teach optimum building skills, build the school, staff housing, and latrines, provide access to clean water and adequate health care, and ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.
Debbie, Beau, Just Like My Child staff and community leaders on the ground created the in-depth curriculum and teacher training that inspired a transformation in the way that primary school education was perceived and performed.
A decade ago, one 13 year old boy’s efforts resulted in the construction of Children’s Academy of the Collective Heart—and later two more schools—that has changed countless lives in rural Uganda.
At our last gala, Debbie Ford said that helping Beau build the schools was the greatest thing she ever did.
We are incredibly grateful to Debbie for planting the seed of a brilliant individual fundraising idea inside of Beau to donate his mitzvah project. Together, Debbie and Beau demonstrated how easy it is for individuals to raise money for charities and how one person can have a massive positive impact on the world.
Donating your bar mitzvah project is just one way individuals can raise money for charity — stay tuned for more ideas in our DIY Fundraising blog series!
* Debbie Ford was a #1 New York Times best-selling author and internationally recognized expert in the field of personal transformation and human potential. Her books have sold more than one million copies, are translated into 26 languages, and are used as teaching tools in universities and other institutions of learning and enlightenment worldwide.” (DebbieFord.com) Sadly, we lost her far too soon to cancer on February 17, 2013, at the age 57.
About Just Like My Child Foundation: Since its founding in 2006, Just Like My Child Foundation has developed deep partnerships with rural communities in Africa to deliver sustainable programs that address health care, education, microenterprise, social justice, and women/girls’ empowerment. Through that work, JLMC organically came to understand that focusing on vulnerable adolescent girls is a powerful approach to disrupting the cycle of poverty. Today, Just Like My Child Foundation is focused on its mission to empower vulnerable adolescent girls by enabling them to create healthy, self-sustaining families who prosper without further aid. Learn more about their quest to transform the world, one girl at a time, at www.JustLikeMyChild.org.