Raise Money for Yourself, Others, or Charities with GoFundMe
Name: GoFundMe (Visit GoFundMe)
Type: Crowdfunding Platform
Best Website For: Crowdfunding
Reason it's on The Best Sites:
GoFundMe is the most popular way of crowdfunding. With it, you can make a page and have others (even strangers) donate to your cause.
A GoFundMe Studios Original Production
Gabi Angelini is your average teenager. She loves hanging out with her family and friends and whipping up new recipes in the kitchen. And a year ago, as a recent high school graduate, she was also on the job hunt.
But unlike other people her age, Gabi had something big working against her in the job search. From interview to interview, she just couldn’t shake it: No one wanted to hire a worker with Down syndrome.
In the United States, four out of five people with disabilities are unemployed—and not for lack of trying. Many employers are not willing to hire them for fear of lowered productivity, extra training, or their own personal biases.
“Last summer, I was trying to get a job. But they didn’t hire me because I have a disability,” says Gabi.
“She applied to several jobs over the summer, and everyone said no,” says Gabi’s mom, Mary. “So that just solidified that if I want her to be successful, we’re gonna have to make it happen.”
When Gabi turned 18, Mary sat her down to discuss her future: “Gabi’s always been talking about owning a restaurant since she was a little girl… So I said, ‘How do you feel about a coffee shop and baked goods?’ And she said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
From there, Gabi’s Grounds was born.
If all goes to plan, Gabi’s Grounds will be a coffee shop in Gabi’s hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, which will employ other people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The idea may sound risky, but the business model is already working. In January 2016, a coffeeshop called Bitty & Beau’s in nearby Wilmington opened with the same premise. They started in a 500-square-foot facility and in less than a year expanded to a 5,000-square-foot space due to popularity. Today, they have two locations and employ over 60 people with disabilities.
To realize her own coffee shop dream, Gabi requires financial support. So with her mom’s help, she started a GoFundMe for Gabi’s Grounds.
To date, Gabi’s GoFundMe has raised almost $2,000—enough to get the ball rolling and partner with a local coffee shop. They made a special blend for her called Gabi’s Grounds, which she sells to raise money for the storefront.
Gabi says that she hopes every cup of her coffee is like a warm hug. And she already has a great workforce: her friends.
“It’s important to invite my disability friends to come work with me,” says Gabi. “We’re gonna have a fun time together and sing and dance a lot.”
Ultimately, Gabi aims to raise $200,000, which is enough to secure a storefront and get her business off the ground. She hopes that donors will help her and her friends show the world that people with disabilities are not just great workers but also an asset to businesses—and the world.
Special thanks to Gabi and Mary.
A GoFundMe Studios Original Production
“When I read that I’ve given someone a smile, I just bloom inside.”
Patsy, otherwise known as “Grandma Pat,” is 85 years young. She grew up during the Great Depression and survived breast cancer as an adult. Yet none of that prepared her for what she’d become in her golden years: an Instagram star.
A few years ago, Patsy’s three adult granddaughters started filming her sweetest and silliest moments to share with the world. Strangers from all over tuned in to watch Patsy sing and dance without a care in the world and get their daily dose of uplifting advice:
“May your Monday be full of new possibilities. May your week be full of joy. May your month be full of care. And may your year be full of love towards yourself and others.”
But then, last December, Patsy’s beloved husband Al passed away.
Al had been Patsy’s biggest supporter for decades. He never let her leave the house without kissing her goodbye, and he always put a smile on her face. Rather than dwell on her loss, Patsy decided to honor Al’s kind and generous spirit in a fitting way.
So on Random Acts of Kindness Day in February, Patsy started a GoFundMe in Al’s memory to erase the lunch debt of a local school.
Thanks to Seattle dad Jeff Lew, who started a GoFundMe to eliminate school lunch debt in his child’s school district, “lunch debt” and “lunch shaming” have been hot topics in the news.
Many people have been surprised to learn that 76% of U.S. schools have lunch debt and “lunch shame” students by singling them out with hand stamps or cold cheese sandwiches. Some schools won’t even let graduates collect their diplomas if they have unpaid lunch debt.
To Patsy, lunch debt and shaming hit very close to home.
“When I was a child, it was during the Depression,” she says. “I was born in ’32, and when I started going to school, the government provided a graham cracker and a carton of milk. And that was kind of like our breakfast. But we were separated from the rest of the group, so it made us feel different.”
“These kids that I’m trying to help… I can relate to them, and I can empathize with them. It’s just my way of giving back what’s been given to me.”
To date, Patsy’s GoFundMe has raised over $2,000 to pay off the lunch debt of Grant Elementary, a local school in her area. She hopes to raise a total of $11,000—enough to pay off the school’s entire lunch debt and help the kids start school next year with a blank slate and full bellies.
Special thanks to Grandma Pat and her granddaughters.
GoFundMe Heroes celebrates the everyday people who do extraordinary things on GoFundMe.
Every day, 77-year-old Willie Ortiz scours his town for scrap metal, loads up his truck, and sells it — for cat food.
For the past 24 years, he has been the guardian angel for cats in his town. Every night, Willie spends three hours laying out food, building winter shelters, and shuttling cats to the vet. He has singlehandedly helped thousands of feral cats get fed and fixed—and transformed his community. And all it took was scrap metal, some muscle, and a mission.
A quarter century ago, Willie was at an auto body shop in Hartford, Connecticut. He noticed a cat wandering around, rubbing against the workers’ legs for attention. But rather than respond with affection, they kicked the cat and treated it like a pest. Willie had always been an animal lover, but at that moment, he realized he had to do more.
From that day on, Willie became a guardian angel for feral cats.
He started small—taking cans of food to cat colonies in the darkness of night, when they’re more likely to roam.
But he also realized that without population control, the cats would continue to multiply. So Willie started catching them one by one to get spayed or neutered and vaccinated.
Over time, Willie added more stops to his nightly rounds as he discovered new cat colonies in and around Hartford. And with that came more expenses.
To cover costs, Willie began collecting scrap metal to sell during the day when he wasn’t working as a welder at Hartford Hospital.
Years passed, and Willie continued his nightly rounds—only skipping nights when conditions would endanger the cats. “If it snows more than three inches, I don’t go because I don’t want them getting their bellies wet and cold,” he says. “But I’ll go the next night and feed them double.”
He started making “cubby holes” for the cats to keep them warm in the snowy New England winters. He took pregnant mothers to warm shelters to get them out of the cold and help their kittens get adopted. And when he found friendly cats, he brought them to a friend, who found them forever homes.
Willie quickly became known in his community as the go-to expert for feral cats. If people spotted a new colony near their homes or businesses, they called up Willie. And despite his increasing age and dwindling scrap metal funds, he refused to turn anyone down. He’d make it work, somehow.
Then one day, Willie met Kathleen Schlentz.
Kathleen also worked at Hartford Hospital and had heard about a man who fed the cat colony behind their building. Leaving work one day, she spotted Willie and struck up a conversation. She noticed that he had several cats in the back of his truck to take to the vet, and she made a donation on the spot. From that day on, Willie and Kathleen became close friends.
On several occasions after having dinner at each other’s house with their spouses, Kathleen joined Willie on his feeding runs. By that point, Willie had 16 stops around Hartford that spanned 22 miles and took three hours to complete. Every 10 days, he spent $400 on cat food alone.
Willie wasn’t getting any younger, and collecting scrap wasn’t getting easier. Kathleen realized that he would need help to continue his decades-long mission. So in 2016, she started a GoFundMe for Willie.
Over the past two years, the GoFundMe has raised over $40,000, enough to improve security for Willie’s mission and help him replace his beat-up ’88 truck with a used pickup for making his nightly rounds. Money only goes to the cats, as his and his wife’s personal expenses are covered by his pension—and he pays for associated costs like gas out of his own pocket.
Though he is now 77, Willie continues to collect, strip, and sell scrap metal daily to pay for his cats’ expenses. He is constantly worried about money running out, so he only uses donations to the GoFundMe to supplement his scrap earnings.
Now, Kathleen hopes to surprise Willie with her new fundraising goal, which will secure his mission for years to come and allow him to get more cats spayed, neutered, and vaccinated—all of which costs $40 per cat.
Since starting his mission, Willie says, “I don’t find any more babies freezing in the snow or getting hit by cars. The population is down, but there is still a problem with cats not getting neutered and spayed.”
“I tell God he has to give me not nine but ten lives so that I can keep doing this.”
Though Willie is concerned about running out of money to help his cats, he always has faith. He even scrapped his plans to retire in Florida so that he could continue to provide for his cats. Willie hopes that he will be around for them for a long time, but in the event of his passing, any remaining funds will go to no-kill shelters.
Whatever the future holds, there is no doubt that Willie has made an incredible impact on his community. To date, Willie has helped thousands of cats get fed and fixed. And with donors’ support, he could reach even more.
Azalea & Mitiku
A GoFundMe Studios Original Production
In 2010, baby Azalea was adopted by an American family. Last year, her parents discovered that she had a twin—and he was still in Ethiopia. This is their story.
Azalea (born Mitike) and her twin brother Mitiku were born in a small remote village in Ethiopia. Shortly after, their mother became very sick and passed away. Then, baby Azalea’s body started failing due to malnutrition. The grief and worry were more than her young father Ashoro could bear. He found Mitiku a home with relatives and put Azalea up for adoption so that she could find a brighter future with better access to medical care.
Halfway across the world in Portland, Oregon, lived Sophie and Mark. The young couple had recently adopted a baby girl, but they had more room in their hearts and home for another child. So they began the adoption search again and discovered a little girl named Azalea.
Sophie and Mark flew to Ethiopia to bring their new daughter home. While there, they had a chance to meet with Ashoro, who communicated his gratitude through hugs, kisses, and smiles.
With the help of two interpreters, Sophie and Mark were able to glean pieces of Azalea’s story. But for every two minutes Ashoro spoke, only two sentences were translated back to them in English. Somehow, a big piece of the puzzle was lost in translation: Sophie and Mark never learned that Azalea had a twin.
That is, until January 2017, when a transcript from an interview with Azalea’s birth family arrived at Sophie’s office. She read the letter and was shocked to learn about Mitiku.
“After consulting with an adoption counselor, I told Azalea the next day,” said Sophie. “She was beaming with joy. It was like she had always known.”
Once Azalea learned the truth, all she could think about was meeting her brother for the first time.
For her parents, the reunion took on a special meaning, too. In 2013, Sophie delivered twin boys, Armand and Cyprien, who were born premature and passed away. So when Sophie and Mark learned that Azalea had a twin, it was a powerful moment, and they felt a calling to care for Mitiku:
“I feel deeply in my prayers that [Azalea] and Mitiku’s birth mother in heaven is happy that her children will soon be reunited,” said Sophie. “I like to think that she watches over our twin boys Armand and Cyprien in heaven while we will do our best to watch over her twins on earth.”
Sophie decided that she and Azalea would travel to Ethiopia to meet Mitiku. Flights, immunizations, and visas would be expensive, so they started a GoFundMe to help Azalea and Mitiku reunite.
With the help of donors, they raised over $3,500 to send Azalea, Sophie, and a photographer friend to Ethiopia for the reunion. In January 2018, they arrived.
The reunion was joyous between Sophie, Azalea, and Ashoro, and they all embraced. But throughout the trip, Mitiku was shy, nervous, and scared. Something wasn’t right.
“When we first met Mitiku, I thought he was just very shy,” said Sophie. “But I realized he was just the way Azalea was when she was two years old—confused by the environment and attached to adults. I saw all this behavior and understood that like Azalea, Mitiku is most likely hearing impaired.”
When Azalea was two, she was very shy and avoided other children and noisy environments. “She appeared to be in her own bubble, beating to her own drum, not in tune with the world around her,” said Sophie. “I wondered if she might be on the autism spectrum.”
But in 2013, they learned that Azalea had bilateral moderate hearing loss, meaning that she could only hear 50% of normal conversations, even when standing two feet from the speaker. So when Azalea got outfitted with her first custom hearing aids, it changed her life.
Azalea could hear birds chirping for the first time. She could understand her peers. And she could advocate for herself. Every year of school, she starts with a class show-and-tell about hearing loss to educate her classmates. Now, Azalea’s presentation is used district-wide.
In her spare time, Azalea also makes charms that attach to hearing aids. She has donated hundreds of them to her audiologist, who says they’ve helped many young patients feel more excited about wearing their hearing aids.
Being able to hear and communicate changed everything for Azalea. Now, she wants the same for Mitiku.
Sophie and Azalea hope to raise more money through a new GoFundMe to send Mitiku to an audiologist and enroll him in a school where he can receive the special attention he needs. Both of these changes would improve Mitiku’s life greatly, as he currently does not attend school.
They hope to raise $20,000, which will secure Mitiku in the school through graduation and pay for his medical treatment. Any additional funds raised will go to Azalea and Mitiku’s home village to help the children there as well.
Deal will expand the reach of world’s largest social fundraising platform
April 3, 2018 | Redwood City, CA — GoFundMe, the world’s largest social fundraising platform, today announced the company is acquiring personal fundraising site YouCaring, furthering the company’s mission to help people turn compassion into action.
During this transition, current YouCaring fundraisers can continue to collect donations and will have the opportunity to migrate to the GoFundMe platform with its world-class services. New fundraisers will launch on GoFundMe. The two companies are working together closely to ensure continuity of support to their respective user communities.
“GoFundMe and YouCaring share a common mission of making it easier than ever for people to get the support they need. With this acquisition, we strengthen our position as the place where more people can unite to make an impact far greater than they can on their own,” said Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe. “We’re excited to welcome the YouCaring community to GoFundMe’s global community of more than 50 million people and empower more changemakers to help make a difference in each other’s lives.”
YouCaring’s community will have access to GoFundMe’s best-in-class customer support, trust and safety teams, and donor protection backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee.
“Since 2011, YouCaring has helped hundreds of thousands of people raise over $1 billion to face hardship,” said Dan Saper, YouCaring’s CEO. “We are excited for the communities of YouCaring and GoFundMe to join and make a larger impact as one collective giving community.”
The announcement comes after a year of continued growth and major milestones for GoFundMe, including the company’s entrance into the nonprofit fundraising space with the acquisition and launch of Crowdrise by GoFundMe, rapid international expansion to 19 countries, and the recent move to a free platform for organizers. Now, with the acquisition of YouCaring, GoFundMe will continue the momentum, empowering more people to make a difference by making fundraising more efficient and effective.
The deal was signed on April 2, 2018 and is expected to close by the end of this week. SunTrust Robinson Humphrey served as exclusive financial advisor to YouCaring.
Launched in 2010, GoFundMe is the world’s largest free social fundraising platform, with over $5 billion raised so far. With a community of more than 50 million donors, GoFundMe is changing the way the world gives. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
GoFundMe Kid Heroes celebrates the kids who are using GoFundMe to change their communities and the world.
“Our little soldier is fighting cancer, but her focus isn’t on herself—it’s on helping other kids endure.”
Last August, 6-year-old Jenny Shaw was taking a bath when her parents discovered two masses near her rib cage. They thought it might be a stomach problem, so they took her to the emergency room. There, they received the worst possible news: Little Jenny had cancer.
Jenny’s quick trip to the hospital turned into a four-night stay. Fortunately, her family lived close enough to visit and make her hospital room feel like home. But Jenny noticed that a lot of other kids had few comforts—or even visitors. And she didn’t think that was right. So Jenny started a movement to bring joy to kids in the hospital and let them know they’re not alone.
Jenny has Wilms tumor, a cancer in the kidneys that mainly affects young kids. It’s common for kids with Wilms tumor to be asymptomatic, which means that if Jenny’s parents hadn’t felt the masses on her belly, things could have gotten a lot worse.
“There was nothing to tell us anything was wrong,” says Jenny’s father, Mike. “We thought we would go to the hospital and just get her a prescription. But when the doctors detected cancer, it ended up being a 4-day ordeal. We didn’t anticipate bringing a bag or toothpaste or anything.”
Fortunately for Jenny, her family lived just 15 minutes away from the hospital in Rochester, NY. It was easy for them to visit and bring her necessities like toothpaste and comforting toys.
But many of the kids on Jenny’s floor had families from all over upstate New York. Some even lived 8 hours away.
“Jenny would see a lot of kids in their hospital rooms by themselves, and it made her sad. So she said, ‘Daddy, what can we do for them?’”
The Shaw family motto is “Give back.” Ever since Jenny was a toddler, her parents took her and her three older siblings to serve Thanksgiving meals at The Salvation Army and donate clothes to Goodwill. The message was: “We’re not a community of one. We’re a community of everyone.”
So when Jenny noticed that other kids didn’t have the same support system she did, she knew she had to give back—even in her own time of greatest need. That day, Jenny decided to make care bags for kids in the hospital, and she started a GoFundMe to bring her idea to life.
Jenny calls her bags “survival kits” because they contain necessities like soap, warm socks, coloring books, crayons, toothbrushes, and even a handmade beanie for kids going through chemotherapy—complete with a knit jelly bean in honor of her family nickname, “Jenny Bean.”
With the help of donors, Jenny’s GoFundMe raised over $2,800, enough to give over 40 survival kits and 100 toys to kids in the hospital over the holidays. Jenny now hopes to raise even more money to make sure every kid at the hospital has a survival kit.
And she’s not stopping there. Jenny has proven time and time again that she’s a superhero. (She loves to run and even completed the kid’s portion of a marathon the day after her first chemo treatment.) Now, Jenny is working with her parents to write a book for kids with cancer to help them cope with chemotherapy and let them know, “You’re not different because something’s bad about you. You’re still important and valuable.”
Jenny’s strength gives her parents courage, too. “This experience has just made her so strong,” says Mike. “The things I’ve seen her endure… My wife and I just look at each other and go, ‘Where did this kid come from?’ She has a purpose so beyond what we’ve seen today.”
As a family, they have learned to celebrate every day—especially Jenny’s treatment days: “You don’t have to wait for birthdays or holidays. It can be having ice cream on the back porch together. It can be getting down in the grass and playing with the kids.
“You can’t take any moment for granted. If today’s a good day, we celebrate today. And we’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.”
Jenny’s parents hope that her story sparks a larger conversation about childhood cancer, too. “One of the things that has been so powerful about GoFundMe is not just the financial resources but also the awareness it creates and the community it brings together. We’ve found that people want to give back and be a part of the journey.
“There is no prevention for childhood cancer. But we can all do something to bring more awareness and help these incredible kids.”
Special thanks to Jenny, the Shaw family, and all the kid heroes out there.
Krissy Mae Cagney | Reps for Recovery
A GoFundMe Studios Original Production
“I was 24 years old, having alcohol-induced seizures, and the doctor…he told me if I ever drank again, I was going to die.”
On May 28, 2013, Krissy Mae Cagney woke up in a hospital bed. The doctors told her that she had symptoms typical of a middle-aged alcoholic. She was just 24. If she didn’t turn her life around, her body would give up on her. That day, Krissy made the decision to finally get sober. And five years later, she’s helping hundreds of recovering addicts do the same—one deadlift at a time.
Like many teenagers, Krissy battled with insecurities. She felt uncomfortable in social situations—especially at parties. So to relax and feel like she belonged, she drank. And to force her body to stay skinny, she did cocaine.
But the more she drank and used, the more uncomfortable and insecure she became, so she drank and used more—and so began a decade-long spiral into abuse and addiction.
“There were 10 years of jail, rehab, mistakes,” says Krissy. “30% of my life.”
So that day in the hospital when Krissy realized she was gambling with her life, it had been a long time coming. She knew that she had to get sober but couldn’t do it alone, so she turned to an old love: fitness.
In high school, Krissy signed up for a strength and conditioning class. She learned proper form and grew stronger by the day. There in the weight room, competing only against herself, she felt at home.
After high school, Krissy started working at the front desk of a gym. Over the years, she slowly worked her way up to an instructor and, finally, a personal trainer. She started doing CrossFit and competitive powerlifting, and she quickly became well-known in the industry.
But all the while, Krissy was still binge drinking and using. She may have looked fit and healthy on the outside, but that was far from the truth inside. So when Krissy made the commitment to become sober, she also decided to prioritize her entire wellbeing. The addiction never left her, but day by day, she made it through.
Eventually, Krissy became a highly sought-after trainer. She released eBooks on training and nutrition and started an apparel company on the side. But no matter how much she earned, she never felt happy. She wanted to use her own journey to help others. So in 2015, she returned home and bought a gym to help other addicts in the city where her journey started: Reno, Nevada.
“The gym was the only thing through all of this that had power over the addiction and the alcoholism,” says Krissy. “I wanted to give that to as many people as I could in the city where I struggled.”
From day one, Krissy started handing out free Black Iron Gym memberships to recovering addicts that they could use for as long as they stayed sober. She called the program Reps for Recovery.
Among her trainees is a transgender man named Joey:
“I actually started drinking really heavily really young,” he says. “I was probably maybe 12 or 13…
“I had no one. So I was like, where can I go that I can try to be Joey without people making me feel like I’m a monster?”
Black Iron Gym was the answer. And he thanks Krissy every day:
“I wouldn’t be at this point in my life if it wasn’t for you. Seriously. And I mean that with all my heart.”
Not all Black Iron Gym members started their journeys in addiction like Joey. Others found themselves addicted to drugs by accident:
One man says his drug of choice was “prescription pills, which is a big problem in my area. The first year I was actually prescribed it, and I blacked out the entire year. I took it as prescribed as it said on the bottle, and I don’t remember anything from 2014.”
He views Black Iron Gym a necessary outlet for recovery: “It gives people something that they can constantly do. You can go to the gym and put all your aggression or anxieties into lifting”—instead of drugs and alcohol.
Over the years, Krissy helped over 100 recovering addicts get sober and stay sober. But in 2017, she could no longer pay the gym’s bills.
Krissy went to her accountant to figure out the gym’s finances, and he diagnosed the problem: she couldn’t afford to keep handing out free memberships, or the gym would fold.
But Krissy couldn’t give up on her people, many of whom relied on the gym to stay sober. So, Krissy says, “I started a GoFundMe the next day.”
The results stunned her. “Overnight, $14,000 came in to help these people,” says Krissy. “I remember just sitting in front of my computer sobbing tears of joy that for the first time in my life, I see complete strangers wanting to support addicts.”
Krissy’s GoFundMe raised enough to keep her free memberships alive for her current members through 2017. Now, she continues to raise money through her GoFundMe to help even more addicts get back on their feet.
Krissy’s goal amount would help 140 to 180 people get free memberships for 6 months. She says that at the 6-month mark, most of these members are able to start paying for themselves.
“I know it’s going to be a really long road because it already has been,” Krissy says. “But the fact that complete strangers are donating money to me through GoFundMe, I have so much faith and hope in this program.”
Special thanks to Krissy and everyone at Black Iron Gym.
Krissy Mae Cagney | Reps for Recovery was originally published in Giving Matters: Notes From GoFundMe on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
How a legal “Justice League” is helping an innocent man get back on his feet after life in prison.
“He came out of prison with nothing — literally walked out with paper pants on.”
Zavion Johnson was 19 years old when he was incarcerated for the second-degree murder of his baby daughter Nadia. After more than a decade and a half behind bars, he left a free man after a judge threw out his sentence.
Now, at 34 years old, Zavion must start from scratch, and his attorney Khari Tillery and the rest of his legal team are helping him find his way on the outside.
“People want someone to blame when a baby dies,” says Khari. “It’s anathema to us as a society.”
In 2001, Zavion was holding his baby Nadia after a bath when she slipped out of his arms and her head hit the back of the cast-iron bathtub. Two days later, Zavion and his girlfriend Racquel Wynn’s baby girl was taken off life support.
It was a tragic, devastating accident that took a beloved child from her parents. Based on the medical consensus at the time, which has since been undermined, authorities were concerned that Nadia’s internal head injuries were the result of so-called “shaken baby syndrome.”
The day Zavion buried his daughter, he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and assault on a child resulting in death.
During his trial, he maintained his innocence, and more than a dozen witnesses testified that Zavion was a gentle, caring father. But they were no match for the overwhelming medical evidence of shaken baby syndrome that seemed conclusive — and the jury agreed.
Zavion was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
In addition to getting his GED, training as an electrician, and devouring self-improvement books, Zavion spent his time in prison tirelessly working on his case. He pored over court files and dug into forensic research that would help show that Nadia’s injuries were consistent with an accidental fall.
Over the course of a decade in prison, Zavion filed five habeas corpus petitions — all were denied. But his years of careful work started to finally pay off when, in 2012, the Northern California Innocence Project became interested in his case.
“The amazing thing about representing people in prison is that they remember everything,” says Khari.
“They notice everything. They have an intense focus that people on the outside don’t have. Time moves differently in prison — it moves slowly.”
This is a stark contrast to the high-powered, high-tech clients Khari usually interacts with in his job as a partner at the San Francisco law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters. And the stakes feel different as well.
“I tend to be more reserved with my pro-bono clients,” Khari explains. “I’m scared that I won’t be able to help them. It’s a tough thing to tell someone with a life sentence that there’s nothing you can do.”
He says he’s learned how to open up more with incarcerated clients from Paige Kaneb, Supervising Attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project and member of what Zavion calls “The Justice League,” a group of attorneys and a paralegal who have worked together for his exoneration.
This group of legal professionals carried on what Zavion started and were able to present new scientific information about shaken baby syndrome to the forensic experts who testified at his trial. The strength of the new evidence was such that the experts walked back their testimony — agreeing that Nadia’s injuries were consistent with a fall. The prosecutors conceded that Zavion’s conviction should be vacated, and on December 8, 2017, that’s exactly what the court did.
At last, Zavion was free.
“A lot of people assume that you get compensation if you’re wrongfully convicted,” says Khari. “But it’s not that simple.”
If there’s no way to definitively prove that you are innocent — say, with DNA evidence that someone else committed a crime — then the state currently does not owe exonerees any kind of financial remuneration.
To help Zavion begin his life again at age 34, Khari has started a GoFundMe. Right now, Zavion is living with a member of “The Justice League” in Hayward, California. He has no job, no car, no permanent place to live.
Khari hopes this GoFundMe will give Zavion “a little breathing room to figure out what to do with his life. He deserves it.”
“When you read the trial transcripts, there were 13 lay witnesses. Every single one testified that Zav was kind, gentle, loving. If you met him today, you would still describe him like that — after 16 years of prison.”
Khari marvels that Zavion “can come out and not be consumed by bitterness.”
“This is reflective of the human spirit, and how indomitable it is.”
To help Zavion start his new life, visit his GoFundMe.
To help other exonerees like Zavion, visit here.
Special thanks to Khari Tillery and the rest of The Justice League.
GoFundMe Heroes celebrates the everyday people who do extraordinary things on GoFundMe.https://medium.com/media/05c84f3b8f72b3833b2d1a84ac67db82/href
“My motto is: If no one ever told you that they love you today, Ms. Letitia loves you.”
Thirty years ago, Letitia Conliffe was living on the streets with her 1-year-old. Eventually, she recovered, but the problems in her community did not. Drugs, broken homes, and hopelessness plagued her town and the children in it. Letitia knew from experience where that path could lead. And she didn’t want that fate for anyone else. So she dedicated her life to saving the children of Sulphur Springs.
Letitia doesn’t have fond memories of her own childhood.
“My relationship with my mom was not a relationship. She couldn’t ever tell me she loved me,” she says. “I was told I wasn’t gonna be anybody, wasn’t going to amount to nothing.”
So Letitia lashed out and rebelled. She began running away from home, skipping school, and doing drugs. Eventually, she got pregnant, and her mom threw her out.
Letitia ended up living on the streets with her child. But even so, she swore that she would be a better mother to her own kids. Little did she know just how many kids would one day come to rely on her support…
In 2013, Letitia looked around her community of Sulphur Springs, TX, and saw that not much had changed. Drugs, alcohol, and gangs still ravaged families. Children still went to school hungry and stressed. And they grew up, lashed out, and started the cycle all over again.
Something had to change. So Letitia took matters into her own hands.
On the east side of Sulphur Springs is a playground called Pacific Park. There, Letitia created a makeshift daycare and after-school program for the children in her town. She provided food and a stable, welcoming environment for kids to do homework, play with friends, or simply get a hug.
Letitia quickly became known as “the mother of the park.” For four years, she ran Lil 4’s—named for her four daughters—with money from her own pocket and donations she collected going door to door.
In early 2017, a community member offered Letitia the chance to move Lil 4’s into a building for $500 per month. She jumped at the chance to provide a more permanent safe haven for her kids.
With the help of two other women, including her oldest daughter Chastity, Letitia provides a refuge for dozens of kids every day. She picks kids up from their homes in her own car, scours local garage sales for furnishings, and provides a hot meal and hug for every kid who walks through the door.
“I just want to give them a chance in life and let them know, ‘Whatever you go through, let Ms. Letitia go through it with you,’” she says.
One day, Lil 4’s caught the eye of Marc Maxwell, Sulphur Springs’ City Manager.
“From the minute I walked in, you could just feel the love in this building,” says Marc. “The stories were heartbreaking, what some of these kids have been through. But when they walk through this door, they’re gonna get a hot meal. That may be their last meal of the day—or maybe their only meal of the day.
“They’re gonna get told, ‘I love you.’ I’ve seen it happen when they come through the door, and they just cannot wait to hug Ms. Letitia.”
Marc also saw that Letitia was struggling to keep the lights on, a fact that she hid from the kids. She never wanted them to worry that their daily sanctuary might be in jeopardy.
So Marc started asking around for help and connected with Colleen Hoover, a local author. Colleen had run a successful GoFundMe for another neighbor the year before and knew the difference it could make. So she started a GoFundMe for Lil 4’s.
In just a month, the GoFundMe raised over $20,000 to help Lil 4’s stay in business through the holidays and provide a Christmas meal and presents for over 20 families.
If the GoFundMe raises more money, Letitia hopes to buy a new van to transport kids, pay for repairs to the facility, and bring in guest speakers to show the kids what they can accomplish if they stay on track.
And the kids couldn’t be more grateful.
When asked how he feels about Lil 4’s, one boy said, “I feel great. My heart just gets bigger and bigger every time I’m here.”
Emily, a high school honors student, credits her success to Lil 4’s: “Letitia has created a place where there’s no judgement, where you can come and be happy no matter how your day was.”
Letitia has helped an entire generation stay off the streets and open their hearts and minds. Her love has allowed the kids of Sulphur Springs to love in return. But there’s still more work to be done.
“All my life, I felt that I was never gonna amount to anything. But I sit and say, ‘Look at me now,’” says Letitia. “But I still have to climb that mountain. It ain’t over with yet.”
Just $20 feeds every kid at Lil 4’s for a day. $300 pays the light bill, and $500 secures their space for another month. To Letitia and the kids of Sulphur Springs, every dollar makes a difference.
GoFundMe Heroes celebrates the everyday people who do extraordinary things on GoFundMe.
“If all you see in life is despair and ugly but one day you see beauty, it’s going to affect you. That’s what these gardens have done for my community.”
Ron Finley grew up in South Central, a Los Angeles neighborhood known to most of the news-watching world as a center of gang violence. But Ron knew that wasn’t the full picture. The problems with South Central weren’t just in the streets but in the grocery stores, too. So Ron rolled up his sleeves, grabbed his shovel, and started a revolution.
South Central is infamous for poverty, gang violence, and riots. In fact, the name “South Central” became so synonymous with “bad news” that the city renamed it “South Los Angeles” in 2003. But despite the name change, the community’s problems persisted.
And one of those problems was food. The stuff that nourishes you, fills your belly, and powers you through a long day of work or school. But in South LA, the food was failing.
South LA is in what’s called a food desert, an urban area where it’s hard to find fresh produce at a reasonable price—or even at all. Instead? There’s junk food, fast food, and processed food, which have led to rising obesity rates.
On several occasions, Ron would drive 45 minutes just to find a grocery store with affordable healthy options. And he got fed up. So in 2010, he took his community’s health into his own hands and started a garden.
Between the sidewalks and the streets of South LA are narrow strips of grass. The city requires that property owners maintain these strips, but they didn’t say to what extent. So Ron turned his into a community garden.
“I first started gardening in elementary school,” says Ron. “I’d take seeds and put them in a jar, watch them bust open and destroy itself, and finally become a bean plant. But they didn’t tell us we could put it in the ground and actually make food.”
At home, Ron’s family had a real garden. They grew flowers like tall, fragrant snapdragons and even some food like peanuts.
“It taught me the magic that is soil,” he says.
So when the time came, Ron shared that magic with his community.
With the help of friends and neighbors, he revitalized unused land throughout South LA.
Families helped out and collected food to take home. Kids grabbed fruit on the way to school. Street corners transformed overnight… and then the city stepped in.
They gave Ron a citation for altering public lands and ordered him to remove the gardens—the new source of hope for his community. He refused. The citation turned into a fine and eventually, a warrant for his arrest. When word spread, Ron became known as the Gangsta Gardener.
Not one to give up, Ron started a petition, took the fight to City Hall, and got the law changed. But the obstacles didn’t stop there.
By 2017, Ron had leased and developed a piece of land into a thriving “food forest” that he called HQ.
HQ was the heartbeat of his movement, and it was under attack. Management changed, and the new property owners wanted Ron out. So one of his friends started a GoFundMe to save HQ.
In just three months, they successfully raised over $500k to buy the garden and secure its future for good.
With HQ no longer under threat, Ron now has time to turn his attention to another area of need: education.
“Growing up, I was dyslexic. I didn’t learn the way I was being taught,” says Ron. “I realized school wasn’t for me. It was like being indoctrinated but not getting knowledge. I missed out.”
So now as a successful businessman and activist, Ron wants to support the schools that help kids like him. And that starts with SEA charter schools.
“For a lot of these kids, it’s their last shot. They’re poor foster kids and kids kicked out of their last schools. They needed someone to spot them at an early age and say, ‘No, this kid needs this.’ And that’s what SEA does,” says Ron.
His organization The Ron Finley Project built a garden in one of SEA’s schools, and it’s already making a difference: “We’re in a city, so a lot of times people haven’t been exposed to plants. If you ask a child where food comes from, they raise their hand and say, ‘A store’…The kids at SEA walk into school and head back to check on their garden first thing. These gardens are changing lives.”
Now, Ron hopes to bring gardens to each of SEA’s 17 educational centers. And he started a new GoFundMe to bring his vision to life.
For every $10k raised, the Ron Finley Project will be able to build, supply, and maintain a new garden. Funds also go toward gardening tools and instruction so kids can learn skills that they will carry with them forever.
All of this is a part of Ron’s vision: “a world where gardening is gangsta, where barren land and littered lots are transformed into lush gardens, gardens into healthy food, and healthy food into revenue that turns individuals into entrepreneurs and ultimately leads to self reliance.”
But it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s practical. And every day, Ron sees its impact:
“We’re changing cultures through soil. We’re living in joy. Collectively, we can change everything.”
If Ron’s story inspires you, please 👏🏽 and share.