Behind every organization, there stands a leader: a passionate individual who, for personal reasons, is compelled to invest his or her time, money, and sweat equity into building something that will impact the lives of others.
Debbi Weinberg is one such individual. Ten years ago, Debbi founded Girls’ Empowerment Mission (GEM), empowering high school girls from under-served communities through extracurricular development, education, and growth experiences.
Now, after a decade of service, GEM has transformed the lives of more than 100 girls.
IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
To be the change I want to see in the world (borrowing this from Gandhi).
HOW HAS THIS WORK CHANGED YOU?
My work has changed me in so many ways and much more than I ever anticipated! I have grown so much and gained a deeper appreciation of social issues, locally and abroad, and how I can make an impact. Everyday, all the work I do reminds me how fortunate I am and that I am able to affect change in our world.
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING?
I believe that you receive much more from giving than you actually give. That said, I get SO much! I give from my wallet as well as from my heart. I am hands on and behind the scenes. I am so lucky that my profession is my volunteerism and my volunteerism is my job! I am afforded the opportunity to use my creativity to brainstorm and help come up with solutions to affect change. I have met so many amazing, like-minded people giving back. Most of my closest friends are people who also give of themselves in so many ways. I am inspired by so many and this humbles me and pushes me to do even more for the causes I champion.
WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE?
Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone is my living hero, and I would love to have the opportunity to sit down with him and ask him “ What would you do differently if you were to start over?”
WHAT EVERYDAY RESOURCES COULD HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR PHILANTHROPIC GOALS?
Volunteers and donors are what makes GEM (and most nonprofit programs) a success. I would like to see every single person in the world give of their time and/or from their bank accounts. Just imagine if every person did this.
WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY?
How can we all work together to help each other?
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE?
One at a Time. There is a story that I’ve told for years (taken from a Chicken Soup for the Soul Book) about a girl walking down the beach when she see’s thousands of starfish washed up on the shore. She immediately begins throwing each one back into the ocean so they will not dry up and die. After a few minutes, an old man comes up to her and says, “Young lady, what are you doing? You can’t possibly make a difference to all those starfish…” She picks one up and flings it into the ocean and says, “I made a difference to that one." This is my motto with the girls and individuals I help. One day I hope to write a book about all the students I have worked with and their inspirational stories.
TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC.
I’m pretty open so there’s not much I don’t share and what I’m unlikely to share in public, I’m just as unlikely to share here!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS?
Find a cause(s) and stick with it (them). Nonprofits really count on continued supporters. Help with your dollars and your time. It is truly an honor to be able to give. My life has been so enriched by helping others, so join me and give!
WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
QUESTION: Where did my desire to help others come from? ANSWER: I think my passion to give back came from being Jewish. I remember as a child learning about the Holocaust, and I felt at that time that no one should be discriminated against or persecuted for who they are. Being from a religion that is often discriminated against, I’ve always championed causes that promote acceptance and help achieve equality. I also remember Trick or Treat for Unicef and how good it felt to be collecting money for children in need instead of collecting candy.
• The original article includes a video produced for Talking GOOD by Craig Weisbaum of Talking Tree Creative, which offers an up-close look at what makes Debbi tick and why GEM has been as much a gift in her own life as it has been for the girls in the program.