We can all see struggle and hardship in the world, and we all want to make a difference. But how do we get our ideas off the ground and give back in authentic, effective ways?
Autumn Strier had a grand vision to help families in need, and she now lives in service of that vision every day. She’s the founder and CEO of Miracles for Kids, an organization I discovered a few months back and immediately started supporting. They help families with critically ill children fight bankruptcy, homelessness, hunger and depression, giving them the resources and strength they need to fight for their kids’ lives.
Thanks to you and everyone who supported The Miracle Morning Movie, we donated $9,200 from the ticket sales, and committed to donate an additional $1,000 per month, every month.
Today, Autumn and I are talking about how the kindness and generosity of others can help people build the lives they want, what happens when you get over self-doubt and believe in yourself, and the powerful ripple effect that you can create when you discover how you can best give back.
- How Autumn turned a family friend’s unused employee contribution fund and tax I.D. letter into a thriving nonprofit despite already having a full-time job, a traveling husband, a two-year-old, and a baby weeks away from being born with a critical illness.
- Why people considering starting charities should look for a unique angle and be ready to pivot – just like if you’re launching a business.
- What Miracles For Kids is doing to help families during the pandemic – and how you can support this wonderful organization.
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Hal Elrod: Autumn, it is great to be with you again.
Autumn Strier: It's nice to see you. Great to be here.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, absolutely. So, you and I spoke. It's been less than a week and I got to hear your story and I was so inspired. I said I want you to share that story on the podcast. And the context for our conversation today, I discovered Miracles for Kids a few months back and started supporting the charity finance. I really believe in the work that you guys and gals are doing, but the way that I was so inspired by your story and I thought, "Gosh, most of us or many of us, we want to make a difference in the world." We see tragedy, we see hardship, and we want to make a difference. A lot of great ideas but most of us never get those grand ideas off the ground. However, you did. You are actually living a vision that you created so long ago helping families in need. And so, what I wanted to ask you to start us out today is how did you become the person that you did that created Miracles for Kids? Where did the idea come from? Where did your inspiration, your resolve, how did you become that person?
Autumn Strier: Gosh, that's a huge question but I thank you for it. I have met people who would love to do something similar and I certainly say, "Hey, go right for it." It wasn't something that I necessarily thought of as a child. I just was on the receiving side of charity and on the giving side but I grew up in an area where nothing was handed to you. You know, I've been working since I was 10 and I had some things going on with family and I bounced around a little bit. I was in a position to benefit from the kindness of others and not because I asked for it but simply because there are generous and kind people in the world who saw a 10, 11, 12, 15-year-old really struggling. And this world is very difficult, right? It's difficult to survive. And when you're little, you don't necessarily know what to do. I think I learned very young that it is the generosity and the kindness of others that helps keep you on track, and then from there, it's up to you to build the life you want. So, I went after it pretty early, and then I went to school for it. You know, I got a full ride, applied for everything that you could for financial aid, and was blessed enough to get into UC Santa Barbara, where I love political science. So, I studied that and I worked full time for non-profits the entire time and really delved more into how things work and found out that I have an affinity for it, not just building missions and helping others, which is what fills my soul, but I love to build things. I love to build programs and I love for those programs to affect real change. And so, that's really how it all got started.
Hal Elrod: Wow. So, you were on the receiving side of charity growing up and created that paradigm, that the generosity of others really makes a difference and it made a difference in your life.
Autumn Strier: Very much so.
Hal Elrod: And so, that gives some great context around or some great background. I'd love to know where specifically, now that we have kind of an idea of, okay, who is Autumn, where specifically did you get the idea or the inspiration for Miracles for Kids, that exact charity, and what you are doing today?
Autumn Strier: So, I'll jump back into my childhood a little bit, and this is actually sort of a fun story. The not so fun part is that I have been working since I was 10. I am an only child of a single mother who battled depression and some other very serious things like addiction when she was very, very young so I bounced around a lot. And I lived with my grandparents for a certain amount of time and I needed to earn money. And I had a seventh grade English teacher who was pregnant, thought it was the coolest thing in the world and I figured she would need a babysitter. And I promise this will make sense in a couple of minutes. She needed a babysitter and I became this sort of surrogate family member to this wonderful couple, both who worked in the education system. And I became their sort of take-along babysitter, their housekeeper, their whatever, and right now, I would consider the two boys that she ended up having little brothers of mine, we're still very close, but I would travel with them. And the point of me saying that is because her name was Martha or Marty, and Marty had a younger brother and his name is Curtis, and Curtis was in the mortgage industry.
And so, you fast forward years of being on family trips where I knew Curtis and took care of Curtis' nephews, go to college, go to graduate school, move back East, do a bunch of stuff, and then all of a sudden, it's time to move to Orange County from New York, where I had been for 10 years. And that's where the start of Miracles begins because it was when I moved back here, having finished graduate work in public service, having served for the City of New York, and then I was at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society doing their lobbying down in DC, I was bringing that job back here to California. And Curtis had a very successful mortgage company and they had an employee contribution program. When I moved here, Curtis said, "Hey, we're doing so well and I have no time but we have this employee contribution fund and it's a fund for our employees. Why don't you take the tax I.D. letter and make a nonprofit out of it?" So, I said no. I said, "Absolutely not. I already have a job. I have a traveling husband. I already have a two-year-old," and by the way, I was pregnant nine months with number two.
Hal Elrod: Oh, wow.
Autumn Strier: And then I went home and I thought about it and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I could raise a family, I could build a nonprofit, knowing what I know about the importance of charity. And I can do it with a little bit of the red tape out of the way, right? There's already a tax I.D. number. So, for someone like me who loves Excel spreadsheets and business and all of that sort of seemed like a win-win. So, I did it. And that's how it started.
Hal Elrod: Wow. You know, what I love about that story is it's like any one of our stories that you can never predict what's going to happen. You could have never predicted that that opportunity would present itself. But I think that often for most of us when an opportunity presents itself, are you proactive? Do you take action or do you think, "Nah, I've never done that before," which I think too many of us do? We doubt ourselves and...
Autumn Strier: We don't believe, right? We don't believe in ourselves. You don't believe in the miracles, the impossible. I've always and I don't know where I got it from and I'm trying to instill it into my three teenagers that I have, but the idea that, "Hey, so what? That mountain is massive, and you have no idea how to get there but you put one foot in front of the other anyway." And Curtis he's still family. He's still on the board. He's a co-founder. He's a board member. He's a volunteer. I mean it takes more than just that desire. It takes infecting everybody with your excitement about it, too, and then getting them along for the ride. That helps.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. What year did you start Miracles for Kids?
Autumn Strier: So, let's see. He asked me on my birthday of 2004, so that's December 4th and, number two, I was born January 18th so the following month, and then here's the interesting part to that story. So, when Charlotte was born, we didn't know if she was going to be stillborn or not. She had stopped growing in utero at 32 weeks. It was very scary. And when she was born, after five days, she stopped breathing and I ended up at CHOC Children's Hospital, which is a leading children's hospital here in Southern California. And there was in the room next to me a family with a young boy battling leukemia and it was right then and there that the mission sort of came to me. I had a job, my husband had a job, and I was listening to families who are trying to figure out what to do when you are struggling financially because you're trying to survive with your child's illness. And that's how it sort of started.
Hal Elrod: That for me, personally, having been in the hospital, I've lived in two different hospitals in two different times, one when I was 20 with a car accident, one when I was 37 with cancer. And I remember I was very blessed at both times to have financial support and I just remember, especially in the recent one with cancer thinking meeting other families and just thinking in general, "Gosh, if I didn't have my income set up in a way that would pay our bills, I'm fighting for my life, I can't imagine the amount of stress I would have if I was fighting for my life and I didn't know how to pay the mortgage and my family was going to lose their home." And that's what resonated so much. Having been kind of on that side of it and then meeting families that were struggling financially and that I saw a lot of kids in the hospital and their parents were not with them except in the evenings and on the weekends because they were both working at the job. And so, when I discovered Miracles for Kids and what you do, it just, yeah, it spoke to me. It inspired me. In fact, in your words, what is the mission of Miracles for Kids? What are you most proud of? What is the work that you do and what do you feel the best about that?
Autumn Strier: You know, it's a very basic mission, right? So, Miracles for Kids provides support to low-income families with critically ill children so that they can stay focused on a stable family and caring for their critically ill child. So, our programs focus on preventing hunger, homelessness, bankruptcy, and depression. So, those are very, very core areas that we work on. Of course, we throw in some fun trips if we can do it, special moments for patients who might love a certain sports team or other areas. But honestly, for us, it's can we keep you housed on the table, gas in the car to get to the hospital? Can we do that for you so that you can be there for your child? That's what we focus on.
Hal Elrod: So important. If anybody is listening and they go, "Gosh, I'd love to start a nonprofit. I'd love to help people," do you have any advice for someone, and maybe the advice is don't start a nonprofit, go join one, I don't know, but I'm just wondering if anybody is listening and they're like, "Yeah, I want to be like Autumn when I grow up. I want to help people. I want to start a charity. I want to do something along those lines," what would your advice be?
Autumn Strier: You know, I guess it's a couple of things, so I believe that businesses are built to compete but charities are built to contribute. So, if I were in a community where I had a specific love or a passion for something, whether it be the oak tree, the spotted owl, the elderly puppies, I would check around to make sure that it wasn't a service that was already replicated. I think that's very important because a donor base is finite and you want to be successful. It's like a product and competitive product in a nonprofit world is crazy but you want to collaborate, not replicate. So, that would be the first thing that I would refer to, and I did that myself, too. And then I would just make sure that you really knew what you were trying to focus on for your outcomes. You know, for us, it's family stability all day long and in the middle of a pandemic, we launched therapy programs because the word stability changed. So, being dynamic, not being static, being able to move and shake, pivot, turn, whatever all these words are that we're using now, really fluctuating and making sure that you can be nimble when the world calls for you to do that. I mean, those two things will get you there and get you started.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I love what you said there. Businesses are built to compete. Charities are built to contribute. I love that. And I think that if actually more businesses took the contribution mindset and approach, I think they would do better and I think we'd have a different society. Do you have a favorite, I'm curious, just a favorite story or anyone that stands out of a Miracle for Kids recipient?
Autumn Strier: So, there's a lot of them. I can tell you about one that we were blessed enough to have on, on the local news here yesterday.
Hal Elrod: Oh, wow.
Autumn Strier: It's Heart Health Month, in case you didn't know that which, of course, you're not in my world. Every month has a title and something we can focus on. But this is Heart Health Month being February, Valentine's Day, and here at Miracles, we have a housing complex. It's located a half-mile from our local children's hospital and it's called Miracle Manor. And Miracle Manor is this incredibly special place. It's an enclosed 12-unit sanctuary, really, where families who are in extreme crisis move in for up to two years and we focus on their stability. We help them through homelessness, with bankruptcy, getting through difficult times. And we just had a new family move in, single mom, and the little girl's name is Ja'Nae, with a gorgeous name. And it just so happens that her middle name you won't believe this but it's true, I checked, the middle name is Miracle. Ja'Nae Miracle is this little girl's name.
Hal Elrod: Oh, wow.
Autumn Strier: I know. And she is what we call a heart baby. She has congenital heart failure and she had three surgeries, two more, and she's just now turned two. And so, the story of this little girl's energy, her happiness, she runs around Miracle Manor all day long. Her mom's chasing her. It's just this incredible story and they were homeless and unfortunately, Ja'Nae's dad was murdered. It's not a word I'd like to use but I believe he was caught up in I think he was at maybe a convenience store when there was a robbery. It was in Nevada. And so, you've got this mom, right, trying to make things work. She's lost her love and she's alone with a baby who in utero was diagnosed with heart failure. And so, the first two years of her life have been so tough and if I can think of a story, it's the story of what Miracle Manor and Miracles for Kids can do for a family like that to bridge them to stability. So, she's going to be with us for a couple of years and, in the meantime, we keep our eye on her. We're going to put food on their table and keep gas in the car and keep them in a safe apartment and talk to them every week, and that's what we do. We walk alongside all of our families. So, this is one of those stories and we just saw her on KTLA Good Day LA out here. It's this fun story of her energy and mom's positivity. It's just great. We just love it.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Oh, that's incredible. I'm curious. How does Miracle for Kids find that recipient or how did they find you?
Autumn Strier: Right. So, we're referral only actually so we serve several hospitals out here on the West Coast. So, even though we're based in Southern California, we serve families all the way up through the Bay Area. So, our social workers are the ones who refer families. We've gotten to know them. CHLA, Mattel Children's cover our L.A. families. Benioff Children's Hospital and Hospice by the Bay up in the Bay Area take care of a lot of our Sonoma County-based families. And then CHOC Children's, which is here in Orange County and it serves families as far out as Nevada, Arizona. And it's the social workers that first meet these families and they get to know them, and if they have a financial need or have been severely impacted, then they suggest that they fill out an application to Miracles for Kids. We have a full casework team here who receives applications every day and from that point then that family's referral becomes part of ours and we take them through the process and determine eligibility. If they are eligible and we've got enough funding, of course, we always have a waitlist, we can get these families in and start taking care of them.
Hal Elrod: Got it. And you said you founded this 2004, 2005 so it's been 15 years, give or take.
Autumn Strier: Yeah. 16, 17, I think. What do we, in 2021? I think the last year is a bit of a blur.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Last year doesn't count.
Autumn Strier: Last year doesn't. Yeah. It's 16, 17 years, I guess. A lot of growth. It started on my couch on a laptop with the toddler and a newborn. Here we are and we've got wonderful staff. We've got wonderful volunteers. It's been a fabulous adventure.
Hal Elrod: Now, do you have another job or is this what you do full-time?
Autumn Strier: Oh, no, this is full-time, 24/7 around the clock. I don't know that we call parenting a job but the only other thing that I'm dedicated to in my life is my family, my husband, my three children, four dogs, a hamster. I mean, there's a lot going on there.
Hal Elrod: So, Miracles for Kids and then miracles for your kids were pretty much it.
Autumn Strier: Yes, hopefully.
Hal Elrod: It's divided between those two. So, what is your vision for the future of Miracles for Kids?
Hal Elrod: I think, first and foremost, we need to meet the need right now in this changing global climate, right? You've got an economic recession/depression. You've got a pandemic that just seems to mutate and continue on. Half of our families lived in L.A. County and we serve over 300 families on any given day and so you're talking about families that are extremely impacted right now. So, my focus in the next year or two is going to be to try to raise enough money to meet the needs of rent, food, and other stability concerns. And we're going to continue to do that by getting awareness out and talking, really trying to speak to our families on an ongoing basis, make sure that we're not behind the curve on what they need. Just really staying in the conversation on that and then building and changing programs the minute we find something that needs to be addressed. So, I think if you had asked me a year-and-a-half ago, it might have been a different answer but I've spent the last year rebuilding every single program I have, trying to make sure that we're digital where we need to be digital and we're borderless where we need to be borderless in our donor base. And we're talking to the families. Then outside of that, we've got to deal with this waitlist. I have families I can't help because there's this fundraising need. So, you've got to focus on that and really activate social media platforms better, really just do whatever we can to get as much support as possible.
Hal Elrod: That leads to my next question which is, how can listeners support the charity? How can we support these efforts and get those people off the waiting list?
Autumn Strier: Thank you. So, MiraclesforKids.org/Donate for any straight donations but I also want to share with your listeners that we have several programs throughout the year. Actually, they take place every month where we are shipping over 300 boxes of PPE, gift cards, coloring books, journals, squeeze balls, things for school. It's called our Kindness Box Program. So, if anyone out there has the ability to collect items that could be given to families, anything, socks, earrings, sunscreen. It just doesn't matter. Every month, we pull all of our donations together and our volunteers assemble these 300 boxes. The next one coming up is the March lucky box so we're assembling it in a couple of weeks and sending it out. So, I guess the reason I'm bringing that up is because we don't always all have a dollar to give but we might have an hour to give. We might have an idea of a product to give or know someone who might have the ability to donate something. So, I just want to bring that up that we love all support of any kind. It's all meaningful and important.
Hal Elrod: I love that. In my brain I'm racking, what do I have? What can I contribute to that? How many of those will go out? How many items?
Autumn Strier: Three hundred a month.
Hal Elrod: Three hundred a month?
Autumn Strier: Yep. So, 300 every month and then every quarter we also do food delivery, hand sanitizer, PPE, and larger goods, and then, of course, toy drives and other things for Thanksgiving and in the December holidays as well. And then back to school, back to schools in August we'll do backpacks and lunchboxes and healthy snacks. And so, really anything that anyone can think of, we would like to ship it to someone's home. And these photos that we share on our social, little kids sitting on top of their boxes laughing as they get their gifts, I mean, it's just the best.
Hal Elrod: And is it Miracles for Kids is where people could follow you on all the social channels?
Autumn Strier: Yes, everywhere. We would love for anyone to follow us, to comment, to share. We'd be so grateful if someone would just share our mission and ways someone can get involved with us. We'd be super grateful for that.
Hal Elrod: Thank you for this. I'm trying to get as much out of you as I can to support. We just committed to donate $1,000 a month. To me, it's on behalf of the Miracle Morning. It's our community.
Autumn Strier: Thank you.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so, another question, logistics wise, the 300 families, the 300 what do you call the boxes?
Autumn Strier: Kindness Boxes.
Hal Elrod: Where can people go to find out where to send for it? Is there somewhere in your website?
Autumn Strier: Yeah. Our Irvine address which I can recite if that's helpful but it's at the base of our website as well.
Hal Elrod: Okay. So, if anyone has and would they need to have 300 in quantity of a single thing?
Autumn Strier: So, what we do is we try to match and customize each box to the patient and sibling ages in the household. So, we have teenagers, we have babies, we've got everything you can imagine. We have grandparents. We try to take care of the entire family so you can send me 15 of something and it'll get to 15 amazing people.
Hal Elrod: Got it. That's very cool. Okay. So, go to MiraclesforKids.org, send to your address, and then also is the 300 families, that's the same 300 families each month, right? So, you wouldn't send the same thing each month to them.
Autumn Strier: We have 300 families on an ongoing basis. We have new families every month that join our org so we rehabilitate and adjust.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. At the very least I think what would be the most helpful, especially since these are families that are braving critical illnesses, I'm going to send you 300 Miracle Morning DVDs so that you can send those out because they would see me fighting for my life with cancer. And so, hopefully, that would be an inspiration. So, yeah, this is becoming a logistical conversation. I'm like, okay, how can we all support?
Autumn Strier: You know what, send anything and everything just to me. You can send it to me. You can send it to just Miracles. You can send it to the Kindness Box. It's a small crew here. There's less than 20 of us and everybody knows about you so we're ready to go.
Hal Elrod: Very cool. Well, Autumn, thank you for the work that you're doing. I really, really appreciate it.
Autumn Strier: Hal, I just want to say thank you for the donations you've given, for the opportunity for us to share our mission through those that listen to you and through your support network. And thank you for the books. That's going to be incredible. Or the DVDs that are about the book, I think that's going to be an extraordinary opportunity for our families to find a rainbow in a dark time.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, absolutely. I'm happy to. I thank you not just for the work that you're doing but on the bigger picture, just thank you for leading by example for the rest of us. Thank you for having a vision, having something on your heart to help other people, and then dedicating 15 years of your life, 16, 17 years of your life, and just the beginning and not to mention the years to come. But, yeah, I just thank you for - I feel like if we all took what was on our heart and we all put as much effort into serving others, those in need, those less fortunate, our fellow brothers and sisters in the way that you have, I think the world would be a radically different place. So, I'm so grateful for that, for you living your truth and your vision.
Autumn Strier: That's kind of you to say. It's an honor. Honestly, it's an honor and a privilege every day.
Hal Elrod: Beautiful. Well, goal achievers, members of the Miracle Morning Community, friends, family, I love you guys and gals. Thank you for tuning in. And I hope you are as inspired by Autumn as I am and the work that she's doing, the Miracles for Kids. I know we all or many of us, we donate to different charities and causes. If you have an ability, if you have $5 or whatever it is, $10, $100, if you can support, I encourage you to go to Miracles for Kids. And the one thing I want to say, maybe I don't need to say this but I want to just say this to handle any potential objection as I've heard people say, "Oh, that's for people in Southern California. Like, I don't live in Southern California." And to me, we're all one big human family. If your grandma lives out of state, you don't not help her because she lives out of state. You help her because she's a human being who you love, who is in need. And so, to me, geography is completely irrelevant. I just want to invite that thought or consideration in case somebody listening is like, "Oh, this is Southern California. I live in Colorado," or whatever. So, yeah, help people anywhere in the world. So, MiraclesforKids.org, if you would make a donation, we just committed $1,000 a month. And then also, if you have any items for those, we have a lot of authors that listen to the show. Send copies of your book to the address at MiraclesforKids.org as well and let's get into those Kindness Boxes and help some families with your work. So, again, love everyone listening. Appreciate you. Thank you so much for your time. And thank you in advance for those of you that have the means to throw a little support for MiraclesforKids.org. I'm grateful for you and I will talk to you all next week. Take care, everybody.
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