Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Charles Bender III of Place of Hope Is Helping…

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Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Charles Bender III of Place of Hope Is Helping To Change Our World

Starting a non-profit is a lot more complex than people realize. It’s not just a matter of having a good idea and something you want to be helpful towards. It takes a lot to get launched and maintain.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charles Bender III.

Charles Bender III is the Founding CEO and a Board Member of Place of Hope, a faith-based and state-licensed family-style residential child-caring agency for abused and neglected children, located in Palm Beach and The Treasure Coast in Florida. Place of Hope specializes in neighborhood-style family foster care, family outreach and intervention, and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I earned my B.A. degree in Sociology from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. In 2002, I was named the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year for the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters by my alma mater. I also studied at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Although I was born in Connecticut, I consider myself a Florida native because my family moved to Miami when I was only a few months old. I lived in Tampa and Gainesville before eventually settling in Palm Beach County where I now reside with my wife and three adult children, two daughters and one son.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

I was a primary volunteer in the multi-year visioning and development processes while still a “vision” of Christ Fellowship, the founding church. Place of Hope officially launched in November 1999. I love that it is faith-based and I believe that helping foster youth and young people and families who are homeless or have survived human trafficking is the mission that God put me on this Earth to do.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

Place of Hope is a faith-based, state licensed children and family organization offering housing and support services designed to end the cycles of abuse, neglect, homelessness, poverty, and human trafficking. We offer support to children, youth, and families in desperate need. We are one of the largest and most diverse residential children and families organizations in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. We strive daily to help our children, youth, and families find true healing and restoration, which leads to healthy, successful lives.

Place of Hope has recently acquired 11 acres of property on one of the busiest and most up-and-coming streets on the Treasure Coast, Cove Road in Stuart. The property used to be managed by the Samaritan Center for Boys. Place of Hope will continue the legacy and serve the growing demand to help children and adults in one of the fastest growing areas in South Florida.

Place of Hope is there for our community first and foremost. When we saw this very real need for help on the Treasure Coast we knew we had to expand. The wonderful people at the former Samaritan Center for Boys knew our reputation and knew what we could offer to this area. We hope to make them and the community as a whole proud with our future plans.

At this campus, we house our Shade Tree Family Outreach Program, which is a warehouse-type facility stocked with all the necessary supplies to care for a child. When a relative or a foster family gets an unexpected call that they need to take a child or children into their care, their home may not be prepared for kids and they may not have the money to go to the store to stock up. Because of our generous donors, including Florida Power and Light (FPL) who made a significant donation toward our Shade Tree Program in July, we are able to provide these families with everything from car seats, diapers, formula, clothing and just about everything in between.

Right now, Place of Hope has homes for foster families in Boca, Hobe Sound, West Palm Beach, and Palm Beach Gardens. This newest project will mean expansion into a new county, further helping South Florida families.

We have a real need in South Florida for the services Place of Hope offers and as we call it the “Place of Hope Way,” which means beautifying, expanding, and creating warm, safe havens for neglected and abused children, youth, and families. By adding this unique property we know we can help serve so many in desperate need in our area. Place of Hope will be renovating the current site in stages. Thanks to a very generous $5.5 million donation from the Bobbi and John Erbey Foundation, The Marshall E. Rinker, Sr. Foundation Inc., Tom and Kathleen Lane, and the Berlin Family Foundation, we broke ground on our renovations on July 27, 2022.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

We have a young man who came into our care as part of a sibling group after living in abandoned homes and parks with their mother who had mental health problems. He lived with us for much of his teen years, earned a scholarship to a private school, and excelled academically and athletically. He was voted homecoming king and was a star of his high school’s football team. He went to a university in Florida, where he played football and received his bachelor’s degree. He returned to college for a master’s degree. After getting his master’s, he wanted to give back to Place of Hope because he knew other kids in the system didn’t have the same support system that we provided him with. He started working in the child welfare system in Tampa, and then reached out to me about returning to Place of Hope. We eventually found a great fit. He now works for Place of Hope full-time as a counselor and program specialist in our Villages of Hope program, which is for the aged out and homeless. We provide them with the support they need and help them create a life plan. He met his now wife while in college, got married recently, and she also works for Place of Hope full-time. He is one of our favorite success stories. He broke every statistic against a kid like him.

Additionally, there is a couple who works in our neighborhood foster care program who serves “hard to place” foster youth and large sibling groups. She and her husband were both in foster care and were victims of egregious abuse and neglect. They came to Place of Hope to live when they were younger. Some of their time with us overlapped, but sometimes they were in our care at different times. Years after leaving the foster care system, they reconnected and fell in love. They have since married and returned to Place of Hope as full-time foster care parents.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. We need to look holistically at family-based issues. I am a big proponent of the fatherhood initiative or things that revolve around building up strong fathers and families. I know a lot of strong moms, but I don’t know a lot of strong dads who lost their kids to the system. I am not saying they don’t exist, but in most instances over the years, the dads are just absent. It’ll lend itself to fewer kids in the foster care system.
  2. Always draw attention to the issue. I think there is a propensity to create child welfare and foster care systems and then look away. They often look at how they can be more efficient, make more money, and have less kids come into care. However, if you raise the bar of what qualifies a child for foster care, you are leaving many children in homes where they suffer from abuse and neglect. Having fewer kids in the foster care system is not the answer when it comes at the expense of their health and safety.
  3. Bring attention to human trafficking and all things that cause kids to land in foster care or juvenile justice. Provide free parenting classes to proactively teach people how to parent and provide support to parents so they can be resilient and raise strong children.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is all about being able to build an effective team. In leadership, you need to trust the people around you to carry out their functions because you simply can’t do it all. There are so many moving parts in an organization like ours, so to be an effective leader, it’s one thing to have a team of people and the foster families and it’s another to find people who will give towards that. They almost run mutually exclusively, but at the same time, both are completely dependent on one another. It’s about building a team and effectively bringing everyone together for that common cause, but at the same time, they may not interface very much or at all. Being able to paint the picture of what’s taking place. You have people taking care of kids and people donating. When I speak about leading an effective charity or cause, you want to prove to potential donors that it is working. Our stellar Charity Navigator ranking backs up our success and adds credibility to the Place of Hope team. It assures donors that they are investing in a worthy cause and their money will be spent properly.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non-profit”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Starting a non-profit is a lot more complex than people realize. It’s not just a matter of having a good idea and something you want to be helpful towards. It takes a lot to get launched and maintain.
  2. Just because you’re a charity, doesn’t mean you don’t run like a business. Just because you are a social service, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run like a business. We run our operations just like a for-profit business would, except we are obviously not attempting to make a profit. You should be efficient, effective, have measurables, objectives, goals, be audited, and have a strong board of directors. All of that matters. I do believe in being entrepreneurial. Nonprofits are private corporations most of the time. They should operate like private corporations and be self-sufficient. That should be what drives the business model.
  3. Things change and things shift. You should be able to respond. If you are tied up in debt and/or have lackadaisical leadership, eventually you are going to be obsolete.
  4. Get good people lined up in the right positions for what is actually needed for that organization. Some organizations need a CFO and COO, while others do not. If you do, you have to find the right people. With growth comes the need for finding people with different levels of expertise just like you would at a for-profit company. Try to keep them in their roles. Retention is important.
  5. Broad based support. I remember years ago a consultant I went to listen to who spoke about fundraising was talking about how so many charities focus on the one big name in their community who has a lot of wealth and everybody tries to get money from that person. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. We have built a very strong bell curve of generosity at Place of Hope where we have kids who do lemonade stands and give money to us, as well as major philanthropists in town who give big checks to build buildings. We maintain relationships big and small over the years and it’s a great thing to have a variety of donors. There is not just one big name that makes Place of Hope possible, it’s tons of people at every different level. I believe in building that bell curve of givers.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Earlier this year, Melania Trump visited one of our campuses. I was able to give her a tour and she met with foster youth during National Foster Care Month. That was a really great experience and opportunity for our organization to get national attention.

Someone who I have not yet met, but would like to, is Elon Musk. I am at a stage in life where I may retire in about 15 years and I want Place of Hope to be in a financially stable position to continue my legacy long after I leave. That is why I started an endowment fund. With that in mind, Elon Musk is someone who not only has the ability to make large donations, but he likes to entertain unique concepts and provide answers and solutions. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit and his ability to thrive in so many areas.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

In life, I aim to take the high road and see the good in all. My favorite life lesson quote comes from James 1:17 ““Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It reminds me to be thankful for all the good things in life.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Charles Bender III of Place of Hope Is Helping… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.