Ensure you have a clear path to success, even if your idea is in its infancy. Define the organizations you will work with to ensure your service can be easily and affordably received.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Askowitz.
As CEO of KidSafe Foundation, Laura Askowitz has found her true calling helping children and their grownups be well-educated about the facts of CSA, and learn how to be much harder targets and less vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. First-hand experience of how debilitating looking at life through a child-trauma lens can be, and a real-life study in how prevention education can keep children safe and more resilient all make her a passionate team member of KidSafe. “Empowered children become powerful healthy adults and stop cycles of abuse and life-long, expensive, family-crushing coping mechanisms and health problems.” When not working at KidSafe, she enjoys spending time with her daughter and their Spinonedoodle Margot, and watching old movies or reading history books.
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 am, like so many, a survivor of childhood trauma. I was lucky; I had a few “Safe Adults” in my circle, and I had a huge drive to “do things differently” — this idea will resonate with many people whose childhood was not safe nor supportive. I saw early on the “advantages” that went to people who had grown up with a sense of safety, which ultimately led to more confidence as an adult. I still say I “fight” making decisions (without the voice of fear criticizing myself) more than my friends that grew up with trauma-free childhoods, and it is sometimes exhausting!
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?
I am not the founder of KidSafe — and so many times the Executive Director or CEO did start the organization, especially while nonprofits are still small. I have a business background, and frankly, not the largest “volunteer-driven history” that some have. I did love what KidSafe taught to children, I knew the founders, and agreed — five years ago — to come on board for a year and help them grow and create a clear growth strategy for their programming.
Five years later, I am CEO. KidSafe changed my life… it made me a better mother, a better friend, a better co-worker. I owe KidSafe the success I have had in healing in my own journey, and I owe all children the chance to experience the education we provide. Looking at the world through the lens of trauma defeats so many people and their ability to do things that come easily to healthy, empowered adults.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
The CDC says that child sexual abuse is a public health crisis, but is preventable with education and some resources. I know that when KidSafe started, we had to work hard just to get adults to understand that strangers were not the main people harming their children. Ninety percent of the time children are harmed by someone they know and trust, and approximately one in ten kids report being abused before the age of 18. The true number is much larger (it is guessed that around 35% of children actually report), and the lifelong effects are devastating. So many teen issues (drug abuse, eating disorders, sex trafficking, depression, academic failure, suicide) are individually treated, when proper prevention education could keep them from happening, especially as our programming can help with the life-essential skill of resiliency.
After educating children and their grownups on personal safety since 2009, we are now able to impact a significantly higher number of children and their families. Stay KidSafe!© is easily accessible by schools teachers or guidance counselors, and has age-appropriate, engaging safety lessons with animated videos where the “KidSafe Kids” help children talk comfortably about personal safety. We envision a world where every child gets this education and “safety language,” and that every one of their grownups learns how to hear this language and become a vanguard of safety for our kids. And most importantly, every parent who has seen this education is thrilled that it teaches essential life-skills, upon which they can build their own family values and situations.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
We are told — without names — many times when our safety program helps a child come to their teacher or parent and disclose, using language they just learned in the program. A mother shared with us a story of her daughter disclosing abuse from a family member, and between the child feeling they “had the right” to tell, and the family having learned the right skills (think poker face!), they felt their child not only avoided a secretive ongoing cycle of abuse, but that it turned an awful experience into something that gave the child an empowered feeling over what had happened, rather than any sense of being a victim.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Prevention is the least “glamorous” of any kind of care for children…our success story is invisible, right? But really isn’t that the best case? We don’t make for a very exciting gala, because I can’t bring you a dramatic story on stage: “Here is Linda, she has had no child sexual abuse because she learned how to be less vulnerable and be a ‘harder target’.”
But prevention, whether it is in education, or nutrition, or behavioral health — that is exactly where we should be starting. That means parents calmly talk about things before they happen, and for society — we must embrace the cost benefit of prevention versus treatment. Let’s be less afraid of talking about “personal safety.” And please, please, please back up all the state-wide prevention and social emotional learning mandates with funding!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Removing barricades. That’s it, it isn’t glamorous, but if done correctly, everyone feels invested in the company direction. If done really well, and your team believes the company strategy was their original idea, that is even better!
When children get brave enough to disclose a problem, we tell parents to open the conversation with “Tell me more about that,” rather than with questions that can shut children down. That same attitude is essential in leadership, and then the team solves the problem themselves rather than your doing so.
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.
I will reiterate that I didn’t start KidSafe, but I have learned a few things over the years!
- Please thoroughly research and ensure the need is not being served by any other organization — even if it doesn’t exactly match your service.
- Ensure you have a clear path to success, even if your idea is in its infancy. Define the organizations you will work with to ensure your service can be easily and affordably received.
- Make sure your program is wanted (not just needed) by both the community and future funders. Are recipients already “lined up?” Can metrics of success be easily obtained? Funders will want a good story with proof of impact (and rightly so).
- Talk to as many funders as you can, before you form the 501(c)(3). Ask them if they approve of your plan and if they will commit to supporting you when you start. Most funders are happy to share with you if your organization fits their mission; they want to give their money to you if it will address their community concerns.
- If steps one through four make you doubt that you should start your nonprofit — then take your program to a nonprofit you could work with. Your great idea can still be utilized, maybe it just more appropriately fits into some already-established nonprofit, and you get to benefit from their infrastructure!
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. 🙂
Oh, it is so tempting for nonprofits to name a celebrity here, right? The exposure, the awareness, the resulting funding that could come from it would really help! Let’s get someone from the Department of Education to go on our site and see the amazing training the children can get. Oh, and maybe an executive at an educational publishing company! We would be happy to “close down” if someone could take our program and ensure it gets to every child and family (Number five on “My 5 Things a Person Should Know” above could apply here)
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
Find a way to make being the “wind beneath someone else’s wings” fun, because it is so satisfying to help others succeed.
How can our readers follow you online?
www.kidsafefoundation.org is our website
If you’re an educator, a superintendent, counselor or principal, please go to learn.kidsafefoundation.org and bring this fabulous program to your students!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.
Laura Askowitz of KidSafe: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.