What is a "Nonprofit"?
Charitable nonprofits embody the best of America. They provide a way for people to work together for the common good, transforming shared beliefs and hopes into action. They give shape to our boldest dreams, highest ideals, and noblest causes. America’s 1.3 million charitable nonprofits feed, heal, shelter, educate, inspire, enlighten, and nurture people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, from coast to coast, border to border, and beyond. They foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth, and strengthen the fabric of our communities. Every single day. You can learn more about what a nonprofit is here.
A High School Graduate with a Ph.d.
Most nonprofits run on passion, and Characters of Character is no different. While I may have only graduated high school, I still use my Ph.d. and I use id daily. My passion, my heart and my determination to make a difference, one child at a time.We all have met or know of a nonprofit organization. Do you know what goes on behind the scenes though? If you're a large nonprofit, with backing, with funding, with employees, you're front and center in society. But, what if you're a small nonprofit with no backing, no funding and no employees? This is the case of our organization, Characters of Character. I'm the creator, Joni Downey, and it came about after I had piloted the characters in a public school and then earned a National Promising Practice Award. Keep in mind that I was a Teaching Assistant at the time, had no idea what to do next. So, I took a leave of absence from the school learning that the Characters had a positive impact on our children, were appreciated from the parents and community and so I left the school to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Characters of Character. In my mind, the word nonprofit meant that others would support your cause and that this was going to be easy. However, in the real world, things are much different. There is a lot of paperwork, research, outreach, preparations, design work, graphic work, book work, heart ache, disappointment, networking, marketing, communicating, social networking, introductions and so much more. But, with a passion, a vision and a purpose for your organization, you find the time to do it all.
MY BIGGEST LESSON SO FAR IS THE FACT THAT YOU ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR DONATIONS. ONCE I REMOVED MYSELF FROM THIS, BECAUSE I'M NOT A SALES PERSON, AND IF FOCUSED ON THE MISSION, THE PURPOSE AND THE DIFFERENCE THESE CHARACTERS MAKE. IT BECAME EASIER.
I was a one man band if you will. My vision was to have a space to welcome communities into our classes and to teach, engage, empower and enrich the lives of our children. This was in 2007 when the economy took a turn, and so, I began teaching preschool with the Characters on the back burner, but always working on them to share their important messages. Then, about six years ago, my husband got a promotion and began working in his industry which allowed me to again, step out of the classroom. Not my favorite thing to do because teaching our children brings me so much joy, to know that you can make a difference in the life of a child, not one day was the same with the many hats a teacher/parent wears in the course of a day would be put aside so that I could now work on the nonprofit organization and all the duties that come along with this. What duties you ask? I now had to bring the Award Winning Characters to life online, and if you know me, you know that technology is not my friend! Ask my adult kids! Still, they stepped up to the plate knowing that the Characters are my passion and my purpose. Our oldest son Joey brought them to the 'big screen' the computer, our other son Josh brought the Characters to life in social stories and our daughter Jennifer designed over 30 books with activities, lessons and resources to teach the nine core values we focus on here at Characters of Character. My husband was behind the scenes, too. He dressed in costume at the drop of a hat and is to this day my biggest fan. We'll celebrate 40 years of marriage this month, so, as you can see, in life, we're in it for the long haul!
This was just the tip of the iceberg, now the organization had to begin writing grants, create newsletters, create social media content, research places to share the character messages, such as libraries, schools, park districts and communities. All of whom at the time were struggling due to the economy. Regardless, the Characters made costume visits, shared activities with all of them in order to get these messages out to our children at little to no cost to them. The cost fell upon the organization. Now we needed to get out there front and center, so, we began attending conferences and community events to continue with the messages of the characters. Finding volunteers to dress in the costumes, preparing for displays for these events, printing of materials, marketing the events and staying in close communications with them before, during and after. All worth it when you see the excitement from families, children and communities when they learn and meet the Characters of Character.
The above picture was a family who wanted to learn about the Characters and let their children know how important these messages are. Most events we bring a costumes to which excite the children, then to learn that the character has meaning, priceless! In case you don't know who the characters are, allow me to introduce you to Behavior Bear, Do'er Duck, Friendship Frog, Healthy Hippo, Manners Monkey, Respectful Rabbit, Responsible Rabbit, Self-Esteem Elephant and Warm-Hearted Walrus. They would love to know you!
Wherever we go we give away coloring activities and projects for families and children to learn about the characters. Our first big outing was at the Chicago Land Kids Expo where all nine of the costumes attended. What an absolute thrill to see the happiness the character costumes brought to the thousands of people who attended! We were invited back again and again to which brought us much joy. After about the third time, a parent had come up to me to say, 'THANK YOU' for being here, my daughter looks forward to seeing your characters out of all the things that are here. You have such an important message and we wanted you to know how much we appreciate them." Well if that didn't make my heart dance!
Soon I began working with the Girl Scouts with the character messages. We listened to a story, discussed the topic and brought the character to life on canvas as a visual reminder on the character trait. The Scouts focus on good character so we are a good match. I even bring my own Girl Scout uniform from when I was a Girl Scout, they love it! Manners Monkey visited to help kick off cookie selling and talk about polite manners with the girls.
I even started Mommy and Me Painting classes to introduce the traits to families and to reinforce them at home. Soon, the older kids wanted in, so, I began teaching them about the Characters of Character, too! I even went to libraries to discuss and teach the Characters of Character and their message. At the end of one of the classes, a young girl, probably around eleven or so raised her hand, I asked her if she had a question and she said, "no, I just wanted to thank you for coming to paint with us today" now, my cup runneth over........
I have visited Coffee Houses, Park Districts, Classrooms, Communities, homes and have been invited to a Museum to discuss the characters. If there is a teachable moment to be had, I'll find it, just so that I can introduce these characters to our youth, their families and communities to help make a difference. It is a constant to find venues and not of a high cost so that a visit and classroom can be arranged. We had such good momentum going with all of these, until..........the Pandemic. Now all of our classes were cancelled, and I'm not a tech savvy person, none the less, these messages had to continue to reach our children and society. So, we developed Character Corner on our website with a lot of FREE resources to use and enrich, empower and engage our youth, schools, families, organizations and communities to help build good character and citizenship, create a positive mindset and provide positive activities for the changed world to use.
If you can feel the love from testimonies and the happiness on all these faces from where we've been, we're making a difference, we're working our mission, "to provide a firm foundation for children to establish strong civic values" That is what our nonprofit stands for. When Covid hit, we no longer made visits, we no longer did painting classes or had group discussions on all the traits. We didn't have a working computer at the time to be able to provide online learning or Zoom classes if you will, however, we did receive a grant which allowed us to buy a new computer. Be sure to visit us online under Character Corner where you can introduce, engage, empower and enrich the lives of others with the Characters of Character and their activities and lessons.
What I'd like to share is that everything we do is because we believe in these traits, we believe in the positive messages, we've seen first hand the impact that they have not only on our early learners, but, with our youth, their families and the community. If you would like to donate to our work please consider it. Our projects for the past two years were donating to Children's Hospitals to provide a Superhero Activity Box to the children who are in the hospital. At one point we were able to do actual visits, however, today is different, children are still spending time in the hospital, that unfortunately will go on forever and we are here to provide positive, impactful activities for them to engage in while there. You can learn more here. You can donate here. You can share us at anytime to help let others know who we are.You can make a difference by purchasing materials on our Amazon Wish List. You can support us for our Superhero Activity Box donation to Tennessee Children's Hospitals here. You can support us for our Superhero Activity Box donation to Texas Children's Hospitals here. You can donate to our Hendersonville Confidence Buiding Activity Boxes here. The Children's Hospital donations will be an ongoing project for us year after year as we learn how much these Superhero Activity Boxes are not only appreciated, but, there is a need for them.
What is a non profit? It's an organization that works tirelessly trying to make a difference in the world we all are living in. For me, Joni, it's my purpose above my Ph.d.
Contact me here.
Married with children since 1981. Love working with children and sharing the Characters of Character.