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Conversations with Lisa Rogers

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Rogers.

Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
In 2019, I formed the Gathering Point Giving Circle (GPGC) with 13 close friends after we decided we enjoyed working together on community service and could have a greater impact as an organized group. The journey of GPGC has been very organic as we were and continue to be led to the organizations we serve. We decided in the early days of discovery that we wanted to partner and help fill gaps with women, children, and families in crisis in Baltimore. Our mission is to give our time, resources, and energy. In 2019, GPGC became a nonprofit organization and identified St Vincent’s Villa, Helping Up Mission Women’s Center, and Baltimore Hunger Project as the places we would seek to have an impact. We met with all three and discussed our resources and how to best help them with gaps in traditional funding and challenges we were having in bringing special projects to life. We began and continue to provide birthday gifts to the children at SVV, and holiday celebrations, including a Christmas Parade, staff comfort room, and school supplies. Last year, we began a garden club that allows the children to plant, care for, and harvest their produce. Most recently, with the generosity of SVV, GPGC donors, and Luis Construction, a beautiful garden pavilion was installed on the grounds to give the children and staff a place for outdoor learning and respite. The swift collaboration of the donors and the Barnyard in Cockeysville made it all possible. We began to work with the HUM Women’s program at 601 E. Chase St in Baltimore in 2019. We have provided monthly enrichment activities, birthday gifts, a garden, and welcome bags for new residents. When they moved to the new building on Baltimore St, we were thrilled to be able to continue to provide the above and have added sorting, organizing, and maintaining the Gift In Kind donation space. These projects have allowed us to continue to get to know the residents and the staff and build meaningful relationships. Before the pandemic, we helped with notes of encouragement for the Baltimore Hunger Project weekend food bags, and when the pandemic hit, we were able to help in packing bags. During the pandemic, our focus shifted to being more responsive, and we connected with Student Support Network (SSN) as they worked hard to help families in need with food distributions. We came up with the idea of a shelf-stable Bean Soup kit that could be assembled, packed, and distributed alongside the SSN resources. As with all things Covid, we worked hard to source ingredients, often having a Sysco 18-wheeler delivering 900 lbs of beans to my house monthly so we could assemble kits that included dry beans, spices, rice, Rotel, and sauce. All while making more than 8000 kits from April 2020 to June 2021 and all distributed by SSN to families in Baltimore County. We did all of this with Covid screening, social distancing, and lots of laughs and care. The pandemic shed light on so many needs, but for us, being able to continue to work with SSNs was important. So we started a pilot program at Owings Mills High School (OMHS), one of the SSN schools, and after meeting with the staff and volunteers there, we identified areas we could support. We began providing Blessing Bags: household bags, dinner kits, breakfast kits, and birthday kits to their Nest for student access. We plan to continue this in the fall at OMHS and hope to help others expand Blessing Bags in other Network schools. So many of our projects have begun organically and with each one. We find ourselves more than ever humbled and amazed at the spirit of those served and those serving. It began as a mission to help others as best as possible. And we have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity of so many. One of the unique aspects of GPGC is that we use a very hands-on approach to all of our projects with all of our partners, which has led to very meaningful relationships. 100% of all donations go directly to our projects. All of our administrative expenses are paid for by a private foundation. That gives us great pride in knowing we are truly ensuring every dollar is spent on a woman, child, or family in need. As I have been blessed to meet so many amazing organizations in Baltimore through connections with GPGC, I found that often a nonprofit would have a surplus of a donation they could not use or a need for a particular item. Through discussion with a fellow GPGC member, I launched a private Facebook group for local nonprofits called The Sharing Network. It is an invitation or referral only and a simple place for nonprofit sharing of supplies. It has been a place of connection and sharing of needs and excess in a safe place that allows resources to be directed to those who can use them the most.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I have always enjoyed helping others. Often taken on too much with the structure of our nonprofit and the amazing, brilliant women in our group. It has been a process of learning how to navigate the unknown, stretch a donation across needs, and communicate and understand the impact of a project so best to serve others. During the pandemic, it was the most challenging as we were all so concerned with continuing our commitments, but with so many unknowns and obstacles, it became a huge challenge. But that being said, it was also a huge growth opportunity for myself and our members as we learned so much about resources, being creative, and trusting we would figure it out. As I mention to the members of GPGC, I am grateful for their trust in me, each other, and our mission. They are all incredible, and we have found that challenges can be places for growth, and sometimes plan B surpasses our goals. Our road has also been blessed by sharing our story with others in the community. And we have been grateful for volunteers to assist as needed on projects. I have found many people with giving hearts looking for places to help and serve, and we appreciate their support.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I began my nursing career at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in 1985. I fell in love with the patients and their families and being able to care for them during challenging days. I worked for 10 years and then began to have our 4 children. I continued working part-time for another 7 years until I eventually retired to stay home with my children. Little did I know that a few years later, I would become the patient and then the beneficiary of the amazing care from my colleagues. I am a 9-year breast cancer survivor, mother of 4 incredible daughters, and a new grandson. The women in GPGC are all my dear friends and family. To be able to now be in this season of life, drawing on my love for helping others, having simultaneous ongoing projects, organized chaos ( which I love) at times, and walking through this chapter with them is the most precious experience to me. I have been known to tell strangers about GPGC and be wary if I am seated next to you at a luncheon; you may soon be a volunteer. I love what we do, but more than that, I love how we do it with respect and grace for those we serve.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
My husband Brian is a born entrepreneur who has given much of himself to the business community. He is also in a stage of life where impactful giving and meaningful projects provide him with joy. I have learned a lot from him about leading others, being responsible for projects, being thoughtful of the short-term and long-term plans, and ensuring we stay true to our mission when I am excited to say yes to everything. Our faith gives us a lot of guidance and peace in all we do.

When I met Lynne Kahn, who started Baltimore Hunger Project in our early days, I was immediately impressed and marveled by her energy and commitment to doing whatever was needed to ensure the children had food on the weekends. I loved that no obstacle was too great, and she was bringing attention to the need to share her story. I hope I am a little bit like that now when I share GPGC with anyone who will listen, and it has truly brought many giving hearts and hands to us.

I have learned so much from Laurie Taylor Mitchell, the founder of the Student Support Network. She has created an amazing legacy of support for the students in Baltimore County. She is a true champion for the children in Baltimore County and has become a dear friend; I look to her for advice and appreciate her willingness to share her journey with me.

But most of all, I am blessed to be able to walk this journey with the GPGC ladies: Blair Slaughter, Julie Volker, Robin Znamirowski, Jennifer Ritchie, Ursula Adourian, Amy Neubauer, Danielle Evensen, Michele Sawicki, Mary Carole Fortunato, Joanne Regan, Melissa Damelio, Alison De Martin.

Everyone brings love, respect, care, creativity, willingness to do whatever is needed, and grace to all we do. We draw strength from each other and appreciate all the opportunities we have been given to help one woman, one child, and one family at a time. It is with them that it is all possible. We knew from the beginning that we were better together, which has rung true almost daily.

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