Leading a Significant Life
Sometimes in life, you take a wrong turn and it leads you to a bad place. Sometimes, however, that wrong turn opens your eyes to the world and changes you for the better.
When I was 22 years old I packed my belongings into my dad’s old Chevy Caprice. You know, the hand-me-down family car, complete with fog lamps mounted to the front bumper and the faint smell of cigarette smoke still lingering from the ashtray. I was headed for college at Wake Forest in the beautiful state of North Carolina. My mom had worked her whole life as a secretary and saved every paycheck so that my sister and I could attend college. I wasn’t about to waste her hard work and this great opportunity. I worked hard. After my first year, I was fortunate enough to land a summer internship at BB&T’s headquarters in Wilson, NC, a quaint town nestled between Raleigh and the coast.
One weekend with nothing to do, I decided a beach trip would help pass the time. Somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn on an old county road. There in front of a giant tobacco field, I came face to face with the harsh reality of poverty. I saw run-down wooden houses, some missing windows, doors wide open, and kids with no shoes playing outside. The scene unfolding from the security of my car windshield seared into my mind. When I finally got to the beach I ordered a Coke and reflected on what I had seen. These kids were not that different than me, they just found themselves in very different circumstances. Although I didn’t know what could be done, in the back of my mind I could hear my pastor say “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
Kids had always inspired me as the ultimate arms-open wide optimists. I couldn’t help think that these circumstances threatened to crush that optimism early in their lives. I’m sure many of you have seen poor housing or perhaps you are teachers and have these students in your classrooms.
Years later I’d meet my wife Alicia. We traveled on mission trips throughout Central America where we saw poverty on a much grander scale. Along the way we helped build feeding centers, led praise and worship to the kids, and Alicia shared the Gospel. These experiences would become the impetus for our corporate mission to combat childhood hunger and provide access to education. Initial Outfitters would be a for-profit company that would lead by giving back.
We plan to grow as a direct sales company, and we plan for our Outfitters to make more money. But if that’s all we do, we’ll be successful, but we really won’t be significant. Other companies and their representatives are going to do the same thing, and 100 years from now nobody is going to remember any of it. So we’re going to do more than that. We are going to invest in needy children here in the U.S. and in the poorest areas around the world. We will provide nutritious meals, access to education, and where we can, allow them to hear the Gospel through our partner charities and their volunteers. While we can’t heal a broken world, what we can do is care for those in our circle of influence.
We prefer to work with smaller charities, or at least those who will allow us to adopt a group of kids we can sponsor and support on an ongoing basis. Through our IO Loves foundation, we provide funding for several charitable partners. These include Charlie’s Lunch, Helping Honduras Kids, Blessings in a Backpack, The Berea School, and Our House.
We do more than sell monogram jewelry and purses. An Initial Outfitters business is an opportunity to make money for yourself and your family as well as to make a difference in your community and world. I know a lot of people who believe they are “successful” because they have everything they want. They have added value to themselves. But I believe significance comes when you add value to others, and you can’t experience the fulfillment and happiness that comes with true success without significance.
Each time an Outfitter asks her customers to round up their totals, purchase a personalized lunchbox or backpack, or sponsor a child for Christmas, they are making a difference for poor children. For example, the sale of one monogrammed lunchbox can feed a child for a month and a personalized backpack can help a child attend after-school tutoring, obtain access to the internet, or receive school supplies. As a company, we donate 100 percent of our profits from the sale of these monogrammed items to our charitable partners.
Another way we make a powerful difference is through Lunchbox Love and Love you Backpack projects. In addition to supporting IO Loves charities, these projects are primarily designed to make an impact in our Outfitters’ local communities.
Curious how these projects work? Take a closer look at a few of our Outfitters’ projects, including the steps they took to set them up! Interested in hosting a local project? Contact us here!Amy of Auburn, Alabama
Amy has done many Lunchbox Love and Backpack Love projects. She started by contacting friends that she felt were connected to different ministries that could benefit from a backpack filled with school supplies and this led her to Big House, a local ministry that supports foster families and the children in their care. Here was her four-step process:Step 1. Identify a local charity that your circle of friends will be interested in and will get behind. Step 2. Find and contact a group of people you believe will help with your project. Amy approached her Sunday School teacher about this being a class service project. She shared in class for four weeks about the opportunity to donate or help fill backpacks. Step 3. She shared on Facebook and emailed a large number of friends about the opportunity to donate. The donations came from people she directly spoke or followed up with, while none came from just posting online. Step 4. She requested donations from two Walmart’s and Target and gave these gift cards to Big House Ministries to purchase the supplies needed.
She was able to raise almost $3,000 and donated 172 backpacks to Big House. Most of these were embroidered. Amy said, “If you ask me why I have been with Initial Outfitters for over 10 years, I would tell you it’s because this job lets me be home with my kids AND gives me opportunities to share with others that together we can make a difference! That’s what it’s all about for me!!”Emily of Aiken, South Carolina
Emily tries to do two Lunchbox Love projects each year. Last year, she did one for a local men’s homeless shelter. She provided navy lunchboxes embroidered with a gold cross and each was filled with basic toiletry needs (body wash, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, etc.) The second is her annual Ella’s Gift campaign which she started in 2016. This one is done in memory of Ella Bumgardner, the ten-year-old daughter of her church’s worship pastor.
To get donations she always creates a flyer to share at all of her parties. She creates a demo lunchbox with the fillings so that she can share what she is doing and why. She also utilizes Facebook and emails her customers.
Emily said, “The Lunchbox Love projects are one of the many things that drew me to IO. I love being able to use my business to show love to others, and I love that I can be intentional and benefit causes that are close to my heart.”Stephanie of Union, Kentucky
Stephanie has conducted Lunchbox Love and Backpack Love projects for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, a local foster care organization, the Covington
Homeless Shelter, the Boone County Police Department, Ronald McDonald House, and local elementary schools. At the local schools, she worked to get sponsors for the first graders so that the kids could start the school year with school supplies and a new lunchbox with the school mascot on it.
She gets sponsors with a social media campaign, emails to customers, friends, and family, and she also contacts local businesses to see if they are interested in sponsoring.
Stephanie said, “These Projects are one of the best parts of my job. I get to help people here in my community, feed kids, and open hearts. I get to be part of that! The added bonus is that I get to include my children and show them that they can make a difference in the world.”
On behalf of our Outfitters, their customers, and our supporters, we say a hearty thank you! To date, we have funded over 1,200,000 lunches to kids in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, we have funded Christian schools as well as after-school programs for needy children. Through our combined efforts we are making a meaningful difference in the world. And that is significant!
“¢ “¢ “¢ “¢Seven years ago, I was searching online for a charity that Initial Outfitters could partner with that helps feed hungry children in the poorest corners of the world. As fate would have it I ran across a website called HelpingHondurasKids.org where I saw a photo of a cute little orphan named Paola. I asked Alicia if we could sponsor her, and she agreed. As part of our sponsorship, the orphanage allowed us to Skype with her, and she instantly stole our heart with her sense of humor. On one of our many trips to Honduras in support of our IO Loves initiative, we made it a point to go to La Ceiba to meet Paola and her older brother. We asked the director about the possibility of adopting them both, and he told us it probably wasn’t possible for several reasons: federal law forbids adopting specific children, no official death certificate existed for their mother, each year the government only approves a few international adoptions and the agency charged with adoptions routinely shuts down for months due to lack of funds. It also regularly changes leadership and then changes the rules for adoptions, and on and on. Nevertheless, it only took Alicia and I split second to decide that just because it had never been done and there were some giant hurdles, God’s Will would be done and therefore nothing was impossible. And besides, we were the only chance these kids would ever have at a family they could call their own. When we arrived back in Auburn, we rolled up our sleeves and got started. We would need both a U.S. adoption agency and a Honduran attorney. First, we flew to Indianapolis on a snowy day in February 2010. Due to near white-out conditions we couldn’t get a taxi to come to the hotel to pick us up. We were pacing anxiously around the lobby. The adoption agency called my cell and said if we didn’t arrive in fifteen minutes we would have to reschedule. I told Alicia if God really wants us to adopt these kids we need a sign right now. Ding! My phone beeped again. What’s this? Paola had sent a Facebook message all the way from Honduras, written in English so we both would understand. It simply read “I love you.” Wow! The hotel desk clerk was so overcome with emotions she said “COME ON”, grabbed her keys, and we all hurried to her car and sped through the snowy streets to the agency. For three long years we faced setbacks and a multitude of legal challenges. We found ourselves hiking up and down mountains in the Honduran jungle on multiple trips. Alicia used all her Spanish language skills to convince extended family members to help us prove their mother had passed away and take guardianship of the kids for the time being. During this period our Honduran attorney, working in step with our US agency, made our case in the family court system, sidestepping federal law that would normally prohibit the adoption. We prayed a lot, met with our attorney, paid for the expansion of a wooden hut where the kids could stay during the process, dealt with various family emergencies, and somehow managed to get the kids, along with their aunt and uncle on a four-hour bus trip to the capital–their first bus trip, first hotel, and first experience with a hot shower! Then there were interviews, passports to make, and a trip to the U.S. Embassy for final approval. Eventually, we somehow prevailed. Four years ago at Thanksgiving, against all odds, our new family of four got on a plane bound for Atlanta. All of us were so excited. The kids now had a family and their very own bedrooms. Even still, after we arrived in the U.S., both kids needed post-adoption medical care to deal with the effects of malnutrition and emotional trauma. This whole experience taught us so much about the needs of children living in poverty and those who have been abandoned or abused. It also taught us that with a strong team effort and faith we could move mountains. We praise God for the money Initial Outfitter consultants and customers raise through the sale of lunchboxes and backpacks to help feed, educate, and provide opportunities to children like these who are living in poverty. One million meals later, with our relentless efforts to raise awareness and money about our campaign, we have made a difference in the lives of poor children throughout Honduras and around the world.