Find Your Light: The Successful Non-profit

Originally posted on our old website on Oct 6th, 2016

Many celebrities use their names to promote causes near and dear to their heart; for Ewan McGregor it’s helping refugee children, for Emma Watson it’s gender equality, and for Josh Groban, it’s Arts Education, through his founded Find Your Light Foundation.

If you are one of my regular readers, or (perhaps, unfortunately so) one of my loved ones, you have heard a lot about arts education and Josh Groban.
There are still people that ask me, “who is that?!” Rather than say, “Oh, he’s only an angel sent down from heaven,” I show them a song. Lately, the choice has been Dust and Ashes from his debut Broadway show, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

I might also mention he was the number one best-selling artist in the United States in 2007, and his albums are so varied that music store clerks struggle to place him under one genre.
Just look at how confused Google is. Is it Operatic pop? Is it Pop rock? Is it Easy Listening? I don’t know Google, it’s just great, okay?

Until recently, all Groban was to me was a tremendously talented singer and actor.
I’ve been listening to his music for approximately thirteen years, I’ve seen that episode of Ally McBeal, his appearances in The Office, and I can quote his kid snippets appearances practically by heart.

Yet, at twenty seven, I had never been to a concert. One day, my wonderful husband took some carefully placed hints and made the choice to surprise me with tickets to Groban’s Stages tour.

Months later, after eight hours in the car, clad in the only dress I bought that didn’t end up a total disaster, (this was the third dress) I was finally sitting in that concert hall, shaking like a leaf with excitement. I remember feeling like an awed child, uttering “oh wow” under my breath and clasping my hands to my chest as the curtain ascended to the crescendos of Pure Imagination.

We were not only treated to some of our favourite songs from musical theater, such as, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Bring Him Home, and my surprise favourite of the evening, Finishing the Hat, we were afforded the rare pleasure of hearing about Josh; normal, quirky Josh.
The anecdotes between songs included information about his chest hair that I really didn’t need to know, but laughed a little too loudly at (“TMI,” he exclaimed.)
Among the laughs was the valuable information I apparently did need to know: he told us about the Find Your Light Foundation.

This was the first moment a voice spoke from somewhere deep inside, a voice that reminded me of the valuable things in my past.
I didn’t know it then, but becoming involved in advocating for better arts education has changed my life completely. It’s filled a void. Josh fans may recognise this feeling I have as “waking up.”

Please let me wake up now
God, don’t let me die while I’m like this
I’m ready
I’m ready
To wake up

Find Your Light was destined to be a success. If you have any doubts, you simply need look at what it’s been able to achieve.

The Academy of Music for the Blind, has been a recipient of generosity from FYL, and when I asked what FYL meant to them, they replied:

“Find Your Light has definitely impacted our students and given us hope to continue serving more talented blind students through our program. FYL have supported us through grants and contributed to our fundraisers. We believe that our blind students can be role models in their communities by focusing on their strengths through music.”

As well as a passionate founder and his vastly talented brother, Chris Groban, who has promoted the work of FYL in well-crafted videos like the one above, the ingredients that have made this non-profit successful include a knowledgeable and kind staff, and one of the most dedicated fan bases you will ever find.

The Fans

Some fans, like me, heard about Find Your Light at a concert, others through Twitter, or while watching videos on YouTube.

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Overwhelmingly, the majority of people I spoke to heard about it through other fans, and many of these fans have been there from the start, before Find Your Light, as it is now, even existed.

In the beginning, public charitable efforts were facilitated through The Josh Groban Foundation, founded in 2004 to aid children in a wide range of educational, arts and health services. By 2005, the foundation had already raised $250,000.
The foundation started when fans presented Groban with $70,000 after his concert at The Greek. They had taken all their Josh Groban autographs, selling them on eBay, to raise the money.

In 2011, Groban announced the commencement of Find Your Light, taking place of The Josh Groban Foundation.

“For the past seven years, the Josh Groban Foundation has been a wonderful project for me”, Groban explained to Americans for the Arts, “but the broad reach with which our arms have needed to extend to fulfill the numerous organizations that the foundation has supported have not always been in sync with our means.
So now the time has come for me to focus my charity into a world that I feel personally connected to, and can best help.”

The fans always had heavy involvement in fundraising through the organisation, Grobanites for Charity. Though there had been many fantastic efforts prior, started by fans Val, Julie and Meg, GFC was officially launched in 2005.

When the fundraising from fans reached $1,000,000 in November 2011, GFC held a “Thanks a Million” celebration in NYC, which Groban was able to speak at:

“It means more to me in my career than you could possibly know. This has been the most fun for me in the last seven or eight years since we started doing this. I never expected to start a foundation. When I did, well you all know the story, when I got that first cheque in Los Angeles, I was blown away. We realised that we had something very, very special and very unique in the business, in any facet of the entertainment industry, to have a group of fans that supported my music, but even on a greater level, supported humanitarian work. I knew we had something very, very special. So when I see how it’s grown, and when I see all you here, and when I see that we’ve hit the million dollar mark…that is to me, absolutely extraordinary. It makes me realise just how on the right path we are.”

GFC commonly held auctions over the years for Groban’s birthdays and for Christmas to raise money, benefiting his foundation.
In 2014, Carla Caruso, Jennifer Romanowski, Linda Carbone, and Lori Jackson formed a team to organize the Tanglewood FANily Reunion held in August of that same year. The team partnered with GFC and held an auction at the reunion party that raised $14,237 for FYL.

Jenn also volunteered as a mailer for GFC for several years, mailing out the signature Smiley socks bought from the GFC store, along with many other fans who mailed out the store’s other merchandise items.

“I know that the fans who support FYL do so with great enthusiasm for the programs and children it ultimately benefits”, Jenn says.

In the summer of 2015, Grobanites for Charity was absorbed into Find Your Light, GFC leadership forming the FYL council.

A recent partnership with Omaze gave fans another chance to contribute and spread awareness of arts education. For a limited time, fans were able to buy Find Your Light t-shirts.

It didn’t take long before stories and pictures from shirt wearers were being shared on social media en masse.

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Jenn, (middle) with Stacey Lopater, (left) and Susie Rogers, went to the June 2016 Tony awards red carpet to show support to Josh as he arrived. Later, the ladies wore their shirts to Groban’s concert in Boston, MA. On this occasion, it took them a mile to walk to the venue and several people asked about their shirts.

The Staff

Using their four pillars; support, education, outreach, and advocacy, FYL staff and volunteers have their work cut out for them. They may be, for the most part, nameless and faceless, but what they achieve is far reaching. Having provided funding for over 45 organisations, their work has a ripple effect to countless children, their families, and their communities.

There are so many arts education organisations I admire, but one thing that sticks out with FYL is the gratitude they demonstrate to their supporters.
Their social media consultant is an amazing human, and they are truly at the front-line. They uphold the FYL image; liking every single comment and post, retweeting, sharing, replying to private messages; interacting with the fans and supporters; searching for and sharing informative material; showing kindness, humanity and grace.
Let’s not underplay this: that is a massive workload for one person, but it’s what will keep supporters coming back.

When I came forward with this project, wanting to be respectful by asking permission, I honestly expected to receive no reply. After all, why should they respond to this random person from Australia, who has a little too much enthusiasm?
Although it seems impossible to feel through social media, I felt such encouraging warmth, and I’ve felt that same encouragement throughout the project thus far. I would be remiss not to thank them for this gift.

The Man

“Josh’s love of the Arts, and the endless support that he gives to make sure that others have the opportunities to experience and grow their gifts, amazes me.”
–Donna, Groban fan

When I read about Groban being bullied as a young teenager, I wished I could go back in time and be a friend, even though he doesn’t need my empathy and despite that it shaped him into the caring, comedic individual he is now.
It wasn’t because of my love for his music or his humour on Twitter, it was because I know what it’s like to be bullied.

In a similar fashion, my teen years shaped me into a person who, hopefully, has a lot of empathy. So, while I was imagining this sweet, sensitive kid being pushed around, my heart broke…and I flashed back.

Even when these experiences change you for good, they never fully leave you. I won’t forget the time a boy compared my underdeveloped looks to that of a rodent, or the time another boy chanted “anorexic, anorexic” over and over (at ten, I remember thinking, “it’s a mental illness, imagine if I actually was anorexic!”)

It was having other artistic friends and teachers that saved a soul like mine, and those memories usually swallow up the other ones. I welcomed every artistic friend greedily into my life and enjoyed their energy fully.

You can’t hide forever from the thunder
Look into the storm and feel the rain

What about kids now? Groban shared this insight with the Pittsburgh City Paper

“I wasn’t in school when there were iPhones and Twitter, and there are now a hundred new ways to bully people that weren’t around when I was young. You had to actually step up to someone face to face when I was a kid — it was, like, the real assholes back then because they were the only ones that had the courage to actually shove you around in person.”

With bullies now being able to follow their victims more than ever, it seems fair and right that there should be safe, expressive spaces available to them. Only, in many places, there isn’t.

Could the arts also benefit the bullies? Groban further shares:

“When everything in the world … is blaring to us 24/7 how divided we all are, the arts teach people how to communicate to everyone in their own special way … it makes us not so myopic about our own worlds. … It gives us a much broader picture of how similar we all are.”

With parents who gave Groban a culturally rich upbringing, and with the humbling, character building experiences of youth, the world has been blessed with a wonderful person as well as a vastly talented entertainer.

So I, like the fans I have gotten to know and love, will always be proud to hold the title of Grobanite.

To support the Find Your Light Foundation, visit their website and donate!

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