Changing the World, One Story at a Time

Episode 2201: Smile Train

“Powerful Images – Empowering Stories”


Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. Millions of children in developing countries with untreated clefts live in isolation, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. Smile Train’s sustainable model provides training, funding, and resources to empower local doctors in more than 85 developing countries to provide 100 percent-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities.


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Episode 2202: The Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

“Finding Solutions to Hunger and Poverty”


The global population is expected to explode over the next few decades, endangering life on earth as we know it. There are 805 million malnourished people in the world, and the overall population will reach an estimated nine billion by 2050. How will we feed everyone? The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA, believes it has the answer – Africa. The continent has a massive amount of land under cultivation, but it yields only 20 to 30 percent of its potential. Smallholder farmers, the backbone of food production in Africa, struggle with protecting their crops from disease and pests, obtaining quality seeds, and getting their product to market. IITA is working to change this. Their research in areas like crop improvement and disease control could help African farmers double or triple their yields, which potentially could save the world from famine. What’s more, IITA is committed to increasing these yields in environmentally conscious ways – in other words, growing more food without destroying anymore of the planet. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, IITA has become a leading partner in finding solutions to malnutrition, hunger, and environmental degradation across the globe.


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Episode 2203: Job Train

 “College is Not the Only Pathway to Success”


JobTrain was founded 51 years ago to address the lack of job opportunities and poverty in East Palo Alto, CA. Since then, JobTrain has grown from providing one typing class to the local community into a premier workforce development agency that serves San Mateo County, San Francisco County, Santa Clara County, and Alameda County. Through JobTrain’s career training, job placement, and support services, people are able transform their lives from poverty and unemployment into financial stability and sustainable careers. Since its inception, more than 190,000 low-income individuals have benefited from JobTrain’s programs. The majority of people whom JobTrain serves have minimal skills, are often working two minimum-wage jobs, or are unemployed. To address this challenge, JobTrain provides accredited job training programs and the opportunity to earn college credits, providing career pathways to middle-income jobs.


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Episode 2204: The Chicago Lighthouse

 “Seeing Is Believing”


Close to 24 million Americans report that they are blind or have trouble seeing even with corrective lenses – a number that is expected to double by 2050 based on this country’s aging population and the increasing prevalence of diseases that cause blindness. What’s more, the average unemployment rate for people who are visually impaired is a staggering 70 percent. Something needs to change. The Chicago Lighthouse is attempting to move the dial in key ways. First, they are at the cutting edge of technology that helps people who are blind and visually impaired realize their talents. Second, they are attempting to lift the stigma around blindness by providing hundreds of innovative job opportunities to people who are blind and visually impaired, proving that blindness should not be a barrier to employment. In 2016, the Chicago Lighthouse celebrated its 110th anniversary and the principles upon which it was founded – equality, independence, and dignity for all.


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Episode 2205A:  Fair Food Network

“Food as Fuel for a Better Community”


Fair Food Network is a national nonprofit founded on the belief that vibrant local food systems can create health and economic opportunity for all. With a diverse network of partners, they pioneer solutions that support farmers, strengthen local economies, and increase access to healthy food – especially in underserved communities. They accomplish this by developing programs that create on-the-ground impact and serve as replicable models that inform public policy. In doing so, they demonstrate the incredible power of a good idea to grow from a local seed into a national movement.


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Episode 2205B: Crane Trust

“On the Wings of the Sandhill Crane”


Crane Trust: This season, we have revisited one organization that we’ve profiled in the past. Crane Trust is located in Grand Isle, Nebraska, where 10,000 acres of prairie are being nurtured back to their original state by a dynamic group of environmental scientists and government agencies -- working with local farmers and ranchers toward ensuring that future generations can experience the prairie as their ancestors once did. We take you to the only place in North America where half a million sandhill cranes are drawn to roost on their spectacular annual migration.


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Episode 2206: ALDEA

 “It Takes a Village”


In 1959, a young doctor named Carroll Behrhorst journeyed to Guatemala as a medical missionary. What he saw through his travels was that in rural areas, particularly in indigenous communities, people did not have access to healthcare. Several years later, he formed a clinic in Chimaltenango that eventually would become a non-profit called ALDEA. Behrhorst’s philosophy was simple but visionary – people can and will lead their own development. He firmly believed that Guatemalans had the capacity to solve their own problems – an approach that is still critical to ALDEA’s mission today. The organization works to develop the leadership and problem-solving skills of Guatemalans to address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition. ALDEA focuses on clean water, sanitation, hygiene, food security, and, most important, good nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. One village at a time, they are changing the landscape of Guatemala, providing a lifetime of lasting benefits for generations to come.


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Episode 2207: Friends of the Children

“The Future of Mentorship”


Friends of the Children (FOTC) is an early intervention program whose mission is to help our nation’s highest risk children develop the relationships, goals, and skills necessary to break the cycles of poverty, abuse, and violence by developing into contributing members of society. They begin by identifying children who are at risk of being trapped in poverty because of their vulnerability to school failure, drug involvement, and teen pregnancy. The young people often come from a background of poverty and homelessness and experience neglect, abuse, and domestic violence. FOTC employs trained, salaried, professional mentors called Friends – this is their full-time job. By moving out of the volunteer realm of a mentor, FOTC ensures quality, consistency, and commitment for youth.


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Episode 2208:  Free Wheelchair Mission

“Because No One Deserves to Crawl”



Don Schoendorfer, a biomechanical engineer, founded Free Wheelchair Mission after witnessing the plight of a woman with disabilities dragging herself across a road in Morocco. Haunted by her image, Schoendorfer used his MIT training to develop a low-cost, durable, functional wheelchair that would become the cornerstone of Free Wheelchair Mission, which he started in 2001 to serve people with disabilities in developing countries. Worldwide, an estimated 100 million people are in dire need of a wheelchair but lack the resources to obtain one. Many are forced to live on the ground or must wait to be carried to meet their most basic needs. Free Wheelchair Mission’s goal is to deliver 100,000 wheelchairs annually to the poorest of the poor – in some of the most remote regions of the world. This episode of the Visionaries follows Schoendorfer to Ayacucho, Peru, where he will make one of the most significant deliveries of his life - Free Wheelchair Mission’s millionth wheelchair. This story is a celebration of the lives that have been changed – the children who can now attend school and the parents who can support their families – because of Schoendorfer’s wheelchairs, which are often the first step toward dignity in a more inclusive world.


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Episode 2209: Assistance League of Los Angeles

 “The Evolution of Doing Good”


Assistance League of Los Angeles serves the most vulnerable children living in extreme poverty, foster care, or homelessness in LA. They have five programs that include a preschool, an arts education through live children's theatre, and programs that provide clothing, hygiene products and school supplies to at-risk youth. Their goal is to get children to go to and stay in school by operating programs that help provide basic needs. Their network of compassionate volunteers includes adults and teens alike, ensuring their philanthropy continues through generations to come.


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Episode 2210A: Becoming Independent

 “Elevating Abilities Through Human Connection”


Due to shifting demographics and radical changes in government funding models for people with disabilities (PWDs), the old paradigm of congregate service settings for PWDs is being phased out across the country in favor of inclusive opportunities for work and social activities. With its pioneering model of breaking barriers for people with disabilities through authentic human connection, Becoming Independent (BI) has become a game changer in finding ways to embrace this new paradigm. This is a massive shift for BI – and the entire field of human services – but its staff are determined to replace what used to be known as “sheltered workshops” with full community engagement opportunities. With that goal in mind, the organization has become one of California’s most progressive and successful agencies for adults with special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and intellectual impairments. What began as a grassroots, parent-led organization 50 years ago has grown into the largest service provider of its kind in the North Bay region of California, serving nearly a thousand people every year.


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Episode 2210B: Toward Independent Living and Learning

“Journey to Independence”


The story of TILL – Toward Independent Living and Learning – begins in 1980 at the height of deinstitutionalization in Massachusetts. The goal of TILL then and now is for every person to feel that they have a place and a value because of their ability rather than their disability. Because of TILL’s efforts and those of human services agencies like it, life for people with disabilities (PWDs) has dramatically changed over the last few decades. Rather than being defined by their limitations, PWDs at places like TILL are recognized for what they can do and challenged to meet new goals every day. TILL seeks to teach people the value of every person so that those who are differently-abled can be recognized as part of the fabric of the greater community.


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Episode 2211:  Solidarity Bridge

“Building a Bridge to Justice”


For many news organizations, it’s often easier to share hard stories of violence and destitution than it is to convey the subtleties of the respectful and sustainable work needed to build a better world. It is precisely these subtleties that define Solidarity Bridge, which empowers medical communities in Bolivia to serve those in need. By building relationships based on mutual respect and fostering solidarity among all who participate, Solidarity Bridge ensures that the impact of each of their medical missions to Bolivia grows exponentially – in both measureable and immeasurable ways. This episode of the Visionaries follows a team of surgeons from the U.S. over the course of a mission visit to several public hospitals in Bolivia. These American surgeons from Solidarity Bridge are not here to “bestow” their knowledge onto their Bolivian peers but to partner with and empower these local doctors to go on to serve as healers and mentors in their own communities. The role of Solidarity Bridge’s organizational partner in Bolivia, Puente de Solidaridad, is also a key to the Chicago-based non-profit’s success. Working together, these sister organizations are transforming lives by promoting solidarity and justice through the experiences of service and healing.


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Episode 2212: The Shelter for Abused Women and Children

 “Domestic Violence Knows No Bounds”


The Shelter for Abused Women and Children: The mission of The Shelter for Abused Women and Children is to lead the community to prevent, protect, and prevail over domestic violence and human trafficking through advocacy, empowerment, and social change. They offer a 60-bed emergency shelter, outreach services, school-based prevention programs, transitional housing, an onsite kennel, legal advocacy, counseling, and support programs. All of their services are provided free of charge.


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