We spoke with Ellen Schwartz, founder of Project Give Back and co-director of Jacob’s Ladder. This super mom is changing the world and inspiring everyone around her to also try and make a big difference. Her 15 year old son Jacob was born with an incurable genetic disease, and the Schwartz’s have made enormous strides by living every day like it’s their last. We found out what you get when you give, the guaranteed way to make a child smile, and why Jake’s beating the odds and how we can too.
What’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
Most people wake up to the sound of an alarm clock; I wake up to Jacob struggling for that first breath. My mornings begin racing into his room to help him recover from his night’s sleep. Once he can take that first breath, my first thought is – okay, if he can do it so can I? Perspective every morning! Then I make myself a massive bucket of coffee. (We’d love to get you to swap that coffee. Perhaps this?)
Why is philanthropy so important to you?
Giving feels so good! After Jacob’s diagnosis, I found myself searching for ways to feel better inside. Giving to others seemed to be the only thing that truly made me feel better. Philanthropy is all about sharing and giving – for nothing in return other than knowing that you have done something right. (Mark your calendars for Jake’s Gigantic Give on November 24th and 25th in Toronto!)
What is Jake’s challenge?
Jake’s life is a medical mystery. No one can understand why he is still with us. I think I can. With health challenges constantly being thrown his way, Jacob consistently follows three basic rules towards life. He does this naturally and effortlessly – this is the Jake Challenge:
Rule #1 – No complaints. (In 15 years with all of his challenges, Jacob never complains)
Rule #2 – Appreciate everything and everyone around you. (Jacob expects nothing and appreciates everything)
Rule #3 – Positive interpretations. (I always look at Jacob and can’t help to wonder if he is bored, or if he is tired. He notices everything from a light breeze to a melodic tune in the background. I don’t think he has ever thought an impure or negative though in his lifetime)
Usually when I try the Jake Challenge, I fail in just minutes. But I keep trying and by the end of the day, I always feel great about the decisions that I made and the mental shifting involved when I focus on Jake’s Challenges and the way he lives his life from moment to moment.
You wrote the book Lessons from Jacob: A Disabled Son Teaches His Mother About Courage, Hope and the Joy of Living Life to the Fullest. If people could walk away from reading your book with one new idea, what would it be?
To appreciate what they have and understand that from great difficulty comes great gifts. (We’re all working towards that here!)
How do you make a child smile? How can we do the same?
That’s easy! Just smile at them with a true genuine smile, a smile that says “I really like you” and guaranteed they will smile back.
Project Give Back is investing in future philanthropists. How many students are enrolled per school year? Do they continue to be philanthropists after they complete your program?
In the 2011-12 school year there were 1,000 students helping more that 400 causes. I think that eyes have been opened up to the world that surrounds them by their peers. Whether they become more involved or just more compassionate, non judgmental and understanding towards one another, my goals have been met. (We adore this program so much, that we are sponsors!)
You are a mom, teacher, and a principal. Which stresses you out the most?
A mom and a wife is the hardest and most rewarding job in the entire world. Nothing stresses you out more than being a mom and a wife, but I can’t think of anything that gives me more pleasure and purpose in this world.
For more information on Jacob’s Ladder visit them at jacobsladder.ca and make a donation to support their incredible work and research. Follow their tweets @JacobsLadder_ and give them a like on Facebook!