Friday, August 1, 2014

Rising Star Outreach: My Reason with Tyler Vigue

Life has this tendency to take twists and turns that you weren't expecting. Each change in course seems to have its own impact on you as a person and the way you see the world.

I sure didn't realize what was in store for me when I took that turn and ran right into Rising Star Outreach, but I do know that my life will never be the same again.

I love people. People are my passion. I really enjoy helping people solve their problems and some of my greatest joys in life come from assisting individuals as they reach for and achieve their dreams. I guess my destiny was to involve philanthropy because when you work in this industry, your mission and objective is to help individuals and families to realize their desires to lift, bless, and serve others, while the outcome blesses and lifts both the giver and the receiver.

I have fallen in love with Rising Star Outreach, both the work we do and how we involve so many people. We don't just invite people to donate to the cause, but we invite them to come to India and serve, to become part of the work we do, to play a vital role in the lives of the children and patients we serve, and to fulfill dreams of giving and service that in some cases, the individual didn't even know he or she needed to fulfill.

My heart was truly touched by the mission of Rising Star Outreach, and then my wife and I felt that this was where we needed to be at this time in our lives. My first official day of work involved  jumping on a plane to India to experience the full breadth of the work we do there. The next week changed me forever, but the most impressive part of that experience for me was realizing that virtually everyone involved with this organization feels privileged and honored to be a part of this special work. What we do is full of challenges because the work is centered on people and involves so many people. But what I love to see is that even at the end of the day, when a volunteer or staff member can talk about the challenges and hard things that they had to deal with that day, they always seem to radiate when they also talk about the highlights of their experiences and how meaningful their involvement is to them.


Everyone of us has our own story. But when it comes to stories of how and why we are a part of Rising Star Outreach, I think we all agree that there was an unforeseen turn in the road, our lives have been richly blessed, and we have been changed forever. 

--Tyler Vigue
Executive Director

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rising Star Outreach: My Reason with Klorisa Jolley

I've always felt that it is important for people to know that they can change the world. I think everyone deserves to know that they have the ability to be and become the individual they want to be.  Rising Star Outreach encompasses that. The organization empowers, educates, lifts, and is sustained and driven forward by the very people that it is assisting.

Klorisa and Saroja

While researching non profits implementing microfinance programs I came across Rising Star Outreach.  Not only did this organization offer economic opportunity but it aimed to lift the society as a whole through medical treatment, emotional healing, and education. It was not a hand out, it was a tool to help individuals identify what they are capable of, and empower them to obtain it. It was everything I was looking for. After reading through the entire website and investigating the actual impact of the program I knew I needed to be a part of it.

I soon found my way to India as the medical  long term coordinator. I served throughout the weeks in the leprosy colonies.  I would return to the volunteer hostel wishing I could only do more. It was an honor to work with those affected by leprosy. I wanted to serve, completely, selflessly, but I couldn't help returning from the colonies and not feel as though it benefited even more. I was filled with gratitude, acutely aware of others needs, compassionate, and constantly felt like I wanted to give the world a hug. Yes the world, and I would start with the patients of the leprosy colonies.                                                                                                             Shortly after my time with the people of India an opportunity to continue serving them presented. I was thrilled to put it mildly. I now am fortunate enough to work alongside the very people who make this program possible. I am reminded daily of the power if individuals across the world, and look forward to the changes for good we can and will accomplish individually and together. To those skeptical of my world changing hugs: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has."-Margaret Mead

--Klorisa Jolley
Volunteer Program Manager

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rising Star Outreach: My Reason with Callie Reagan

 I feel that I have had a lifetime of preparation for working with Rising Star Outreach.  I was born with a congenital amputation of my right arm just below the elbow.  It has never really bothered me even though I knew I was different from others.  People would stare and point and sometime they would cry and run away in fear. Others pretended not to notice or even approached in curiosity.  It was because I was different from so many. It wasn't a big deal, it was just the way it was.

I remember when I would have to do reports for health or science classes, I was always drawn to leprosy. In my ignorance, I did not know it was still an issue as I always saw it as a disease from the movie Ten Commandments and other biblical stories. I even used it sarcastically to describe myself. It took years for me to finally understand more about the disease and those that suffer from it.

Callie and Julie

Julie Domm, my best friend and roommate at the time, attended a speaking engagement done by Becky Douglas.  Julie was so moved that she sponsored a child.  I remember when the Christmas ornament with little Hari's picture came and we hung it on the tree.  A few short months later she had the desire to serve in India. Within days she was making arrangements to quit her job and move to India for 6 months!  I was so proud of her, she was so brave.  A video documentary was sent from the office and we watched it together, I was fascinated and troubled all at the same time.

There was a comment in the video that hit me, "they are untouchable."  Untouchable... that was a powerful word for me.  People have always been fascinated or afraid of me, which often left me - untouched. I didn't realize this was different until I had a set of roommates in college that were so loving and were always touching me and hugging me, it changed me.

Rani and Callie

Saroja and Callie
When I heard that there was an entire population, over 700 colonies of people that were left with feeling that they were "untouchable", "unclean", "cursed from God" I knew I couldn't stand by and let people feel that alone and unwanted. It became my mission to love them, what I did not expect was the love they gave me, the acceptance and the concern they showed me in the colonies.  Often they were confused at why this American girl was missing a limb like to many of them, they cried and blessed me and hugged me and took me to meet their family.  I helped them with their shoes and walked them home, hugging and touching them and showing them the love they deserve.  They are the reason that I work with Rising Star Outreach and that I care so much about what I do.  A person suffering whether they are in my country or another is a person suffering.  I want to be a person that will help another in need and through Rising Star Outreach and because of my friend Julie, I can be that person everyday.
Callie and Miskin from Villivakkam

Callie and Panasamy (the Barber)

A hug from Thiyagarajan
Before I left for India my Mom said something I will never forget, "Callie, I am afraid for you to go, but I am more afraid of you not going." She knew that I needed this experience and that it would forever change my path.

When I take pictures of out patients and students and I see the love, trust and hope in their eyes I know that we have done something right. Their smiles, successes, and hard work make every sacrifice worth it. I am blessed to be with Rising Star Outreach and I am forever changed by our patients and students and staff that work so hard every day.  I believe our volunteer theme for the year  - Together we are more!
--Callie Reagan
Director of Programs and Outreach

Release of a new Video! Lifting those with Leprosy

Rising Star Outreach is proud to release the first of a series of videos talking about the work and history of Rising Star Outreach.

We need each of you to #share the video, #repost, and #like so we can get the message that leprosy is a disease that is still out there and most importantly, CURABLE.

A special thanks to our talented photographers: Josh Cross and Evan Carpenter
Editing: Scott Wilhite 
And to all our amazing supporters and volunteers.  Your hard work, donations and time spent with us is changing the lives of generations.  There is no thanks large enough for what you do. 

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the video!

Becky Douglas Interview: From Housewife to Heroine

Fourteen years ago Becky Douglas, a suburban housewife from Atlanta started a journey that would changer her life – and the lives of thousands of others. Her unique story is a tale of triumph combined with moments of tears and distress. With the assistance of her loving family, trusting friends and her faith in God, Becky Douglas was able to accomplish what many housewives only dreamed of doing.  

Picture taken the day before they left on their church mission.  Not pictured: Tom Douglas, Amber Douglas and Madi Douglas

Amber Douglas
As the mother of ten children, both biological and adopted, Becky spent most of her days consumed with the affairs of her family. In her spare time, she developed her talent as a violinist, participating in several concerts each year. When Becky’s 24-year-old daughter Amber committed suicide, Becky became aware that her daughter was sending money to India to help support an orphanage called the Belmont Children’s Home. At the funeral Becky encouraged family and friends to donate to the orphanage in Ambers memory. The outpouring was so large that the orphanage invited Becky to its board of directors.

“I thought if I was going to be on this board of directors I better get to India and see what it is I am doing,” Becky said. “I went to India, visited this orphanage and the children had everything they needed. By U.S. standards they were poor, but by India’s standards they had a lot.”

While learning about the Belmont Children’s Home during her first trip to India, Becky encountered something she never would have supposed. Leprosy.

“In the U.S. we don’t see people with leprosy putting their hand that’s rotting off up to your window and asking for money,” Becky said. “In India, when the car would stop we would be surrounded by beggars who wouldn’t have all their limbs and they would have children with sores on them and they stunk and there were flies … I just wanted to get away.”

Even the distance between Becky’s home in Atlanta and India could not help her get away. She was kept up night after night troubled by the images of those suffering on the streets of India.

“In one particular instance a young woman had crawled up to our car at the stop light and started scratching on our tire,” Becky said. “As she looked at me that was really the first time I felt like I connected to those with leprosy. She was a mother; she was just someone like me. As soon as I saw her and really looked at her, I thought, ‘I am going to do something for her, I can work with these people, I can do this.’ And that was the start. When I came home it was the image of this woman over and over again that kept coming to me at night.” 
With determination, Becky gathered support from family and friends to develop a plan to help the leprosy afflicted in India. After several years of trial and error and one learning experience after the other, Rising Star Outreach was born.

Today, we have helped hundreds of families become productive members of society through our micro-grant program. These families were once ostracized by society due to their disease. Now, they are making significant contributions to society through the skills and talents they have developed. We also have 80% of our student population from leprosy colonies participating in our school. These children are receiving some of the best education available in India. Of course, we cannot forget the hundreds volunteers from across the nation whose lives have been changed. All this is a result of a housewife who made a decision to help. In the process, she has become more than a housewife, she is a heroine. 

--Brandon Harvey
   PR Intern

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rising Star Outreach: My Reason with Audrey Hunter

At the age of 19, I had a strong desire to make a difference. After researching many organizations to volunteer with, I heard of Rising Star Outreach through a friend. I went straight to the website and read about their mission and programs. What originally drew me to their volunteer program was that I wouldn't have to choose what kind of work I did; I would be able to volunteer in three aspects of humanitarian work: education, medical, and community development. As I grew to understand more about the organization, I was impressed with their multi-faceted approach to helping the leprosy affected. Not only were they helping with the medical ailments that came from leprosy, they were also increasing self-dignity and self-sufficiency through micro-grants and providing a bright future for their children through education. I signed up to be a volunteer that summer in 2010.
Bharathapuram Leprosy colony 2010

The leprosy affected had an immense impact on me. Their strength and optimism in face of trial was an example I gravitated towards. At the end of the session, I realized that although I came to help them, they helped me more than I ever could reciprocate. I left India inspired with a desire to continue volunteering with this organization. I was able to return to India two more times. I was a long term volunteer from January to April 2011 and went once more July 2011. Volunteering in India wasn't enough, I wanted to contribute even when I was in the states. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the states after my first session in 2010. I was then offered to work for Rising Star Outreach in November 2012 and accepted my dream job here in the office. 
Moot Colony 2011

One of my favorite quotes from Gandhi says, "The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others." This organization has changed my life!  It has offered me many opportunties to "lose" myself. I am able to collaborate and work with dedicated people who do make a difference. I am empowered in my personal ability to make contributions to those in need. I am able to witness the successes and growth of Rising Star Outreach. I am able to make a difference. Words cannot express my appreciation for all that Rising Star Outreach has done for me and all that it continues to do for the leprosy affected in India.
Sudha 2011

--Audrey Hunter
Sponsorship Manager

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rising Star Outreach: My Reason with Amy Humphrey

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and attended schools that were very diverse in culture (Hispanic, Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and African-American). I learned very quickly that no matter what your origin, people are all the same. We all expect to be noticed, respected, and loved. We all have families, lives, ambitions, challenges, and fears. I also learned at a young age that food, clothing, shelter, education, employment, and access to health-care are not always afforded everyone. Coming from a family that did not have very much, I learned to be thankful for what I do have, and, where much is given, much is expected. 

I feel fortunate to be working with Rising Star Outreach! How many people are given the opportunity to facilitate help to thousands of families and children living with the effects of leprosy? I have worked with this organization for nearly eight years, seeing first-hand, the successful results of our program. I have seen people turn their lives around, full of confidence because they can provide a home and an education for their children. I spent time with Saroja as she showed me her mango tree that she planted, with no hands, and how it would bear fruit in a year – enough to take to the street-side and sell. I have seen children hold their heads up with new confidence and hope for their future as they walk through the halls of our school.
Working for this organization has changed my life. I have an enlargement of gratitude, awareness, and love for anyone in need. I feel less need for things, or time spent dwelling on problems. I have a new realization of how much need there is in this world and how much ability I have to do something to help.

Director of Operations, USA Office