[quote style=”boxed”]People ask me all the time if I would change anything, and you know, I really would not. The opportunities that I now have to make a difference to children who need prostheses is incredible – and seeing a child walk for the first time makes for the top moments of my life![/quote]
At age 16, while still in the hospital after losing his legs in a boating accident, and seeing that many children would return home without the prosthetics they needed, Jordan founded the Jordan Thomas Foundation to provide prostheses for children of traumatic injury. Since that time, Jordan, and a large group of volunteers, have raised nearly $1 million – exceeding his original goal of $500,000, and now assist seven children with prostheses along with a commitment to provide for them through the age of 18, an endeavor that requires at least $80-100,000 for each child. Jordan, a senior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., continues to actively preside over his foundation, stay in touch with each beneficiary and spearhead the annual fundraising golf tournament and low country boil dinner event. He has been awarded the National Courage Award, the International Youth in Philanthropy Award, and was named one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes for 2009. Jordan continues to speak, educate, and advocate for inclusion and for coverage of prosthetics in healthcare, and mentors other children and families of traumatic injury.
What are you working on right now?
I am a senior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. I am studying international business with a minor in Spanish. I am contemplating attending graduate school.
Where did the idea for the Jordan Thomas Fdn. come from?
When I was in the hospital, recovering from the loss of both my legs below the knee (at age 16), I saw other kids who had far less than I did, yet were optimistic. I also saw children who would go home without prosthetics because their parents could not afford them or they had no insurance or inadequate insurance and I decided to do something about it. It wasn’t right and I thought that I could help fix it.
What does your typical day look like?
Extremely active. Never a dull moment. Typically exercise, read, do some work, laugh, enjoy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I see things that I think need fixing, or like with our work in Haiti, as soon as the earthquake happened there, we received emails from around the world asking us to go help the children in Haiti. Our board discussed it and we knew of a rehab clinic that was still standing and a board member knew the director. It has evolved from that connection but it is a great relationship and one where I think this foundation has made a huge difference in terms of the care still being provided to amputees in Haiti. Initially, we doubled the size of the lab and lab equipment so that they could meet the demand, and we still raise money for Red Cross approved prosthesis kits that are used there.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
This country was not only able to elect an African American president once, but TWICE. A man that 60 years ago wouldn’t be able to sit down at a lunch counter with white patrons has just been re-elected for another 4 years as the most influential man in the world. If that doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure you’ve got a pulse. It seems as though a modicum of humanity has returned.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was a driving range attendant at a golf club in south Florida and it was horrible. Members treated me like dirt. I learned that regardless of someone’s socioeconomic background, race, creed, religion, etc. everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Everyone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
People ask me all the time if I would change anything, and you know, I really would not. The opportunities that I now have to make a difference to children who need prostheses is incredible – and seeing a child walk for the first time makes for the top moments of my life!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Look at the big picture but still do a great job at handling all the details. How you interact with a donor on even the smallest level really makes a difference. I also realize that we must be growing up as an organization, that we will go through life cycles, and that there is more for us to do. We are constantly reassessing where we are as an organization and what we should be doing. I have a great board of 12 active members who are well-respected in their professional fields and they all contribute in so many ways to make this foundation viable, accountable, and worthy of donations and who oversee the care of each of our recipients.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I guess I’d have to say balancing school and directing a foundation, and prioritizing the demands that the public can put on you and your time. I am limited to meeting at the requests that I would like to since I am a full-time student. Sometimes, if I take a TV request in the middle of a school week, it is hard to shift gears and be 150% on task for the foundation. Plus, I’ve got to get better at controlling my hesitation and nervousness over public speaking. Apparently I am in good company, but it comes with the job and I need to be able to take it all in stride.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Be accountable to your donors whether they ask you to or not. And, that means be specific in how you have used their funds, tailoring each accountability letter just to them. Do it in writing. We do this at the foundation about 3-4 times a year and it makes a good impact. Plus, it shows good stewardship and transparency that are really needed with non-profits. Think of the non-profits you have given to and how they treat you. We want to be the best we can be to our donors who, after all, make it happen for the children that we are serving. It also helps if you have an experienced director who can guide you through all the details that need to happen to make your foundation fulfill its mission and stand out from the others.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would, and have, go to Washington to change the way we provide for children who need prostheses. They need to be able to get them as often as necessary due to growth. It makes all the difference in their lives, and the difference between living in a wheel chair and being active and happy. We can do this. Our healthcare system can do this if we make it. No child should go without prostheses because they cannot afford them. Ever!
Tell us a secret.
I am now ‘in a relationship’ on Facebook and it is causing quite the buzz. Enough said.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
In terms of the foundation, we rely on www.irs.gov for non-profit regulations and information about filing our 990 tax form. We also rely upon the ACA – Amputee Coalition of America to help keep us up to date on what is going on with legislation and amputees around the country. Personally, I use NPR like it’s going out of style because it’s fair, unbiased news coverage—we don’t get enough of that anymore.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Siddhartha. It is the greatest novel ever written. It speaks of honor, truth, dignity, and respect. It certainly changed a lot of things for me.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Anderson Cooper: Probably has the coolest job in the world.
Rich Eisen: Hilarious sports nut.
Elizabeth Windsor: Fake Queen Elizabeth account. All sorts of knee slappers. I’ll say no more.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I couldn’t tell you the last day I had when I didn’t laugh out loud. Today was particularly amusing though because I played a game of pick-up basketball and needless to say the look on people’s faces when they see what a kid with no legs can do, they’re thrown a tad off guard.
Who is your hero, and why?
Muhammad Yunus- the greatest social entrepreneur of all time. He’s changed the world, he will go down as one of the greatest humanitarians that’s ever lived. I admire that.
How do you start a foundation?
We get asked this question all the time. It takes a lot of work up front and from then on. You have to not only do the legal work but you have to make sure that you will have the donor base to support your cause. And then you have to get a board together, work on a mission, have fundraisers, and grow the foundation. We have made remarkable progress but only because of all the people who have come along beside us and given us their expertise, and coached us along the way. We have very generous friends and volunteers who continue to give blood, sweat, tears, time and money to keep us going. I can’t say enough good things about them. And then, having a good director is crucial. When we hired our first director, I was 20 years old, but I knew who I wanted and I made the ask. We work together closely and she covers a lot of bases for me while I am in school. Together, we have grown up the foundation in so many ways. I am really excited about what we are doing.
What keeps you motivated, i.e. what makes you get up each day?
When I think about each one of our recipients, and how they looked when they walked for the first time, and what we have done to make a difference in their lives, you can’t help but want to get up, put your legs on, and get with it! While it hasn’t been easy, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone think that it is, I try not to dwell on self-pity but instead realize that this is the work that I was meant to do and I can do it!
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.