In February 2007 Meaghan Edelstein, a law student at Shepard Broad Law Center in South Florida , was diagnosed with stage 3B cervical cancer. After being misdiagnosed for over two months the tumor was finally discovered by her doctors. She was told she had little chance of survival but Meaghan decided to fight. She was immediately flown to Boston where she received treatment at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. After receiving internal/external radiation, chemotherapy and numerous surgeries Meaghan was on her way to recovery. While in the hospital many people visited Meaghan, she also received many cards and gifts along the way. Meaghan credits these small touches of love with giving her the extra strength to keep fighting for her life.
Looking for a way to reach out to others Meaghan started a blog called I Kicked Cancers Ass where she wrote openly and honestly about her experience. Many began to find her on her blog and were able to receive answers as well as comfort. Realizing she was helping others began a healing process of her own. Wanting to make more of a difference she thought hard about what else she could do. Finally the answer came. Remembering the cards and gifts she received and how they lifted her spirits during a desperate time, Meaghan decided to match those who wished to give with those who needed support. Even though Meaghan finished law school, took and passed the Florida Bar, she knew there was more to life than going to an office every day. Thus began Spirit Jump.
What are you working on right now?
Along with running Spirit Jump I am an event producer for Global Strategic Management Institute. Currently I am organizing the 2011 Social Media Strategies Summit ). In addition I am a regular contributing writer for Mashable.com and do freelance consulting for businesses, with a emphasis on nonprofits, interested in learning how to use social media to market. In everything I do I make sure to include charities and causes of all kinds.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I ask for help and I ask all types of people. Whether volunteers, other nonprofit leaders or friends and family I find there is always someone who can help. No matter how smart, strong or wealthy you are you can never do it all by yourself.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating and building your organization?
Knowing I have touched someone’s life in a positive way, both those battling cancer and those who want to make a difference. Before I was diagnosed I didn’t pay much attention to being charitable. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it just hadn’t occurred to me that I could make a meaningful difference in someones life without writing a check for several thousand dollars. Through my experience I realized there are countless ways to have huge impacts on others without spending a dime. Creating, running and participating in my nonprofit, Spirit Jump, have been the most fulfilling things I have done in my life time.
What has been your greatest challenge and how have you overcome it?
There is no doubt the greatest challenge has been raising money. I am lucky in that the way Spirit Jump runs we don’t rely heavily on cash flow. Our members send cards and small gifts directly to people battling cancer. However, keeping up with the costs that come with running any company, whether for profit or not, is difficult. I can’t say we have “over come” this challenge. In the beginning I had committed myself 100% to running the organization full time. I was lucky enough that my dear friend Dominique Miniaci and boyfriend Bryan Power both did the same thing, with little to no compensation. While my hope was to sustain this we were unable. So, instead we run the organization part time and all have found other ways to “make a living” while still keeping Spirit Jump running.
What inspires you?
This is an easy one! What inspires me are the people who make Spirit Jump possible. Those amazingly brave men, women and children who reach out to us during what can be the most difficult times in their life simply because they want to receive cards. And those people, around the world, who send cards to complete strangers expecting nothing in return. Spirit Jump reminds me of the humanity that we all have. In a time when many of us are suffering financially and emotionally people still take the time to care about those they don’t even know. It’s truly humbling.
What is one mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
Trusting too much and being naive about what it means to run a nonprofit. I know that’s two things but they kind of go hand in hand. When I first started Spirit Jump I was still very sick and believed it would be easy to get support from trustworthy people. Unfortunately, I found a lot of people were ready and waiting to take advantage of an opportunity. I’ve learned for profit and not for profit businesses tend have a lot more in common than I thought. There is still competition, people still take advantage and it’s a lot of work. I learned to look at my organization as a business, because at the end of the day that’s exactly what it is.
What is one book and/or tool that helps you?
Social Networking. As I said earlier in the interview, when I started Spirit Jump it was when I was still sick and I didn’t have any start up money or resources. In the beginning I simply used Facebook, Twitter and Blogging to grow Spirit Jump and participating in cause marketing campaigns to raise money. It was amazing what I was able to accomplish with the support of others who use social networking sites. We grew quickly, receive a lot of support and were able to help people battling cancer all over the world. All of this simply by using a variety of social networking sites for free.
What made you decide to start your non-profit organization?
I was diagnosed with 3b cervical cancer when was 28 and in my second year of law school. I was fortunate to have many classmates, friends and family. There wasn’t one day where I didn’t receive a card or gift from someone. I spent 4 months in and out of the hospital, mostly in, and it was a very lonely time. But, there was the one moment in each day when I stopped thinking about the pain, possibility of dying, sickness and unbelievable loneliness. When a card or gift came a small smile would come across my face. I was eager to see who sent it and it was like a small escape from the darkness that was my life. At the time I didn’t put much thought into what a difference those cards and gifts made. It wasn’t about what the cards said or how cool the gift was. It truly was the thought and it warmed my heart in a way I cannot put into words. When I started blogging about my experience hundreds of people reached out to me asking how they could comfort their loved ones who had been diagnosed. And, I received countless emails from those battling cancer expressing their loneliness and frustration with friends and family who hadn’t reached out to show their support. It was then that it occurred to me there was a need for an organization that would help those who wanted to show support and those who needed it.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Alex’s Lemonade Stand founder Jay Scott.
How can members of our community help?
It’s easy to participate in Spirit Jump. If you would like to receive our newsletters which contain stories from those battling cancer who would like to receive cards simply visit www.spiritjump.org and click on Become a Jumper. There is no fee, no minimum number of cards to be sent and you are not “adopting” a particular person. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to participate. When you receive a newsletter and you want to send something to one, a few or all those asking for a Spirit Jump simply reply to the newsletter and let us know whose address you would like. You can send one card or a million, to one person or to all….its really up to you. If you know someone battling cancer, or if you are, and you think receiving cards and small gifts would help lift spirits click on Request a Jump.
What do you suggest to those who say they don’t have enough time or money to contribute to charities?
There are so many ways to make a difference without spending a lot of time or money. I had this in mind when I created Spirit Jump. Most people have extra cards laying around and hand made cards can be the best! Some people simply write letters on a plain piece of paper. While money is important for any charity it is never the only way to support.
How has running a nonprofit changed your life
This experience has opened my eyes to the world around me. Being a part of something larger than myself has shown me how unimportant some of the things I thought were so important are.
Meaghan Edelstein (cancerlost) on Twitter
Meaghan Edelstein on LinkedIn