It was 2008. Silvia Vasquez-Lavado and I were finance colleagues at eBay. After one of our regular meetings to discuss financial systems stuff, we (naturally) started talking about nonprofit projects and ideas. Silvia's family in Peru had founded a local project back in 2003 called Fundacion Gracias which gave back to an indigenous community high up in the Andes mountains where her father had lived as an orphan. Starting with small provisions, the project carefully evolved over time and with the trust of the community to enable the people to help themselves.
Meanwhile, I had been dreaming of a startup project which would support individual grassroots community projects just like Silvia's project in Peru. Giving a boost to projects already on the ground.
Silvia and I talked animately about starting a project together - combining the best of our ideas. But, as things often go, our daily lives and demanding careers got the best of us. Though from time to time, we'd talk about a future collaboration, it seemed farther and farther off, until it was only a pipe dream.
The next year, Silvia and Elayne traveled to the Congo, with a deep need to see what was going on for themselves; to reach out to communities of brave survivors. Child survivors of kidnapping and slavery by youth militias. Female survivors of rape and sexual torture. And so began a project to empower local caretakers with trauma healing tools, so they could take an active role in healing their own communities from the ground up.
Then, in 2011, I reunited with my Korean birth family. And, in doing so, I learned that my biological mother was once an orphan just like me, separated from her own birth family only to reconnect decades later. Another orphan story.
And, suddenly, out of a place of joy and gratitude and a desire to spread that to others, it was finally clear what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called Silvia: "I'm quitting my job at eBay. Let's finally breathe life into this nonprofit we've been talking about after all these years."
And so, in January 2012, the Gracias Foundation was officially born.
Our mission is to empower and improve the lives of women, children, and young adults through locally led grassroots projects in some of the most vulnerable areas of the world. We focus on local people and organizations who are already doing good things in their communities, and strengthen and complement their work, maximizing the impact they have on their beneficiaries.
It's not about "throwing money at a problem." It's not about giving handouts. It's about investing in locally led solutions which transform lives. It's about dignity for those we help just as much as for ourselves. It's about building meaningful relationships. It's about being involved as social activists. It's about joining a movement that will enrich the world.
In short, it's about changing lives. Yours. And, the lives of those you are here to support and champion.
We see giving as a pathway to healing - to bringing joy, connection, meaning, and shared humanity into our collective lives.
Because in truth, we want you to give not just your money, but your heart.
Inspired? We are. Join us on this journey - and get ready to change lives together.
Here we go...