Home #Hwoodtimes Shelley Callahan, Director of Development of Children Inc. Interview

Shelley Callahan, Director of Development of Children Inc. Interview

Shelley Callahan




By: Judy Shields

Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/20/2018 – “We have a Warm Clothing Fund, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. In areas where it’s really cold we provide jackets and boots. We also get a lot of support through our sponsors for Christmas gifts for our children. That is for any child throughout the world at Christmas time.”  Shelley Callahan, Director of Development with Children Incorporated told The Hollywood Times during a phone interview.

Shelley Callahan started her career in the non-profit sector in 2006 when she co-founded Books on Wheels, which provided free books to children in low-income neighborhoods across the U.S. She then expanded her work in the humanitarian sector by working with international aid organizations, taking her to Colombia to dig wells, Haiti to manage medical teams, and Nepal and Uganda to provide clean water solutions to indigenous populations living in poverty. Through her work with Children Incorporated, Callahan has helped thousands of impoverished children in India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Latin America, and the United States.

Since 1964, Children Incorporated has extended its reach to over 300,000 children across 23 countries through programs and outreach projects. Connecting individual donors to specific in need through their sponsorship program, Children Incorporated provides impoverished children with basic needs such as food, clothing, and educational support in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and offer children a chance at a brighter future.

Callahan’s central point of the mission she shares with Children Incorporated is that the life of charity isn’t at all realizing the potential of her own goodness, but simply a way to facilitate and magnify the generosity of others. She is also author of the book, “The House of Life,” and has written for numerous publications about her work.

For people like Shelley Callahan, the everyday work of global charity relief is less of a superhuman exercise in sublime divinity than it is simply magnifying the many generous actions of donors, supporters, and others who can only give “a little.” “Working for Children Incorporated has made me a much more considerate and patient person,” Callahan observes, “but it’s also made me realize that the most important thing anyone can do is give back. You can do something small, and make a huge difference.”

Shelley Callahan

Interview with Shelley Callahan of Children Incorporated.

THT: How long have you been involved with Children Incorporated?

SC: “I’ve been with them for a little over four years now.”

THT: How did you hear about Children Incorporated?

SC: “I founded a non-profit organization, Books on Wheels, which was based out of Richmond Virginia, which is where I was living before I relocated to Los Angeles this year. I lived in Richmond for twenty years and I was not aware of the Children Incorporated, which has been around for over 50 years. My background is in social work and I have worked for non-profits for my entire career, and through my work with Books on Wheels in Richmond and decided that I really enjoyed doing that, but wanted to work for an organization that was doing international work as well as supporting local communities. I get an email newsletter from this organization in Virginia that sends out jobs in the non-profit world, news that is going on and volunteer work. It just happened to pop up in my email inbox that Children Incorporated was hiring and I started out working in their fund raising department and on marketing and communications. I was given the opportunity to travel for them and be the person to tell their story.”

THT: What type of social work were you previously doing?

SC: “I was working for an organization that I actually started when I was in graduate school called “Books on Wheels.” It was a small non-profit organization where we were giving away free books and fixing bicycles. We went up and down the East coast and as far west as Texas. So we covered a lot of ground running this organization. It was a really good way to get my feet wet running an organization.”

THT: As Director of Development for Children Incorporated, tell us what you do on a daily basis?

SC: “I do quite a bit of writing, I’m reporting on our work all around the world. We work in 23 countries including the United States and we work with 300 affiliated sites, like schools, orphanages, and community centers that we partner with around the world. I hear stories from staff members and coordinators about how our program has been able to impact these children positively. I write our blog, handle our social media and write grants, and do interviews and articles. I want to bring awareness to those who do not know about our organization. I want them to develop a good understanding of what we do, why it is important and how they can get involved. Our donors receive regular updates on where their money goes.”

THT: What is it like to travel around the world and visit these affiliated sites and the children?

SC: “It is really an amazing experience to see first-hand how the money helps children with basic needs to they can go to school. There is a great amount of poverty here in the United States. It really put a lot of things into perspective as far as what is really valuable to people and a lot of it is just being able to take care of their families and make sure that their children are educated. I think our sponsorship program is a perfect example of that. A small amount of money goes a long way. It is such a little amount of $30 a month, but it’s making sure kids are getting fed, going to school, and making sure they have shoes and clothes to wear. It makes such a huge difference to these children.”

“For Children Incorporated being transparent with our financial statements and letting our donors know exactly where their dollars are going is really important to us. At the end of the day, we are an organization that makes sure that the money is going to the right places. I am very proud that we have a lot of financial information available for our donors. It might not be a flashy way to tell our story, but the numbers do say a lot.”

“There are dedicated charity watch organizations (like Charity NavigatorsCharity WatchGuideStar) that rate charities and the dollar amount that is going directly to the program and their mission.”

“I always recommend those websites. Children Incorporated is so fortunate that a lot of people get in touch with us because they have read those ratings online and they are so impressed with our rates. Without speaking to the staff directly, they will make a decision to support us, which I think is just fantastic.”

THT: What do you do locally to help out?

SC: “We have feeding programs throughout the year here in the United States. Some of our focus as a child sponsorship organization tends to be around the Christmas holiday. We have our coordinators help families with Christmas dinners.”

What a great interview. I learned so much about Children Incorporated and I can honestly say I will be sponsoring a child for the first time and feel comfortable knowing that my money will be spent wisely to help a child.  Please take some time out of your day to look into sponsoring a child and make a New Year’s Resolution for 2019, not for a Christmas gift but for a child in need.  Check out their website: https://childrenincorporated.org/

For Callahan, working on behalf of Children Incorporated involves traveling to points near (Appalachia, the inner city, and the reservation) and as far as the Bolivia and Southeast Asia. Callahan not only manages the organization’s communications, but is the social correspondent for the web series “On the Road,” where she is able to highlight individual and community success stories and bring evidence of the effectiveness of donor support into the digital spotlight.

Her job also means celebrating the accomplishments of Children Incorporated’s successful community based projects, such as the an effort to add seven classrooms to a school in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. “It’s easy to see the impact of these projects on the lives of individuals,” explains Callahan, “but we also see how the entire community benefits.” The new classrooms, for example, meant that there could be adult literacy classes offered at night for the first time, and members of the community have pooled their resources to buy AC units for the new buildings. “We can claim that our reach is more than twice as much as the individual children we directly sponsor, because it always includes siblings, family members, neighbors, and others who benefit.”

The same goes for another project in Bolivia, Villa Emelia, a home for women who are transitioning from living on the streets. “It’s a place to stay, with their children, as well as a factory that makes garments and school uniforms to give them new job skills and work towards sustainable living situations.” The Catholic nuns who have partnered with Children Incorporated in the region have also developed a program where they purchase property that the women can pay the mortgage on as they earn. “They had eight plots of land that were ready to go, and we were able to step in with the funding needed to actually build new homes.”

Shelley Callahan explains that each new project must be carefully planned and vetted before donors are approached for support. “We always have a general idea about what we can do, but we need to assess everything before we fundraise, and then look to our existing donor base and ask them is this what they would want to support?” Looking back at a past visit to India and Sri Lanka, Callahan says that recent efforts are geared towards broader environmental issues like clean water solutions, as well as the more traditional efforts of providing shelter, clothing, and basic necessities for individually sponsored children.

While many efforts are focused overseas –such as providing growing shoes and group homes to children in Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Children Incorporated also has projects in several states, notably in the Appalachian region. “We have a lot of coordinators in Kentucky that have made for a great partnership, but we also have programs for children in Arizona, New Mexico, inner cities like Detroit, and locally in Richmond and Washington DC,” Callahan explains. “Most people think of urban poverty, but rural poverty is a real challenge. Beyond the beautiful scenery, you have kids who live miles away from their schools, where the only transportation might be the school bus, with roads that are inaccessible in the winter. Many of these kids live with extended family, separated from their parents because of abuse or neglect.” While American children, unlike their foreign peers, are at least guaranteed some sort of education and basic health care, they still lack many of the basics. One of Children Incorporated’s more successful programs is “Backpack Feeding” – literally stuffing kids’ backpacks full of easy-to-make food on a Friday, since they might not have access to food until school resumes on Monday. “Poverty looks different in the U.S.,” says Callahan, “but no child is better or worse off – poverty has an impact wherever it is. Our programs remind kids that someone is looking out for them when they don’t have that anywhere else in their life.”

That brings Callahan back to the central point of the mission she shares with Children Incorporated: the life of charity isn’t at all about realizing the potential of her own goodness, but simply a way to facilitate and magnify the generosity of others. “There’s so much that each person can do for a child’s confidence,” she reflects. “I didn’t realize how privileged I was to have parents who kept me safe and educated and encouraged me to do things, until I meet children that didn’t have that. We don’t have to be superheroes to make a difference – I don’t do anything out of the ordinary except to tell these stories and be a voice for the voiceless. We just want people to understand that it’s very easy to give back, it’s important to do something outside of yourself, because every gesture you make in that regard, whether it’s for Children Incorporated or somewhere else, is very valuable.”


When you think about it, charity can be a tough business. As Larissa MacFarquhar writes in her best seller Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, “The life of a zealous do-gooder is a kind of human sublime…confronting it, you see its formidable nobility, and at the same time, you sense uncomfortably that you would not survive it for long.”

That sublime ambition is what Children Incorporated tries to bring to its donors and supporters – a sense of connecting someone who can provide for someone else who desperately needs help. Since 1964, Children Incorporated has extended its reach to over 300,000 children, spread across 23 countries and through over 300 programs and outreach projects. Operating without religious or political affiliation, and with a lean staff of 16 located at their headquarters in Virginia, sponsorship donations and volunteer support are the lifeblood of the organization.

Since it was founded by Jeanne Clarke Wood in 1964, Children Incorporated has engaged in direct sponsorship of specific children. After witnessing poverty on a trip to Guatemala, Wood began writing letters to friends and colleagues asking for donations that would specifically match them with one of the 95 children she met on her travels. Since then, all of the organization’s work has revolved around connecting donors to individual children. As the organization reaches these children all around the world, they also find ways to engage in other local projects and relief efforts that help improve the children’s lives from the outside as well.

Direct sponsorship is behind one of Children Incorporated’s current high-profile projects, inspired by the 20th anniversary of the self-help best-seller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. The book proved a boom for Children Incorporated in 1997 when Carlson wrote about giving to charity, “There are many find agencies to choose from, but my personal favorite is Children Incorporated…the experience has brought tremendous joy and satisfaction to my family.” “Dr. Carlson’s mention was one of the most meaningful things to ever happen to our organization,” says Callahan. “Thousands of impoverished children were helped as a result.” Now, Carlson’s widow Kristine is continuing that legacy, partnering with Children Incorporated to generate 2000 new sponsorships, with the Richard Carlson Memorial Foundation pledging $5000 in matching donations.

Since 1964, Children Incorporated has extended its reach to over 250,000 children across 23 countries through programs and outreach projects. Children Incorporated provides impoverished children with basic needs such as food, clothing, and educational support in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and offer children a chance at a brighter future.

Children Incorporated relies on donors and individual sponsors to provide opportunities to children around the world. Sponsorship provides an underprivileged child with basic necessities such as food, clothing, healthcare and education. For just $30 a month, you can help to break the cycle of poverty and give a child hope for a brighter tomorrow.


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