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Play It Forward Southlake

Meet Gretchen Morgan, a big supporter of Play It Forward Southlake which was founded by her brother Mack Morgan along with two other former Southlake Carroll High School athletes, Preston LeJeune and Kenny Hill. The nonprofit community service program collects gently used athletic equipment and refurbishes the goods before distributing the equipment to children who can't afford to buy sports gear. The group is a branch of Play It Forward USA founded in Keller and supported in partnership by The Pro Players Foundation. We wanted to know more about Play It Forward Southlake and Morgan was kind enough to answer a few questions: 


Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Play It Forward Sports Southlake.  

Gretchen Morgan: Play it Forward Southlake is a student athlete run organization that collects new and gently used sports equipment and gets it to ‘needy’ athletes in our area, country, and around the world.

DT: How did you become involved with Play It Forward Sports Southlake, and why are you so passionate about the work being done with the charity group? 

GM: Our group was started by my brother Mack Morgan in his freshmen year of high school at Carroll in 2009 along with his friends Kenny Hill and Preston LeJeune. I’m passionate because I realize how fortunate I am with regards to having all of my ‘sports’ equipment needs met easily, and I realize there are lots of kids out there that can’t play the sport they love because their family can’t afford it.  I enjoy helping kids in need, and my parents raised me to try and be kind and look out for those in need. A lot of times kids want to play sports, but can't because it is expensive to "gear up". Does this sort of charity help them to be involved?  - Oh yes, that’s our mission statement, “Because no child should go without so that they can play the sport they love” - We realize that sports does a huge amount of confidence building, leadership skills, teamwork skills and much more.

DT: Do you think seeing young people like yourself and athletes like Kenny Hill involved in charity work, inspires other young people to give of their time to nonprofit work?  

GM:  Yes, It definitely helps - Kenny wears his Play it Forward Southlake bracelet to this day on the football field and off the field! He always has and is a huge ‘active’ member today!  His little brother Marcus is a member of our chapter now too! It’s great publicity for us, of what we do and helps us find beneficiaries and kids in need.

DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat? 

GM:  We don’t have much to pay for, and Pro Players Foundation looks out for us, with our needs, and our parents have ‘donated’ lots of money  and stuff too to keep us running, but a lot of businesses help our cause, too!

DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?  

GM: We always need equipment, any type of balls work well, kids can always do something with a ball,  some organizations need big ticket items, like soccer goals, basketball goals etc.  Cash donations are always nice too, so we can buy NEW equipment too! 

DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Play It Forward Sports Southlake?  

GM: Donating to the kids in Dallas last summer, the Pro Players Foundation and the Dallas Mavericks renovated a community/center gym in East Dallas, and we all went and delivered, got to feed the kids lunch and got to meet and play with the kids, along with the Dallas Mav Maniacs, that was fun! I also loved donated and playing with the kids of the Miracle League in Arlington back in 2010, when their facility had a fire, we collected loads of ‘baseball’ equipment and then got to go down to Arlington to be ‘buddies’ with the players!  It was awesome!

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Meet Monique Heidari-Ramos, who is part of the family-owned The Old Warsaw restaurant in Dallas. Ramos' father purchased The Old Warsaw in 1986 and kept the French Continental cuisine. Diners will find an elegant dining experience with crystal chandeliers and cozy booths. Ramos says without the "stuffy" feel. The Old Warsaw is unique by any measure. It opened in 1948 and remains a landmark in the heart of Uptown. It has been recognized for it's succulent fare with the Four Diamond Award and rated "Excellent" by the Zagat Texas Restaurant Survey.

Customers will appreciate the talented musicians that roam about during the dining experience. Ramos, who is the events coordinator at the Maple Manor Hotel nearby describes an evening at The Old Warsaw as an expereince for all of the senses. There are more than 460 selections to choose from, including an extensive wine list. We wanted to know more about The Old Warsaw and get Ramos' take on dining trends in DFW. She was kind enough to answer a few questions: 

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about your family business, The Old Warsaw. 

Monique Heidari-Ramos: The Old Warsaw was established in 1948 as a French restaurant. It was originally named La Vielle Varsovie, meaning The Old Warsaw. It was the second owner who changed the name to The Old Warsaw. My father bought the business in 1986 and kept the French fare. It is a very romantic restaurant with crystal chandeliers, cozy booths, three course menus and a divine wine list. We have a pianist and strolling violinist nightly to add livelinessand ambiance to your dining event. I have heard some say that the multiple courses and formality of the waiters is too old school, but these are the traits that give the restaurant personality and make it a unique experience from what is now the norm amongst all the new upcoming trendy restaurants in Dallas. We have done renovations on several occasions to update the look and stay with the times so to speak, and I feel we've managed to clean up the "stuffiness" but still maintain a unique gorgeous dining room. 

DT: The food items are part of what draws people to The Old Warsaw, along with the atmosphere. What are your specialties? 

Our entree specialties are the Beef Wellington and Chateaubriand, Dover Sole and Lobster Thermidor. Our dessert specialties are our Chocolate or Raspberry Souffles, the Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster which are prepared table side. A spectacular show piece to end the meal. These items are our staples and will always be on our menu. There is a little more diversity in our catering menus which we feature at our venues next door, the Maple Manor Hotel and 2620aVenue. Both are event venues and are catered by The Old Warsaw. 
DT: What kind of food and or experience do you think diners are looking for when they go out on the town in DFW?
MR: I think diners want something to wow all their senses. We offer delicious food, a great wine list, a beautiful room, and very talented musicians.
DT: Where are food choices trending when it comes to dining out?
MR: Restaurants are taking those familiar foods you grew up with and making a great spin on them. Like Chicken and Waffles and Sliders. We offer these takes and more on our catering menu in our venues next door.
DT: How are restaurants and other establishments catering to the health-conscious eater when it comes to dining out?
MR: We personally can modify anything. If a diner wants to eat clean, we will just season and grill and we dont have to cook with oil and butter to make it taste fantastic. Same with vegan or gluten, we can modify and create a dish that will be filling and pleasing to the eye.
DT: Where do you think "eating out" ranks as a priority for budget conscious families?
MR: Our menu is in the $$-$$$ price range so to cater to the budget concious family, we have ventured out to enroll in the Groupon program. It has made our restaurant seem more approachable in the eye of the dollar and has allowed more families to dine with us verses perhaps being intimidated that it was out of their price point.
DT: When you get to eat out, what do you chose?
MR: I'm a foodie and my family loves to dine out. We like all cuisines. We definitely like to mix it up and try something new. It's important to get out into other restaurants and see what they are doing. We also make an effort to get into those family owned restaurants beause its important for us to support families who are building their reputation and clientele like we are. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Jennifer Cox

Meet Jennifer Cox, founder and chairwoman of the nonprofit Broken Dolls, which is reaching out to the parents of chronically ill and deceased children. Jennifer knows the daily challenges, heartbreak and painful loss of childhood illness. Her daugher, Tiffany was diagnosed with Lupus at the age of four. After decades of caring for Tiffany, Jennifer lost her child to the disease just a few months before Tiffany's 25th birthday. 

Jennifer turned her sadness into a mission to help others. She wrote a book detailing her personal journey to help parents navigate the difficulty of medical adversity in childhoold. Jennifer has also facilitated a support group for patients waiting for a life-saving transplant as part of her job as community advocate for Southwest Transplant Alliance. She travels extensively speaking on behalf of the importance of organ donation. She has recognition for her positive work. In 2009, Jennifer received the Patient of the Year award from Mehtodist Medical Center for community service.

We wanted to know more about Jennifer and Broken Dolls and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Broken Dolls.

Jennifer Cox: Broken Dolls is a 50l c 3 founded by me in 2012. My daughter Tiffany was diagnosed with Lupus SLE at the age of 5.  After taking care of her for 20 years,  I knew the needs of moms that care for their ill children on a daily basis. I wanted to help other moms facing these challenges in caring for their chronically ill children. Sadly Tiffany passed away 3 months before her 25 birthday.  

The Vision Statement of Broken Dolls is "To never have parents stand alone during the illness or death of a child".   Some of the services we provide are:

  • Annual retreats for moms of chronically ill children, and moms with children that have long term illnesses
  • Annual memorial brunch for parents that have lost a child or children
  • Support groups for moms of chronically ill children
  • Annual Care Giver seminars to help these moms learn how to care for themselves, while they care for their child(ren)
  • In-services to help educate staff and parents about the benefits of Broken Dolls
  • Small gifts to children at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
  • Occasional lunches for parents at Ronald McDonald House
  • Snack packages for parents at Ronald McDonald House to carry as they visit their children in the hospitals.

DT: What are your duties at Broken Dolls?

JC: My duties include:

  • Planning events
  • Putting together the itinerary
  • Sending communications to moms about the date cards, invitations, instructions and sometime providing transportation
  • Communication with moms to monitor how they are doing, and if we can support them during difficult times. Sometimes by personal touch, and/or referrals
  • Visiting various locations prior to events
  • Planning fund raisers
  • Contacting potential donors
  • Overseeing duties that are assigned to other board members
  • Working to get our information to the public
  • Writing brochures, and other information for public use
  • Contacting speakers for events
  • Working with our preferred hotel (Holiday Inn Express/Fair Park) to get additional time for our ladies to get time away during extreme stress

DT: It is obvious that your passion comes from your years of experience and love for your daughter. You have channelled that inner drive into a book that you share with others. 

JC: I had written a book titled Broken Dolls/Gathering the Pieces - Caring for Chronically Ill Children. Broken Dolls, the book, was published in 2010. It is sort of a road map or guide to help parents that are newly facing the loving task of caring for their ill child. I used a lot of tips and examples of things I learned along the way that will be helpful to parents, and make some task easier. I also shared information regarding the entire family, which involves other children in their household. It is important that they don’t feel left out due to the sometimes intense care needed by the ill child. In the book I also give illustrations of how others can assist them. The book was released in August 2010. Tiffany passed away in July of 2010, I received my second kidney transplant in 2011, and everything stopped until 2012.  I needed time for physical and emotional healing. Getting back on my feet, the next step was to put together retreats for moms that were facing the challenge of new diagnoses for their beautiful children. With these ideas it was obvious that I needed to form an official way to bring this care to life. Again, I am passionate because I have lived this life, and I know how much we love our children, but at the same time we get fatigued. Sometimes you just have to relax and have some “me” time.  It is also great to share with other moms in the same situation. They understand and I don't have to explain anything to them. Unfortunately, I did not have that roadmap, hence was born the vision. Broken Dolls supports parents facing the most difficult situations. What do families need most during those traumatic times in life? When your child is ill many times you need hands on help from people that are close to you to assist in the daily life chores, such as run errands, pick up children from school, run to get groceries, sit with child while you take a nap.  These are simple things, but they are so important to caregivers.  This is usually done by close friends or family. There was a time I was so exhausted when Tiffany had been in the hospital for 5 weeks, I asked friends (those she knew well, and were like sisters to me) to go to the hospital and sit with her, when I had no energy left after working a full day. Other times, they just need someone to talk to that has faced what they are facing. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen.  Other times they need someone to reassure them that they will make it and be okay. I surely did when my daughter passed away. I had my friend, Pam Silvestri, (my kidney donor) call two wonderful ladies I knew that had lost children. They were able to address all that I was going through, answer questions about thoughts I believed no one else had except me. This kind of support is how I made it through those challenging days.

DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?

JC: Thanks for asking this questions. The people of North Texas can go onto our webpage, or join us on Facebook to learn more about us, and follow our events. They can tell people about Broken Dolls what we do, and highlight the moms that are being helped.  Also refer someone that may be in need of our services. As a fairly new non-profit, we need financial support to help us continue to do the things we are doing, and allow us to reach more moms and hopefully start programs for dads as well.  

Present Needs: We need support to continue our retreats (respites), and educational seminars for these moms, as in cost of hotel, or retreat centers, cost of meals. We need support to help us with the meals for Ronald McDonald House. We need support for our Memorial Brunches for parents with deceased children. We need in kind support so we can provide pampering for moms while at retreat. 

Future Needs: As we look to the future, we want to be able to allow moms assistance after a long term hospital stay, as in a short time for rest at a hotel or other “get aways”. We hope to provide transportation to events for those ladies in need due to financial restrictions, and they have no automobile. My largest dream is to one day have a facility for moms to call in and make a reservation for a 24 or 48 hour stay.

DT: Have you found that some families have no one and nowhere to turn to in their most desperate times of crisis?

JC: Most of our moms have limited family support simply because of family obligations, and some have no family to assist. Then there is always the issue of limited knowledge of the critical care needed by some of these children. There is no room for error. At this time we can only make referrals.  We would love to be able to assist with this need in some way.

DT: What is your most memorable moment at Broken Dolls?

JC: There are two things:

  1. At our first support group meeting one lady was crying and asked me through her tears "where have you been? I have needed this". My reply was, I have been in training.
  2. At our first retreat which was held at a wonderful ranch, seeing two moms running through the wooded area at night laughing like little girls. I thought "Mission Accomplished".

 If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Cindy L. Herb

Meet Cindy L. Herb, a Dallas-based author who educates others about finding joy, despite adversity. Writing as "The Joyful Survivor", Herb uses her own personal story of overcoming deep trauma to illustrate how happiness is possible after pain. Herb uses her inspirational writing and an upbeat attitude to help others walk on a journey out of shame and guilt to acceptance.

As a child, Herb was raped while working a paper route and then she says she was sexually abused by a family member. In her book, Awakening the Spirit: The Open Wide Like a Floozy Chronicles, Herb shares her spirtual growth that sprouted from her childhood tragedy. Herb's book has received national attention, getting the endorsement of the former first lady of California, Maria Shriver.

Herb has appeared on Dallas-Fort Worth television programs sharing her message of hope and healing for surviviors of sexual assault and abuse. We wanted to know more about Herb and she was kind enough to answer a few questions. (Be advised, the material is for mature readers only.) 

Dawn Tongish: You are an inspirational woman, who has overcome traumatic ordeals early in life. Can you please share your back-story?  

Cindy L. Herb: On July 31, 1966 at the tender age of nine, a stranger raped me. It happened on a Sunday morning before the sun had arisen. I had a paper route with my sister, who was one year older. Unfortunately, our parents never chaperoned us on our route. That Sunday morning would change my life forever. Not only was I raped by a stranger, but I also had to endure a pelvic exam immediately afterwards. It was like being raped all over again. Adding to the trauma, my own father sexually touched me within days of the rape. Afterwards, I lived in constant fear—I did not feel safe either outside or inside my home. Equally horrific were the reactions of shame and guilt by others, especially by my own mother. She not only treated me as if I was the one who was to blame, she also forbad me to speak of those fateful events ever again. Hushed up, I learned to hide my true feelings. I felt isolated, alone and my self-esteem plummeted. Over time, the horrific events caused excruciating physical and emotional pain. I became severely ill and depressed to the point of considering ending my life.

However, it was at my darkest hour that transformation began. Divine influence intervened. At age fifty, an angel guided me to seek out a spiritually based shaman while attending a local fair. Working with him has proved to be highly beneficial. Almost immediately, my joy returned and my health began to improve. No longer burdened by guilt, shame and the tragic events of my childhood, I have fully released any blame towards others for those events, including my parents. I love them very much and this has brought me much peace and joy. I further recognize that the unsettling events from my childhood were a gift, in that they brought me to a point of further spiritual growth. Although I had never been a writer before meeting the holy man, soon afterwards I began journaling my painful childhood experiences. It was extremely cathartic. Realizing that others might benefit from reading my true-life's tale of suffering and healing, I decided to publish it. Maria Shriver, former First Lady of the State of California and member of the Kennedy family has endorsed my book. She writes, "I know you inspire others through your personal story of overcoming pain and suffering. I applaud you for having the courage and strength to share your extraordinary story."

DT: How have you managed to persevere through your personal pain to lead a successful life?

CH: I am very spiritual and every time something traumatic has occurred in my life, I just knew there was a reason for it. I have been at death's door many times in my life, yet I have lived. I am The Joyful Survivor. I knew there was a divine source guiding me through all my trials. I was taught that we are never given more than we can handle. I have observed this to be true. I feel this way, even though at times I thought I could not handle something, I was given strength or help to endure. That 'help' came in the form of what I call angels. All of us are connected to the divine (who I call God). However, we lose sight of this, especially in times of adversity. Most of us center on the physical world, although our primary being is of a spiritual nature that lives eternally. To counteract the constant physical bombardment of life, I focus on the spiritual side of me that is within through daily meditation. I also practice giving thanks for everything in my life, as I know that all life experience is a gift…an opportunity for spiritual growth and character building.

DT: You have written, "Awakening the Spirit: The Open Wide Like a Floozy Chronicles". What is the message you are sharing in your autobiographical book? 

CH: My message is: 1) no one is ever alone, 2) all of us go through trials for the purpose of spiritual growth, and 3) there is peace and joy no matter what happens in your life. I want people to know that they are not just physical beings, but more importantly, they are spiritual beings. Furthermore, God is within everyone and we are all connected to each other through this one Spirit. I would love it if people could look beyond their current perceptions and stop using judgment, which is not a spiritual attribute. You never know what someone is going through or has gone through that may be influencing their perceptions and actions. Challenges do not occur because God is punishing us, but rather as a tool for spiritual growth.

DT: Anyone who meets you is instantly drawn to your contagious, upbeat attitude. Where does your positivity come from? 

CH: My optimistic attitude comes from knowing that every day is a gift from God, no matter the physical circumstances. It is also derived from knowing that we are ALL connected through the same Spirit of God. Finally, I positively know that God loves each of us unconditionally.

DT: You admit that you entered adulthood damaged after a tumultuous childhood. At what point did your life turnaround? 

CH: I think there were years leading up to a tipping point. However, I would have to say, the real turnaround point where I became truly happy was when I met a spiritual shaman. This particular shaman's credo is "We are all connected to the whole and not separate," which simply means that God is everywhere, including within each of us. He also adheres to the principles of living a God-like existence of constructive living—using the attributes of love, understanding, compassion, honor, honesty and humility.  Although I was spiritual before I met this man, my spiritually continues to be enhanced by his teachings. One of the main things that helped me was the idea of a non-judgmental God who loves us unconditionally. I had bad things happen to me not because I was being punished, but rather as a means to grow spiritually.

DT: Not every rape or sexual abuse survivor is willing to come forward and share her story. Do you hope that by speaking up, you will remove the stigma and shame?  

CH: Of course I do. A person who is raped or sexually abused feels completely violated. There is also an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. Since the world can be judgmental, rape victims often suppress their emotions and the trauma itself. They can lose trust in others and in themselves. Those emotions are the result of reactions from others and from living in a world where one feels disconnected to God. If you think you are separate, you feel something is lacking and this can lead to judgment. I have told my story, despite objections from others involved, because I want to empower people. I want them to understand there is NO reason for shame, regardless of the trauma. When you think you are outside the light of God, shame can occur. However, in reality, every breath we take validates that each of us has the light of God within us. Therefore, if you can come to realize that guilt and shame are a function of the mind, not the Spirit, simple adjustments in thinking can dissolve these emotions.

DT: Your attacker has never been caught or prosecuted. There are thousands of untested rape kits. There is a move afoot in Texas to DNA test the old kits and bring assailants to justice. Can you share your thoughts on that push and what it would be like for a rape survivor to finally get justice decades later? 

CH: Although I am no longer angry with my attacker or blame others for my rape, this does not mean I feel others are not accountable for their deeds. I feel God loves us unconditionally and in His grace, gives us choice. Those choices can have consequences as each of us 'reaps what we sow.' My main wish for having assailants prosecuted is so others may not be hurt by similar actions from an attacker, not that I may feel vindicated. In addition, even if someone were prosecuted years later for an attack, although the victim may feel better for a short time, there would still be no lasting peace. The damage to the victim would not be alleviated because the feelings of guilt and shame would remain—that is, unless the victim dissolves those emotions. Despite this, I am happy that Texas is DNA testing old kits and possibly getting assailants out of the general population to protect others from their controlling and damaging habits. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Mina Chang

When she isn't helping others in the field, Chang serves on numerous charity boards and is board director of Group Excellence, a mentoring and tutoring company serving students in school and after school. It was named one of the 500 fastest growing privately owned companies by Inc. Magazine. Chang has also collected plenty of accolades. In  2014 she was chosen by Observer magazine as Person of the Year. In 2012, she was named CBS Humanitarian of the Year during the televised Women that Soar Awards. We wanted to know more about Chang and Linking The World and she was kind enough to answer a few questions: 

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Linking The World. 

Mina Chang: Linking the World is an international humanitarian aid organization now headquartered in Dallas, TX. Since 1997 the organization has worked in over 43 countries providing hunger relief, medical aid, disaster response and have built and operate schools. 

DT: What are your duties at Linking The World?   

MC: I serve as the Chief Executive Officer. My role is to continue looking forward strategically putting people and programs in place that allow us to be the most effective in helping and saving lives. I enjoy building relationships with stakeholders, sponsors and donors. I also advocate and educate on issues that Linking the World supports. I also keep Linking the World relevant in the international aid platform through engagements such as at the World Economic Forum, West Point Military Academy and speaking at universities around the States. Most importantly, my role is to support the Linking the World team. We have incredible leadership at Linking the World. Our executive team, program directors, country directors, response teams and even volunteers are some of the best in their fields. Every single one of them could be applying their skills, experience and talents toward building a lucrative for-profit, but we all share a vision and a mission in life. We see the strength in working collectively, taking a stand for and empowering others and doing all this against all odds.  

DT: How did you become involved with Linking The World, and why are you so passionate about the work being done? 

MC: I know am a product of social programs and I know what it feels like to have absolutely nothing. I know that aid works. My parents were commanding officers in the Salvation Army so I was exposed to humanitarian work early on. I also saw the tremendous impact just one person could make and I felt a calling to serve. I studied to become an aid worker and during a career detour was introduced to Linking the World. When I started working with them on the ground I fell in love with their approach to helping others help themselves. After the earthquake in Haiti there was no turning back. I went all in, giving up a songwriting career as I took a huge leap of faith to start the United States branch of Linking the World. After creating new public private partnerships such as with nationally recognized company Group Excellence and with the U.S. Dept of Defense it made sense to consolidate efforts and relocate the global headquarters to the United States. Since then we have created ground-breaking programs such as Global Social Leadership and HALO (Help and Locate Operations) our use of drones and UAVs for humanitarian aid and during disaster response. I do what I do because too many families are living in fear, suffering and dying needlessly. I want to live in a world where everyone can live healthy, safe, dignified lives. A world where we ease the suffering of others. A world where social conditions and hopelessness don’t breed extremism and terrorism, and a world where people can fulfil their own potential and contribute fully to their communities. Aid is a way to actively work towards this world. 

LTW targets overseas compassion, while some argue charity should start/stay at home -- where there is also tremendous need. What do you say to that? 

There are incredible injustices and suffering all over the world. Here at home as well as abroad. We, as Americans, are so blessed to be living in a country so full of resources and services for almost every illness or interest imaginable. I admire and am full of gratitude to those who work tirelessly to serve our fellow neighbors and feel that we are all doing our part in the collective effort for equality, justice and peace. Historically we have been introduced to the communities we work in following the Bible. It says in Luke 12:48 "For everyone who has been given much, much will be expected." And as a proud and grateful American I know that with our great freedoms and power comes a great responsibility. 

DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat? 

MC: Everything we do is a result of powerful partnerships. We have incredible sponsors that have helped us with our operations at Linking the World. Internationally we partner with the community in order to break cycles of poverty. We know that buy-in from the community is imperative and we require that the local community also share costs and support the programs. Our goal is to empower the local community, build out capacity, make ourselves redundant and work ourselves out of a "job" there. 

DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs? 

MC: As an organization with a new presence in Texas we ask for support in building awareness about the organization and exploring ways we can work together. We are essentially building a brand new support base but have the burden of existing programs all over the world- from Kenya to Nigeria to Afghanistan to Myanmar to Haiti. But if anyone can do it, Texans can! We think BIG and we are not afraid to pioneer. 

DT: What are the most memorable moments in your experiences at Linking The World?  

MC: It's the collective experiences that fuels my personal conviction that I am living my calling. I have experienced incredible selflessness and kindness in some of the most desperate and terrifying places. Its the kind of dichotomy that is so stark that it interrupts your understanding of life itself. I have met women who bear deep physical scars from being mutilated in front of her children. I’ve seen church walls in Kibera that are stained with blood from when an extremist group threw a live grenade while children were attending class. I’ve driven through the desert in the horn of Africa en route to our programs and camps only to pass children walking along the road with distended bellies, dehydrated, following a goat. I’ve been taught by Somali refugee children how to make flip flops from flattened water bottles and twine. I’ve watched mothers pound dirt in Haiti into cookies and feed it to their starving children. I have seen these very same people give what little they have to their neighbors and even to strangers. I love working in the field and I need it to keep perspective and stay connected with the human element of what we do. There's nothing like landing at a remote airstrip to a line of dusty white land cruisers with agency stickers and flags. The camaraderie or working with teams and visiting experts figuring out things like how to get life-saving medicines through customs faster or negotiating with local government to gain access to certain areas. It is working in the field that makes me understand how critical it is to have the support that ask the public for. I come home with a renewed mission to get the resources we need to help people help themselves. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Beverly Pennington

Meet Beverly Pennington, the owner of Tees into Treasures in Grapevine, a business that turns a pile of old t-shirts into handcrafted, one-of-a-kind quilts and pillows. Pennington uses a network of quilters who dedicate hours of sewing time to make each custom item.

Seeing her business grow has been a dream come true for the former Realtor. Pennington left a successful career in real estate. She was the highest ranking Realtor in Florida for several years, but decided to pursue a creative business after her children were born. Pennington says there is nothing more fullfilling than seeing the delight on the face of each customer. We wanted to know more about Tees into Treasures and Pennington was kind enough to answer a few questions:  

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Tees into Treasures and what customers can expect if they purchases your products. 

Beverly Pennington: T-shirt Memory Quilts made by Tees into Treasures are crafted in the United States by local quilting experts. Our network of quilters spend hours sewing each quilt and making it the unique treasure it will become. Our customers can definately expect to find quality, manufactured items.  

DT: Why did you decide to become a small business owner? Was it always your dream?  

BP: I worked in corporate America for years. I was the highest ranking Realtor in Florida for several years. In 2005, after my children were born, I stayed home to pursue my dream of a creative business. 

DT: What is the most difficult part about starting a small business?

BP: As a Mom, it is definitely hard to find the balance between work and home.  

DT: What has been the biggest reward in starting your own business?

BP: Doing what we love everyday, with people we love. 

DT: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about giving up corporate life and becoming their own boss? 

BP: When you are done thinking about it, follow your gut, and don't look back!

DT: For a young college grad who might be on the entrepreneurial track, what can they do to prepare to be a business owner?  

BP: Find a mentor, and learn as much as you can about your industry. Be very hands on. 

DT: What is your most memorable moment so far as a small business owner?

BP: When i see the look on our customers faces. When they truly love what I have done for them, it is the best feeling. 

DT: What is your definition of success in the small business world?

BP: Doing what you love for others, helping the community, and being happy!

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Kirk Trent

Meet Kirk Trent, who BubbleLIfe Media readers voted as one of DFW's "Top Coaches". In his 9th year as head coach of the cross country program at Allen High School, Trent "practices what he preaches". Trent's athletes run between 500-550 miles during the 12 week season and he runs every mile with them. He thinks that a good leader has to be out front and not just coaching from behind. The philosphy is paying off. Trent has been selected as the District Girl's Cross Country Coach of the Year for the last two years. 

Trent calls Allen his hometown, moving there with his parents when he was four years old. He graduated from Allen High School where he ran cross country, track and played football. He graduated from Texas Tech University and has been teaching and coaching for 16 years. When Trent isn't coaching, he is an active runner, partipating in marathons, 1/2 marathons 10K's and 5K's. Not surprisingly, he finishes in the top of his age group in most races. Trent's wife, Catherine Manning is also an active athlete who has introduced him to competitive cycling and triathlons. The couple is expecting their first child early next year.

We wanted to know more about this inspiring coach and he was kind enough to answer a few questions: 

Dawn Tongish: What is the best part about coaching? 

Kirk Trent: The greatest part about coaching is working with the athletes and helping them to set and reach their goals, athletically and personally.  There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the confidence and pride on an athlete’s face as they cross the finish line and they have set a new personal record for themselves.  I see youth sports and athletics as an important step in preparing young people for the future challenges of their lives.

DT: When did you decide you wanted to coach sports? 

KT: I was in my senior year at Texas Tech University when I felt the desire to become a teacher and a coach.  I was working hard to finish my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the time and it was hard to turn away from this career path.  However, I knew I was being lead into this noble and humble profession by a Higher Power to serve a purpose I didn’t yet understand.  It was the best decision I have ever made and I have never regretted it.  Now, I see the big picture for this life change and I have been truly blessed because of it.

DT: What do you tell young athlets to inspire them to always give it their all in competition? 

KT: I believe that you get out of running/life (you can fill in this blank) what you put into it.  I tell the athletes if they want to be successful, they must train hard and treat their bodies like an athlete if they want to perform like an athlete.  This goes far beyond practices and carries over to the other 22 hours a day they aren’t being coached.  They have to make good decisions when it comes to nutrition, hydration and sleep.  Letting the athletes know that I believe in them is also a huge factor because it builds their confidence, which is very important.  As far as what I do or say on race day, that’s easy; I point them in the right direction and then get out of their way before they run me over.  On race day, I’m not their coach, I’m their biggest fan!

DT: Why do you think our readers selected you as one of the Top North Texas Coaches? 

KT: I asked a parent, of one of my former runners, why they voted for me and this is what they had to say: 

As a humble person, Coach Trent does not toot his own horn; he takes what he does seriously, full well knowing the impact and responsibility of the task at hand.  He not only coaches and develops young athletes, he mentors, and he serves as a role model to mold their character into responsible young adults; preparing them for life and life’s lessons.  His athletes and their parents know who he is in the classroom, on the course, and in his daily life.  He is a dedicated teacher, coach, athlete, husband, and soon to be father who sets high standards for himself and expects the same of his athletes.  He wants his athletes to give their best every day on the course/track and in their lives.  He is an incredible servant leader, role model and truly cares about the kids he coaches. He has received awards such as the District Coach of the Year, which is a great honor, but the most important awards are the personal impacts he has made in his athletes lives.’  Coach Trent has worked very hard to create a family atmosphere for the team where the teammates support and look out for each other.  He cares about his kids and they know it!  They work hard for themselves and know he is behind them all the way!  He celebrates their success and supports yet challenges them in their trials and failures.  He is willing to sacrifice to see them succeed. He is a committed, caring coach!”

DT: Coaches are often mentors in the lives of children. How seriously do you take that role? 

KT: Being a mentor is the most important part of my job and I take that responsibility very seriously.  I feel that I am not called to just coach teenagers, but to help them develop into amazing young women and men that take pride in who they are and for what they stand for.  I work hard at developing trust with my athletes by showing them that I care about them personally and not just athletically.  It has been said that “kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  I believe there is a lot of truth in that statement and therefore, try to build personal relationships with each of my athletes.  As a mentor, I have counseled some of my athletes through difficult times.  I have written letters of recommendation to help athletes get accepted into colleges, win awards and even to receive well-deserved scholarships.  I set high standards for my cross country program and hold my athletes accountable for meeting those standards.  I try to teach my athletes how to be responsible for their own decisions and how to be respectful leaders in school and in their personal lives.  My responsibility of being a mentor is a 24 hour job and I always make time for my athletes when they need me.  I know I make a positive impact in the lives that I touch through coaching and it makes me proud when I see my athletes achieve their goals.   

DT: What is the one event in your coaching career that really stands out? 

KT: There are three instances that really stick out in my mind.  The first thing that stands out are the athletes that have gone on to run collegiately, those that have been accepted to one of the Armed Forces Academies, based on their dedication and hard work and those that have joined the military to serve our country.  Working with these talented athletes has been special for me.  The second instance that stands out is coaching a sophomore in 2008, who qualified for the State Meet and finished 17th that year.  She is the only athlete that I have coached who has qualified for the State Meet.  The last accomplishment that sticks out happened last year when the Varsity Boys and Girls teams qualified for the Regional Meet.  The Girls were District Champs for the 2nd year in a row and the Boys were District Runner’s Up.  Both teams making it out of district has not happened at Allen High School in a long time.

DT: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those words be?

KT: Disciplined, Nurturing, Servant-Leader

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Howard Rhodes

Meet Howard Rhodes, who is pouring his sweat into his small business in Sachse, Texas. Rhodes opened Furniture Connection a few months ago after working in the security and service industries for more than a decade. He decided it was time to chart his own destiny. The life-long Dallas resident says he knew it would be the hardest undertaking of his life, but was up for the challenge.

This hard-working entreprenuer still likes to have fun. The single father of two is a bowling coach and loves the sport. He says he grew up at the Bronco Bowl, until it closed down. We wanted to know more about what it takes to start a busines and make it successful. Rhodes was kind enough to answer a few questions:

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Furniture Connection and what customers can expect to find in the store?  

Howard Rhodes: Furniture Connection is an independently owned family business and our customers can expect to be treated like one of the family by receiving our individual attention.  We want our customers to know they received the best product for their money.  Our showroom showcases some of the more popular styles of living room, bed room and dining room furniture, but we can also order just about anything seen at any competitor’s store.  We carry name brands like Ashley Signature Series and other leading manufacturers.

DT: Why did you decide to become a small business owner? Was it always your dream?  

HR: I believe everyone has a dream of owning their own business as some point in their life and I always wanted to opportunity to build a successful business from the ground up.  I feel it is an important personal accomplishment.

DT: What is the most difficult part about starting a small business?

HR: There are many struggles when starting any new business and difficulties vary from one new business owner to another.  In my case, the construction phase was the most trying.  There are so many city codes and regulations for which you must be in compliance when you are preparing a shell space to be turned into a showroom.  Just when it seems you have conquered them all, another issue arises that has to be resolved before you can even open your doors.  Perseverance is a must during the construction and preparation for opening phase.

DT: What has been the biggest reward in starting your own business?

HR: Knowing that the customers are treated right. Knowing that they are getting a good product for their money and seeing the smiles on their faces when their furniture arrives in their home and is exactly what they wanted. 

DT: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about giving up corporate life and becoming their own boss? 

HR: It takes a special kind of commitment to start your own business and it greatly affects your personal life.  In the corporate world, you typically work a certain number of hours and when you walk out of that office or turn that business cell phone off for the day you are done.  It’s completely different when it is your business on the line.  You don’t turn that cell phone off, you don’t get paid holidays and sick leave, and you are always on call.  If it is five minutes after closing time and you still have a customer browsing in your store, you stay open as long as it takes to help that customer.  Having said all of that, being your own boss is a wonderfully rewarding challenge.  You get to see the direct results of all of your hard work and if you are truly committed, it’s worth it!

DT: For a young college grad who might be on the entrepreneurial track, what can they do to prepare to be a business owner?   

HR: Research, research, research!  There is so much to consider when entertaining the idea of a new business, i.e.  type of business, market saturation, location, vendors, advertising, financial backing.  Anyone even considering starting a business must to be ready to make the jump and the ultimate commitment because it can be life consuming in the beginning.

DT: What is your most memorable moment so far as a small business owner? 

HR: For me, it’s all about the customers.  That first return customer that came back to purchase more furniture because she was so pleased with the original purchase and having that same customer refer her friends.  That’s what it’s all about.

DT: What is your definition of success in the small business world? 

HR: Success means something different to each individual, whether it be financial, meeting personal goals, etc.  I will consider myself successful when I am able to take my financially stable business to the next level and branch out opening additional locations. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Jack and Deborah Gunter

Meet Deborah Gunter, chairwoman of the upcoming Living Legend Luncheon that will honor golf professional, Ben Crenshaw. The luncheon will celebrate it's 25th anniversary and has raised more than $850,000 for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, a comprehensive effort to accelerate the fight against cancer. Gunter has deep personal ties to the disease. Her husband, Dr. Jack P. Gunter received treatment at MD Anderson in 1997 with secondary metastic prostate cancer. He had surgery at John Hopkins with his primary in 1990. He received radiation therapy, and was cured. In addition, her mother has survived colon cancer and her father was a victim of lung cancer. 

Gunter has dedicated more than two decades of her life to volunteer work with a variety of worthy causes. She has held leadership roles in the Crystal Charity Ball, Dallas Junior League, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Symphony Orchestra League and many others. Gunter is a mother of two daughter and also has three step-daughters. We wanted to know more about the Living Legend Luncheon and her volunteer work. She was kind enough to answer a few questions:  

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Living Legend Luncheon that will benefit The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Deborah Gunter: 2014 marks this remarkable event’s 25th anniversary, and it will take place November 3rd at the Hilton Anatole. Professional golfer Ben Crenshaw is this year’s honoree, and golf commentator David Feherty will conduct the interview. The luncheon, which already has raised more than $869,000, benefits The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, a comprehensive effort to accelerate the fight against cancer.

DT: You became involved with Living Legend Luncheon because of a deeply personal connection. Can you share your family history and why you are so passionate about this cause?

DG: Yes, cancer has hit very close to home for my family, as it has for so many. My husband was diagnosed in 1997 with secondary metastatic prostate cancer. He underwent radiation therapy and was cured.  It has been a wonderful thing. In addition, my mother has survived colon cancer and my father was a victim of lung cancer.

DT: The luncheon will honor one of the greatest legends in golf, Ben Crenshaw. Why did Mr. Crenshaw decide to dedicate his time to this worthy cause?

DG: My friend and Living Legend committee member Marty Leonard was very helpful in securing Mr. Crenshaw for our event. While her friendship with him was a part of the reason he decided to be a part of the 25th annual event, he also is simply a very caring person, who wants to help others. He did not get the nickname "Gentle Ben" without a reason.

DT: You have dedicated many years to charity work in Dallas-Fort Worth. Are you constantly amazed by the spirit of giving?

DG: I truly am. The year-round energy behind philanthropy in DFW is just inspiring. I have held leadership roles with many organizations in Dallas, including Crystal Charity Ball, Junior League, the Dallas Museum of Art and Dallas Symphony Orchestra League, and the people involved are so determined to make a difference.

DT: How can the people of North Texas help meet the needs of those who benefit from the Living Legend Luncheon. What are the biggest needs? 

DG: One of the things I think is important to remember about the beneficiary of the luncheon is that MD Anderson, a part of the Texas Medical Center, is one of the world's most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. The institution treats patients from Texas, across the nation and around the world.  Private philanthropy is crucial to its world-class cancer research and patient care initiatives. By supporting the Living Legend luncheon, our community can truly be a part of “Making Cancer History®.”  This year’s proceeds will go toward MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, the most ambitious assault on cancer ever undertaken by a single institution. That’s an incredible opportunity to help make a difference for cancer patients and their families everywhere.

DT: What is the most memorable moment in your charitable experiences?

DG: My most vivid memories as a volunteer are those from working at Parkland Hospital in its surgery clinic. It opened my eyes to “the human condition” and taught me compassion. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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Rob Jackson

Meet Rob Jackson, whose paintings are most often described as "amazing". The DFW-based artist combines his passion for sports and art to create a unique style of art that is one of a kind. Jackson's flair is for photo-realism. He prides himself on capturing memories that his clients will treasure forever. Jackson's client list includes former NFL greats, Olympic Gold Medalists, Super Bowl champs, top draft picks, etc.    

Jackson's artistic gifts developed in his early years and it wasn't long after his works were hanging along side that of well-known artists like Stephen Holland, Opie Otterstad and Vernon Wells. Jackson has never received any formal training. He is a self-taught artist. At every turn, Jackson gives back to the community. He has donated numerous works to charity and often raises funds for foundations. We wanted to know more about Rob Jackson and his unique style of artistry and he was kind enough to answer a few questions:  

Dawn Tongish: You call yourself, "The Athlete's Artist". For those who don't know your work, can you please describe it? 

Rob Jackson: If you were to classify my work, you’d call it photo-realism. You’d also call it “Sports Art” and that’s fair. I personally look at my work as being more about people and their memories than sports specifically. Sports, mainly the NFL, are where I happen to have found my niche. When you’re young and you paint just for the fun of it, you paint what your passionate about. You paint what inspires you. For me, that was football. Then somewhere along the line people notice and before you know it, you’ve found your calling. While it’s still fun, I wouldn’t do it otherwise. It has become my business to preserve memories. I take a photo that my client is proud of, one that they want to cherish, and I capture it on canvas. The goal, and struggle, in each painting is to give just enough detail to look like the photo, but maintain the significance of fine art.

DT: You combined a couple of passions to create your unique style of art. Can you talk about your background?    

RJ: Like most boys growing up, I wanted to be a professional athlete. I played football throughout high school. At one point it looked like I was going to go on to play in college. As cliché as it might be though, I do believe things happen for a reason and my dream of being a pro athlete ended early. However, being on the field with my friends and the comradery with my teammates, were such great memories that the game continued to inspire me. The impact of those memories and that dream were very powerful. It only made sense to me that I combine my artistic gift with my athletic passion.

DT: You have a lot of famous clients. Can you give us a brief list and what you have done for celebrity and sports figures? 

RJ: In 2006, former Cowboys great, DeMarcus Ware was my first ever client. Soon after, his teammates began purchasing my work. Through word of mouth and social media, my brand began to take off and since then I’ve been honored to work for great people and athletes. Vince Wilfork, Greg Jennings, Marcus Spears, Marc Colombo, Jon Kitna, Tyson Alualu, Jennie Finch and Beckett Media are a few of my more recognizable client names. Each year I like to give back to charity in the form of donating a painting or even completing a painting live at an event in front of the guests. My brand has afforded me to be a part of some pretty awesome events both local and national. Last year I was in Tampa to create a painting of ABC’s Shark Tank, Daymond John at an event for young entrepreneurs. Before that, I painted live at Ron Jaworski’s Super Bowl party in Indianapolis. Locally, I’ve been a part of Taste of the NFL Dallas for the past few years.

DT: What do you enjoy most about creating your art? 

RJ: It’s a lot like going to the movies or watching your favorite TV show. To give a sports reference, you hear people use the term, being “In the Zone”. When I’m alone, in studio, and I’m standing at my easel, all of my thoughts and stresses disappear. I get into that “zone” and concentrate solely on my art. In short, it’s relaxing.

DT: Your tagline says, "You don't do custom". You believe your art is one of a kind. What does it feel like to stand out in that way? 

RJ: Generally, artists use the term “custom” when referring to their work. I think “one of a kind” is more exclusive than custom. I wanted to be different so I created my own definition of the word custom as how I see it pertaining to the way artist’s use it: An alternate version of something one already owns. I don’t mass-produce prints of the work I’m commissioned for so I want my clients to know that what they are getting from me is a “one of a kind” piece of art.

DT: What is the nicest compliment you have received from someone who has purchased your art? 

RJ: I’m a nostalgic and sentimental guy. I love old stories and good memories. I paint because I want to give my clients something they can see and touch when they think of their fondest memories. I think this quote say’s it all.  

“I've received many gifts throughout my life. This painting by Rob Jackson is in a category of its own. It has become the centerpiece of my home. The craftsmanship is evident from corner to corner. When most people dream about the past, they see their memories in black and white. Looking at this painting brings my most fond memories back to life in living color. Thanks Rob!”

            -Pro Bowl DE Adewale Ogunleye 

DT: As an artist, what inspires you to create and be creative? 

RJ: At first I would be inspired to paint by watching a game or seeing a photo that I wanted to recreate. Now, I think my inspiration to create stems from competitiveness. Everyone likes to be thought of as the best at what they do. I’m no different; I strive to be recognized as one of the greatest artists. There’s also an internal competition. I take a lot of pride in being a self-taught artist so I always set out to make the next painting my best one yet. 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.