Angel of the Month
Each month, The Angelrock Project features an Angel of the Month, interviews of inspirational people involved in grassroots volunteer efforts and exceptional humanitarian endeavors. We hope that by reading their stories, you will be moved, inspired, and grateful for their tremendous efforts.
Annie Hausmann is a full-time volunteer living in Bergen County, New Jersey where she resides with her husband and two children. Having begun her career on Wall Street, she now volunteers with many worthwhile non-profit organizations including The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, Springhouse for Women and the Women's Right Information Center, among many others. Though she is more than willing to work in any capacity that will best help effect positive change, she specializes in event planning and fundraising.
Q. I know you grew up in the Bronx. What was your neighborhood like and what can you tell us about your childhood?
A. I was born in the South Bronx, New York in the Morris Avenue Houses, a.k.a. -- the projects. When I was 9 we moved to a nicer housing project on Staten Island. Though my neighborhoods were not the best, I have wonderful memories of walking in and out of my friends' apartments and being a part of their families and they were also a part of mine. I remember listening to my friend's mothers as if they were my own. I still have a hard time believing that we were poor because I did not feel that way. I remember my oldest brother (there are 7 of us and I am the youngest) ordering me to stay out of a certain area of the playground and I have a vague memory of needles being on the ground there. However, I had no clue what they were.
Q. How did your childhood shape your current commitment to service?
A. My mom is a beautiful human being. There were five of us in six years; looking back I don't know how she did it. We often had people living with us and eating with us. One Christmas my oldest brother Dennis brought home a few kids from a residential facility he was working at to ensure that every child had a place to go. I had to give up a gift. I was not happy as there were not many. My Mom used to dress as Santa every year at work. I was so embarrassed by this but now I love the memory. She also worked at the rectory in our parish and was very involved with our church and the fundraisers and parties they held. I loved the White Elephant sales at the church. Maybe that is where my knack for coordinating charity auctions comes from.
Q. Does anyone else in your family serve, and if so, how does it influence you?
A. I think all of us serve in whatever capacity we can. My three oldest siblings work or have worked with residential facilities for children, mental health centers, in public school districts, and/or rehabilitating non-violent criminals. All three of their careers are community oriented. My parents taught us by power of example that you help your fellow man. My sister Carol literally saved my life. There was a time in my life where I really had no direction and was making really bad choices and she literally kidnapped me to live with her and her husband Jim in Trenton, NJ. Carol is extremely involved in their community and I watched in awe how she and her husband communicated and worked together on what I deemed "silly things" at the time. I witnessed their deep level of respect for each other. I had never before experienced a healthy relationship. That experience helped to shape who I am today and how I conduct my relationships with others.
Q. When did you begin to volunteer and what was your first volunteer experience?
A. I was a Fresh Air Fund kid (kids from New York City who go to a non-profit camp outside of the city). We got on a train at Grand Central Station to get out of the city for a few weeks each summer. Grand Central Station is still breathtaking to me. This was my first experience of receiving the rewards of someone's hard work on behalf of others. As a child, we had a lemonade stand every year to raise money for cancer. My first real volunteer job as an adult was for Covenant House. I was working on Wall Street at the time, but barely paying the rent. I answered phones twice a week. Though we had loads of pranks, there were some very serious calls regarding domestic violence, drug abuse, and sexual assault. I felt so helpless and since there was a no-trace policy, I had no idea what happened to these young girls and boys. It really affected me.
Q. Please tell us about the Guardian Angels and why you were motivated to get involved. Please also share the details about your various other volunteer jobs.
A. When I was in high school, Curtis Sliwa was all over the news. New York City was in shambles. The crime rate was high and morale was low. This guy who worked at McDonalds in the Bronx put on a red beret and started patrolling the streets and subways protecting citizens and tourists. He came out of nowhere and he was very vocal. I was obsessed with watching him create this organization and how so many people jumped on board. I have a theory that so many people want to give, to serve, but they just do not know where to start. Curtis started something that was easy to join and allowed you to be a part of something really worthwhile. When I went out in the city and saw that people in that red beret, I felt safe. I made a vow back then that if I was ever in a position to volunteer for an organization full- time, it would be for Curtis Sliwa and The Guardian Angels. I still have extreme respect and admiration for him. In 1996, Curtis was on the radio trying to raise money for a building for his headquarters. I called in during a commercial break and that was the beginning of my work with The Guardian Angels. Our first fundraiser was so funny and I think we barely broke even. Our seating chart was literally held together with scotch tape and we were still doing it as the guests were pouring in. I had no clue what I was doing. It was one of the best nights of my life and we pulled it off! I felt great, exhilarated, and fulfilled. Wonderfully, I still get that feeling.
Q. You professional background is on Wall Street. What was this career path like for you and how did it give you insight into working in the nonprofit world?
A. I have worked since I was 10 or 11. My sisters and I had a paper route. I have had some strange jobs, a supply girl at an army base for one. I ended up on the floor of The American Stock Exchange by mistake. It was a summer job that I kept for 14 years. It entailed multi-tasking -- something I am pretty good at. I loved it there. The rush, the excitement, the adrenaline was all a part of the busy time in the 80's. Many of the people I worked for did charity work and I always helped. When I was about 19, my friend's dad gave me some raffle tickets to sell for the Police Athletic League for $100 per ticket (a very hefty price at the time). I sold about $4,000-$5,000 worth of tickets. He was very impressed. What I learned back then is a basic tenet of mine to this day -- ask nicely, take no for an answer with grace and don't count other people's money. It is that simple, I swear.
Q. Since you had your children and decided to volunteer and fundraise full-time, how have your experiences changed?
A. When I got dragged across the George Washington Bridge by my husband David, I was literally a fish out of water. It was a very difficult time for me. Newly married, living in a house (something I had never done before) in a suburb, and not knowing a soul even though I am a social animal. I had my first child in 1996; a beautiful boy named Jack, and was still working for the Guardian Angels but wanted to find something more local. I found this wonderful place called Spring House for Women in Paramus, NJ. Jack is now 12 and I have a daughter Georgia who is 9. I got very involved in my community when Jack went to public school. I am President of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and David serves on the Board of Education. Six years ago my friend Judy and I decided to create an ad journal for the PTO's Fashion Show. We tripled the previous shows profits on that ad journal alone. I guess I got a name for chairing auctions, simply put, because I am a very good beggar. As president of the PTO, we raised the money for and installed a new beautiful playground. And I am very proud of the fact that we went "totally green" this school year -- no more flyers and no more paper since we launched a new website.
I am the Events Director for The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, an amazing organization started by a group of moms who had a friend with this rare sub-type of cancer. Simply put, I plan and execute the fundraisers, awareness events and help out with third party events. I actually like the term "party girl," but of course, fundraising takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. We are not quite two years old and we have raised awareness and funds in a way that blows my mind. All of us are very proud. I am also involved in Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service. In August, along with the founder Malaak Compton-Rock, we took 30 children from Bushwick, Brooklyn to Johannesburg, South Africa to do service work mostly with orphan and granny-led households. When I got the literature about this program in the mail, my knee-jerk reaction was "I am going on this trip." It was truly the most amazing experience of my life and I suspect I will not ever be or think the same again. We did everything there from digging gardens, assessing needs in households, visiting OVC centers and orphanages, and playing with absolutely incredible children. It was so beautiful and wonderful; I could go on forever about the trip. Since we have been back, there have been many events and these kids show up for everything. It is so inspiring.
I am just getting involved with The Women's Rights Information Center in Englewood, NJ. This is an incredible place for woman to go to get off of public assistance, achieve a sustainable living and become productive members of society. I am honored that they have invited me to be a part of the process there. And lastly, I am on the Board of Directors of The Spring House for Women. This is a safe place for women to go to get off drugs and/or alcohol and get their lives back on track. It is a long-term residential program and I have been involved since 1996.
Q. How do you choose which cause and organizations to support?
A. Such a tough question... I used to jump on board every time I was asked. But this is just not possible anymore. My heart lies within inner-city struggles, especially involving children. I am a product of an inner-city upbringing and I know how difficult it is to make your way out. Education is sub-par, resources are almost non-existent and the pull of peer pressure is great. I am a great believer in "It takes a village" to raise our children. I also am drawn to women's issues, especially regarding health and equality.
Q. What lessons about service and giving have you taught your children?
A. David and I are working to teach our children about their responsibility to society. It can be quite difficult where we live. My kids go from one activity to another. I have over-extended American children and part of me loves that they can have all these opportunities, but I do have to do some work on the material part. It is a real struggle for me. I do not want to shove anything down their throats about my childhood because it was not really worse, it was just different. The most amazing part of the Journey for Change trip is that my children are very involved now, going to Bushwick and washing cars with the kids there for fundraising. We are all going to Washington, D.C. together in November and New Orleans, LA in December. My children are seeing how kids in their own backyards are living. When I asked my son what he wanted for his birthday in October, he replied "Mom, I have everything I want. Can I ask my friends to donate money to the Journey for Change?" I swear it is a true story. It was the greatest gift I have received as a parent. I mean come on... how lucky am I???
Q. Do your children serve as well, and if so, what do they do?
A. They do small things locally. They walked a three mile "Walk for a Cure" in October for The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. My son has a good buddy with severe allergies and a group of 15 kids walked together as a team. I was very proud of that. My daughter came home the first day of second grade and announced she wanted to cut her hair for the non-profit Locks of Love. I did not know she knew about it. She was so proud of herself, and of course, I was as well. I believe in the power of example. That is what I strive to do for my children.
Q. What is your favorite part of volunteering?
A. The absolute best thing for me is walking around an event I have planned and getting that feeling of satisfaction that is indescribable. It is about being responsible for creating an event that has something worthy attached to it. And of course, all those months of planning, disagreements, threats to quit, laughter, crisis, and pure fun flies out the window on "the night" and it is so worth it. The sense of accomplishment is exhilarating and I love that feeling.
Q. What are your favorite non-profit organizations that you do not work for?
A. I tend to like grass-roots organizations that get to local communities where I feel my contribution makes a difference. I love Kiva and Heifer International.
Q. You were a Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service volunteer. What impacted you most about South Africa and this global volunteer experience?
A. What struck me most about South Africa was the poverty. Until you are there and can see, smell and experience it, you will not know. There was one little girl in a Salvation Army orphanage and the minute we walked in she came to me with arms outstretched and I held her for the entire time we were there. We brought toys, stickers, games and she wanted none of it. She wanted to be held, hugged, and loved. I wanted to take her home. I want to go back again and again because at the end of the day I felt so good. I learned many lessons on that trip. I especially realized how small you personally are on this planet. I learned that I can only do what I can and I have to walk away and feel good about it.
Q. Is there a cause that you would like to contribute to in the future? If so, what is it?
A. I have so many things going on I really do not want to think about starting something new, besides my family would veto any new endeavors. And I have learned to be specific and focus my energies in a strategic way to effect real change. I feel truly blessed with the way my devotion to service has evolved. One thing certainly leads to another. Wherever my journey takes me, hopefully I will embrace it, make the right choices, and keep my motives intact.
Q. What advice do you have for volunteers who are just starting to serve?
A. I would say to start small, be open to learning, and get involved in something that motivates and moves you deeply. Gandhi said it best - "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Things will happen.
Q. Do you have any specific advice for stay-at-home moms?
A. Family first and find the right balance (David will get a chuckle out of the balance part). I initially got involved with my children's school because I wanted to see them there. There are all types of jobs in parent organizations in schools, ones that are creative and administrative. Find what is for you and jump in. It is the only way to find out what works.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. Carol Rogers -- my sister and my friend. She nurtured me through my darkest hours.
Q. What is your favorite quote?
A. "You must be the change you wish to see in the world"... Mahatma Gandhi
Q. What is your motto?
A. Live, love and laugh each day as if it were your last.
Q. Do you have a lasting thought that we did not ask?
A. I had a very bumpy road getting where I am today. I am truly a work in progress. I was brought up very religious, but I never embraced organized religion. It is just not for me. I am a deeply spiritual person today. When I sweep away prejudice, think honestly and self-examine diligently, it is then that I am at peace. For me that is Love, that is God.
Please find below a list of the non-profit organizations that Annie Hausmann works with or supports. We encourage you to visit and learn more about these vital organizations.
The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
Women's Rights Information Center
Springhouse for Women
The Guardian Angels
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