Blog Archive

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hakuna Matata

Editor’s Note: Michelle Nolan was the first of nine RSM US LLP (RSM) employees given an opportunity “pursue their passions” through the firm’s 90-90-9 program. Through 90-90-9, RSM is celebrating its 90th anniversary by providing nine employees with $90,000 ($10,000 each) and nine paid days off to fulfill their personal dreams. Michelle’s dream? Provide water to orphans in Africa, while achieving a personal goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Read her story:


This all started with one small idea a few years ago. Over time, with the support of others, I ALLOWED it to grow into one HUGE crazy dream. Now, in 2016 that dream grew even BIGGER and also came true! I emphasized ‘allowed,’ because often what holds us back from dreaming or accomplishing things is ourselves; it’s our fears, our self-doubts and our worries. The longer we let those linger, the more hold they have over our lives and decisions. I believe that happiness is a choice and the only one who can ensure that for myself is me! I’ve also found the bigger supporter I am of myself, the more I believe in myself, the less fears I have… I’m giving others the confidence to be supporters, as well, and to be confident in me too!

I’d like to give a special shout-out to Becca Brown (travel partner extraordinaire. “Asante Sana Rafiki!” (That’s Kiswahili for, “Thank you very much, friend!”) Looking back on this trip and the experiences leading up to it, I think I speak for both of us when I say I am humbled and grateful. I went into this wanting to gain strength, courage and inspiration. I got that and so much more. I continue to struggle to find the words to describe my experiences! I’m simply and utterly in awe –  of myself, of Becca, of the generosity of RSM, our friends and families and all of those who reached out to support us physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially; in awe of Kilimanjaro, of the 20+ children at Living Water Children Center of the 600+ kids of Yakini Primary School and  of all those in Africa who have devoted their lives to the children and making their communities a better place, to those who have so little financially, yet have more true “wealth” than most I know. The beauty of this trip is that even though it ended, the impact continues to grow!

We arrived in Tanzania, after traveling 27 hours, with emotions ranging from excitement to fear to disbelief. Our luggage included 90 pounds of donations: school supplies, sports equipment and clothing. (Many thanks to those at RSM who donated!) Yes, 90 pounds, a bit ironic huh!? (Insert Alanis Morissette song lyric here.) We were tired and nervous, but strong and ready. This is also when it started sinking in that running water, plumbing, a solid roof and beds were a thing of the past for the coming week.

You might think that as novice climbers we’d pick a small mountain, but no! We went with the “go big or go home” approach, and chose a difficult route, with only a 46-percent success rate for the ascent and descent in seven days. Why? Good question! I wondered that myself – from the day we booked it until the day we reached the base of the mountain. The route was rated high in scenic value and low in traffic. (I wonder why?!). Apparently we’re suckers for a good view and a huge challenge! Becca and I both also chose to have a sensible level of naivety. We went with the “know enough not to get ourselves killed, but leave the rest alone” approach. We figured we’d tackle each thing as it came. And we did.

SUMMIT DAY! The day had come, one day sooner than expected, for us to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Our guide informed us that the night we planned to climb, a storm was expected, so he recommended we go a day early! (Insert freak out moment here, and reminder: I’m a moderately fit asthmatic!) We took the guide’s advice. This meant that within a 26-hour period, Becca and I spent just over 20 hours climbing and hiking. I still cannot put into words what that experience was like. It was life-altering, breathtaking (figuratively and literally – the air is sparse and thin), and truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Those moments are etched in my memory and will forever bring me joy!

After summiting the mountain, we headed to Arusha to stay with the Kimaro family, who founded both Living Water Children’s Centre and Yakinni Primary School. They graciously opened their home and their hearts to us, as they have to so many others and countless children. The children’s center is just up the hill from the family’s home. Becca and I, raced up the hill, as I couldn’t wait to see the children and she was anxious to meet them. Instantly I fell in love all over again as I saw the smiling faces of children I remembered, as well as a number of new smiles. It didn’t take long for Becca to fall in love either. (Love at first sight does exist!) We spent the afternoon playing games, singing and taking #selfies.

Over the coming, days we made several trips to both the children’s center and the primary school. We met with the head master of the primary school to discuss the school’s challenges. The lack of funds for textbooks has been a struggle for the children, their families and the teachers. With a passion for education and reading, I was overjoyed to be able to support the school by buying and donating 422 textbooks. Previously, one textbook was shared among 10-20 students, but now nearly every student has his or her own. The children, teachers, and the school’s support staff were tremendously thankful, as they truly believe in the power of a good education.

Also at the school and in the surrounding communities, accessibility to clean drinking water has been an issue. I was honored to fund a project that now supplies the 600+ children of the primary school with access to clean water daily. This water will also be accessible for those in the surrounding communities.

I’m continually amazed when I reflect on the impact of this trip. There schools and communities in Africa who now have access to clean water and more opportunities in education because of this trip and because of RSM. The greatest gift, is that these projects will continue to impact future generations. At some point, the reach of these will be immeasurable.


Closing Thoughts
Continue to create dreams that initially seem impossible! 
  • All things truly are possible if you believe in yourself.
  • Happiness is a choice; make it a priority.
  • Running water and plumbing is a luxury to many.
  • Life lessons and growth come when you push yourself outside your comfort zone.
  • Pumba in The Lion King led me to believe warthogs would be fun and cuddly. They're neither.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt said a lot of inspiring things in her day, so I'll close out with some of her words... "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Jacqueline Pacquette

Jacqueline Pacquette | Audit Senior Associate | Omaha, NE
I grew up in a family of cigarette smokers, from in utero to the day I moved out of my parents’ house, I was surrounded by second hand smoke. While this never affected my health, it did affect my teeth. I always had cavities, no matter how often I brushed, each trip to the dentist showed new cavities. By the time I was in high school I had been through numerous root canals, and had a few teeth pulled altogether. The results of all these procedures were purely to stop any further damage. I was left with, cosmetically, an ugly smile. One of my front teeth was set a full centimeter behind all the others, another was completely sideways, and multiple others were covered in fillings that didn’t quite match the color of my teeth.

My ugly smile was always a cause of self-consciousness. I wouldn’t smile showing my teeth for pictures, and I’d cover my mouth with a hand when laughing around others. My freshman year of college, my front tooth, the one that was completely sideways, broke off at the gums. I was devastated. As if my smile wasn’t bad enough, I was now missing one of my front teeth. I reluctantly called to make an appointment at a local dentist. When I showed up for my appointment, I was in tears. The procedure to fix my one tooth would cost hundreds of dollars, but he nearly refused to do that without fixing everything else, upwards of $6,000. I knew my family couldn’t afford it.

I called my parents to discuss what the dentist had told me; my step dad told me he’d take a loan out against his 401(k) to pay for the procedures. I showed up to my next dentist appointment, with this information in hand, when I told my doctor he replied that he wouldn’t take any money from us. I was confused for a few minutes, until he thoughtfully explained that he would do all the work necessary to give me a perfect smile under a few conditions. First, he would take as much money as my dental insurance would cover. Second, I needed to keep my grades up. Third, I needed to graduate from college. Finally, fourth, that one day I would pay it forward. I heartily agreed, once again full of tears. I was so thankful for his generosity.

The next year was full of pain, having teeth pulled and all my other dental work done, before finally at the end of my freshman year having the last piece put in. For the first time in my life, I had a perfect smile. In photographs now, I’m smiling wide, and I’m not ashamed to laugh in public. The work that Dr. Chris did for me changed me as a person, he gave me so much confidence and I’ll never be able to truly thank him for what he has done.

With the help of Teammates (a mentoring program), I’d like to identify a high school student in need, in Omaha with a promising future, who could use a new smile. I would use extra time off for the process of identifying the student, becoming their mentor, and attending appointments with them. In the process of mentoring them I would like to take the student and their family to Storm Lake, IA to meet my dentist, Dr. Chris.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: David Campbell

David Campbell | Consulting Supervisor | Boston, MA
During my first summer as an employee I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful sub-Saharan African country of Cameroon. The context was a visit to a friend in the Peace Corps who focused on cultivating a community farm, and as part of my visit I spent time working on the farm in preparation for the harvest. It was through this experience that I was able to see first-hand an example of the ingenuity possessed by many across the continent.

One afternoon a young boy (whom we called Calvin) who was helping on the farm ran over to a mango tree on the walk home, and began to climb it with a stick he’d fashioned into a kind of sword. Moments later mangoes began to rain down from the branches, until enough had accumulated on the ground. After climbing down Calvin then took off his shirt, filled it with the felled mangoes and loaded them into his expertly tied shirt which he then placed on his head. Two miles later when we returned to the village, Calvin went house to house until every mango had been sold.

Unfortunately for many individuals in developing countries this enterprising attitude is without an outlet, due to a general lack of opportunity and resources. Most notable is electricity, to which an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access, roughly half of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 700+ million in the region rely on dangerous and inefficient forms of energy, such as solid biomass, leading to indoor air pollution and often deadly fires. Among these people are millions like Calvin who have the inventiveness, ambition and intelligence to make better lives for themselves and their families, but are limited by an inability to tap into commercial markets via phones and computers as well as health problems arising from the dangerous energy alternatives upon which they currently rely.

Energy sources and policies have always been of special interest to me, given the incredibly significant worldwide impact that they have economically, geopolitically, ethically and environmentally. As part of my senior thesis as a student at Boston College, I explored these implications by studying the renewable energy investments made by Texas and Massachusetts. Both states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards which stipulate for the state’s utilities what proportion of electricity generated and sold to consumers must come from renewable sources, and both have illustrated a) the enormous potential for clean energy capacity, which is even more exaggerated in sun-soaked sub-Saharan Africa, and b) the resulting benefits in the form of eventually lower recurring energy costs, cleaner air, reduced reliance on oil-producing nations in the Middle East, and growth in domestic green energy industry. All of these potential benefits exist in developing Africa, an area which desperately needs the economic growth that investment in and availability of clean energy can provide.

One very promising source of such clean electricity is solar power. The abundance of sunlight makes photovoltaic panels extremely effective, and advances in conversion and storage technologies have drastically lowered the end user costs to purchase and install the panels. A company that has made incredible progress in spreading solar power to rural areas is M-KOPA, which as of this year has provided energy access to more than 250,000 off-grid homes in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with its ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. Customers make an up-front deposit for the PV unit, in addition to daily payments for a year after which they own the unit outright. Based on the economics the company estimates households save $750 over a four-year as compared to kerosene purchases, savings which do not consider the very significant health benefits of eliminating kerosene usage and the resulting air pollution.

My proposal is to work with M-KOPA or a similar organization to obtain and distribute these solar units, to households, businesses and administration buildings which will be identified using networks established through my prior visit to Cameroon, as well as through organizations devoted to the cause. One such organization is the Solar Electric Light Fund, a nonprofit which has completed projects in more than 20 countries over 25 years. The budget attached illustrates that as many as 200 units can be distributed, all the while providing opportunities to speak and connect with local communities to identify specific needs and teach about the mechanics of the equipment and the opportunities it can provide. Given the scale of this initiative a significant portion of the time and effort required to carry it out will need to occur prior to being on site; thus the two-week trip represents only a portion of the total investment, and the coordination to identify recipients and acquire and distribute units will occur prior to the departure date. I have already begun to identify companies and NGO’s which have presences in the region to make this process most efficient and effective and will continue to do so. Additionally the distribution process will likely require more than the two-week trip, and partnering with these organizations will allow for it to occur organically over the necessary time period, so that my time on site can be focused on development and issue resolution. Given that the daily financing cost of 40 KSh/day ($0.40) is less than the average daily cost of kerosene, these payments will be the responsibility of the user.

As fortunate as we are, it’s often easy to overlook the threats and dangers faced by hundreds of millions of Africans, from severe air pollution to the presence and influence of terrorist groups. One of the most effective ways to combat these threats is to help improve local economics and opportunities, and the distribution of clean electricity represents a uniquely affordable way to achieve just that.

Thank you for this opportunity. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is so seriously committed to its employees and their values, and I am excited at the prospect of displaying these values of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence and stewardship as I pursue my passion.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Nyasha Gopo

Nyasha Gopo | Consulting Manager | Charlotte, NC
“Coaching is all about having someone believe in you and encourage you, about getting valuable feedback, about seeing things from new perspectives and setting your sights on new horizons.” - author unknown

Imagine if you can for a moment a young Zimbabwean man with an American wife and a year-old child. They pack their bags in their Cape Town home and move to America because the wife misses her family. So in the aftermath of a huge North Carolina snowstorm, they arrive in Charlotte with the intention of beginning a new life. If you can imagine this, you will see me five years ago, a young Zimbabwean man full of anticipation and hope for his new life in the U.S.

When I look back at that first winter, I shudder thinking about the na├»ve man I was five years ago. I was a Zimbabwean with an established career in South Africa. I believed once I arrived in the U.S.—as a result of an internal transfer with the firm I worked for in South Africa—I would be able to carry on from where I had left off. Little did I know that when I immigrated to the United States, I was to begin the painful journey of joining a new culture.

After barely a month in the U.S., I realized something was wrong. My senses were struggling to keep up with everything new that bombarded me. The accents. The business culture. The focus on managing perceptions and self-image. Early on my manager said, “Nyasha, perception is reality.” These words added a weight that hung heavy over my shoulders, this responsibility of ensuring that other people thought well of me.

In South Africa I had been selected for leadership programs, and I had given presentations that met with a roomful of applause. However, in the U.S., I was losing confidence. Full of self-doubt, I retreated into a shell because of how often I had to repeat myself because of my accent. I felt sidelined at client meetings when people spoke over me or just ignored me.

Instead of being the potential leader and talented speaker others once called me, I was now called, “Too quiet. Too soft. Lacking in technical competencies.”

Those early months and years in the U.S. left me confused, lonely, and defeated. Most of all, I started to believe what people were saying about me. Maybe I wasn’t smart after all. Maybe I was too soft and too quiet. Maybe all that perceived leadership potential had just been sympathetic talk from people who felt too sorry to tell me the truth.

I felt my managers inaccurately suggested areas of improvement for me without fully understanding the challenges of transition I was going through. No one was there to believe in me and encourage me. No one provided me with valuable feedback to help me see things from new perspectives and set my sights on new horizons.

Fast forward to the present day, and I have found my voice again. With the help of family, counselors, wisdom, faith, and the passage of time, I have come to understand the culture in my adopted home, and I have come to know myself better. My new culture holds many ideals: the extroverted ideal, the body image ideal, the loud no-nonsense business type ideal. I’ve realized it is easy to become lost in this culture if you don’t meet these ideals.

With a greater understanding of my adopted home, I have more enthusiasm. I share with people who I meet how one can navigate this culture especially as an immigrant. A friend of mine recently began the same journey that I did five years ago. I have spent time talking with him about the new life here. “Take your time,” I have said to him. “You’ve just gone through major change. It will take time for you to figure things out.”

As I spoke with him, I was reminded of my enthusiasm for helping other people thrive. I have long known myself to be an encourager of others. I have a passion for helping other people realize their potential in spite of the odds they may face. This past summer my newly immigrated friend and I had another intense conversation about the process of learning to thrive in a new culture. My friend told me, “You are a great coach. You should do this for more people like me.”

For me those words confirmed a passion that has been growing in me for a long time. There is so much rich experience and knowledge new Americans and immigrants can bring to our country and our businesses. However, the transition to a new culture often involves shaky starts and a reduction of confidence. As an immigrant who is now proudly a new American, I want to see new Americans and immigrants reach their fullest potential and realize from early on that they are not alone.

When the 90-90-9 opportunity was announced, excitement filled my thoughts as I dreamed of the possibility of pursuing formal training as a life coach with a focus on immigrant and new American populations. Our very own firm, RSM, has a fairly significant number of immigrants and new Americans. I want to help these individuals and others like them tap into their potential and achieve the best for themselves and society at large.

Coach U is an organization focused on the training and accreditation of life coaches through the International Coach Federation (ICF). I dream of being formally trained as a certified life coach through Coach U. This would be a huge step toward extracting the potential of immigrants and new Americans here at RSM, in my own community, and in our country as a whole.

As a certified coach, I will be able to help others like my newly immigrated friend to find their voice, stand tall, and be all they were born to be for the benefit of our society.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Nicole Knudtson

Nicole Knudtson | ICS Director | Minneapolis, MN

One evening, over 11 years ago, I asked my 2 year old daughter a question.

I had been working at RSM for two years and my projects were picking up steam and my work demands increasing. It was professionally fantastic as I was finally finding my career path. Personally, the timing was tough on a young married 20-something with a small child. Every day with a 2 year old holds something new and my husband was there to experience it all. I knew my career was very important to our family, but I also wanted to stay as connected as I could to my family.

On that regular evening years ago, I was tucking Cassidy into bed after the normal LONG bedtime routine. I looked her in the eye and asked her what her favorite part of her day was.

That night changed our family.

Cassidy’s eyes lit up. And she shared.

To this day, I can’t remember the specifics of that first “favorite part,” but I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I was fully engaged and focused into finding out what was the best part of her day. It was the first time I stopped and practiced my empathetic listening skills from my college communication courses. And my daughter felt heard, understood, and important.

Every night since then, we close out our evening by sharing what our favorite part of our day was. This now includes our second daughter, Samantha, and anyone we happen to be with at bedtime. Every evening we learn a little more from our girls on what is important to them, even at nine and thirteen years old. And our girls learn about Mom and Dad’s day too. Was Dad’s favorite part the success of having everyone try a new dinner, the good run he had that morning, or when he heard Cassidy was student of the month? Was Mom’s favorite part the fun she had playing volleyball, the success of a work project, or getting to go to Samantha’s choir concert?

Seven years ago I saw the power of this new routine and was inspired to write a children’s book called “Favorite Part of My Day.” I had the intention to get it printed and share our family’s tradition with others. Time and money have always been a hurdle. This opportunity would provide me the means to navigate both obstacles.

My proposal is to make my publishing dream a reality. The alignment of my project to our values and our brand promise is amazing. It is about connecting and truly understanding each other. I’m looking to showcase the stewardship value and attempt to leave a lasting impact to individuals within our organization and beyond. In addition to the actual publishing process, I plan to use three of my PTO days out in our RSM offices speaking to the Family First Employee Network groups and have also included the cost of some books to be distributed at these events. I would also look to have each of my daughters accompany me on an office visit.

I propose that 25% of any further royalties beyond the initial book purchase go to the RSM Foundation to allow me to continue my stewardship to the firm. With my current estimations of the book cost at $6 and the retail at $10, each book sale would produce $1 to go to the RSM Foundation general fund. This will allow for me to not only impact individuals within RSM US, but also to the RSM Foundation we’ve established for years to come. I believe that the intent of my passion is in direct alignment with the purpose and focus of the RSM Foundation to advance the education and well-being of children.

If my family routine can help other young families stay connected, I will feel that I am upholding our stewardship value and the delivery of our brand promise to our most important personal clients…our loved ones.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Julie Kaehler

Julie Kaehler | Tax Client Service Representative | Rochester, MN
My passion is the betterment of the lives of the Haitian people. In November of 2013, I went on my first trip to Haiti and will be going on my 4th trip in June 2016.

We have a core group of Haiti volunteers consisting of 5 people. Two volunteers are RSM employees and another volunteer is a former RSM employee. We have partnered with a non-profit organization in Haiti called “Vision Hope for Haiti” (VHH). Vision Hope for Haiti is in a small community within the city of Port au Prince. The main vision of the organization is to empower their people through education so they will be able to support and feed themselves.

I continue returning to Haiti because I believe we can work beside the Haitians and teach them to be self-sufficient. Following are just a few instances of the events I have witnessed while in Haiti:
• We brought VHH donated soccer jerseys and balls so the children can now participate in a soccer club.
• We gave eye drops and vitamins to a 5 year old boy named Watson because his allergies and malnutrition were making it difficult for him to see. Watson is attending pre-school for the first time.
• We bought and delivered food to an orphanage and found out they had just run out of food the day before.
• There are adults who want an English vocabulary book so they can learn English, which will help them find a job in Haiti.
• I met an 8 year old boy named Moses whose left side is paralyzed and he has to drag himself in the dirt all day because he has no wheelchair.

We have been financially assisting them with various projects which include:
1. Completion of 2 wells. This area had no wells in their community before these wells were built. The Haitians were forced to purchase water or use water from the river which is filled with raw sewage.
2. Purchase of 2 transformers and 12 poles to provide electricity. This community had no electricity prior to this and the people that have homes can now sign up to have electricity brought to their home for a minimal fee.
3. Purchase of school supplies for 350 children so they could be enrolled in school for one semester. They do not have a school in their immediate area so the founder of VHH had to find schools that were 2 to 4 miles outside their community that would accept the children for one semester.

When we were in Haiti this past June, we looked at land that is located in this community and is for sale. In the long term, it would be better to help VHH purchase the land so that a school could be built in this area which would be free for children to attend and they would not have to walk so far to get to school. There would also be space on this land for community gardens. It is the belief of VHH to arm the children of Haiti with education for a better future.

I recently discovered ECHO, an international nonprofit organization based in Fort Myers, Florida. ECHO exists to reduce hunger and improve lives through agricultural training and resources. Working through regional impact centers around the world ECHO connects small-scale farmers, and those working to eliminate world hunger, with essential resources, and each other. These resources include a vast knowledgebase of practical information, experienced technical support and an extensive seedbank focused on highly beneficial underutilized plants. ECHO offers a 1 week training at their campus in Fort Myers. I would like to attend and take one more person with me to this agricultural camp. They will teach us the type of plants to grow in Haiti to meet their nutritional needs as well as how to be successful in growing the plants. Their information is also printed in Creole, the language in Haiti.

I think it is our responsibility to help those in need and I am asking you to help me help the Haitians. $10,000 would go a long way in making a difference in the lives of a lot of families by teaching them to become self-sufficient. I believe the core values of RSM would be aligned with this project for the following reasons:

1. Respect – The Haitian people do not want to continue to take handouts without changing the attitude in their country. We can show our respect for them by helping them provide the tools they need to educate their children and ultimately make the changes they need in their country.

2. Integrity – The founder of Vision Hope for Haiti (Jonas Ophedna) and his staff of volunteers are very dedicated to their community. Jonas at 26 years of age has the motivation to excite those around him to move to action. He is always putting the needs of others first.

3. Teamwork – We have a great team of people that travel to Haiti and we have an open invitation to anyone who is interested in joining us. It’s helpful to have a wide range of talents as we face various situations and obstacles in the country.

4. Excellence – We continually try to figure out ways that we can assist Haitians to strive to be the best they can be so that no child is turned away from school or goes to bed hungry.

5. Stewardship – Haiti is 680 miles from Miami, Florida, and yet is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Haitians do not need material items but they do need our assistance in teaching them to educate and feed their people. If we can make a change in a small community of 350 children, just think of the ripple effect that will have as these children become adults and have their own children. Our goal is to assist the Haitians to be self-sufficient.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Jarin Hansen

Jarin Hansen | Audit Senior Manager | Cedar Rapids, IA
Bringing our family to Shanghai, China on an RSM expat assignment was the first of many steps to changing our lives forever. Among the experiences, we’ve learned a lot about the culture of this fascinating country, the customs and lifestyles that differ from ours in America. With that has also come the startling social systems, including the vast amount of children who are left behind in China. These are children who have been abandoned without healthcare, education, food, shelter, or even parents.

“According to the All-China Women’s Federation, an official body, and UNICEF, the UN organization for children, there were 61 million children below the age of 17 left behind in rural areas of China in 2010.” Of those, about 6 million reportedly were being looked after by distant relatives or by the state, such as in the cases of orphans and children with disabilities who have been abandoned; and another 2 million children who had been left just to fend for themselves.

After reading and understanding the truth and validity behind statistics like this, and coupling it with the mission and purpose of reactive organizations, such as the Baobei Foundation, we identified a clear opportunity to make an impact in one life. Baobei is a local organization in Shanghai which supports orphans undergoing life-changing surgeries. They are often the first call when an abandoned child needs immediate medical care because, through personal donations, Baobei is able to fund the necessary medical procedure. The organization goes one step further even, and matches these children with Healing Homes, where they can recover from the major surgeries under the care of a loving family. Frequently, the child will stay with that Healing Home until a Forever Home, or adoption family, is identified.

Within our current situation, raising three children in Shanghai for 2 to 3 years, we felt a personal calling to, at a minimum, open our loving home to be the Healing Home necessary for one of these orphans. With our eldest children being 7 and 9 years old, they have gained a clear understanding of the lifestyles of rural Chinese kids, they are familiar with the Houku system which prevents many from a good education and healthcare outside of their registered city or province, and they have observed first-hand the many children who are not as fortunate as them. Our eldest two children share in our desire to welcome, and care for, a native Chinese baby in need of a loving home.

The 90-90-9 funding opportunity at RSM aligns perfectly with this calling. Our family is committed to engaging with a Baobei child, and assisting as his/her healing home after surgery. We will provide the routine care for the baby 24 hours a day, until he or she is ready for adoption. We will work with the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center, orphanages and the Foundation to ensure his/her medical needs are met to assist in overcoming the child’s personal disabilities.

We will begin this journey by discovering opportunities to engage in the lives of these children and understand the true need that lies within the orphanage walls. Time will be spent undergoing an interview process with the Baobei Foundation, understanding the child’s medical needs and being trained to medically care for a baby. Once a child is identified as a good fit for our home, we’ll provide a room in our home and supply the child with daily necessities; all the while, hoping to give life to this child’s eyes. The length of time necessary to provide the healing home until a forever home is identified as unknown, so our commitment duration is also uncertain.

While Baobei does provide the financial resources for the surgery, we will utilize the $10,000 award in a combination of ways. First, a large portion will include a donation to the Baobei Foundation to fund the medical procedures necessary for the supported children. Should RSM fund a child in this manner, Baobei Foundation will recognize that as a sponsorship for the child in need, and provide updates and progress reports, with pictures, back to the company. Secondly, as part of a first-hand understanding of the living conditions and needs of the many children supported by Baobei, we will plan a family visit to an orphanage within China which will leave a lasting impact on our family. An orphanage visit would require travel from our home in Shanghai and therefore a portion of the award would be necessary to accommodate airfare, hotel, meals and other travel expenses during our visit. This visit would be the use of additional days off as provided under the program. Finally, to support the daily needs of the child, we will need to stock up on items such as seasonal appropriate clothing throughout the year, diapers, and food or formula. Any differences to the budget outlined above will be directly contributed to the Baobei Foundation.

This RSM initiative is an incredible way to give back, and for us it meets our personal and professional values as well as a passion that our family holds near. It goes without saying the use of the award is on point to the core values of RSM – Respect, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence and Stewardship. November is national adoption month; what better time to take this step and make a life-changing difference for a child, just as this expat assignment has done for us.

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Dee Komaromi

Dee Komaromi | Consulting Supervisor | Irvine, CA
B. B. King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” An education is something that many people take for granted in the United States, but across the world, there are millions of children with no access to schooling.

When I was a child in Turkey, I dreamed of being able to go to university. My father worked hard to make sure that my sisters and I were able to further our education as far as we wanted. He’s not here now to see that I immigrated to the United States and am working as a CPA at one of the largest CPA firms in the world, but I know that he would be proud of me. I would not have been able to come this far without his hard work, and now that this opportunity has arisen, my dream is to honor his legacy by giving these African children the same invaluable opportunity that my father gave me: education.

My dream is to open a school in Africa. If my proposal is chosen, Pencils of Promise could use the $10,000 award to help me reach my goal of raising $25,000 by the end of 2016, as a Pencils of Promise classroom costs approximately $10,000, and a school costs $25,000. The final amount I aim to raise will build a school that will be dedicated to my late father and father-in-law. I know that this would honor their memory in a way in which they would both be proud. The nine days of paid time off will allow our family to travel to Africa to open the school.

One of the reasons I chose Pencils of Promise is its proven record of success. Since its inception, Pencils of Promise has built 320 schools, and has served over 30,000 students.With a success rate of 100%, every school that they have opened thus far is fully operational and educating students daily.

I can imagine the joy lighting up the students’ faces, and I think that will be one of the most rewarding moments of my life. I have always known that the purpose of my life is to create a lasting impact on the world, and I can think of no other way than to give the opportunity of an education.

Something that really struck me about Pencils of Promise is the alignment to the same standards that we value at RSM. Just as respect is so important at RSM, Pencils of Promise upholds the respect of the communities that they help by employing leaders from the country in which the school is built.

Pencils of Promise also employs the same level of integrity as RSM by making it clear where every cent of a donation goes. By covering their operational costs through private donors, events and companies, 100% of every dollar donated online goes directly into programs to educate more children, and 85% of every dollar total goes to programs.

The results have been successful. In 2014, Pencils of Promise’s Guatemalan second grade students showed 33% more proficiency in early literacy skills than their peers, and 40% are more literate than their peers. In 2015, 98% of teachers report increases in student focus due to a new Pencils of Promise building. Also this year, Ghana’s teachers and students both reported that students with e-readers are reading twice as much as before.

Pencils of Promise’s founder, Adam Braun, started the foundation with $25. In 2014, he told Forbes that his background in high finance was a contributing factor in Pencils of Promise’s success: “As much as I’m a passion-driven person, my background helped immensely because I’m now an entrepreneur that filters every decision through the question, ‘Will this provide long-term ROI?’ I always wanted to build an organization with the head of a great business and the heart of a humanitarian idealist. I believe that’s what Pencils of Promise has become.”

I believe that Pencils of Promise’s background in finance is what makes it so successful, and able to help so many children receive an education. It is unusual that a non-profit takes what Braun calls a “for- purpose” stance, and it’s that kind of practicality that is truly making a difference in the lives of these children.What might have just been a pipe dream has become a solid success because of hard work and smart thinking, principles that will indubitably be taught to the children that are now able to attend these schools.

Entrepreneur reports that, “before he launched Pencils of Promise, Braun worked for management consultancy Bain & Company and before that, he worked in finance. His experience guided the way he set up his nonprofit. ‘I saw this level of business efficiency and accountability that often times does not translate into the nonprofit space, because people don’t hold nonprofits accountable to those same standards,’ says Braun. ‘I wanted to run an organization that was run with business efficiency at the core.’”

Pencils of Promise doesn’t just build a school and move on, they monitor and evaluate every project that they undertake. Its life changing for so many children whose only reality is one of begging to survive. If you award the $10,000 to my dream, I know that RSM and I can make a lasting difference in the world. These children are our world's future - let's give them one to look forward to.


Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Terri Andrews

Terri Andrews | ICS Director | Charlotte, NC
I am a survivor.

“You have breast cancer.” Those are four words no woman ever wants to hear. And if you ever do, they are four of the SCARIEST words you’ll ever hear. I know because I heard them about a year-and-a-half ago. Not surprisingly, they changed my life forever. What has been surprising to me, however, is that not all of those changes were “bad.” Sure, I went through the seven stages of grief—shock/denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression/reflection, the “upward turn,” reconstruction and, finally, acceptance and hope. That last stage—one of hope—is where I’ve chosen to live from this point forward. And that decision, is based heavily on the numerous wonderful people I’ve met and gotten closer with during my journey over the past year-and-a-half. These people—doctors, nurses, healthcare navigators, makeup artists, counselors, family members, friends and my “sister survivors”—my angels—they all rallied around me and vowed to “love me through this.” That’s exactly what they did. And they continue to teach and inspire me.

Of all my “angels,” one in particular, my new friend and sister survivor Laura Renegar was, perhaps, one of my strongest cheerleaders—calling, texting and/or emailing before and after every doctor appointment, every chemo treatment, every surgery to check on my mental state, share words of encouragement, insights about what to expect and even tips on how to prepare to various procedures, clothing to wear (Silk pajamas work best following a mastectomy, by the way.), etc. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this experience without her.

One of the most remarkable things about Laura, however, is that she does this for SO MANY women, through her volunteer work for the American Cancer Society. After losing her own mother to breast cancer years ago, Laura wanted to make a difference so she built a team to walk in remembrance of her mother, with proceeds benefitting Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for the American Cancer Society. She appeared in local and national ads promoting Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and her team is now the largest team in the City of Charlotte and for the past two years the largest team in the South Atlantic Division, which covers Georgia to Maryland! The Primax Pink Warriors (Laura’s team) has turned into an army of people raising awareness and raising funds for the fight against cancer year after year. She is a true “future maker,” and she makes a difference for so many people.

Now, my dream is to help Laura make a difference, by traveling to Jamaica to bring easy access to mammograms to underprivileged women who live in that country—a place that Laura’s heart calls home, even though her physical home is in North Carolina. Not only do we want to help ensure the health of these women’s bodies, but we’d like to contribute to their mental wellbeing, as well, by sharing our personal stories of survival.

Jamaican women have limited access to healthcare. And when they are fortunate enough to get an appointment for a mammogram, that often leads to a biopsy, they have to wait many weeks for the results of their biopsy to return from the United States. That’s when they receive their true diagnosis and their cancer battle begins. This is a long period of time for the Jamaican woman to wait—much more time than we experience here in the U.S—which means the disease has time to progress. Months, weeks and even days can literally be the difference between life and death with a cancer diagnosis. Doctors know this. Laura knows this. I know this. We want to bring awareness and easier access to mammograms to promote breast health for women in Jamaica. And we can do this through RSM US’ 90-90-9 – Pursue Your Passion program.

In Jamaica, the normal course of treatment for breast cancer is a mastectomy, regardless of the type, progression or prognosis of the disease, because lumpectomies require radiation, and radiation therapy devices are expensive and, as a result, are few-and-far-between in Jamaica. Laura and I have both had double mastectomies so we can mentor many women facing this diagnosis, just as we do here in the States.

Laura and I will work with the head of oncology with the hospital in Jamaica to secure access to mammography at the hospital. He is also working on getting lodging donated for Laura and me so we can focus as much of our 90-90-9 funds as possible on helping more women. Laura and I can travel to Jamaica and during our nine-day stay, bring mammograms to approximately 200 women. As part of this effort, we will share our personal stories with these women before and/or after their mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, biopsies and possible diagnoses.

Laura has already been certified by the American Cancer Society as a Reach to Recovery volunteer, and I will be certified before we leave for Jamaica. As Reach volunteers, Laura and I will help women through their experiences by offering a measure of comfort and an opportunity for emotional grounding and informed decision making. As breast cancer survivors, we will give patients and family members an opportunity to express feelings, talk about fears and concerns and ask questions of someone who’s “been there.” Most importantly, we will offer understanding, support and hope because we ourselves have survived breast cancer and gone one to live productive lives.

While Laura and I have both heard the words, “You have breast cancer,” the types of cancer we have are very different—with very different survival rates and potentials for recurrence, so we have different experiences to share. Our overarching message, however, is one of hope, encouragement and friendship. We want to let the women of Jamaica know that they are not alone. We—and RSM US—are behind them, cheering them on, so that they too can say:

“I am a survivor.”

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: Michelle Nolan

Michelle Nolan | ICS Project Coordinator | Minneapolis, MN
Many people are familiar with the African Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This message has been a constant theme throughout my life. In various situations my parents would always respond, “It takes a village…” So, as I started friendships, became involved in sports, and started my professional career their words resounded, “It takes a village”. At times my village is physically with me, at times it’s their lessons and values guiding me, and at times it’s their words of encouragement carrying me through. Every goal, every dream, every passion takes a village to fulfill. A little over two years ago, my village supported my trip to Tanzania and my hopes of leaving a lasting impact on the children of Living Water Children’s Centre (LWCC). In turn, the impact reached far beyond what I could have ever imagined and now I want to do it again and reach farther than before. My dream is for RSM to be an instrumental part of my village and help me pursue my passions.

In July 2013, I went to Tanzania to volunteer at LWCC in Arusha, a beautiful village located near the base of the brilliant and majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. The 50 children of LWCC are those with disabilities whose families are unable to care for them, who have lost one or both parents, and who have family who are just too poor to feed and clothe them. I had just spent four years in Dubai teaching, but decided it was time to return to America to pursue my corporate career goals. Before I moved, I desired to pass along my passion for inspiring children and acquired skills for teaching. I provided the teachers at LWCC with workshops teaching them how to utilize the resources I brought with me and techniques to engage and empower children to own their own learning.

Over the four weeks, I understood the power of what LWCC was really doing. The Centre’s founding family would tell the story of each child during our dinners around the campfire. Each story included similar elements: lack of food, no family, abuse, no security. It became overwhelmingly evident to them that every child deserves to have their basic health, welfare and educational needs met. The real power was in doing so, they gave the children the freedom to dream and pursue their passions. I realized through my conversations with the children, that their stories were now filled with imagination, security, love, respect, and dreams—dreams of what they’ll be when they grow up.

During afternoon activities, homework, and chores, I often caught a glimpse of “the roof of Africa”, Mount Kilimanjaro. I was in awe of the stories about peoples’ treks to the top of one of the world’s most iconic peaks. One day, I was laying on the dirt outside of the school house gazing at the clouds with Omega, an incredible and courageous young girl at LWCC. I prompted Omega to tell me a story based on what she saw in the clouds above, and for the next five minutes she told the most elaborate story of two elephants dancing in their backyard. After her story, she looked at me and said, “Teacher Michelle, what are you thinking about right now?” I then began to tell her how I was thinking about being on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and dancing with those elephants. She suggested tomorrow I do just that! I laughed and rattled off all the reasons of why that is impossible. Then, that brilliant six-year-old girl kindly reminded me that nothing is impossible. Since that day, I’ve dreamed of making that dream a reality. I want to believe, despite the list of reasons I told myself of why it was impossible, I was wrong. I want to reach that peak, dance with those elephants, and believe, just as Omega does, all things ARE possible.

As a result of my trip, a piece of my heart will forever reside at LWCC. I came back from my trip to Africa saying I am changed, I am stronger and I am inspired. I looked into the heart of a problem, and now I can’t help but feel accountable for being part of the solution. Sometimes people avoid really engaging in a problem to avoid being drawn in. I stared right at it; I am changed and I am stronger because I did so. My dream is to continue to be changed, be stronger, and be inspired to make an impact.

My hope is to return this year to ensure LWCC’s basic need of having a constant supply of water is possible. During a good rainy season, water is plentiful. But the rainy season is short and often unpredictable. My desire is to help fund the installation of an underground storage tank and rain gutters that will allow for the collection and storage of water for the times when the land is dry. Such a system would lessen dependence on vital water resources needed by the nearby village of Kisongo, aiding both the children at the school and the residents of the village. In addition, I would like for RSM to sponsor one child’s health, welfare and educational needs for a year, giving them the power to pursue their passion.

Little by little, I believe acts of kindness—large or small—have the ability to change the world. I’m eternally grateful for RSM’s consideration in supporting me to be the change I wish to see in this world. I believe I am strong, I am courageous and I am inspiring. I believe my talents and my voice are valuable. I hope RSM also believes my talents and my voice are valuable and support me in my efforts to pursue my passions in becoming stronger, more courageous, and to leave a lasting impact on LWCC and all who are a part of “my village”.

RSM values my passion project links to: respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence, & stewardship.