Excerpt From Gather As You Go: Sharing Lessons Learned Along The Way

My family has always been huge a supporter of education. When my dad was in his nineties, we wanted to put his name on a charter high school in Chicago and to fund its opening. We also wanted to have a “hands-on” connection to helping thousands of in-need kids in the City of Chicago. We were excited to do this, and the financial commitment was very significant. We worked hard with the Noble charter system, but despite all our efforts, politicians got in the way and stopped us from opening a new school.

So, after this disappointment and still being committed to helping children in need, we did two things: First, we partnered with the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago to underwrite the education of 50+ children for the next six to nine years (depending on their age). They are called Lavin Scholars after my dad. We love this program; we get to know these kids and work with the schools to help them receive a quality education. We celebrate their successes and have fun doing so.

We also started another charity called Enchanted Backpack. Enchanted Backpack serves over 20,000 students a year by supporting schools across the Chicagoland area. It’s a pretty simple program, but it appeals to us in that it lets us touch teachers and children directly and make a significant difference in their education. We visit a minimum of 50 schools a year serving under-resourced kids. We have worked with many educators and administrators to identify the core needs, and we then deliver the top twenty-five requested school supplies, as well as thousands of books to each school for free. We also deliver art, music, and physical education tools; and we donate winter coats, mittens, waterproof gloves, socks, hats and more. We have three Ram vans that are colorful and are wrapped with our Enchanted Backpack logo. It’s exciting to drive these vans throughout Chicago and the suburbs bringing critically needed supplies to students and their teachers. With the decline in financial support for education, teachers are spending serious money from their own pockets to help equip their classrooms. And the dollars needed are rising. As a society, we don’t pay our teachers all that much, and the first thing a new teacher does is equip a classroom. We feel it is really important to help teachers who are helping to make a difference in kids’ lives every day.

Our family’s foundation matches the donations of those who donate and support Enchanted Backpack up to a cumulative total of $1 million a year. We absorbed all of the start-up costs as well as the annual administrative costs. All donations received go straight to serving students. We have begun soliciting funds from individuals and corporations…people are excited about the impact their donation can have directly on students. As a person from the corporate world, what I love about the opportunity to sponsor an Enchanted Backpack school is that 100 percent of the donation goes directly to the schools and a corporation’s employees can come along and help distribute the supplies and make a concrete difference in children’s lives in a single afternoon. Inspired to learn more about Enchanted Backpack? Please visit

Some key lessons I learned in our quest to make a difference and form a nonprofit:

1) Don’t let the negatives overpower your plans. Figure out how to get around or through the roadblocks, or start again from scratch. The final concept may be even more fun.

2) Ask for help and consult experts. We asked for help from educators and likely adjusted more than 50 percent of our original thinking.

3) It’s fun to build something from scratch. Just begin.

11/21/2019: Article updated from that published in Gather As You Go as Enchanted Backpack has been in operation for 2+ years (was in formative stages when the story was originally written).

This content is an excerpt from Gather As You Go by Carol Lavin Bernick. To learn more, please

About Carol Lavin Bernick: Carol is a former executive chairman of Alberto Culver, civic leader, working mother and philanthropist. She is the author of Gather As You Go: Sharing Lessons Learned Along The Way, a collection of short, digestible stories that offer powerful lessons, key insights and helpful tips based on her life experiences. Visit Carol’s online community at to read more about her wisdoms. Net proceeds from sales of the book benefit Enchanted Backpack, a nonprofit that delivers school supply essentials and more to 20,000 students from under-resourced elementary and middle schools each year.

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