Like a lot of people, Danielle Gletow has always liked children and has always had an inclination to serve others through volunteer work. But all that might not have been apparent if you met her back in the 2000s, after she left Seton Hall to pursue a career in marketing, eventually serving as web marketing director and senior account manager at Rosetta, the fast growing marketing firm at American Metro Center.
With her husband, Joe, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, she was part of the typical young married couples scene. “We spent our weekdays working long hours and our weekends hosting dinner parties. I was constantly striving for another promotion or raise,” she says.
But all that changed when the Gletows decided to become foster parents, opening their home to some of society’s least wanted, and most vulnerable, children. Today Gletow oversees One Simple Wish, a fast growing charity with over 430 community partnerships with agencies in some 36 states. One Simple Wish has fulfilled more than 6,000 wishes and helped more than 20,000 children. The things donated, she says, are “items and experiences that children in foster care were going without; items and experiences that most of us remember as being an expected part of our childhood.”
Gletow, who has been nationally recognized for her efforts to support foster parents and kids, will speak at the Princeton Chamber luncheon Thursday, November 7, at 11:30 a.m. at Princeton Marriott at 100 College Road East ($70, www.princetonchamber.org). And her organization, One Simple Wish, will be among the charities featured on Sunday, December 1, on CNN’s “Heroes” show. As a finalist on the show One Simple Wish has already received a $50,000 contribution from CNN. If it wins the popular vote, it would be awarded another $250,000.
Gletow was born and raised in Jackson, NJ, the daughter of an investigator for the county public defender’s office and an office manager. When she moved to central New Jersey after living in New York and working in marketing, she wanted to work with a nonprofit that focused on children. “I contacted about five different organizations and met with them and even did consulting work for a couple.”
Meanwhile, the Gletows were working with DYFS toward becoming certified to be foster parents. “It’s a difficult system for children,” she says. “I always wanted to adopt children, and instead of going the route of getting a child outside of this country, I wanted to help children who were right here in this country.”
The foster care role did not come easily. “After a year of training, home studies, fingerprinting, background checks, interviews with our neighbors and friends, we were licensed,” she says. “And even before we received our written certification, we got a call that a little boy needed a place to live. Right now. His parents were incarcerated on charges of abuse. His siblings, who were much older, were placed elsewhere. Could we take him?
“Hours after that call a little boy showed up at our door in an oversized winter coat with a sweet round face and a bag of mixed matched clothes. Our whole world immediately became about making this little person comfortable. Days passed and as more details emerged about his situation we were heartbroken in so many ways. We also knew fairly soon that he was not going to be the child we had hoped to adopt. But that didn’t stop us from treating him like our very own. And it didn’t soften the blow that much when we had to kiss him goodbye three months later.”
Eventually the Gletows did get custody of another foster child and Gletow became pregnant with their biological child. She spent her maternity leave “crafting a business plan for an organization I knew in my core had to be created. I wanted more people to get involved in supporting children in this very challenging and confusing system.”
Since then Gletow’s home-grown idea has reached nationwide proportions, with a growth curve similar to a high tech start up. The lessons she has learned along the way might be useful for the leader of any organization, profit making or not.
Don’t just compete, also collaborate. From the beginning, Gletow says, One Simple Wish has made a point of “not just walking into a room with a hand out, looking for money. Out attitude has been how can we mutually benefit — there have been so many different organizations, for profit and non profit, that we have partnered with.”
One example: Hasbro, the giant toy manufacturer. Like a lot of companies, it practices what is known as “cause marketing,” and donates toys to worthy causes. “They get thousands of requests to donate toys. One challenge for them was how to ‘vet’ all those charities,” Gletow says. “Since we deal with more than 500 non-profits we can set up and arrange delivery of their toys. They can deal just with us rather than many different agencies.”
Says Gletow: “I believe competition is great, but collaboration is even better.”
Don’t take the people in your organization for granted. While One Simple Wish (currently headquartered at 1977 North Olden Avenue, Trenton, www.onesimplewish.org) has only three fulltime employees, “we all believe that what we are doing makes a difference.” And, she says, “they should all be advocating for your cause.”
A corollary to that might be that you shouldn’t take your donor base for granted, either. The $50,000 gift from CNN is a major donation for One Simple Wish, but “even a $50 donation makes a difference to us,” says Gletow, pointing out that $50 can buy a birthday present for foster child or fill a backpack with school supplies.
“We need many more people involved in this conversation,” she says. “It’s not just a problem for poor people.”
Always keep in mind what got you involved in the first place. As Gletow is interviewed, she is preparing to fly to Florida at the beginning of the week for a CNN taping, getting back on Wednesday just in time to prepare for her Thursday appearance at the Princeton Chamber. But, she says, “my goal was never to be on CNN. We are continuing to be study the issue of children in child care.”
She says she knows some successful for-profit business people who have a similar passion for what they are doing — and that the driving force is more than simply adding dollars to the bottom line.
Measure your achievement in terms that are important to you. Gletow says that her idea of what constitutes “achievement” has changed since her days as a corporate ladder climber. As she said in accepting a Princeton Chamber “woman of achievement” award at Jasna Polana in June, “as a child I measured my achievements by my grades. How often did the teacher call on me? How many honor rolls could I make?
“As a teenager it was my status. How many friends did I have? How many people signed my yearbooks? And as a young adult I started to measure my level of achievement by my title. How big was my office? How large was my paycheck?
After she became a mother “something clicked.” Measuring her life today she would list her three children — one biological and two foster, including a 19-year-old student at New York University whom the Gletows took in as a foster child at age 15 — as major accomplishments. “Achievement, I realized, should not be measured by the school I graduated from, by my notoriety or by my title. Achievement should be measured in love — not how much you get but how much you are willing to give.”