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A Family Affair | Siblings in the Social-Impact World

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

An older child carrying a toddler on their back.

As one of five kids, I know firsthand the impact that having a sibling—or being one—can have. Siblings can be some of your earliest teachers, and provide advice and support through good times and bad.

Some siblings take their impact beyond their immediate family by joining forces to make a difference on the local, national, or global level.

In honor of National Sibling Day today, learn about these sets of siblings who started nonprofit organizations.

Mary and Alice Goodwin, Founders of Boys & Girls Clubs of America

In 1860, Mary and Alice Goodwin, two sisters in Hartford, CT, joined with Elizabeth Hammersley to start a “boys club”: a space for young boys in the community to productively spend their free time instead of wandering the streets. 

The idea spread quickly. Forty-six years later, several Boys Clubs decided to affiliate, and eventually the modern-day Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) was born. 

Although three women created the first club, the organization didn’t officially include girls until 1990.

Now, BGCA works with more than 4,300 local branches in the U.S., as well as on military bases overseas. Echoing the original goals of the Goodwin sisters, BGCA’s mission is to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

“I believe if you change the trajectory of a young person… it starts to impact the family; then that family impacts community, that community impacts whole cities, and that really is the foundation of what we call today collective impact,” BGCA Chief Operations Officer Lorraine Orr told Idealist Careers last year.

Will and Charlie Mayo, Founders of the Mayo Clinic

You probably know the Mayo Clinic as one of the leading hospitals and medical research centers in the U.S. But did you know that it’s a nonprofit organization? Or that it was founded by two brothers and their father?

This family affair started with Dr. William Worrell Mayo, who started a medical practice in Rochester, MN, in the 1860s. His sons, William (Will) and Charles (Charlie), also became doctors and joined the practice in the 1880s.

Will and Charlie Mayo took the medical practice to great heights as they mastered new surgical techniques. Their reputation spread across the country. Soon, other doctors were sending patients to the informally named “Mayo Clinic.” The name became official in 1914.

The Mayo brothers passed away within a few months of each other in 1939. Their legacy lives on not only in the clinic that bears their name—which sees over 1 million people a year from around the world—but also in the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, which has more than 4,000 active students across five schools and more than 400 programs.

Robbie and Brittany Bergquist, Founders of Cell Phones For Soldiers

Robbie and Brittany Bergquist are the youngest nonprofit leaders on this list—but they weren’t even old enough to vote when they started Cell Phones For Soldiers in 2004, with just $21. 

Robbie and Brittany were 12 and 13 years old when they heard a news report about a U.S. soldier facing a bill of nearly $8,000 for calling home while serving Iraq. With their parents’ help, they decided to start an organization that would enable soldiers to call home for free.

Cell Phones For Soldiers started out by providing free calling cards to active-duty military members. The organization pays for the calling cards with donations from supporters and by recycling gently used cell phones for cash. 

Since 2004, Cell Phones For Soldiers has provided more than 300 million minutes of free talk time to U.S. troops and distributed more than 5 million prepaid international calling cards. They also run a “Helping Heroes Home” program, which provides a one-time grant to help returning veterans transition into civilian life.

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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