Check out our interview with the founder of Malibu, CA based The Emily Shane Foundation Ellen Shane. Ellen is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama in 2015.
After her 13-year-old daughter Emily was murdered by an enraged driver in California 10 years ago, Ellen founded The Emily Shane Foundation, a nonprofit to honor the sacred memory of Emily through good deeds and essential support to struggling middle school students through intensive academic and mentoring through its Successful Educational Achievement (SEA) Program.
She just released the first in a series of children’s book, Emily’s Gift, on Aug. 4. The beautifully illustrated book tells the real life tale of how Emily brought two dogs into the pet-less family through persistence and a lot of heart.
A native of Montreal, Canada, author Ellen Shane is a dog lover, wife, mother, public speaker, and co-founder and executive director of The Emily Shane Foundation.
Hi Ellen , please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a Canadian transplant to Los Angeles, having lived in Montreal my entire life until moving here in 1996. I graduated with a business degree in Management from McGill University, and am now running a 501(c )3 nonprofit charity, The Emily Shane Foundation. In addition to my passion and work as Executive Director of our Foundation’s SEA (Successful Educational Achievement) Program, I see clients for private grief support. I have written a children’s book which launched this month, the first in a series of true stories about our dogs. I am happily married for 33 years (it will be 34 in November) and we have three daughters.
Can you describe yourself in 3 words?
Self-starter, positive and resilient.
Tell us about “The Emily Shane Foundation?”
Our Foundation honors the memory of our youngest daughter, Emily. Its mission is to provide one-on-one academic tutoring and mentorship to disadvantaged middle school students in the mainstream classroom who risk failure and have no recourse. We only provide support to those who could not otherwise afford it. Our Foundation’s motto is “Pass it Forward” (to honor Emily’s persona). Each SEA Program participant must perform one good deed or act of kindness for every session they receive and it must be logged onto our website. This embraces our motto and fosters social consciousness. The good deeds feed our twitter handle. There is a huge need for what we do, as many students “don’t fit the mold” or “fall outside the box,” whether due to a learning difference, a language issue, being below grade level in one or more subjects, etc. If financial circumstances negate the outside support necessary for these students, they are left to sink. I believe that every child has the right to obtain the help necessary to allow them to be successful in the classroom, and have every opportunity for a bright future.
What was the catalyst for starting it?
The tragic murder of our youngest child, Emily Rose Shane, in April 2010 was the impetus for the creation of our Foundation. It began as a good deeds website. After the two years of court trials pertaining to Emily’s murder were behind us, I acted on what I felt compelled to do to honor Emily’s memory by creating the SEA Program. Emily was in the mainstream classroom, but had diagnosed “processing issues” and dyslexia, which made obtaining good grades difficult. I wanted to do something that would help others (as Emily would have wanted) and that would have been significant to her. As she was in middle school, and this is a critical time to “catch” students who are behind and/or lacking the skills necessary to pass their classes, the need for SEA was clear. Having experienced the frustrations that resulted from Emily’s experience, and learning firsthand that there was nothing in the school system to address her situation, my direction was clear. The students who cannot afford outside help (like Emily) have nothing to help them improve and succeed. It is unfair that financial limitations result in students feeling depressed, acting out, or any of the pathways failing students often choose such as gangs, drugs (using and/or dealing), giving up on themselves, etc. My vision for the SEA Program was to make it possible for these students to pass their classes and have every opportunity for a bright future.
What book should every nonprofit founder read, or resource should they follow?
There are many resources available to nonprofits, such as software to help track supporters and manage events. Ultimately, it depends on the specific field the nonprofit supports as to which resources make the most sense to utilize.
What is the key to your success with your foundation and other work?
The key to success is to work hard, be extremely well organized, and forge ahead with your vision, despite roadblocks and challenges. It is important to learn from others and surround yourself with knowledgeable people in various fields to help guide you.
What is fun and rewarding about what you do? What’s not?
I truly love my work. I enjoy meeting so many terrific young people (those I hire as our Area Coordinators and Mentors/Tutors) who truly want to make a difference for the students we serve and are genuine in their commitment to social issues. Meeting the SEA student participants and their parents is also wonderful, as they are so grateful for the support we provide that would otherwise not be possible. I am a people person, and a big part of my work involves communicating and relating to all our highly valued supporters, liaisons, committee members, etc. I do not enjoy budgets/forecasting and financial work, detailed contracts, and other necessary administrative tasks that can be tedious. The most rewarding part of the work that makes all my time and effort worthwhile is seeing both the positive academic and personal results of our work. It lifts the spirit to observe a child who felt badly about themselves and felt “I can’t do this” or “I’m not smart” transform to being confident, motivated and able to succeed.
Can you tell us about your new children’s book “Emily’s Gift” and the series?
The entire book was conveyed to me in a vivid and significant dream in 2012. The dream felt like a clear message and I knew I had to write it. As I had no experience or knowledge about the specifics of children’s books, it took me a while to have the story – which is entirely true – in a publishable format. I was also very consumed with the SEA Program and had limited time to focus on the book. Once I wrote the first draft, I outlined six other stories to follow. They are all true stories about our dogs, with positive messages and themes that children can relate to.
Where can we buy it?
To purchase the book, just click on or type in the following link: bit.ly/emilysgift
The other option is to visit the website of KP Publishing (kp-pub.com) and select “Children’s Books.” The cover of the book will then show and you can click on it. (The title is “Emily’s Gift: The True Story of Sherlock and Jackson”)
The book is also available on Amazon. There are three options: An e-book, a softcover and a hardcover.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I am consumed with the SEA Program, as the pandemic forced the cancellation of our annual fundraiser. I no longer have a full-time employee to help manage and oversee the Program this year. I am managing on a very limited budget right now, and don’t have time for more than this work, writing the second book in the series, and sessions with grief support clients.
What is your personal definition of happiness?
Happiness is feeling fulfilled, content and full of joy. This feeling results from the relationships with those I hold near and dear (my family and friends), the rewarding feeling of being productive and doing my best to help others that results from my work, in addition to taking time for those things that give me true personal pleasure (being out in nature walking, my fitness regimen, reading, etc.) Just looking out at trees, seeing birds, butterflies and/or deer as I am walking outside can fill my being.
Happiness is a combination of all those things.
What is next for you and the Foundation in 2020?
I hope to find new pathways for the Foundation to grow. We have a replicable model, and with the right resources, could expand to serve the many we are not reaching. At this time, we cannot grow without an infusion of significant funding. There is no reason we could not serve additional LA middle schools, and indeed expand to other cities and states. The need is a given. The current online learning model is also a lesson in perhaps continuing this as a hybrid method of operating when normalcy returns. This would necessitate overcoming the technical challenges of the population we serve.
In addition, I would like to complete writing the second book within a year at the latest.
What is something people don’t know about you?
I am a bit compulsive and like to address things immediately. I often end up working nights and on weekends.
Who was your role model as a child?
I remember being so inspired by Helen Keller. I learned so much about her for a speech I had to present to my class in elementary school. She never let any of her physical challenges affect her spirit and accomplished so much, thanks to the dedication of her teacher who was the force who helped her learn to communicate when she was a young girl. To me, her story is representative of the quote “Nothing is impossible.”
What is your favorite healthy food?
I actually am an incredibly healthy eater. I was extremely overweight at one time in my late teens, and learned much related to proper eating and exercise. Ever since I lost a significant amount of weight many years ago, I maintain a very healthy lifestyle. As for my favorite healthy food, there are many – but if I have to choose one, it would have to be the avocado.
And your favorite cheat food?
I really don’t like unhealthy food. My “cheat” food would be nuts and nut butters.
These are a favorite indulgence as a dessert.
Which project is still on your bucket list?
I would like to write a book about how to overcome tragedy and grief, based on my own experience and what I have learned from others. I would love to do more public speaking in this vein, not only here but all over the world.
In five years from now, where do you see yourself and your role?
In five years’ time, I would like to see a dedicated person take over the day to day running of the SEA Program, so I can focus on other areas related to the Foundation and my other passions.
What music do you like?
I like the music I grew up with, which is rock and also classical. My husband loves just about all types of music, including jazz, and one of our dear family friends is so talented in this genre (Les Sabler) that I have come to enjoy this type of music too.
Do you support any other charities?
I like to support other charities like LA based Big Sunday, The Boys & Girls Clubs (we operate SEA in partnership with many of the Clubs), and causes that are directly related to helping children in some way. I also feel strongly about both supporting efforts that are more local and in our own backyard in addition to needs elsewhere.
What do you like to watch on TV?
I rarely have time to watch TV, and if I have any free time, I love to read. However, I do enjoy BBC Masterpiece shows, such as Inspector Morse and the Endeavor (mysteries). I also really like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I love watching a great movie – whether old or a new release.
3 things you can’t leave home without?
Cell phone, wallet, and keys! I have photos of our children in my wallet that I treasure.
Idea of a perfect Sunday?
Making sure I do take time off, as I usually work some or most of the day Saturday. I love spending time with my husband and our dogs, going for walks in our neighborhood. Brunch is my favorite meal, and we always share a late, lovely brunch together. In addition to zoom calls with my family in Canada, and catching up with friends, reading, resting and recharging are my favorite way to spend this day.
What do you think of Social Media?
I am not active on it and truly don’t have time for it. I help craft and provide content for our Foundation’s social media, but do not do the postings personally. I now have a personal Instagram and am also on LinkedIn as it is necessary as an author and for the Foundation.
Where we can follow you?
To purchase “Emily’s Gift”: bit.ly/emilysgift or visit KP Publishing (kp-pub.com) and click on “Children’s Books”. The image of the cover of my book will show up and you just click on it.
The book is also available on Amazon.
There is an e-book, softcover and hardcover available. A limited number of signed copies to support the SEA Program are available through the publisher’s site. There is also an option to purchase books for a charity of one’s choice, and we provide a list of organizations that serve young children.
Quote: Your gift to our Foundation provides the gift of learning (my quote!)
Another: As I wrote earlier “Nothing is Impossible.”
Actor/Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Drink: Filtered water with lemon or lime
Movie: To Kill A Mockingbird
Sport Team: Montreal Canadians
Song: All the songs written in Emily’s memory