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An adult holding a child patient's hand
By
Lauren Rutledge
Photo Credit
International Relief Teams

When I left college nine years ago, like many, I was suddenly confronted with the big question – what’s next? With no set plan or vision for what I wanted to do, I decided to start my job search with one of my favorite hobbies – I began working in the museums that I loved to visit. It wasn’t long after that I found myself kicking off a career in fundraising.

Fast forward to the present day, and I am so grateful that this is where life led me. Working in fundraising has allowed me to follow causes that I feel passionate about, from the arts to humanitarian aid. As a member of the Global Impact team, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be inspired every day by the incredible charities that we work alongside – charities that reach around the world to help the most vulnerable people.  

I want to share with you a piece of my daily inspiration in the story of one partner, International Relief Teams, an organization built on inspiration. In 1986, Barry La Forgia, a San Diego attorney and real estate broker, participated in a mission trip to Peru. The goal: helping construct shelters for impoverished people living in the Amazon. La Forgia was so moved by his experiences and witnessing the needs of these people firsthand, that he left his practices and formed Southwest Medical Teams to link skilled volunteers with people in need. As his organization grew to impact more regions, they later changed their name to International Relief Teams to better reflect their global focus. 

Throughout the years, IRT and their network of volunteers have supported underserved communities in the United States, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, the South Pacific and Africa. Their programs include disaster response, including medical support and reconstruction teams; medical training and services in low-income countries; shipping medicines and medical supplies; and health, nutritional and educational support. 

Reflecting on my own experiences and IRT’s start made me curious about where their staff find their own inspiration. So, I asked IRT’s Communications Specialist, Jenna Montgomery, to share the inspirations that she has drawn from working with IRT.

What drew you to the mission of your organization?
I have always been drawn to helping the international community. Before finding my position at IRT, I pursued a master's degree in international relations and nonprofit management. I volunteered for two years in the Peace Corps Paraguay because I wanted to work in humanitarian aid. IRT's mission to reach the most vulnerable communities in the forgotten corners of the world speaks to me on a deep level. 

What is your favorite memory or success story related to IRT?
I am personally most proud of the relationship I helped establish between International Relief Teams and Save the Syrian Children, an organization founded by a grad school classmate of mine, Tamar Koosed. Together, we have been able to send two separate shipping containers full of critical medical supplies and medicines into the heart of the civil war in Syria’s Idlib province. This accomplishment represents an incredible feat of logistics: Getting supplies safely into one of the most dangerous places in the world is an extremely complicated and arduous undertaking. I am proud to say we are currently working on our third shipment with Save the Syrian Children.

What is something that inspires you every day in your work?
I am always inspired by our volunteers. They give so much of themselves and their time to help people they have never met before. Our medical volunteers use their precious vacation time not to relax from their hectic work schedules, but to work harder than ever, sunup to sundown, in a rural, impoverished clinic in Honduras, for example. Their selflessness and dedication to IRT's mission is impressive and so honorable.   

How has the past year changed the way you view your work?
This past year has made me see that our work is more important than ever, especially in our own community. Nonprofit organizations like International Relief Teams are essential to support desperate families who cannot find help anywhere else.

Building blocks of inspiration
What lays the foundation to inspiration? For IRT, it’s three core values that are central to their work: 

  1. Partnership – IRT knows they are strongest when partnering with organizations that have a presence in the target location.
  2. Equity – IRT targets their efforts toward vulnerable and marginalized populations in order to see a more equitable world.
  3. Efficiency – With a determined group of HQ staff, a number of skilled volunteers and strategic partnerships, IRT achieves their goals with the greatest impact for every donated dollar.

These values have resulted in significant positive impacts since their founding. Here are just a few that stand out to me: 

  • Deploying more than 7,500 volunteers and providing $540 million in food, medicines, relief supplies and volunteer services to families in need in 70 countries worldwide. 
  • Responding to most major natural and manmade disasters since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. 
  • Standing on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also responding to natural disasters like hurricanes Sally and Laura and the wildfires in California.

These accomplishments are rooted in the inspiration of just one person. Decades ago, La Forgia proved it was possible for an individual to use their inspiration to make a global impact. The same holds true today. Any one person – that means you! – can change the world for another. Read on to get started.

Take action: Finding your own inspiration
Find your own inspiration by supporting a cause that’s important to you and make your mark:

  • Support IRT’s COVID-19 response: IRT has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, and among other support is sending air shipments of PPE to India to protect their health workers. You can help IRT and other responding organizations by giving to Global Impact’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.
  • Virtual campaign events: Host a virtual coffee break, lunch and learn or team meeting featuring IRT, and hear their stories firsthand. If your campaign doesn’t kick off until fall, then the time to plan is now!
  • Stay informed and spread the word: Sign up for the IRT newsletter

You can read more about IRT and our other charity partners’ inspiring work on Global Impact’s Give at Work page. To learn other ways you can support global causes in your workplace, contact us today

A journey starts with a single step. What will be yours?


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Lauren Rutledge

Lauren Rutledge

Lauren Rutledge leads corporate, institutional and charity partnership efforts in the Western region, with a specific focus on Seattle and the Bay area. She manages a portfolio of Global Impact clients which promote fundraising efforts for public and private sector organizations through employee giving, volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. Before joining Global Impact, Lauren worked in fundraising for arts organizations focusing on special events, membership and major gifts.

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