Welcome to our Changemaker Profiles blog series! Each edition will profile one outstanding social changemaker from the JVA client community. By sharing the stories of some of the incredible people we get to work with every day, each accomplishing extraordinary work in nonprofits, government, social enterprise and elsewhere, we hope we will bring a little light and inspiration to your day!
For this edition, we spoke with Allison Yacht (pictured above with her daughter Merry and the Colorado Avalanche mascot, Bernie), the executive director and founder of BraveHoods, which donates hooded sweatshirts with inspirational messages to children with cancer. Allison started BraveHoods in 2013, about a year after her young daughter successfully completed treatment for a rare cancer. The hoodies offer a trendy, comfortable way for children to cover their heads when facing hair loss, and for families to rally around a child with a visible sign of support.
1. Tell us about you and your organization and the social change you are trying to achieve.
“BraveHoods is a one-for-one nonprofit, and we gift super-soft, inspirational hoodies to kids with cancer. We know that everyone loves a hoodie, so we also sell our hoodies and T-shirts, and for each one we sell, we gift one hoodie.
“Kids with cancer are bald, not the whole time, but part of the time, which really stinks when you’re a kid. A hood makes it a little easier to decide who gets to see their head. So if they’re out at Target or in a big open area, they can put the hood up. If they’re somewhere they feel more comfortable, like with friends, they can put it down. It gives them a little bit more control of their own body. There are also practical things, like it keeps the sun off their head, or can keep them warm.
“People have a misconception that the hoodies are heavy, but really they’re light and super versatile, so you can even wear them on a 75-degree day. They are a nice layering option. The other thing is we donate to siblings as well. We know sometimes they get left out. It gives them a sense of being part of a team. We have had families contact us who have five or eight kids. We send out shirts to the whole family. There are two ways we get them out to kids. One way is sending a package of about 30 hoodies, labeled according to size, to a hospital’s Child Life Department—that’s nonmedical staff—with a letter that says if you have more kids, we’ll be happy to send more. And sometimes parents contact us directly through that.
“As far as the social change we are trying to achieve, we want to bring attention to childhood cancer. Only 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s budget goes to childhood cancer research. A major motivation is to let people know that cancer does happen to kids. Our major mission is to give comfort to kids.”
2. What keeps you inspired and going when things get tough?
“Things do get tough. We’ve been doing this for five years, and I’ve been in the cancer world for seven years. It never gets comfortable. I never get used to hearing of kids not completing their treatment, not making it. It’s unbelievably difficult.
“While we are in it, we’re somewhat removed. We’re not in the hospital every day. When I need to, I take a couple minutes to sit and think of all the people who are working to make sure children make it. Some days I hug my kids or take my dog for a walk. Some days it’s hard. I wasn’t really prepared for that in the beginning. That’s been very difficult.”
3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break new ground in a traditional field?
“First, never give up. Second, be flexible. I really believe that things change; if you don’t roll with the punches, you can’t get through it. We have a very well laid-out plan, but we have definitely had to change direction and focus at times.
“Finally, never turn down an opportunity. You don’t necessarily have to seek out every opportunity, but if it’s presented, I have to take that opportunity. I try to live by that in both business and outside of business.
“In the beginning, I was adamant we were not going to do T-shirts, only hoodies. Five years later, we are starting to get into inspirational T-shirts. It’s having a huge impact. Apparently, not everybody wants a hoodie. I was really not willing to give in, and then I said ‘Why? Of course we should be doing T-shirts.’ So, even if you have strong opinions on stuff, revisit them every once in a while because things change.”
4. What book do you recommend to everyone you meet and why? OR What book is on your to-read list and why?
“I have three books on my to-read list that were recommended to me:
- Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers (Collins Business Essentials), by Geoffrey A. Moore
- The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, by Steve Blank
- Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, by Bill Aulet
“I like entrepreneurial books, and I feel like even though I have been doing this for five years, we’re still a startup. I like reading what others have done and about their successes and failures. With ‘24 Steps to a Successful Startup,’ the structure of that is particularly appealing to me, having steps to follow.”
5. How have you worked with JVA, and how has that helped your organization?
“It has helped tremendously. I took a class about a year ago about social enterprise. Since we have a product, for us it was perfect. I liked hearing from the seven or eight people in the class what they were doing and how they were doing it.
“The class gave me a time to sit down and really think about what we’re doing, how and why. It gave me the tools to put my thoughts together in a cohesive way, and I am still using a lot of the tricks Adam taught us. For example, I hang a cloth on the wall and stick ideas on it. It’s very motivating. And Adam had a ton of experience. I am just really thankful JVA is here and doing what it’s doing.”
Keep up with the area’s most inspiring changemakers—read JVA’s Changemakers blog!