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Ep. 329 – Joe Knittig, Global Orphan Project CEO

Joe Knittig Global Orphan Project CEO, discovered the world of orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti in 2005. With a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply business and advocacy to a new kind of client, Joe left the law practice he loved in 2008 to make an impact in the United States and around the world. Global Orphan Project sets traditional institutional orphan care models aside, and connects a global family united by a shared vision to care for vulnerable children while keeping families together. Joel discussed the organization and their massive goals with Joe in today’s episode.

Joel Goldberg:
Welcome in to Rounding The Bases with Joel Goldberg, there is so much going on as I released this podcast in my home of Kansas City. First and foremost, the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the first time in more than 50 years, so that is all anyone is talking about here. Baseball where I spent so much of my time as a broadcaster is right around the corner. We’re closing in on pitchers and catchers reporting and another season of baseball on the horizon. And then here in Kansas City, which is truly just a beautiful, incredible place to live. There is a hidden gem of a company making a major impact, not just locally but all around the world and that’s where my guest comes in.

Joel Goldberg:
A big shout out to Paul Shaffer, former guest on this podcast, Episode 310, he’s the CEO of the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, and he introduced came to this episode’s guest. Here is the CEO of the Global Orphan Project, Joe Knittig. Joe, great to spend some time with you here in your office. I know that we had a chance to do that recently too, and you took me around, there’s a lot to talk about. There’s a lot going on here in what I think is a really nice, beautiful hidden gem. So tell us about the Global Orphan Project.

Joe Knittig:
Good morning Joel. We’re a platform builder to equip communities to care for their own children in crisis. So we’re based in Kansas City. We operate in 20 States in the United States and eight countries around the world. Everywhere we work, what we find… Our local churches and other people, other community leaders with a heart for kids in crisis, we stay anonymous. And we very strategically invest in those communities so that local moms and dads and grandparents and local churches and other members of the community can own and be the champions and the heroes of their own kids in crisis. So, that’s what we do, Reader’s Digest version.

Joel Goldberg:
Well, yeah. There’s a lot more to discuss. I want to get into some of this because there’s so many layers and levels to what you’re doing. And this is not… And I’m not knocking anybody else and I don’t think you would be either, but this isn’t a, “Hey, we’re going to raise money and donate this to a cause and make kids’ lives better.” It’s so much deeper obviously, than that. Let’s begin first with how this all started and the history, if you could tell us about that.

Joe Knittig:
Yeah. There’s a couple here in Kansas City, Mike and Beth Fox. Mike was part of the start of a propane gas company called Energy, which some of your listeners will recognize that our new owner, the Royals was really the driver of that. Well, Mike was part of that and did well for himself and had a passion for kids in crisis. And he and his wife were looking for something that they could get involved in, so this would’ve been back in 2003. And everything they were bumping up against, it wasn’t hitting them in the heart. Then unbeknownst to them, a Filipino missionary and his wife moved from Manila to a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar to start an air quote, church. They’re inside of there and there were all these Karenni refugee kids who had lost their parents really, from almost a borderline genocide inside of Burma, 60,000 people in this refugee camp.

Joe Knittig:
And this pastor and his wife effectively became parents to 17 kids who’d lost their parents. And he needed help building a bamboo lean to and somebody heard that this guy was looking for help and took that out, it ended up in an email and the email shot around the world and it ended up in Parkville, Missouri and Mike Fox’s inbox. And he felt compelled reading that email. I’m going to invest $750 in that refugee camp to help that little local church care for kids. And that’s what it was. That’s how it started and that’s how it is today. It’s just a matter of needs around kids in crisis with local champions, willing to be the relational leaders. Those needs coming to an active community all around the world and the Global Orphan Project connects the dots.

Joel Goldberg:
When people hear a name like Global Orphan Project, and certainly, I thought this before I met you. I, we were introduced, I was just told this is a story you need to tell. And when I hear that from someone I respect, I want to meet someone like you. And my initial thought was, okay, you guys are… Maybe you’re taking orphans from around the world and helping them get adopted or placing them in certain… Maybe that is the case sometimes, every now and then, I don’t know, or maybe I’m sure there’s some relationships thaare being built, but what are the different things that you could be doing for kids all over the world right now and their families too?

Joe Knittig:
Well, it’s interesting because we can actually make this very local. To really understand that, we really don’t have to talk tons about what’s going on in Uganda or Haiti. We can talk about our own backyard. In the United States, we have an orphan crisis. We have four million kids that are getting hotlined every year. We have 400,000 plus that are in foster care and 100,000 that are immediately adoptable. And we have families splintering and disintegrating in every zip code in America. And so that’s the core problem, is families are disintegrating, kids are at risk. And the truth is, if you go to any County, go to Jackson County, Missouri, and you’ll find the same crisis in Jackson County, and you will find all kinds of who care. You’ll find state social workers that are there and they’re not the enemy, they’re busting their tails to do something for kids and families in crisis.

Joe Knittig:
You can’t drive down a street without seeing houses of faith, many local churches, you’ll find many people who are willing to invest in them, but they’re all… See a lot of people who care, there’s a care infrastructure. What you don’t have is a connection. They’re all so splintered and disconnected and kids suffer from that. So, really, what we do is connect those dots. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in Kansas City, Missouri or it is in Kampala, Uganda. We are connecting the dots and we remain anonymous to the kids and the families. What we’re looking to do is not reinvent the wheel, we’re looking to connect the dots so that kids win. And so, boil that down to Jackson County, Missouri, what can people do?

Joe Knittig:
Well, there are some people that are going to be called to foster and adopt. We have hundreds of children in the Kansas City Metro who are waiting to be adopted, right here under our nose. We don’t have to go to Africa in order to make a difference in the life of a child. But not everybody is. What if there’s a grandma about to lose… It’s 15 degrees out as we’re recording this. Her furnace doesn’t work. She has six grandkids and she’s getting hotlined not because she’s abusing her kids, it’s freezing cold in her house.

Joe Knittig:
Well, there might be people listening to this who say, “You know what? If I knew that that grandma needed help with her furnace, that’s something I could do, so six more kids don’t go into the foster care system and cost the taxpayers $24,000 a year and screw up the lives of the children and they end up in prison or on the streets. I could get involved in grandma’s life.” Really, anybody listening to this is going to say, “You know what? I could do that. The issue is how do I get engaged?” That’s where we come in, and so anybody listening to this has a role to play. You don’t necessarily have to be a foster and adopt resource. You can just be someone who cares and can take one part in making sure grandma’s stronger for her kids.

Joel Goldberg:
And so, you guys are… I don’t know if middlemen is the right word but you call it connecting the dots. You guys are the ones that are bringing it all together.

Joe Knittig:
Yeah. Here in the United States, we operate a platform called CarePortal and that’s careportal.org, and it’s like the Uber of child welfare in America. And social workers that are interfacing with kids in crisis, it could be that grandma with her six grandkids, it could be a case worker that needs a foster parent for a child, they can enter the need into CarePortal and program the radius of that need. And then we’re recruiting local churches and an active community. Some who are Christians, some who are not, businesses, schools, individuals that say, “Hey, if there’s a hurting kid in my zip code, I’m willing to receive an email on my phone about it and I’ll decide whether I can take action.”

Joe Knittig:
So when I say CarePortal connects the dots, we literally operate a technology platform that puts this in the palms, on the phones of anybody who’s interested, so that needs can be entered, and then needs can be met. And the community of CarePortal in the United States has served more than 53,000 children through that connectivity, leveraging technology to connect people who care so that kids win.

Joel Goldberg:
When I walk around here, really awesome facility that you guys have, you gave me a tour the last time that I was in. There are a lot of different things going on here too. I think if someone didn’t know, again, and now you begin to learn about the Global Orphan Project and CarePortal and okay, now we’re seeing the impact that could be made. But there’s a lot going on in here that is beyond what we’ve talked about, too. So, tell me about the different responsibilities and what’s going on in a very large office.

Joe Knittig:
Yeah, so think of the Global Orphan Project as a parent company. And people listening to this are familiar with business, you’ve seen org charts where, if there’s a parent company that has subsidiaries, the parent companies usually top-down, we are the inverse of that. A good parent should lift up their children. So, the Global Orphan Project is the parent 501(c)(3). We’re at the apex of an inverted pyramid, and you go up from there and we operate three platforms. We have an international care platform which is equipping local churches to care for local kids in crisis in eight different countries around the world. We have a domestic care platform, which is CarePortal, careportal.org. And we have a marketplace platform called the Go Exchange, goex.org.

Joe Knittig:
The marketplace platform is a… All of our leaders are from business backgrounds and we’re in an age right now where I think people are becoming sour to capitalism. They’re becoming sour to the free market. We are not, we are unabashed free market people. And we believe that capitalism, when it’s slightly adjusted to be more just is the most potent form of orphan prevention in the world. Jobs, you want to keep a family together, the best way to do it is a strong job. So, we have a marketplace platform. It’s a living wage apparel company, and we employ a couple hundred people in that company. And we manufacture t-shirts and hoodies, and it’s a fair trade certified company.

Joe Knittig:
We manufacture in Haiti. We do all the screen printing and order fulfillment right here in the urban core of Kansas City. And we sell those shirts and all the profits go back to care for kids. So that really is an example… That platform is to say, “Hey, others that are out there, steal this intellectual property, do the same thing in different markets and let’s create fair trade companies that keep families together. Rather than bashing capitalism, let’s leverage the heck out of it to make the biggest difference to families. A difference that frankly, aid in the world will never touch.”

Joel Goldberg:
Mm-hmm I want to go back to 2003 that $750 check. I’m not sure that the Fox’s knew that it would change as much as it did. I think you talked about, he was looking for something that spoke to his heart and obviously, that in the moment was it, and now we have this all these years later. So, how did it go from the $750 to this?

Joe Knittig:
Now, that’s my favorite question. Mike wasn’t looking to start a nonprofit. He didn’t know what a nonprofit was if it came and bit him on the keester on this. He was a business guy who responded to his heart, made a difference. I was a trial lawyer at the time and my firm was… We were blessed and the firm was taking off, and my wife and I felt called to be investors in kids. That’s the word I would use, not just donors, investors in kids, underdogs. And so, I learned about Mike and Beth and what they were doing. This was a corner at their desk, it was personal. It was just something that was their family mission. Then I learned about it through a mutual friend and I was so blown away by the humility of it all and the transformation of it all. Because this isn’t just about… I mean, I saw kids were changing Mike’s life. That’s what’s really going on here.

Joel Goldberg:
A guy that was doing just fine on his own.

Joe Knittig:
Yeah. So he thought, right? In the eyes of the world he was, but he meets these little kids. He went to actually go physically meet them and it’s like God himself turned the tables and these kids ended up becoming like little heart defibrillators for him, changed his life, changed his faith, changed his family. Same thing happened to me. I got involved and it just wrecked me for the good. And so, Mike and I started doing this as a, again, our family, personal hobby with one another, we became friends. I didn’t know the nonprofit space. We didn’t have a website, we didn’t have a phone number. We had no desire.

Joel Goldberg:
You’re still practicing at that point, I mean, this was just something on the side.

Joe Knittig:
That’s right. I was still practicing law, but it was totally transforming my life. And so, the way this went from that to where it is now, was by relationships. We didn’t market, we didn’t fill people’s inboxes with swollen belly, fly mouth kid pictures and guilt them into giving money, we started talking… In the fall of ’05, Mike and I were at a dinner and Fox said… It was a board meeting, and a board meeting was an excuse to have a good dinner and a good bottle of wine and dream. And at the end of this dinner, he got totally stone faced and tears were welling up in his eyes. And he said, “I want to challenge us around the table. The next time one of our friends or our clients says, “Hey, how’s your family? Hey, how’s your business.” With small talk, let’s respond. “My family’s fine. My passion has become orphaned and abandoned children.””

Joe Knittig:
So the challenge was, add a clause to the end of your sentence and let’s do it every time somebody asks the smalltalk question. And Fox and I took that challenge, and I remember thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” I had clients, I’m like, “Man, these guys are going to fire me as their lawyer. Here I am getting all soft.” But we did that, and the most unlikely conversations came up and people were at two hour lunches now saying… Man, I realized there are so many men that were successful in business in particular, that deep down they were just like me and Mike.

Joe Knittig:
We were raggedy roaches from nothing. And we were so grateful that we came out of it. We found that some of the most successful leaders that look so tough, were just fatherless children. And somehow there was something in the word orphan that was like a heat seeking missile. And that’s how it started, was from a clause in a sentence and people saying, “How can I get involved?” So, we took 12 guys to Haiti and they came back and we poured them out on the tarmac, on the runway, and we kept doing that. And so, before we ever had a website and before we ever had a way to connect people-

Joel Goldberg:
And this is still 2003, or?

Joe Knittig:
This was ’05, and then in ’05 to ’07, we’re asking all these questions and I’m telling you, it just went nuts all through relationships, not through marketing.

Joel Goldberg:
There are so many important lessons based on just the answers you said there. In my mind, first off, I’m thinking about something that I talk about with every single one of my guests. I think it’s the currency of life and that’s people, relationships. Notice what you’re talking about right now could apply to any profession. If it started with those handful of guys that went down to Haiti, how quickly did those relationships that you’re talking about spread?

Joe Knittig:
Very quickly, and I would just… You said something, you said the currency of life is relationships.

Joel Goldberg:
Yes.

Joe Knittig:
And, I would just say, right on. And I would also say, the laws of thermodynamics, the third law says, “With every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” We live in a highly transactionalised time that are controlled by our social media, and people create avatars and we’ve become less and less related to one another and more and more at each other’s throats. The answer to that is a relationship. And one of the things I would say is, there is a human, a deep human thirst to push back. I think right now this notion that we’re going to be transactionalised, and we’re going to be apart from one another and everything’s going to be an intellectual fight to be won or lost, people are sick of it, there is now a thirst for localism. How do I touch another person’s life? How do I really get into a relationship?

Joe Knittig:
And so, because of that… I mean that’s like highly enriched uranium for what we do, where we’re creating human relationships around kids that unify people who otherwise might be fighting one another around the care of kids. And because of that, word of mouth spread rapidly. And when you think about CarePortal, what is it? What it is, is how do we do the same thing that just happened to us? How do we automate that, and use excellent technology to supplement, not to supplant human beings? Instead of dozens of these sort of relationships that fire around the care of kids, how do we create hundreds of thousands of them leveraging technology? But if you get right down to it, Joel, it’s just what you said, the currency of life is relationships. And when you say, let’s rally those relationships around a kid in crisis in my own neighborhood, you get unity. And unity is power.

Joel Goldberg:
We hear so often that, just because you have a lot of money or you’ve made a lot of success doesn’t mean that you’re happier, everything’s going well. We all have stuff, we all have problems, and that isn’t always reflected by your bank account. But I like to put it simply like this, what gets you out of bed every day? The Simon Sinek question, finding your why. And for me, I talk about this in speeches, I’ll be brief on it. But I thought my why was just getting to talk about sports every day. It was my dream, I’m still living my dream.

Joel Goldberg:
And when people would say, “Man, that was a tough game.” They pay me to talk about baseball, don’t feel sorry for me. People will check on my wellbeing at times during a losing streak and the responses, “I’m good.” But what I’ve come to find out in recent years, a trip over to Kuwait to visit our troops and with tension raising the Middle East, that’s resonating more now for me because I’ve been over there. People are watching us and looking for a diversion from life or whatever’s plaguing them, and on the worst of games, I know there are people sitting in a hospital bed or around the world stationed overseas that are needing this and so it becomes deeper. For you, what’s that why of waking up every day?

Joe Knittig:
Yeah. For me it’s my faith, but I need to be more specific about that. Before I got involved with this ministry, I would’ve said, “Yeah, I’m a Christian.” But the truth is I still had a void in my life, I had a void in my heart. I didn’t grow up in a church. I think I went to church two times when I was a little kid. So, whenever I would go to church, because I wasn’t steeped in this when I was a little kid, I would go and sometimes I’d go hear people give sermons and it was just full of theology and words and you had to say the right things and do the right things and check the right boxes, and I was a lawyer.

Joe Knittig:
I mean, I could see that dog didn’t hunt because I could hear all of this stuff, but then back behind the scenes, divorce rates are just as high. I mean, I’m like, “Wait a minute, these two things don’t add up.” So I guess, I was sort of in search of an authentic faith that would be personal to me, that would activate my life and that would cause my life to be a sermon, not my mouth. And when I met these kids, and frankly, I kind of met myself. These kids became my bulls-eye, the why. These kids were more powerful than any sermon I’d ever heard, any preacher man I’ve ever heard. I actually don’t see these children that we get to serve as the objects of our pity. I see these children as Jesus, that’s how I see Christ.

Joe Knittig:
I see it in a child in Kansas City who’s eight years old, and a grandma fighting for them, to me it’s super practical and that’s what it is. And I found that when I get involved in their lives, relationally, I don’t become the Messiah to them. They end up teaching me how to love better. And I see the most epic faith in their life. I see the opportunity in their life. I see the potential in their life, in their caretakers.

Joe Knittig:
And so for me, my why, why I get out in the morning and everybody in this organization, is that we have a common revelation that we see these kids as the power brokers in the United States of America. It’s not in Washington, DC, it’s not in the capitals, not on Fox or CNN. If you want to see this country United in change, get low, get your life involved with a hurting child, and that child will activate your love and your faith like you never imagined. So that’s my why, that’s our why. And I think we will see in this nation a reversal of the foster care crisis in the next five years, and it will be one of the greatest stories of unity this nation’s ever seen.

Joel Goldberg:
So those kids have become your church.

Joe Knittig:
They are. I mean I have a local church, but guess what? In my local church, this is our why? We’re like, “Wait a minute, in this body, how are we going to have credibility with our neighbors, if we have kids in this neighborhood that we’re not willing to sacrifice for?” We will be just an empty vessel talking smack, if we’re standing up trying to preach this sermon about the savior of the world and we can’t get off of our duffs for kids that are next door to us. And I don’t care if those kids are Muslims or Christians or atheist, I don’t care what labels the world has placed on them. So I think it’s just time and I think people are thirsty for folks to stop running their pie holes and get their hands moving. You mentioned sports, the teams being a unifier. Sports is a unifier. Music is a unifier, but you want to know what else is the greatest unifier?

Joel Goldberg:
Kids.

Joe Knittig:
Kids. Who’s going to hear this and think, no matter what your background is, if I say to you, it’s possible if we all rally together and the infrastructure’s there, that we can reverse the foster care crisis in the United States of America and draw closer to one another in the process in this divided age. Who’s listening to this that would say, “Now that’s a crappy idea.”

Joel Goldberg:
Joel, let’s talk baseball themed questions here and first off with the Global Orphan Project, what’s the biggest home run you’ve hit?

Joe Knittig:
CarePortal, careportal.org, the technology platform that is connecting local churches and people who care to care for kids. 53,300 plus children served so far in five years and now the network of more than 2100 local churches and thousands of individuals and businesses that are on CarePortal are serving more than 2000 kids per month now. Biggest home run, I see that this is going to be a platform that can reverse the foster care crisis in the United States and we believe this can be exported to other nations as well.

Joel Goldberg:
How about a swing and a miss and what you’ve learned from it.

Joe Knittig:
Biggest swing and a miss for me was… In the early days, I was so fired up about helping kids, it’s almost like I was drunk on passion and naivete. I didn’t do my homework to understand why families are breaking down, and what are actually better strategies to strengthen families and keep families together. So my own ignorance, early in the early years, I actually created orphans where we would go out and raise money… It’s so simple, that if people just give money and we get money to hurting communities, then presto, we’ll solve the orphan crisis in the world.

Joe Knittig:
And the truth is, we were giving money to communities where single mothers who never had access to education or opportunity felt compelled to give their kids away, to give their kids in a better situation. So I really, really messed up and I think it was just pride. What I learned from it was, everything great in the world happens from the inside out and not the outside in. I need to humble myself. We as a ministry, starting with myself, need to become better listeners at the point of care where we are. And we have completely changed who we are and how we operate by becoming better listeners and building architecture around the truth at the point of care rather than just raising a bunch of money and throwing money at a problem in stupid ways.

Joel Goldberg:
Powerful lesson learned for sure. And then the last baseball theme question, small ball, the little things that add up to the big things, which I think often define the culture of who you, or your company are. What is small ball to you guys?

Joe Knittig:
For me personally, small ball is every morning. I have a discipline of starting out the morning… And I said my faith is my why. And I spend time in the Bible, and quietly every morning it is my personal small ball. But the trick to it for me is not to spend that time trying to memorize things, it’s actually to be quiet and be still, and be a better listener than just trying to go through the motions. But that for me ends up preparing me in my mind for a day. For our organization, it’s courage, humility and excellence. Those are our core values. Small ball to us is not what we do, it’s how we do it. It’s how we do it, that we will approach each task with courage because this is a monumental issue that we’re tackling, how do you break it down and have the courage to do it?

Joe Knittig:
Humility. We exist to be unseen when we’re doing, so our job is to get low and get under and make other people heroes. And excellence. I don’t like it that in this world, the greatest technologies exist to make oligarchs make more money. Why are we not giving world-class service and products to the poor? So we try to bring a spirit of every single thing we’re doing. If it’s bookkeeping, if it’s writing code, that you would do it with a standard of excellence that would be befitting of any Fortune 100 Company. And so those are the three things that create culture so that day by day decisions become consistent with our identity.

Joel Goldberg:
Very fascinating. All right, four final questions as we round the bases, these are questions that you and I haven’t discussed yet because I generally like to see where they go. So the first one is this. When I look around your office, they’re just the most amazing, beautiful pictures of kids, of even neighborhoods that look like they struggle going on. Yet there’s a beauty to every single one of these pictures, whether it’s the smile on the faces, or even not a smile, it’s the innocence of a kid, a bunch of girls and boys jumping rope from all over the world too.

Joel Goldberg:
When you look at your wall and around Global Orphan Project, the different offices and around the building and you see that, how often do you notice it now? I mean, it’s here in the background. It’s very noticeable when someone like me walks in. How often do you sit there and look at these faces?

Joe Knittig:
Every day. This is the bulls-eye, this is the why. If you want. These kids have changed my life and I have a debt of gratitude for them every single day. And I’m going to tell you, when I look at them, I do not see the objects of pity. I see world changers in their eyes.

Joel Goldberg:
So that leads me to my second question. You’ve traveled to a lot of places and I’m sure they all have their unique aspects and different ways that they’ve pulled at you, have you had a favorite place so far?

Joe Knittig:
Well, Haiti has completely… That was the first place that I went. My heart’s always going to be there, it’s very personal for me there. The Middle East, spending more and more time in the Middle East, I know you have been there. I’m struck by the challenges that exist in the Middle East. I’m more struck by the incredible opportunity that we have right now to care for kids in the Middle East, and how that can actually transform the cradle of civilization into something unifying and loving again. But I will tell you, my absolute favorite place… My own home church is at 3400 Woodland Avenue, just East of Troost. That’s my favorite place because we in this city think, well that’s terrible over there.

Joe Knittig:
I’m just going to tell you that you want to meet the most epically heroic people that we should be lifting up and say, “Man, we can learn something here.” I learned something every single week at 3400 Woodland Avenue. And so that’s probably… My favorite place in the world right now is 3400 Woodland Avenue.

Joel Goldberg:
And what’s the name of the church over there?

Joe Knittig:
It’s World Harvest Ministries. About 40 people, they’ve been at it for 20 years hand to hand combat caring kids. But I’m going to tell you, it’s just epic faith, no paid staff, just faith and that’s probably my favorite place on earth right now.

Joel Goldberg:
Third question as we round the bases, this might be a tough one, and if you have to go with more than one, that’s fine. Sometimes a question like this is like asking you to pick your favorite kid, which no parent should have to do. Although there are certain days where that’s easier, right? You’ve got teenagers, I’ve got teenagers, or at least three of your four are teenagers, right? Of all the kids… And I know that again, you’re not seeing all of these kids, but you have had those experiences of being there face to face with these kids. You’ve talked about how you don’t see them as those that need pity. But in seeing them face to face, you’ve had the chance to build some relationships. Was there one kid over the years, one story that just pulled at you in a different way or a stronger way than all? I know all of them do in their own ways, but was there one that really stood out?

Joe Knittig:
Yes. Her name is Alani. She’s eight years old. I had been leading this ministry for years and going… After the earthquake to Haiti, different things that people say, “Wow, that’s really impressive.” But the truth is, I had guarded my own heart. I wasn’t willing to open my own home. So it’s almost like I was asking people to do things that I wasn’t willing to do myself. And in 2013 right here in Kansas City, there’s a last chance housing complex by the old Downtown Airport and it’s called the Holiday Apartments, week to week rentalsrental. . And it’s another story for another day. But I ended up having a prayer room inside of Holiday Apartments, and this grandma and her eight year old granddaughter became very close friends of mine. And she was living with a guy in those apartments and he went to go throw bacon grease on her face. He was drunk one day, high. So they ran out.

Joe Knittig:
She and Alani hid in the bushes and she called me from the bushes and said, “Can you come get us?” And I did. And I picked them up, and they were in my car, and I was driving around and I was freaking out inside. My palms were sweating because I knew where this was going. And little Alani said, “Mr. Joe, where are we going?” And I knew what the answer needed to be. I called my wife and I said, “Julie, Von and Alani need to come home with us.” And she said, “I’ve been waiting for this, bring them.” That little girl walked into my house, and I’m going to tell you, I was freaked because my kids had been pitching a tent inside the house over the weekend, and Alani and her grandmother had lived in a tent down on the river, right by Holiday Apartments before they got in.

Joe Knittig:
And she walked in and she said, “Grandma, grandma, come see this, Mr. Joe has a tent in his living room and it’s bigger than ours.” And I felt like a total ass, but I’m going to tell you by 10 o’clock that night, my wife and Von were eating Cheerios at the kitchen and Alani was sleeping with my girls upstairs, sound asleep, all is well. And that little girl, she brought down the last silo of my life. I had been trying to get my life away in business, but I was holding onto this peace inside, scared that if I ever opened my house, it would be too expensive for us to deal with. And that little girl, I think, was like a missionary sent right into our house. It opened our house and it said, “Okay Lord, you get everything.” It was the best thing that ever happened to our family ever. And so Alani to me is the one who made all of what we’re talking about personal.

Joel Goldberg:
And how long ago was that?

Joe Knittig:
2013.

Joel Goldberg:
2013 so about-

Joe Knittig:
I’ve been doing this for-

Joel Goldberg:
Six, seven years ago.

Joe Knittig:
Yeah.

Joel Goldberg:
And so, what is Alani’s story now?

Joe Knittig:
Yeah, she and her grandma got reunited with family members. They reunited with one of her daughters who’s married to someone in our armed services who’s stationed in California. The whole family is reunited, they’re together and Alani is thriving. And guess what? I’m just a little footnote in her history. Her hero is her grandma and her family, that’s the way it should be.

Joel Goldberg:
You guys still keeping in touch too?

Joe Knittig:
Yeah.

Joel Goldberg:
Yeah. Pretty cool. Really cool, not pretty cool. It’s life changing for everyone. And again, just like you were talking about with Mike Fox, as much for you as it was them. Not that that was the intent, but you become a better person because of it and a stronger family. That leads me to my last question, the walk-off. A lot of times this walk-off question is, what lies ahead. But I think you’ve talked about that in the aspirations, and we’ve covered that, and the impact that you will all continue to make in the world of foster care in the next five years and beyond.

Joel Goldberg:
I want to know now how your perspective has changed, not about the kids that we’re seeing on the wall, not about kids like Alani, but for your own family. Because you are able to put food on the table. You do have your law degree and you worked hard for all of that, and you overcame a lot of odds personally yourself, but your kids have been raised in a setting that is a lot safer than what someone like Alani did. But I’m wondering for the walk-off question, how much you and your kids’ perspective and your wife for that matter have changed based on what you’ve seen?

Joe Knittig:
Drastically. As our kids grew up, what we’re talking about is ordinary dinner table conversation, they’re in it. This is not abnormal, this is normal. So, I guess, to make this specific, we have a major crisis in our nation with racial injustice. I’m just going to bring that out as an example. What is the answer to this? In my opinion, it’s not just more picket signs. I understand why that happens. It’s a matter of people coming together to say to care for kids and families in crisis in a way that is truly empowering. Well, in our family, to have people in our home living with us at times or whatever that are from different races and different… That has been a normal thing. This is not a project, it’s family. So, I would just say that God has redefined family in my life and in my kids’ life such that it’s not mom, dad and 2.2 kids. It is community and community is family.

Joel Goldberg:
And it’s interesting because when you talk about it like that, I think the best companies, the best cultures have exactly that. They’re a community, they’re a family outside of home. It becomes home though too. So, as we wrap it up, and I know that you’ve thrown some of the websites out there, but let’s put a bow on this, tie it all together and make sure everyone knows, because as you pointed out, anyone can get involved with Global Orphan Project. So what are the different ways that people can get in touch with you guys?

Joe Knittig:
Yeah, if you’re interested in seeing and helping to meet the needs of kids in crisis in your own community, go to careportal.org. You can go there and you can enroll on the homepage and real needs, real time, of kids will be delivered to your phone. If you’re interested in buying a fair trade t-shirt that will keep families together through the dignity of work, go to goex.org, G-O-E-X.org. So if you want to give of yourself or you want to buy, those are two clear options.

Joel Goldberg:
So, a lot of different ways for people to get involved. But as you all do so well here with the technology, the structure, and certainly your culture too, making it very easy for anyone to get involved. So, I’m excited to see… I know where this is going. I think it’ll just keep growing and getting bigger and bigger and changing the world, which is a very powerful responsibility, but one that I know that you take a lot of pride and everyone else does here. So Joe, thanks so much for spending the time on the podcast and good luck with everything.

Joe Knittig:
Thank you.

Joel Goldberg:
And if you want to reach me, you can do so at joelgoldbergmedia.com. Thanks for listening and hope to catch you next time on Rounding The Bases.


Rounding the Bases with Joel Goldberg Podcast was created to share the stories of men and women in business and entrepreneurship that are both well knowing and or hidden gems. Joel believes that everyone has a story and their story matters which is why Joel is eager to connect with individuals that are bringing value to their community through innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and developing company culture. If you would like to be a guest on Joel’s podcast please email us at joel@joelgoldbergmedia.com.

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