Christmas morning was always a little different for Rachel Betts than it was for most children.
Rather than leaping from bed and rushing in her pajamas to open the gifts that Santa left under the tree, she would instead get dressed and go with her mother and two younger sisters to the downtown Los Angeles City Mission.
“We would spend the mornings feeding the homeless before we opened any presents,” recalled Betts, 40, who grew up in Los Angeles, Calif. “I usually wasn’t that happy about it before we left the house, but I remember always feeling really good afterwards.
“Maybe it was my mom’s way of making us feel grateful for whatever gifts we got,” she joked. “There’s no question that my charitable spirit began there.”
That spirit only grew stronger over the years until it eventually blossomed into a full-fledged non-profit, humanitarian organization, Don’t Talk About It, Be About It (DTAIBAI), which Betts founded in 2010.
DTAIBAI is a community outreach foundation committed to providing resources and assisting families in need both locally, in Jacksonville, Fla. and globally. While the organization concerns itself with all levels of community improvement, they are particularly focused on homelessness, education and children.
“Our youth are the future and we want to send the message that Jacksonville is here for them,” Betts said.
So far, the organization has reached out through three major events: A youth-oriented play, Redemption Song, written by Betts; a free back to school haircutting event, “Cuts-4-Smiles;” and, most recently, a shoe collection drive for the homeless, “Shoes-4-Smiles.”
They have been grassroots efforts, with Betts and her three partners – Amira Akili, Tracey Raymond and Zenja Stallworth – doing a lot of footwork, making cold calls to potential contributors and collaborating with local businesses and churches.
Redemption Song starred local Jacksonville talent and was produced and funded by the West Jacksonville Church of God In Christ after its pastor was impressed by its messages of hope, redemption, persistence and faith. It drew a crowd of 500 and received rave reviews.
“The important thing about that whole experience was that it reaffirmed in me once again the positive impact one person can have if they involve the community,” said Betts. “I had this vision for DTAIBAI, but to see it in action was really something.”
Inspired, she next collaborated with the Paul Mitchell beauty school and a number of independent barbers/stylists on Cuts-4-Smiles to provide free back to school haircuts for 20 kids. That event showed Betts that it was a simple matter of inviting others into your vision and then sitting back and being amazed at how people respond.
“This event was a perfect match for our school,” said Adrienne Carradine, the Paul Mitchell teacher who donated space and personnel. Our mission statement is 'when people come first, success will follow.'” I believe that and it’s clear that Rachel does, too."
For those who benefited from the event, it came down to DTAIBAI’s basic purpose, which is to promote community morale through acts of generosity.
"It's a really good thing that they're doing this," said Jovonda Walker, a customer who said she saved at least $50 between the five boys she brought to the event. "A lot of people don't have money and this helps offset the cost of school supplies. It's a great way to help the community."
That community assistance was extended to help the homeless this past Black Friday with Shoes-4-Smiles. The event was a step up for DTAIBAI, sharing sponsorship with several national chains – Starbucks Coffee, Olive Garden, Cantina Laredo, Hollywood Theatres, and Sephora – and taking place at a local upscale restaurant, Suite. They collected 56 pairs of shoes, which they donated to the Sulzbacher Center homeless shelter.
Helping the homeless is a special calling for Betts and one that first planted the seeds of an organization like DTAIBAI in her head15 years ago.
“I dream about doing something drastic that would permanently get the homeless off the street. Special hotels across the U.S. staffed by people with skills that would play a major role in the rehabilitation process of the homeless residents. My idea is to create a long term solution.”
Finding permanent solutions toward improving communities is a driving force behind the DTAIBAI events.
“Our goal is to boost confidence and help people feel better about themselves and their community,” said Betts. “In many ways, it’s an empowerment movement: Showing people that, regardless of their past or even the condition of their present day life, we all have the potential do be whoever we want to be.”
Betts’ own journey toward the philanthropist she has long wanted to be first went through the Navy right out of high school for eight years and then saw her recover from a debilitating back injury that she suffered in a car accident. She followed her sister to Jacksonville in 2002 and has worked at State Farm Insurance since 2007.
She credits her military experience with deepening that sense of service toward others that her mother first instilled in her, while also teaching her that family and loved ones are more important than material possessions. It also gave her an appreciation for structure in one’s life and the importance of following through on your commitments.
“Loving someone with your heart and actions will always exceed loving someone with just your wallet,” Betts said. “You can't just talk about what you're going to do to make a difference. Giving back is a lifestyle. At some point you're going to have to ‘show me, better than telling me.’ That’s why we’re named, “Don't Talk About It, Be About It.”
It is in that spirit that Rachel Betts’ presents are still opened a little later than most on Christmas day.
DTAIBAI’s next event will be a celebrity golf tournament fundraiser in summer 2012. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DTAIBAI.