E6 – How losing her son lead to Elizabeth Ortiz starting her own charity.
The story that Elizabeth shares in this episode is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. She lost her son as an infant but found a way to use her grief to help others in the same situation.
Elizabeth was so inspiring to speak to. I hope you enjoy the episode.
The transcribed version of the interview is available further down.
Diana: Today, I have Elizabeth Otis as my guest. I’m very honored that she wants to be here with me and tell her story. Elizabeth, thank you for joining me.
Elizabeth: Hi, thank you for having me.
Diana: You’re welcome. Let’s just dive in. Tell me a bit about why you started fundraising and what it is that you are fundraising for.
Elizabeth: I have a non-profit called EllisBearyLoved it’s E L L I S B E A R Y Loved and I started this because of my son who passed away at eight days old. So, it’s infant loss awareness non-profit. The goal is to educate support families who are grieving through infant loss. The way I started this organization is because I was grieving and I had a very difficult time throughout my grieving process, trying to figure out how I’m going to honor my son and how I’m going to get people to remember him and to talk about him because that’s something that a lot of people fear to do. They fear to mention your child’s name because they’re gone. They don’t know what to say to you. So, there were just a lot of factors in my grieving process and I was trying to see what can I do to honor my son?
What can I do to continue to say his name and for nobody to forget his name? So, I thought of EllisBearyLoved, and I started the nonprofit in 2018 and everything just took its place. You know, I was grieving. I didn’t know what to do for him and then one day, six or seven months later, I woke up and I thought of my non-profit name and then I started asking people to design my logo. From there, I just kept on praying and saying, you know, God, please give me a sign. Tell me what to do if this non-profit is for me. I know non-profits are so difficult to start and very scary. So, I just needed a sign to let me know that this is my calling.
Now one of my cousins told me why don’t you start a GoFundMe to get some money to give comfort boxes. So, with EllisBearyLoved the first two years I gave comfort boxes to families all over the United States and in Canada to families who have lost a child. I gave 30 on my first year and then my last 20 in the second year of EllisBearyLoved and those funds I received through GoFundMe through family and friends mostly. Then I also did like three fundraising events to get that money and it’s entirely free for the family. The shipping cost is free to the family. Everything was free. In my comfort box, it was very customized to the family because I made bracelets with the baby’s name on it for the mom and the dads. I wanted more out of my non-profit. I wanted to do grief counseling. I wanted to meet up with families and get to know them on a personal level. My future goal is to go into the hospitals and when there’s a mom whose child passes away, I can be the one there to support that family, figure out what that family wants to do like take pictures of the baby and a lot of things that mothers and fathers don’t think about when they just lost their child. I want to be that support system for the families who are grieving infant loss. I started this in hopes that I can help out another family and let them know that they’re not alone in the grieving journey. That’s why I started EllisBearyLoved.
Diana: Wow! One, it’s heartbreaking and I’m so sorry, but it’s amazing to hear what you’ve done from that place. I think it’s amazing. What I want to talk to you a bit about here is the whole thing about starting a non-profit, because of course there is the whole thing about promoting and running a nonprofit and an organization and then there’s the fundraising itself, which is kind of important when you have a nonprofit. You’re talking about you knew that it was really difficult to start a non-profit. So, two questions actually, was it really difficult and what was it about it if it was that was difficult?.
Elizabeth: You know, there’s just a lot of factors when it comes to infant loss. It became difficult for me because one, and this is a whole other story, but one, I lost my son, but then I got pregnant with twins. So, through this grief journey, I’m also struggling with this pregnancy now because I found out I was pregnant and then I was scared that I might lose this baby too. I just didn’t know what to expect, especially since I got pregnant so soon. With C-sections, there’s a high rate that the baby could pass away, that I can pass away and so there were so many factors involved in that. For me to start this non-profit, I really had to pray a lot. That’s what it comes down to. I just didn’t know what to do, but I knew I wanted to do something.
So, when I woke up that morning and I said, I’m starting a nonprofit from there, it just skyrocketed. I just said, I’m doing it and I’m going to continue to move forward. I have a family member, who’s an artist and so he did my logo and after that, I contacted the lawyers and I said, can you please make me an official non-profit? So, I spent months with them doing paperwork. So, they told me everything that I needed and that was a challenge on its own because I’m like, whoa, I’m still grieving. Now I’m pregnant with twins constantly going to doctor’s appointments and now I have all these things that I want to do since I was grateful enough to have a lawyer pro bono. I did whatever they asked of me, whether it was difficult for me or not. I did it because this is what I wanted. Once I got the lawyer, they just kept pushing me through. They’re like, okay, now we need this paperwork, now we need that paperwork, now you need to do this, and I did it all. That’s how it started.
Diana: How long does that process take, the whole getting started before you can actually start working on the fundraising and telling people about the non-profit?
Elizabeth: Because I wanted to honor my son in the first year of his passing I did a GoFundMe page. I asked families and friends to donate money so that I can give comfort boxes to families. At this point, I was still not a non-profit, but I still put my name out there. I made custom comfort boxes with my logo on it and so I gave it to families in that way. Then when I officially became a nonprofit, that’s when I started advertising a lot, I started asking for donations for the non-profit. I created a website with all my stories and all the families that thanked me for the boxes on Facebook. I also put the videos because along with me doing the GoFundMe and it being successful as the first time me doing something like that, I also got publicity from news reporters. So, I had two local newspapers write about me. They sent me newspapers to my house, like 10 newspapers with my story and I got NBC and I got NY1. NY1 actually came to my house and did an interview. I was very loved and then a week later, they called me back and invited me to their studio for a 10-minute interview. So, I’ve been on the news about three times already, three or four times and I have two articles written on me.
Diana: They contacted you based on your GoFundMe.
Elizabeth: Yes. So NY1 called me, NBC called me and then two local newspapers and they just wanted to know my story and they wrote about me and they wrote something very beautiful. So, I have those articles, the videos, and everything, which was important to me and it’s all on my Instagram.
Diana: Can I ask how much the GoFundMe brought into your charity?
Elizabeth: It honestly didn’t bring too much, but it was a helpful start to help a family that was grieving. That was my main goal to just help and show a family that although I live in another state, I’m here to support you and that we can talk, and we can support each other as people that have had an infant loss. I just wanted to show them that there are people that care about them. So, the GoFundMe, I think I received probably less than $2,000, but with that money, I made it work. I made custom bracelets. So, I bought the beads, I bought the string to make the bracelets, I had somebody help me make journals with my logo on it. I had somebody donate candles to me. Somebody donate a body scrubs and soaps to me. That was all very helpful, and these are like family and friends that do small business making candles and so they decided to help me support these families.
Diana: I love it when your network is coming together and helping out when you most need it. I love the idea of these care packages. I think it’s an amazing thought and idea and I’m just thinking if you’re fundraising for another kind of charity, it sounds like it could still be a great idea to have these care packages, but then sell them as fundraising, maybe. So, I’m curious to hear what’s in your care packages as well.
Elizabeth: So, that’s a good idea that you brought up and I have thought of that. So, one of my main goals, once I pick myself up in the organization is to sell the care packages to family. Let’s say you, God forbid have a friend that lost a baby. You can purchase the box and give it to your friend as a comfort gift. So, that is another idea that I have, that we can purchase the boxes online through my website, but also that you can donate to give a box to another person that you may not know. Maybe donating $10 a month and with that $10 a month you’re helping two families get a box. That would be their contribution to letting people know that they’re not alone and that you care about them and that you’re there for them. With those care packages, it would also have the donor’s name on it like it was on behalf of you.
Diana: That’s a really good idea.
Elizabeth: So, the care packages are a custom bracelet with the baby’s name on it, and I do it with different colors. I ask the family what’s their favorite color and I’ll base it on that. I have journals. So, I have big journals, like 8 X 11 and then I have a smaller journal and they’re all custom with my logo on it. Everything in the box is what helped me through my grieving process. So, I was hoping that it would help another person grieve as well and I’m always taking ideas from the families. So, I also do surveys at the end. But in the boxes it’s journals, pens, pencils, custom bracelets, then there are other infant loss bracelets like infant loss awareness bracelets. There’s a Teddy bear involved. Since it’s EllisBearyLoved I always add a bear to it. There’s candles, lotions, soaps, body scrubs, anything to bring you to comfort pretty much. There are quotes a lot of quotes that help me throughout my grieving process. So, I have a book of quotes and I make a book for them and I put it there so that they can read those quotes whenever they need to read it and I also put a list of songs that helped me grieve.
Diana: Wow, it’s a lot in a good way and you make the bracelets yourself for every single care package?
Diana: And then the quotes, do make one as well for every care package, or is that premade?
Elizabeth: I chose the quotes that helped me grieve and then I type them up and I bound them into a book. I did that for the first 50, but now I’m starting to make business card size quotes. So, I put a quote on both sides of the business card, and then I do 100 of those and I punch hole them and I turn them into a key ring. A little thing that you can put it in your car, and whenever you’re grieving, you can just read the quotes from your car, from your purse, and have it there. Whenever you have a grieving moment, I made it very small and accessible so that you can fit it in your purse or in your car or wherever you want to put it. I actually made one for myself and it really helps me during those moments when I’m grieving,
Diana: I can see the point in that. You just mentioned work. Do you have a job next to this or is this your full-time thing?
Elizabeth: I do also have a full-time job. I’m actually a Director. I also work for a non-profit so that’s been helpful.
Diana: So, your normal full-time job is for a non-profit?
Elizabeth: Yes, and I have a nine-year-old kid now and I have twin two-year-old’s and then my son would have been three years old now
Diana: How many hours do you put into your own charity do you think a week?
Elizabeth: Because of COVID, it’s been pretty slow. I had a lot of goals for this year. What I do is on an annual basis I set goals three-month goals, four-month goals, and I try to accomplish them, but because of COVID, I couldn’t do any of it. So, my goal this year was to create a partnership with people that do the same type of work that I do in EllisBearyLoved. I started talking to people, but then COVID hit and it stopped.
Diana: That would be people who have founded their own non-profit as well or what is it more specifically that you would be looking for in those partnerships?
Elizabeth: In the two years that I’ve had this non-profit, I’ve been learning slowly how to be a successful non-profit. I really wanted to create partnerships and I learned through the process that I should be giving more than what I’m getting at the moment, just so I can grow in the nonprofit. So, I have to reach out to other nonprofits that are doing similar things. They’re not doing exactly what I’m doing but similar. They’re targeting a group of families that are grieving through infant loss. The goal was to partner with them, learn from them, see what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and see what I can bring to the table for them and then have them help me.
Diana: It sounds like a mastermind thing where you help each other out.
Diana: That’s a really good idea. I’m also curious on, you talked about you did some events as well.
Elizabeth: Yeah, so I did a few fundraiser events. It was successful. So, one of my first fundraiser events was targeting the firefighters because my husband is a firefighter. So, a non-profit in the fire department actually gave me their space because I couldn’t afford a space and so I needed to find a free space. So, they said, it’s a really good cause what you’re doing, I’m going to give you the space for free. I targeted pretty much all the firefighters. I invited them over and I actually had a firefighter band come and play for us for free and that was their contribution. It was a really nice time. The only thing I had a lot of trouble with was like raffling. I know raffling could get a little tricky and it was very tricky for me because I didn’t have enough funding to even purchase everything.
So, I made baskets to raffle off, but I raffled them off at a high price because I didn’t really know how to do that. So, I think that was one of my biggest mistakes in fundraising. Since I didn’t have that much support in getting donations, the way that I wanted to. Most of the donations I received were for the comfort boxes and so I went to that, but I didn’t have anything to help me with the fundraiser event itself. So, it came out of pocket for me. So, it was a big struggle to do raffles and things like that, but my family and friends did support me, and they pay the prices for the raffle because they knew it was going to a good cause
Diana: The raffle would be you buy a ticket at a specific price and then you draw?
Diana: For this event did they pay anything to participate or was it just free to participate?
Elizabeth: They had to pay an entrance fee of $10 and then if they wanted to join the raffle, they would have to pay $5 or $6 for each basket, depending on what the basket had.
Elizabeth: The non-profit world, especially when you’re starting from scratch, it’s a learning process so you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. It’s just a whole learning process.
Diana: So, what did you do? You had two more events.
Elizabeth: Yes. So, then I had somebody in my community that does karate. He has a party space, and he donated his space. So, I did an infant loss awareness event in October, which is infant loss awareness month on October 15th. That is infant loss awareness day. I did an event during that month. I wanted to spread awareness and let them know what infant loss is and how it affects people. Every reaction is different, but the way I felt towards friends and families and how maybe I felt they could have done a better job at supporting me through my grief. Those are all conversations that we had that day during that event. I also gave two EllisBearyLoved boxes to two grieving mothers who lost their child here in New York. So, they came to my event and I surprised them with a comfort box in order to show the families what they’re donating to.
Diana: That’s a really good idea. I think you are amazing for putting up an event like this because thankfully I’ve never lost a kid, but I lost my dad two years ago and I know it’s not the same at all, but that’s my reference point. It can be really hard for people around you to talk about. I’m guessing it’s even harder when losing a child because it’s not how life is supposed to be. I think it’s amazing that you are talking about it and letting people know what you need when you’re in that position. I think that’s really good.
Elizabeth: It’s also very difficult to go through that when you’re grieving. You don’t want to ask people or tell people what you need from them. You’re just hoping that they know and that’s not a very good expectation to have because nobody knows how to react when something like this happens but you’re just hoping for the best and hoping that these people that know you can comfort you in some way. From my experience and from the experience of a lot of families that I’ve spoken to there’s a lot of abandonment when you lose a child. People don’t feel comfortable being around you anymore. People don’t want to talk to you anymore. You lose friends, you lose relationships because they’re just afraid to be around you through your grief.
Diana: That’s double sad because you already lost. So, then you’re losing even more. The thing is when you’re grieving, you don’t have like you said, don’t have the energy and you might not even know what it is, and you need from people yourself. So, I think it’s amazing that you’re talking and you’re making people of this. Do you want to tell us about the last event you did?
Elizabeth: The last event was similar. It was in the karate school that he had space, and he gave it to me also. I mixed it with my girls, my twin’s first birthday party. So, what I ask people to do is instead of giving the twins a gift to just donate to EllisBearyLoved. I hired a band. Since my family is Dominican I hired a Dominican band to play live music and there was an entrance fee of $30. With that entrance fee they got food, they got to listen to a live band, and we got to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.
Diana: That’s really creative actually because that’s like taking something that’s already there and then just making it into a fundraising thing. I’m amazed at you.
Elizabeth: I had to get creative because since it’s my starter, I just started doing this nonprofit and so I had to think of creative ways to earn money so that I can help these families. But that money only allowed me what I needed to buy these boxes and the items inside the boxes. It didn’t allow me to have funding for other things that I want to do for EllisBearyLoved. I have so many ideas. Every family that I gave a comfort box to, my idea was to mail out birthday cards to them every year when their angel baby passed away and just say happy birthday to your babies so that they know that we didn’t forget them, but that takes a lot of time. That takes more than one person.
So, just like write in an Excel worksheet, remember when their birthday is, send out these cards ahead of time so they can arrive on the baby’s birthday. So, these are all things that I still have to work on and figure out. But it’s a journey and I’m accepting all its flaws and I’m learning from it and growing from it. I mean, I hope it becomes extremely successful and helpful to families.
Diana: I’m sure it already is very helpful for the families that you’re helping. It sounds like it is. Now with the situation that we’re in with all of this social distancing and everything, have you been fundraising while in quarantine, or has I kind of stopped everything for you, or have you done something else?
Elizabeth: It really has pretty much stopped everything for me in regards to my goals of what I wanted to do for the year, which is to create partnerships and go to their offices and figure out how I can help them and be a part of their non-profit organization. So, it stopped me at that point, but I had time to learn more about nonprofits, take some courses online, and just get more ideas of what I want to do and plan that out for the next coming years.
Diana: Okay. So, it’s been good for something at least.
Diana: If people would like to hear more about your non-profit or they would like to donate or have a chat with you about it, how do they find you?
Elizabeth: My website is under construction, but I will have a donate area there for people to donate. For now, I have a GoFundMe page and you just have to type in EllisBearyLoved and you’ll see my story of infant loss, of me losing my son at eight days old. I also put videos and pictures on Instagram, and you can search for me EllisBearyLoved there as well. It’s E L L I S Ellis Beary, B E A R Y and then loved L O V E D.
Diana: Okay, great. Thank you very much for wanting to share your story. Elizabeth. It’s been amazing to hear that you’ve taken something so hard but made it into something so valuable. I think it’s amazing. I think you’re amazing. So, thank you very much for wanting to share your story with me.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much for having me.
Diana: You are more than welcome.
I have to say that I am in awe of Elizabeth. I am so sad for her loss but I’m also so impressed by how she turned her grief into a way to help other people and just the gift boxes, the comfort boxes for grieving parents. I think it’s an amazing idea. I really, really love it. Also, the birthday party idea, that’s a great way to do something different and fundraise for whatever cause it is that you want to fundraise for. It’s easy because usually people do a birthday party anyhow so turn it into a fundraising event. Also, like Elizabeth mentions, the 15th of October is Infant Loss Awareness Day so please do support the costs and maybe even donate to Elizabeth and EllisBearyLoved. That would be amazing.