The I AM Foundation Making Children’s
Self-Esteem A Top Priority
By Robert Ross

 

 

 “Simple expressions of love move us to a higher place. The I AM Foundation’s effect is profound.”
— James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy The I AM Foundation was founded by Steve Viglione. His mission is to gift life-changing books to children in need. An eleven-year-old disabled child was recently gifted a book by The I AM Foundation. Through the constant reading of this book, he is beginning to overcome his disabilities. He is taking fewer medications and is no longer suffering from nightmares caused by many years of abuse.

This is one of many stories that Viglione now hears. But there was a time when the stories that circulated in Viglione’s thoughts were not so life affirming. In July of 1998, in Boston when Viglione started the I AM Foundation, he had been separated from his former wife. According to Viglione, “I was seeing my whole world change before my eyes. I was distraught, scared, pretty much alone. And the whole time underneath all the turmoil, all the fear, all the instability, there was a calmness and trust that I was going in the right direction. Looking back,  that part of my life has contributed to the strength I have today.”

In spite of the personal turmoil Viglione was experiencing, he decided to set up a nonprofit foundation. According to Viglione, “I had to make a living, we were working with distributors and bookstores, and a portion of what I did, I gave away. At the time, I thought it would be great to establish a non-profit foundation in which we could have grants coming in and be able to purchase not only my books but the books of other authors. It would be a great marketing tool for other authors. That’s exactly what it has become.”

In October of 1998, Viglione packed his books, clothes and life possessions into a Ford Explorer and headed to San Diego.  When asked why San Diego, Viglione hesitates then replies “My spirituality drives me, it is my life. In that context, in a strange way, I felt guided to come to San Diego. I knew it  would be a great place for the foundation. And it turned out to be true!”

In March of this year, I sat down with Steve Viglione and Penny Sansevieri, the media and PR manager for the I Am foundation, in a San Diego coffee house.

Awareness: What exactly is the I AM Foundation?

Viglione: The I Am Foundation is a vehicle through which we gift powerful, positive, life changing books to children and teens worldwide.”

Awareness: What was the genesis for starting the foundation?

Viglione: “My first child (Alexia) was born ten years ago — my second child (Tyler) eight years ago. They inspired me to write the first couple of books. One was a nondenominational prayer book in which a child and a parent could sit down and read together. Simple easy prayers — thank you for my teddy bear, kind of thing. In becoming an author, I found that I got more joy from giving my books away than I did from selling them. I saw the faces of the kids light up. Most people haven’t met an author. The energy that transpired was phenomenal. I decided that is what I want to do with my life. Three years after we published my first books, we started the Foundation back in Boston in July of 1998.

Awareness: Where did the name “I Am” come from, and why did you choose to name your foundation the I AM Foundation?

Viglione: “The name I AM came from my book. When a graphic artist saw my book he said ‘Hey, The I AM Foundation!’ I AM means in our case, the affirmation of one’s self.”

Awareness: Aside from giving books away, what else is the Foundation involved in?

Viglione: “In addition to giving books away we offer volunteers to come in and read to children. We have group readings where kids read and talk about what is going on in their lives —  a lot of healing takes place in those settings. We also have a speaker’s  bureau.”

Awareness: What’s your vision for the Foundation?

Viglione: “We’re in the process of reformulating it, I’m giving you what I see. I see national chapters throughout the country in which San Diego is our model city. What we learn in San Diego we’re going to be able to duplicate throughout the country and around the world. Eventually I’d like to see a peace ambassador in every country in the world.”

Awareness: That’s a lofty goal. It sounds like you’re going to have to get a lot of people involved to achieve that. What are you doing to bring this vision into a reality?

Viglione: “I hear that you think this is a lofty goal. And from where I sit it is a realistic goal based on how we have built our business and book sales over the last 6 years. Currently we are hearing from 2 to 5 potential volunteers daily from around the country. They are finding us through different volunteer websites. We are attracting the very best talented people to us. The same goes for our board, which is being refilled with powerful players. Since October over 500 individuals have either volunteered with I AM or expressed interest in volunteering, leaving us with their information for future opportunities. The I AM Foundation has book customers in every state of the U.S. With over 1,200 customers around the U.S., as soon as we are ready, all we need to do to blossom in those cities and states, is to start to put the word out. The I AM Foundation is hot. And as Dan Millman said himself,  ‘Steve Viglione and The I AM Foundation are for real.’ “

Awareness: You seem to be involved heavily in the community. What organizations has the foundation worked with?

Viglione: “We’ve worked with various organizations in different capacities. These include the Dr. Seuss Foundation, Albertson’s market, SDGE employees, Rubios, PF Changs, the San Diego Padres, Pat and Oscars, Mimi’s Café, Nokia, Starbucks, and Casey’s Place in San Carlos.” Awareness:  I understand that the I Am Foundation is involved with military families — specifically with the USS  Stennis. Viglione: “The I AM Foundation/USS John C. Stennis Program donates books to families who have a parent on U.S. Navy ships. Every $3.00 donation helps us purchase one small-size story book. Every $15 donation helps us purchase a medium-size story book. And for every $20 donation we will purchase a large-size story book. These books will be sent to the U.S. Navy for distribution to the Stennis and/or other ships.”

Awareness: I understand that the I AM foundation has been working with another military program — The United Through Reading program, a program which allows the absent parent to read a bedtime story to their child while being video taped.  Apparently the program was losing steam due to accelerated  military deployments. How are you helping with that program?

Viglione: “We’re going to be donating books to help re-ignite this program, and  we’re going to work to make sure these video tapes get back into the hands of the children missing their parents. Military families are some of the bravest in the country. It’s important that we not only support those who are defending our country, but continue to support the children of these families who are missing their mother or father during arduous deployments.”

Awareness: What type of books does the foundation distribute?

Viglione: “About 80 percent are self-help books and the other 20 percent are story books.”

Awareness: If someone  is interested in volunteering their time or books, how can they get involved with the I AM Foundation?

Viglione: “They should visit our web site, call us  at (619) 640-6412, or they can e-mail us at IAM@IAMFoundation.org 

Awareness: Is there anything else you’d like the Awareness readers to know about the I AM Foundation?

 Viglione:  “Yes, I would like the Awareness Readers to know that through my experience as a giving entrepreneur, I have found that generosity from a pure heart opens doors in a fraction of a moment that others can spend years trying to get in. We spend our lives trying to get, get, get and I say for what, what, what? What is it really, that we need? Especially in the United States, our beloved country, we have everything we want and need. You can be homeless and still find shelter and food. We can live on little to nothing if we wanted to. We really don’t need anything. It is wonderful to have learned our needs are met the moment we open our hearts and minds to pure love and let it shine through who we are to help the world become a better place. I am convinced the universe we are in, is based on love and givingness. And we all have something to give. The rest takes care of itself.”

For further information please visit the I Am Foundation at www.IAMFoundation.org .

Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at: SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com 

Copyright 2002 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved


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