Stories from Finding Fearless: Conchy Bretos

Last year, I announced that I was writing a book about the Be Fearless principles featuring remarkable stories of people and organizations that embodied the principles. Simultaneously, we launched Finding Fearless, putting out a call for stories of people who could be featured in the book or in our general Be Fearless work. We had been featuring profiles for many years but wanted to hear what inspires you—whether it’s from your own journey or that of another individual, nonprofit, corporation or startup—and how they put Be Fearless to work.

I was deeply touched by the amazing stories we received. We heard about unique inventions, great discoveries, heartwarming tales and how people all across the country had learned from their failures and overcome their fears to truly transform their lives and the lives of those around them. It was awe inspiring to see how people were investing their time and talent to tackle important problems to change the world.

One such fearless changemaker who came to us through Finding Fearless was Conchy Bretos and we are excited to share her story with you through our latest Be Fearless Show episode.

After arriving in the United States as one of the thousands of children from Cuba during Operation Peter Pan, Conchy ran and lost an election to the Miami-Dade County Commission. Yet she turned her story of adversity into an example of resilience. Learning from her failure, Conchy dedicated herself to creating affordable options for older adults in public housing environments. Starting in 1999 with just 20 residents in one property, she created an award-winning model for public housing assisted living communities that has now grown to 23 facilities in multiple states.

Her system allows residents to receive the care that they need, move freely and live on their own schedules. Through her work at Mia Senior Living, Conchy shows how she learned from setbacks and is a great example for all looking to make failure matter in a way that helps others.

We hope the Be Fearless episode lets you learn more about her story as she continues to pave the way for a healthier, caring and more sustainable future for older adults all over the nation—and that she inspires you to Be Fearless.

5 Quotes To Inspire You To #BeFearless

Make big bets and make history. Experiment early and often. Make failure matter. Reach beyond your bubble. Let urgency conquer fear. These are the five Be Fearless principles that serve as the common thread for groundbreaking, problem-solving success. Nonprofits, philanthropy, individuals, startups and corporations have leveraged these principles to bring forward world changing inventions, to shift our mindsets of what’s possible and to solve persistent social problems.

Our CEO, Jean Case, explained what the principles mean in our initial Be Fearless episode on Facebook Watch. Storytelling is not only a way to bring to life the historical and contemporary Be Fearless champions who have changed the world, but also a way to lift up those undiscovered fearless changemakers that inspire you. Through our Finding Fearless campaign, we’ve heard from people around the world with examples of a wide variety of people and organizations putting the Be Fearless principles into action. The stories we receive will have a chance of being featured in Jean Case’s upcoming book or uplifted by the Case Foundation in our work and we continue to review stories posted on the site on a daily basis.

But stories don’t always need to be long to be impactful. We have seen a single quote inspire changemakers to move to action, to overcome their fears and take the steps needed to start them on the path of transformational change. To inspire you and to remind you of those inspired by #BeFearless, here are some of these quotes.

On making big bets

On experimenting

On failure

On reaching beyond your bubble

On urgency

We hope these words of wisdom from changemakers of all backgrounds and perspectives inspire you to take a fearless approach to your own work. And we hope they inspire you to share a story, whether it’s your own or a story you love. If you’re looking for even more Be Fearless inspiration, check out our show on Facebook Watch, head to our Be Fearless hub, and tweet at us using #FindingFearless.

Looking for Fearless

This fall, I will be tackling a new endeavor: writing a book about the Be Fearless principles that will feature remarkable stories of fearless people and organizations that embody them. The book will be grounded in five principles that together represent keys to creating the “secret sauce” that can bring about transformational change. Being fearless means setting audacious goals, acting urgently and boldly. It means experimenting, taking risks, being willing to strike unlikely alliances and accepting the possibility of failure while still pressing forward.

Since launching our Be Fearless work at the Case Foundation, we’ve highlighted and written about many wonderful stories of fearlessness—those inspiring people and organizations that started with a big bet, took risks, built unlikely partnerships, remained undaunted in the face of failure and used urgency to help conquer fear. These stories run the gamut from those more familiar—from President Kennedy’s moonshot, to two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie’s pioneering work on radioactivity, to modern day Elon Musk—to lesser known contemporary tales of remarkable people and organizations who are doing remarkable things. Many of these are highlighted on the Be Fearless website and featured on social media through events like #FearlessFriday.

We live in a time when the world demands we build innovative, new approaches. And we know there are stories of fearlessness playing out across America and around the world every day. We know that there are many individuals who have lived the principles of Be Fearless through time, but whose stories may not be known. Their stories run the gamut: from business owners to nonprofits leaders, from those trying to make a difference in their communities to those launching a startup. These are the people and organizations who have brought us unique inventions, great discoveries and impacted the lives of others, and they have done so fearlessly.

And that’s where you come in.

We want to learn about these stories so we can highlight their successes, the challenges they overcame and their Be Fearless thinking to both raise the profile of their stories and to provide compelling role models for those who will follow in their footsteps. No matter the focus, no matter the scale, no matter when or where they lived, if you have a compelling story about an individual or an organization that you think embodies the five Be Fearless principles, we want to hear it.

To make it easy to submit the story you want us to know about, we’ve created a simple template that you can find at There, you can post short descriptions of what inspires you—whether it’s from your own journey or that of another individual, nonprofit, corporation or startup—and how they put Be Fearless to work. We have a team of researchers prepared to dig deeper, should we select the story to be highlighted in my book or to lift up through the Case Foundation.

I have no doubt that our Be Fearless work at the Case Foundation and the stories I will highlight in my book will be made better through the contributions of others. I invite you to join us on this exciting Finding Fearless journey.

Looking Back on Finding Fearless: Where Are They Now

Two years ago this week, the Case Foundation launched its Finding Fearless challenge to identify changemakers across the United States that embodied our Be Fearless principles. Finding Fearless provided a tangible and real world chance to witness risk taking, experimentation and big bets embodied by local nonprofit leaders. Two years later, we would like to share with you where these leaders are and what they have accomplished.

In September of 2012, the Case Foundation partnered with Microsoft, REI and the Goldhirsh Foundation to find and fund fearless changemakers. We knew that there were leaders on the ground who were employing experimental approaches to tackle the world’s most challenging problems. Over the course of the campaign, we heard from a diverse group of large and small organizations and individuals that had taken a fearless, innovative approach to their charitable work. The twenty Finding Fearless winners were focused on a variety of issues, ranging from food scarcity to recidivism to education.

We are incredibly proud of their progress and achievements and are thrilled to see several of them gaining broader recognition. Swipes for the Homeless was recognized by President Obama as a “national leader in social innovation” and a Champion of Change for boldly advocating across university campuses to give students the opportunity to donate their unused meal points to food pantries serving homeless populations. Additionally, Madhura Bhat, who co-founded Health for America, an organization that runs a competitive fellowship program to teach next generation leaders to deploy entrepreneurial thinking in addressing health issues in America, was awarded the 2013 SXSW Dewey Winburne Community Service award. Marquis Cabrera, founder and CEO of Foster Skills, has been honored as the Massachusetts Innovator of the Year (Boston Globe) and Massachusetts Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year (MNN).

Another fearless young philanthropist has received special recognition for her efforts in Wisconsin. Jordyn Schara, founded WI P2D2, a prescription pill and drug collection program whose mission is to lessen the time and financial burden on police departments, related to the proper disposal of confiscated pills and drugs. The program provides police departments with 24/7 secure drop-box locations where the pills can be stored in between the Drug Enforcement Agency’s bi-annual collection events, when the pills can be safely destroyed. Jordyn was recently chosen by Teen Vogue to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University.

We continue to be impressed and inspired by these twenty community leaders and wanted to take this opportunity to share some of their successes and stories from the field.

Reach Beyond your Bubble

We were excited by the groups our national sweep discovered that were being creative in their project designs and bold in their partnership decisions. For example, ArtSpring, a Florida organization that provides incarcerated women with positive artistic outlets for personal expression, has been successfully preparing participants for re-introduction to life outside of the corrections system. ArtSpring has been looking beyond their smaller prison community and have built an effective, mutually beneficial partnership with Florida Atlantic University. Through this creative partnership, students enrolled in the Rhetoric of Incarceration course and are able to study the unique perspectives on freedom and individual rights within incarcerated women’s writing. According to Leslie Neal and Nicole Bible of ArtSpring, the learning between inmates and students has pushed participants “intellectually and academically, and allowed the [inmates] to feel heard, respected and valued.” Art Spring has a phenomenal track record of nearly 0% recidivism among participant women.

Let Urgency Conquer Fear

The Campaign for Southern Equality, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting full LGBT equality with a focus in the South, is letting urgency conquer fear through their WE DO Campaign. Throughout Southern states where gay marriage is not legally recognized, the campaign made a big splash and earned greater national attention for their cause. Through peaceful protest, a cohort of gay and lesbian couples, and their supporters, went on an emotional journey from county courthouse to county courthouse where they were repeatedly denied access to marriage licenses. While the laws remain unchanged in their home states, the participants drew huge media attention and pushed conversation around a difficult and divisive subject to the forefront of public debate in their home states. They successfully drew public attention to a legal barrier this community is fighting to change immediately.

Make Big Bets

The New American Leaders Project (NALP) is working in African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean and Latino communities to recruit and train both new and experienced public servants as they take the next steps in civic participation. NALP uses public outreach, training programs and large convenings to generate a fraternal atmosphere of support for their diverse cohort of values based community leaders. They continue to make big bets on their members through the “Ready to Lead” program that provides community leaders in American immigrant populations with the tools and training to effectively campaign for local, state and national office. NALP is determined to empower leaders in minority communities through civic participation, in an effort to create a more inclusive government, better prepared to advocate for the increasingly diverse American population, generating a more robust democracy. They have successfully trained more than 250 leaders, thirteen of whom have already been elected to office.

Make Failure Matter

A natural component of taking risks is failure. And each of the winners faced challenges of varying severity. A few of the winners shared those obstacles with our team, and their means for learning from and overcoming them. Clark Fork Coalition discovered that without community cooperation, the most well-intentioned plans could be met with distrust and opposition. The Coalition encourages sustainable land and water management in Missoula, MT. They manage a ranch for use as an educational tool and as an example of successful land stewardship. They found, however, that to communicate their goals effectively to other landowners and ranchers, they would first need to build a foundation of trust within the community. The Coalition was able to develop a strategy of community integration through outreach projects as simple as hosting barbecues. This allowed them to build relationships within the ranching community, with the hope of facilitating future land management interventions in the future.

Experiment Early and Often

Another obstacle for small nonprofits is technological limitations. For a number of the winners, digital technology as a medium for media outreach, user tracking and information sharing and gathering, posed some significant challenges. For organizations with limited access to necessary equipment or with volunteers who may not have the proper skills to deliver needed tech solutions, it may be necessary to scale back operations, in the short term.

However, one of the winners, So They Can Know (STCK), faced a technological obstacle and was neither discouraged nor did they back down from their mission. They provide an online platform that allows individuals who have tested positive with a sexually transmitted infection to anonymously inform past partners of their potential exposure and direct them to testing facilities. They have successfully launched their online application through which visitors can send anonymous emails to partners. The STCK team understands that most young people communicate by text message, not email, so to effectively reach more potentially at risk individuals they will need to get the anonymous text messaging option up and running through their website. STCK continues to work on increasing their employees’ tech knowledge and have turned their focus on capacity building to bring in the proper skills to realize the potential of their bold experimentation.

The Case Foundation continues to be impressed and inspired by the organizations that participated in the Finding Fearless grant challenge. For everyone that has participated in the campaign, we are happy to provide you with this update on where our Fearless winners are now. We may not have been able to highlight the achievements, awards and challenges of every winning organization, however we hope you will take time to explore each of these fascinating and fearless organizations to see their impact and what they have learned!


Portland Junior Scientists Voted Finding Fearless Fan Favorite

Congratulations to Meghana Rao and the Portland Junior Scientists team! More than 10,000 votes were cast during the Finding Fearless Fan Favorite Voting and after carefully reviewing all of the ballots submitted we are pleased to officially report that the public overwhelmingly selected Portland Junior Scientists to win both Fan Favorite awards. Led by Meghana Rao, Portland Junior Scientists was voted the winner of an additional $10,000 bonus grant AND the REI adventure experience at Bryce Canyon National Park!

We launched Finding Fearless in September to recognize, reward, and inspire fearless changemakers. We received nearly 1,200 nominations with stories of fearless efforts happening around the country. Our Fearless Academy of nearly 100 judges reviewed the nominations and we selected the Top 20 winners. These winners all receive grants from the Case Foundation and the Goldhirsh Foundation ranging between $1,500 and $10,000, $25,000 in Microsoft software donations, an REI gift card, and a Microsoft Prize Pack, altogether totaling nearly $670,000. Additionally, all 20 winners had a chance to win more money and prizes in Fan Favorite Voting and impressively mobilized their communities. We were excited to watch the overwhelming interest in these fearless people and projects. And while Meghana managed to come out on top, all 20 projects have gained new supporters and advocates that will champion their work in the months and years ahead.

More about our Fan Favorite Winner

When Meghana Rao was 16, school funding cuts and a deep passion for science motivated Meghana to create Portland Junior Scientists. Portland Junior Scientists is a student-run volunteer organization connecting high school students with underprivileged and at-risk kids to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with hands-on experimentation and discussion. Meghana’s main goal is to inspire students in underfunded schools lacking a deep science and math curriculum to pursue careers in science. We are excited to work with Portland Junior Scientists to continue to advocate for the importance of science education!

Meghana’s “get out the vote” efforts landed Portland Junior Scientists in first place for both the $10,000 bonus grant from the Case Foundation and the REI Adventure Trip. Meghana and three friends will receive a trip of a lifetime through REI Adventures valued at $5,000. They will get to visit Bryce Canyon National Park through an exclusive camping experience that celebrates having fun outdoors REI-style with the best gear, great food, and incredible guides. REI Adventure’s Signature Camping trip to Bryce Canyon is certain to provide an amazing experience and a lifetime of memories.

We are truly inspired by Meghana and all of our Finding Fearless winners! From youth programs to civic engagement and health, Finding Fearless changemakers are championing new ideas across the country. Check out our infographic with more details on our Finding Fearless participants and stay tuned in the next few months as we continue to lift up all of our winners. We will be following their progress, sharing their stories, and reporting back on lessons from the Finding Fearless program itself. In the meantime, meet the rest of the winners, read their stories, get inspired, and keep supporting their work at

Finding Fearless – We’re just getting started

Today we are proud to announce the winners of Finding Fearless, our campaign to recognize, reward and inspire fearless changemakers nationwide, and a pillar of our Be Fearless initiative. We’re equally excited to kick off “Fan Favorite” voting, giving the public the chance to decide which winners should receive even more grant money and, thanks to our partners, some fantastic prizes.

The winners of Finding Fearless are taking risks, being bold and letting urgency conquer fear. The issues they are tackling – from the environment to education to healthcare – are as diverse as their backgrounds, their models are disrupting the status quo and their style is fearless. We are delighted to have the opportunity to shine a light on these undiscovered leaders, some who are rapidly scaling their concepts and others who are just about to take off – we’re thrilled to shine a spotlight on all of them and champion their transformative efforts.

After an exhaustive nomination and review process, our Fearless Academy [a diverse, cross-sector group of nearly 100 social innovators] helped us pick the winners from nearly 1200 nominations. Those that came out on top submitted more detailed applications to help us separate good ideas from solid plans, underwent a vetting process, and at last, we selected the twenty winners who will each receive a $10,000 grant, $25,000 of Microsoft software, a $100 REI gift card and an opportunity to compete in Fan Favorite voting!

So, what’s this Fan Favorite voting all about? Here at the Case Foundation we’ve been excited about democratizing philanthropy for many years. We sometimes refer to it as crowdsourcing or citizen-centered philanthropy – but no matter what it’s called, the goal is to seek new ideas and innovative solutions by tapping the crowds and sharing the responsibility and joy of giving. The approach recognizes that we can often get better results when many pitch in as opposed to leaving decisions and action to the few. We first tried this approach in 2007 with our Make It Your Own Awards, and again during our America’s Giving Challenges. We’ve initiated countless fan engagement campaigns like our Back to School contests, and now we’re trying it again as we work to spread the word about the need for a more fearless approach to creating change and as we lift up unsung fearless changemakers in communities big and small.

From 3 p.m. ET on Friday, November 16 until 2:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 28 we invite you to visit to learn about our fearless changemakers, to be inspired by their stories and to vote for which of them you think should earn an additional $10,000 grant from the Case Foundation or an Adventure Trip to Bryce Canyon courtesy of our partners at REI. In addition to these awards, we will give a $500 Network For Good card to the top vote getter each day and Microsoft will select a “YouthSpark” winner – one of our young fearless changemakers – to win the new Microsoft Surface Tablet. And, there’s even something for you – each voter will be entered into a sweepstakes to win a Microsoft Surface tablet right off the assembly line.

Now, go check out the winners of Finding Fearless, vote for your favorites, tell your friends to vote for theirs, and stay tuned for what’s next! In the meantime, we offer our sincere thanks to everyone who has been part of Finding Fearless—the applicants, the Fearless Academy, the Be Fearless Alliance, our partners at Microsoft, REI and the Goldhirsh Foundation and the many thousands that have joined us to the Be Fearless pledge. We’re grateful for your support and excited to Be Fearless together.