Partners in Crime.

koc familyA Colorful Story by Hülya Koç

They say birds of the same feather flock together. I believe that’s why my husband  Aydin and I developed a productive rapport and strong personal feelings for each other very quickly after being introduced by family members when we were in our twenties. We were both energetic, hard working and competent business executives. Naturally, our skill sets and world view have evolved over the years as we have grown old together, but our core values have remained the same regardless of the years passing by. Thanks to this solid foundation, our marriage of 40 years has always been harmonious and a refuge against the challenges of modern life. After realizing that we make a great team in our personal life, we decided to see if we could do the same in the business world.

Together, we established a temporary staffing agency in the Bay Area focusing on the education field. My specialty was operations – recruitment of personnel and customers, while Aydin was great with numbers and focused on longer term, strategic matters. We were able to grow the firm into an operation with a dozen offices, serving hundreds of customers and placing thousands of personnel every week. Our agency became a leader in its industry and attracted attention for its profitable growth trajectory. After several inquiries, our firm was acquired by two private equity investment companies. We are gratified that it continues to make progress towards becoming a national operation. Afterwards, we have continued to focus on our strengths – investing in promising high tech, retail and service start-ups and mentoring young entrepreneurs.

In addition to angel investing, Aydin and I share another passion – philanthropy. We both grew up in families who taught us to share and give back to our communities. Since the first day we’ve earned an income, we have done our best to make our parents proud as we honor this  principle. As a woman and an entrepreneur, I’ve always been sensitive about gender inequality, discrimination and economic empowerment of women. As a father of two daughters, Aydin felt the same way. Naturally, we chose to make an impact with our personal philanthropy in education and women entrepreneurship, with a mission to equip women with the tools they need to overcome challenges.

Our philanthropic involvement grew stronger when Aydin joined TPF’s Board after meeting Turkish Philanthropy Funds’ (TPF) Founder, Haldun Tashman. We quickly realized that TPF, with its community foundation structure offered a platform for substantial philanthropy for Turkish-Americans that did not exist before. It also allowed us to customize our philanthropic passions and make an impact in Turkey as we continued to live in the U.S.

In 2015, when we began to seriously consider selling our home of 29 years – where our daughters had grown up and which had appreciated in value considerably – it was natural for us to also explore philanthropic solutions involving TPF. After further research, we felt that establishing a Charitable Remainder Trust would satisfy our objectives in the best possible way. We sold our house and with part of the sale proceeds, we also established a permanent fund at TPF. Through this fund, our legacy will live forever. As we cherish the memories of our old house, we are happy that we got our wish – making a long-term contribution to causes of our interest in Turkey.

Girl Power

IMG_7034This is the story of five girls whose lives transformed with Educ8 Program. A story that shows “being a girl” or “coming from a low-income family” does not necessarily mean that you can’t realize your dreams. We’d like to you to meet Dilhan, Gonul, Kesire, Yagmur and Yesim. These young women with sparkles in their eyes, stepped on to a plane to travel abroad for the first time in their lives from the farms of Adiyaman and slums of Istanbul. They came to NYC to grow themselves so that their dreams are more reachable. It was through hard work, determination and incredibly supportive families that they’ve made it here.

Educ8 Program brings exceptionally young women from disadvantaged communities to NYC for a one-month of English program. However, the main goal of the project is much more than improving the participants’ language abilities. It is to change their perspective of life and discover their potential. During the program, participants meet with successful professionals from different fields and discover new career opportunities as they listen to their experiences. This year, selected young women had an opportunity to visit the most intriguing corporate company offices such as Google, NASDAQ and Chobani. What could be more inspiring than having a cup of yogurt with the founder of Chobani and listening his success story, which started in the same demographics as the participants? In addition to meeting amazing people as they visited legendary NYC offices, these young women also had a chance to visit city’s most gorgeous artifacts and famous universities, which made their journey unforgettable.

As we enjoyed meeting these young women during their visit, we couldn’t help but notice how hardworking and determined they are to excel in life. Kesire is at her 3rd year studying Psychology at Ege University and she holds the title of top student since she was five years old. While Yesim, 3rd year Bioengineering major at Ege University, is one of the two female students in the entire program. Her story shatters the myth that engineering is just for boys. We admired Gonul’s commitment to becoming a Psychologist who commutes 4 hours a day to be able to go to school and uses her time on the bus to study. While Dilhan, a medical student at Akdeniz Unviersity, works with her farmer family who grows corn and wheat and help them with the crop during summers.

As these young women focused on their passions and dreams despite all the obstacles such as poverty and discrimination, their families have been a huge support to them. Yagmur’s mother, a true supporter of education, never hesitated to work as a cleaning lady to be able to send her daughters to school. She never let her daughters to work and made sure they were focused on their education. As Yagmur defines her mother as her ‘light’, she did her best to make her proud. She is studying to become a science teacher at one of the top universities in Turkey, Middle Eastern Technical University. Another supportive family is Kesire’s, who lost her father before she was born. But her father’s family kindly took her mother and her siblings under their wings. Her grandfather and uncle, whom she defines as uptight, have many rules in their house. But when it comes to education, they gave her full support.

Meeting Yagmur, Yesim, Dilhan, Kesire and Gonul and listening to their aspiring stories gave us so much hope for the future. Thanks to them, we’ve witnessed once again that nothing is impossible for hard working and bright young women. We have no doubt that they will realize their dreams and make a change in the world. Huge thanks to those who supported Educ8 Program! They gave these women a chance to discover new horizons and gave us hope for the future.

Support to Life

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Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy, was born and raised in Damascus. Because of the ongoing conflict in his home country Syria since 2011, his family had to leave their home. He now lives with his mother and two siblings in Urfa, Turkey. His father was able to make it to Germany where they have connections. As he is trying to get the necessary papers for his family to be able to reunite in Germany, he never skips to send them his earnings from his new job as a carpenter. Since family reunification visas take usually 1-2 years, Ahmed and his family have to survive in a foreign country as they wait for their immigration visa.

Ahmed still has some relatives and friends living in Syria. As he misses his loved ones and worries about them every single day, he is trying to get used to his new life. They’ve been living in a studio apartment since their arrival in Urfa six months ago. He dreams of becoming a civil engineer someday to rebuild what war has destroyed. Knowing that he can’t miss out on education, he worked really hard to learn Turkish as fast as possible. He is now enrolled in a public school where half of his classmates are in the same situation as him. While his middle sister, Mais, also learned Turkish and continues her primary education, his mother tries to support their family by selling hand knitted clothing and takes care of his youngest sister.

Despite all the obstacles Ahmed and his family are facing such as poverty and discrimination, they are hopeful about the future. And they know that they are not alone. Meet Support to Life, a humanitarian aid agency as well as one of our partners, which provides support to Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Support to Life (STL), established in 2005 by five women, works with the principal objective of helping communities to meet their basic needs and rights, not just in Turkey but the neighboring areas as well. With three community centers located in Urfa, Hatay and İstanbul under Refugee Protection Program, STL provides emergency assistance as well as psycho-social support, language and vocational courses to the disaster affected communities. These centers are also aim to provide a common ground for refugee population to meet the host community as the locals are welcomed to attend the activities.

Ahmed met STL when they first arrived to the ancient city of Urfa. It was STL who provided his family with food packages and blankets. Since then, he’s been a frequent visitor at STL’s Community Center with his sister. He regularly joins the language, IT and other skill development workshops offered by them. His favorite activity at the center was when Clowns Without Borders visited them few weeks ago. Clowns Without Borders is a group of people, who travels refugee camps all over to world with a mission to spread laughter to children living in difficult conditions. STL partnered with international NGOs to bring Clowns Without Borders to their community centers with a mission to teach children to fight war and violence with a smile. Ahmed’s mother also benefited from the center when she needed legal guidance for their status in Turkey as well as how they can reunite with Ahmed’s father in Germany. She also gets help from STL’s connections to sell her handmade craftwork.

As STL works to increase their reach and improve the conditions of their community centers, TPF partnered with them for a very special project- We are all Neighbors. We are all Neighbors is a Giving Circle project created under TPF’s roof by a group of young professionals with a mission to provide relief to Syrian refugees. It aims to raise funds to rebuild STL’s community center in Urfa so that refugees can have better access to support sessions, job trainings, therapy and more. There are currently two existing buildings at STL’s site. With this project, additional spaces will be built from shipping containers so that the organization can function more effectively and offer more activities to the refugees. Take a look at We’re all Neighbors’ page to be help Syrian refugees start a new life in peace. Ahmed and many others will be truly grateful for your contribution.

A Story of Big Dreamers.

Big DreamersA Colorful Story by Özgür Karaosmanoğlu

As I grow older, I often find myself thinking about my parents and how blessed I am to have them. My parents taught me that the key to a happy life comes from working hard, being fair and giving back to those in need. It’s these virtues they passionately believed in and passed on to me made me who I am today.

Let me introduce you to my mother first. My mother, Şükriye, was born in a small town in Turkey. As a determined woman, she worked her way from a small village to an ivy-league school with a merit-based scholarship. She is the first woman from Muğla to study at Columbia University. She continued to surprise people with her intelligence and energy as she finished her undergraduate and graduate studies in a total of three years. It took me long time to believe that since I thought it was a trick to make me study harder in high school. To me, she is the perfect example of what young women can accomplish when they are provided with opportunities. Throughout her life, she has passionately supported equality in education. She took the lead in various nonprofit organizations, and advocated for quality education and gender equality. She told her story to young women, hoping to inspire them as well as to other listeners, to show them what women are capable of. And, she still does.

She inspired many people along the way including my father, Attila. My father’s story is a bit different yet as powerful and meaningful as my mother’s. He was a true bookworm -famous for reading all the books he could get his hands on since his childhood. He was also curious by nature, which made encyclopedias his favorite treat to read. A man, who enjoyed books this much naturally loved school. He started his studies in Political Science and moved towards Economics as he completed his PhD. His career, which started at the World Bank continued in the Turkish government. As a Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, he worked hard with his cabinet, conducted detailed researches and drafted economic policies to develop Turkey economically and socially. He dreamed big but understood that turning your dreams into reality is not always in your hands. When he wasn’t allowed to put the policies he and his team drafted into action, he resigned from his position. He went back to the World Bank and rose to become a Managing Director of the Bank. He also taught as a part-time lecturer at NYU as well as Harvard University.

My father met my mother in New York City in the 50s during his time at NYU. They got married in 1960. Through my mother, my father realized how privileged he was as a man. He learned about the other side of the coin and how women face inequalities throughout their whole lives. This understanding made him fight hard against gender discrimination in the workplace. He did his best to hire female employees just as capable as men and promoted his female colleagues when given the opportunity. He was already a passionate supporter of education yet with the influence of my mother he also became a champion of  women’s rights.

My father was a great parent, husband and grandfather. However, most importantly, he was a great man. Throughout his life, he believed in moving forward through education and helping others. After he passed away from a respiratory failure, we turned our sorrow into a way of making his legacy live forever by establishing a memorial fund named after him at TPF. We invited his friends and colleagues to donate to the Attila Karaosmanoğlu Fund to support young and bright students. All the funds raised in his memory, are distributed by Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği as scholarships to students with financial difficulties. After witnessing the impact we made through his memorial fund, we decided to make his impact last forever. We transformed his memorial fund into a Donor Advised Fund. Since then, we are providing scholarships to his alma mater, Karşıyaka High School and the Faculty of Political Science at Ankara University annually. Through this fund, we are keeping a part of him, his passion for education, alive. Even though he has never met any of our scholarship recipients, we know that my father would’ve been proud of each and every one of them. We looking forward to see the difference they are going to make in the world someday, just like my father.

Small Projects Istanbul

_37C5297Since the beginning of the civil war in Syrian, majority of Syrian population has been forced to leave the country. This left millions of Syrians as refugees all over the world, including Turkey. They all need to deal with dire circumstances. Yet, the children, who are labeled as “the lost generation”, are the ones impact the most. They face many obstacles from language barrier and racial discrimination to financial hurdles as they try to adapt to a new way of life in Turkey. TPF’s newest partner, Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) works to impact the lives of these children.

Small Projects Istanbul came to life through volunteer efforts of an Australian expat, Karyn Thomas. Karyn, an early childhood education specialist moved to Syria to work with Iraqi refugees. During her time at Yarmouk Camp to provide relief to the refugees, she came to realize how much Syrian children are missing out on school due to war. Believing that education is the greatest tool for these children to create themselves a new life in the future, Karyn decided to take an action. She decided to take the responsibility of a 17 year-old Palestinian girl’s education expenses at the camp. As Karyn sponsored a girl’s education, she came to realize that individual contributions can make a big difference. So she spread the word through her family and friends and reached out to thousands all over the world. Forced to leave Syria because of the conflict in 2013, Karyn moved to Istanbul and Small Projects Istanbul came to life through countless individual contributions.

Based in Fatih, a neighborhood, which accommodates thousands of Syrian refuges, SPI established a community center- The Olive Tree Community Education Center. Since 2013, they are teaching Turkish to refugee children so that they can continue their education and feel at home in Turkey. They are also providing English, French and German lessons so that these children can move forward in their careers someday. In addition to language courses, refugee children participate in various artistic workshops such as music, dance, painting and theater. There are currently more than 200 kids benefiting from The Olive Tree Community Education Center’s daily classes and activities. The numbers are likely to grow since children who learn Turkish keep going to The Olive Tree, where they feel welcome, safe and at home.

SPI also runs a craft collective at The Olive Tree to empower Syrian refugee women. At The Olive Tree, participating women develop their hand crafting skills, create unique handmade objects and earn an income to support their families through the sales. To change the lives of refugee children and women, take a look at SPI’s projects. Your support will help refugee families to get back on their feet and create the new generation of leaders.