There are defining people and moments in our lives that make us who we are today. For Raymond James Financial Services advisor Tyson Ray, a few pivotal ones have inspired him to make a difference in the world around him.
Tyson’s story begins in college, when he became a Christian. This experience profoundly changed his perspective of purpose, and sparked his passion to live radically and give back to others.
Years later in 2006, Tyson was building his business with The Ray Financial Group, and reserved the “The Ray Foundation” web address – in the event he ever started a foundation. Over time, the thought began to eat at him: “You have the website name, Tyson. But you don’t actually have the foundation.” So he began personally giving five $2,000 college scholarships to local area high schools.
In 2007, Tyson and his foundation took a defining turn. He got a phone call from an extended family member, Jed, who was requesting funds so that he could adopt a baby girl named Keeley. Jed was a youth pastor who was unable to have children naturally due to a chronic disease, and who with his wife was unable to afford the high cost of adoption on a youth pastor’s salary. When Jed called Tyson and explained the situation, Tyson only asked one question – “Where do I wire the funds?”
When Tyson met Keeley and held her for the first time, everything changed. “At that moment, Keeley transformed my definition of success,” he said. “I realized I was connecting with a life I had changed forever, and that my life also changed forever.”
Hope amidst the financial crisis
The experience stayed with him. And in 2009, when most advisors were baffled by the financial crisis, Tyson went on his first mission trip to Haiti.
“I met with a pastor of a local church, and told him I was losing my perspective,” said Tyson.
Weeks later, Tyson stepped off the plane in Haiti, and soon realized that “status” and “success” no longer mattered in a country overridden by poverty and brokenness.
“All you had was who you were at your core. For me, that gave me a different purpose I didn’t get when I reached certain levels of ‘success.’”
It was then Tyson discovered that if he invested in a country’s well-being, he could greatly increase his impact and change the lives of many. This prompted Tyson to begin funding the medical care for 100 orphans at the House of Hope in Haiti.
When the earthquake left the country in ruin the spring of 2010, Tyson’s wife Jenny took her first trip to Haiti to help with relief efforts. When she returned, they both knew that if they really wanted to make a difference, they needed to expand their efforts and involve their community.
Shifting the Focus
In 2010, Tyson and Jenny formed a board of directors and renamed The Ray Foundation to Children’s World Impact (CWI) – taking the focus off their family, and shifting it to helping others. Their mission was, and still is, to break the cycle of poverty for neglected widows and children around the world.
Their philosophy was simple. By covering all of the administrative costs, 100% of the dollars raised would go directly to the project. And because they were supporting low-income countries, it could cost as little as $20,000 to build a school or building – an amount that was relatively easy to raise with the support of others.
In lieu of their 10-year anniversary trip, they opted to visit Haiti once again, where they discussed the future of CWI and interacted with many leaders in the community. A common theme developed: if they helped to build a school and educate children in Haiti, they’d create change for future generations.
It was then that CWI committed to building a school for 100+ orphans in Fedja, Haiti, and a surrounding village. Over the course of the next year, Tyson and many others would visit to inspect the construction of the school, build a playground, and help train 70+ school teachers on effective teaching tools.
A vision for Ghana
As CWI continued its work in Haiti, Tyson recruited and welcomed another visionary, Mike Hoffman, to the organization. Mike had a vision to influence the lives of more than 250 widows and several hundreds of their dependent children in the Upper West Region of Ghana, Africa – one of the neediest and poorest parts of the region.
Envisioning the impact CWI could make in Ghana, Tyson and Mike spearheaded the financing of a well for clean drinking water. And it didn’t end there. To create sustainable income for the widows, they raised funds to buy a water filtration system and packaging facility, so the women could sell purified water in their local markets and support their families. They then bought a plot of land to grow vegetables and shea nuts, and later purchased a plant where the nuts could be processed into shea butter and where corn, millet and other grains could be ground for bread.
“Now, that village in Ghana is a self-sustaining, economic infrastructure,” said Tyson. “We knew it was successful when the government built a bank in the village.”
Give and let go
CWI continues to be involved in the neglected communities of Haiti, investing in their third school and first medical clinic. Since 2006, CWI has raised and donated more than $1.6 million for widows and children around the world, and has packed more than a million meals for families in Ghana, Haiti and their local community.
“Before I started CWI, I wanted to control how an organization used my donation – I found it hard to trust where the funds were going,” said Tyson. “You don’t have to start your own foundation to alleviate that concern. You just have to give and let go of your control.”
Now, Tyson encourages his clients (through FORM Wealth Advisors) to practice the same strategies, and shift their focus from personal success to being more strategic for others. He believes in “giving while you’re living,” and planning to give funds before you actually earn them.
In Haiti, it’s been easy for Tyson to see he can’t fully control what the outcome looks like. Instead, he trusts others to make a difference.
"When you help someone who can do nothing to return the favor, it’s the most freeing feeling in the world,” said Tyson. “It’s elevated my purpose of who I am; of what I think matters.”
For more information
Visit the Children’s World Impact website to learn how Tyson is helping to break the cycle of poverty.