Lindsay Hernandez and Julie Tingley.

Moms to Know: A nonprofit leader’s mission inspires meaningful holiday family traditions

Mother of three boys, Tampa Bay realtor, and founder of the Christian Michael Hernandez Foundation (CMHF), Lindsay Hernandez lives by the mission of her nonprofit in every way possible: to be a light in this world through the provision of unconditional kindness.

In a month that focuses on giving and gratitude, we are thankful for community leaders like her who model ways that will have lasting impact on our most vulnerable and loved Tampa neighbors. When it comes to giving this month, Lindsay has several ideas, projects, and asks to make this a fulfilling November for all of us.

Lindsay Hernandez
Lindsay Hernandez. Photo by Howie Mac Photo.

TBPM: For starters, tell us what the Christian Michael Hernandez Foundation is and why it was started.

LH: CMHF is, in a nutshell, this mother’s mission to make our world a better place through the provision of unconditional kindness.

CMHF was established in 2016, after the death of our son, Christian, who was born with special needs which unexpectedly became incompatible with life. Our world as we knew it changed in an instant, and our worst nightmares became our reality.

We were forced to gain wisdom we didn’t ask for, and found ourselves ushered down a road of bereavement we never fathomed having to travel. It was inconceivable to us that we would have to live the rest of our lives without getting to be his parents and that one day, his precious life may feel left behind.

We strived to embrace the idea that somehow, some way we could continue to be his parents in this lifetime while keeping his mighty, little memory alive. In our effort to find healing in the midst of indescribable sadness and loss, we clung to what has always brought joy to our hearts and that is serving others.

We knew that by creating a non-profit with the sole objective of being a light in this world and creating a positive impact on the lives and circumstances of others, we could keep Christian’s legacy alive while chasing our own joy – one good deed at a time.

TBPM: Between the upcoming partnerships with Willis Peters Exceptional Center and Shields Middle School, you have some very special projects in the works. Please share what you are doing through your Foundation and the support you still need to serve the most people. 

LH: Prior to retiring from the world of education after almost 20 years, I was blessed to know an extremely rewarding career as an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Specialist for the school district of Hillsborough County.

With this comes an everlasting love for serving students and families, especially those with special and specific needs. In an effort to effectuate our kindness missions in a most impactful way, I wanted to pay close attention to current and local needs and ways in which I felt we could be a blessing during this time.

I took the liberty of reaching out to two former colleagues, both of whom are phenomenal women and newly appointed principals of their respective schools and proposed my ideas! The first call was to Willis Peters Exceptional Center, a school within HCPS, offering programs and support to students with a wide range of disabilities between the ages of 3 and 22.

In this season of fall festivals, color runs, and homecomings, so many students are experiencing “traditional” school celebrations and it was on my heart to connect with those who may not be able to do the same.

I’ve offered to host an ice cream social for their entire school to bring a little extra joy and celebration to these very special students who genuinely deserve a few extra hours of celebrating for no other reason than that they are loved.

Next, I reached out to Shields Middle School which is home to almost 2,000 students of diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds offering to create a food pantry and clothing closet to be housed on campus and readily available to students and families in need.

We’ll be relying on community donations and resources, and look forward to partnering with others who may wish to help! We’ll also be sponsoring families from Collins Elementary for Christmas and making sure that precious children will be remembered with gifts to open this year.

My husband, Mike, is a principal and we’ve always been able to share our love for serving students and families.

It means a lot to us to focus our efforts towards our school communities in the coming months and help meet these calls-to-action in the best ways we know how!

TBPM: One thing you do every year for Christmas through the Christian Michael Hernandez Foundation is “Stuff the Stocking.” Please explain what that tradition is, what it means, and how others can start this on their own or be a part of what you do this holiday season.

LH: The holiday season brings with it some very big emotions and longing for “what could have been.” As a mother who’s had to teach my heart to reconcile the reality that we will never know a Christmas with one of our children, I’ve learned that unless I find a way to manage these feelings in a positive way, it can be almost too much to bear.

The first Christmas was truly surreal. We hung Christian’s stocking which was made with love by his grandma to match his siblings’ stockings, right next to the others because the notion of excluding it was impossible.

But, the reality that he’d never wake up to find it filled or open a single present alongside his family was inconceivable. We knew we’d never fill his stocking with surprises, but I was determined to fill it with love.

I set out on a mission with the help of social media and word of mouth, to collect ideas to “stuff Christian’s stocking” with suggestions for “kindness missions!” The overwhelming responses we received from all over the world were humbling to say the least!

Each time we received a response, we’d write it down and put it in Christian’s stocking. By Christmas morning, the stocking my mommy-heart was so worried about seeing empty, was completely stuffed with love and joyful ways in which we could effectuate change in our community and around the world.

Christian didn’t get to sleepily dig through to find candy canes and race cars in his Santa jammies like his brother, but as a family, we sat around our tree and sorted through the kindness missions which were shared in his memory.

We were blessed to carry out the missions as a family throughout the rest of the season and into the new year.

This initiative rescued my heart that first Christmas and the ones to follow.

It has allowed us to serve in Assisted Living Facilities, connect foster families with essentials for emergency placements, provide school supplies to missionaries bound for Haiti, fill suitcases with necessities for children in Tanzania, and so much MORE – all while keeping our little boy close during the times his absence is felt the most.

TBPM: Something unique about your real estate business is that you offer a full circle moment of gratitude and give back with your closing gifts and even your client outreach. Combining your two passions in this way seems to be the best representation of you as a trusted partner and professional. Can you elaborate on what this is and what inspired you to do things differently?

LH: After retiring from the world of education, I missed the ability to serve individuals and families within my community in a professional capacity. Service is my love language and always has been.

I felt strongly that I could combine my experience and love for all things real estate with my hope to continue helping others in my area, and so it began… an incredible career as Florida Realtor which far exceeded any expectation I set for myself as an agent.

As a top producer in the Tampa Bay area, I never take for granted that every transaction has a story and every single one matters to me.

Showing appreciation for the trust my clients place in me means everything and drives my approach to how I conduct business. Every single sale or purchase is personal for me and I take great pride in the relationships which are built around that trust.

It is not lost on me that my clients made a choice to work with me and it’s important that I show them how much I appreciate them. Over the course of our time together, I naturally learn about their lives and what is important to them or their families.

After each closing, as a token of my gratitude, I will dedicate a portion of my earnings to donate to a charity of their choosing, or I will perform an act of volunteerism in the area for which I’ve learned holds meaning to the client.

I always say that at the end of the day, it’s my character and operating with integrity and faithfulness which matter most. I’m blessed to be able to earn their business and being able to give back in their honor allows me the chance to thank them in ways which will remain long after we leave the closing table.

TBPM: As you work tirelessly spreading light within the community, you also do this at home. What are some ways you motivate your sons to give back that other parents could also try? What simple activities do the boys enjoy most when it comes to charitable giving or service? 

LH: Raising our sons to be kind, empathetic, inclusive, and genuinely caring people is among the greatest of responsibilities.

We nurture their own unique ways of wanting to give and serve by having open and age-appropriate conversations about their lives and experiences and how they might compare or differ from the lives of other children and families.

We make a concerted effort to ward off natural tendencies of entitlement and instead, we try to instill in them a sense of responsibility unto others and to the world around them, feeding their courage to seek out opportunities to take action!

We know tapping into that which inspires them to feel intrinsically motivated will spark their desire to seek out authentic, meaningful ways to effectuate change or confidently initiate their own kindness missions.

We teach them that good deeds can be simple and can happen anytime, anywhere! When we see a member of our Armed Forces, our boys love to show respect by thanking them for their service!

We talk about students they see at school identify who may benefit from a friend at the lunch table, a treat from the snack cart or an anonymous donation toward a field trip they may have otherwise missed.

We seek out ways to volunteer together as a family and in the past, we’ve served alongside Feeding Tampa Bay at our local Publix, decorated brown paper bags and filled them with food, water and self-care essentials which we then delivered around the city visiting parks and passing them out right from the car windows.

These experiences allow for us to engage in meaningful family activities outside of our routine and bring awareness to the very real needs that are all around them every day.

We’ve hosted ice cream socials for children and migrant families at local church fellowship halls and introduced the understanding that getting that treat after a good report card or on a hot summer day isn’t an experience every child gets to enjoy.

One of their favorite kindness missions each year is in celebration of Christian’s birthday. Because we won’t ever be able to buy him a birthday cake, we pay for the cost of another child’s cake to surprise the family when they arrive to pick it up.

Because we don’t get to buy him presents, we buy gift cards instead and let the boys pass them out randomly throughout the store or restaurant. We try to find ways in which our kids can feel personally connected to and responsible for the acts of kindness without expecting anything in return and that most good deeds can be free to give.

We choose opportunities which will allow for them to be able to relate in some way which builds upon their compassion and understanding. This is when their capacity to grow their love for others and giving is the greatest.

TBPM: Kindness is one of those things that we all have the ability to give. It’s also the best gift to receive. When people are hurting, feeling stress, or going through a hard time, it can be difficult to give or show. Is there a kindness quote or mantra you like to keep close to the heart that reminds you to show kindness whenever possible? 

LH: Kindness breeds kindness, it is contagious and even the small gestures can have the greatest impacts. It is free to give and can be the most powerful source of joy and healing for the giver and receiver. It is also very addictive!

The more I initiate kindness, the more ways I naturally seek out new opportunities to do so. We all have the ability to make this world a better place just by being a part of it, and the domino effect can be amazing!

Honestly, speaking a compliment to a stranger when I think it has become second nature for me. Taking a moment to share with a manager about great service or a meal requires very little time or effort, but could mean the world to someone having a tough day or hoping for that promotion.

Sending a message to a person who’s inspired me in some way or simply crossed my thoughts that day can come when we may not realize they needed it the most. In the same way that offering kindness can impact someone else’s life, it truly brings me happiness like nothing else.

I have vowed to turn my purpose- which is to be a light in this world through the provision of unconditional kindness- into my practice and the returns of joy and fulfillment this has brought into my life and to my healing journey have been unparalleled.

TBPM: What are you most thankful for? 

LH: I am abundantly thankful for this life I get to live and the gift of my own personal journey which has given me wisdom and perspective in the most authentic ways – something most women may not experience until much later in life.

I am grateful for the hardest days because I’ve learned that healing always comes in the mourning / morning.

I am thankful for my husband and children, whom I cherish beyond measure and this life together which, with all of its trials and triumphs, is more than I could ask for.

I am thankful to have found the courage to chase my dreams over and over again and to pursue my inspiration to make the world around me a kinder, brighter place.

I am grateful for each and every experience which has taught me more about my purpose as a believer, woman, mother, wife, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

I’m thankful for mistakes I’ve learned from, the lessons I’ve gained along the way and all the ones yet to come.

If you would like to make a food, clothing, or monetary donation or volunteer to support the initiatives that the Christian Michael Hernandez Foundation is hosting this holiday season, please contact Lindsay via:

Lindsay Hernandez | @lindsayhernandez2814 | @thecmhfoundation

photo by Howie Mac Photo

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