Al: Jeannette, I would like to get a little history about you. Are you from Chicago?
Jeannette: No, I actually grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. My mother was Portuguese, and my father met her on an island in the Azores during WWII. He started there and was a radio disc jockey. My grandfather owned a bunch of little stores like 7-11 on the island. They were more like little huts around the island, and he had one that was right outside the barracks. My mother would work there after school. She was a young Portuguese girl, and she used to see all those great looking GI's. My mom and dad met and fell in love. He would serenade her on the radio at night. It was very romantic.

Al: What was your family name?

Jeannette: Lema. My older sister was born there, and then they moved back to Tennessee where my dad was from originally. I was born in Cincinnati. My dad went there because that's where the jobs were. He worked for General Motors and was there for thirty years. I have lost both my parents over the last few years, almost back to back. I am certain that those types of things happening in one's life can also contribute to ones path or journey. You know, when deaths occur you look at mortality, but even more so, you start to look at why you are the person that you are. When I look in the mirror, I see so much of my parents and everything that they brought into my life coming through to me now. I remember when I was a kid, my dad wouldn't be there at Thanksgiving dinner on time. He was out giving baskets of food to the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

My mother was the only Portuguese in that small town-probably within the state. She had to deal with a lot of prejudices in her lifetime. Just having a Portuguese accent resulted in my getting into fights at school over my mom. I tried to protect her; they would call her names. The town was very redneck.

Al: What was the name of the town?
Jeannette: Bethel. It was a farming area, a dry town. I think that people there just didn't have much exposure to the world. Their only interests were in raising their families, keeping the community going, and reading an occasional paper. My mom was called a "gook." I mean, it just hurt her feelings terribly. As a young girl, I can remember being twelve, and very feisty, and not about to accept that. Why did they want to hurt her? I didn't understand it.

Al: But you see, those types of negative experiences can make you who you are. You are more tolerant than many because of those experiences in Bethel. You can empathize with hurt because you know what it feels like.
Jeannette: I totally agree. I believe that those negative events are absolutely necessary in our lives to teach us about ourselves and how to handle situations. Everything that happens in life happens for a reason. If we truly believe that, then we can't just believe that all the "good" things happen for a reason-all the "bad" things.

Al: I tell my college classes about the movie, The Great Imposter, with Tony Curtis. He is leaving a monastery after being kicked out by the abbot. The kindly cleric says to Curtis that it is from the bad things that we learn the most-not from our successes.

I would like to revisit the racism issue if I might.. I thought when you told me about your mother being Portuguese in Tennessee, that she would have had cultural shock-not been the subject of racism.

Jeannette: During the later years, yes, she felt a little isolated culturally. However, like many people during that time that we came to the States right after the war, she tries to be American. She just wanted to learn English and how to be an American. Because of this, she tended to forget her culture.

Al: Do you know any Portuguese?
Jeannette: I have a lot of family, and I go back every year. I met my godmother and my godfather, but I also have nieces, nephews, and their little kids. I wanted to get to know them, so I started studying the language a little bit. It's hard to keep up with it when you aren't there, but I take my little book and seem to do ok. I spend time with my godmother and my godfather and go to their house. It's beautiful, and I sit by the ocean and think. I wondered what would have happened if my mother and father had moved there instead of the states. How different my life would be. It's a wonderful beautiful country, and I am totally enthralled by it and totally in love with it.

Al: Did you see other forms of racism while living in Bethel?

Jeannette: There was only one black family in the town. I went to high school with the only black kid in the school. We called him "Frenchie." He was a light-skinned, and he was also a drum major in the band. Bethel was an incredible redneck town. They burned a cross in his front yard, and within a month, he was gone.

All of the girls thought he was great. He knew how to twirl a baton better than anybody that we knew, so he got a lot of attention. Ohio is considered a Midwestern state, but if you live in a place like Bethel that was right across the river from Kentucky, it was really a prejudiced place.

My father worked at General Motors, and all the guys he worked with on the line were African Americans. They would come over to our house, or we would go to see them in the city. I never understood the differences between blacks and whites. It infuriated me to see people treated less than they deserved because of the color of their skin.

It's amazing really, how different regions can be. I came to Chicago the first time in 1980. When I got here, I had this feeling that this is where I was expected to live. There is a spirit in this Midwestern city that is like none other that I have ever experienced. People seem really to want to get along, and they really try to work together. They don't have quite the attitudes that you find many times in New York. There's just a wonderful sense of "let's get it done" here, and I felt that immediately.

Al: Where did you get your education?
Jeannette: I attended the University of Cincinnati and majored in business marketing.

Al: After you got your degree, what did you do next?
Jeannette: I got married, and then I got divorced-but not before I had two great kids. Because of the divorce, I became a single mom, and started working for a photography company out of Charlotte, NC. I began in management and then continued to work my way up to operations. Before I knew it, I became an international operations manager and opened studios for them worldwide. I found myself in places like Paris, and I would always want to go see how the "real" people lived. I would rent a car and go to the poor parts of town. I needed to know what was really going on. It was wonderful. At one point, I was overseeing about 300-studios worldwide and began really to learn about sales. I found out how much I loved working with the creative side and sales side. That's very unusual because generally speaking, I think most creative people really don't want to have to go sell.

I won a sales trip at one point and went to Caracas, Venezuela. My friend and I decided that we wanted to rent a car and just go driving. We rented a little Volkswagen and went up into the mountains, ate fresh fish, and got to meet people. When we started to return, we missed the exit to go back to the hotel. Well, you know here in Chicago if you miss the exit, you just keep going, take the exit, and come back. We drove a long time and finally saw a place where we could pull off. I hoped that we could just turn around. When we pulled off, here was a truck with a camouflaged canopy. Gorillas came out, stuck long rifles in the car and demanded that we give them our money and credit cards.

I remember seeing my kids' lives flash in front of me. I knew I wasn't going to die. I just knew that I was lucky. That experience taught me something very valuable about freedom. This would have been about 1982, and I was still responsible for my kids and couldn't really stop what I was doing in my life to analyze how I may be able to use what I was learning for what I am doing now. I had to put food on the table, make sure the kids were in soccer and doing all the things they needed to do while I was supporting them. I was their sole support, until they were out of the house, into college and getting one with their lives.

I am now married to my husband, Randy, who is the President of the Azerty, a division of United Stationery. He commutes back and forth from here to Canada. He would say to me; "This is your time. Go and do the things you have wanted to do". I still think my purpose in life is to try and make this world a better place.

I was offered a job about four years ago with a major advertisement agency to head up their sponsorship area. I had to make a decision whether I was going to take that job or start something on my own. I was really stressing about it. Randy and I wound up going to Phoenix, Arizona to interview some people at the Thunderbird School. At the time, he was handling all Asian operations. We went to Sedona, which is not only beautiful, but there is a wonderful current that runs through that whole area. It is very spiritual; I immediately felt at home.

However, I was still stressing out about whether I should take the job. Therefore, Randy said, "Let's go look at some art; you always feel better when you do that." So, we did just that, but I just didn't have any energy. I told Randy that needed a jolt of caffeine. There was a coffee shop right next door, but there was also one through a rose garden. I had been working to try to train myself to listen to my intuition for the last four or five years. I thought that I would go with my intuition and go to the one through the garden. When Randy walked up to the counter to get some coffee for me, and I looked over and there was one book that was for sale in this tiny little place. The book was titled Doing Well While Doing Good, the Marketing Link Between Non-Profit Causes and Corporate America. I felt my energy lift, because I knew at that point that I was in that particular spot to get that book. What I found out from the shopkeeper was that the author of the book had started the coffee shop and all the proceeds were going back into the community to help children. I also found out that it was the only place really on the planet that I could have found the book, because it had been out of print for three years. So, I think I was supposed to be there. I saw it as a sign. I knew what my decision was that I wasn't going to take this job with the advertising firm. I decided that I was going to try to create something to mobilize help for children.

Then the question was how to focus on a project because there is so much need? Do I do this here in Chicago or do I believe that I can do this on an international level? Where do I start? I think for me and for most people, it was just overwhelming. To clarify what that meant, I started to spend a lot of time in meditation and very focused thinking about what my purpose was. And like a lightning bolt, the answer was sent, and I did listen to it acting accordingly. That's how I got here. I want to change the world, and I have very specific issues about which I care.

Al: I would like you to give my readers an overall idea of your organization and then talk about tall ship project in particular.
Jeannette: First of all, I need to tell you that I never worked in the music industry. I didn't know anyone two years ago when I started sponsorKIDS. It is just amazing really, once I was able to identify what the purpose and the mission was, things started to happen. SponsorKIDS is a production company that lives and breathes for the sole purpose of raising money for sponsorKids Charities. SponsorKids Productions has been established, and that was the first thing that I did.

How do I begin to meet all these people that I need to bring in and to get this done? I learned about identifying ways to listen to your own instincts and to put it out there in a plan. In other words, write out the plan, who do you want to meet, and then go meet them! And so, I would put out the plan and then I called Susan Sarandon's office and talked with her publicist. Then she came onboard. Then I thought, how can this be? It can't be this easy, because everyone else is telling me it is a difficult business. However, I continued to believe that you can achieve anything in this world if you just focus on it and have a plan. It takes perseverance and patience, but it works so beautifully. I believe that the universe is really trying to conspire with us, not against us, to have us realize good in life and good in the world. I just decided that that was my mantra. No matter what anyone thought, I was going to succeed.

I started to develop a brand, and that actually happened when I was in Rumania. I called Rock the Castle. I went to Rumania and within one week, it was completely sponsored. When I was there, I thought, "Wow, wouldn't a castle be a great vision. It's also a stationary venue where you could actually produce music My producer, David Stern, who just produced the Yankee Stadium Event for 9/11 in New York is now our producer.

Therefore, I put it out there. Then I thought about how I was going to meet people with castles. In addition, within a very short period of time, I met Richard Branson and his mother. She loved what we were doing, and so one thing led to another. I wound up going to Morocco and met with the Minister of Justice there. They gave us a castle in Marrakech and one in Essaouira, which is on the coast of Morocco.

Then I was at a TV conference a week later and met a prince who was also a producer from France who has a castle. I thought, "You know I had never met anyone who had a castle before, now why am I meeting all these people with castles?" It must be because I've imagined it so. I believe that the world is conspiring to help me out. And so, I will just continue on that task.

Sun City has a castle, and they are giving to us the resort to rock and shake up the house down there too. This all began by believing and by being pragmatic and knowing that I had to find the venue. I needed to get some powerhouse people onboard with me. I needed to talk to everyone that would listen. I needed to get on an airplane if someone was willing to meet with me. I would go right then.

Before I knew it, I met Ike and Tina Turner, and I was then invited to their anniversary celebration at Tavern on the Green. There I met Michael Douglas his wife. Through them, I met Whitney Houston and David Guest, who just married Liza Minnelli. The world is conspiring in a very good way here!

Then I got a call from BMG one day when I was on my way to the airport. I had sent them a fax and called them. I told them that I would love to meet with them because I needed a label to back us. They called me when I was on the way to LaGuardia, and ask whether I could meet with them that day. I had the cab flip around and went right back to Manhattan, and we met. BMG is onboard. It has just been one tremendous story-one divine intervention after another. I don't know how else to put it.

In October, I was in Germany with Kaufman of the Scorpions and the Prime Minister of Germany. Everyone that I am meeting seems to understand our purpose. They are not interested in putting layers between who we are and who they were-in other words, it's a direct relationship. Therefore, I have these baskets of castles now and a lot of talent.

Al: What was your first focus going to be?
Jeannette: It was going to be HIV/AIDS. I had worked very closely with Adrian Belafonte, Harry's daughter. We went to help to identify some programs to help support in South Africa, because she is working on that.

In the midst of making this decision, 9/11 happened. World peace was already on our agenda, but it immediately became the first and most prominent issue that we wanted to address. I was missing one thing and that was a way to link all of these events together some way. How could I thread them all together? I asked myself this question on either September 11th or the 12th. I happened to be at a conference in downtown Chicago about sponsorship, advance filing techniques, and that type of thing. What I was missing was how to tie all these events together. At the conference, I was sitting behind a gal who was talking about tall ships to the woman sitting beside her. I thought, "Oh, wow! Old tall ships and castles!" I turned around and said "I have a bunch of castles, and you have tall ships; we have to meet!" She has been tremendous in helping me understand how the whole world of tall ships work, why they come into ports, how you get them into ports, and who pays for what. Many of the tall ships are actually non-profit organizations that help children learn how to sail.

Al: So, now you have ships and castles. Actually, how many castles do you have under your realm?

Jeannette: We have over sixteen that are logistically located all over the world. They are located in Portugal, Spain, France, South Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Morocco, England, Scotland, Ireland, Bolivia, Brazil, and then we have at least a half a dozen in the U.S. We just got a call yesterday from Arcadia University in Philadelphia. They have a castle on campus and want us to come there and rock it. We can sail the ship in and then do that!

Al: When is the actual kickoff?
Jeannette: Actually, it is September 11, 2002. I can now talk about something that has been in the works. We are getting indications from Athens Olympic Committee-2004 that they would like to embrace this project as part of their cultural Olympiad. We haven't really nailed down all the details, but, as we understand it today, they would like for us to be able to carry the torch on the ships around the world. So, each time the ship would dock, we would do a rock concert.

We would also use local musicians. You may see something like Marc Anthony in Spain playing with the Spanish Philharmonic in the castle concert. I should point out one thing: it's our objective to go to every country where the U.S. has ever fought a war as well as those people who help engage in peace for this world. I have a wonderful composer who is with Columbia College here in Chicago whose name is Kimo Williams. He fought in Vietnam, and wrote a beautiful symphony for the Vietnamese. He went to Vietnam to perform it with the Vietnamese orchestra there. Kimo befriended Gary Sinese through this process. Now, Gary is playing the guitar in Kimo's band called Keymotions. We have invited Kimo and hopefully Gary to come over and play in Vietnam as we bring the ship into harbor with the Vietnamese Philharmonic as a show of peace and to help benefit local charities.

This project of having a ship that sails for peace stopping in all these countries, which will be followed in classrooms around the world via the internet. We are developing a website where the kids will be able to follow us by satellite. When we get into the particular harbors, we will focus on a story, an unsung hero there.

I have a great story of a man from Lisbon who during WWII was an aristocrat, who found literally thousands of Jews trying to escape Portugal. The President of Portugal had told all the Portuguese officials that they would not be allowed to sign any visas to get anyone out of the country.

His name was Dr. Mendez. As the story goes, he went to bed for three days, he was totally grief-stricken over all these people who he knew eventually would lose their lives. On the third day, he went down to the harbor to decide what to do. He was going to have to meet God at some point in his life and would rather meet him on the terms of saving people's lives. He went down to the harbor and signed 30,000 visas and literally helped these people get on ships to North America between in 1942-43.

I was looking for a story because this is part of what I am doing,--research to find these unsung heroes. I was invited to an event that the History Channel was having at Holy Name Cathedral. Half the people there were Jewish and half the people there were Catholic and other Christians.

When I got there, I couldn't believe what I saw. There was the story that I was looking for. Actually, there were four stories from four different countries. I got to meet the youngest son of Dr. Mendez who is now 79-years old and lives in San Francisco. His son supplied me with a tremendous amount of information. The Portuguese government has finally decided as of November, that they had made a big mistake. His father died in poverty leaving fourteen children. He died in an old folk's home all by himself because his name was destroyed. The Portuguese government finally gave him his family home back. Now, they have this mansion but no money to fix it up. Dr. Mendez and his son have asked me if I would help them to restore this home and help make it a museum for peace.

We want to engage kids in the peace process to write action plans and be a part in their own backyards by lobbying Washington, or building a peace garden, or writing a rap song. We don't really care what. We want to engage kids in positive actions so that they don't feel powerless-that's really our goal. Beyond that, we want to help raise money to leave behind in each country some symbol of peace. We have a lot of work to do; that's why I don't get much sleep.

Al: Do you and your husband ever see each other on the airplane?
Jeannette: Randy is amazing. He knows that this has become more than just what I am doing; it is who I am-it's my identity. He gives me 100% support. We are like ships that pass in the night. We have had that occasion happen, but I'm generally going to New York, Los Angeles, or Europe, and he is generally going to Canada. He is home usually three or four nights a week. We have a good life. We support each other in every aspect of our careers.

Al: What would you like your epitaph to be on your tombstone?
Jeannette: I have actually given that some thought. Bruce Lee wrote once, "Here lies a person of perseverance and patience, because patience is not passive, the concentrated strengths." I really believe that is so true. Anytime that I feel my patience is waning, I created a mountain and now I have to climb it. I totally disconnect from the outcome and focus on the plan. Then I let go, and I believe that it is going to come back.

Al: How affected are you by Eastern thought?
Jeannette: I have never studied Buddhism or any type of eastern religion. I have been to Thailand and felt extremely comfortable going the temple at 5:30 in the morning. I use to hang out with the monks. I believe that I am drawn to people who try to nurture their inside first-their heart, their soul, their mind, and then begin to reach out to get the other things that they need in life. I have always been drawn to that sort of philosophy. Then everything else will take care of itself.

My friend, Bill Dorgef, wrote the book after letting go. He was an orthopedic surgeon and decided he wanted to be a photographer. He went to Tibet to setup his camera in the Himalayas. He was going to photograph. While he was in the process of letting go of money and everything else, he met these amazing people. The people would just come up to him. Many of them had never seen a camera or a Westerner. He took Polaroid shots of them and gave them the pictures. They would go show them in their little tents. They would come back, bring two more people, and then he would photograph them. The Dali Lama heard that he was doing this and invited Bill to come and visit him in India. His book is entitled The Gift. What he found was that he got everything.

I was in Steven Segal's house last year at a party. I went into the living room and there the Dalai Lama was sitting. I didn't know what to do; I was in total awe. The same thing happen when I first met Paul McCartney. He reached out, took my hand, and held it through the entire conversation. I had no idea why. I was fourteen all over again! I couldn't believe it. After he left, someone told me that they knew Linda and that I had the same mannerisms. But, he is also a very spiritual guy, and we connected. Energy is conspiring in our favor.

Al: This has been a fascinating interview. I would like to end it with Gene Siskel's favorite question when he interviewed people. What is your favorite movie?

Jeannette: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Al: Second favorite movie?

Jeannette: Gladiator.

Al: Who is your favorite painter?

Jeannette: Gauguin.

Al: I'll bring you back one of his paintings like Ia Orana Maria when I go to Tahiti. Who is your favorite writer?
Jeannette: I tend to read so much its hard for me to narrow it down, but I'm reading an amazing book right now by Tim Sanders, who is the CSO of Yahoo. The book, Love is the Killer App, is about caring about the people you work with and treating them that way. If you do, you will end up on the good side of everything. He is an amazing man and is very generous. He came to speak in Chicago and donated the royalties from his book to charity. I also love Maya Angelou poetry. She gave me one of her books of poetry, which she signed for me. Maya said, "Love is a condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows one to survive and better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style." I really believe that.

Al: I really appreciate your sharing time and your vision that you have for children of the world. I was going to wish you good luck, but with your imagination and the world conspiring for you, you don't need good luck. I hope that this interview will open more doors for you and your organization.

Jeannette: Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story to your readers.

To get in touch with Jeannette:
sponsorKIDS Charities
411 West Ontario Suite 719
Chicago, IL 60610
312.573.1115 fax