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West Orange Times & Observer Monday, Jul. 9, 2018 4 months ago

Winter Garden resident creates nonprofit in honor of his brother

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Inspired by the life of his brother, Winter Garden resident Peter Cook founded a nonprofit named Largest Heart.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

With a yellow bracelet that reads, “What Would Andrew Do?,” Peter Cook, a Winter Garden resident and founder of the nonprofit Largest Heart, does exactly that: What Andrew would do.

Andrew Michael Cook, Peter Cook’s brother, died in Chile at 39 years old in January 2017. Andrew was well-known for having lived a life full of compassion for others and volunteerism, Cook said.

According to Andrew’s obituary, he worked with religious leaders in New York City to improve interfaith relations, served as a counselor to high-school students from war-torn Cyprus, volunteered for the American Red Cross and launched a “pay-it-forward” project to spur volunteerism in Chile, where Andrew had lived for nine years.

However, Cook was unaware of just how loved by the community his brother was until he attended his funeral and heard the stories — stories that both touched and inspired him, as they demonstrated just how large his brother’s heart was.

Following his brother’s death, Cook decided to do something to continue his brother’s legacy of volunteerism and came up with the concept of his nonprofit, Largest Heart. 

“When I started diving into this, I realized how bad things really are,” Cook said. “After my brother’s death, and just seeing how he lived, changed my life. Before, I was very all about me and building my empire. And just after seeing how he lived and how he paid it forward and how he treated other people — I’ve never seen anything like it. My life was never the same again. He inspired me to make a difference in people’s lives and inspire change and to spread hope, love and knowledge. That’s what our mission is all about.”

HOW IT WORKS

The nonprofit’s site, which went live about five weeks ago, allows visitors to donate money, nominate a cause, vote for a cause via an online poll for which they believe donations should be used, and purchase merchandise, such as T-shirts and tote bags. 

Once a poll ends, the winning cause receives all funding dollars. Largest Heart works with Charity Navigator to identify the top 10 participating nonprofits in the winning cause, and people then vote on the best three. Ninety percent of all proceeds are then donated to those three organizations.

“It’s a nonprofit without a cause,” Cook said. “It’s based on the wisdom of the crowd — group thinking (and) the whole idea is that it takes a village to raise a child. We need to determine what the greatest needs are, so let’s identify a cause and let's identify the best three nonprofits to solve it. 

“And in return for the money that we give them, we receive their best practices, a case study and they mentor another nonprofit,” he said. “I mean, if they’re awesome then let’s pull somebody else up and make them awesome too. It’s about paying it forward.”

Cook, who comes from a business background, said he never foresaw himself leading a nonprofit organization and has been learning as he goes. He decided to take an innovative business approach when coming up with the concept of Largest Heart to make sure other nonprofits also benefit.

To do that, Cook collects the best practices and case studies from the three nonprofits who receive money from Largest Heart. He then shares the information with other nonprofits tackling similar causes.

“Most nonprofits are really small,” he said. “So the question is, ‘How can you maximize your resources and why don't you partner with other small nonprofits fighting the same thing?’ If I can provide them with the best practices and case studies that show them how to do things better, that’s going to help them operate more efficiently and help more people. And that’s ultimately the goal.”

When asked what he believed his brother would think if he could see what Cook has recently accomplished, Cook said his brother would likely urge him to continue.

“He’d say, ‘Continue to be the change you want to see in the world,’” Cook said. “Gandhi inspired my brother, and Andrew believed that if you had love in your heart, you’ll always do the right thing.”

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers.┬áHave a┬ástory tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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