Thrive. Connect. Contribute

17: Build Resilience, with Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes, 109 World

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes thought she would spend this year building her nonprofit. Instead, she is building her resilience. 

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes started 2020 with so much hope. “So many of us thought that 2020 was going to be THE year,” she says. She started the new year at a gathering in Vancouver. “I am not a New Year’s resolution person. But at the start of every year, I choose a word for that year. My word for 2020? BUILD.”

Leticia started her nonprofit 109 World five years ago. Like any startup, they have had their struggles. “For 2019, my word was FOCUS. That really helped 109. It felt like, in 2020, I was going to harvest all the fruits that I planted the previous year. In short, I thought the soil, the foundation was finally strong so I could start building my organization the way I always envisioned. That’s why my word for 2020 is ‘build.’”

109 World hosts retreats for people to renew themselves and to join in service projects. “What is self-care without a chance to put that into service in the world? On every 109 experience, we partner with local grassroots organizations. We positively impact communities and environments. Volunteering with them allows us to put our hands in the soil, break bread together, and truly gain perspective of our place in the world. In five years, we have supported over 400 alumni in adopting more sustainable and mindful ways of living.”

Past volunteer opportunities include clean drinking water projects, women and girls’ education, animal welfare, the refugee crisis, food security, and disaster relief. 109 World has partnered with over a dozen local grassroots organizations across 11 countries.

February of this year found Leticia visiting her family in Brazil. It was Carnival time. “Everybody was happy and looking forward to what 2020 had in store for all of us,” she remembers. “Coronavirus was not that big, that scary. It was not yet a global crisis.”

Entering Survival Mode

Then came Friday, March 6. The Coronavirus halted international travel.

“My phone had 22 WhatsApp messages, and seven missed calls. The 22 WhatsApp messages were follow-ups from 22 extremely rude emails in my inbox. People were freaking out that 109 World had not issued a statement about the pandemic. People wanted to know what our community should do.”

Community members had put down deposits. They wanted to know about refunds.

“I entered survival mode. I called my board to come up with an emergency plan.” With the board, Leticia decided to refund all deposits. She then called the hotels and other service providers, whom she had prepaid. Unfortunately, they were not willing to repay her.

Leticia spent the rest of the day on the phone with upset customers, assuring them that they would receive a refund.

Nearing Bankruptcy in Business and Life

“Giving the refunds, and not being able to get refunds ourselves, we only had one month of survival left.”

Leticia felt a sense of overwhelming fear. “I had palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness.” Her sister, who is a doctor, told Leticia, “I think you are having an anxiety attack.”

“I am someone whose work is to help people live a more mindful life. So, stress, anxiety, and business don’t continue to control their lives. And, for them to avoid burnout. Yet, here I am having my first anxiety attack. Honestly, I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I let my community down. I let my business down. And, I let myself down.”

Learn More About Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes and 109 World:

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes on Instagram:

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes on LinkedIn:

109 World:

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Donate to 109 World:

Chief Learning Officer
About the Author
Tony Loyd is a leadership development expert. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and coach. He helps purpose-driven business leaders to thrive so that they can connect with others and contribute to the world. Find out more at

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