Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Week 13: American Diabetes Association

This week's charity was not exactly chosen by me.  I have a relative who is biking in the Tour de Cure and I wanted to support his efforts.  The more I learned about the cause, the happier I was that he had chosen this particular event to stretch his legs in.

Diabetes is one of those diseases I am always surprised that we haven't cured yet.  It's been around forever, and we have pretty much known what is not working in the body for ages, and yet, they have not yet figured out how to actually fix the insulin regulatory system when it decides to stop working properly.  I think that part of the problem is that many people think as I do, "Oh, it's totally treatable now.  All you need is an insulin pump or something and you are just fine."  While it's true that diabetics can live very normal lives, this is not a disease you can ever forget that you are living with.

I would love to see a cure for diabetes in my lifetime so that no child will ever again be sentenced to a lifelong battle with every scrap of food she eats or every exertion she chooses to make.  Not to mention, on a purely selfish note, that I run a slightly higher than average risk of developing pre-diabetic or diabetic issues as I age.  I'd really like you guys to fix this problem before it starts affecting me, OK?

Week 12: The Trevor Project

Teenaged years were quite a while ago for me., (OK, that's an understatement!)  but I still remember the emotional turmoil as my brain and hormones and body all transitioned from childhood to adult-state.   I had a fairly benign experience, but even so, it was not a walk in the park. It's a really difficult time for anybody and when you add additional stressors, such as questions about one's own sexuality, difficult home life and bullying at school, it can make this transition almost impossible to navigate for some.  And so, some teens take what they see as the only way out of this madness and make the decision to end their lives.

Looking back, from the vantage point of an adult, it's easy to see that many of these problems will work themselves out over time and it truly will get better, but for teens in the middle of the emotional storm, that bright future is often impossible to envision.  This week's donation is going to an organization that is trying to guide kids like this through this difficult transition and see them safely on the other side.

The Trevor Project not only provides counseling to at-risk LGBTQ youth, but also helps them find local resources so they can build support systems and develop life skills that will help them cope with the challenges they are facing today and those they will encounter throughout their lives.  It's not only a cause I support, but this is also an organization that is effectively working toward these goals.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bonus Charities: Disaster Relief

As I've mentioned before, the goal of this blog is to find 52 new charities to support, but I did want to draw attention to some other organizations that do great work in the area of disaster relief, as long as we are on the topic:

  • American Red Cross: I spent many years as a local volunteer for the ARC and saw first hand how they help families in need.  One thing I really like about them is that they respond to all disasters.  Not just the big ones that make the nightly news reports, but they will show up in the middle of the night for anything, even as small as a single family fire.  
  • Philippine Red Cross: When Typhoon Yolanda devastated the islands of the Philippines, we wanted to send assistance to a group we knew would be working with local vendors and suppliers to provide disaster supplies.  Buying locally after a disaster is doubly beneficial to a community.  Firstly, it makes sure the assistance gets the the victims as quickly as possible and secondly, it helps to pump money into the local economy, which has been just as affected as the citizens,
  • Habitat for Humanity:  While the Red Cross is great at trying to provide immediate aide to disaster victims, a long term solution is also needed for people who have lost their homes and this is where Habitat for Humanity comes in.  They have been building homes for people in need, both domestically and internationally, for decades and they almost have it down to a science.
One final note on donating to big charities that do a lot of work in different areas, (this applies to any big organization, not just disaster relief).  In general, I've found it best not to specify a particular cause, but rather mark your donation "wherever it is needed most" and let the people who know the situation on the ground decide whether to send it here or there.  Often what happens is some disaster or cause will get a lot of press and attention and donations will pour in for those people in need, but other people, who have just as great a need (or even greater) but who don't get the press attention, are left out in the cold.  Literally.

One group that is working to find a solution to this issue (and a group that we have donated to in the past) Center for Disaster Philanthropy.  They work with donors and NGOs to try to develop strategies for disaster philanthropy that will provide aid where it can do the most good.

Week 11: ShelterBox

Whew!  I am really far behind.  As I type this up, we are actually in week 21, so I am going to try to churn out a flurry of entries quickly.

One thing about living in earthquake country: it does tend to make you think about what would happen if (when!) the big one finally hits.  Natural disasters are not just for us folks in paradise however, they can and do strike all over the nation and the world.  Often they come with no warning, but even a few hours of warning isn't much help when your whole house is leveled (or flooded, or engulfed in flames).  In the immediate aftermath of a natural (or unnatural) disaster, people's needs are reduced to the basics: food, water, shelter from the elements.  It's providing that last element that ShelterBox specializes in.

Their goal is to deliver a kit that can be used by a family of four to provide basic shelter in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.  The standard box contains a tent, tarps and blankets, a small cook stove, a water purification system, a set of hand tools and some small toys for the kids.  It's all packaged in a large waterproof box that can be repurposed as well.  The contents of this box will be modified and customized for each disaster response with the goal of providing materials that are truly needed on the ground.  All told, it costs about $1000 per box to stock and deliver it to the disaster site.

Although I am not donating enough for an entire box this week, I feel confident my donation will at least help stock some of the elements in a box that will brighten the world of someone who is going through a pretty dark time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Week 10: International Rescue Committee

In the past three years, Syria has been undergoing a civil war which has had a devastating effect on the civilian population, in particular the children.  Over 5 million children have been affected: injured, killed, lost friends and family members, lost their homes and schools, and been displaced to refugee camps.  This video from Save The Children gives you an idea of how this sort of turmoil can have a devastating effect on these children.

I couldn't watch that without wanting to help, but since Save The Children was a charity we had recently donated to, I went looking for others that are working to improve the lives of these kids.  I found this article that mentions several options and I picked International Rescue Committee, for their assistance to the refugees and for their very high rating on Charity Navigator.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Week 9: American Brain Tumor Association

I can count on one hand the number of people I know living with diabetes or who are paralyzed or who have MS(all conditions that are unfortunately common) and yet, I need two hands to count friends (or friends of friends) and relatives (near and distant) who have suffered and, most often, died from brain tumors.  I don't know why I have encountered so many people with this affliction, but I figured maybe I should try to do something about that.

I wanted to find an organization that is not just helping current patients, but trying to change the situation for future patients as well.  So I did a bit of research (it's not googling, it's research!!!) and I found an organization that is funding research into finding treatment and cures for these conditions: American Brain Tumor Association.  I don't know how long it will take to find a cure or even an effective treatment.  This organization has been working on this for over 40 years, but I do know that they have been making progress and someone who is diagnosed today has much better treatment options than even those who were diagnosed 10 years ago.

They are in this fight for the long haul and for this week, I am there with them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Week 8: Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

I grew up watching Michael J. Fox on TV and in movies.  I never wrote him letters or joined his fan club, but I always loosely followed his career.   He was about my age and he seems like he is a really grounded and decent guy with a great family and circle of friends and I always rooted for his success, even when his work wasn't quite up to standards.   (Bright Lights Big City?  Dude, what were you thinking???)

I think it was the fact that we are roughly the same age that made his diagnosis of Parkinson's seem so tragic.  I couldn't imagine dealing with such a life-altering event at my age, and I was so impressed that he took that challenge in stride and has used it as an opportunity to improve the world.  His charity, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, has raised an incredible amount of money and, as far as I can tell, has spent it wisely in the attempt to find better treatments and even a cure.

From a purely selfish point, I know that the chances of me, or someone I love, developing Parkinson's disease is pretty high.  Those chances increase as we all age and I would love to believe that there could actually be a cure by the time that day arrives.  For all those reasons, this week's donation is going to an entertaining voice from my childhood: Marty McFly.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bonus Charity: Polaris Project

While we are on the subject of human trafficking and slavery, I wanted to mention another charity.  This is one that we have donated to in the recent past, so it doesn't really count as one of the 52 new charities I want to highlight in this blog, but they do very good work and shouldn't be overlooked.  The Polaris Project has been working for over a decade to end human trafficking in the United States and globally.

Lest you think this is a problem only developing countries face, you should know that human trafficking was reported in each and every one of the fifty US states last year.  It could very well be that  just down the street from where you live or work, there are people held against their will and forced into the sex trade or other labor.  If you ever see signs of such a situation, call the Polaris Project's hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.   You can report your suspicions anonymously and it will be forwarded to social service providers and/or law enforcement officials, as appropriate.

Week 7: International Justice Mission

Slavery.  It's a really ugly word and yet it is a far too accurate one that describes the daily living condition of millions of people in the world today.  It is a concept so horrific and grotesque that I don't even want to confront the reality.  This post has been so hard for me to write because every time I try to force myself to look at this issue, it's so disturbing that I find my attention skittering away to anything else, just so that I can pretend that human slavery has been resigned to the far distant past.

Fortunately, there are people in the world who aren't adherents to the ostrich approach that I favor.  These are people who are not only willing to confront this reality, but spend day in and day out working to rescue those who are living under oppression and to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

International Justice Mission has a worldwide team of lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals whose mission it is to rescue victims of violence and slavery, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide restitution and care for the victims.  They are kind of like super heroes who are lawyers by day.  Except this isn't a fantasy and they are using international law as their super power.  By donating, I'm kind of like the super hero sidekick.  Without the tights and cape.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Week 6: Donors Choose

I come from a family of teachers: my grandparents were teachers, my parents were teachers and while only one of my siblings went on to be a teacher, we all married teachers.  So I have witnessed first-hand my whole life how hard they work and I know how frustrating it can be when you are trying to do such a difficult job and you don't have access to the resources and tools you need to do that job properly.  I have also witnessed how much petty bureaucracy and red-tape and paperwork most teachers have to battle in order to get what they really need in the classroom, rather than what some administrator thinks they actually need.

This is why I am so drawn to this week's charity: Donors Choose.  This organization lets teachers request funds for specific programs and then lets donors choose which program to fund.  You know exactly where your donation is going and what that teacher is going to do with it.  You can browse all the various requests by geographic location or by subject type and you can refine your search by student age, school type and lots of other criteria.  If you really want to fund a set of left-handed scissors for a class in West Virginia, I bet you can find a teacher who needs those.

For me, the only difficulty was narrowing down my selection to a manageable list.  There were so many exciting projects I wish I could support.  It's great to feel like I am helping out in the classroom without having to actually BE in the classroom.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Week 5: Pacific Wildlife Care

Ask anyone who knows me and you will learn I am not exactly a fan of getting back to nature.  I have never gone backpacking.  Car camping or day hiking are activities I care to do once a year.  Maybe.  If I have to.  I prefer to observe nature through the window of a moving vehicle (car, train, boat, whatever, I'm not picky).  Nonetheless, I really like knowing that there are wild birds and animals out there doing their thing (however messy and disgusting that thing might be to witness).

Unfortunately, when wild animals come into contact with humans or human detritus, the animals usually come out worse for the encounter.  It's a dangerous world out there for birds, seabirds in particular  If they aren't being impaled by barbed wire or loose fishhooks, they are being hit by moving cars or entangled in fishing lines.  Worst of all is when they get caught in an oil spill and find themselves soaked in deadly petrochemicals.

Which is why I'm really glad there are organizations like Pacific Wildlife Care.  Their mission is to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife that is injured due to human interference.  They are situated near a bird sanctuary (in an absolutely beautiful part of coastal California) and so they unfortunately have no shortage of patients.

I think of it like a little bit of karmic balance for the human race.  It may take many man-hours and a hefty chunk of change to save one bird, but that bird wouldn't have been in distress if it hadn't been for human interference in the first place.  Every endangered bird facing a life threatening injury that they save and return to the wild is just one more out there doing that messy, disgusting thing that they live to do.

Week 4:

There are many factors that keep far too much of the world in poverty.  And lack of access to clean water is may be the most important one.  Disease and parasites spread more easily without clean water.  When families have to spend an inordinate amount of time obtaining food and water, children don't have the luxury of attending school and adults don't have any time to spend on anything more than basic survival.

But there is more to providing clean water than just digging a well and walking away.  Families need a safe way to transport that water from the well to the household or else it becomes contaminated en route.  Sewage systems need to be established lest the groundwater become contaminated from wastewater borne diseases.  And all these systems need to be serviced and maintained.

This is one of the things I really like about the organization that is my choice for this week's charity:  They are looking at questions more complicated than "how do we dig a well?" but rather trying to answer "how do we provide clean water to people for the rest of their lives?"  Not only are they asking these questions, but they are answering them.  With $25 they do exactly that: bring clean water to a single person for the rest of his life.  

So today I positively changed a few people's lives forever.  Pretty cool accomplishment considering I'm still in my pajamas.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week 3: National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS)

I've been fascinated by working dogs since I was a tween.  I don't have that much personal experience with them, but I have read countless autobiographies of people who have used assistance dogs for various disabilities and I know they can literally transform a person's life.  For a disabled person, having the ability to perform daily tasks without having to depend on another human can be empowering and liberating.  

I wanted to give to an assistance dog training group, but I didn't have any idea where to start.  I saw a mention of NEADS (also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) on some blog and liked what I saw when I checked out their web page.  They also got a great rating on Charity Navigator so that was enough to bump them to the top of my donations list.  

One of the things I most like about this organization is that they are not only providing assistance dogs that change the lives of their caregivers, but they are also changing the lives of their trainers.  Most of these dogs are trained by inmates at correctional facilities.  These programs improve the life skills of the inmates and allow them an opportunity to give back to the community.  The dogs get the benefit of intensive training that ensures they can graduate to working status as quickly as possible.  In addition, some of their dogs are rescued from shelters and so may be saved from euthanasia.   The disabled client gets a new loving companion and well-trained assistant.  It's a win-win-win situation.  

Week 2: South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund

In the first week of October 2013, an unseasonable blizzard struck the Black Hills of South Dakota.  This storm brought 24 inches of snowfall, winds up to 70 mph, and snow drifts up to 10 ft deep.  This area is littered with cattle ranches and most of those animals were still held in pastures.  Those pastures became slaughter yards as the cattle were buried in the snow and died of exposure or suffocation.

Many ranchers lost most or even all of their cattle or sheep herds.  It was a devastating blow to many small ranchers who couldn't afford insurance on their stock.  Stock that they were just days or weeks away from selling for the season.  Instead of reaping the rewards of an entire year's work, they were left with devastation.

I've never been a farmer or a rancher or have even lived in South Dakota, but I do like to eat.  In particular I like to eat beef and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the people who work long hard hours through all sorts of weather (including freak blizzards) and all so that I can pick up a neatly wrapped, tasty, and safe piece of meat in my local grocery store.

So for all those reasons, my second donation of the year has gone to the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund.

Week 1: Local Library

For the first charity of the year, I picked one that I really should have had on our recurring donations list, but I had never actually made a donation to before (unless you count all the money I've paid in overdue fines over the years): our local library.  I'm not including a link to our specific library association, because I'd like to encourage everyone out there to donate locally.  You can find your local library here.

I still remember how proud I was when I got my very first library card at the tender age of five (you had to be old enough to print your entire name by yourself).  I even remember one of the very first books I checked out  Although we soon moved away from that town, over the years, whenever I would move to a new place, one of the first things I would do was go down and get a new card at the local library.

Libraries provide so much more than books.  At most public libraries, you can check out music, audio books, and movies.  Some even have other items available for lending such as artworks, toys, cameras and tools.  Just pop in and ask and you'll be surprised at the resources available.  While you are there, you can sign up for a free class or seminar, hop on to a computer and surf the web, or go old school and read a print newspaper or magazine.  Look around and you will see kids working on their homework, seniors catching up on local news and people of all ages curled up with a book or engrossed in some esoteric research project.

Libraries truly are the heart of a community and the important services they provide can't be supported enough.

New Week, New Charity FAQ

What is this blog about?
So I had this idea.  Starting with the new year, I would find a new charity to donate to each week.   There are so many worthy causes out there and frankly we wanted to step up our annual donation level so this will force us to expand our horizons and discover new worthy causes.

Wow, what a brilliant idea!

I thought so.  So did some other random guy I've never met before.  Check out his blog.  He has done a much better job of starting and maintaining his than I have with mine (so far) but I do hope to give him a run for the money (no pun intended) throughout the year.

But didn't the New Year start weeks ago?
Yes.  Yes it did.  Anyone who knows me in real life, knows that I am not great with deadlines.  So before I knew it, we were three weeks into the year and although I actually had been making donations, I hadn't even started this blog.  Rather than beat myself up about that and just abandon the whole project, I've decided to make sure I'm really donating every week and post about each donation when I get the motivation and the time.  So don't expect posts to appear on a regular schedule, but there should be an average of one post a week (at least) by the end of the year.

How much are you donating each week?

It's possible that will change from week to week, but the idea was to have a minimum donation level for each week.  What that specific dollar amount is, I'd rather not say, but it's more than $25 and less than $500.  $25 per week adds up to $1300 by the end of the year and that is an amount that can make a big difference in the world.

How are you finding and vetting these charities?
I am trying to tap lots of different resources.  I have gotten suggestions from friends, family, news stories, and blogs.  In addition Give Well is a great resource for finding worthy causes I've never even heard of.  Before giving to any charity, I do check out their rating on Charity Navigator, GuideStar and Charity Watch.  Keep in mind that some (usually smaller) charities may not be listed in these databases, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing worthy work and making good use of the donations.  You just may have to dig a little more to find out about their operation.

What about charities you've supported in the past?

The whole idea was to find 52 new charities to support, so any charity that we've given to in the past doesn't count.  But since some of them are really worthy causes that we continue to support, I plan to post about those too, whenever we donate to them.

Are you taking suggestions for new charities?
Sure!  Leave a comment in a recent post if you have a suggestion.  

Any limitations on what kinds of charities you are considering?

For the purpose of this endeavor, I'm only donating to groups registered as 501c(3) organizations.  This means that some international, and all political causes will be left out.   I'm not making a value judgement.  Some of those organizations do great work that I support.  However, it does mean that donations are tax deductible, which can be handy if you itemize your US income tax return.

How helpful are one-time donations to a charity?
This question doesn't have an obvious answer.  On the one hand, more money coming in is always a good thing.  On the other, it's better for charities to have a consistent source of revenue year in and year out rather than one-time donations from donors who they never hear from again.  I really don't want these charities spending their resources trying to get follow-up donations from us in the future, because in many cases that is unlikely to happen.  These are causes I'm interested in supporting once, not long term.  As a result, I'm going to try to ask charities to remove my name and info from their donor lists whenever possible and I may just resort to making some of these donations anonymously.