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.