Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye 2011. What I Will Change in 2012?

On this, the next to last day of 2011, I’m looking back as well as forward to see what I might do differently in 2012.  I heard on the radio yesterday that losing weight is not in the top three for resolutions any more.  Instead reading more, traveling more, and volunteering more are the new top resolutions.

Well, since I’m halfway through writing my own book and just got a Kindle for Christmas, I’d have to agree with the first one.  I also love to travel and have visited nine other countries and gone around the world.  I’d love to add more to that total.  But I think I’d change the last resolution slightly.
In 2011, I volunteered six hours a week for the American Cancer Society.  I ran in charity 5Ks.  I worked in a soup kitchen, sent items to soldiers and pajamas to orphans and donated to several charities. I helped lead an American Cancer Society Relay for Life team for my church and raised donations on my own.  I gave food and money to food banks. I sponsored a child in Africa and sent Christmas presents to a local child and one in Russia.

Because I do a Facebook page on volunteering and charities and write this blog and my Heart to Heart one for Working Mother magazine online, I know of myriad volunteer opportunities and ways to help others. So many wonderful organizations are out there that are making a difference in our world.
Knowing all that, what would I do differently? I always want to be open to helping others and I also want my family to do the same.  I’d like to get my son involved in doing some 5Ks with me and more charitable work. I’d like to do more together as a family. Don’t get me wrong, my son has helped me do some of the things I mentioned above and my husband has his own things he does as well.

But honestly, my son would rather watch TV than walk the dog. He’s also very shy when it comes to meeting new people. I think volunteering together to help other people would help him with that and he certainly could use the exercise as well. I always like to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupery that "when you give yourself, you receive more than you give."
I’ve actually tried to do this some already. I wanted us to help at a food kitchen together at Christmas time and called our local one to volunteer. They were already booked. What a nice problem to have!   

A couple years ago, my son and I talked about running together and he agreed to give it a try.  But by the time he gets home from school, it’s so late that I am tired and don’t want to run.  The same goes for him.  For a while, we were walking the dog regularly, but then we drifted away from even that.
With daylight savings time, there’s little light left once we get home, too.  We’ve got to get out immediately and walk or jog. So there it is. How can I make sure to do something that’s good for me and can also lead to helping others through charitable 5Ks? I’d love to hear your suggestions and comments.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Experience Will Tell

I’m fighting a cold today and definitely feeling under the weather so my blog will be shorter than usual.  I read somewhere once that people enjoy and remember experiences more than gifts.  It makes sense. I will have forgotten who gave me a scarf for Christmas three years ago, but I won’t forget when my husband and I went parasailing last summer.

So I’m about to share a great place you can buy one of a kind experiences.  I couldn’t end the giving season of the year without mentioning CharityBuzz.  Now, you can give an exciting experience to your loved one that cannot be found in any store.  The great thing about it is that the money you spend on the experience will also go to a charity.

What kind of experiences are available? Meet and greets with celebrities and sports figures, trips of a lifetime, concerts, cooking classes and  consultations with a professional life coach or famous designer are just a few of the items up for bid. It’s all done in an auction format.  Items are also for sale such as memorabilia and art.

Celebrities featured in the past include Lady Gaga, Barbara Streisand, Snoop Dogg, President Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, Ashton Kutcher, Yankee baseball player Curtis Granderson, Jennifer Lopez and more.

Right now for New Year’s there is an auction to fly in a private jet to Las Vegas to ring in 2012 with Fergie at the 1 OAK Nightclub.  There are also 2 tickets available to see the Giants versus the Cowboys on New Year’s Day.

The person or group offering these experiences and items have chosen a charity for the proceeds.  You get the experience of a lifetime and the charity benefits. Great Britain has a similar site called mycharitywins.

What a Christmas gift, New Year’s experience or birthday present to astonish a friend or family member!  I hope everyone has a lovely and wonderful holiday and enjoys the experience of spending it with family and friends. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Last Minute Gifts That Don’t Require Shipping

Christmas is getting closer but it’s not too late to do something to make a difference this holiday.  The unique items below can be given with the best intentions—to help others.  You can also send the notice of the present by email or in many cases, you can print out your own card to hand to your friend or family member. 

Sight for the Blind in Nepal from Alternative Gifts International- $110 pays for lens implant surgery for one person or $33 pays for equipment, training, or outreach for an eye care clinic.

Soccer Ball for Needy Children from Compassion International - $13 pays for soccer balls and sport camps for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play. 
A llama from Heifer International – A share is $20 while a whole llama is $150.  Heifer provides all kinds of animals from chicks to water buffalo to families that can use them to generate income and useful resources for the family.

Crickets from Mercy Corps International – for $33, they provide a meal for chickens and a small business for a family in need.
Tools from Oxfam American Unwrapped – for $25 you can provide tools for rebuilding communities around the world.

Mosquito Nets for a Family from Plan International  -  for $30 you can save a family of seven from mosquito-transmitted malaria, the number one killer of children under five all over Africa.
Warm Blankets from International Rescue Committee - $84 to provide blankets and comfort to families who have lost their homes due to natural disaster.

Books for Children from Trees for Life International – from $5 to $100 you can provide 1 to 20 books for children in their native language.
Small Business Loan from World Vision International – for $100 you can help an impoverished woman start or expand her business so she can feed, clothe and educate her children. The loans are repaid and then used to provide new loans to others.

Good Card or Tis Best Card (any amount) – If you can’t decide what to get, then let the recipient decide.  You pay for the value on the card and the recipient chooses a charity to which it will be donated.
Happy last minute shopping!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Slaves In Our Midst

I’m reading a book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  It’s about women the world around being stolen, raped, trafficked and abused.  It’s also about their successes getting free from their captors, getting an education and turning their situations around. It’s a very inspiring book.

The United Nations International Labour Organization reports that at least 12.3 million people around the world are slaves.  Other nonprofit groups like Free the Slaves say that there are 27 million slaves in the world. Last Friday was the United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, marking the date in 1949 when the UN adopted a resolution for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

The UN explains the different types of slavery like this. “Forced labour takes different forms, including debt bondage, trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. The victims are the most vulnerable – women and girls forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers kept there by clearly illegal tactics and paid little or nothing.”

Some of those slaves are children and the UN estimates that around 215 million children around the world work. Of those, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities including drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.

Women or children that try to break free from their situations are beaten or otherwise abused.  The ones in Half the Sky who make it out are helped by compassionate individuals often with the help of charities like Free the Slaves.   

Sometimes the women are given drugs so they’ll be compliant in having sex with their customers. Then if they run away or are rescued, they have to overcome addictions to the drugs.  Their families may reject them because of the work they’ve done or because the pimps may come after them and try to get the girl back especially if they have paid something for her. The girls are often rejected by other men because of what they’ve done so they must get vocational training or education to do something to support themselves. It’s a difficult and perplexing problem. 

One of the charities that is working to solve this problem in the United States is Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) out of New York.  It provides crisis care, court advocacy, transitional housing and educational support to women, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.  Meant for More Apparel is supporting GEMS through December 11 with a 20 percent donation of profits to GEMS.  GEMS also has its own shop.

Made by Survivors also has a shop of items for sale that are created by survivors of slavery at shelters around the world.  Made by Survivors currently pays for 200 child survivors and children born into brothel communities to attend school. If you want to see what these brothel communities are like through the eyes of children, you can watch an Academy Award winning video about the red light district of Calcutta.     

Learning about these situations is heartbreaking, but it’s not the end.  People like Kevin Bales and Peggy Callahan who founded Free the Slaves and Rachel Lloyd who was commercially sexually exploited as a teenager and founded GEMS provide opportunities for everyone to make a difference.

Friday, December 2, 2011

World AIDS Day

Because this blog comes out on Friday, I wasn’t able to write about World AIDS Day on the actual day, which was yesterday.  But fighting AIDS isn’t a one day event.  This is the 30th year since AIDS was discovered. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, two million of which are children.
Some of the organizations that fight AIDS on a daily basis are:

AIDS United
America Social Health Association
Bailey House
Elton John AIDS Foundation
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation
Keep A Child Alive
Project Hope

The theme for World AIDS Day this year is 'Getting to Zero.'  That stands for zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. If you want to be a part of doing that, you can do something tangible by donating to the 2015 AIDS quilt.  It includes more than 94,000 names of people who have donated and created a panel for the largest ongoing community art project in the world.
As an added benefit, you will get to download one of six Christmas songs created by The Killers for donating. The goal of the quilt is to provide treatment to the millions more who need it, drastically reduce new infections, and virtually end the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies by 2015.  

Another easy way to support foundations that fight AIDS is to buy products through RED. From Apple Ipad covers to red canvas Chuck Taylor Converse shoes, you can purchase items for which a percentage goes to the global fund to eliminate AIDS. 

For more of a challenge, people in Chicago, Houston, D.C. and Los Angeles can train to do an endurance event and raise funds while they do as part of the Team to End Aids.
You can also do the Avert AIDS Challenge on Facebook and share how you did with your friends. You will learn some things about AIDS and encourage others to do the same.

Whatever you feel about AIDS, it is a devastating disease and the more we know about it, the better we can take steps to prevent its transmission. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Making a Difference in 2011

I write about a lot of volunteering days and another one is coming up December 5—International Volunteer Day.  This one has been sponsored by the United Nations since 1985 and 2011 is the ten year anniversary of the year of the volunteer in 2001. 

The UN General Assembly will be discussing volunteerism between now and December 5 and you can listen to and chime in on their discussions here.  There’s also a photo contest to show how volunteering can help countries meet peace and development goals.
November 19 was also National Family Volunteering Day. But none of these volunteering days means a thing if they are not celebrated in the spirit of volunteerism, by doing something to help others.

So, on the Wednesday before National Family Volunteering Day, my son and I went shopping.  We bought sunscreen, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, razors, dental floss, candy canes, summer sausage logs and crackers for a group of 800 Army soldiers in Afghanistan. The unit we bought these items for is also equipping a school for local children, so we purchased pencils, crayons, pens, coloring books, pencil sharpeners and erasers for the children.  Then on November 19, we packed everything up and mailed it to Afghanistan.

It just so happens that we also made a delivery of non perishable items to the local food bank that day.  A friend and I had celebrated our 11/11/11 birthday together and asked people to bring a nonperishable item or cash donation in lieu of gifts.  They were preparing a meal for the homeless when we dropped the food items off.  I mailed the cash donations to another food bank on Monday.

What will you be doing to help others before the year is over?  Opportunities to buy presents for others and to give your time to organize charity events and programs abound this time of year. It’s a great way to teach your children that helping others is important if you have a family and a great way to connect with others yourself if you don’t.
This year you can start a new tradition—a holiday tradition to help others—like serving dinner at Thanksgiving to the homeless, attending an annual Christmas fundraising event or choosing a child to sponsor through Operation Christmas Child, Toys for Tots or your local church.  I’ve even seen grocery stores exhibit angel trees where you can sponsor a local child.

One of the best places to get on board the gangway to charity events is Charity Happenings.  This site has charity events around the country and throughout the year.  If you’re looking for a charity athletic event like a walk, run or ride, try FirstGiving.

Another great source for ideas of things to do is VolunteerGuide.  I particularly like this site because it breaks down ideas into three categories—a few minutes, a few hours or several days on a volunteer vacation.  Then, the ideas are separated into types of volunteering from poverty, children’s issues, animal welfare, community development and environment to health and safety.  You can choose what you want to do and how much time you have to give to it.
These are just a few resources, but there are many more.  I'd love to hear what you do to make a difference this time of year or any time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

2011 Alternative Gift Options: 17 Shopping Websites for Charitable Gifts

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up quickly, I thought I’d provide a few shopping resources for the conscientious charitable shopper. Here is a list of places you can buy gifts that give in more than one way.  These gifts make the receiver smile, help someone in need and give you a good feeling inside.  

Gifts That Give to Charities

A number of companies now give a set amount or percentage of the sale to a charity when you purchase goods from them.  It’s an easy way to get a product that you would normally buy while also giving to a good cause. – has put together a list of gifts which give a portion of the proceeds to different charities including products from Ralph Lauren, LaCoste and Clarins
Gifts that Give – designer products you can buy where 20 percent of proceeds go to charity
Gifts That Give More from the Hunger Site – buy a wide variety of items from around the world and food goes to the hungry
Shop For Good – items from well known companies ranging from Barnes & Noble to Walmart that donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity
Christmas Cards and Other Items

Many charities offer Christmas cards, ornaments and the like to raise money for themselves. Cards are probably the most popular items from these charities, but click over to their sites and you’ll find a lot more for sale.
Cards for Causes – provides 20 percent of the cost of holiday, business and other cards to a charity of your choice.
CardsThat Give provides a list of and links to charities that sell greeting cards and other Christmas items

Choose Your Charity Gift Cards

Want to give a charitable gift in someone’s name but you’re not sure which charity they’d support?  Buy a gift card for them and let them choose the charity.

The Good Card – $5 fee above the charitable donation covers shipping and other processing fees so whatever you give on the card all goes to the charity. Card expires six months from purchase.
Tis Best Gift Card  - has no shipping costs and allows you to download your own image onto the card, but does have a $1.49 cost if you send a plastic card instead of emailing or printing your own. The charity receives the entire amount on the card, less a $1.95 transaction fee and three percent credit card processor fee.

Teach a Man to Fish Gifts
If you want to provide education, livestock, medical care, water or other things that help people in poverty around the world become independent, these organizations are for you.  Most companies offer a card or description of your purchase so that you can give a gift in someone’s name and send them a card that describes the gift and thanks them for it.
Alternative Gifts International
Compassion International
Heifer International
Mercy Corps gifts
Oxfam America Unwrapped
Plan International
Save the Children
Trees for Life International
World Vision International

If you don’t do much shopping online, there’s another way you can help charities while you are out finding special deals on Black Friday.  While you’re shopping in stores, you can earn kicks™ from Shopkick which can be donated to 30 different causes. It’s an app available from Android or Apple.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Movember Month and Military Day

This month is a phenomenon in men’s health known as Movember. It’s all about sporting a Mo (mustache) and growing it to great lengths while you shun shaving for the month. At the end of the month, you can show your Mo at a Mo Party.

In the meantime, you can share why you are growing your facial hair and why else? To support men’s health.  The Movember site has tons of information about men’s health, prostate cancer and testicular cancer as well as health resources for men.

While growing your Mo, you can also raise money to support research on cancers that affect men such as prostate cancer.  The funds go to programs run by Movember and its partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

You can create an online page to which people can contribute for your Mo growth. Movember offers prizes for the teams with the best Mo page, the team and individual that raises the most money and also has random prizes for those that raise smaller amounts.

Before you start thinking this is just a men’s thing, I have to tell you that the Mo Bros are joined by Mo Sistas, too, and they can win their own prizes for fundraising.

Movember is an international event, having begun in Australia and grown to include Mo Bros and Mo Sistas from Russia to Antarctica.  At each of the Gala Part├ęs, a man of Movember will be chosen and will then be in the running for International Man of Movember who gets two travel experiences, including an 11 day tour of Vietnam. 

Istock photos is getting in on the Movember train by matching donations to the iStache team up to $10,000 and doing crazy contests on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

I haven’t forgotten that today is Veteran’s Day as well. I just didn’t want to put off the blog on Movember any longer for those men who want to start growing their Mo’s today. 

I recently joined and found out that they are behind on their fundraising this year.  One of the ways you can honor soldiers is to send a donation their way.  They also provide lists of soldier requests for books and magazines, but you have to complete a form and send it in to get access.

I’ll just mention a few ways you can help soldiers and honor veterans, but the best site I have come across for veteran and soldier support is’s Support Our Troops. The site lists just about every program that’s out there so you just need to choose which one interests you the most.

I’ve also mentioned in my website’s “Today’s Ways to Help” that Polish-made Sobieski Vodka will contribute to the Fisher House each time you buy a bottle of their vodka up to $250,000 over the next year ending September 1. The Fisher House provides housing for military families when their loved ones are recovering in a military hospital.

So, don’t forget our military and also men’s health in Movember!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Me, Myself and Why

As my first blog for my own website, I felt I should explain a little bit about how I got to this point. Since August of 2010, I have been blogging about volunteering and charity work for Working Mother Magazine’s website. I call it the Heart to Heart blog because I believe that helping others is a heart matter. When we help others, we connect hearts.

We may never see the fruit of our heart work, but it is there in the heart of the recipient.  That is why I chose to call this blog Helping Hearts. We are hearts that help other hearts when we reach out to others through volunteer or charity work.
I am a writer who has written for newspapers, websites and magazines since 2002, but I found that there was a particular type of article I was writing that I felt was more important than the others, that had more meaning.  I was writing features about teachers, volunteers and other inspiring people who gave of themselves without expecting a payback.

They reminded me of how I wanted to live my life.  I had always sought to be a helpful person and to give whenever I was asked so far as I could. As a Christian, I deeply felt that I should also reach out and help other people. I had done a lot of things—feed people at homeless shelters, do Sunday worship for inmates at a jail, sponsor a child in a third world country. 
When I was first teaching, my mentor teacher was always willing to help and I took on her philosophy that I should always offer to help.  It became kind of a mantra for me, but after having a baby and two major sicknesses, I had pulled back from helping others somewhat. 

You see, it’s easy to become cynical about helping others.  It’s easy to see the homeless man take your money and go to a bar and think, “I won’t do that again.” Maybe you shouldn’t.  Maybe you should offer food the next time. But that shouldn’t stop you from feeling compassion. I think our hearts get hardened sometimes by experiences in our lives and we may pull back from those less fortunate than ourselves. We may even think they did it to themselves somehow. 
But who wants to be helpless?  The cancer patient feels helpless; the homeless man feels helpless; the wounded soldier feels helpless; the foster child feels helpless.  We all have times when we feel helpless ourselves so we know how scary it can be.  We also know people who have gotten us through those times by being there for us. We need to be there for other people, too. 

That’s what this blog is about—helping other hearts.  When you see or hear about someone in need, it should pull on your heart. That’s the way God wants us to feel.  When we get too hard to feel for others, we’ve lost something very dear.  There are many easy and cost-free ways to help others and I share those on my website and will in this blog, but it’s also important to give something more significant sometimes, to give of yourself so you can reap the reward of knowing you truly made a life-changing difference.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My website is live and this Friday I will post my first Helping Hearts blog post. Until then, you can check out my other blog for Working Mother Magazine. It's called Heart to Heart and is about easy ways for families to volunteer, donate to charities and help others. If you want to contact me, my email is Thank you for all of your patience waiting for my new blog and remember:

"When you give yourself, you receive more than you give." Antoine De Saint-Exupery