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.