Real Help for the Homeless

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Living in California for the last 20+ years, I see people who are homeless more than I ever have in my life.  As the weather gets bitter, I shudder when I think about men and women sleeping on cardboard in San Francisco. I’m also haunted by the growing number of homeless teens I see hanging out at a local gas station. And I know there are so many more….

It is not my imagination that there are more homeless people in the Golden State. Latest statistics show five states—California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts—accounted for more than half of the homeless population in the United States. This past year, according to US Department of Housing and Urban Development, California experienced the second-largest increase in the number of homeless people among 50 states.

The Face(s) of Homelessness

 

On any given night, the National Alliance to End Homelessness says nearly 579,000 Americans are homeless. Of that number, more than 362,000 are individuals, and over 216,000 are people in families.

While homeless young people are more transient and challenging to count, it’s currently estimated that about 50,000 youth in the United States sleep on the street for six months or more.

homeless-man-552571_pixabayIt’s hard not to look away from the homeless—in person, and in my heart. Whenever I’m asked for money or read a sign someone is holding at a light or freeway ramp, I get skeptical and wonder how they’d use any money I give.  So I pause.

The most recent data shows, in general, that the number of people sleeping in shelters and transitional housing is increasing.  This suggests communities and nonprofits are doing a better job getting people off the streets and under a roof. To me, that seems like a good place to start helping.

Three Ways to Make a Difference for Homeless People

Donate food and items.
The next time you’re in an area where you expect to see a homeless person, bring along an extra cup of coffee, sandwich, or a meal package with protein-rich foods like trail mix and beef jerky (the most sought-after food). If you have the time, take the homeless person to a nearby fast food restaurant to order the meal they want.

Contact your local shelters and ask what they need. (You can find one in your city here.) Are there specific food items they’re short on? Or are blankets, clothing, socks, band aids, lip balm, lotion, children’s toys or something else more in demand? Share the season’s spirit of giving; get your family involved in buying and dropping off a holiday care package.

Volunteer.
It’s easy to help prepare or serve a holiday meal at a local shelter or church this time of year. But volunteers are needed year round. What skills can you contribute? Consider volunteering on a regular basis, and offer to clean or help rehab buildings, design a website, provide accounting support, play with or tutor children, write resumes or help prepare a homeless person to interview for a job—depending on your talents. Access this directory to find an agency near you.

Give money.
One of the most direct ways to help the homeless is to give money. Donations to nonprofit organizations can go a long way:

  • At Front Steps, $25 takes care of basic hygiene needs. Donate now
  • With $60, the Covenant House gives a homeless child clean clothes and cozy bedding. Donate now
  • For $100, Big Sunday supplies 25 bags of everyday essentials for homeless people. Donate Now

For more charities helping the homeless, check out the JustGive Guide.

More Ways

These are a few ways to help the homeless—here’s a list of many more.

wanderer-814222_pixabayIf you’re not in a position to do any of these things, remember that a smile, kind word and respect go a long way. People who are homeless deserve our empathy.

As for me, I’m re-training myself not to ignore homelessness, and in any way I can, to help. Just as there are many reasons why people become homeless, I know there are just as many ways to start making things better.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Fundraisers: Put Charity on Your Holiday Wish List

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I’m very lucky. Every holiday season my mother asks me, “What’s on your Christmas list this year?” To her frustration, I never have a good answer, so she just grumbles that I’m really hard to shop for. Love you, Mom! 🙂

6319712130_7c3283a6b5_mBut this year, I do. I’ll let her know that donations to my favorite charities are on my wish list.

Then I’ll tell her about a new product we launched here at JustGive: fundraisers. Now, I can create an online fundraising page to raise money for charities I care about during the holidays (or any time of year). So in lieu of other gifts from friends and family, they can come to my fundraising page and make a donation instead. That’s what I really want.

Here’s the inside scoop

Creating a fundraising page just takes a few minutes, and you can create one for any cause or occasion, including a memorial fundraiser for a departed loved one, or one for your upcoming wedding.

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My favorite part about JustGive fundraisers is how you can customize them. You describe your fundraiser, select a color scheme, add a photo or video to it, choose the charity or charities you want to fundraise for (built-in search tools help too), and you’re done. In a matter of minutes, you’ll have a link to share with friends, inviting them to contribute.

You can even write a custom thank you message that gets sent to your donors, set a fundraising goal, and add an end date to drive immediate action. As the date draws closer and your donations tally increases, it may surprise you to see which friends and family members rally to get you to the finish. And you can log in anytime to see your online donations report and know who has given to your fundraiser.

New JustGive Guide offers recommended charities

As part of the Fundraisers launch, we also revamped our JustGive Charity Guide.

CharityGuideThe new JustGive Guide contains around 150 recommended charities organized by cause. These charities are nationally-based and meet IRS standards, address today’s key issues, and receive the most support from our donors. With about a dozen charities for each cause, the guide makes it easier and faster to find the organizations you want to help.

When it comes to selecting charities for your fundraiser, you‘ll find the new JustGive Guide under the “Browse by Cause” tab. It includes cause categories for Animals, Children, Education, Global Aid, Hunger and more.

Create a fundraiser today

mapI hope you’ll join me and set up a fundraiser this holiday season to support your favorite charities. You can raise money for organizations that fight hunger and homelessness, or help a neighborhood charity that’s making a difference for your community.

Whatever cause you want to support, our fundraisers make it simple for you, and fun for your donors.

You’ll also make your Mom and friends happy, since they’ll know how to give you a gift this holiday that’s just what you want! And you’ll be spreading the spirit of the season around, making wishes come true for your favorite charities too.

– Sarah Bacon
Director of Product

Help the Hungry in 5 Ways

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It’s the season when get-togethers and festivities revolve around food. Many of us worry about eating too much at our Thanksgiving or holiday meals, or indulging in extra treats. But there are so many children and families who can’t even relate to that thought. Sadly, the latest hunger stats tell us:

  • 1 in 7 Americans go hungry every day
  • 1 in 5 children in the United States don’t have enough to eat

Not having enough food most affects:

  • 3 million households with seniors age 65 and older
  • 3 million rural households
  • 1 in 4 African American households
  • 1 in 5 Latino households

So while you and I may worry about weight gain, and even waste more than 20 pounds of food every month, the demand for food is growing.UNEP_photo-_needs_to_be_resized

This year, food pantries across the country are reporting shortages and long lines. Researchers think that’s happening because the employment gains we’ve seen as the economy recovers are from part-time and low-paying jobs which still leave people struggling to pay bills and put food on the table.

How can we make it better?

5 Ways to Make a Difference for Hunger

Good FoodDonate Food. Find a local food bank, grocery or bank that’s collecting food and donate canned goods. Or start a food drive yourself.

Fundraise. Create an online fundraiser and get others involved in raising money for charities solving hunger issues. You can set one up in minutes on JustGive and find charities to support, add your special message and compelling video/photos—then email friends and family, and post your appeal on social media. When someone asks what’s on your holiday gift list, tell them gifts of charity for the hungry would mean the most to you.

Volunteer. The holiday season brings out a lot of volunteers for food banks, soup kitchens and rescue missions serving meals and collecting food.  While always happy for volunteers, these charities could really use help more throughout the year. Their need is ongoing; offer to help as often as you can. (If you don’t know local charities, you can find them here.)

Give.  There are a lot of nonprofits doing great work to fight hunger, and your donation gives them the ability to do more. It doesn’t take much to make a big impact. We have a short list of recommended hunger charities on the JustGive site, and here are a few examples of what your gift can do:

$35 to No Kid Hungry helps children get 350 meals.
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$55 provides 550 meals through Feeding America’s nationwide network.
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With $70, Meals on Wheels can send home-delivered meals to 10 seniors.
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Raise Awareness.  Start a conversation with your friends and family about hunger. Share posts on social media—this blog and other videos and stories you see—and get more people talking. Raising the volume about the issue.

Let’s take action today and do something for the more than 49 million Americans who don’t have enough food to eat . . . so no one goes hungry.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Deep River Snacks: Chips & Charity for the Holidays

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Our corporate customers use JustGive’s GiveNow charity gift cards in many creative ways — as employee incentives, thank you gifts for customers or clients at the holidays and throughout the year—and even as tradeshow booth giveaways. (Check out their stories.)

chipcharity_0Here’s the most recent innovative way one made-in-the-USA company is using our charity gift cards. Deep River Snacks, best known for their non-GMO, gluten-free kettle chips found in grocery stores and delis, recently launched a new charitable program for the holidays called “Chips & Charity.” When customers purchase a variety gift pack of their chips through Amazon, they receive a $10 JustGive charity gift card in the package, which they can redeem towards a donation to their favorite charity.

“The JustGive concept was a perfect way for us to manifest our cause-mission, and enable our fans to participate in it,” said Kristine Ford, Deep River’s Senior Director of Marketing. “With the JustGive cards, we’ve created a fun gift set that allows people to share our delicious snacks with loved ones for the holidays while giving them the ‘gift of give’ too.”

11196342_10152902549318262_4020349093341581813_nFord explained that supporting charity, or “giving a chip” as they like to call it, is a founding principle of Deep River Snacks. In addition to donating at least 10% of their profits to charity each year, Deep River also features a different nonprofit organization on the back of the bag for every chip flavor.

“Each of these charities has directly affected the life of a Deep River Snacks employee in some way, whether it’s PSC Partners (our founder’s son has Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a rare liver and bile duct disease) or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (our VP of Business Development is a Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor),” Ford mentioned.

The JustGive charity gift card was the perfect vehicle for Deep River Snacks to empower their customers to join them and “give a chip.”

“I decided JustGive was the ideal partner because of the 2 million plus charities that you allow people to give to. Since many of our partner charities are smaller, it was critical that our gift card partner supported charities of all sizes,” Ford said.

The Deep River Snacks Chips & Charity Gift Set is available on Amazon for $24.99 and includes 12 varieties of chips plus a $10 JustGive charity gift card.

kettlechipsWith flavors ranging from Aged Cheddar Horseradish and New York Spicy Dill Pickle to Mesquite BBQ, customers are sure to find something to satiate their taste or a loved one’s chip appetite—and support charity at the same time.

Visit our website to find out more about JustGive charity gift cards, or contact us to discover how charity gift cards can enhance your company’s giving program.

– Sarah Bacon
Director of Product

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JustGive’s 15 Years of Philanthropy

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It’s JustGive’s 15-year anniversary! As the year of celebration starts, Founder Kendall Webb took time to talk about how JustGive got started, and reflect on accomplishments.

Q: You started JustGive as a nonprofit when others said it couldn’t be done.  Tell me about that.
Akendall: We started JustGive to create a single technology platform so all nonprofitssmall and large—could have equal access and outreach at a low cost. We thought it was important to operate as a nonprofit to maintain a single mission and build trust. But everyone in the Internet sector literally said we couldn’t do this because of the cost of technology. I didn’t want to “take the poor public” so I found a way. I got the community involved, asking for every kind of support. It was the early Internet days and we had a lot of companies who believed in us and helped by contributing their contacts, money and pro bono services. That made it less expensive for us to launch, and we got high quality services for free.

Q: How has JustGive kept going when it got tough and continued to make things happen?
A:
We’ve sustained ourselves during market crashes and are better suited to do this because we’re a nonprofit. We have more channels of support and capital that are not available to for-profit companies, and there’s no venture capital investment to overextend or distract us.

We’re not doing this for a quick expansion or to go public and make money. Our single goal and focus is to increase giving and we’re 100% guided by our mission.

Our founding team in 2000—Lynda Greenberg, Orla McKiernan, Claire Bowen, Kristin Kennedy, Kay Kirman, Doug Abrams, Kendall Webb, Kirsten Johnson, Jen Chapin

Our founding team in 2000—Lynda Greenberg, Orla McKiernan, Claire Bowen, Kristin Kennedy, Kay Kirman, Doug Abrams, Kendall Webb, Kirsten Johnson, Jen Chapin

Q: In the first five years, JustGive sent $37 million to charity. At 10 years, it was $130 million, and today, it’s more than $450 million. What are the driving forces behind growth?
A: Two key things. One: At first, individual donors were scared to give online. Over the years, they’ve become more comfortable with the Internet, know it’s safe and trust the process. It’s commonplace now and we’re a trusted brand in the sector.  Our products are not just a nice option for online giving—we make giving easier and provide something donors need.

Two: We’ve leveraged our growth through corporate partnerships that help us expand our products and connect with a much bigger audience. Companies are in a great position to offer charitable programs, extending our reach.

Q: Over the years, JustGive has launched a lot of new products, including charity fundraising registries, charity gift cards, rewards points for charity, and more. What new giving are you most proud of?
A: All new giving excites me, because it increases philanthropy.  But I’d have to say I’m most proud of charitable redemption points because it’s a big channel of fundraising that we identified, developed and operated before others did. Individuals and companies were accumulating huge volumes of rewards points, and CEOs felt torn about what to do with this build up of points. We gave them a solution. This got companies to think about their philanthropy more—outside of their foundations—and was a launching pad for corporate social responsibility. Redeeming rewards points for charity helped them connect philanthropy to their products and location, and give back in local communities. That kind of new giving shows JustGive’s uniqueness and creativity from start to finish—and our overall impact.

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JustGive’s 15 Year Timeline

Q: Did you envision JustGive would be what it is today?
A: We’re much bigger in scope than I thought we’d be. It’s been exciting to grow beyond direct, 1-person-to-1-charity donations (where we started) to fundraising, charity gifts, corporate giving and social responsibility programs. I’m thrilled to see how charity has penetrated into so many parts of life, and how multiple products are used in so many different ways!

Q: What other JustGive accomplishments are you proud of in the past 15 years?
A: I’m proud of all the unique channels of giving we’ve built. Like working with Monster.com to use $1 million of charity gift cards as a trade show giveaway. And expanding the definition of a benefit concert with The Dave Matthews Band by letting fans choose the charities to receive money.

2014 Year In Review

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I’m proud of the level of respect and integrity JustGive has built as a trusted leader for companies, nonprofits and donors. I know we’ve earned this through hard work and staying true to our mission.

And I’m incredibly proud of our longevity. Withstanding all the changes in the stock market (2 crashes and recession) and in the charitable market is amazing. It’s strengthened who we are.

I’m proud of our prominent national exposure—from TV mentions on PBS NewsHour and CBS News, to articles in the New York Times, USA Today, and Huffington Post.  Not to mention being recognized as one of the best of the web by Forbes.

I am most proud of our team. Their passion has fueled our growth, and the impact we’ve had on a limited budget is mind blowing. That’s because our team is creative and really believes in what we’re doing.

Q: What are the most important changes you’ve seen in philanthropy in the last 15 years?
A:

  1. The Internet has become a common channel for giving, and it’s given small organizations a louder voice.
  2. Young people are more involved in giving at a younger age. They consider philanthropy part of what they do, who they are, and what they expect from a company where they work.
  3. There’s been a huge increase in peer-to-peer giving, crowdfunding and the social side of giving.
  4. Corporate social responsibility has grown tremendously. Companies used to manage giving through their foundations, and philanthropy was about giving for branding reasons. Now it’s an important way to be good corporate citizens, and they’re becoming more proactive, with strong and directed giving.

Q: What would you like to see companies do to make more of a difference for philanthropy?
A:
I’d like to see more companies invest in the business value of charity – including it in their budget so it’s not funding they have to “find.” I’d also like to see them integrate charity into their large gift giving funds for holidays, incentives and loyalty rewards. And overall, to continue to be open minded and consider more creative ways to make charity an integral part of their business.

Q: Where are your personal hopes for JustGive in the years ahead?
A:
My hope is that JustGive continues to be a leading force for philanthropy, generating new pools of capital for the nonprofit sector.

Q: If there was one message you could get out in the world about charitable giving: What would that be?
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Make giving a part of your everyday life. I’m not just talking about giving money, but about volunteering your time, and helping out in your community or doing something for someone in need. Giving isn’t isolated to a charity. It’s something we can all do every day with little moments of helping make things better for a person, a community, and ultimately the world. These small acts of kindness become contagious, spreading goodness that can make a difference.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Three Ways You Can Save Animals

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The Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion on a hunting trip in July sparked a media flurry and got people clamoring about protection for animals.

Americans are animal lovers. In a recent Gallup poll, 32% of us said we believe animals should have the same rights as humans, and 62% believe they deserve some protection.

I’m one of those people. The story and images of the skeletal 2-year old dog found tied up outside a Georgia church this past weekend made me more than cringe. How can anyone be so cruel and heartless?

cc_rileyWhen you share your life with animals and they’ve captured a special place in your heart, you care about what happens to them.  I know my soft spot for animals has grown exponentially since we got our goldendoodle Riley three years ago. And I can’t imagine what kind of person could neglect, harm, abandon or mistreat any animal.

Animals give us unconditional love and bring joy. They bond with us. They watch over and protect us.  We know animals feel pain and fear, and miss us. Their eyes, expressions and behaviors tell us what they don’t have the voices to say.

Dogs, in particular, give many humans a “new leash” on life. They guide the blind and visually impaired, provide comfort for seniors as well as children who are sick or have to appear in court, improve the lives of people with disabilities and autism, can save diabetics, give independence to veterans, and help parolees turn their lives around.

Yet, sadly, according to the ASPCA, every 60 seconds an animal is abused.

THREE WAYS TO HELP

To save animals, we can be their voice, channeling our passion into action.

1) Watch for signs of abuse.

When you’re out and about, do you see animals left in hot cars or dogs chained up for hours? Have you ever walked by a house and seen so many animals you worry about their care? Pay attention for:

  • Neglect: When an animal is denied adequate food, water, shelter, medical care (injuries left untreated), clean area, socialization (is it aggressive or timid when approached by owner?), or chained up in a yard.
  • Violence: When an animal is deliberately tortured, beaten, or mutilated.

2) Speak up: report animal cruelty.

sb_finnAlmost all acts of animal violence or neglect are punishable by law. Animal cruelty laws vary from state to state, but 49 states have laws that contain felony provisions. (South Dakota is the only one that doesn’t.)

If you suspect abuse or neglect of any animal, report it to your local police department or area animal control agency. If you’re traveling, call the local police department (911).

3) Support animal organizations.

Put your money where your heart is, and donate—giving for animal protection and care. (You can even make an ongoing commitment with a recurring monthly gift.)

rox_pomoIf you don’t know where to start, here are 5 great charities:

I can’t stop all animal abuse and mistreatment. But I can do my part and support dedicated people who are protecting and caring for amazing animals like my Riley. Won’t you join me?

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Nonprofit Spotlight: Ipswich River Watershed Association

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The Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) is the voice of the river—a group of people helping make sure there is enough clean water for the 350,000 people and businesses in 14 communities on the North Shore of Massachusetts, protecting nature, and providing great ways to have fun outdoors.

It takes a team to care for such a critical resource. With a staff and board of less than 20 people, more than two dozen conservation and governmental partners, and the help of scores of volunteers, this small but mighty organization has safeguarded the Ipswich River since 1977.

In 2006, Dr. Joseph (Bob) Petranek generously donated his house and 15 acres on the river to the organization. Over the years, an additional 9 acres was donated by the Smith Family and the Congress Corporation, and the Riverbend became the association’s headquarters. The property is permanently protected for public use and enjoyment, and contains a canoe dock, trails, green building, green roof, water-wise demonstration projects and gardens, and association offices.

What IRWA does

As the river watchdog, IRWA exists to keep the river out of danger and ensure a sustainable water supply for the area, by:

10496199_837602052951073_5591434803170071825_oRestoring the physical habitat. Among its many efforts to support native fish and wildlife, this includes removing migration barriers—dismantling obsolete dams and replacing culverts that are either too small or poorly installed.

Monitoring water conditions. Through the RiverWatch water quality monitoring program, the group assesses the health of the Ipswich River at 31 sites throughout the watershed. Volunteers collect data monthly from March-December on weather conditions and rain; water color, odor and clarity; water temperature; conductivity; and more.  The organization also conducts a herring count each spring, and monitors macroinvertebrates and streamflow.

Advocating for the river. These efforts ensure that federal, state and local water policies, water withdrawal permits, and regulatory decisions protect ecosystem health and include prudent conservation measures. Most recently, IRWA and friends of the river participated in hearings to voice their concerns about gas pipeline construction along the Peabody Rail trail.

11329892_957750550936222_3338448078620285410_nGetting people out to enjoy the river. The Ipswich River is the premier paddling river in the area, and IRWA’s recreation guide includes a list of parks and other public spaces to go fishing and clamming, swimming, camping, biking and see wildlife. The association has installed interpretive kiosks and education signs along the river, and regularly hosts padding, walking, and birding events for people of all ages and abilities.

“One of our biggest challenges is that the river is ‘loved to death’ and to protect it, we want people to use less water,” says Executive Director Wayne Castonguay. So the organization educates towns, businesses and residents about water conservation, presenting many programs each year as well as promoting ways to Save Water, Save Money, and care for yards and gardens using less water and chemicals.

Good Giving Practices

When this membership association started accepting online donations in 2006, it partnered with JustGive for services. The association uses a JustGive link for its own Donate button that appears on every page of the website, has customized it Donation Page with a logo and gift levels—and also links to the Donation Page in numerous places throughout the site. Both the Support and Membership sections of the website offer donors the online giving option.

“Most of our new donors are coming from online giving, and it’s a critical tool for us,” comments Castonguay. “JustGive meets our needs and has been really responsive.”

In addition to its Donation Page, IRWA recently used other JustGive services, setting up an advocacy campaign (with a Registry) to raise legal funds to fight the gas pipeline.

Results

A hub for environmental conservation in the area, the Ipswich River Watershed Association brings together conservation groups, municipality partners, research centers, businesses and volunteers to create solutions and make a difference.

11750684_999594036751873_6495840608048644213_nIn 2011, the association convened the Parker-Ipswich-Essex Rivers Restoration Partnership (PIE-Rivers), a regional network of 18 organizations. And in 2013, a group of PIE-Rivers partners received federal money from the Hurricane Sandy Grant Program to support restorative work. Ipswich River Watershed Association is a part of the collective group that’s investing nearly $2 million of those dollars in a Free Our Rivers Campaign to improve habitat conditions through dam removal and ecologically safe bridge and culvert designs.

Last year, IRWA engaged nearly 800 people in events and activities, had its canoes and kayaks used 640 times, worked with about 215 volunteers, and helped get 327 culverts surveyed. This small but mighty association is successfully leveraging its staff, partners, volunteers and nearly 1,000 members to support and protect the lifeblood of the area, the Ipswich River.

Give now if you’d like to support the good work of the Ipswich River Watershed Association:

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– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

P.S. If you’d like to be featured in the JustGive Blog, submit your nonprofit!

10 Ways to Prevent Crime in Your Community

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We used to keep our porch lights on and open the door when the doorbell rang, even if we didn’t know who was there. We don’t do that in the world we live in now. But there are many ways to take back control and prevent crime in your community. It just takes communication, commitment and time.nno

In honor of National Night Out—an annual community-building campaign held the first Tuesday every August—here are 10 ways to make your neighborhood a safer, better place to live today.

  1. Work with your local public agencies and other organizations (neighborhood-based or community-wide) on solving common problems.
  2. Set up a Neighborhood Watch or a community patrol, working with police. Make sure your streets and homes are well lit.
  3. Report any crime or suspicious activity immediately to the police. There’s even a free app for that: McGruff Mobile, available on iTunes or on the Google Play store. The app is powered by AlertID, a national online and mobile service, and includes a virtual neighborhood watch where you can share photos and info about activity with neighbors, police, and even Homeland Security. (It also shows you an interactive map of crimes and sex offenders in your neighborhood, and you can receive alerts and information via email or mobile device.)
  4. If you own a dog, be a part of your local Dog Walker Watch crime awareness program (sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch), and serve as “extra eyes and ears” for local law enforcement agencies in ongoing crime prevention efforts.nno_FB
  5. Volunteer to help clean up your community. Call your city offices or local waste management company and schedule a dumpster for the event. Then pick up litter together. Show you care about where you live and each other.
  6. Organize to help clean and improve parks in your area. Well-kept play equipment and a clean park can attract enough people to discourage illegal activities. Insist that your local government maintain the parks, immediately repairing vandalism or other damage.
  7. Adopt a school. Help students, faculty, and staff promote a sense of community through your involvement in a wide range of programs and activities. Work with the school to establish drug-free, gun-free zones if they don’t already exist.
  8. Mentor young people who need positive support from adults—through programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
  9. Create a community anti-violence competition. Include speech, dance, painting, drawing, singing, musical instrument acting, and other creative arts. Get young people involved to plan it and suggest prizes. Make it a fun, local celebration. You can hold it in a local park, and even include an old-fashioned potluck.
  10. Support organizations that help make communities safer, like the National Crime Prevention Council.

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

Nonprofit Spotlight: Mercy Learning Center

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Mercy Learning Center’s motto says it well: Educate a Woman . . . Educate a Family. The center is all about teaching women the literacy and life skills that empower them to be independent, confident and self-sufficient.

The center operates on the belief that an educated woman not only has a chance to reach her full potential in life, but also become a person who makes a lasting difference for her children and family—leading a fulfilling life.

President Jane Ferreira sees education as key to ending poverty, and a solution to so many other problems. Development Director Nicole Cassidy echoes that, saying, “We realize what a tremendous different education can make in a woman’s life, and her family’s too. We watch women come out of the darkness with education.”

Programs and Services

Every low-income woman who enters the center is helped in a holistic way in a caring, supportive environment. The staff comes up with an individual educational plan for her, knowing she may need help in other areas of life in order to learn.

Mercy Learning Center (MLC) is the only women-based nonprofit in Connecticut offering free adult education and fully-licensed child care. They have three primary programs:

  • mlc3Intensive Study Program – Classroom-based, full-time, 9-month instruction – 20 hours a week plus 5 hours of weekly computer instruction. Five course levels with curricula based in real life scenarios cover math, reading, civic/social studies, science, writing, computer technology and family literacy.
  • Tutoring Program – Part time instruction in English as a second language, adult basic education and General Educational Development (GED) prep, one on one or in small groups for at least 4 hours a week throughout the school year.
  • National External Diploma Program – This alternative to the GED prep program gives women a unique way to use their life and work experience to earn a high school diploma. (MLC was approved as a site for this program in 2008.)

The center’s Support Services provide the additional assistance women need, including on site care for infants, toddlers and preschool children while their mothers are in class; a food pantry; mental health counseling; health consults, citizenship training, career and college counseling; driver’s license assistance; and technology training. There’s even a full time case worker on staff.

“It’s tough to navigate society when you don’t speak the language. It can be completely overwhelming,” explains Cassidy. “To be responsive to issues that crop up, in the last year, we’ve also added workshops for tenant’s rights and responsibilities [we found landlords were not respecting our students’ rights as renters] and school bullying.” In 2014-2015, MLC offered classes, workshops and fairs on 21 life skills topics.

Good Giving Practices

Mercy Learning Center has used JustGive’s nonprofit donation services for the past two years. The center added a JustGive link to its own donation button on the website, and has customized its Donation Page with a photo, description of purpose, and a list of what specific size gift can do—with seven giving levels ranging from $100 to $10,000.mlc

The giving levels reflect the center’s different donor categories and answer the question Cassidy often hears. “People often ask for a concrete answer for what they can support,” she states.

When asked about her experience with JustGive, Cassidy comments, “JustGive is one of the most affordable, and we also appreciate the option for the donor to add in the processing fee so we get the full donation amount.” She adds that JustGive’s online capability makes it easy to integrate the center’s appeal into other communication channels too.

Results

In 1987, Mercy Learning Center started as a one-on-one tutoring program, opening its doors to low-income, undereducated, marginalized women in the Bridgeport community. Since then, the center has educated and empowered more than 10,000 women and their children. In the last five years, student enrollment at the center has increased by 40%.

From July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015, MLC served 1,050 women and children—more than any previous year.

Students have come from 50 different countries of origin, and represent a wide range of races and ethnicities as well as ages. Nearly two-thirds of students are 25-44 years old, and 95% are mothers or primary caregivers of children 18 years old and younger.

A few 2014-2015 MLC student accomplishments:mlc2

  • 24 women earned high school diplomas
  • 65 graduates were enrolled in college or career certificate programs
  • 85 women found new jobs
  • 17 women became United States citizens

Many women who enter Mercy Learning Center with little or no English language ability are leaving, having earned a high school diploma (or equivalent) and able to find a job with a living wage.  Never mind being able to explain their health symptoms clearly to a doctor, count change at a grocery store or stand up for themselves or their children. Talk about making a difference!

MLC student Isabella, sums it up well, saying, “What matters is that Mercy Learning Center teaches us to have confidence and a better education in our life for the future.”

Donate now if you’d like to help Mercy Learning Center educate women and transform lives:
button_donate_now_yellow – Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

P.S. If you’d like to be featured in the JustGive Blog, submit your nonprofit!

Kids & Obesity: Two Things Don’t Belong Together

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Truth be told: I was a fat kid. I was called names and made fun of in elementary school. It’s a painful childhood memory.

I don’t remember my parents or doctor talking to me about my weight (they may have). I do remember earning “clean plate club” honors a lot. As I was starting high school, I’d had it with shopping in the Sears section for heavy kids. I was missing out and unhappy about my weight. I didn’t lose it in the best way (I remember Tab and those old Weight Watchers chocolate squares), but did drop 25 pounds before 9th grade.

Yes, those were different times, and salt-laden casseroles and sugary Jell-O were staples at family gatherings and church dinners. At home, Durkee french fried onion rings and shoestring potato sticks in a can were always in the cupboard . . . to top off those casseroles.  They were ready-to-eat bad snacks I grabbed for instant “food.”

As I got older, I learned more about unhealthy habits. Given my experience, I cringed when I read the latest stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: more than one third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese, and obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the last 30 years!

Sadly, a New England Journal of Medicine article says the road to obesity starts before age 5.

Childhood obesity is more upsetting because the extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems that were once only adult issues, like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And as I know, it can also affect self-esteem.

How can we help our kids?

via KidsHealth.org

via KidsHealth.org

It may come as no surprise that new guidelines published last Monday, June 29, by the American Academy of Pediatrics say we need to focus on prevention.

This starts by understanding when a child is considered obese—when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height, as measured by body mass index (BMI). The standards are:

  • Overweight = BMI-for-age between 85th and 94th percentiles
  • Obese = BMI-for-age 95th percentile or above

(You can use this tool from Kid’s Health to check your children.)

Make better food choices and exercise

vegetablesOne of the best strategies to prevent childhood obesity is to lead by example, improving diet and exercise habits of your whole family.

Most of us know to buy fewer sweetened beverages (sodas, juice and sports drinks) and not stock junk food in the house (or buy it in bulk!). We’ve also heard about First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative stressing physical activity and the recommended 60 minutes of active play time day.

So how do we put good habits into practice? A few practical tips:

  • Don’t ban junk food outright. Instead, limit the number of treats kids are allowed to eat. That way, kids aren’t as tempted to want what they can’t have or overeat when it’s offered by someone else.
  • Keep fresh fruit in reach to grab as a quick snack. Put higher-calorie foods in the back of the frig or pantry. Get good frozen and canned fruits and vegetables (no and no sugar or salt) when fresh isn’t available.
  • via LetsMove.org

    via LetsMove.org

    Make an effort to limit technology time for kids to no more than 2 hours a day, including computers, videos, games, watching TV. Turn off the TV during family meals to prevent distracted eating (and more) – Have you seen Dixie’s Dark for Dinner ads?

  • Plan activities that give everyone exercise, like walking, biking and swimming. Turn a walk after dinner into a family affair.
  • Make sure your kids get enough sleep, since studies suggest there’s a link between obesity and insufficient sleep.

For more: check out these 10 healthy eating tips and take advantage of the thousands of healthy MyPlate recipes on Pinterest.

Physician education

We now know doctors have to get more involved. While weight is an uncomfortable and awkward topic to tackle, physicians need to address it during children’s visits.

kids running 11578647Recent collaborative research between Caroline Shue, associate professor of communication studies at Ball State University and the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency Center found a hesitancy to discuss weight is compounded by a disconnect with the reason for the visit (e.g., an ear infection for a “solid” child) as well as a lack of doctors’ training and consistent clinic practices to calculate BMI and chart discussions with patients.

The research identified several good ways to fix the problems, including:  targeted training programs for doctors; and doctor’s offices documenting patients’ height, weight, and BMI more frequently and regularly.

Support nonprofits making a difference

We can all help charities working to get kids more active and prevent obesity. Here are three with programs designed to do just that, operating across the country:

American Heart Association
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Boys & Girls Clubs of America
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YMCA of the USA
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We’ve come a long way since I was a little girl, and I’m encouraged by all the attention, education and resources that exist now. Let’s step up, so other kids can skip all the bad stuff that comes from carrying too much weight. Here’s to preventing childhood obesity, and raising healthier future generations!

– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant