Girls Write Now

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The Fray Project: Volunteering How-To (Activism)

Published April 13, 2012 by Teresa

Me at the National Equality March in 2009, Washington D.C. I was marching with the contingent from SWISH. (swishpride.org)

To check out my April 2012 Activism goals, CLICK HERE.

Non-profits and charities need money, there’s no question. They need to pay for their rent, utilities, supplies, and small permanent staffs somehow, and since they’re in it for others and not for themselves, they are not money-making ventures by design. This means they need to seek funds from the general public, or major philanthropists, to make ends meet and get their important work done. So, if you’ve got money to spare, and have a cause you’re passionate about, by all means, cut them a check. Nine times out of ten, you can deduct that donation on your taxes, and you will have given the organization of your choice a very important resource.

However, many of us (especially in this economy) don’t have a lot of money to give to all of the causes that matter to us. What we do have, what we can always find, no matter how busy we are, is time, and extra, volunteer hands on deck are as important as extra funds to an organization. Too often, non-profits and charities can’t afford to hire huge staffs to do everything that needs doing. The donations they receive are just enough to keep the lights on, but not enough to hire employees, or to pay people for their time for special events. So, one of the most important things you can do if you care about something, is to figure out if and how you can donate some of your time.

Part-Time Volunteering

If you don’t have a lot of time, most organizations have a mailing list. Sign up, and be alerted to specific opportunities when they might need you. For example, the photo up above is from the National Equality March in D.C. I marched with an organization called SWISH, a gay-straight alliance that works toward achieving equality for LGBT people. When I was living in New York, I was working a day job, and didn’t have very many free hours to do extensive volunteering, but when I got the call for volunteers to march one weekend in DC, I signed up! Sometimes, especially if the cause you’re interested in is political in nature, numbers are all-important, and having extra bodies present at an event or rally goes a long way toward getting the organization press and showing whoever’s watching just how many people support whatever cause it is. The Westboro Baptist Church was also at that rally, and they had about 50 people there. There were over a million people there in favor of equality. Just goes to show how important volunteers can be! I guess not many people want to volunteer for the WBC. I wonder why? :)

Organizations like GivLA exist for the sole purpose of matching kind-hearted people up with one-time volunteering opportunities, helping organizations meet their volunteer needs while encouraging caring citizens to help out, and helping them be social at the same time!

Me and Mariah the day we met!

Full-time, Committed Volunteering

If you really want to roll up your sleeves and help, there are plenty of organizations who could use you on a more long-term basis. For example, back in NYC, I was a mentor through iMentor, and was paired up with a high school junior in the Bronx named Mariah. I mentored her for two years – being generally encouraging, answering her questions, helping her with homework, setting a good example – meeting with her once or twice a month, corresponding weekly via email, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Mariah and I are now Facebook friends as she navigates the choppy waters of college. :)

Here in L.A, since helping girls excel and making sure children have decent writing training under their belts are equally important to me, I’m applying to be a mentor with WriteGirl, an organization that pairs professional writers with high school girls who are aspiring writers to help them find their voices and give them professional guidance. WriteGirl has a sister organization in NYC, which is how I found out about them in the first place, called Girls Write Now.

Stuff like mentoring requires a firm time commitment. However, it’s usually something pretty much anyone can work around, with commitments being weekly, or once a month, or on weekends.

My boss, Bob Harris, in Kigali, following his Kiva loan money into the field for a book he's writing on microfinance for Bloomsbury. I can't traipse around the world, but I CAN speak Spanish!

Volunteering From Home

Don’t wanna leave the comfort of your own home? Look into opportunities to volunteer remotely! For example, Kiva is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve loaned money through them, but I can’t personally make a million loans. However, something else I can contribute is my knowledge of Spanish! I’m signing up to be a volunteer translator, so that when they receive blurbs from clients in Spanish-speaking countries for their website, I can translate them for English speakers. (PS – I’ve been putting off taking my qualifying test for this because it takes an hour. However, I’m scheduling an hour for tomorrow so that I can just do it already!) Once accepted, I will be able to access the blurbs that need translating from home and work at my own pace. They have a six month commitment period, but over the course of that six month period, you can “work” whenever you want. So flexible! And it’s something they need, as their entire operation is based on their website. If blurbs aren’t translated, people don’t give to clients.

So, there’s no such thing as “not having the time!” and “not having the money” matters less than you think. If you care about something, there’s always a way to get involved. Start by making a list of the Top Five things that are most important to you. Look up organizations in your area that cater to those causes. Contact them and ask them about opportunities to volunteer that fit your schedule and lifestyle. Chances are, they will more than appreciate the outreach, and will be able to find something for you to do.

Or, if the task of doing this research seems too daunting to you, leave your Top 5 in the comments below, as well as the city you’re in, and I’ll do the research for you! Let me know what you care about, and I’ll help you show how much you care in a way that won’t break your bank or drive you crazy in a special Activism video here at the blog! Looking forward to creating a volunteering army! :)

Holiday Giving

Published November 26, 2011 by Teresa

Well, it’s official. I mean, Corporate America, with its annoyingly early holiday-themed commercials making a desperate play for your attentions in OCTOBER, was trying to get you to think it’d already started, but as it’s now after Thanksgiving it’s official. The holiday season is upon us.

I’ve started receiving end-of-year fundraising emails from organizations I support, and I’ve been regretting the fact that I don’t even have the funds to get my loved ones the gifts I might like to, let alone the funds to give to organizations I support, no matter how worthwhile. What I can do is share the organizations I support most with you in the hopes that those of you who can support them will. Here’s hoping that these organizations that mean so much to me will inspire you enough with the work they do that you’ll consider giving to them this holiday season.¬† I’ve organized them into 5 categories for your convenience: “Save a Girl, Save the World,” “Born This Way,” “Small Loans, Big Changes,” “Organizations that Help You Organize,” and “Cures and Services, Please!”

1) SAVE A GIRL, SAVE THE WORLD

It’s called The Girl Effect. The idea that the best way to improve the world economy and eliminate poverty and human rights abuses is to specifically invest in the world’s girls. If you want a focus for your charity giving and humanitarian efforts, girls aren’t a bad place to start. The Girl Effect supports several girl-focused projects through the GlobalGiving platform. You can either make one donation that The Girl Effect will then split among all their projects, or you can look at the projects they support and give to the one that interests you. Also, you can either give online, or you can give via text. However you choose to give, all the info can be found HERE.

And while we’re talking about investing in girls…how about girl writers?

I am one (rather, I was one before I became a woman writer), so maybe I’m a little biased. In any case, it’s no secret that there’s a disparity in just about every segment of the arts, from television to film to theater to publishing, in the number of female creators when compared to male creators. One solution is to invest in girl writers so that they don’t give up before they have the chance to become women writers. This will increase their numbers, improve representation of women in all media, improve gender relations, create the balance the world so desperately needs, save humanity. You know, small stuff.

I recommend donating to Girls Write Now (if you’re on the East Coast) or WriteGirl (if you’re on the West Coast). These sister organizations pair female school-age writers with professional female writers who act as mentors, guiding them through monthly workshops, providing the girls with advice on how to proceed with making writing a career once they get out of school, and giving them outlets for their writing via readings and published anthologies. If you want to support the next generation of women writers, these would be great places to give!

Lastly, an organization that fights for equality for girls and women at every level. Equality Now fights against discrimination in law, violence against women, trafficking, rape, etc, and they do so for countries all over the world. If you not only want to invest in girls to improve the future, but also want to fight for equality for women right now, consider a donation to Equality Now, and sign up for their Action Alerts, while you’re at it. Help them continue their valuable work.

2) BORN THIS WAY

My activism on behalf of equality for all sexual orientations goes hand-in-hand with my activism on behalf of gender equality – for what is homosexuality if not misogyny in a different outfit? It is because the two go hand in hand that it’s important to me that heterosexuals get involved and make issues like gay marriage their issues, too. It is everyone’s responsibility to make the world safe for difference. I got to know SWISH (which used to stand for Straight Women In Support of Homos) through a friend of mine from back in my former life in the theater, Josh Tjaden, a man who has continued to impress me with his LGBT activism and is on SWISH’s Board of Directors. SWISH is a gay-straight alliance that creates opportunities for people of all genders and orientations to get involved in the fight for equality. If creating a more tolerant world means anything to you, consider giving to SWISH.

I would also highly recommend giving to Straight But Not Narrow, a media initiative devoted to reaching out specifically to straight men regarding LGBT activism. I see on their site that they’re including videos from women, too, but this is one initiative that I think works better as a men-only thing. It’s not a difficult thing to get women involved in the fight for LGBT equality. With guys, it’s a little trickier for a number of reasons. I fully support this campaign, and recommend that you support it, too! Hopefully with some cashmoneydollars.

3) SMALL LOANS, BIG CHANGE.

I believe in treating people with dignity, no matter what their economic status. I joined Kiva in January of this year, because I loved the idea of believing in people enough to give them the resources they need to write their own futures. As you might already know, Kiva is a platform that showcases entrepreneurs in developing countries (as well as some in the U.S.), and allows people to lend them the money they need to start a small business that would help them feed their families as well as improve their communities by both providing services that might be lacking where they live and providing jobs to others. Yes, I said lend. This is not giving a donation, it is making a loan – a loan that gets paid back. I love this, because it’s letting someone know that despite their circumstances we trust that they have the intelligence and the drive to better their own situation, so much that we support cheaper financial services for them, because the poverty they were born into shouldn’t dictate their future. It’s treating people with dignity. So far, I’ve given two loans. And I’ve only given $25 ONCE. How does that work?

I contributed $25 along with 13 other people to a $325 microloan requested by a woman in El Salvador who was starting a cosmetics business. In 8 months, I got my $25 back and had the choice of either getting the money back via PayPal, or loaning it again to someone else. I chose another loan. So now, my $25 is helping another person. If I had more money, I’d give more loans. At the same time, it’s pretty amazing that giving a small amount once can continue to help people long after you give it, and you can keep track of how it helps and see the results, because it’s person-to-person. Yes, you can (and should) donate to Kiva directly to support their operating costs, because they provide an awesome service. But if you don’t want to do that, you can still help others by making just one loan of $25. That $25 can continue to go a long way long after you lend it. And if more people did it? One person wouldn’t have to give more loans to make a dent.

Consider giving a Kiva loan this holiday season! And if you want to give the gift of giving – get a Kiva Card for someone else so that they can join the Kiva family, too!

4) ORGANIZATIONS THAT ORGANIZE

Want to give your time, but don’t know how to get started? Well, if you live in New York City, you can sign up with New York Cares, an organization that pairs people with volunteer opportunities all over the city. No matter what your level of commitment or available hours, there are opportunities for you. If you live in Los Angeles, a similar organization is GivLA – although this org, in true L.A. fashion, seeks to combine doing good with socializing! Each volunteer opportunity is usually followed by some sort of party/outing where you can meet like-minded do gooders and have a great time!

Lastly, I’d recommend supporting the people organizing to fight corporate oppression on the front lines as part of the Occupy Movement. If you can’t/don’t want to be out there occupying, but still support the goals of the occupation, a good way to support the movement is to send them the money and/or supplies the occupiers need to keep up the fight. Most occupations are set up to take donations. To support Occupy Wall Street, click HERE. To support Occupy L.A, click HERE. Or to find an occupation closer to you to support, visit Occupy Together, which lists the occupations all over the world along with their websites.

5) CURES AND SERVICES, PLEASE!

My mother passed away from complications due to diabetes. My grandmother (and now, possibly my father) had Alzheimer’s Disease. My nephew has autism. And so these three conditions are all very close to my heart. So, if you are someone who wants to give money in a way that will help cure disease and/or provide services for those suffering with them, consider giving to:

American Diabetes Association: the country’s largest organization devoted to both researching cures for diabetes, as well as prevention education and providing services to those dealing with the disease. You can donate HERE.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: a national organization devoted to researching cures, as well as providing support resources for families dealing with loved ones that have the disease. You can donate HERE.

Autism Speaks: a national organization devoted to autism research as well as providing support and care for families with autistic loved ones. You can donate HERE.

Happy giving, everyone! :) And have a wonderful holiday season!

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