The Least I Can Do

The news broke last night that a Grand Jury determined not to indict the officer that shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.  At about the same time, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal in Florida.  Ms. Alexander was facing decades in prison for firing a warning shot – hurting no one – at her abusive husband.  Her case has been held up in contrast to both George Zimmerman’s in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a few years ago and this recent case in Ferguson.  As you can imagine, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with..conversation.  In a lot of ways, these cases demonstrate the title of this blog.  And with all of my white privilege, I have a sense of despair.  But I am trying to listen more than I talk.

24 hours later, Ferguson is still burning and there have been a lot of suggestions tossed around about What We Can Do.  One that I saw more than once was something like, “Ferguson schools are closed today, but its library is open. Donate to help the community.”  Now you all know I am in favor of voting with my pocketbook, and I think libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.  But somehow, my head keeps going back to Marissa Alexander.

Domestic violence.  Self-defense.  Stand your ground.  Oh, how I hate guns.

Crowdrise, my favorite online giving tool, is having a – very well sponsored – fundraising campaign over the holiday season.   I used it to donate to the WINGS Program.

The WINGS Program is “one of the largest domestic violence service and housing providers in the state of Illinois.  Single women and women with children are able to receive temporary safe shelter through WINGS housing while staff provides one-on-one, individualized assistance that allows women to set personal goals that will enable them to work, continue their education, and care for themselves and their children.

Instead of fighting racism, I am helping women.  Instead of helping Ferguson, I am going local.  But this Thanksgiving week, this is where I can find some meaning in the madness.  I hope you can find some, too.


Shout Out for Amy

The other day a post popped up on my Facebook feed from Heartland Animal Shelter.  This isn’t unusual, as they are active in social media, but the post was a flyer for a fundraiser in memory of Amy Thier, founder of Splash Dog.  My mother, Kay, used to take our late dog, Shadow, to Splash Dog in his senior years and it was great for his arthritis.  I wrote about them when Gibbs went for a visit a couple of years ago.

I hadn’t known Amy well and hadn’t even heard that she died, but she was active in the local rescue community.  I decided the least I could do was show up at the fundraiser yesterday and plug our common causes today:

Heartland was founded by a veterinarian and the facility is adjacent to his practice in Northbrook.  They are very active in the community, with volunteers bringing adoptable animals out to meet potential forever families in the neighborhood almost every weekend.  The next event listed on their website is Portraits with Santa Paws on December 7 from noon to 3pm.  I am considering taking Fiona, as you know she photographs beautifully.  (This is from a similar fundraiser a couple of years ago for a different rescue.)


The Puppy Mill Project serves the rescue community by educating the public about and actively protesting against puppy mills.  In particular, they shine a light on the connection between pet store puppies and the horrible industry that mass produces them.  Besides the cruelty to the breeding dogs, the puppies that come from these conditions are notorious for coming with major health issues.  It is so bad that the state of Illinois literally has a Puppy Lemon Law.  They do not have any upcoming events listed on their page, but I am sure donations would be welcome on their website.

Finally, both Amy and I adopted from Wright-Way Rescue.  You might remember reading about a bus crashing into their old facility (no people or pets were hurt), and they have recently re-opened in Morton Grove.  Wright-Way has an interesting “business model” for their work – they take in pregnant mama dogs and the litters of puppies that are dumped in county shelters.  Gibbs was one of a litter of eight.  Wright-Way maintains a page of Facebook for people to hook up with the families of other adopters, which led to Gibbs having a play date with his brother, Kermit:


and Kermit


I don’t see any upcoming events listed, but I did find that they are now doing kids’ birthday parties.  Education, celebration, support rescue work!  I hope this catches on.  Also, I have a fundraising project for Wright-Way on Crowdrise that you can find here.

Rest in Peace, Amy.  We will do our best to continue your work.



Some People Doing Great Stuff This Season

We in Chicago are finally starting to celebrate Springtime.  This year it is a particular relief, but I suggest that it is always a time for feeling grateful.  In that spirit, I thought I’d highlight a few people that I know who are doing something to make a difference in the world in case you are in the mood to contribute:

Grace Oliver is the niece of my work friend Steve, and is battling brain cancer.  As it happens, brain cancer took my grandfather 20 years ago and recently Carole, one of the awesome neighborhood moms of my childhood.  The Oliver family is participating in the 2014 Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5K in Chicago next weekend.  They are rocking the fundraising, and right now my friend Steve is half-way to his goal of $2,000 in donations collected.  And you will not believe how many people have joined this fundraising team.

Shannon Long is a friend from high school that has supported the National MS Society for several years, in part by joining the Walk MS event each year on the North Shore of Chicago.   This year’s walk is on May 4 in my hometown of Glenview.  The team is just past the halfway point of their $2,000 fundraising goal.

Big Ed is a dog trainer that I met through a local rescue group called Secondhand Snoots.  Big Ed’s Dog Training recently opened a new facility and some friends started a fundraiser to help with the start up costs.  It may seem weird to participate in a fundraiser for a business, but Big Ed is actively engaged with the Chicago area rescue community and has been trying to keep rates low in order to assist small local rescues in preparing homeless dogs for adoption.  I have seen two of Big Ed’s pack walks and met many of his former students.  Dude’s got game.  I don’t expect these donations to be tax deductible (for those that care) but I am certain they will go to a good cause.

Dana Hopkins is a new friend that owns the title “Survivor” several different ways.  She is also an artist and activist working on a couple of different projects right now, including a short film.  She is fighting some online body shaming demons and morons by participating in a photo series of her lovely, nekkid, cancer-surviving body.  And she is in the middle of a series of surgeries designed to repair some of the damage from cancer treatment and reconstruction that has left her with rather debilitating pain.  Also, she has a spectacular service dog named Wilbur.  Dana has a fundraising page on Indiegogo that tells her story far better than I can.  Survive and Inspire.

And.  Because all blog posts need a good picture, here is one of Wilbur that I took this weekend:





Peace Marathon – April 29 to May 31, 2013

Through Project Linus, I learned about a fabulous fundraiser to honor the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Chicago running coach Jenny Hadfield established a virtual marathon where each participant runs or walks 26.2 miles over the course of the next month.  So if you simply walk one mile a day, you will more than reach the goal.  The registration fee is $15 and the proceeds will go to the One Step Ahead Foundation.  One Step Ahead is generally in the business of helping disabled children to thrive through athletics, and they specialize in kids with lost limbs.  So right now they are coordinating  efforts to provide prosthetic limbs and other aid to people affected in Boston.

I immediately decided to participate, and then I went all HR about it and thought..charitable contribution…wellness initiative…Employer Sponsor!  So I pitched it to my boss and now my office is building a team.  I have already had one employee ask if she might put together a running group and our social committee is also making plans.  I had 20 people asking to sign up when I left the office today.

You can find the details and register here.  But hurry up – the action starts on Monday!

New Favorite Charity – Adopt a Classroom

I forget where I first heard of Adopt-a- Classroom, but the premise was very familiar:

Teachers spend a lot of their own money for stuff needed in the classroom.  School budgets are tight, parents can’t always afford supplies and teachers want the best for their students. 

So teachers can go on this website and make a request for resources.  Donors can search for a particular school or teacher to support, or browse the database for a classroom that sparks their interests.  Once a donation is made for a particular classroom, the program hooks up the teacher with its partners to spend the money as effectively as possible. 

So.  There are lots of schools in Chicago that could use some help.  I found a teacher that wanted to buy some books for a classroom library to encourage her bilingual second graders to read.  It is not news that most low income students lack books at home, and we all know that starting early is good.  I liked this project for three reasons:

1.       Chicago

2.       The teacher could use my donation right away, as opposed to waiting for other donors to fully fund a project

3.       Duh.  Books.  Reading.

Also, my nephew Alex is in second grade.  So I made my donation.  I received an acknowledgement right away.  A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from the teacher:

Thank you so much for adopting my classroom. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. My students will be thrilled to know that someone is thinking of them and cares enough to donate money so that we can have more books in our classroom library. My students are incredibly motivated and love diving into new books. They are constantly asking me if I have more books about different topics and I always try to find what they are asking for. I know that they will be more motivated if they are interested in what they are reading. My students are in a bilingual spanish classroom, and are just beginning to read in English. They are grabbing the English books off the shelves and are extremely excited to show me what they are learning as they read those books as well. Thank you again for your donation. I will put it to good use and my students will be so grateful.

Later that night I received another e-mail.  The teacher I sponsored had done her shopping and sent me another note, along with a detailed list of her purchases.  By “detailed list” I mean the titles of each book and how much each one cost so that I could see that my entire donation went to the classroom.  Scholastic books is one of the partners.  I didn’t need that much detail to believe that my dollars were going to a good place, but it was very nice to see.

Charity Navigator gave Adopt-a-Classroom four stars last year.  You can find them at

Wrapping for a Good Cause

Last year was the first time I sponsored holiday gifts for a child.  There are lots of non-profits out there that collect wish lists from families that don’t have extra cash for holiday gifts and hook them up with people that have some to spare.  I took two lists and went shopping and it was lots of fun.

I like shopping.

I didn’t realize that Glenview Youth Services had such a program until I read about it in  But I clicked over, sent an e-mail and received the information.   Again, I sponsored two kids and dropped off the loot last weekend when they were sorting through the gifts.  This week is the wrapping and I volunteered this morning.

I headed over to the NIPSTA building, where they are staging the gift program.  They have plenty of tables set up with wrapping paper and boxes and other supplies.  The staff and regular volunteers (as opposed to my one-day “event” volunteering) bring over the gifts that were selected for children in a particular family and then we wrap.

GYS is very careful to label every item so that the right gift goes to the right child, so we completed the gift tag before wrapping the gift.  Once while working on a big family, my table found a couple of gifts with lost labels and the staff went back to the database printouts to confirm the match.  “No guessing” was the motto, which I appreciated.  And I particularly enjoyed the gift tags that were handmade by other kids.

I learned that reversible wrapping paper is cool.  It has patterns on either side that are thematically similar, but not exactly the same.  Particularly if you are pressed for space, that is good stuff.  When I made that comment onsite, another volunteer said, “They have been doing this for years and have it down to a science.”

Hm.  So does Santa Claus.

Wrapping is scheduled to continue through December 14.  If you are interested in helping out, here is a link to the program page.  If I were going to name one supply that they could really use, it would be gift boxes.  We were going through those quickly today – particularly the ones for the winter coats.  And they can always use more wrapping paper!

Cyber Giving Monday

My online friend Carlo Garcia launched a short campaign to encourage people to donate to our favorite causes on Cyber Monday.  He called it Cyber Giving Monday. 
I was on the road Monday, and I don’t like to offer up my credit card on strange Wi-fi, but when I got home last night I made two donations:

This time of year, I always make a contribution to Best Friends Animal Society.  They have been a pioneer in taking the no-kill movement national and building a network of local shelters and rescue groups. 

Second, I made a donation to Trio Animal Foundation – a group in Chicago I mentioned not long ago – that pays the medical bills of homeless animals until they can find permanent homes.  Trio herself passed away not long ago, so to honor her and my cat Spooky I thought this was fitting.

I continue to do much of my microphilanthropy on Crowdrise, so if you’d like to join in, you can find me here.

And if you are interested in Carlo’s wrap up post, it can be found here.