Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest Blog

The blog's been on a tiny hiatus this week, but I'm back today with a special guest blogger: my daughter, Lauren. She's appeared in the blog before in my anecdotes; you may remember her as WordGirl, LA, or the grad school kid. Lauren's been home from school for a few weeks and offered to blog today.

Christmas Charity
When my brother and I were growing up, our parents made sure we understood the importance of giving to others. I remember in grade school they encouraged us to set aside some of our allowance money for the Lottie Moon offering at church or for the Salvation Army bucket outside Wal-Mart. I’m thankful that they taught me about giving when I was younger. Watching my parents give to others made it much easier for me to be a giver myself once I was off on my own—even on a grad assistant salary. I’d like to share a few of my favorite charities with you; feel free to tell us about your favorite charities in the comments.

826 National
826 is a national chain of community writing centers; it was started by one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers. 826 chapters offer free after-school tutoring, in-school writing seminars, and writing workshops for elementary through high school aged students. Their goal is to work with local schools to encourage writing and creativity in children. Each 826 chapter features a storefront with a quirky theme; my 826 in Chicago is called “The Boring Store” and conceals a secret spy organization. Other chapter stores supply superheroes, robots, and pirates.

I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent volunteering at 826 Chicago—they’re truly a valuable service for kids who might not get enough attention at school. But if you don’t live near an 826, you can always give monetarily. And here’s the big bonus: 826 is always good about sponsoring unique fundraising programs. The Chicago store has a yearly mustache-growing contest, and 826 national usually releases several fantastic books a year to fund their programs, including some recent titles, The New Kings of Nonfiction and My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. My favorite fundraiser took place last week; 826 teamed up with one of my favorite online art galleries,, to release an edition of affordable artwork.
Kiva is a fairly new grassroots organization that lends money to entrepreneurs in the Third World. Donors can give as little as $25 per loan and are able to choose which recipients they’d like to give to. So you can support only the specific projects or entrepreneurs that you want to—from computer schools in South America to soda salesmen in Africa to farmers in Asia. Entrepreneurs have their own pages with their pictures, brief stories about their businesses, and information about the local loaning organization that they receive the loan through. After the loan is collected, entrepreneurs repay their loans at an incredibly low interest rate in small installments, usually spread out of the course of the year. These payments are deposited into the donors’ Kiva accounts; they can then choose to reinvest the money in other projects or withdraw the money. Donors also receive periodic emails that update them on the entrepreneurs’ progress.

The above picture is Guzman Velazquez; he's the first entrepreneur I loaned to on the site. He's using his $775 loan to open a computer school so the people in his town in Paraguay can train for technology jobs. Guzman received the loan a few months ago and has already made payments on it. I’ve enjoyed using Kiva because it’s easy to give in small amounts and it’s gratifying to see exactly who you’re giving to. Kiva is also completely transparent—they publish the default rates of all their partner organizations and keep donors well-informed.

Christmas Gift Ideas
One fun way to be charitable during the holiday season is to combine charity giving with gift giving. 826 books make great gifts; Kiva has a store that sells calendars, shirts, and other goodies, including these totes.

You can also buy Kiva gift certificates that allow others to donate to entrepreneurs of their choosing.

Another great gift is Good Magazine. When you buy a subscription, the entire price is donated to a charity of your choice ( and 826 are both options).

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