Hispanics, stand up and be counted

The United Way wants to enlist more Central Texas Hispanics to volunteer, but first they need to know more about you.

The agency has partnered with Adelante Soluntions to conduct a new, online survey that asks just the very basic information – nothing private, no names, no personal info – in order to get some demographic and baseline data about the Hispanic community.

“Austin’s ethnic minorities have maintained a rich history of volunteering and philanthropy,” says Armando Rayo, Director of Hands On Central Texas, the volunteer center of United Way. “This initiative focuses on the Hispanic community, and the insights the survey will provide, will allow us to deliver a variety of signature projects designed to positively impact their lives.”

Take the survey now – just click either English or Spanish. It took me all of 70 seconds to complete the 12 simple questions.  Don’t forget to pass the link to your friends.

UPDATE: The survey is just for Hispanics/Latinos and will only run through the end of February – so click through now!

PS: You can also complete the survey by phone at (512) 498-4900.

Theatre Action Project: Something tells me this fundraiser will be cool

Theater Action Project photo

Photo from TAP’s student program “Courage to Stand”

Theatre Action Project will hold its very first fundraising event – after being in the community for 10 years – on Wednesday, February 27 at the Design Center of Austin. If you’ve ever heard of this group, you’ll have high expectations for this event.

TAP may be about combining theater and education to help children and teens cope with self-esteem and other issues, but from what I’ve seen, the group is all about helping groups lose their inhibitions through easy and fun interactions. You don’t really “see” TAP perform … you watch them take over a crowd, as I did at MLK Day of Service last month.

The fundraiser is called “Big Kid Birthday Bash,” with the birthday being TAP’s. There will be food and a cash bar, of course, as well as the requisite band (ragtime jazz group The White Ghost Shivers) and silent auction (vacation packages, local arts, jewelry). And the whole night takes on a carnival theme with a cake walk featuring baked goodies from the best bakeries in Austin, a ring toss featuring unopened bottles of wine to win, fortune tellers featuring you, and lots more.

Pretty fun for a Wednesday night, huh? And the whole thing is just $30 a person – so bring a couple friends along and feel good about dropping about $100 each on a good cause, and walking out with a cake, a couple bottles of wine, and your future all worked out.

I spoke with Karen LaShelle, the executive and artisitc director of TAP, for more information about the event and what they do.

1. This is TAP’s first fundraising event – so from where else does TAP get its funding?
We have funding from a variety of sources–federal, state and local city grants, family foundations, individual donors and corporations.  We are really trying to increase our gifts from corporations and individuals as to create a nice stable funding base.

2. People hear “theater and education,” and maybe they think TAP offers acting classes for kids. But the goal is not to make actors out of children…. what’s the goal of your programs?

We want to improve the lives of young people ad we use theatre and the createive arts as tools to engage, inspire and educate them on a variety of social issues including bullying, conflict resolution, dating violence, and community pride.

3. So when people donate money to TAP, what exactly do you spend the money on?

We spend nearly our entire budget on our amazing pool of talented and dedicated teaching artists – local artists and educators who are trained to deliver our innovative and unique blend of theatre and creative arts programs. Right now, the vast majority of funding we seek will help to sustain our very large after school program in which we deliver over 280 hours of meaningful and enriching after school to 30 area campuses.

4. Congratulations on 10 years in the community. What’s up for the future of TAP?

My dream is for TAP to be a part of every school community in the area and someday reach beyond Central Texas.   We think our way of engaging young people and providing them with fun opportunities to gain skills, knowledge and self-confidence is something every child no matter where they live can benefit from.  I also would love to see a TAP Community Arts Center someday at which people could gather to be a part of a variety of creative arts programs. 

I want to create a space that connects people and provides a fun and beautiful way to build community. Imagine art classes, theatre performances, community gardens, murals, community discussions, potlucks, parades and more!

Here’s the details:

Theatre Action Project Big Kid Birthday Bash
When: February 27, 2008
Time:  6:30-9:30pm
Place: The Design Center of Austin, 3601 South Congress at Penn Field, Bldg. C, Austin, Texas 78704

Musical entertainment: The White Ghost Shivers
Emcees: Improv actors Jodi and Owen Egerton
Silent and Live Auction including incredible vacation packages, local arts, and jewelry
Delicious food, wine and beer cash bar

Tickets: $30 individual
Tables: $500 for 10 people, includes premiere seating, valet, drink tickets, and take-away goodie bags
Recommended for guests 21 yrs. old and older

For more information, please contact Karen LaShelle   karen@theatreactionproject.org, 442-8773

Even working moms can do it…

Diane Kearns is a working mom with three children – Beck, four-months-old; and twins Dean and Vivian, both five years old. Diane is also an active volunteer at Sammy’s House, an Austin nonprofit child development center for children with special needs. I’ve always considered full-time working mothers who volunteer to be extraordinary people.  “I’ve been involved with Sammy’s House since the twins were about one, and volunteering for them is definitely a labor of love,” says Diane.

What makes Diane even more special, though, is her complete acceptance  of and peace with her son Dean’s condition. Dean was born with cerebral palsy, and Diane has had to be extra resourceful in finding support. “My son has a disability and that’s just the way it is,” she says. “It doesn’t define him. It’s just a challenge that we together have to help him overcome.”

Early on, Diane and her family found a lot of support through Sammy’s House. The organization seems to have found a place in Diane’s heart, and she somehow finds the time to give back to Sammy’s House, volunteering for the past four years and, most recently, chairing the annual fundraiser.

I was fascinated with Diane’s story because, despite the fact that she deals with much more than I can imagine, she seems extremely energetic and positive. She let me ask her a few questions. I think her story can inspire others to find the time to volunteer – especially when they find the right organization.

1. In 2002, you had twins, Dean and Vivian. Dean was born with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment but Vivian was not. At what point did you reach out for help? 

We were fortunate in that because the twins were born premature, and in the NICU, standard operating procedure was that babies get cranial ultrasounds before they’re discharged. The doctor noticed brain damage on his final ultrasound, so she referred us to a pediatric neurologist (who gave us the diagnosis of CP), and wrote a prescription for physical therapy, and referred us to Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), who sent out a case worker who evaluated Dean, which led to additional therapy services paid through Travis County (that’s since changed — now payment is based in income…on a sliding scale). That snowballed into Dean getting evaluated for vision services, which are paid through the school district (AISD). So, we were fortunate that the services came to us in the early years. 

2. What was your involvement in the beginning and how has it changed? 

We got involved with Sammy’s House when our nanny quit (the twins were about 11 months old) and I didn’t have childcare for the twins. I was referred by one of our therapists to Sammy’s House…one of their primary services is a childcare center for children with special needs. I called the center and spoke to their director, Isabel Huerta, who spent roughly an hour talking to me. There were no spots in the classes (at the time, they could only handle 12 children due to space limitations), but she put me on the waiting list.

A few months later, I called Isabel again when Dean needed a wheelchair and our insurance company refused to pay for one (it took 9 months to get approved). She loaned us the exact version of what we eventually got, and my husband and I were so grateful, we started volunteering at respite care, and then on the fundraisers. I joined the board in January of 2007, and am now the committee chair on fundraising. 

3. When you heard about Sammy’s House, what made you want to be a part of it beyond being one of their clients? 

There are so many reasons! First, it was because their executive director is such a dynamic, caring person. She reached out to me when I first met her, spent time with me (apparently she could see that I needed it!). Later on, it was because they were the underdogs. The school was in a tiny house in Hyde Park, and could only serve 12 kids. Several neighbors had an issue with special needs kids being “in their neighborhood”.

They operate on such a shoe string budget, I knew that I could generate exposure and raise funds. Now, I do it because I know I can make a difference in the community…for all the special needs kids & their families, and everyone else…to promote inclusion, acceptance, and diversity. 

4. What are some of the ways Sammy’s House has helped Dean more than if he were not enrolled? 

Sammy’s House operates a “reverse-inclusion” model. In the daycare and pre-K program, there are more special needs kids than there are typical kids. Dean got to spend his days with kids of varying abilities and I think it helps him see that there are a lot of other kids just like him. That he’s not so different.

Want to know more about Sammy’s House? Visit the site and let them know you support their work.

Don’t be boring, vague, or outdated. Duh, right?

Last month, the March of Dimes, a very established and well known national nonprofit, changed the name of its biggest fundraising event from “Walk America” to “March for Babies.” I think most people were aware that March of Dimes served babies and infants in some way, but the name “Walk America” had always sounded like a fitness campaign. In fact, according to the New York Times, while most Americans trusted and were aware of the nonprofit, most of us hadn’t the foggiest what its mission is.

The paper quoted the March of Dimes president: “We had gotten to the point where people walking in Walk America didn’t necessarily know why they were walking. They were there because someone they care about or someone at their office had asked them to walk.”

(Check out the Web page announcing the change. The “walking” baby footprints are a little creepy – babies that small can’t walk, so who’s pulling them around like that? – but I think they were aiming for clever and cute.)

In the same month, a familiar national nonprofit changed its name – kinda. The United Negro College Fund has a slight problem in the word “negro” in that it’s outdated and doesn’t really encompass its mission. So it’s relying on its initials – U.N.C.F. – a new logo, and its famously clever and effective tagline, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” to pull it into this century.

As the Times reports, “its name is not only reminiscent of a bygone era, but suggests that it only serves African-Americans, which is no longer true. U.N.C.F., which is based in Fairfax, Va., works on behalf of all minority students, particularly poor ones, who are looking to earn a college degree.”

These two rebranding efforts got me thinking about how volunteers can often approach a project with plenty of enthusiasm and information, but not much experience in making their efforts stand out. These days, you really can’t expect people to get worked up about something that doesn’t have some kind of hook. Despite all your meetings and outreach and fundraising, if you call it “School Supplies Drive”… chances are not many will take notice. People need to connect with your mission, and it starts with a clear and sometimes clever message.

It’s a shame, but I think it happens often because the people who are best at organizing these efforts aren’t necessarily the “find a catchy name” types. That’s why it takes a few people with different backgrounds and talents to make these efforts a success. Unless you get lucky…..

I think of two people:

1. Brad Houston. Brad is an Austin lawyer, a dad, and an active member of the Austin Bar Association. Brad’s big project each year was to organize and run the blood drive. Snooze, right? A blood drive? Well, what made this blood drive a little more interesting was that it was a competition among professional associations – the lawyers, the doctors, and the CPAs. Whichever organization got the most pints donated in its name won bragging rights, and for many consecutive years, the Austin lawyers had won.

But Brad wanted to make it a little more interesting one year. He wanted to use a boxing theme, and he had some ideas for how to push it out there. First, he would make boxing-themed posters with two people duking it out in a ring – Brad was one and a fit female lawyer was the other. They even went to Lord’s Gym in Central Austin to shoot in an actual ring. They’d use the posters in downtown buildings where there were a number of professionals to advertise the blood drive and tell people where to sign up.

Then he got the president of the medical association, a well known and respected judge, and a CPA to don boxing gloves, robes, and towels around their necks for a press event where each of them would recite self-written trash talk about who was going to win. Sound dorky? Local TV news stations loved it.

The best part about all of it is that more people participated in the drive than ever. The bad part for Brad was that that year the CPAs won. CPAs! (I was the communication director at the bar and I contend to this day that they cheated.)

2. Richard Bagdonas. Richard founded and still runs Operation Turkey, which enlists hundreds of volunteers on Thanksgiving Day and hits the streets  to hand out hot turkey dinners to the homeless. In its first year – or actually, the first time Richard did it before it was Operation Turkey – he handed out a single plate of leftovers from his own Thanksgiving Day meal to a single homeless man. After that, Richard wanted to do it the next year, grow it, even. When I interviewed him last fall about the project, he told me one of the first things he did was come up with the name. Bagdonas, a serial entrepreneur, told me how he felt that finding the right name was the most important thing to start with. That it created the platform for everything else to come together.

Operation Turkey went from one meal in 2000 to hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners in 13 cities across Texas and Lousiana in 2007. Was it because of the name? Well, let’s see. Would “Thanksgiving Meals for the Homeless” have stirred as many volunteers and donors to action?

All I’m saying, folks, is that the next time you get a great idea for a fundraiser or volunteer to lead a project, try thinking like a marketer or advertiser… get a little attention for your project … make it stand out. Find a PT Barnum or a TMZ blogger to help with your project. Just don’t be boring.

Men for sale (for a good cause, of course)

I have never been to a bachelor auction, but I may go to this one for… ahem… research.

That’s my reason. Your reason is to support two important – and dare I say, cool – organizations in Austin: First, the Austin Chapter of American Women in Radio and Television, a nonprofit, professional organization created to support and encourage women in these fields and further their impact on the community. The second organization is Latinitas, a nonprofit, bilingual Web zine made for and by Latina youth, and founded in Austin by students from UT.

If that’s not enough reason, please let me introduce you to one of the bachelors and his prize package.

David Rice is a writer, but more than that he’s an outspoken community leader driven by a calling much bigger than his own work. Here’s a quote from an interview with him published in the Austin Chronicle a few years ago:

“…what I have written is nothing compared to what has not been written by these folks down in the Valley. And in South Texas, and in Laredo, and in El Paso. There’s a wealth of stories in those areas that have to be told. Writing is history. All literature is history. So you must write. My stories go way beyond the author, they’re about culture and heritage. And therefore I have a responsibility to show them.”

I’ve met David before and spoken to him several times, so I feel I can say that he is not the least bit shy. Still, to be put up for auction, evaluated and bid upon by women who put a dollar amount on your worth … that’s beyond what most of us and our egos could bear. So I asked him a few questions:

1. Is this at all embarrassing?
It’s more embarrassing to do nothing for your community.

2. Tell us about your package … the one you’re offering for the auction … the one that includes gift cards, etc. Geez!
My package includes: A plane ride around Austin. Z’Tejas Dinner. Charbay Vodka. Haircut from Bird’s Barbershop. A Bike Tune up. Two Cine Las Americas all access film pass. Castle Hills Fitness workout. Book People Books. A round of golf for two. A family Portrait, photograph.

3. How much do you think you’ll fetch?
My package is valued around $945.00. How much will I fetch, I have no idea.

4. Do you have to strut around or what?
I don’t strut, but I do walk with a purpose.

5. And for the lady who wins… what will she get, exactly?
Whoever wins me gets my package, and if she can keep up, maybe a little bar hoping: Starlite, Sullivans, Whiskey Bar, Besty Bar, Side Bar, Creek Side Saloon, Texas Chili Parlor, and Rio Rita. But it depends on the night.

A date with me will tick off your father, but your mother will understand and even envy you. Sure, I’ve got Peter Pan syndrome and my friends are all bar tenders, but at least I don’t go home with them. ADHD you ask? You bet. I can’t sit still, and I get bored easily, so you gotta keep up and keep me guessing or you can move on to the guy in the khaki pants and baseball cap.

Yeah, I can dance and know lots of jokes and I don’t quote movies. I read lots and I write, but you won’t see me doing either cause when you’re around, you’re my focus and I love to talk between kisses. I never shut up, unless you’re dumb. I like smart women and smart ass women, even more.

So, I dare you. Bid on me.

You heard the man. Now go get ‘em.

Sweetheart Bachelor Auction
Benefiting American Women in Radio and Television and Latinitas of Austin
Wednesday, Feb 13
Vicci Nightclub, 404 Colorado
$10 in advance
$15 at the door
Silent auction, drink specials, and more

For more information visit the AWRT page or contact Lisa King at lisa.king@twcable.com

To see photos of all the bachelors, including David Rice, click here.

Issue #1 cover girl: Cookie Ruiz

We are looking forward to a high-impact first issue thanks to our cover subject, Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin.

In gearing up for GoodCause and attending a number of local philanthropic events, I kept hearing the some of the same names over and over again. Cookie’s was definitely one of them. What strikes me about her, aside from her being this very successful woman and mother, is how well respected she is among her peers. It occurred to me that there was something to be learned from this professional fundraiser.

It’s the goal of GoodCause to serve as a guide for readers who make local philanthropy and volunteerism a part of their lives. In thinking through the Cookie angle, I thought it might be useful to find out what magic she has as a fundraiser. As anyone who’s ever served on a board can attest, asking people for money can be awkward. Most of us aren’t prepared for the moment when we actually have to ask someone for a donation, and there’s definitely a talent to it. Cookie has that talent in spades, so I thought it would be interesting to pick her brain a little bit – and hear from the people who donate to her cause.

At the same time, I completely lucked out in finding one of the best freelance writers in Austin, Shermakaye Bass. (By the way, all GoodCause contributors so far have been the very best I could find – it really makes a difference and I hope you’ll be able to tell.) Shermakaye has contributed to the Statesman, Good Life, and Texas Highways, as well as People magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She does a great profile, so I knew she’d be a good fit for the Cookie story.

Turns out I got lucky: Both women agreed. Not only that, Torquil found a really talented photographer to do the shoot. We think this story will set the bar high for the first issue and every issue to come. Here are a few gems from the profile:

“To Ruiz, it’s all about the importance of giving, not to whom one gives or how much. ‘I’d never like to think that a single dollar that came to us could have gone to Caritas or the Red Cross instead. It’s not an arts vs. social services type of giving.'”

“Ruiz wants to make sure that up-and-coming generations understand the importance of involvement in the nonprofit sector. She also wants them to realize there are careers to be had in nonprofit. Good ones….

‘So many young people are so focused on developing an exact path for their future and what they need to be,’ Ruiz says – often, to their detriment, she feels. ‘Something I learned from my father is, Never focus too much on the path ahead or on what you feel you have to be… as much as on knowing what you will never be. Because then, it’s a matter of opening yourself up to the serendipity of life.'”

Thanks to Cookie and Shermakaye for their help with our first issue.