MariBen Ramsey, Austin’s best friend

Years ago I would have rolled my eyes if you’d said I’d be working for MariBen Ramsey.  “No way!”

I was intimidated by MariBen Ramsey, or rather not MariBen, whom I didn’t know, but by her stature in the community. She was the vice president of the Austin Community Foundation, after all!

I was reminded of her stature in the community today as she stepped to the stage at the front of the Hyatt’s wide Texas Ballroom to accept her “special recognition” award at AFP’s Philanthropy Day. The entire audience of +800 rose to its feet, applauding and hooting wildly as she accepted the award from Kerry Tate.

Kerry had just called MariBen “Austin’s best friend,” and I can see now that she’s just that. While I’m less intimidated by her now that I work for her, I witness every day how much she does deserve the city’s respect and gratitude.

A story: Some folks who are new to Austin, bless their hearts, aren’t aware of just who MariBen Ramsey is, but MBR would never embarrass them by pointing it out herself. A couple of months ago, MBR and I were on a conference call with such a person, and this person just wasn’t getting it. MBR was being as polite and patient as she could be, but it was clear this person had no idea who he was talking to. At one point, after having explained something at least 28 different ways, she said something along the lines of, “Because I said so,” but the person on the other end of the line was audacious and disrespectful and was really starting to piss us off.

It was all I could do to not yell out, “Seriously, do you know who you’re talking to? If MariBen says it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen! Now apologize instantly!”

Later, when the call was finally over, MBR said something like, “Sometimes you have to get past the people and focus on the cause.”

That’s MariBen.

We’re on The Huffington Post!

A story about Rain appeared in the latest issue of 12 Baskets magazine. Photo by Austin photographer Jessica Attie

So grateful to Andrew Shapter for making us the subject of his latest blog post for The Huffington Post. See it here: “Need Inspiration to Give? Read Stories, Not Statistics.”

In that post, he writes about how stories rather than statistics inspire people to give. And he uses the two magazines I produce – GivingCity Austin and 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes – as an example of that.

Our goal has always been to highlight and help grow a culture of philanthropy in Austin. With 12 Baskets, we get to share the stories of area homeless people and the good folks who are trying to help them. With GivingCity we call out the good works people are doing in Austin and offer ways for you to get involved, too.

Please share these magazines via email, social media, word of mouth with whomever you think might need a little inspiration to give right now.

Thank you for your continued support!

Donate: The man is selling space on his arms, people.

Rob increased the distance "to give my donors the feeling that they're getting their money's worth."

On September 2, Rob Cunningham will swim in Town Lake from the 360 Bridge to Tom Miller Dam, 4.1 miles total.

Then, in October, he’ll ride his bike from Dallas to Austin, 200 miles.

He’s not a “fitness freak,” per se. No, Rob’s more of a philanthropy freak. Because you don’t just jump in the lake or on a bike and go, by the time Rob completes these tasks, he will have trained for months, swam about 100 miles and biked about a 1,000. All to raise $4,000 and awareness for four Central Texas nonprofits.

And you can either make a pledge or purchase space on his arms — think, Your Ad Here.

“I honestly want my donors to think of me in a lot of pain on event day and to be satisfied that they’ve given money for a significant effort.”

As per usual when I come across crazy interesting people, I have to ask a lot of questions.

Q What are you doing, swimming out there in Town Lake every morning?

Usually trying to keep my mind off of how bad my arms hurt. That is, until they go numb.

I made a commitment to my supporters and four local nonprofit organizations to not only raise money but to complete this physical challenge.

Thinking of my supporters and the nonprofits that I’m working for is a pretty powerful motivator for long training sessions. I know that if I’m not out there training and getting ready, then I run the risk of falling short of my physical goal on event day, and I don’t want that to happen.

Plus we have a great team of 19 other Got2Swim(mers) who have taught me a lot.  They’re a big group of fun loving people who make great training partners.

Q. Group training makes a difference. And no one ever does this stuff alone, do they?

My family has also been an integral part of my fundraising efforts over the last seven years.  For the 100-mile-rides for the Ronald McDonald House, Amy, Finn and Barton served as our rest stop coordinators and traveled with our ride team, over a 10 hour day. In the sixth year of that ride Amy even took on the 100 mile challenge herself.

The memories that my family have from those events are some of the best memories we have together.

I’m also fortunate to work at FOX 7, a company that is a big part of the community and has a big commitment to giving back.  I’m certainly not the only person at the station that supports a nonprofit or two throughout the year or raises money for a good cause.

To name only a few, there are ladies at the station that have a bake sale every year to raise money for the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes; Keri Bellacosa is on the Board of Directors of JDRF Austin; and Loriana Hernandez co-founded Maggie’s Hope, which is a nonprofit that helps families dealing with Autism.

From FOX 7’s the top floor down to the lobby we feel a strong sense of being a community builder here in Central Texas, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.

Q. Why did you choose these four organizations?

I chose the Ronald McDonald House, Colin’s Hope and the Capital Area Food Bank’s Kids Café Program because I like the idea of helping local kids. I may not be able to give my own kids everything I’d like but at least they know that they’ll always live in a loving home and (by the grace of God) always have food on the table.

It breaks my heart to think that not all kids are that fortunate so I gravitate to causes that focus on helping kids. I also like the idea of giving back to wounded soldiers in the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior program. Those “kids” deserve all the help we can give them.

Rob in the water, training for the big swim on Sept 2, with help from his wife.

Q. What’s your “dream” for all this? What impact do you hope to have?

This all started seven years ago when, as a new board member of the Ronald McDonald House, I was trying to figure out a way to make a significant financial contribution to the House. Since I couldn’t just write a check, I made an impromptu decision to ride my bike 100 miles and ask people to sponsor me by the mile. That year I raised $1,700.

After that first year, through word of mouth, other riders joined in the fun and over the six-year history of that ride together our ride team raised a little over $200,000 for the Ronald McDonald House.

Q. How can we support you?

You can support my 204.1 mile effort by making a donation on-line at www.Got2Give.org/rob.html.  If you prefer to write a check you can make it out to Got2Give and mail it to 102 Squires Drive, Austin, Texas, 78734.

I’m also selling both of my arms to help raise money. I have ad space available on each shoulder for sale to a corporate sponsor for a donation $500 or more.  Just think, I’ve been training really hard…your logo here?

(Editor’s note: Rob is about 6’13” tall, so no worries about running a big logo.)

Trying to raise a minimum of $4,000 I really need support from anyone and everyone in the community that I can reach for both small and large donations, they’re all important and every donation makes a difference.

I was thinking that if all of my Twitter followers and Facebook friends donated just $10 that would equal $8,000, which is a real illustration of how everyone can help no matter what size the donation is.

Top 3 mistakes non-video people make when making videos – learn more at VideoCamp Austin!

This Saturday, David Neff is once again bringing one of his signature events – combining video, marketing, good causes and how-to, hands-on information – to the masses.

The event is VideoCamp Austin, and it’s for anyone with a small budget and lots to say and who wants to learn or perfect how they use video to say it.

I asked Dave for some details about VCA (if I should be so bold as to call it that), and got some good stuff….

1. How did VideoCamp come about? What’s the mission?

After I finished up work on Non Profit Bar Camp my good friend Talmadge Boyd approached me about what it would take to do VideoCamp Austin. The rest is history.

Our mission is a simple one. To bring video to the people by holding a day long conference where anyone can come out and learn how to shoot, capture, and edit video as well as make video social.

2. Who’s attending? What can they expect to learn?

Over 250 people from all around Texas. They can expect to learn everything from how to write a grant to get film equipment to how to turn a camera on to how to prepare 3D Video in Final Cut Pro

3. What are the top three mistakes most non-video people make when creating online videos?

They let their Executive Directors talk the whole time, they never show the mission in action, they don’t give a clear action item for the audience.


4. Okay, let’s reverse that: What are the top three mistakes by video-makers when they’re trying to promote their work?

They don’t listen to their audience before they make the film, they don’t respond to their community when it talks back and they don’t repeat the message enough.

5. In the end, what would qualify this event as a success?

If we have over 200 people show up who want to learn and participate!

More about VideoCamp Austin:

The FREE one day ad-hoc gathering of video, public relations, new media, and marketing professionals will offer discussions, demos and interaction from participants, who are the main actors of the event.

When: February 27, 2010 10:00 AM – 4PM
Where: Jesse H. Jones Communication Center – Building B – CMB, 2504 Whitis Avenue, Austin, TX 78705, Studio 4B
Here’s more details and how to sign up: http://www.videocampaustin.com/

Buy a sick-cute pet calendar, support a new nonprofit in Austin

I love discovering new Austin nonprofits, so when Brittani Bash contacted me about AustniPetFinder.org, I had to know more.

Plus… I mean, you gotta love this calendar (see below). Ridiculous and sick-cute at the same time.

1. What service do you offer pet owners in our community?

Austin Pet Finder offers pet owners easy access to online pet information in Central Texas. At AustinPetFinder.org you’ll find a growing resource for Central Texas pet owners, animal shelters, rescue organizations and veterinarians. We have a user friendly database for those wanting to post an ad in our lost and found database. We also provide essential information on pet health, Austin dog parks, pet friendly hotels, eateries and more!

2. What inspired the site? What need is it filling?

Austin Pet Finder was founded by Austin native, Katherine Holtry, in the summer of 2009. Katherine is a wife, mother and has been a radio and television personality for over a decade.

Katherine’s true passion is pets. As a child, she was always bringing home stray animals, and even today her household consists of several stray cats and dogs. APF was initiated on Facebook after Katherine rescued a stray kitten from a South Austin strip mall. Thanks to APF, the stray kitten enjoys a wonderful life with her loving adoptive family. Shortly after that time, APF acquired AustinPetFinder.org.

3. What are some ways we can help it grow?

Two ways:

1. In January 2010, APF’s first annual calendar was designed in hopes of taking its cause to the next level, becoming a non-profit organization. Calendars can be purchased online here.

2. We need volunteers. Our organization could not exist without volunteers.

Fundraising – APF is completely dependent on donations. Assist in all aspects of finding individual and business sponsors; develop and assist with fundraising events.

Marketing/PR/Graphic Design – Help educate the public about APF and our mission. Seek out public speaking opportunities; presentations at local fairs and other events; distribute PR materials at events and local businesses. Create a variety of promotional materials including brochures, ads, posters and flyers.

Volunteer Coordination – Assist in all aspects of recruiting, orienting, determining placement of, and coordinating volunteers for APF.

Write – Contribute a variety of marketing materials.

To help, contact Brittani,  Operations Director at 512 413-1064, or bbash@AustinPetFinder.org

Sometimes you can’t even give it away

Social entrepreneurism is an important model to observe and perfect if we’re going to make fundamental changes. It’s also important that we define and support it… and that’s not always easy to do.

When I interviewed Laurie Loew last year, what she told me about being a social entrepreneur stuck with me. Laurie is an Austin realtor who gives 25 percent of her commission to the charity of the seller’s choice in the seller’s name. She’s essentially a “realtor for good,” as is the rest of her team at GiveRealty. (Which donated almost $37,000 to local charities last year, BTW.)

And although you’d think nonprofits would be lining up to support her, that’s not always the case. Here’s Laurie:

“I think social entrepreneurs feel they need to do more for the community and be more involved and helpful, and we’re trying to figure out ways to do that. But it’s much harder for a small business – the price of admission to get on the nonprofit radar is way too high.

“Big companies can write the big checks that get attention. But the local coffee shop is just struggling to stay afloat. And it’s very hard for small businesses to feel like they can have an impact when the dollar amounts they can give are very small.

“I guess you would hope the nonprofit community would encourage small businesses – the ones that give back – and support what we’re doing. They can be some of your biggest promoters in a lot of ways. Their audience is the kind of people you’d want to be your clients.

“I understand why nonprofits can’t promote any particular small business. That’s why I’m a part of several groups – from Bootstrap Austin to I Live Here, I Give Here, the Austin Chamber, and others. We’re looking for ways for small businesses who want to have a social impact to work together to make the whole thing easier.

“Maybe that’s what it will take – someone forming a larger group that can make the case for social enterprise. But it’s got to be genuine and it’s got to be easy. I’m a small business owner. I’m very busy!”

 Learn more about social enterprise in Austin.

Austin author releases new book about the orphans of India

For three years, Shelley Seale would travel to the orphanages of India, bags loaded with treats and toys to share with the children who had made such an enormous impact on her. After all, these were the same children who inspired the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Each time she got to know the children’s stories a little more, which compelled this Austin writer to compose a new book called, “The Weight of Silence: The Invisible Children of India.”

“I hope that people will see that even though this topic is serious and the stories often heartbreaking, it is not a depressing book or subject!” says Seale. “The kids’ hope and resilience amazed me time and time again; the ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me. The issues are tough, what has happened to a lot of these kids makes you want to cry – but the bottom line of their stories is a very strong, hopeful voice.

I interviewed Shlley to find out what compelled her to travel, return, and make the children of India such a big part of her life.

What prompted you to travel in India and get to know these children?

In early 2004, I read an article in Tribeza magazine about Caroline Boudreaux, who had visited India three years earlier. She had happened upon an orphanage full of children living in incomprehensible conditions and had returned  home and started The Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit which raises money and recruits sponsors to help support the home. I began volunteering for the organization and sponsored a child, and Caroline invited me to go to India with a volunteer group. My first visit was in March 2005.

Was the situation what you expected?

Yes and no. When I arrived that first time, I assumed all the kids there were orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died. Instead I was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them, which in some ways seemed an even greater tragedy. I wondered when each of them had stopped wanting to go back home, or if they ever had. Afterward, there was simply no way to go on with my life afterwards as if they did not exist.

I had gone expecting it to be a sad place, an emotionally wrenching experience with these parentless young people. But those expectations had been turned on their head. Yes, there were stories behind each one of these children – many of them painful and tragic. Yet the man who ran the orphanage, and the house mothers, had made the kids their own in a community of sharing and acceptance. They were poor in wealth but not in spirit; limited in resources but not in joy and laughter. They gave me a complete unconditional love, for nothing more than showing up.

This kind of journey isn’t for everybody… is it?

Probably not. The specific type of trip I took with The Miracle Foundation, the volunteer trip to the children’s homes, is not the same as a sight-seeing vacation.

India is definitely a complete culture shock for someone who’s never been there, especially if you haven’t traveled in a developing country before. The poverty and hardship is stark and in your face. At times, quite honestly, I just wanted to look away and say I’d had enough. But the suffering remains whether we choose to look or not. They do not go away simply because we decide that to be a witness to them, to say I care about your story, is too difficult for us.

But still, like I said before, the moment you meet these kids, that all goes away. I have been on four different trips with all kinds of different people, some of whom love India and some who barely tolerate it, yet every single one of them fell in love with these kids and had the time of their life.  It’s amazing how this experience hooks you – I sometimes tease Caroline Boudreaux about putting something in the water. But the truth is, we go thinking about giving something back, and in the end it’s us who end up getting something amazing out of it. We are the ones who get rescued.

I guess sometimes it seems hopeless. There are so many children who need help. What do you think?

The truth is, each person can create incredible impact with even small actions. It’s a ripple effect, and I have seen it happen over and over, so many times I can’t even count them. Most of us could never sell all our belongings and go work in the trenches in India, but that doesn’t mean we should think, then, that we can’t do anything at all.

If you can change the course of the life of ONE person – still, that one person’s life is different and better because you impacted it.  I think that’s worth it. Don’t focus on the big picture, just focus on what you are passionate about, what you want to do. For me, I can’t constantly think about the 25 million kids in India who live in orphanages or on the streets – I can only think about the one who is in front of me at that moment.

What do you hope to accomplish with the book?

My sole purpose in writing the book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was. And so, the main thing I hope to accomplish is awareness – followed by action. Some kind of action. I think the key is to discover what you are passionate about, what you have genuine feelings and caring about – and then do something about that issue. But just do something.

To learn more about the book, go to Seale’s website or purchase one from The Miracle Foundation. Note that for all books purchased through The Miracle Foundation, all proceeds are donated to them.