For Sale: Elliot Smith’s Passat, with money to be donated to SIMS Foundation

Elliot Smith photo from

Elliot Smith photo from

The legacy of singer Elliot Smith  lives on, this time in his car, a 1999 Passat GLX, listed on the Austin Craigslist for $4000. Smith’s brother has listed the car, with the entire amount being donated to the Austin-based SIMS Foundation, which provides access to and financial support for mental health and addiction recovery services for Austin-area musicians and their families.

There seems to be a leaning toward charity with Smith’s life. In 2007, a double-album of his recording was released, with proceeds benefiting an organization called Outside In, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to providing diverse services for homeless youth and low-income adults.

This from the austin.craigslist post:

This car means the world to me, and has a very interesting story to tell. Music buffs might get a kick out of knowing who used to own their ‘new’ car. I feel that $4,000 is fair for the vehicle, and I’ll be honest about every issue I’ve known on the car. You would have the knowledge that your $4,000 is helping people struggling with depression, drug abuse, etc., and keeping this world a decent place to live in with good music and healthy musicians. I’ll show you the receipt for the SIMS donation when I make it, within 3 days of the sale. You can even go over there with me when I take ‘em the check if you’d like. Help me help SIMS, feel good about yourself, and get a fun car in the process.

Smith is best known for songs about sadness, like his Emmy-nominated “Miss Misery,” which appeared in the movie “Good Will Hunting” in 1998. Smith reportedly killed himself in 2003.

Guess who gives the most during a downturn?

BTW: Along the lines of this article, consider giving $5 to a charity this month. Every bit helps, or as the badass Pamela Benson-Owens puts it: “Even a donation that jingles is a donation.”

I spent yesterday afternoon with seven volunteer leaders from the Capital Area State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC), learning about how the campaign works and some of their challenges. These are remarkable people who’ve taken on the job – in addition to their full-time job – of inspiring and encouraging their co-workers – tens of thousands of them – to take advantage of the payroll deduction opportunity for charitable donations.

What’s so amazing about their energy is that they wholeheartedly believe, as do we at GivingCity, that all people want to give, and that they just need to be asked or given an easy opportunity to give. The positive vibes in that room made me want to sign up for paycheck deductions, too. And I don’t even work for the state. Or have a paycheck! (My temporary unemployment, though, is a whole ‘nother story.)

One thing they said toward the end, though, has stuck with me. In this sour economy, it’s inevitable that some donors would make smaller or less frequent donations. But there’s a inspiring phenomenon that happens as well.

At a time when everyone is rethinking their spending, more people of less income tend to donate a higher percentage of their income more often.

“People criticize us because we invite state employees who don’t make that much money to participate,” said Tammy Vega, chair of the Capital Area committee.

“Some people assume that they wouldn’t want to give,” said Holly Chacona of Hospice Austin, an active supporter of SECC. “But why would we assume they don’t want to give?

“It’s not about tell people they should, it’s about givine people the opportunity,” says Chacona. “What we’ve seen at Hospice Austin in the past is that donations from individuals from low incomes homes actually increase. They also tend to give a higher percentage of their income that high-income donors do.

“And I don’t know if it’s because maybe they finally feel secure and now they want to help the people below them feel secure. Or that they’ve been recipients of services in the past, and realize that more people are getting those services and so they should help… we just don’t know.”

Vega, who works at Texas Youth Commission, concurs. “We repeatedly see the correctional officers, who don’t make a lot of money in the first place, give the highest percentage of their wages and give on a more consistent basis than a lot of other TYC employees.”

The other part of this, they say, is that a lot of these people wind up giving more later, when the economy improves.

“People don’t mind being asked when you present it as an opportunity,” says Chacona. “This just gives them a chance to shine.”

Kerry Tate inspires dozens of women at GENaustin event last Friday

Kerry Tate of TateAustinHahnGENaustin’s fundraising event enjoyed a full house at the MACC last Friday, thanks to its headliner, Kerry Tate.  Tate is the founder of big-time Austin PR firm, TateAustinHahn.

I Twittered from the event because Tate was throwing out some real gems (see below). But the big takeaway was her “Ann Richards and 5 Things Story,” which she’s probably told before but which was pretty fresh to me. I’ll paraphrase the story here (thereby removing most of the charm, but here it is):

Years ago Tate saw Richards at Las Manitas. They were just acquaintencances at the time, but Richards charismatically demanded (as only Richards could) that Tate sit at her table. In the course of their short, one-sided conversation, Richards said, “Kerry, you need to tell me five things about yourself that you stand for and that make you who you are,” or something to that effect. “And whenever someone asks you to do something, you make sure it aligns with at least four of those five things, and if it doesn’t you say no.”

Tate, nervous and kind of awe-struck, told her she didn’t have those five things. “Well, why not?” demanded Richards. To deflect, Tate asked Richards for her five things, and Richards pulled an envelope  and a pen out of her purse, wrote them down, and handed it to Tate.

“Now Kerry, you need to go home and think about your list of five things. Because if don’t live your list, you’re going to be living somebody else’s.”

“Don’t live someone else’s list.” The “list” in Tate’s world, is her personal brand, and it’s something she said she bears in mind whenever establishing a client’s brand, too. Tate urged us to go out and make out own list. And I will, as soon as I think I could stay awake for the whole exercise.

I hadn’t expected Tate to be such a charming storyteller, but then again, it makes sense that she is. As one of Austin’s best known PR professionals, storytelling has got to be one of her skills. What interested me about Tate was her new venture, Civic Interest. Apparently, that’s what lots of other people were there for, too. Tate described it as a place where people with a civic interest can figure out what to do next. Hmmm. All I know is, they got David Balch, former executive director of United Way Capital Area. I sat next to him at the last Hispanic Quality of Life Initiative forum on the arts, but it wasn’t the right place to ask about it. So it’s still a mystery to me what it’s all about, but I would love to know more .



In the meantime, one of GENaustin’s high school employees certainly held her own. She’s part of the nonprofit’s ClubGEN program, which trains high school girls to be mentors to middle school girls, because who else is a middle school girl going to listen to? She told us about what a great program ClubGEN is, how much fun she has connecting with the other girls, and how great an experience it has been to take on a leadership role. Wish I’d had someone like her when I was in middle school…

If you’re concerned about girls and their problems with body image, self esteem, popularity, teen pregnancy, and other related challenges, GENaustin needs your support. Find out more here.

More of Tate’s gems (from my Tweets):

“Run toward trouble. The opportunities right now are where there’s turmoil, where there’s change.”

“Delight, humor, wonder, authenticity, believability” – When you know your own brand, you have these things.

“PR is doing something good and making sure you get caught.”

“PR is where we spend a lot of time and someone else’s money to tell their story.”

Donor fatigue, charity backlash, and other excuses

From Andrea Ball’s story in the Statesman yesterday: “Charities Suffering in an Ailing Economy”

The Christmas Bureau of Austin and Travis County — which gives holiday gifts to needy children — still has 2,300 unsponsored families, more than double the number it had by this time last year.

“There are families who aren’t going to get anything,” Christmas Bureau Director Cynthia Colpaart said.

The story was remarkable not only because of the depressing data about charitable giving but because of the comments. It mentioned a couple of reasons why people may be giving less this season, the economy being the primary reason and donor fatigue being another. Then the commneters chimed in with their own reasons: high-priced celebrity speakers, the charity’s discriminatory practices, and the recent “hand-outs” by the feds to other charities like banks and auto makers.

It was kind of a downer to read those comments.

From that story, though, I was offered a link to this Statesman story: “Austinites Still Find Ways to Live Good Life”

News of the recession hasn’t persuaded all consumers to forsake lavish lifestyles. Some still eat at expensive restaurants, buy designer clothes and drive luxury cars.

So, of course, that story made me feel a whole heck of a lot better. (Sigh, still depressed.)


Then I saw this post on Tim Sander’s blog. He writes about sustainability at work – not necessarily charity – but this time he wrote about a toy drive. “At work,” he writes, “one person can unleash the power of many.” The quote from a man who put together a toy drive at his office was awesome.

It’s too late to adopt a family for Christmas giving, but I hope over the next week or two we’ll find other ways to share and give, particularly if it’s with a stranger who could really use our help. Here are some ideas:

1. That man on the corner you pass by on your way home from work everyday….? Roll down the window and give him some cash.

2. If you know of a stressed-out parent who could use an hour or two to just get her world together a little bit, tell her to send her kids over and play Candy Land with them for an hour.

3. Open the door for old people, people with too many things in their hands, people who are having trouble walking.

4. Give someone else that excellent parking spot.

5. If you live near someone – an older person, a person with a disability – who can’t get around well, leave some blankets or some fruit or a ham and a loaf of bread on their doorstep. Or better yet, ring the doorbell and say hello.

That’s just five nice, charitable, giving things you can still do this holiday and all the way into 2009. Enjoy feeling great about yourself after!

Announcing our YouTube channel…

I’m such a follower. But we have a few videos related to the next issue, and uploading to the ‘Tube is so much easier than uploading to WordPress. Plus, I need the self-gratification that comes with mastering a Web application and gaining new “friends” and “subscribers.” (I wish I were joking.) Please check out the channel, subscribe, befriend me, etc.

Last night I posted this video about Nicki Swann. She was on a couple of local TV newscasts lately because she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Nicki isn’t your average breast cancer patient, though (and if that’s insensitive to say, I apologize – forgive my clumsiness with words at the end of a long day).

Nicki is one of those women who do everything right – she exercises like a fiend, she eats organic and vegetarian, she steers clear of anything remotely unhealthy (save the occasional cupcake with sprinkles) and she is vigilant about seeing a doctor when something seems wrong. Her health is her calling card, so to say. And yet, this 24-year-old neuroscience grad student was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer earlier this year.

Not your usual breast cancer story, if there is such a thing. In talking to Nicki for a while and especially in reading her blog, I learned a lot about her and her approach to the disease. More than that, I learned a lot about how some of the small things about the disease can affect a young woman in a big way.

I asked what I always ask for GivingCity: “How can we help?” I think you’ll be surprised by her response.

Remarkable Austinites who just happen to your need help getting food

Sarah Andrews of Meals on Wheels and More wrote me last week with lots of great news about this longstanding organization. First the biggest news was that it is going to be the recipient of the money raised by next year’s Capital 10K race, which last year raised more than $180,000 for University Medical Center Brackenridge. (This is the best race I’ve ever run in Austin, BTW. Very well run.)

The other very big news is that the organization will premiere its documentary, “Wisdom in Their Own Words,” on Monday, November 17, and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, complete with a red carpet for some of the “stars” from the documentary.

Recently, Meals on Wheels and More, Time Warner Cable, Texas Crew and Dan Rather teamed up to help tell the life stories of seven MOWAM clients, who have lived through some of the most trying times of the past century and whose words provide a unique and important perspective on the history of Austin and the importance of services like Meals on Wheels and More in so many people’s lives.

Do you know how people always say they want to have good stories to tell when they’re old? That’s what this documentary is all about. It will introduce you to some people you might have seen and ignored around Austin, and they will blow you away with their stories. These are the kind of stories an older person might tell you that make you want to go out and get a life, too.

There’s the man who lived through desegregation in Austin and four wars. There’s the woman who was a foster parent to more than 200 children. And there’s the man who was a POW for three years and marched three days with a wounded leg to keep from being shot.

What have you done with your life so far?

Sarah continues…

And we’re in the middle of a $5 million building expansion campaign. Based on population projections from the city demographer, we expect that we will need to prepare 2.1 million meals by 2020 to keep up with the demand for services – over twice what we prepare now. The addition to our building will allow us to primarily expand our kitchen facilities and client services department.

The least we can do is help these people and other Central Texans like them. They aren’t mobile enough to get their own meals, and that’s where MOWAM comes in. Consider donating and/or volunteering…. or at least watching the documentary.

However you go, you’ll learn a lot about Austin.

Meeting Nicki today to talk about her breast cancer

Nicki, graduate student, wiht a great new haircut

Nicki, graduate student, wiht a great new haircut

You might have heard that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You might have also heard the statistics – the ones that scare the bejeesus out of you: “The National Cancer Institute, a component of the National Institutes of Health, estimates that, based on current rates, 12.7 percent of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives.”

I like this from the national Komen website, too. Do you fall into one of these categories? If so, follow this link to find out how breast cancer can affect you. (Note: EVERYONE falls into one of these categories.)

African Americans
Ashkenazi Jewish Women
Asian Americans
Native Americans
Older Women
Younger Women
Pregnant Women

SO THE POINT IS that we need to learn more about breast cancer. How to avoid it, cure it, help others through it and help others recover from it. Even if it doesn’t affect you, it will affect someone you love. Take this opportunity to learn a little bit more about it.

I’m meeting with Nicki today to talk about her diagnosis and treatment. She’s 24 years old, a biology graduate student, and a blogger. Here’s an excerpt from her blog:

They take out lots of lymph nodes and test them all for cancer. If a lot of them are infected that means the cancer is further, and you might have to do more treatments, like radiation to that area. For me they took out 15 nodes and 7 ended up being positive. Technically that puts my cancer at a stage 3A instead of two. When the doctor gave me the news he said that they were still really hoping for a cure and that my chances were really good. For some reason though, hearing this news was the first time I really lost it and cried. Like uncontrollably cried. I knew that the survival rates for stage 3 were not nearly as good as stage 2 and it was the first time it occurred to me that I might not get better. I don’t think about that anymore though, b/c I know I will get better. The statistics don’t matter, b/c I am nothing like the statistics and treatments are better now, and I am barely a stage three anyways. So I was bummed that so many were positive, but it doesn’t really matter, I will still get better. I was on the bus anyways, I just have a slightly worse seat now.

If you donate or volunteer or run the race or learn more about breast cancer this month, remember that you’re not only putting us all one step closer to a cure, but you’re also putting an arm around Nicki’s shoulder, letting her know that we all care and we’re going to pull together to get her through this. For more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you might check out this really informative, well done blog about breast cancer. Ausitn Komen’s doing a great job of keeping it chatty and engaging.