‘Tis the Season: Tra La La!

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.11.31 AMNow that our national Annual Day of Fighting Over Flat Screen TVs is over, it’s time for my annual ‘Tis the Season post. If you’ve been on my mailing list or followed this blog (which you probably haven’t, since I’ve neglected it horribly), you know that at about this time every year I list some of my favorite organizations in the hope that if you’re thinking of giving someone the gift of a donation made in their honor, getting an end-of-year tax deduction, or simply sparing a few make-the-world-a-better-place dollars, you might consider these worthy beneficiaries. This is miles away from being any kind of comprehensive list; rather, it includes a few of my favorite organizations I think merit greater recognition (and donations!). Here’s a bonus: instead of (or in addition to) donations, you can buy gifts of jewelry and other cool items at Potters for Peace and BEADS for Education; look for their online stores.

This year’s post is dedicated to my father, Boris Wolper, who left this world in July and who, by example, taught me a few things about sharing — a gift for which I’ll always be grateful.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.36.24 AMAirline Ambassadors International
Years ago I took an American Airlines flight from New York to San Francisco; I was flying with my dog, and as soon as we landed I took her out of the case she’d been in for hours. One of the flight attendants saw her and started a conversation, and we chatted all the way from the plane to baggage. She told me about a little non-profit she’d started; I thought it sounded interesting, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. What I didn’t know at the time was what a rock star Nancy Rivard is, or that what “began as a network of airline employees using their pass privileges to help others” [would expand into] “a network of students, medical professionals, families and retirees who volunteer . . . [to] escort children in need, hand-deliver humanitarian aid to orphanages, clinics, and remote communities, raise public awareness and involve youth in humanitarian efforts around the world.” As if that’s not enough, AAI has created an industry-wide global plan to involve airlines in fighting human trafficking.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 1.44.52 AM BEADS for Education
“To educate a girl is to educate a village and ultimately a nation.” Sponsor a Kenyan girl’s education, support alternative coming of age rites, or shop for gorgeous beaded handicrafts (scroll to the bottom of the site and click on “Products”) made by the Dupoto Women’s Group, many of whose members are mothers of the students; profits go back to the women and are a primary source of income. (And HERE is the link to their store.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.34.32 AMCenter for Constitutional Rights
The CCR “is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” From attacks on dissent to racial, gender and economic justice, they get things done. I don’t know where we’d be without CRC.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.19.12 AMFirst Book
First Book “is determined to see that all children, regardless of their economic conditions, can achieve more in school and in life through access to an ongoing supply of new books.” As a lifelong library nerd, that’s something I can get behind. A $10 donation means four new books find their way to children who need them. Donate by December 31st to triple the power of your donation.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.14.54 AMThe Jazz Foundation
You might be surprised to know that a lot of gigs pay no more today than they paid fifty years ago (I’m talking about actual, not inflation-adjusted, dollars). I find myself wondering how the musicians who were around then, who could make a good living with that kind of money, are managing now, when they’re older and have to deal with health issues, inflation, and other challenges. JFA Emergency Fund helps jazz professionals (especially older musicians, who may have no health insurance, pensions, or retirement funds) through hard times.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.11.00 AMPlanting Peace
Planting Peace has “a variety of projects ranging from large-scale international efforts to grassroots initiatives.” A donation of $5 allows them to deworm 333 children; they’ve already reached 7.9 million children in Haiti alone. Deworming may sound like a small thing, but it can have an enormous impact on a child’s education, health, and quality of life.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.07.32 AMPotters for Peace
One of the things I love about Potters for Peace and Planting Peace (above) is that they’re great examples of low-tech, relatively small, very achievable solutions to enormous problems. To me, that’s the definition of miracle. “Since 1998 Potters for Peace has traveled the world teaching the fabrication of a low-cost ceramic water filter that can bring clean, potable water to those who need it most.” (And HERE is the link to their store.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.31.56 AMProject Vote Smart
I’m such a believer in this invaluable resource for U.S. voters. Project Vote Smart provides comprehensive, unbiased, non-partisan information about the political process, elected officials, candidates, etc. In 2012 I spent a week in Montana volunteering at the Great Divide Ranch, PVS’s main headquarters. You can read about my adventures (and learn a bit more about PVS) here.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 2.05.19 AMBixbee
All the organizations listed above have 501(c)(3) status, which means your donations are tax-deductible. This is the one exception; Bixbee is a business, not a charitable organization. But it’s included because even though you won’t get a tax deduction if you shop there, your purchase generates a donation by the company, whose tag line is “One here, one there.” (Not only that, but a friend of mine is the co-founder!)  Buy a really cute school bag for a little one on your shopping list, and another schoolbag, this one filled with school supplies, will be donated to a child in need. I notice they’re offering free shipping on most orders till December 31! 


‘Tis the Season

Who’s the most difficult person to buy a gift for on your list? You know what I mean: the uncle who has more stuff than he needs or desires, the friend who likes to travel light, and neighbor whose is taste so specifically her own it’s almost impossible to choose something she’ll really like. The perfect gift for those people could be a donation made in their honor. A cause matched with the person’s interests takes things to the next level, but if even if you’re a lefty with a Tea Bagger cousin or a fur lover with a vegan best friend, there’s a cause out there that’ll leave you basking in the mutual glow of holiday generosity. Here are some of my own favorite organizations; in this era of tightened belts, remember that any amount will do. And even if you’re through with this year’s spending, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to learn more about these organizations.

BEADS For Education There are many ways to contribute to BEADS. You can shop for gifts made by members of women’s beading collectives; proceeds are used to fund the women’s groups and BEADS programs. Gifts start at $15 and most are no more than $30. If your budget is larger, you can sponsor a Kenyan girl’s education, which might be the most rewarding gift you can give yourself. You can also simply donate.

Airline Ambassadors Years ago, on a flight from JFK to SFO, I chatted with flight attendant Nancy Rivard, and she mentioned me a little non-profit she’d started. Since then, Airline Ambassadors has grown into an organization that does big things, like delivering humanitarian aid to children around the world, escorting children to hospitals, rebuilding or delivering supplies to areas hit by disaster or poverty. You can make a donation and even join a mission.

Polaris Project’s vision is simple: “a world without slavery.” It’s one of the largest organizations of its kind, with numerous programs for combatting human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Schoolbags For Kids So much beauty in a simple idea: you buy a very cool schoolbag for someone you know, and another schoolbag filled with supplies is donated to a child who needs one in India, Thailand, or Belize. (May I brag a little? One of the founders is a fan who has become a friend. Bravo, Kalon!)

Project VoteSmart is a completely non-partisan organization dedicated to the idea that a knowledgable citizenry is an empowered citizenry. With the click of some keys you can find out everything you need to know about candidates and elected officials: biographies, voting records, issue positions, public statements, campaign finances, and more. This is seriously valuable information; there’s no cost to use the site, so donations keep it going.

The Jazz Foundation Jazz musicians play well into old age. One of the things that’s always nagged at me is a concern for some of the elders who are still with us; after all, a lot of gigs pay no more than they did three or four or five decades ago (and I’m talking actual dollars, not inflation-adjusted ones). How are these folks in their seventies, eighties, nineties getting by? In many cases, not very well. This is where the Jazz foundations steps in, with programs to provide emergency housing and assistance, pro bono medical care for uninsured musicians, performance opportunities for elder masters, and more. Read about some of the people the JFA has helped.

Society of Singers Similarly, SOS provides support to singers in need. Programs include financial aid, case management and referrals, scholarships, and more.

Potters For Peace is a network of potters, educators, technicians, supporters, and volunteers that works with clay artisans on ceramic water purification projects. Want to see the beauty of a low tech miracle? Potters for Peace travels the world teaching potters (often rural women) how to make low-cost ceramic water filters that can bring clean, potable water to those who need it most.

When I heard about Planting Peace’s deworming project I was struck by several things: the widespread the problem of intestinal parasites is, the devastating effects, and the relatively simple and inexpensive solutions. A one dollar donation pays for deworming sixty seven children; when’s the last time you spent a dollar that made such a huge difference? Of course you can multiply that dollar by any amount and help even more people. And if you’ve got $20 a month to spend, you can sponsor an orphan’s housing, education, medical care, and more.

For the activist on your list, an Occupy Wall Street calendar, with profits donated to the movement. Swiss photographer Juan Carlos Hernandez came to New York to photograph jazz events, and ended up also spending a lot of time at Zuccotti Square. A track from my CD accompanies the promo video for the calendar, or go straight to the store and get a 50% discount with the code HOLIDAYSUPERSAVINGS34 if you buy before December 31.

Happy shopping, happy giving.