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Holiday Giving 2016

Happy Impending Holidays!

I know the blog's been silent for a while, and we'll return to something like regular service soon, but this isn't that.

Let's talk about holiday giving! Ah, yes, holiday giving, where we all try to decide which of the hundreds of worthwhile causes and organizations deserve a few of our dollars. This year, in particular, has seen several high profile causes like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU receive an influx of donations as an almost primal outpouring of grief due to the election results. And I am not saying don't donate to them--please do! I did--in fact, I am now, literally, the thing conservatives hate most: a card-carrying member of the ACLU. So, if that's where you want to throw your holiday dollars, have at it.

However, there are all sorts of organizations that stand to lose funding or face a more difficult task in their work because of the incoming Trump administration: decreased foreign aid and a lesser profile for the US on the world stage could worsen already severe refugee and humanitarian crises; cuts to arts and humanities budgets could close theaters, libraries, and museums across the country; a neutered EPA could put the safety of our air, water, and soil at stake. And so on. So, things are bad all around, is what I'm saying.

With those facts in mind, here are the smaller, more local, or just lower profile groups I'll be supporting this year. In case you're curious about joining me, I'm doing little blurbs for each non-profit. And if you're a friend or family member who's wondering what to get me this Christmas, consider this my Christmas list.

Synetic Theater: Founded by Georgian immigrants Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili in 2001, Synetic Theater (SYN from synthesis and TIC from kinetic) is the most distinctive and inventive theatrical troupe in the DC region. Their signature style is a blend of movement, dance, and mime, and many of their productions are entirely wordless, with the story being told through the movement, direction, and music. Famously, their series of "Silent Shakespeare" productions includes a dozen productions of Shakespeare's plays without any dialogue. The first Synetic production I saw was their King Lear, and it remains the most intense and exhilarating night I have ever spent in a theater. They've done a few international tours and the New York Times called them "art with a capital A," so these folks are legit.

Pencils of Promise: As you may know, I few years ago I took a trip with some coworkers and other folks to Guatemala. This wasn't a pleasure trip, though. Our company had partnered with Pencils of Promise (PoP) for its annual fundraising drive. The trip was part reward and part attempt to convince us to be PoP donors for life. Well, it certainly worked on me. PoP builds schools and trains teachers in four countries: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Laos, and Ghana. Through public private partnerships with local and national educational authorities, PoP makes sure the funds go where they are needed. And through the power of data, the know what they're doing right, and what they're doing wrong.

On the Media: If you don't listen, OTM is a public radio show out of New York that airs weekly and also has a popular podcast. (I listen to the podcast.) OTM is, and I am about to make a bold claim, the single best media program around right now. The work they do covering the press and civil liberties is incredibly vital, and it will become even more so in the coming weeks and months. This year, their special series Busted: American's Poverty Myths was a heartbreaking look at all the familiar stories we tell ourselves about why we don't do more to help the poor. You know what? They're all lies. Every single one of them. OTM is the kind of show that will expose the lie that everyone repeats and tell the Emperor he has no clothes. We need them to continue to be able to do their work.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Over 100 Americans commit suicide every day. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Almost 3x as many people die by their own hand each year in the US as do by homicide--and the figures have been rising year over year. AFSP is one of the highest rated and most respected organizations in the mental health field. Addressing the problem from all aspects, AFSP funds research into better methods of suicide prevention, they lobby governmental groups to help make sure the laws that are in place will help save lives, and they train front-line responders on best practices for how to deal with someone experiencing a crisis. They also provide education about mental health, and they give assistance to both those struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who have lost someone to suicide.

Community Action, Inc.: That poverty I mentioned above in the OTM blurb? It is alive and well in the areas of Western PA served by Community Action. I know because Punxsutawney, my hometown, is one of their communities. Furthermore, as I was growing up, I had an opportunity to see the importance of their work over and over, and I saw how important even small donations were to community-based groups. You see, my mom worked there. And I am sure there were terrible things about the job and bureaucracy that was maddening and God knows what else. But to me, the work Community Action did was how I learned about charity. And kindness. And how important it is to be there for people when nobody else will. So yeah, this one's personal.

Whether you go with my suggestions or not, please, give generously. And have a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.


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