Fighting for Donation Bins in Jacksonville, FL

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

A charity in Jacksonville, Florida, called Go Green Charity Recyclers, is currently engaged in talks with the city council over their right to use unattended donation bins in the city. Many of us are familiar with the bins, but if you’re not, they are free standing bins that people can use as a drop-off point for clothes, shoes, and other items they want to donate.

Earlier this year however, Jacksonville passed an ordinance that banned the bins within the city. They cited neighborhood blight as their reasoning, arguing that the bins are eyesores. Those of us familiar with the bins have probably also seen garbage pile up by them, either donated items that wouldn’t fit or simply garbage that was too big to fit in the can back home. The city council argued that, when that garbage isn’t claimed by the organizations that control the bins, it becomes a nuisance.

That may be true, but it’s hardly the charity’s fault if somebody dumps a car fender by their donation bin. Still, the ordinance passed and owners faced an August 1 deadline to remove the bins or face fines and city removal. The ordinance says nothing about staffed trailers used for donations, and doesn’t affect thrift stores that accept donations.

Go Green Charity Recyclers, who raised money for educational and water systems in Haiti, raised money by selling donations. They are arguing that, by preventing them from using donation bins, the council is violating their first amendment rights, by preventing them from carrying out their right to free speech in asking for donations.

That seems a little questionable, since they are a charity organization and not an individual who actually has those rights, but if they end up going to court over this, and winning, it could establish some interesting precedents as pertains to charities and speech. So far, both sides are trying to work something out behind closed doors first.

Researchers Genetically Modify Mosquitoes to Resist Malaria

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria will strike more than 200 million people this year and will kill nearly half a million of them. Although there are prevention programs such as the J.C. Flowers & Co.’s NetForLife initiative, Buy-a-Net, and others, there are some parts of the world – sub-Saharan Africa, in particular – where medicines are often unobtainable. To make things worse, parasites that cause malaria are becoming more and more resistant to existing drugs.

Luckily, two teams of biologists from the University of California have created a fresh breed of mosquitoes that they hope will assist in eradicating malaria from the world. The teams recently reported that they have found an alleged gene drive to efficiently provide mosquitoes with genes that should make them immune to the malaria parasite – and the inability to spread the disease.

Behind a set of five protective doors in a basement on the Irvine campus, the mosquitos have been engineered to carry two effective genetic modifications by using gene-editing, a genetic engineering technique where DNA can be inserted, replaced or removed from a genome, on a species called Anopheles stephensi. By producing malaria-blocking antibodies that are passed on to 99.5% of offspring, the team was able to create mosquitoes (after inserting DNA into the germ line) with genes that prevent malaria transmission.

Because malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by the plasmodium parasite transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, the team’s goal is to release genetically modified mosquitoes to mate with wild mosquitoes. As their malaria-blocking genes enter the gene pool, it will eventually overrun the population and moderate the species’ ability to infect people.

“It can spread through a population with great efficiency, increasing from 1 percent to more than 99 percent in 10 generations, or about one season for mosquitoes,” said Valentino Gantz, biologist at University of California-San Diego.

On its own, this strategy won’t get rid of malaria, but if successfully applied in the wild, the method could help eradicate the disease, at least in some parts of the world.

“But in conjunction with treatment and preventive drugs, future vaccines, mosquito-blocking bed nets, and eradication of mosquito-breeding sites, it could play a major role in sustaining the elimination of malaria,” University of California-Irvine molecular biologist Anthony James said.

Facebook Launches New Fundraising Tool


Image: Facebook Fundraiser

Facebook is piloting a new iteration of its charity donation button and continues to make its platforms more useful for non-profit organizations as it launches a new fundraising tool called Fundraisers. The Silicon-Valley based company explained that with this tool, non-profit organizations could create a fundraising page, tell their campaign story, gather supporters, collect donations, and track progress toward their company’s goal. The donation option introduced on the social platform in December 2013 has also been revamped.

With the new features, users will be able to follow the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Kenya, which resulted in an outburst of solidarity and support from people all over the world. Tech Times stated that Facebook revealed new partnerships with organizations to create donation campaigns associated with major natural disasters (such as the Nepal earthquake) to draw attention to problems they care about.

In addition to the fundraising page, nonprofits will have the option to attach a donate button to both posts and pages – this means that users can make donations while still browsing their news feeds without being redirected. Donations can be made from the News Feed, after filling out a submission form to process payment through debit cards, credit cards, or PayPal accounts. The new tool will allow organizations to see how many people have contributed for their cause and setting up fundraising targets with suggested donation amounts.

The new features and functionalities are currently being tested with 37 nonprofit groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Facebook aims to expand these features to as many organizations as possible in the future, including offering these tools outside the United States in 2016.

Star Wars-Inspired Runway Fashion for Charity


Image: Star Wars Force 4 Fashion

The Force is headed toward Bloomingdale’s and a few top fashion designers are taking runway inspiration from the upcoming film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to make outfits that will be auctioned for charity.

In celebration of the movie, Disney Consumer Products and Bloomingdale’s will be joining forces with a group of designers for a charity initiative called Force 4 Fashion; the collection will feature Cynthia Rowley, Diane von Furstenberg, Giles Deacon, Halston, Opening Ceremony, Ovadia & Sons, Parker, Rag & Bone, Timo Weiland and Todd Snyder. All outfits will be inspired by characters from The Force Awakens and will be revealed on December 2nd during a Force 4 Fashion launch event in New York City presented by Kay Jewelers. Benefiting the Child Mind Institute on behalf of Star Wars: Force For Change, the auction will run through the website Charitybuzz from December 2 – 18.

“This collaboration celebrates the distinctive synergy between film and fashion in the run up to an exceptional moment in the history of pop culture. We’re excited to see how this incredible lineup of designers interpret Star Wars characters in unique ways, as well as to raise money for a great cause,” Leslie Ferraro, co-chair, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media and president, Disney Consumer Products, said in a statement.

Bloomingdale’s is thrilled about this collaboration:

“We are excited to fuse fashion with pop culture to raise awareness and funds for our long standing partner, Child Mind Institute, which has been a pioneer for children’s mental health,” said Anne Keating, Bloomingdale’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations, Special Events and Philanthropy.

Star Wars merchandise will also be featured in Bloomingdale’s stores at pop-up shops and will include limited edition “little brown bag” reusable totes designed by The Force Awakens costume designer Michael Kaplin. They’ll only be available in stores right before Thanksgiving.

As mentioned, the collection will revealed at a Force 4 Fashion launch event on December 2 – you can bid on pieces on Winning bidders will be revealed on the week of December 12 and proceeds will go to mental health care for children diagnosed with psychiatric and learning disorders. The force is strong with this one!

Get a sneak peek of the collection here.

Steven Tyler Launched a New Charity for Abused Girls

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Steven Tyler, who probably doesn’t actually need to be introduced, but is the front man for Aerosmith, has started a new charitable organization inspired by one of the band’s most famous songs. The group is called Janie’s Fund, and is aimed at raising money for and awareness of girls who have been the subject of neglect or abuse. The group is named for the song “Janie’s Got a Gun,” which came out 26 years ago, and is about child abuse and incest. It was kind of a heavy topic for a rock band to cover, especially one as mainstream as Aerosmith, but it has remained a pretty popular song, whether or not people realize what the song is about.

Tyler certainly realizes it though, and according to the group’s website, this is Tyler’s life’s work. That’s a pretty impressive statement to make, considering the career he’s had. Janie’s Fund is a byproduct of Tyler teaming up with Youth Villages foundation, an established non-profit which is focused on helping victims of child abuse. That’s a pretty solid step in itself, because despite his long involvement in charity work, Tyler is a rock star, not a professional child care worker, and by teaming up with people that have experience helping at-risk youth, he can be much more effective.

The group has a Prizeo page, which is kind of like a Kickstarter for non-profits, and it’s already raking in quite few donations. Keeping with the trend of other crowd-sourcing sites and programs, donors get “swag” if they donate enough and are entered into a contest to hang out with Steven Tyler on the red carpet. That’s probably a pretty big draw for a lot of people, and auctions and raffles have long been used to raise money for charitable causes, so it’s a system we know works.

Nonprofits Help Support L.A. Arts Education

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Los Angeles is best known for being the epicenter of the film and music industries, and for drawing talent from around the world to work in those industries. So you’d think that local schools would put an emphasis on arts education, in order to help children develop their talents in order to work in their hometown. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Based on information from L.A. Unified School District, the L.A. Times determined that only 35 out of the more than 700 schools in the city would get an “A” on their arts programs.

L.A. schools, especially the poorer ones, aren’t able to provide a quality arts education, which is pretty ironic considering the arts are the whole reason L.A. is as major a city as it is. There’s likely a number of reasons that problem exists, mostly lack of funding, but likely also a result of the overwhelming emphasis on standardized tests in determining that funding.

Fortunately, a number of local nonprofits have stepped in to try and help out. To date, over 50 groups around the city have stepped in to help more than 130 schools develop better arts programs. They can help in a variety of ways, from donating materials to volunteer teaching and mentoring. Anything helps. Arts education has been shown, time and time again, to be generally beneficial to students even in other subjects. And in a city where everything revolves around film and music, learning how to light a set or record music could be the difference between a successful career and struggling to make ends meet. It’s not a cheap city, after all.

The partnerships between schools and nonprofits are already starting to make a difference for L.A. school children, but there are still plenty of schools that could use help. Next time you’re looking to support a nonprofit, or finding a new partner for your charity, think about those kids.

“Effective Altruism” is Just Rich People Donating Money

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to a recent study on Public International Radio, the concept of “effective altruism” is the next big thing in charity. A former Princeton student named Matt Wage had the brilliant idea that, instead of working for non-profits or volunteering, he could do a lot more good if he landed a Wall Street job and just donated a lot of his money.

And he has kept his word, and has donated about half his salary every year in the fours years since he graduated, usually about six figures each year. That money provides a great amount of help to a lot of people. According to Peter Singer, the Princeton philosophy professor who inspired Wage, this model of effective altruism is better than working for low-paying non-profits or volunteering in a soup kitchen, because if you make more money you can donate more.

This model works great if you’re a Wall Street guy who can donate half his salary and still be giving away six figures. But guess what? That’s not really applicable to most of us. Singer makes the point that the hours you volunteer at a soup kitchen are hours you aren’t working, but that assumes you’re taking time off of work to volunteer instead of, you know, doing good when you aren’t at work anyway.

And what about those low paying non-profit jobs? Maybe they are low-paying, but without those non-profit workers and volunteers, who’s going to be managing all the money that gets donated? Who makes sure it gets used?

Donating big sums of money is great, it’s really appreciated and, by all means, if you can afford to, please do so. But this “effective altruism” model only makes sense for classic philanthropists, namely rich people who want to help out. It doesn’t apply to the vast majority of people who want to help, and if we all spent all of our time chasing paychecks so we could donate money, nobody would actually be putting that money to use.

Refoundry Helps Former Inmates Create Home Furnishings and Build New Lives

Refoundry trains formerly incarcerated people to refurbish and repurpose discarded materials into one-of-a-kind home furnishings.

Refoundry trains formerly incarcerated people to refurbish and repurpose discarded materials into one-of-a-kind home furnishings.

Two-thirds of people released from prison are rearrested within three years, according to the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

One non-profit organization is aiming to change that and has established a way to employ former prisoners, turning them into entrepreneurs.

Refoundry, an innovative Brooklyn nonprofit, trains former incarcerated people to repurpose and refurbish discarded materials into one-of-a-kind home furnishings and accessories, culminating in an incubation process. The program is intended to help set a new and positive path for formerly incarcerated people, have positive environmental impact, and save significant government revenues.

Refoundry is the non-profit concept of furniture manufacturer Cisco Pinedo and Tommy Safian, who closed his popular furniture store Nova Zembla in 2010. Prior to establishing the organization, Mr. Safian learned about the challenges facing non-profits that help prisoners back into society. Government funding can offer quick job placements, but flipping burgers for a living isn’t necessarily ideal for a new life.

Employees at Refoundry will eventually start their own business:

“What we’re doing is we’re developing their skill to produce a particular product, and selling it through Refoundry’s channels. When we incubate them they will have their own space, some of their own equipment, they will produce that under their own business entity,” explained Safian.

The ideal Refoundry participant is someone who is a little bit older, has spent at least 5 years in prison and has already finished a transitional program.

Set on a new path and no turning back, participants are enjoying their time, especially for Eugene Manigo:

“This is the kind of work I like to do. I like working with my hands, when I was in prison for 20 years I worked with my hands for Corcraft. I did all their products for 45 cents an hour. Why can’t I come out here and do it for myself?”

New Non-Profit Group Aims to Revitalize Trenton, NJ

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Trenton, New Jersey has seen better days, and like many cities around the country, there are people looking to revitalize their hometown. In the case of Trenton, that effort will be made, at least in part, by the newly formed Greater Trenton, an independent non-profit formed to help promote and fund economic development and revitalization projects.

The group was the brainchild of a group of Princeton students and has been three years in the making. And it has a pretty impressive roster of supporters and founding board members. The non-profit recently became official, so the organization will need to find an executive director and staff.

That staff will help to coordinate economic development projects in downtown Trenton and engage downtown stakeholders to get on board with new projects. They also need to obtain investors for those projects and finding tenants to occupy new spaces in the downtown area. They’ll also be working to insure that these projects are clean and safe. It’s a tall order.

During the development, the people behind Greater Trenton have been doing their homework. They’ve been looking at cities across the nation, like Detroit, West Philadelphia, Providence, or Camden, and seeing what those cities have done well, and where they’ve failed, in their own revitalization efforts. They’re picking and choosing the best and most successful ideas, and then tweaking them to work in Trenton. They realize that every city is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses, and that trying to apply a cookie-cutter approach won’t help.

So far, they have a five-year, $2 million commitment from their various backers to get the ball rolling. With any luck, and with a lot of hard work, they should be able to do a lot of good for the city.

Geeks Give Back Aim to Solve Labor Shortage in Tech Industry

Image: Geeks Give Back, Washington State Opportunity Scholarship

Image: Geeks Give Back, Washington State Opportunity Scholarship

‘Tis the season to get geeky?

It’s apparent that Washington state’s local economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. But with 25,000 unfilled positions, STEM education promotion is needed to build homegrown talent, particularly among women and minorities.

And that’s why GeekWire and Bank of America have come together along with “gift matching” technology companies to offer people a chance to help with Geeks Give Back, a philanthropic initiative that supports the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship’s (WSOS) mission to help low-income students earn degrees in STEM education fields.

The WSOS was created in 2011 to address empty seats in the high-demand areas that push Washington’s economy – including aerospace, engineering, technology, healthcare and rising costs of tuition at Washington colleges and universities. The program supports Washington students from low- and middle-income households to attain bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields through scholarships of up to $22,500. The program also offers professional development, skill building workshops and an industry overview to assist students enter Washington’s workforce.

Launched on October 1, Geeks Give Back takes an active role in helping solve the labor shortage in the tech industry, and how not enough students are studying math, technology, engineering and science in school.

GeekWire and Bank of America have set an ambitious goal to raise up to $500,000 over the next two months – all proceeds will directly impact the tech industry by helping hardworking students with much-needed scholarships and guidance. To reach this goal, Geeks Give Back is hoping the tech community can help – companies of all sizes (and individuals) can get involved by making donations to WSOS.

Being nearly two weeks into the annual campaign, the program has raised $120,000 so far from tech corporations like Moz, New Tech Seattle, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and PicMonkey. Seattle angel investor Gary Rubens, who already donated $20 million to WSOS earlier this year, will match up to $125,000 in donations. Rubens believes that matching donations helps others get inspired to support the next generation of tech workers, especially for those who may have a more difficult time getting into the industry.

Are you interested in giving back? Simply go to the WSOS Geeks Give Back page! This is a great way to help deserving students have an opportunity to pursue their dreams.


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