Irish Homeless Charities in Row with Labor TD

Woman sitting on ground against wall

Several Irish charities dealing with the homeless are facing government funding problems.
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Two Irish charities focused on homelessness have come under fire by a representative of the Labour party for not doing enough to combat homelessness. The charities have responded that they aren’t surprised that the TD (an Irish member of the lower house of parliament) would choose to attack them instead of attacking the problem of homelessness itself.

According to Joanna Tuffy, the charities in question, Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust, should be borrowing money from the Housing and Finance Agency in order to build or purchase homes to house people. The two charities already receive about 60% of their funds from the government, and Tuffy maintains that for this reason, they should be taking loans from the government.

The charities responded that it’s easier and cheaper for them to get loans from commercial banks for their projects, which seems to be the basis of their not being surprised at the criticism. In short, the government isn’t willing to do the work of making money available to help homeless people, but wants to criticize the charities that do help those people.

Tuffy replied that she wasn’t criticizing the charities for the work they do but wanted to start asking questions about publically-funded organizations that have a duty to be transparent about their expenditures. In defense of the McVerry Trust, they have applied for a loan form the Housing and Finance Agency, but they’re still waiting on the lengthy process to acquire those funds. In the meantime, an estimated 5,000 people are homeless at any given time in Ireland, while only 556 families, including 1,185 children, are living in emergency housing in Dublin at the moment.

Perhaps now that everyone knows why the charities aren’t borrowing money from the government, the government can find some way to fix the situation.

Post-Katrina New Orleans Better off Despite Loss of Charity Hospital

Devastated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Though New Orleans is slowly recovering from Hurricane Katrina, there are some medical needs that aren’t being met.
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Hurricane Katrina took a huge toll on New Orleans, especially on that city’s poor. Among the institutions lost was Charity Hospital, which had served the poor of the city for centuries and which many people have fond memories of. However, it seems like a lot of the memories, as well as the pain of losing Charity Hospital, may have been inflated by centuries of the hospital’s prescience. In many ways, poorer patients living in post-Katrina New Orleans are better off than they were in the days of Charity Hospital.

That’s because the hurricane brought in millions of state and federal grants as well as private donations. That money was used, among other things, to build newer and more plentiful medical facilities. Where before, residents without medical insurance might have had to wait months to be seen if they weren’t suffering from acute problems, now people can get in quickly, often on the same day that they call to make an appointment.

Before the hurricane, Charity Hospital was pretty much the only game in town, and that meant that everyone had to wait for them. Now that there is a whole network of low-cost medical providers, people who would otherwise have to wait to have their problems treated–if they ever were treated–can get the help they need when they need it.

Well, mostly. There are still a lot of concerns about medical care in the city. According to a poll by NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72% of residents agree that medical care in the city is better now than before the hurricane, but 64% think that there are still needs waiting to be met.

Mental health is one example. Most psychiatrists fled the city during the hurricane and didn’t bother to come back. Now there are only a small handful of psychiatrists who are willing to work with underinsured people or those on Medicaid or Medicare. New Orleans’s poor might be better off, but there’s still a ways to go.

A Private Equity Approach to Charity

A man working at hardware store

The tenants of private equity can help organizations like REDF assist community members looking for jobs.
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What’s the difference between a private equity firm and a charity? Obviously one is focused on generating income, the other on giving back to the community. But in terms of operations, there are a surprisingly large number of ways charities can learn from the way equity businesses are run.

For example, private equity firm KKR is the power behind the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, or REDF. Cousins Henry Kravis and George R. Roberts have used their business acumen to inspire tangible results with Roberts’s REDF, which works to find jobs for individuals facing employment difficulties like addiction, homelessness, and parolee status. KKR employees regularly spend time working with REDF on various projects.

Most recently, REDF received a grant from the Social Innovation Fund, or SIF, which will match dollar for dollar REDF’s investments. The $7 million grant will be matched by $7 million in private funding. This combination of private and federal assistance will add to the 8,700 jobs already created with REDF support. The SIF investment is the largest federal investment of its kind ever seen in U.S. social enterprise.

“With the support of the Social Innovation Fund, REDF has been able to expand and conduct rigorous research on social enterprises demonstrating it as a cost-effective solution that delivers results,” said Damian Thorman, director of the SIF.

Social enterprises like the ones that REDF supports are important because they provide people with jobs in a way that is sustainable over the long haul. By thinking like a business, REDF and organizations like it are able to create job opportunities that are lasting and provide good training for everyone involved.

And the results are in. According to research performed by REDF earlier this year, workers who went through the REDF programs had higher incomes after one year than those who didn’t. Total monthly income increased by 91% from $653 to $1,246. And the stability affected other parts of workers’ lives, too: the percentage living in stable homes increased from 15% to 53%, and 2/3 of those involved in the program benefitted from support outside of the program as well.

And for the investors, the bounty was good, too: for every dollar spent, the return on investment was $2.23 for society as a whole, including tax reductions and increases in business revenue.

For REDF and the businesses and individuals it helps, reaching goals is a matter of combining a social mission and private sector experience. By taking on employment difficulties from the mindset of an investor, REDF provides proven solutions to employment difficulties, bettering the community as a whole.

The Jared Foundation Defrauded Donors

Jared Fogle

The Jared Foundation, whose front man Jared Fogle is already in legal trouble, has been found to have defrauded donors.
Image: carrie-nelson /

Jared Fogle, former Subway spokesman, has been in a lot of trouble lately, having pleaded guilty to both possession of child pornography and having sex with minors. It also turns out that his charity, The Jared Foundation, was defrauding donors for years.

The Jared Foundation was supposed to be dedicated to combating childhood obesity, which makes sense, since Fogle first came to prominence for losing a bunch of weight while eating Subway sandwiches. If that sounds too good to be true, then it follows that his charity was as well. From 2009 to 2013, while the charity was run by Fogle’s friend and co-conspirator Russell Taylor, it was supposed to pay out $2 million a year to school districts to help them combat childhood obesity. Instead, they paid out $73,000 a year.

Of the funds received, 60% went to paying Taylor’s absurdly high salary, while 26% of the funds were “unaccounted for.” It’s not clear where that money went, but it doesn’t seem like a long shot to assume that it went towards preying on children, as Taylor did use hidden cameras to record young children for the purposes of child pornography.

Suffice it to say, the Jared Foundation fired Taylor in May after he was arrested on multiple counts of child pornography. It’s likely not enough, as any donors who discovered just how much they were lied to by the foundation are unlikely to support them in the future, even if they can shed their connections to Taylor and Fogle.

There have been a number of other non-profits exposed for their fraudulent or otherwise illegal behavior in the United States and United Kingdom this year. On the one hand, it’s upsetting to learn that people are willing and able to not only take advantage of the kindness of others but to also make a great deal of money doing so. But on the other hand, it’s good that these organizations are being dismantled, making us all more aware of how seriously we need to take charities.

John P. Birkelund Donates $5 Million to Princeton University for New Program

Princeton University campus

A recent donation will help Princeton establish a one-of-a-kind diplomacy program.
Image: Pete Spiro /

John P. Birkelund, co-founder of Saratoga Partners and former director of the New York Stock Exchange, has donated $5 million to Princeton University to establish a Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy. The certificate program will allow students to take classes from politics to other social sciences and will prepare students for futures in international affairs and with governmental organizations. The new program, which is open to students of any major, will be integrated into the 2015-16 curriculum.

In addition to the courses the new program offers, a new summer internship will also be available, as well as fellowships, workshops, conferences, lectures, and field trips. The Chair of Princeton’s Department of History, William Jordan, is pleased to offer the unique program to students: “There is nothing quite like this at any of our peer institutions—no program that combines immersion in both history and the analysis of contemporary international affairs,” he says. “We see this as a real boon for Princeton.”

A 1953 Princeton graduate himself, Birkelund is known for his philanthropic donations. He serves as the director for the Birkelund Fund, an organization which supports cultural and educational institutions. He is a trustee at the New York Public Library, and the American Academy in Berlin’s John P. Birkelund Berlin Prize in Humanities was established in tribute to Birkelund’s charitable efforts and his encouragement of German-American discourse in the humanities.

Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, believes that the new program is an important one because it supports Princeton’s educational outreach. “[Birkelund] is helping Princeton extend its commitment to service to our nation and the world,” she says. Birkelund has said that his interest in diplomacy was sparked by his military service in the 1950s, where he found diplomacy to be a necessary skill.

UK Charity Claims Diabetes Might Bankrupt National Health Service

Man using lancet on finger

Diabetes UK has released a study suggesting that diabetes could bankrupt the NHS.
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According to Diabetes UK, a charity focused on researching the disease and helping people who suffer from it, that disease threatens to bankrupt the National Health Service (NHS). In the past 10 years, there has been a 60% increase in diabetes cases in the UK, rising 59.8% in England and Wales just since 2005. According to Diabetes UK, there are currently 3,333,069 people diagnosed with diabetes in the United Kingdom.

The charity argues that more must be done to highlight the dangers of diabetes and the importance of preventative care, as well as improving the effectiveness of treating the disease. The problem lies mainly in the fact that, of the £10 billion spent each year on treating diabetes, about 80% of that money is spent on dealing with complications that could have been avoided in the first place.

Without proper care, patients with diabetes can suffer from a number of complications, including amputations, heart attack, and stroke. The NHS has outlined eight care practices that patients with diabetes should follow in order to keep the disease under control. Unfortunately, about one-third of all patients don’t receive that needed care, and they develop more difficult and expensive-to-treat complications.

So the development of better programs to educate people about preventative care and ensure that more people get that care will certainly help. It won’t reduce the number of patients who have developed complications already, but it can help others from developing them, which means less expenditure on the part of the NHS. Unfortunately, the number of patients diagnosed with diabetes continues to rise, and according to Diabetes UK, if this trend continues, roughly 5 million people in the United Kingdom will be diagnosed with the disease by 2025. If the NHS is struggling to cover the costs of that care now, then almost doubling the number of patients they have over the next 10 years certainly won’t make it any easier.

Johnny Depp Surprises Audience at Charity Concert

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance at a charity concert for Mending Kids.
Image: Everett Collection /

The charity Mending Kids is an organization that provides surgeries for needy kids around the world. These surgeries have corrected everything from congenital heart defects to cranial facial deformities. In nine years they’ve performed operations on 2,200 kids, and recently they held a benefit concert with a few surprising guests.

After a number of musical guests came on stage at the Lucky Strike bowling alley in Los Angeles, the house band was joined by Johnny Depp, who played guitar on “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper. It turns out that, not only can Depp play guitar, he’s actually working on an album with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry (of Aerosmith). The three formed a band, called Hollywood Vampires, which is set to record a self-titled debut album and donate the profits to charity.

Depp said he was thrilled to be a part of the show, and he had some positive things to say about Mending Kids. He stayed up on stage a bit longer to play alongside Gene Simmons of KISS who, at one point, urged anyone willing to donate $1,000 or more to join to band on stage and sing. Ten people, including his own son and daughter, took him up on the offer, which should give you a hint of how successful this fundraiser was. Most of that money–90%, according to Mending Kids’ website–will go towards performing operations for needy children.

The band, including Depp, Simmons, and his children, closed the show with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” a KISS staple, which seems like a fitting choice. After the performance, Depp apparently waved to fans and then disappeared out of a back door.

Mending Kids is based in Burbank, California. Check out their website for more information, or to make a donation.

Batmobiling for Charity

Batmobile from 1989 in an exhibit

One Albuquerque resident is using the Batmobile for charity.
Image: Steve Lagreca /

Mike Esch, Albuquerque native and car enthusiast, is doing something Batman would be proud of: Esch is taking his super-cool, working-condition Batmobile replica out for charity events and granting wishes for the Make A Wish Foundation. Esch, a former engineer, gives rides to sick children and teens, picks returning soldiers up from airports, and hands out Christmas gifts from his snazzy vehicle.

Esch’s Batmobile took two years to create, and was built up from a 1970s Lincoln Continental body. Hours upon hours of work went into the vehicle to make it what it is today. This Batmobile boasts a parachute, television, compass, wings, lights, and—for a little while—flames, Esch said in an interview with New Mexico Entertainment. The car is fully operational, but it does occasionally break down, and when it does, there’s never a shortage of donations or volunteers to get the car up and running again.

Esch says he has experienced many incredible, heart-wrenching moments in the Batmobile. He recounted his meeting with sick teenager Natalie Hill, who rode with him in the car not long before her death, to the Associated Press: “She stood up and did the Titanic thing, and sort of crying, she said, ‘I wanted to feel the wind in my hair one last time.’ Things like that happen to me all the time, and it humbles you.”

In addition to the charitable works Esch does with his car, he also gets a lot of attention just from people passing by. Children sometimes come running over for pictures, he says, and once Peter Mayhew of Chewbacca fame asked to sit in the car with him. But Esch doesn’t do his charity work for money or fame. He takes the car to charity events with people who own replicas of the RV from the television series Breaking Bad or the Scooby Doo van—just for fun.

Esch encourages anyone who wants to do something like build a Batmobile to do it for the same reason. The car is expensive to maintain, but he prefers charitable giving anyway. “As long as you’re not thinking about money, you’ll be compensated beyond belief,” he says.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Partners with Benefunder

Aerial view of UW-Madison campus

UW-Madison and Benefunder have teamed up to support research at the university.
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The University of Madison-Wisconsin has partnered with Benefunder, an organization that connects philanthropists with organizations in need of research funding. Individuals or groups interested in being a part of innovation, new technologies, and cutting-edge research will be able to donate to the school, which has one of the highest rates of research expenditures in the country—UW-Madison spent over a billion dollars on research in 2013. Under the new partnership, UW-Madison will be able to find further funding for its large range of fields, including health sciences, engineering, law, and many others.

The University, whose Board of Directors includes John Oros of J.C. Flowers & Co., Thomas Falk of Kimberly Clark, and Jeffrey Wiesner of Accenture, hopes to fuel further innovation by using Benefunder to pair up researchers and philanthropists into long-lasting relationships.

“We are thrilled to partner with the University of Wisconsin, whose high research activity will provide many unique and targeted opportunities for philanthropists to find, fund, and follow researchers,” said Gert Lanckriet, Benefunder Cofounder and Academic Ambassador.

What sets Benefunder apart from other Internet-based funding sources, such as Kickstarter, is its dedication to portfolio-based, planned giving and creating relationships between researchers and individuals who want to help big projects succeed. Their program is scalable and offers a great way to get around the lack of available federal funding for research in the US.

Created in 2014, Benefunder’s cofounders wanted to put together a streamlined way for donors to get smarter about planning their giving and finding worthy research projects. Many institutions and organizations have since partnered with Benefunder to get their projects rolling, including the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C.; Rutgers; UC San Diego; Syracuse University; The State University of New Jersey; and the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley.

Supporting research at universities and other institutions is vital to growing the wealth of learning available both to college students and the broader community. Partnerships like the one between UW-Madison and Benefunder will keep the future of innovation looking bright.

Charity and Delayed Gratification

Man pointing to green bubble with text "yes"

A new study explains how our brains process decision making, such as deciding on charitable donations.
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The results of a charitable donation aren’t always seen right away, which is why delayed gratification is very much a part of the process. But where does the ability to accept delayed gratification come from? Researchers at McGill recently discovered that a connection between the hippocampus and nucleus accumbens is responsible for our ability to make decisions based on delayed gratification. Conversely, damage to this connection can make it difficult for patients to choose to delay their gratification.

In a study of lab rats, which have a lot of similarities to humans, the researchers found that rats could be trained to press either of two buttons, to either receive a treat now, or four treats after a short delay. They found that the healthy rats, after figuring out which button did which, would almost always choose delayed gratification, waiting a little longer for a larger reward. If the rats had to wait too long, or the reward wasn’t enough, they would go with the immediate reward, much like humans.

However, after the link between these two areas of the brain was severed, the rats would never utilize the delayed button and would only go for the immediate reward. The hippocampus is expected to be involved in decisions about time, while the nucleus accumbens is a reward center, so the connection, once determined, made sense to the researchers.

They also noted that other kinds of damage, namely contusions in other parts of the brain, could impair the connection between these areas, resulting in a rejection of delayed gratification. They point out that in people with certain kinds of brain disease, disorders like ADHD, the very young, and the very old, there’s evidence of difficulty in choosing delayed gratification.

More research is needed, but a better understanding of this connection could lead us to some interesting places. It might also help us to better understand how humans make decisions, such as what charities they become involved with.


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