Sunday, June 1, 2014

2016: A Charitable Odyssey -- One Year Journeyed

Today marks the first day of year number two on my journey of giving (with two years and seven months remaining).  So I thought I would take some time to reflect on my first year and share some insights about my journey so far.  I am writing this in the form of an interview - call it practice for the day when Charlie Rose sends me an invitation ;-)

Which states have you visited so far and what have you donated?

After one year I have visited 13 states in the following order: RI, NH, ME, VT, WV, VA, NC, MI, IN, CA, WA, OR, DE (that leaves me with 24 to visit).

I have made the following in-kind donations (for a total spend of ~$6,000): three digital cameras, paints, paint brushes, palettes, a metronome, a piano bench, six music stands, two bookcases, three guitars, a trumpet, a clarinet, two violins, five cello bows, five violin bows, 10 Suzuki cello CDs, 10 Suzuki violin CDs, 37 song flutes, two drums, a ukulele, a mini keyboard, an electronic tabletop digital drum kit, and 20 different types of Play-Doh sets.
I also commissioned my very own priceless work of art so you can add that to the total too :-)

How do you select the organizations that you visit?

For the most part I sit down in front of my computer and search on Google for music or arts non-profit organizations by state.  Since I plan out each trip in advance (in terms of which states I will visit during the one week period I set aside for each trip), I probably spend about 2-3 hours searching online per trip.  This also includes the time spent writing an introductory e-mail to each candidate (I will come back to this point later).

I also ask for and accept recommendations, and those have led me to four of the organizations that I have visited.  This is where social media has been very useful to me.  I have made so many great and often random connections with different people or organizations through social media.  Those connections have really helped open up doors I would have never found otherwise.  And believe it or not, two of the organizations I visited I happened to find by searching through wishlists (I think I sat down one day and decided to see what I would find by searching on the term "music" in their wishlist section).

What have you learned so far?

I am not even sure where to start with that question.  Let me answer it this way - by telling you what has surprised me.  I never expected how much this journey of giving would change me as a person.  I never expected how much I would learn about myself on this journey of giving.  I did expect to meet some amazing people and visit some great organizations, but I never expected to be so profoundly inspired at the same time.

Yes, these answers all reflect back on me but this has always been a personal journey.  And to that point here is another insight about my journey of giving.  When I reach out to each organization (with one exception), I do not introduce myself as 37 people.  None of the places and people I visit know about 37 people until after my visit when I share my blog posts with them.  I think I will save the reason why I do that for my final post ;-)

Let me end my lessons learned (yes, I am keeping things short so you will have to wait another year for more) by going back to an earlier point.  I mentioned the word "candidate" above.  One of the biggest surprises so far has been how difficult it has been, in some cases, to find an organization to reply to my offer of an in-kind donation!  There have been times where an organization will reply to me, and sometimes I will even talk to them by phone, but then they just disappear.  Other times I never even get that first reply (I always start with an e-mail which is followed up with a phone call).  So this means that sometimes it takes several "candidates" before I finally have a selection.  For this reason, I am now starting my planning at least six months in advance of any trip.  Another reason to start planning so early is that I have learned that some instruments (when that is what is requested) are hard to find (are on backorder) and can take a month or two to be delivered.

Okay, I think I will leave it at this for now so that I have something else to write in my two year update ;-)

In the meantime, if there is a question you really want to ask and have answered now, leave it in the comments below.  I will answer it :-)

Finally, here is a picture I took in Seattle.  I especially liked what Beethoven had to say.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


"Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it."

 - Marian Wright Edelman

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting Communities In Schools of Delaware (CIS) in Dover, DE.  If you have been following my journey, you may recall that I also visited CIS of Kalamazoo in Michigan.  They were the ones who in fact put me in contact with CIS of Delaware, and I am very thankful that they did.

Visiting CIS was such a great experience for me because it further strengthened the theme of community that is making more and more of an impact on me through this journey of giving.  Rather than tell you about CIS directly, let me share what I did and what happened on my visit.  Sharing this story should convey just how needed CIS is as an organization, and how truly amazing the people are who work for CIS (in addition to the wonderful teachers who give their time after school).

When I arrived at the school (this was just one school of many that CIS operates in throughout DE) I was directed to the cafeteria where almost 100 students of various ages were already gathered (keep in mind this was after school).  Let me say, and probably repeat a few more times, how impressed I was with the courteousness and attentiveness of these students.  As I was introduced, every single student was paying attention and all of them thanked me in unison for my donation.  I was then directed to three different classrooms where I was able to present my donation (Play-Doh, Play-Doh, and more Play-Doh!) to students of different ages who would be using the Play-Doh for different purposes.  In each class I was warmly greeted and kindly thanked by each student.  After seeing the three classrooms I spent some time in the hallway talking to two CIS employees.  As we were talking we would be politely interrupted every now and then by students walking by who would again thank me for my donation.

Okay, I mentioned being thanked by the students three times now.  These students were not prompted to thank me.  As I drove back home I thought about what that meant.  Should I be so impressed by what many see as a common and simple gesture?  Let me come back to this question shortly.

On the day of my visit the after school coordinator for CIS whom I met with had learned that more of the students in her program had passed and increased their scores on the DCAS (Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System) tests.  She also told me about the types of programs they were leveraging to really make a difference in these students' lives.  As I stood listening to her speak about all of this, I could really feel her positive energy, spirit, and passion about what she is able to do with CIS at this school.  So getting back to my earlier question, I believe the answer is yes because it is clear to me that what I saw and experienced is directly tied to CIS, and that is certainly something that I am so glad I was able to see firsthand.

Finally, as I asked her about her vision for their program, she told me about the community outreach she wants to expand with her students (realizing how powerful a tool it will be for her students).  Here is one example of how CIS is enriching its students and their community:

Saturday, April 5, 2014


"The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial."

 - Leonard Bernstein

Most of you know how much I love that quote, and I tend to use it differently from what the "maestro" probably ever had in mind :-)

Keeping that quote in mind, on Thursday I visited the Children's Cancer Association (CCA) in Portland, OR.  The CCA has many different programs that ultimately serve the same purpose:

When seriously ill children, teens, and their families need more than medicine, CCA's innovative programs create joy one moment at a time.

For the music related programs, their purpose is not about music therapy but simply about the joy of music.  One of their programs, which of course is what led me to them, is called MusicRx.  Some of you may even remember when I first found them - it was day 32 of my 37 days of giving (and we all helped them again during a previous challenge where I donated five musical instruments because of your support!).

So on Thursday I had the utmost pleasure of meeting some of the amazing people who work at the CCA.  There I learned about what makes their programs so special.  One of the things I absolutely loved was hearing about how MusicRx works in the hospitals.  They have these carts that their music volunteers roll around to kids' hospital rooms which are loaded with various musical instruments and technologies.  These carts allow the kids to listen to music, play music, and even record their own music that they can keep.  The music volunteers are there to either help the patients learn how to play music, or simply just experience music for the pure joy of it <3

You should definitely take a look at their site to learn even more about the other wonderful programs the CCA offers (and the many different ways you can help them help cancer patients and their families experience joy).  For my part, I donated additional musical instruments for their MusicRx program.  I was also very excited to learn that the CCA is also looking to roll out their programs to other hospitals nationwide, and hopefully this is something I may even be able to help with at a certain hospital in New York City!  Watch this space ;-)


"Building community through arts one experience at a time."

Sometimes, and this is a good thing, you have no idea just how profoundly an experience is going to impact you.  On Wednesday I was in Seattle, WA and I visited an organization called Community Arts Create (CAC).  There I met Ben Hunter, the founder and Director of CAC.  If I had just 1/37th of Ben's drive, passion and commitment, I would be extremely lucky.  Let me tell you why :-)

First let me borrow (and paraphrase) from CAC's site:


CAC strives to build community through self-discovery and shared experience.  We work to enhance a richer way of life by creating harmony through creative expression within Seattle’s very diverse culture.  Simply put, CAC partners with the community to create cultural competency through art of all forms.

Our Approach

We hope to help Southeast Seattle express their artistic identity through programs, exhibitions, performances and art installations.  We foster values intrinsic to art and artists: collaboration, patience, sensitivity, and the celebration of the collective achievement.  CAC strives to be the unifying agent, using art as the vehicle for cultural integration and, ultimately, cultural acceptance.

When I first discovered CAC online, I read these words and was immediately drawn towards this organization.  But when I met and talked to Ben, I learned that these simple words actually represent something much more rich, nuanced and diverse.  There is one word, which I have highlighted, that really speaks to what this organization is all about - community.  As my journey of giving has been progressing, I have started to write about what it has become to mean to me.  A large part of what I have been learning and experiencing has formed a concept and idea in my mind that I said I would share with you one day.  Since my journey has a long way to go yet, I will continue to tease you with what that is (but "community" is a big hint).  After all, I need to save something for the epilogue ;-)

Let me not start a tangent and instead return to CAC.  There have been a few occasions where I have stated that you can read about an organization online yet only truly know a small fraction of what that organization actually does.  CAC is no exception to this (and this is exactly what makes my travels so rewarding).  Ben met me at the train stop and then walked me through the community CAC supports.  He proceeded to tell me about the impact CAC has made in its community through the various experiences it has offered (and continues to offer).  And it is not just about the arts!  CAC is not just focused on one thing but instead they do anything that has a positive community impact.

Ben and I ended our walk by arriving at CAC's new home.  It is a shared space that is there to serve the community in many ways.  One such example is that the space is open for a few hours during the day to support the homeless.  Ben also showed me a garden space out back that CAC is going to start to develop in to a community garden, and a general place for people in the community to simply gather and enjoy a green space.  I could go on and on about all of the things CAC does to support its community.  I started this post by saying that if I had just 1/37th of Ben's drive, passion and commitment, I would be extremely lucky.  Now you know why, and I am definitely inspired!

Here is a mural that CAC got local businesses in the community to sponsor in order to freshen up a blighted wall and area.

I told Ben that the last panel could very well represent the vision of what CAC's community garden may become :-)

Finally, in terms of my donation, CAC received a digital camera to take the place of Ben using his phone to take all of their pictures.


For the tenth state on my journey of giving, I visited two different organizations based in Los Angeles, CA.  The theme for this day centered around the word "opportunity"...


The Arts Empowerment Project connected me to DSTL Arts (pronounced like "distill", and it stands for "develop skills, transcend limits") through Twitter.  I had already made contact with another organization in CA whom I was going to visit (you will see that below), but after reading about DSTL Arts I knew I wanted to do something with them too.  Everything then just came together perfectly and I was able to add this little sojourn to my trip :-)

On Tuesday I visited DSTL Arts and there I met Luis and Ana.  Luis is the founder and Executive Director of DSTL Arts while Ana is one of his mentees.  DSTL Arts mentors young artists (at-risk youth ages 16–21 years old) to give them the opportunity to be working artists.  Think about how simple yet powerful that premise is of nurturing talent and entrepreneurship for those that would not likely have such a chance.  When the right conditions and circumstances exist, not only do the individuals benefit but then so do the communities in which they live and work.  We as a society need more talented and wonderful people like Luis who have a vision of changing the way we think about education and the arts!

Normally I make an in-kind donation as part of my journey of giving.  As I browsed through the DSTL Arts site I came across their shop where students have the opportunity to sell their work.  One of the pieces of work that caught my eye is called El Festival and this was done by Ana.  That then gave me an idea which at first I was not even sure DSTL Arts would accept.  I asked Luis if I could commission Ana to create an original work of art for me.  They both agreed and here is a picture of Ana and her work of art she created based on the idea of 37 people can't be wrong.  Needless to say, I was at a loss for words when this was presented to me (Ana - I may have struggled to say much when you gave this to me but please do know how truly happy it made me feel, and how much I love and treasure what you created for me!).

Also here is a great video of Ana explaining DSTL Arts.

Everybody Deserves Music

Later that Tuesday afternoon I stopped by the Los Angeles Leadership Academy Middle School.  This charter school does not offer any music classes for its students.  This is where the aptly named Everybody Deserves Music works to give these kids the opportunity to learn music.  Everybody Deserves Music is there after school every single day to ensure that at least some of these students, kids who express an interest in learning music, are given that chance.

If you have been reading my blog and the other places I have visited on my journey of giving, I am typically quite positive and upbeat about the people and organizations I have met.  Before I arrived at this school, I assumed that Everybody Deserves Music acted as a compliment to an existing school music program (like some of the other music programs I have visited).  I only learned while I was there that this school does not have any music program or music teachers.  That saddened me.  It also saddened me to learn that Everybody Deserves Music receives little in the form of grants and that most donations come from individual donors (or the program volunteers donate their own instruments).  In fact the way I found Everybody Deserves Music was through their wish list.

Despite all of this, Everybody Deserves Music heroically does what it can with what it has.  Resources may be limited but they certainly make the most of what they have.  And it is not just about music instruction.  They also offer tutoring for students who need a little extra help.  So just when you think a few instruments, a few dedicated volunteers, and probably the smallest music room I have ever seen cannot go very far to make a difference, you would be sadly mistaken to underestimate Everybody Deserves Music :-)

In terms of my donation, I was able to provide an electric guitar (and from what I hear, a very popular instrument amongst the kids) which also helped support the Traveling Guitar Foundation (thank you TGF for sending this guitar to Everybody Deserves Music!).

Saturday, October 19, 2013


This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited.  Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing.  First I'll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I'm starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations).  I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I'll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI.  I don't think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:
Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school--before, during, or after class--so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it's tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.
One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KIT program being run at a local school.  KIT is "a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra" and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!).  Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance.  At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children.  I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance.  I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too.  It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office.  What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me.  It is such a simple but powerful concept - bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it's so much more than just music of course (but I'm super happy music is a part of it!).  I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model.  One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense.  But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week.  I found the following talking about KIT:
It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more.  Like how to express her feelings better.  I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”
I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates.  To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it.  Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families.  This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing.  I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together.  In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate!  And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo - getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education.  This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.