The Gift of Making a Difference

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As we move into the season of peace and love, family and friends, giving and receiving, opportunities for spreading the joy abound. And not all of them are at the Mall. Maybe you don’t really need another turtleneck sweater, the complete first season of Revenge, or the newest incarnation of Smart Phone. Instead, stepping up to say, “I can make a difference” could be one of the most powerful and empowering gifts you can give this holiday.

The editors and writers at BellaSpark have gotten together to share with our readers some alternative gifting ideas. These are the charities and organizations that touch our hearts, and call us to lovingly share the abundance of the season.

Judith Albright

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Keenesburg, Colorado

Out on the rolling grasslands northeast of the Denver Metro area is an amazing 720 acre wildlife refuge that today shelters and cares for 290 lions, tigers, bears, leopards, mountain lions, wolves and other large carnivores, all of which have been rescued from terrible situations.

The sanctuary has three main missions: (1) to rescue captive large carnivores that have been abused, abandoned, illegally kept or exploited; (2) to create for them a wonderful life for as long as they live; and (3) to educate the public about the causes and solutions to the tragic plight faced by an estimated 30,000 such animals in America today. Since January of 1980, the Colorado sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and in Mexico.

Established by Executive Director Pat Craig, The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization that originally started on Pat’s family farm outside Boulder, Colorado, in 1980. Over the years the sanctuary was forced to move because of lack of space or encroaching development, but today there is plenty of space for the animals and plenty of room to grow. Visitors are welcomed daily year round, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except major holidays and during bad weather.

Maintaining the sanctuary is costly — over $1,500,000 each year. There is a significant need for outside financial help.www.wildanimalsanctuary.org.

Katrina Pfannkuch

The Fort Collins Cat Rescue

This Northern Colorado organization goes above and beyond to take care of stray and abandoned cats. Fort Collins Cat Rescue & Spay/Neuter Clinic is a 'Limited Admission, No-Kill Shelter.’ This means they keep every kitty until it finds its forever home, and limit how many are allowed admission to the shelter due to space and financial restrictions. If for any reason an adopter needs to return a cat, they will always take it back -- even years later! I have personally volunteered for this organization and they absolutely treasure every cat that comes through its doors.

They are also extremely active within the community, attending and hosting local events to raise funds in order to care for the cats, while also bringing awareness to important pet care issues. To help contribute to community animal care, they offer vaccination and spay and neuter clinics regularly throughout the year. Some additional services the shelter offers include providing dry cat food for those who are struggling to feed their pets, working with the local trailer parks to trap-neuter-release feral kitties and taking in abandoned animals from homes that have been foreclosed. To see how you can help support a truly grassroots organization this holiday season: www.fortcollinscatrescue.org

Sally Petersen

Plant a Billion Trees

More than half of the nation’s rainforests have been lost due to mankind’s demands for logging, urban expansion, coastal and industrial development, ranching and mining. Rainforests, the lungs of Planet Earth, have decreased from 14 percent of the land surfaces to only about 6 percent.

Why should we care? Rainforests are rich with plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else. Many foods and other products come from sustained rainforests: chocolate, bananas, cinnamon, vanilla, other spices, rubber, ingredients for medicines, and much yet to be discovered. Rainforests are an essential component to the overall health of the planet, affecting rainfall, rivers, streams, soil, and animal and plant life. It’s complex, and it’s worth learning about!

Help protect this diverse habitat when you “Adopt an Acre” through The Nature Conservancy or participate in their “Plant a Billion Trees” project. Choose today to help protect and replant rainforests in Costa Rica, Brazil, the American Appalachians, or in other countries. A $50 donation plants 50 trees, and you’ll receive their magazine and newsletter. www.adopt.nature.org.

Linda M. Potter

Design Revolution (D-Rev)

We all know poverty is a global crisis, and nonprofits all over the world are pitching in to help meet the needs of the 4 billion people worldwide living on less than $4 per day.

One company’s unique approach has caught my attention. Design Revolution (D-Rev), is specifically focused on alleviating poverty through innovative product development aimed at providing effective, appropriate and inexpensive solutions to the simple everyday survival issues that face the world’s poor. Their strategy is not only “hands up,” it offers its customers dignity and hope.

For example, their ‘Milk to Market’ project in East Africa is working to provide affordable ways for rural farmers to get their milk to market before it spoils. D-Rev is developing 1) low temperature pasteurization using a simple kitchen thermometer and the farmer’s stove, 2) cleaning storage and transport containers with a low cost chlorine bleach made with a salt water solution and an electro-chlorinator, 3) cold pasteurization of milk at “aggregation points” (where farmers and milk collectors meet to exchange milk) using UV-C ionizing radiation.

D-Rev was founded by Dr. Paul Polak, of Golden, Colorado. Paul is the author of Out of Poverty.www.d-rev.org

Donna Visocky

Kiva

I recently watched a PBS special called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. It illustrated in sad detail the horrific lives many women across the world face, including forced prostitution, violence, denial of education; women who have no voice and little economic support. Half the Sky was a poignant reminder of why I support Kiva, a nonprofit that provides micro-loans to small business-owner women like Oma from Uganda.

Oma is married with six children; three of her children go to school. Working seven days a week, she sells second-hand clothes at the market and earns additional income by selling fried cassava and chapatti at school. Her goal is to become a wholesaler and educate her children to university level.

Putting money in the hands of women can have a positive long-term effect on the whole family. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family. When the loan is repaid, donated funds are then available to be loaned again. I love reading about these individuals and their dreams for a better life and I’m happy to support them in their vision.www.kiva.org

Cheryl Parker

Centers for Spiritual Living Global Outreach

I love to give gifts that are heartfelt, meaningful yet also practical. The Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL), a trans-denominational spiritual organization with headquarters in Golden, Colorado, has just the kind of gift that appeals to both those intentions.

CSL has a global vision: A world that works for everyone. Their intention is to touch 100 million lives in 10 years. The overall goal is an annual fundraiser to feed the hungry in Africa, specifically Tanzania at first. This project is the first step in a larger vision.

“We start with food then move to clean water, medical care, education, sustainability and microloans, all the while teaching people to change the way they think so they can change their lives as we do our part in raising the consciousness of the planet.” That is change at a deep spiritual level and, for me, worth investing in. Check out specifics at: CSL.org under global outreach .[www.csl.org/index.php/news/global-outreach/foodproject.html

Jan Waterman

Room to Read

If you’re looking for a place to give that will impact individuals as well as the future, consider donating to Room to Read or Vittana, two educationally-oriented organizations.

Room to Read focuses on two areas: literacy and gender equality in education. Through collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa, Room to Read works to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and to support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they will need to succeed in school and beyond.

Vittana increases access to education by providing loans to help students in the developing world obtain a professional degree and break the cycle of poverty. When these motivated students graduate beyond poverty and become contributing members of their communities, they repay their loans. You will receive your money back along with the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made a difference for the individual, her community and the next generation. www.roomtoread.org, www.vittana.org

Donna Mazzitelli

Dolls for Daughters

In 2007, Denver resident Jessica Bachus started Dolls for Daughters after her daughter Kenzi was stillborn. She created an annual holiday toy drive for Colorado children who would not otherwise have toys during the holidays. At this year’s 3rd Annual Dolls for Daughters and Toys for Boys Toy Shop, DfD expects to provide 3,000 children with a new toy, new stocking stuffer, new book and a new toothbrush and toothpaste kit. They have already secured all 3,000 toothbrush/toothpaste kits.

Another part of Dolls for Daughters is the Kenzi’s Kidz program. Kenzi’s Kidz relieves some of the financial burdens of at least one low-income family, pro-actively taking the necessary steps to create a stable environment for the children. The program offers each child fundamental items needed to succeed in school, such as school supplies, clothing, money for extracurricular activities, and birthday and holiday gifts for a year. They are working with three families this year: one from Warren Village, one from Hope House of Colorado and one from Joshua Station. Beginning in 2013, they will add a fourth family selected from Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins. www.dollsfordaughters.com/donate/donate-money