Help Bethany start an art bus for homeless youth

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Bethany

In between sludging through snow banks to bring supplies to homeless camps in Utah and working at a homeless women’s shelter in Portland, Oregon, Bethany Haug took some time off to get her MFA in creative writing.

She spent two years writing poems about love, transportation, and motor homes. She also started teaching developmental writing and creative writing to young people. Put all of that together, and you can see where she might have gotten the idea for the art bus.

“Kids who are homeless and aren’t in school or have large obstacles in their lives could definitely use a creative outlet. They need to be encouraged to read and write and create. And even if you take self-expression out of it, being creative is just something positive to do with your time while you’re trying to survive,” she says.

Bethany Haug

Bethany in Portland’s International Rose Test Garden

The intention

Bethany wants to build a traveling arts education center and zine-making bus to give homeless youth the chance to express themselves.

She understands that drop-in centers don’t always work for homeless teens and runaways, but hopes a mobile center could bring arts programming and non-traditional educational resources directly to them.

“The advantage of mobile outreach is that even though you might be affiliated with a drop-in center that has rules and obvious hours, you’re outside of that. You are stepping into their space as opposed to asking them to step into yours,” she says. “Because of that, mobile outreach has been particularly effective in reaching people who live in camps or who might be for whatever reason uncomfortable in social service buildings—especially with homeless youth who might be runaways or have come from foster care and don’t want to share their identity with authorities.”

And while the opportunity to be creative is important, the secondary purpose of the art bus would be to team up with existing homeless service organizations to connect the kids who come to her bus with other essential services and survival resources.

“Only after those needs are taken care of can someone start to think about self-expression,” she says.

She envisions the bus working in one of two ways—either as a center that moves across the country teaming up with many organizations that might not have the resources to offer arts programming, or as the mobile branch of one drop-in center in a city where there’s a lot of need.

“I live in Portland right now, and we’re lucky to have some of the best homeless youth services in the country,” she says. “But I wonder what other communities could really benefit from this.”

Obstacles

Bethany has researched some existing creative mentoring services but hasn’t reached out to any organizations just yet. While she feels confident that this is a great idea, she’s never done anything like it before and feels pretty overwhelmed.

“I don’t even know if existing agencies would take me seriously. Like, do they even care?” she says.

Some of her biggest obstacles so far include:

1. Funding. Bethany currently works full-time as a caretaker for disabled adults, but she would rather be working on the art bus. She wants to know if there’s enough money out there that she could make this her primary job, or if any existing social service or community arts organizations would hire her to run this kind of program for them.

“I’m preoccupied with having to survive right now. I have student debt and I don’t have any savings—it’s just not financially feasible for me to think about doing this full-time right now,” she says.

2. Lack of business development and budget management experience. “I don’t have any knowledge or training in this. I have nothing to compare to and no experience, so where do I start?”

3. Building partnerships. Bethany wants to run this program in tandem with other organizations but isn’t sure how to start the conversation.

“I want to approach organizations that work with homeless youth but don’t have any creative writing programming, or with literary arts or community service organizations that don’t reach out to homeless youth but would like to,” she says. “But what do I say to them? And why would they work with me if I’m basically on my own and have no experience or money?”

How you can help

  • Does this project already exist somewhere else?
  • Can you think of an organization that might benefit from a partnership with the art bus?
  • Can you connect Bethany to other organizations or programs that work in creative mentoring for homeless youth?
  • Can you offer any advice about organizational structure or funding options for a program like this?
  • Do you know of any other mobile programs Bethany could look at as a model, whether for social good or otherwise?
  • Do you have any tips for how to approach a homeless youth organization?

If you have any bright ideas for Bethany, leave them in the comments below or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email celeste@idealist.org.

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Idea File: One City’s Guide to Giving

Year-end appeals may have ended, but it’s never too late to start planning for the next go-around.

The idea

In December, you most likely received a slew of emails from nonprofits near and far asking you to continue their support. If you’re anything like me, you probably felt overwhelmed.

Here in Portland, OR one alternative newspaper is trying to make shuffling through the noise of year-end giving easier. Willamette Week’s (WW) annual Give!Guide features 110 nonprofits in eight different categories from animals to youth to give your cash to at the end of the year.

It’s a win-win: Local organizations receive money to support all the awesome work they do, and you get incentives ranging from a free cup of Stumptown coffee to oh yes, an ice cream party for 200 of your closest friends at the best scoop in town.

While the guide is open to anyone to donate, the focus is on the 35 and under crowd.

“We have the least amount of money and most view philanthropy as something you do when you’re older or only if you’re wealthy,” says 27-year-old Nick Johnson, Give!Guide’s Executive Director. “We want to break through that barrier and make it clear to people that you are philanthropist even if you give $10.”

Recently completing its 9th year, Give!Guide has raised over seven million dollars in total, with nearly two million this past year alone. Complemented by the Skidmore Prize, which highlights four young nonprofit rockstars, and a volunteer guide one month later, WW is tapping into one of the many reasons why Portland is quickly becoming one of top cities in the U.S. to make a tangible difference.

“I can go through the list and name which groups from my life in Portland have affected and shaped me,” Nick says. “Anybody who lives here, even if they just moved, can’t avoid being influenced by one of them.”

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Makes giving easy. Instead of going to multiple websites or writing numerous checks, all the nonprofits are there on one web page for you to choose from. Nick has found that the average donor will give to three nonprofits at once.
  • Raises awareness of local nonprofits, especially smaller ones. While larger nonprofits are included, it’s the smaller nonprofits that seem to benefit the most. “We bring them in new people, they get the fundraising experience and connect with other nonprofits,” Nick says.
  • Kickstarts philanthropy in the young. The 65 and older group, which has traditionally been the biggest donor base, are increasingly less likely to increase donations. “We think that younger people need to begin stepping up,” Nick says.
  • Collective effort to help the sector as a whole. It can’t be denied that there’s power in numbers. “When you create a critical mass of 110 groups and all their marketing departments and volunteers and staff are promoting it, it becomes a bigger thing than if one group was doing their own Kickstarter thing,” Nick says.
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Give!Guide’s Executive Director Nick Johnson holding one of the lawn signs. (Photo via Willamette Week’s V.Kapoor.)

 

How you can replicate it

A version of the Give!Guide exists in some other places around the country, such as Colorado Springs, CO and Lexington, KY, but Nick would love to see the idea in even more cities. Already a handful of communities have reached out to WW for ideas.

If you’re thinking about doing something like this where you live, below are some tips from Nick on how to implement it. You don’t necessarily need newspaper backing; a group of nonprofits could easily create one.

Working with nonprofits

  • Choose the number or organizations based on capacity. Richard Meeker, the Willamette Week Publisher and Co-Owner, started the Give!Guide in 2004 with just 20 organizations, the number which has been increasing each year. Nick is now its only full-time employee, and feels 110 is a manageable number not only for him to be a dedicated resource for the organizations, but a way to keep the attention focused.
  • Have a selection committee that’s legitimate and has a wide reach in the nonprofit community. Last year,  WW’s publisher and accountant, staff from a local science museum and youth organization, and the former ED from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon chose which nonprofits appeared in the guide.
  • Include a variety of organizations. Have a balance of smaller and larger nonprofits (mammoth orgs are a good lure for the tiny ones), a range of categories, and fresh causes each year. “We want there to be some turnover so it doesn’t become a calcified thing and doesn’t shift,” says Nick, who tries to include 30% new orgs every year.
  • Encourage nonprofits to help you promote the guide. Ask them to push it on their social media channels, as well as in their community face-to-face. Give!Guide also ramps up the competitiveness by giving $500 to the nonprofits in each category who get the most individual donors under 35.
  • Pay attention to the small guys. Nick learned that nonprofits will have different expectations about what they want out of the Give!Guide. While the large orgs will usually not have a problem raising funds, the smaller ones might. So Nick put statistical reporting in place to make sure he was giving them equal attention. “If you want to manage a large group of nonprofits, you have to keep an eye on both the successes and the improvement areas,” he says. “I want these groups to walk away happy.”

Engaging the community

  • Provide incentives. Although Nick has found roughly 20% of people will opt out of receiving rewards such as discounted coupons  or a year-round show pass to local music venue or , he thinks it’s still a nice way to thank people and show appreciation. Working with businesses also helps their philanthropic image and brings in new customers, and on the flipside, introduces Give!Guide to an audience it may not have reached.
  • Consider the types of businesses you partner with. Be aware that nonprofits and businesses might have competing interests, and if the guide is part of a newspaper, keep the editorial separate.
  • Recognize local changemakers. The Skidmore Prize not only highlights the fact that many young people are involved with nonprofits, but helps the sector at large by keeping them motivated with a $4,000 prize. “If we can keep pushing them forward, that’s a huge asset for that organization and a huge asset for the city,” Nick says.
  • Be prepared for a slew of donations after the holidays. People will usually wait until the last minute to donate after they’re done with holiday shopping. This is an ideal time to encourage new donors.
  • Make donors feel they are a part of something. Whether it’s citizenship badge stickers or lawn signs, for example, having swag not only markets the guide, but helps people feel connected to a larger movement.

“People are bombarded so much. You can’t be passive,” Nick finally says. “That’s my biggest piece of advice.”

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Inspired to create your own Give!Guide? Feel free to reach out to Nick Johnson for more advice: njohnson@wweek.com.

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Help Tamara build bridges through music

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Tamara

Tamara Turner follows the beat of her own drum – literally and figuratively. Her passion with music began when she was five years old composing piano pieces in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. Tamara hasn’t skipped a beat as an adult, dabbling in everything from film scoring to music journalism, and studying a wide range of musical styles from West African drumming in Ghana to tin whistle in Ireland to Gnawa music in Morocco.

Most recently, Tamara graduated from Boston’s Tufts University with a masters degree in ethnomusicology. There, she helped organize a “Music and Islam” symposium where, by connecting with the local Moroccan community, she brought in a Moroccan band to host workshops that culminated in a big concert. For Tamara, music plays a critical role in challenging the Islamophobia she often comes across in the U.S.

“Because music has the ability to build connections artistically, creatively, and emotionally, it gives us an opportunity to lead with the heart, transcending the medium of ‘discourse’ and offering a different kind of relationship with which to understand others,” she says.

The intention

Broadly speaking, Tamara envisions an organization that utilizes music for cultural advocacy, outreach, and education, starting with but not limited to the music and cultures of North Africa. One of the first issues she would like to address through musical bridges is Islamophobia.

The idea is two-fold: Similar to the program she helped organize at Tufts, she wants to connect with local immigrant communities in the U.S. to help share their music through concerts, education, and more. Travel is also key, as she’d like to work in North Africa to help record and archive musical traditions.

Besides fostering cross-cultural understanding, and of course, celebrating the inherent joy that music brings, Tamara also hopes to counter the exotification of non-Western music cultures that can sometimes result, however well-intentioned.

“That’s part of the vision, too. Not just piecemealing and romanticizing certain elements of other cultures, but allowing ourselves to be challenged by and uncomfortable with differences as well,” she says.

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Tamara learning the guimbri with her teacher, Abdellatif El Makhzoumi, in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo via Tamara Turner.)

Obstacles

So far, Tamara has been researching similar organizations around the world and is in the process of refining her idea.

Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. Reaching out to immigrant communities in the U.S. seems clear cut to Tamara given her experience, but incorporating the North African component is both nebulous and daunting.
  2. She doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and is considering becoming involved with an existing organization or program at first.
  3. Although she’s been encouraged by the nonprofits she’s been in touch with, she always hears a version of the same story: “Contact us after you get funding.”
  4. Sustaining enthusiasm and momentum around the idea after it’s no longer fresh is a concern.

How you can help

  • Do you know of any similar organizations or programs to add to her list?
  • Besides initiating conversations, is there more she can be doing to get her foot in the door with people who are already doing similar work?
  • How can she inspire the average person to get outside their comfort zone and, for example, be open to new music from the Islamic world?
  • For music fans and non-music fans alike, what are some other effective and fun outreach strategies besides concerts?
  • Aside from major cities, are there other areas in the U.S. that could benefit from such an organization?
  • What are some potential funding avenues she should pursue?
  • How can she best balance her vision with logistics, and prevent getting so bogged down with logistics that her vision deflates?
  • If you’ve started your own nonprofit, would you be willing to share your story and the lessons learned?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Help Melanie empower youth through theatre

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Melanie

For Melanie Lockert, who grew up singing in the choir and performing high school plays in Los Angeles, theatre is the one place where she can really be herself. But the business side  — auditioning, networking, etc. —  has left Melanie feeling increasingly disenchanted as an adult. “I don’t believe the system functions in a way that is conducive to self-esteem and communication,” she says.

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Animal exercises with third graders at Harlem’s PS 175. (Photo via Melanie Lockert.)

So when she began practicing Theatre of the Oppressed with youth at Brooklyn’s Falconworks Artists Group, she knew the focus on individual experiences as a catalyst for social change would restore her faith in the art form.

“Theatre of the oppressed doesn’t shut out anyone. It doesn’t say your experience is wrong and my experience is right. Everyone can be an actor,” she says. “ It’’s a mobilizing tool for people who have never spoken in public and who have never expressed issues in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable playing.”

The intention

Melanie recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after getting a Masters in Performance Studies at NYU. While in New York, she taught theatre at PS 175 in Harlem with the New York City Mission Society and before that, managed art programs for underserved youth in Los Angeles. She wants to draw from her experiences teaching and work with this same population to create plays based on issues they or their communities face.

“It’s a way to open up a dialogue about what these young people want, and what they want out of their lives, addressing some of the things they want to see change in their community,” she says.

Obstacles

Melanie is currently in the planning stage. Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. As a newcomer to Portland, Melanie is struggling to connect with organizations whose constituents could benefit from theatre of the oppressed.
  2. Finding people is one thing. Locating a space where they could practice and perform poses another logistical consideration.
  3. When she’s not playing with a local theatre company, Melanie is actively seeking full-time employment and volunteering opportunities with arts organizations, both of which have been difficult and detract her from focusing on the project.
  4. Like most people with an idea, Melanie continually fights the doubtful voice inside her head: What if this isn’t a good idea? Is such a program necessary? Give up the dream and focus on making a living instead?

How you can help

  • Do you have advice for overcoming paralyzing doubt?
  • How can Melanie start meeting the right people who would be interested in making this idea happen?
  • Do you know organizations in Portland working with youth (or women) that might be interested in having Melanie teach a workshop at night or on the weekends?
  • How she can find a free or low-cost community space that would host the program?
  • If she wanted to scratch working with organizations all together, how could she recruit youth by herself? What would be the legal logistics to consider?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Cash prizes for your artwork, ideas, or international work

Want to do some good in the world but could use a little help? Check out these contest folk and grantmakers who want nothing more than to give you their money:

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Total amount of cash up for grabs in this post: $157,000. What are you waiting for? Photo by Yomanimus (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Rice Award
Are you a professional between the age of 18-30 who is making some serious headway in the field of global development? Apply to receive a $1,000 grant, an inscribed plaque you can bring home to mom, and an honorary year-long membership to the Society for International Development (SID). Caveat: applicants must have an affiliation with SID. Deadline is April 29.

BE BIG in Your Community Contest
For over 50 years, Clifford the Big Red Dog has been making children laugh with his larger-than-life antics and saving them from the doghouse by imparting kind lessons. Everyone big and small is invited to submit their ideas on how to use Clifford’s positive traits to better their neighborhoods. Grand prize is $25,000 with smaller amounts given to second and third place. Added bonus: Scholastic, HandsOn Network and American Family Insurance will work with the winner to ensure their idea comes to life. Deadline is June 17.

Back to School 2011 Contest
Tired of teen pop stars like Justin Bieber overtaking folders, notebooks, pencil pouches and more? Instead of doodling in class, use your creativity to design artwork that inspires action in your community related to education, environment, peace and volunteerism and a healthy lifestyle. Do Something and Staples will give the winner the opportunity to see their designs in Staples stores nationwide and a $1,000 scholarship toward school. Applicants must be between the ages of 13-25. Deadline is July 22.

PandoProjects
The folks behind this new NYC-based nonprofit believe solutions start with you. Anyone over the age of 18 can submit their ideas on any issue in the five boroughs – although the target demographic are tech-savvy Gen Y do-gooders. The selected handful of emerging leaders will each receive $5,000 plus tools, guidance and promotion to help execute their project within six months. The first wave of awesomeness is currently underway, but look out for the second one starting in July.

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Headlines: The budget; Girl Scout cookies; meditation in prison

A not-comprehensive roundup of some things that caught my eye.

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By Cameron Brenchley (Flickr)

Proposed 2012 U.S. Budget

How it might change:

I think I need a Thin Mint.

  • Inside the Girl Scouts’ New Cookie Strategy (The Atlantic, Feb. 4): “Since 1917, we’ve had a laser focus on goal-setting, decision-making, money-making, business ethics,” Pesich said. “I’ve heard people reflect as adults that Girl Scouts was their first foray into business.”

Inhale. Exhale.

Send us a headline: In the last 72 hours, did you read something that moved you to action or gave you hope? Leave a comment below or tweet it to us @idealist.

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Nonprofits That Rock Hard

Maybe rocking out and meeting the band don’t usually correspond with your day job or volunteer activities. But check out the work of these nonprofit organizations that are shamelessly devoted to rock music!

Black Rock Coalition works to support progressive black musicians “who defy convention.” The national organization, founded in New York City in 1985, helps secure performance and recording opportunities and other resources for bands and artists, documents and promotes promising acts, and organizes educational events and discussion forums for the public. Among its list of featured bands and artists are Ben Harper, Bloc Party, Sevendust, Toshi Reagon, and TV on the Radio, to name just a few.

By Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (Creative Commons)

Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls is dedicated to youth empowerment through music. At its summer camp sessions in New York City, 8- to 18-year-old girls learn to play musical instruments, write songs, and perform with a band; all while making strides in self-confidence, self-expression, and teamwork. A slew of other rock camps for girls are cropping up throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe: for starters, check out the list of 13 camps that belong to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance.

There’s no shortage of other nonprofits that combine important social and environmental causes with rock music. Rock the Earth works with the music industry and its fans to advocate for environmental sustainability. Rock the Classroom brings music and songwriting into public school classrooms to help students improve their literacy skills. Rock CAN Roll, Inc. collects canned food at rock concerts to distribute to families and seniors who need it.

Ready to rock? Look into these 16 related volunteer opportunities.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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