Putting the ‘fun’ in Fundraising

When December rolls around, the phone calls, e-mails, letters and old-fashioned in-person solicitations seem to come in a flood. Every charitable cause seems to want to be in touch, with you, knowing as they do that it’s the end of the calendar year and thus their last chance to obtain your contribution, in exchange for a nifty tax deduction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Now, I am a law student who is particularly interested in the law relating to nonprofit organizations and charitable giving, so I could talk (or write!) your ears (or eyes!) off about this, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll share a few tips for choosing a worthwhile cause to donate to, or for raising money for a cause yourself. As we look ahead to 2015, I’m hopeful as always that giving will be on the rise. I’m by no means an expert, but I’m seriously wonky about this stuff!

 

Riverside Park snow
Snow or summer…
Park Avenue tulips
…it can always be a season for giving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For donors overwhelmed by the sheer number of different organizations, one of the best ways to start is to clear away the fliers and to think about what sort of donation you personally want to make. There are many factors to consider, and these are just a few:

  • Sector: Do you want to donate to education, to healthcare, the arts, animal welfare, or another area?
  • Location: Do you want to contribute within your local community, or on a state, national, or international level, or to a specific community elsewhere?
  • Program (or not): Do you want your donation to fund a particular program, or would you rather it go toward the general operating costs of a charitable organization?
  • Type of donation: Do you want to give money, or can you contribute your time to volunteering and using your particular skills to help an organization?

Once you’ve thought about this, you can narrow the list of possibilities to those that are best suited to the donation you want to make, and go from there. If you’re thinking about going beyond a local community organization, an excellent place to check out charities is Guidestar.org.

For fundraisers trying to meet a goal by a certain date, there are also specifics to consider. Reaching out through social media and putting flyers on bulletin boards at school, work, or in the community is just the start. Often, just casually slipping into conversation that you’re fundraising for a particular cause is enough to enervate the giving spirit at a gathering. Friends, family, classmates and co-workers are of course potential donors, but they are part of a bigger picture. Just asking your friends to mention your efforts to their friends can do wonders. As long as you are passionate about your cause, others will be too.

Keep in mind that simply soliciting donations is just one way to fundraise. You can put your skills to use and offer to babysit or build a bookshelf, putting the profits of your work toward your fundraising goal. You can hold a yard sale, or consign clothes online, noting carefully where the proceeds will be directed. Friends and family can get in on these efforts, making it a team endeavor. You might even decide that fundraising is indeed fun! Because in the end, it’s not about the amount you raise personally. It’s about giving something of yourself to help make a difference, and just making the effort is a step in the right direction.

 

Well, that’s all for 2014…wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

 

PS: Check out this New York Times article on giving and socially responsible investment…timely and thought-provoking.

 

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Running on ridges

I love being home for the holidays, and as you can tell from my numerous posts about my quaint Connecticut town, I think it’s a lovely little slice of New England charm. Part of that charm is the ability to go for a quiet run and not feel jammed among the throngs on the path around Central Park. Of course, running the roads of Ridgefield means dealing with cars, but there are lots of paths you can take on back roads, as well as in town parks and on the Ridgefield Rail Trail.

Ridgefield Rec Center trail
One of many parks and preserves

The one thing that a path cannot do, however, is overcome the fact that Ridgefield gets its name from ridges. Ridges mean hills, and even though I’m a distance runner, I tend to try and avoid those. I fractured my ankle eight years ago, and before it was fully mended I decided to bike through the hills of Vermont with all my possessions in saddlebags, resulting in stress to the ankle and a bout of tendinitis in the knee. This past summer, I strained my hip flexor trying to train through the return of the tendinitis. All in all, one of my legs is a bit weaker than the other, and hills aggravate that, both running up AND down!

 

 

When in Central Park, I tend to serpentine around to create my own long, flat-ish route. In Connecticut, I carve a path in a rather different manner, building loops from different parts of town and taking walk breaks if necessary. An added bonus of doing this is the varied scenery on a typical morning’s run!

 

Ridgefield, Connecticut
View from the park path

One of my favorite flatter loops is a path around the recreation center. The path is only 1.3 miles, but doubling back doubles that and adding the trip to and from my street of just under a mile creates a 4.5-mile loop, either for a quick early morning run or as part of a longer outing. Even though I have to run on a busy main road to get there, it’s a beautiful and quiet interlude in what feels like the woods, although you’re never more than a few minutes from civilization.

 

 

I also enjoy running through the picturesque downtown. The shops cluster on Main Street in a relatively small area, but the sidewalk continues a mile further, past many of the beautiful historic homes from every era since the community was founded. The oldest house in Ridgefield, Hawley House (c. 1715), isn’t far from Lounsbury House, built in the late nineteenth century by Connecticut governor Phineas Lounsbury and now a community center that hosts town functions. My favorite Main Street manse, a lovely Victorian, lies on the other side of the road. And though the sidewalk ends too soon, you can turn around and lengthen the route by running the various roads that branch off from the town center. I often do this, passing my absolute favorite house in town (the larger Victorian is a close second, but my dream house has always been something small and cozy!)

Ridgefield Main Street
Stately on Main Street
I just love the pink
I just love the pink
Before the sidewalk ends
Before the sidewalk ends

 

 

 

 

And there you have it – happy trails! I’m off to do 6 miles now, tapering steadily for next Saturday…

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Caramel Apple Cinnamuffins

It’s official: my kitchen is experiencing olfactory overload. So many new recipes to try, and only so much winter break in which to try them! These gluten free caramel apple cinnamon muffins may seem familiar as cousins of my Banana Maple Muffins. But Caramel Apple Cinnamuffins include a delightful twist of caramel, invisible in their warm golden-brown tops while infusing the scrumptious first bite. They’re wonderful for an autumn party as a seasonal alternative to pumpkin, or for a warming winter treat paired with a mug of hot spiced apple cider.

 

 

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Sunset Ridge

‘Do good, and good will come to you’

I hope everyone had a very happy Hanukah and merry Christmas, and any other winter holiday that may have been celebrated in the past few weeks!

I find that the last few days of the year, from Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve, I spend time reflecting on how far I’ve come and think more about where I want to go. I used to think about my life and the time I’ve spent on Earth thus far in terms of events and tangible accomplishments – a birthday, a graduation, a major trip to somewhere exotic. I evaluated where I stood by how much further I needed to get to be at the next Major Life Moment. But in the past year, the way that thoughts swirl around in my head has changed – and for the better.

It turns out, there are a lot of assumptions I’ve carried with me about what it would take to have a great life that aren’t worth holding on to. I was never much for expensive toys as a kid, always preferring books (with the exception of an American Girl Doll, of course…) and I still don’t feel the need to buy many gadgets. My old wish list was books and leotards; now it’s books and running shoes. I love the arts and all the outlets provided in New York City to explore the cultural scene, and happily pay to be a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and New York City Ballet because of the experiences I’ll have. But I don’t need a new designer dress, a four-star dinner out, and a cab ride to make those experiences complete. Just being there and enjoying the paintings, the sculpture, the music and the dance is enough. After all, Balanchine himself told audiences to “see the music, hear the dance” – and I’m not about to contradict the greatest ballet master of all time!

I love spending time with my closest friends, and the best times I’ve had with them, all it took was a blanket and some wine and cheese in Christ Church Meadow at Oxford, or ice cream and fireworks in a Connecticut field, for the perfect setting for a wonderful day. Today I get to see two wonderful friends who I danced alongside in the Nutcracker and who came to my bat mitzvah – a decade later, interspersed with years of being out of touch, and it feels like nothing’s changed between us at all. No amount of money in the world could equal in value this time we spent together.

 

Taking the time to appreciate natural beauty
Taking the time to appreciate natural beauty

 

I suppose what I’ve realized in the past year is really just some version of the old saying that the best things in life are free. I don’t need a lot of the material things the world tries to convince you will make you happy. Being outside in the fresh air is the best feeling in the world, and if you’ve got a good pair of running (or walking!) shoes, treading a path through the park or down country roads is in my humble opinion one of the most life-affirming ways to spend a morning, rain or shine. Really, all I need is the time and energy to spend my life with family and friends, reading great books, going for long runs and really looking at the world as I pass it by, and hopefully finding my way to work that’s meaningful and allows me to do well by doing good.

 

Some might call me idealistic, or naive. They’ll say the world will change me, that the cold hard truth of life will make the walls come tumbling down. But even at 23, I’ve seen a lot of what’s out in this world, and I’m well aware of the harsh reality. The way I see it, there’s enough war and hunger and pain in this world without adding to it the complaints of privileged life in a privileged nation like my own. If I take a step back and look carefully, I realize that most of those complaints come from pursuing something other than real happiness. I intend to try and carry that knowledge with me over the next year, so that even if it’s a particularly “miserable” time – studying for the bar exam, or being in the office at all hours – I’ll have the presence of mind to remember that I’m doing whatever I’m doing at that moment in time because I’m trying to earn enough security for independence, so that in the future I will have the freedom to spend more of my time on what truly matters to me in life.

 

Sunrise and sunset
Sunrise and sunset

 

And, while I’m living my life, I can also make sure that I give back to the world. I really believe that you get what you give, even if it’s “just” the feeling that you’ve touched the life of another human being for a moment in time. This can take so many forms. For me, for now, it’s meeting my fundraising goal before I cross the starting line at my next half marathon in January, of raising $2,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s also volunteering in the community with the Junior League. It’s walking or biking to the grocery store instead of driving (well, that’s helping the environment, but we all live on this planet for now!) It’s smiling and saying hello on that walk instead of looking down at my cellphone, because you never know when a simple hello will brighten someone else’s day. And all of this together? Well, it’s just the beginning of the rest of a wonderful life.

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‘And there you are, happy landing on a chocolate bar’

Shirley Temple might have been referring to an airplane when she sang about the Good Ship Lollipop, but to me the local (and locally renowned!) sweet shop in all its holiday glory is the real mothership of all that is good and chocolate.

 

Deborah Ann's Sweet Shoppe
In the holiday spirit

 

 

It’s called Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe, and they really get into the holiday spirit that I’ve waxed poetic about.

 

 

 

 

Which way to the North Pole?
Which way to the North Pole?

 

 

 

I’ve been known to have some candy cane ice cream in December just because, well…who could resist? (I’m also one of those crazies who drinks iced coffee when it’s below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and considers it a bonus that the ice doesn’t melt!)

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate is a great gift for ANY occasion
Chocolate is a great gift for ANY occasion

 

 

No matter the recipient’s mood or lifestyle, you’ll find something here that suits.

 

 

 

 

 

So now you know where to go to satisfy any craving for candy or chocolate! The best part – almost all the chocolates made on premises are gluten-free, as is the vast majority of the penny candy, and the owners and employees are super helpful about letting you know which treats are best if you have other allergies.

Sage parting words of wisdom
Sage parting words of wisdom

 

 

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Christmas in Connecticut

Most of the time, I write about life in Manhattan, the busiest borough in one of the liveliest cities in the world. But the idea of “home” for me has a split personality…or, as I prefer to think of it, a multifaceted meaning appropriate to a renaissance runner girl! I am a native of both New York and Connecticut, and in truth consider myself both a city mouse and a country mouse. I love the lights and bustle of the city, the unparalleled arts scene and the holiday season merrymaking. But I am equally enthralled by this time of year in ‘the country’ at my home in Connecticut.

 

Ridgefield, Conn. is probably not ‘the country’ to anyone who hails from a rural area. But it’s far enough from the main line of Metro North, away from Long Island Sound and into the hills, to feel like a peaceful place even while resting at the outer fringe of the city’s orbit. It’s closer to Litchfield (and Stars Hollow, if my dreams came true and it really existed) than to the metropolis. And while it’s a town with a substantial population and its fair share of commerce, our Main Street is the very picture of an ideal place for a holiday stroll in Americana.

 

 

Ridgefield Town Hall
Town Hall with Nutcrackers standing sentry

 

Books on the Common
My favorite bookstore in the area

 

 

The streetlamps are wrapped in holly and tied up with red bows. Trees are strung with white lights, and Christmas ornaments and Hanukah dreidels sparkle in shop windows.

 

 

 

 

 

Santa's sleigh
Santa’s sleigh

 

 

 

Santa’s sleigh is filled with gifts, and nearby are shops where you can both buy presents for loved ones and donate to philanthropic causes in the holiday spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is simply no more magical place to take a holiday stroll. At the end, a steaming mug of cocoa with a candy cane to swirl in awaits!

 

Deborah Ann's
The best sweetshop in Connecticut…cocoa, and candy cane ice cream for the brave!

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Happy Hanukah!

When I was little, Hanukah was great, but like every Jewish kid I dreamed of having a Christmas tree to decorate. Lighting the candles for eight nights was a lovely ceremonial way to celebrate, and my brother and I always had plenty of gifts to open on the first night (as my parents quite reasonably decided that eight was a bit excessive). I loved spinning the dreidel and winning the gelt – gold, shiny, and never actually unwrapped and eaten, what with all the other delicacies to savor (and the fact that typical mass-produced gelt is about as much like chocolate as roasted pumpkin is to canned pie filling). But none of that could replace having a tree.

 

Christmas tree and menorah side by side for Chrismukkah
Christmas tree and menorah side by side for Chrismukkah

 

Once I began dancing in the Nutcracker, my pleas intensified. The magical tree that grew to enormous heights on stage made the prospect of having one in my own house all the more enticing. My parents responded by giving me the same book as a gift that I imagine many others in my situation were reading at the same moment. There’s No Such Thing As A Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein! It felt the same as it did when my bat mitzvah was on the same day as my spring ballet recital, and I got Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues. Theoretically I should have been more understanding, but I really, really wanted a tree.

 

Finally, they caved. When I was a high school senior, about to head off to college, nostalgia kicked in. I was about to move three thousand miles away across the Atlantic. I needed something about the holidays to miss! So we got a little tree in an even smaller planter, and a few ornaments specially made for our family. A ceramic menorah, a cheery snowman, and a Star of David for the top. Every year, returning to my parents’ house for the holidays, I dig out the tree and set it up in the foyer, so the white lights twinkle through the front window.

 

All lit up for Hanukah
All lit up for Hanukah

 

And to me, those twinkling lights signal that I am home, just as much as the candles of the menorah.

 

Noah's Ark menorah waiting to be lit
Noah’s Ark menorah waiting to be lit

 

Happy Hanukah and Holidays to one and all!

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Tying up autumn threads

This morning I found, as I often do, that long runs feel shorter than short sprints, because once you start ruminating on something that’s been on your mind, the miles fly by – if you’re lucky, you’ll have come to a conclusion by the time your cool down rolls around! This time of year is wonderful, with everyone getting into the holiday spirit, but can also be pretty stressful if you’re rushing around trying to tie up loose ends. I’m one of those people who is superstitious about such things. I like to finish personal projects, check and see if I’ve met my goals, and get my ducks in order as the winter sun begins to set on this year. When it rises on the new one, I like to feel as if I’ve got a clean slate. And I spent the first few miles trying to figure out how I could clear mine for 2015.

 

 

Ducks in a row, or in two very straight lines like Madeline!
Ducks in a row, or in two very straight lines like Madeline!

 

 

Unfortunately, life gets in the way of the best-laid plans. Sometimes it seems like nothing will get done in time. When one of those moments hits, I like to take a deep breath and a mental step back. I can’t believe it, but I’m officially finished with final exams for my second-to-last semester of law school. I completed my provisional training with the New York Junior League and am now ready to take on a permanent volunteer commitment in 2015. This morning, I completed my final long run (10 miles!) before I begin to taper for the Disney Half Marathon. When all of this is at the front of my mind, it’s easy to focus on what I have accomplished rather than what I have yet to do.

 

Last run in this pair!
Last run in this pair!

 

 

So maybe a chalkboard isn’t the best metaphor. Sure, you can try to clean the board that is your life completely in time for January 1. But that’ll mean an awful lot of aggravation over the next fortnight. Instead, think of life as a tapestry. Living is the weaving. All those threads that were tied up this autumn? Great! A few that need more time? Fine! Just remember that some of them may still be loose for a reason. Maybe they need to be incorporated with strands that won’t appear until next year, or the year after that.

 

 

(And if you don’t believe me…)

We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something.” – Sandra Day O’Connor

 

 

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

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Giving and Gifting

As a follow-up to my earlier post on the holiday season in New York City, I thought I’d take the time to share my thoughts about a major part of the holidays for many fortunate people – the giving of gifts. Whether it’s a pile of presents beneath a Christmas tree or the steady stream of them over the course of eight nights of Hanukah, most children grow up dreaming all year long of the bounty that awaits come December. I’ll be honest, I was one of them. Every year, once Thanksgiving had come and gone, I’d start making a list of all the things I wanted. But at some point in my late teens, I took a look around and realized I had enough “things” and didn’t really need any more. I started to understand that experiences are really what matter in life.

 

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