I admit it, I’m a book junkie.

The bookshelves at my apartment are crammed full.  The desk is piled high.  Novels open to various pages are stacked on top of my nightstand.

I can’t imagine not being able to have them.

So, when I stumbled upon this list of nonprofits that provide books to underprivileged populations and areas, I decided to do some investigating.

If you have some extra copies in good condition lying around, consider donating to any one of these initiatives.

1. Name: Books for America
Mission: Promote literacy and “life-long learning” by distributing books and educational materials to organizations.
Serves: People of all ages.  Recipients include adult and youth literacy programs, youth centers, homeless shelters, hospitals, inner-city and rural schools, military bases, assisted living communities for seniors, veterans’ hospitals, women’s shelters, and hospices.
How to help: Donate books, have a book drive, volunteer.

2. Name: Bring Me  a Book
Mission: Provide easy access to new, multicultural, quality hardcover children’s books in multiple languages.
Serves:Underserved preschools, elementary schools, after-school programs, shelters, community centers, and businesses both in the U.S. and in foreign countries.
How to help: Donate.

3. Name: Reach Out and Read
Mission: Promote literacy as a standard part of pediatric primary care; train doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud and to give books to children at pediatric checkups from 6 months to 5 years old.
Serves: Clinics throughout the U.S.
How to help: Donate books, make a monetary donation, volunteer.


It’s simple: according to the U.N., the global population could be as high as 11 billion in 2050 or as low as 8 billion, depending on what programs are put in place now.

This might be one case where we don’t want to aim high.

Population Connection, formerly Zero Population Growth, is one organization trying to keep that projection low.  It advocates for stabilizing the world’s population at a level sustainable by Earth’s resources.

Population Connection divides its initiative into three key goals:

  1. Protecting the planet, as, according to the organization, “population growth stretches natural resources to their limites.”  Millions of people born each year intensify negative effects on the environment, such as food and water shortages and pollution.
  2. Ensuring social justice, since larger populations make disease control and poverty reduction increasingly difficult to achieve.
  3. Defending women’s rights by supporting programs that sponsor family planning education and access to contraception for women, so that women may have a say in their own childbearing decisions.

Improvement in any of these areas could have profound effects on population stabilization.

Courtesy of Population Connection.

Courtesy of Population Connection.

How to get involved:

“We don’t have millions of dollars or celebrity status, but we do have a Vespa.”

With that simple notion, Tim and Ali Lowry began a 2,286- mile  summer adventure to raise awareness and funding for Hydromissions International, a water ministry that serves third-world countries.

The Lowrys’ mission – named, appropriately, 2 Wheels 4 Water – caught my eye, mostly because they took it upon themselves without prodding from anyone else. Their work was self-driven, and it was genuine.

Their mission: “Save gas. End thirst.”

Their plan:

  1. Use scooters, which cost about 14 cents less  per mile to drive than regular cars, to travel the Carolinas.
  2. Ask for donations/pledges in the amount of that 14-cents-a-mile difference.
  3. Accept any donations, whether they were more of less than the suggested amount.
  4. Pass the money to Hydromissions.
The Lowrys' route.

The Lowrys' route.

In  summer of 2008, the Lowrys carried out their trip, contacting sponsors, designing their route, sweating through a 90-degree heat wave, doing radio interviews, appearing in newspapers, and even passing 2 Wheels 4 Water cards off to toll booth operators to get the word out.

None of the money raised was pocketed or put toward gas.  Every bit of it went directly to Hydromissions, as promised.

Here’s more on how they did it.

Activism: In Watercolor

April 21, 2009

Ashley Cecil calls herself a “painting activist.”

She is one of the most creative social advocates I have stumbled upon.

Her approach is simple.

  1. Love art. Study art formally and work with it professionally.
  2. Travel to different locations in pursuit of “events of cultural interest.”
  3. Capture them, not with a camera, but with watercolors, oil paints, pastels..
  4. Sell the artwork.
  5. Donate a portion of the proceeds to the nonprofit corresponding to the piece.

The result is, as she says, a “marriage of painting and social activism.”

I find the concept almost as beautiful as the art.

Print of an Ashley Cecil original.

Print of an Ashley Cecil original.

When I think of the familiar “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, I think tin cans and water bottles…not bicycles.

Luckily, Allison Karow’s thinking isn’t as old-fashioned as mine.

Two and a half years ago, Karow started Bike Saviours out of a Tempe, AZ backyard. The non-profit serves as a(n):

  • bicycle shop that provides low-priced used bicycles and bike parts, as well as affordable repairs
  • “community recycling project” that turns donated bicycle parts into functional bicycles and looks for additional ways to reuse scrapped parts
  • “bike library” for people who need a bicycle only temporarily
  • education center that teaches people about riding safety, Arizona bicycle laws, and bicycle maintenance

Karow had worked at a similar organization in Oakland, and implemented the concept when she moved to Arizona.



A bike built by Bicycle Saviours, courtesy of the organization.

A bike built by Bicycle Saviours, courtesy of the organization.




I interviewed Heather Hoch, who has been with Bike Saviours since 2007, to see why she’s stuck with the organization thus far and what you can do to help.

Why did you get involved with Bike Saviours?
HH: I became interested in the organization after my friends began teaching me about bicycle mechanics. The bicycle represents a lot of things to me: a sustainable and efficient mode of transportation, a way to stay healthy, and a social experience.

What have you gotten out of your work with the organization?
HH: Bike Saviours is the only place I’ve ever worked where I could directly see the benefits I was bringing to the community. I’ve helped people fix a bike that carried their entire lives, and I did it absolutely free. Money is such a small issue in the shop, so it’s really refreshing to go there at the end of the week and just help out.

Do you accept donations?
HH: We love donations! Anyone with bike parts/tools lying around can drop by the shop on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and donate them. We have an online wishlist detailing specific needs. We also accept cash donations.

What are some other ways to help?
HH: We’re also always looking for more volunteers to work in the shop. The more volunteers we have, the more days we can stay open, and the more people we can help. (Volunteers are required to takea  free 8-week bike mechanics course taught at the shop on Monday nights.)

Anything else readers should know?
HH: We want to save your bike!
Contact Heather or visit the shop on Sundays to find out more.

I’ve always thought “trickle-down economics” was a nice idea, albeit an unlikely one.

Apparently Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet agreed with me.


The Leets were “frustrated that huge sums of money allocated to top levels of society never reached the world’s poorest,” according to the website for Trickle Up, the organization they founded in 1979.  They decided to turn the tables on the decade’s popular philosophy and founded Trickle Up in response to global poverty. 


Trickle Up works primarily with the “extreme poor” – those living on less than $1 a day and unable to get a microloan – and helps them to launch “microenterprises” (very small businesses with limited profits).


The organization currently starts or expands a startling 10,000+ businesses each year globally.

An African family sponsored by previous Trickle Up campaign. (C) Trickle Up.

An African family sponsored by previous Trickle Up campaign. (C) Trickle Up.


How Trickle Up Does It:


Step 1: The organization identifies a participant by working with local organizations active in the regions where it has a presence.  Trickle Up has more than 50 of these partners in addition to field offices throughout Asia, Central America, and East and West Africa.


Step 2: Staff help the participant create a business plan, i.e. identification of product/service, location of demand, and projected costs/profit.  Plans have been translated into 30+ languages, but the majority of participants are illiterate.  Plans that use pictures to illustrate business concepts were designed to cater to those participants. 


Step 3: The participant is also trained in business functions.


Step 4: The first half of a (roughly $100) grant is released, which covers launch costs (rental of a facility, initial supplies, etc.)


Step 5: After three months, Trickle Up assesses the business in terms of growth, potential success, and proper management.  Trickle Up staff visit and speak directly with participants.  If a business is developing successfully, the second part of the grant is released.  This allows the participant to grow his/her businesses further, and the three month lag time before the release of the second installment allows him/her to develop a sense of what purchases would be most beneficial. 


Step 6: Trickle Up sets up group savings organizations and encourages participants, who were previously “living hand-to-mouth,” to save for emergencies or future expenses.


Step 7: Staff continues to provide ongoing support to successful entrepreneurs, i.e. microcredit.



Trickle Up reports that, after the first year, about 90 percent of businesses continue functioning, while over 80 percent of them expand.



What You Can Do:

1. Donate online, by phone, or by mail.  Donations start at $5, and 78% goes directly to services.
2. Give stocks, bonds, or other assets
3. Establish a fund in someone’s honor.
4. Register a special occasion with the site, and ask for donations in lieu of gifts.




Click to read stories from actual participants.


No one understands students like students.

That’s why I’m a big fan of Schools for Schools, a program run through Invisible Children, an organization that seeks to raise money and awareness to help end the longest-running war in Africa (in northern Uganda). The program partners schools in other parts of Uganda with a school in the war-torn North that badly needs rebuilding.


Children at a Ugandan school.

Children at a Ugandan school.

I spoke with Alli Coritz, an active member in Invisible Children and Schools for Schools, to see what her work is all about.

What spurred the creation of Invisible Children?
Alli Coritz: Invisible Children started when three guys in their early 20s decided to go to Africa, hoping they’d stumble upon an interesting story to film. What they found were millions of people in displaced camps in horrible conditions. What really got them motivated was the plight of the children; in order to avoid being forced to be child soldiers, children walked miles each morning and night into the town centers to sleep en masse with a few armed guards to avoid getting kidnapped. When these three men got back to the United States, they decided to do something to raise awareness about the situation.

How did Schools for Schools start?
AC: Schools for Schools began as a way to motivate the youth in Uganda in a friendly competition to raise money to help fund their peers’ educations.

I’m interested in helping Schools for Schools. What are my options?
1. Attend meetings at Arizona State University Tuesdays at 5 p.m.
2. Join the Facebook group in order to find out what events are going on around campus.
3. Join the mailing list at s4sasu@gmail.com.
4. Make a monetary donation.
5. Bring used textbooks to the fall semester book drive.
6. Donate electronics you no longer need to a drive also held during fall semester.

What have you gotten out of working with Schools for Schools?
AC: Not only did participation in Schools for Schools broaden my knowledge of what’s occurring outside of the U.S., I also have a real sense of accomplishment. I know that I am helping people around my own age achieve what is so easily handed to us here – an education.


*If you like this organization, you might also be interested in working with: The Central Asia Institute, a non-profit that helps build schools, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The path to the creation of the CAI is detailed in the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.

End hunger. Fight world poverty. Give everyone a home.

We’re all familiar with these far-reaching global goals. Many of us, recognizing both their importance and nobility, do what we can to join such seemingly impossible fights.

But what about the less general (and therefore less-publicized) charities established to serve a more specific need? I’ve compiled a list of five unusual niche charities that, for donations or purchases of less than $100, promise to do quite a bit with what you give them.

1. Name: BoGo Light
Purpose: For every flashlight purchased from BoGo Light, one is given to a family in a developing area. This eliminates the danger and inconvenience of more rudimentary lighting methods like kerosene oil and candles. The site also claims that the lighting provided can make an exceptional difference for students in poor areas as education hours can be extended and homework/reading time at home can be well-lit.
Price to give: $39-49 per flashlight.

2. Name: Charity:Water (charitywater.org)
Purpose: $1 can give one person drinking water for a full year. Donations start at $20, which provides someone with 20 years of clean drinking water. Puts 100% of donations directly toward the project.
Price to give: $20.

3. Name: Modest Needs
Purpose: Lists requests by low-income families for help with paying for items like a new car seat or one month’s heating bill. Every donation made earns Modest Needs points on the site, which can then be directed to the family request of your choice (request list is available for your review). By signing up for donations on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, schedule, donations are doubled by a matching program. Requires registration for security of donations.
Price to give: Any amount, but most requests are over 100 points.

4. Name: One Acre At A Time
Purpose: According to the USDA Forest Service, nearly four acres of natural American forest is lost per minute.  This organization works to protect productive American forests in order to work toward sustainable living.
Price to give: $50 saves 200 square feet.

5. Name: Malaria No More
Purpose: According to this organization, roughly 3,000 children die each day from malaria. In addition to effective medical treatment and targeted spraying, mosquito nets are critical in fighting malaria infection. A single treated mosquito net can protect one child or more from malaria for up to five years.
Price to give: $10 buys one net.

Courtesy of ASU chapter.

Courtesy of ASU chapter.

In my time at ASU, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several passionate members of the university’s chapter of non-profit organization Camp Kesem.  Students in college chapters of Camp Kesem fundraise throughout the year in order to put on a free, week-long camp in late summer for children personally affected by cancer, such as those whose parents have died of cancer or are currently undergoing treatment.  The camp has the potential to close the gap for children who may feel alone or helpless, as it allows them to make connections with others their age who can truly understand what they’re going through (for many, this will be the first time they’ve met a peer who can empathize with their situation).  On a more superficial but equally important level, it gives children who may have been forced to grow up very fast a week to simply be kids – to have fun and make friends.

Chapter members may later serve as counselors at the camp itself.


I interviewed Charlene Fan, a member of the ASU chapter of Camp Kesem, about why this organization matters and, of course, how to get involved.

How do you join a chapter?
CF: It’s easy.  Just speak to a current member, coordinator, or co-chairs Jack (jack.jeng@live.com) and Mark Jeng (mark.jeng@asu.edu).

How does the club work?
CF: For ASU’s chapter, there are bi-weekly meetings.  To be considered a committee member (essentially an “active member”), you must:
1) attend 3 committee meetings per semester
2) attend at least one letter-writing party per semester (where we write letters to potential donors)
3) join and actively participate in a sub-committee (such as Fundraising or Camper Care)

What if you want to take it a step further and be a counselor?
CF: To be a counselor, there is an application and interview process.  You don’t have to be considered a committee member to be accepted as a counselor, but I would strongly recommend it as participating actively throughout the year allows the current coordinators to get to know you and see your dedication in action.

If you don’t have time to be in the club, can you make a donation?  How?
CF: Definitely, donations of any amount are appreciated at any time.  You can send a check to a local chapter or donate online.

Why do you think Camp Kesem is valuable?  Why would you tell someone to do it?
CF: For me, it’s about knowing that you are directly touching the lives of other people.  There are many cancer support groups out there, but Camp Kesem is the only one I am familiar with that specifically targets the needs of the children in these families.  You always know exactly what you’re doing it for, and you frequently get feedback from the families involved.


Mailing Address (used for donations)
Arizona State University Camp Kesem
P.O. Box 386
Tempe, AZ 85280-0386