New Initiative Will Tackle Disparities in Rural Communities

Four organizations— the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Save the Children, StriveTogether, and Partners for Education at Berea College—have launched a new initiative aimed at bettering the lives of children in rural America.

Called the Rural Accelerator Initiative, the program is designed to provide educational resources to children in pastoral communities that might not otherwise have access to these opportunities. Through a combination of strategic investments, local partnerships, leadership development, and peer learning, the Rural Accelerator Initiative will ensure that these children receive a quality education and graduate from high school either ready for a career or prepared for college.

“We know we can achieve more by working together than apart and have proof from nearly 70 communities across the country that the collective impact of organizations working across sectors can influence outcomes for every child,” said Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO of StriveTogether. “We are excited to bring our proven approach to this initiative and are proud to be part of a landmark effort to accelerate results for youth and families in rural America.”

Over the course of three years, the program will invest a total of $1.2 million in the following focus areas: Perry County, Ky.; Whitley County, Ky.; and Cocke County, Tenn.

“We have the opportunity to harness the expertise of national leaders in education as well as the local communities where we work, to drive progress toward positive outcomes for children in rural America,” said Betsy Zorio, vice president of U.S. programs and advocacy for Save the Children. “We are grateful to our partners for their support, skills, and knowledge and look forward to working together to empower communities to create a successful cradle-to-career pathway for every child in rural America. It’s our ambition to take these learnings and scale to support the nearly two and half million children growing up in poverty in rural communities.”


Woman Donates Over 10,000 Handsewn Toys to Refugee Children

Sarah Parson of Cedar Hills, Utah, has five children and a good heart. When she heard from a friend about refugee children in Greece who had nothing to play with in their camps but garbage and wildlife, she imagined her own children in their place. Her five are dedicated to their toys, and take so much joy in them.

Parson realized after that 2015 conversation that she could offer something to children in straits like that. She had always made dolls for her own girls, so she could make them for anyone.

She began immediately, founding Dolls of Hope, a charitable organization centered on sending children’s toys to refugee camps all over the world. As of 2017, they had sent over 10,000 toys to 23 countries. According to their most recent Facebook post, they are currently collecting for children in Syria, Uganda, Pakistan, and Kenya.

Parson began the effort, but she’s not making toys alone. Her Facebook group posts patterns and organizes crafting groups to make and send handsewn dolls and bears abroad. A recent shipment sent 1,200 stuffed toys from her local group to children separated from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border.

“My hope is we are giving a little piece of their childhood back,” said Parson to Inside Edition. “That they can find comfort in that stuffed animal, or that doll. And that they can love that doll and hug that doll, even though they can’t hug their parents.”

Of her own commitment, she said: “While it may seem overwhelming or we think the problem is too big, we could never solve the problem. We can’t let that immobilize us to doing nothing because that doesn’t help. So we have to start where we are, doing what we can.”

Being a refugee is traumatizing. Being separated from one’s parents is traumatizing. Anything any of us can do to give play and childhood back to these effected children increases their chance of a successful future. Parson and her like are doing vital, needed work.


UN’s ‘Shot@Life’ Campaign Provides Vaccines to Children in Need

According to the U.N. Foundation, 1.7 million children will die in 2018 from diseases that have been nearly or entirely eradicated in the United States, such as measles, pneumonia, polio, and diarrhea. One in five children globally have no access to immunizations.

“Expanding access to vaccines strengthens our ability to fight disease globally and keep our families healthy here at home, while improving economic stability around the world,” a blog published on the U.N. Foundation’s website reads.

That’s what inspired the U.N. Foundation to create the Shot@Life campaign, an initiative to educate Americans about global vaccination programs. It’s a national call-to-action to support expanding access to the most basic medical needs.

With the help of corporate partners and donors, the U.N. provides tangible results: vaccines for polio, measles, and other disease given to underserved populations. At home, they train volunteers to advocate from an educated stance for global immunizations. They also run media placements, including radio and television spots.

We live in the country where, in 1736, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter mourning his failure to inoculate his youngest son. The boy died of smallpox, and Franklin was very certain he knew the cause. Today, nearly 300 years later, a growing contingent of anti-science sentiment has set up vaccination as their bogeyman, and these same diseases that ravage the young of impoverished countries are resurging in the United States. They can only be eradicated through global vaccination.

Shot@Life cites that for every dollar invested, the program gets a $3 return in funds raised to support global vaccines. In their first five years, they have raised nearly $6.5 million in donor and private funds—an amount that could provide nearly 30 million doses of vaccines.

Anyone wishing to donate or contribute can do so here, or by mailing a check to the address under the link. Donations are fully tax-deductible. Shot@Life has a 91% rating on Charity Navigator, with a 96% rating for transparency.

The Power of Giving

Celebrating Dolly Parton’s Commitment to Literacy

Imagination Library is a nonprofit founded by Dolly Parton in 1995, with the goal of giving free books to children. It began in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Dolly was raised by a father who could not read. In its early stages, the organization sent one free book a month to every child registered from birth until kindergarten. Five years later, it had rolled out nationwide, and by 2003 they had mailed their millionth book. As of 2013, Imagination Library sends out books to over 1.2 million kids in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.

“I created the Imagination Library as a tribute to my daddy,” Parton said in a letter published on the library’s website. “He was the smartest man I have ever known but I know in my heart his inability to read probably kept him from fulfilling all of his dreams. The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”

On February 27th, 2018, Imagination Library donated its 100 millionth book, a massive milestone. At an event held at the Library of Congress, she read her own children’s book, Coat of Many Colors, to an audience. The reading is part of her new collaboration with the Library of Congress, in which children’s books will be read aloud by their authors and shared with libraries and viewers around the country via the internet.

Imagination Library is fueled by partnerships with companies that donate the books and shipping resources needed to make Parton’s dreams come true. Other key sponsors include Rotary International and Dollywood, the singer’s own theme park located in the Great Smoky Mountains.

One day after that milestone, nearly another 100,000 books have already gone out. The work is ongoing. Those who want to help or would like to register a child can do so here.


Children Read to Cats in Adorable ‘Book Buddies’ Program

An animal shelter in Pennsylvania came up with a creative way to benefit both children and animals.

The Animal Rescue League located in Berks County has a Book Buddies program where school-aged children read to cats. Kristi Rodriguez, volunteer coordinator at Animal Rescue League, originally came up with the idea. She credits her son with providing the inspiration that she needed to implement the program.

“I have a 10-year-old son at home who has struggled with reading for quite some time now,” Rodriquez told The Huffington Post. “It affects his self-esteem as well because he’s not comfortable reading in front of his classmates. Working at the shelter, you come to realize that the animals who interact with the children in the program don’t care what their reading level and what their skills are, they’re just happy to have that companionship with the children.”

Soon after Book Buddies launched, Animal Rescue League posted photos of the program online. One of the photos went viral after an online user shared the photo on Reddit. The photo shows a school-aged boy reading a book with a cat under his arm. The cat appears to be smiling and reading right along with him.

The photo became so popular that droves of people began visiting the Animal Rescue League website, causing it to crash. But workers and volunteers were more than okay with that. The shelter posted the following status to social media:

“We are thrilled that a post from a friend of our Book Buddies program is going crazy on Reddit! We know lots of people are trying to access our website and the high traffic is slowing things down, but we hope you’ll be patient!”

Rodriguez says that the program has increased her son’s comprehension, fluidity, and even his self-esteem. She also reports that her son enjoys reading now. He is also more compassionate than ever before.

News The Power of Giving

How to Get Your Kids to Volunteer

Raising children with the expectation that they will give back to their communities is important, and not just because you want to give them things to put on their resumes or eventual college applications. Teaching children the value of volunteer work teaches them to value what they have, to appreciate their own lives and find worth in the lives of others. The most effective ways to teach children about the importance is giving are to show them how through example and to simply talk about it with them.

Children whose parents talk to them about charity and volunteering are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than those whose parents don’t talk to them about it, says a study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. And that’s a very good thing.

“It’s especially important for kids to experience fulfillment from giving back because it lays the groundwork for them to grow up to be empathetic and philanthropic adults,” says Sharon Epperson, Senior Personal Finance Correspondent at CNBC. Especially as the holidays are just around the corner, now is a wonderful time to talk to your children about philanthropy.

Even better is to help them find a cause or a program your child wants to support, and there are plenty of them out there! Participate in their schools’ toy, coat, or canned food drives. Encourage them to learn about different charities or causes online to help them improve their readings skills and find something they care about.

“Young people today have been raised on phones and tablets in a way no other generation has,” says Lisa Tomasi, founder and CEO of YouGiveGoods, an online site for stating food or supply drives. “Kids can start their own campaign and track its progress. It’s a method they are familiar with an engaged in.”

There are lots of other ways to get your kids volunteering, too. Incorporate some kind of volunteer work into your family’s schedule—once a week, once a month, or once a year. If volunteering is part of your family’s values, kids are likely to grow up to embody them better.

Get out there and get going!

Organizations Resources

Save the Children Urges the World to Shift its Focus Towards Syrian Crisis

President & CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles.
President & CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles.
IMG: via Facebook

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 marked the third anniversary of the horrific Syrian Conflict, a civil struggle that has reportedly claimed the lives of 140,000 innocent people, and has forced 2 million more to flee. At the heart of this struggle are the Syrian children that many are now referring to as a “lost generation” because of how much death and hardship they have suffered. Save the Children, one of the world’s most prolific charities that focuses on the welfare of children globally, has recently stepped in to remind everyone that “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,” in regards to the atrocities affecting the safety and wellbeing of children in Syria.

Explains Save the Children, “Since the beginning of the conflict, children have been the forgotten victims of Syria’s horrific war. Today, over 5 million children are in need of assistance, including over 1 million children who have sought refuge in neighboring countries. These children are at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’ and cannot be ignored.” With harrowing statistics provided by the organization such as:

  • 1 in 3 children have been hit, kicked, or shot at,
  • 5 million children need emergency help, and
  • 7,000 children have been killed,

it is glaringly evident that the children of Syria are in desperate need of the world’s attention.

Save the Children Urges the World to Shift its Focus Towards Syrian Crisis
Syria Crisis: 3 Years On

Save the Children has recently created a series of campaigns that feature the first-hand accounts from Syrian children and families, to raise awareness about the atrocities that are still taking place there every day. The organization has also publicized powerful PSAs like “I’m Giving My Voice” featuring Stephen Hawking, and the saddening, revealing “Most Shocking Second a Day Video.” All of these efforts are part of the organization’s hope to bring the global focus back to Syria, and to raise vital funds to help ensure a future for Syrian children.

Learn more and get involved by visiting Save the Children’s Conflict in Syria page.


New Yorkers Celebrate The Possibilities For Education At the 2013 Pratham Gala

Pratham 2013 Gala in Seattle
Pratham hosted a Gala in Seattle at the Museum of History & Industry
IMG: Facebook

Earlier this month, nearly 600 of New York City’s leaders in finance, technology, and entertainment gathered at the 2013 Pratham Tristate Gala. It was a night of generous fundraising, a celebration of the world’s children and critical volunteer work, and to learn more about Pratham’s commitment to improving education.

Pratham’s mission is to ensure that every child in India is in school and learning well. The organization was founded ”on the firm belief that education is the fundamental right of every child and no child should be deprived of this basic right simply because they don’t have access to school or resources that would enable them to realize their dreams.” Since 1994, Pratham has raised funds to fund urban learning programs that include improving libraries, establishing preschool education, and remedial classes, among other things. Pratham also seeks to shape school policy in many districts, provide books and tools, and help with computer literacy and English learning. These are a handful of the many ways that Pratham is improving the lives of children in India through education.

Pratham is a past recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, as well as the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, among other honors. It is one of the most renowned nonprofit organizations with a focus on providing and improving education for under-served children. During nearly twenty years of commitment to advancing education opportunities in India, Pratham has garnered immense support from all around the world, and is a true leader in creating social change.

During the 2013 Pratham Tristate Gala in New York City, keynote speaker Chelsea Clinton said,

“One of the things we most respect about Pratham is not only its tireless focus on education, but that it very much tries to fill the gap between what the public sector can produce and the aspirations of families in India.”

This very sentiment was proven that evening, as the generosity of Gala attendees helped to raise close to $2 million for ongoing advancement of schools and school programs in India. One guest said that Pratham is “a global celebration of what people do for education.” Indeed, the organization inspires action in those who believe that education really is the most powerful tool to better the lives of underserved children around the world.

For more information about Pratham’s remarkable work, visit

Organizations Profiles

Audrey Hepburn and UNICEF

Audrey Hepburn Wax Figure
Audrey Hepburn Wax Figure
Jaguar PS /

Audrey Hepburn is one of the most adored Hollywood icons of all time. While many know her for roles in dozens of beloved American films, Hepburn was as much of a passionate humanitarian as an actress throughout her adult life.

Hepburn has said, “I feel so strongly that’s where it all starts, with kindness. What a different world this could be if everyone lived by that.” This principle influenced how she lived her life, and is what led her to pursue remarkable humanitarian work. One of her most notable humanitarian roles was with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. This organization works in more than 190 countries to save and better children’s lives by providing basic necessities such as medicines and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition education, and emergency relief. The organization’s ultimate goal is to “achieve a day when zero children die from preventable causes,” and to provide safety for the world’s most vulnerable children.

Hepburn took direct part in these efforts while serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, a position she was appointed to in 1988. According to UNICEF, the goal of the Goodwill Ambassador program is to allow celebrities who have shown a dedicated interest in the cause use their fame to draw attention to important issues. When Hepburn became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador she informed international media outlets, celebrities, governments and the general public of the atrocities she saw while visiting underdeveloped countries where children were in danger due to risk of starvation, violence, and unsanitary living conditions.

Through her passionate work with UNICEF she not only raised public awareness about issues targeting underdeveloped parts of the world, but also experienced delivering water, food, and medicine to children first hand. Her time spent in Africa, Turkey, South America, and elsewhere irrevocably changed Hepburn, and ignited a desire to devote the rest of her life to helping children. Hepburn is prime example of a person who has used their celebrity to promote important causes in hopes of creating change and bettering the lives of others.

Even years after her death, Hepburn has left a legacy that inspires others to do good in the world, and fight for others’ basic human rights. She was a role model, a kindhearted activist, and a true philanthropist.

To learn more about Audrey Hepburn’s relationship with UNICEF, and the organization’s continual work to better the lives of children around the world, visit UNICEF’s official website.


Shakira’s Shaking Up Education

IMG: Gustavo Miguel Fernandes / Shutterstock

Shakira is known around the world for having one heck of a pair of lungs.  The girl can sing.  Yet, she is has also branched out into another field of work.  She has committed to deliver world-class education to the children in her native Columbia and beyond.

She employs the use of “philanthrocapitalism” which is “the practice of applying business methods to philanthropy and calling on the private sector to pick up where governments leave off.”

Shakira, having grown up in poverty-stricken Columbia, has seen it all.  She has seen how children born into destitute conditions die in the same state. They have no way to raise themselves up and overcome their birth situation.  She knew this was wrong and wanted to change things.  Shakira recognized the importance of education in order to grow new generations of empowered young people.

Further, she viewed her own success as a vehicle to promote education.  She knew she had been given some amazing opportunities in her life and wanted to pay it forward.  She saw it as her duty to invest in change.

So, she began her Barefoot Foundation and co-founded ALAS to tackle these challenges.  Through her organizations, she and Alejandro Santo Domingo, brother of Andres Santo Domingo, have built schools with community centers and a feeding program so parents want to send their kids to school.  They are currently serving more than 6,000 children.

Shakira said, “Education is an investment as well as a duty, and an integral part of a strategy that plays a vital role in figuring out how to spend every penny and making every effort count. This approach is, in my opinion, perhaps the only method to solving one of the modern world’s most pervasive problems.”

Shakira views “philanthrocapitalism” as a means to achieve lasting results.  She said she sees providing education as a way to “produce a supply of qualified workers for decades ahead, but it also creates valuable and savvy consumers. What seems on its face to be charity is actually just good business when you get down to it–because various academic studies have shown that investing in education is as solid an investment as you can make. For every dollar invested in a child’s basic education, $17 is eventually returned to the state. That’s an incredibly healthy return on investment if you ask me.”

Over the years, she has worked with some of the most influential people in education and business.  Some of those innovators include Bill Gates, Howard Buffett and Alejandro Santo Domingo.  All of these leaders hold a belief that getting the private sector involved in education can create lasting change.

To read Shakira’s entire profile, click here.