Tag: charities

What Starts Here… Really Changes the World

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.  Photo courtesy of Humanity First

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Humanity First

 

 

Anahita Pardiwalla, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

With hundreds of student-run humanitarian groups at the University of Texas to choose from, Irenla Bajrovic did not think she’d have trouble finding one that would be willing to help a cause close to her heart. Bajrovic, a natural-born Bosnian, wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide by organizing a fundraiser. She did not anticipate finding her answer in the merely days old organization, Humanity First.

Coordinating a fundraising dinner is a feat for any organization, never mind a newborn one with just six members. Yet, founder and executive director, Usama Malik, was eager for Humanity First to make its grand debut. About $10,000 later, Malik and his peers were excited about the future of their new Texas Chapter.

A year later, 102 members stronger and with numerous successful events under its belt, Humanity First is more confident than ever. Under its motto “serving mankind” the international organization promotes peace and provides aid to victims of natural disasters and human conflicts.

Malik, however, has tailored the Texas Chapter to stand for more than just the humanitarian relief drafted in their motto.

“One that provides a platform for other organizations and other students to accomplish similar goals,” said Malik.

Through this idea of diversifying the Texas Chapter, the organization has been able to work for a number of different causes—all outside the traditional realm of Humanity First’s mission statement.

These causes have ranged from fundraising for victims of domestic violence to raising awareness of childhood cancer, from feeding the homeless to volunteering at elderly rehabilitation centers. Most recently, the organization assembled hygienic kits for homeless veterans.

 

A few of Humanity First's milestones. Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

A few of Humanity First’s milestones.
Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

The group’s scope is wide and limitless; and members are proud to be a part of an international organization that still maintains a local focus.

“You’re touching someone’s life, and it doesn’t matter how big the scale is, as long as you’re helping someone,” said member Marina Khaled.

Upcoming events include a charity fashion show and a culture appreciation night. Learn more at http://www.humanityfirsttx.org/.

 

Humanity First has worked for numerous causes since its birth last spring. Check out a timeline of some of their past events here:

 

Learn more about the Humanity First – Texas Chapter in the video below. The members of Humanity First made hygiene kits for homeless veterans and are currently in production for a fashion show in partnership with Voices Against Violence.

Social animals: rewriting the underdog story in the age of social media

 

Tuna looks upon the line of fans waiting to get his “pawtograph” for the book titled Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite. Tuna fans flocked to BookPeople on Friday, March 6, 2015 for the book signing and opportunity to take photos with the Instafamous dog.

He saw hundreds of people waiting in line — the usual. Fans were squealing his name in adoration. Young and old would wait for two hours on a Friday night in Austin, Texas. For what? They had come from far and wide just for a signed copy of his book and a chance to take a quick picture with him. It was surreal — something you’d expect to be humbling, like playing Madison Square Garden. Yet, all he could think about was the squeaky toy one of his handlers was dangling high up above his face.

Tuna, the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, internet celebrity, and inspirational figure for the modern era has come a long way from his humble roots on the side of a Southern California road, where he was abandoned as a puppy — presumably, because of the trademark underbite and crumpled neck for which he is now famous.

“You know, I like to call him Sir,” said Tuna’s owner Courtney Dasher, to a packed house at BookPeople for a book signing to promote his new book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Tuna’s inspirational underdog story starts in 2011, when Dasher adopted him and quickly began posting pictures of her pup’s peculiarly pronounced pearly whites to an Instagram account.

“[Tuna] reaches all demographics,” Dasher said. “I think people from all different walks of life are drawn to him so he speaks to different people’s hearts and situations by being quirky and unconventional.”

Now his website, TunaMeltsMyHeart, has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. That’s right — this dog has more Instagram followers than you. That’s also more Instagram followers than actor John Stamos (553k), actress Amanda Seyfried (831k) and just slightly less than comedienne and star of The Mindy Project,  Mindy Kaling (1.4m). Somebody get this dog a Super Bowl commercial!

In 2012, Tuna's Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

In 2012, Tuna’s Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

If you think this is all just the work of a fame-hungry Chiweenie, however, you’d be wrong.  Tuna has not forgotten his roots and is using his celebrity to give back to his favorite cause, according to Dasher.

“We’re being used as a catalyst to change people’s days,” said Dasher. “I look at him as a vehicle to bring people a lot of joy, and on our tours, like anytime we do anything, we want to be able to support animal rescue groups.”

Donations that night went to local animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive!, which brought to BookPeople a puppy who, much like Tuna, was born with a congenital defect that could hurt his chances for adoption. Tuna was only too happy to pose for a picture with the puppy whose front paw will likely be removed due to lack of sufficient bone structure.

Tuna_13

Tuna poses for a photo with Austin Pets Alive puppy, Scooter who was born with a defect in his front paw and abandoned by previous owners before APA rescued him.

An APA! volunteer said Tuna’s celebrity helps raise the visibility of the nonprofit’s work in an important way.

“It’s one thing to hear Austin Pets Alive!, you can adopt an animal from them,” the volunteer said. “It’s a different thing to see the puppies and kittens and cats and dogs that we’re saving at an event like this.”

She also said social media is huge for promoting animal rescue — even in a city like Austin, with a thriving network of animal rescue groups and an army of volunteers touting its dog-friendly distinction as the largest no-kill city in the nation.

“Social media is how people find out about us: without social media all you’ve got is word of mouth, which isn’t going to get you very far,” she said. “Social media within your own organization is even big for us: it’s how we can plead for a new foster home.”

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Fans hold up their smart phones to snap photos while Courtney Dasher introduces Tuna before the book signing on Friday, March 6th, 2015.

Tuna’s Instagram has become a social media tool more powerful than Dasher ever expected.

“Social media is an outlet to connect with a community that is global, which is so fascinating to me,” Dasher said. “I don’t look at this as just an Instagram account. I have a lot of responsibility attached to me now and I want to make sure to use it to promote things that are encouraging and uplifting.”

Tuna may be the first Instagram pet to go on tour, but if he’s the first one you’ve heard of, you must not be one of Milla the cat’s 200k Instagram followers. The feline with comically small ears, whose owners ask for donations to fund treatment for her heart disease, is just one of an increasing number of Instagram pets with followings that dwarf those which rescue organizations can attract.  Compare the 8,400 followers of APA!’s Instagram to the 97k followers of Elfie and Gimli, two brother and sister cats born with dwarfism.

Tuna’s cartoonish appearance has helped catapult him to the top of the pack, but there is also a place on Instagram for more conventionally cute cats and canines. If you would like to share your own rescue pet’s story, but feel you don’t have time to cultivate a following,  you can submit a photo and story to Rescue Pets of Instagram. It has 71k followers.

While social media on Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in grassroots movements for social change in recent years, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Quigley says there may be a reason Instagram is appealing for promoting animal rescue, in particular.

“Considering Instagram has more than 200 million users, it’s a great place to spread a message and get people involved,” Quigley said. “It’s the perfect place for an animal rescue message, because Instagram is a visual medium. Who can turn down Tuna?”

Barkitecture 2013: House hunting for hounds

By Mary Ellen Knewston, Shawna Reding, Rebecca Wright and Rachel Marino 

A dog and owner try out one of the custom doghouses. Photo by Rebecca Wright

A dog and owner try out one of the custom doghouses. Photo by Rebecca Wright

For 14 teams of Austin builders and architects, there are no small design jobs–only small, four-legged inhabitants.

Each team designed and constructed a unique dog house for Barkitecture, Animal Lovers of Austin’s eighth annual contest and auction to benefit local animal welfare groups. Roughly 400 people attended the Sept. 28 event at Triangle park, its best turnout yet according to Animal Lovers of Austin Board Member Caroline Daigle. She said the nonprofit began hosting the event in 2007 to give local designers a way to place to put their skills to work supporting the city’s animal rescue community.

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“We have so many rescues and animals in Austin,” Daigle said. “This a fun way to bring people together, have their dog come out, test all these houses and do something to help the rescue community.”

Animal Lovers Austin is still finalizing this year’s total amount raised. Daigle said the group handed out $18,000 in grants at their 2012 Barkitecture auction, a total she expects to exceed this year. Grants are distributed to five rescue organizations each year, qualified by an application and voting process. This year’s beneficiaries were the Meals on Wheels and More PALS program, Cocker Spaniel Rescue, Lil’ Paws, Don’t Bully Me and Pug Rescue of Austin.

A silent auction, raffle and the doghouse auction itself funded the grants. Each house opened for bidding at $250, and many spurred bidding wars resulting in much higher final price tags.

“People want to be called to make sure they’re still the high bidder,” Daigle said. “It can get out of control pretty quickly. They get really excited about the houses.”

Seven designs were awarded prizes, in categories such as “Best In Show,” “Best Urban Dwelling” and “Greenest Design.” Winners tended to be houses that considered the taste of owners as well as the comfort level of their dogs. Big D Design Architect Dan Campos explained his firm’s contribution, which won a prize in the “Best Backyard Bungalow” category.

“This house is inspired by mid-century modern architecture,” Campos said. “It has very clean lines, and retro colors.”

He said the house’s side vents allow for airflow, and its rubber roof stops sun absorption to keep dogs cool on hot days. The house’s construction took two weekends, Campos said. His firm has now competed in four Barkitecture events, though this year is their first to win a prize.

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Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse. Photo by Rebecca Wright

Girl places her dog into the water of the doghouse that won the Most Unusual award . Photo by Rebecca Wright

“We’re very excited,” Campos said. “It’s a opportunity to do something I really care about and that is good for the community.”

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

A pug brought by Pug Rescue of Austin is excited by the crowds. Photo by Rebecca Wright

For Pug Rescue of Austin, one of the five Barkitecture beneficiaries, 100 percent of the money awarded to the organization will go toward paying veterinary bills for their pugs, Board of Directors Vice President Alicia Zalot said. Typically. The Pug Rescue of Austin’s expenses range from $5,000 to $7,000 each month, and the nonprofit organization relies on donations and volunteers, she said.

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“We are incredibly grateful,” Zalot said. “An event like this really goes a long way toward helping a lot of pugs.”

The organization also brought some of its rescued pugs to meet potential new families. Zalot said the interesting designs and atmosphere are a good way to attract people who would otherwise be unaware of the rescue community. The rescue organization hoped the event would encourage guests to consider adopting.

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Zalot’s organization is one of 110 animal rescue groups partnered with Austin Animal Services, the city’s official animal shelter and authority. Deputy Chief Chris Noble said partners are vetted to make sure they are responsibly run. He said Austin Animal Services relies on nonprofits to solicit donations and to take the lead on most fundraising events around town.

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“As a municipal shelter, we are stewards of taxpayer dollars, we have to be very careful about the money being spent and staying within the expectations of the taxpayer,” Noble said.

He said events such as Barkitecture are a good way to shed light on the homeless animal population in Austin.

To view the winning doghouses, click here. 

Healthy sounds at HAAM Benefit Day 2013

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians raises awareness and money on its annual benefit day. 

By Rebecca Wright, Alsha Khan, Rachel Marino and Kelly Eisenbarger

Jorge Harada of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers performing at Antone's Record Shop. Photo by Rebecca Wright

Jorge Harada of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers performs at Antone’s Record Shop. Photo by Rebecca Wright

On Tuesday Sept. 24, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians extended its reach on the annual HAAM Benefit Day by generating a student audience at the Texas Hillel Jewish community center. Students were drawn in by the sounds of acoustic beat boxing from SaulPaul and the irresistible chance of winning Whataburger giveaways, a combination no college student could resist.

This year, musicians assembled all across town and a plethora of local businesses donated five percent of their daily proceeds to help raise awareness for Austin’s musicians. HAAM’s mission is to provide low cost or free health care to Austin’s low income, uninsured, working musicians.

Since HAAM Benefit Day started in 2006, the fundraiser has continued to grow in size of performances, sponsors and money raised. Last year, the day raised $312,000, and the goal this year was $350,000. HAAM will have this year’s fundraising total number on Oct. 14.

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“This year we had 289 participating businesses and well over 200 musical performances,” said Chris Alberts, Director of Development for HAAM. “It was a great day with both musicians and businesses sharing their support and enthusiasm with us to make it possible.”

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Whole Foods Market was once again the presenting sponsor, hosting musical acts from 6 a.m. to well past midnight.

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