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Week 16-March Madness, Day 7-Brackets

The Bracket Beast

March Madness begins and ends with brackets.  You fill them out, pray that your teams make it past the first round, and watch more games than you can count just to make sure yours is up to date.  There are even people who fill out two, three, and FOUR brackets.  That’s what I call dedication people.  Even though my husband isn’t one of those men who have their brackets glued to one hand and the remote glued to the other during this madness, I’m thankful for those out there who are (and that he’s not).  I’m even more thankful for the organizations out there who capitalize on all this testosterone floating around.The One Percent Foundation is in the midst of hosting its Second Annual Grant Madness challenge this year.  You fill out a bracket just like you normally would, but the winners receive the right to choose which non-profits will receive the prize money.  OPF is training the next generation of philanthropist to realize that it doesn’t take a billionaire to change the world.  Giving can be an overwhelming concept, especially for young people in their 20s and 30s with lots of student loans and poor paying jobs, but it doesn’t have to be.  OPF is encouraging people to give just 1% of their income to charity.  If you’re make $30,000 a year, that’s less than $1 a day!  That’s a beefy crunch burrito, a McDouble, a Redbox DVD, a pack of gum, or a candy bar.  Seriously, it’s really that easy.

Just do it.

Do Something believes it’s that easy too.  They even give you an easy how-to for the way to raise money for charity during march madness.  DS is a great non-profit out of New York (what up Jay-Z and Beyonce) that is inspiring teens and young adults to get off the couch and volunteer.  DS is smart enough to realize that the way to a teen’s heart is through their computer, smart phone, and TV screens.  Right now only 23% of the teen generation volunteers and DS is looking to make that 51% by the end of this year.  So figure out what causes really tickles your fancy and do something!

One Percent Foundation Donation

Do Something Donation

So here’s to you brackets!  You consume our minds and our wallets during the month of March, and April for that matter.  You make sure we can successfully obsess over who won what game, and which teams are making it to the Sweet 16, Final Four, and championship game.  All of your lines and boxes help us make sense of all the basketball madness invading our lives.  Don’t forget to fill in your bracket of life with a little giving.

Week 16-March Madness, Day 6-Special Olympics

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, there is no time like the present to write a post about a very “special” types of Olympics.  I am so inspired and thankful for the wonderful people who never let their “disability” stop them from participating in their own version of March Madness, and they don’t stop there.  All year-long there are over 3.4 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in training and competitions in basketball, aquatics, soft ball, table tennis, and many, many, more.  Today we all celebrate those with a little extra chromosome, but these athletes are partying all year-long.  I’m a fan of that!

Eunice at the first Camp Shriver

The Special Olympics were founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and they have been a source of friendship and hope for the world ever since.  The dream of the SO grew out of a camp Shriver had in her own backyard in the summer of 1962.  She knew that those with mental disabilities could not only participate in, but thrive in sports if they were given the chance.  She helped break the public’s misconceptions that these children and adults were belligerent, difficult, and unteachable.  She had a very close relationship with her sister Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability, which inspired her to work so hard and fight for a more inclusive and understanding world.  President Obama said it best, “…She taught our nation-and our world-that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.”  She also left a living legacy in her children and their passions.  Her son, Anthony Shriver, is the founder and chairman of Best Buddies International which continues his mother’s mission to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in new ways.  BBI is working to create a global volunteer movement to create one-on-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and disability barriers.  March is also Best Buddies month so that gives us another reason to celebrate and make some new friends!  The best part is you don’t even have to leave your home to do so.  e-Buddies is an email pen-pal system that pairs a person with a disability with a friend who does not have a disability and allows them to develop a friendship.  If you check your email everyday, you can be an e-Buddy.

Best Buddies for life!

Special Olympics Donation

Best Buddies International Donation

So here’s to you Special Olympics!  You are one of a kind.  You never take a break, you’re always pushing forward, and you’re breaking through boundaries every season.  You touch the lives of millions of people with and without disabilities every day, every month, and every year.  The oath of the Special Olympics athlete speaks volumes more than I ever could, “Let me win.  But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”  Let me be brave and be thankful for causes as great as the Special Olympics everyday.

Week 16-March Madness, Day 5-Women’s Basketball

The women’s basketball teams always seem to be lost in the shuffle during this month of madness.  They are out there trying to score just as many points, grab as many rebounds, and win as many games as their male counterparts.  The basketballs they play their games with might be a  little smaller than those the men use, but the size of their hearts are just as big.  They may not get as much recognition as they deserve, but that doesn’t stop them from pushing on to greatness on and off the court.  I’m thankful for women who paved the way for me to be able to play basketball in high school, and the for the women who continue to inspire young girls today.

Watch out Indianapolis!

Legendary women’s tennis player Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 to help enhance women’s lives through sports and physical activity.  WSF works extremely hard to fight discrimination in sports and promote gender equity.  The work done by WSF helps shape the public’s attitude about women in sports and helps build opportunities for other organizations that get girls active.  WSF also conducts ground breaking research about the physical and mental benefits of girls participating in sports from a young age.  They give new meaning to the phrase, “You go girl!”.  Female and male athletes have a responsibility to give back to the communities that have supported them and helped them become successful.  Athletes For Hope is a non-profit whose mission is to educate, encourage, and assist athletes on their journeys to give back to charities and their communities.  If athletes have the proper tools and information they can be really powerful positive influence in their charitable community.  AFH was founded in 2006 by the likes of Mia Hamm, Andre Agassi, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and many others. AFH is a unique foundation that matches other non-profit organizations with professional athletes based on the passions and charitable missions that they share.  Sounds like a match made in heaven.

Women’s Sports Foundation Donation

Athletes For Hope Donation

So here’s to you women’s basketball!  You were a part of my life for two years in middle school and four years in high school.  You give girls and women a place to come together, get some exercise, and be a part of a team.  You may not be as popular as the men’s teams but nobody told you guys that!  You play hard, study hard, work hard, and give back hard.  Go get ’em girls!

Week 16-March Madness, Day 4-Sweet 16

Bling bling!

There are big games being played during the third round today and tomorrow.  All of the winners will advance to the fourth round, or better known as, the Sweet 16.  I love the fact that little girls think of beautiful dress and lavish presents when they hear sweet 16, and boys think of basketball games and national championships.  Teams dream all year long about making it into the big dance, going to the sweet 16, elite 8, final 4, and of course the national championship game.  The Sweet 16 is really the gateway into securing the national title and having your name known all over the country.  Luckily all a charity needs to do is give back to have their name known.

It's Miley!

Nobody has better Sweet 16 parties than celebrities, and Miley Cyrus provided that once again a few years back.  Luckily, Youth Service America, also received a great present for Miley’s special day.  The admission that 5,000 fans paid to celebrate with the Hannah Montanan star went to support YSA’s mission to increase the number and diversity of young people (5-25) volunteering.  YSA believes that service should be a common expectation and experience for all young people.  Miley also helped launch the Get Ur Good On program which is an online community of youth supporting each other in their mission to do “good” in their own communities.  It’s purty cool.  A girl always needs a gorgeous dress to wear to her Sweet 16.  DonateMyDress.org strives hard to make sure all girls have a dress for their special occasion even if they don’t have Miley’s millions to buy one.  During March a couple of years ago DMD had an online auction where the dresses of Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lavato, and Ashley Greene were sold and over $2,000 dollars was raised for the charity.  DMD is the first national campaign designed to encourage young girls to donate their prom and other special occasion dresses to those in need.  DMD has a directory that makes it easy for girls to find a location in their community where they can donate or receive a dress.  One girl’s trash is another girl’s treasure.

Ashley Greene at the DMD event

Youth Service American Donation

DonateMyDress.org Donation (You know you need that extra space in your closet!)

So here’s to you Sweet 16!  You are the stuff dreams are made of during this time of year.  What happens this weekend will shape the future of the men’s basketball programs for a lot of schools and universities.  Teams are battling it out to advance to the next round, and get one step closer to fame and glory.  Playing college basketball is definitely hard work but the true national champs are the charities that never get a time-out from their game.

Week 16-March Madness, Day 3-Alantic Coast Conference

Call it playing favorites but I LOVE the ACC Conference.  Yes it’s true that I have a couple of degrees from an ACC school, Scott also a degree from a newly appointed ACC school, and my brother, mother, and numerous other family members went to ACC schools.  So obviously I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to the Atlantic Coast Conference.  I’m thankful for all great academic programs, the always exciting football games (and tailgating), and the nail biting basketball games between rivals.  I’d like to think that the ACC gives people more than a heart palpitations as the clock winds down.

Basketball program legends like Carolina and Duke are located less than 20 miles apart and have to travel through the research triangle park to face each other.  Also located in RTP is The National Inclusion Project.  NIP works to bridge the gap between youth with special needs and the community that surrounds them.  Founded in 2003 NIP works with communities and all types of inclusion programs to try and educated the public about the possibilities that inclusion can bring.  Their Let’s ALL Play program also gives children with disabilities the chance to participate in recreation activities with children without disabilities.  The program has been so successful that it has been implemented in YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and community centers around the country.  Inclusion, it’s the right thing for us all to do.

Piedmont Nature Trails

Making sure our children and their children see all the beauty that is NC (and beyond) is also the right thing to do.  The Botanical Garden Foundation is the membership organization that supports The North Carolina Botanical Society in Chapel Hill, NC.  Their mission is to advance a sustainable relationship between people and nature through education, appreciation, and conservation.  The BGF raises almost half of the operating expenses of the garden and also protects over 300 acres of land for conservation purposes.  With over 90,000 visitors each year and 2,500 members of the BGF, the beautiful gardens in the heart of Chapel Hill see a lot of action.  There may not be rides and huge turkey legs like Disney World, but the beauty of the gardens and nature trails are just as magical.

National Inclusion Project Donation

The Botanical Garden Foundation Donation

So here’s to you ACC!  You have given us 12 NCAA men’s basketball championships, 2 NCAA women’s basketball championships, and years of rivalry and tradition to pass down for generations.  Duke, Carolina, NC State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, the list goes on and on of one great institution after another.  It turns out that men’s basketball is not all this conference has to offer.  ACC stands for the Atlantic Coast Conference, but I think it also stands for Always Caring and Compassionate.

Week 15-March Madness, Day 2-Morehead State

Go Eagles!

Yes it’s true that the number 13 seed Morehead State managed to squeak one out against the heavily favored number 4 seed Louisville today.  And yes it is true that I’m thankful for this upset.  Nothing against Louisville, but to me, this is what sports is all about.  You’re only as good as your last game, your last shot, your last rebound.  Growing up in America we’re told that we can do and be anything that we want.  That’s the American dream, and today’s game proves that.  You can be the underdog in the NCAA basketball tournament, or you can be the underdog in life, but you can always come out on top.

For those of you who don’t know Morehead State is located in Morehead, Kentucky about 88 miles from the capital of Frankfurt, and 140 miles from Louisville.  After today a lot of people will think of Morehead State when they hear Kentucky but most people will still think of horses.  The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation began in 1986 it has been working to expand and enhance The Kentucky Horse Park which now has over one million visitors a year.  In addition to the visitors, 15,000 competition horses visit KHP each year in hundreds of shows.  KHP is pretty much the mecca for all horse lovers.  It is the unquestioned leading equestrian facility of it’s kind in the entire world, and provides the best possible place for anyone to get close to horses.  KHP also works to educate the public about how to ride, care for, and appreciate all types of breeds of horses.  They’re like the Mercedes Benz of horse barns.  What’s the next thing you associate with Kentucky?  Backpacks?  No?  Well you will now. Blessings In A Backpack is a non-profit based out of Louisville that feeds elementary school children on the weekend who qualify for federal Free or Reduced Price Meal program at school.  Every Friday they are sent home with a backpack full of food staples that require little or no preparation, and return Monday morning with full bellies ready to learn.  BIAB feed 37,600 children in 216 school spread throughout 32 U.S. States, Canada, Columbia, and Haiti. Children who have participated in the program have shown great progress in their attendance, grades, behavior, and health.  It only takes $80 to feed a child every weekend for the entire school year.  That may or may not seem like a lot but, seriously think about how grouchy you would be if you hadn’t eaten all weekend.  Pretty cheap huh?

The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation Donation

Blessings In A Backpack Donation

So here’s to you Moreahead State!  You screwed up the brackets of a lot of March Madness fans out there today, but you proved that all it takes is a lot of heart and little luck of the Irish to advance to the next round.  You helped us all remember why we fill out brackets in the first place, watch two (or even three) games at once, and root for the underdog.  So the moral of the story is it doesn’t matter if you’re a horse, a hungry kid at school, or an entire basketball team.  If there’s a will there’s a way, and it starts with helping those around you.

Week 16-March Madness, Day 1-Big 12

That’s right, it’s the time of year again when we all become college basketball fans and professional gamblers.  Everyone from your mom to the president are filling out their brackets and are probably in one pool or another trying to win some money, and the even more valuable pride.  The Big 12 has the most teams of any conference in the big dance this year with a whopping 11, which is 4 more than the next conference.  I’m thankful for all the great basketball that I’m going to be watching in the next few weeks, and the great causes these college and universities work to support.  So lace up your high tops and get ready to score some major karma points.

Even though there are 11 teams from the Big 12 playing in the NCAA tournament, there can only be one winner.  President Obama informed ESPN that Kansas was his top pick to go all the way and be crowned the next national champion.  I’m not sure if I agree with Mr. President or not, but I do think that The University of Kansas Cancer Center is working hard to win the battle against cancer.  Led by a team of 160 world-class scientists, KCC is focused on reducing the burden of cancer through cutting edge research, clinic trials and community cooperation.  KCC is on a mission to become designated as a National Cancer Institute center, which is the best of the best in cancer research and care.  Patients at NCI-designated centers are at the top of list for the newest laboratory discoveries and clinical trials.  A NCI-designated cancer center might be even better than a NCAA Championship.  Well, I guess that depends on who you ask.  With all this march madness going around it might be easy to forget about the true madness that is happening in Japan right now.  While we are counting rebounds and points the people in Japan are counting bodies and days since they’ve seen their loved ones.  There are lots of great, credible organizations out there where you can donate to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, but Save the Children really spoke to me.  They work all over the United States in over 50 countries to create real and lasting changes for children in need.  It’s pretty obvious but today’s children are tomorrow’s future, and we need all the help we can get.  Over 100,000 children have been displaced from their homes since last Friday when tragedy struck Japan.  STC has been responding to disasters for almost 80 years, and over 90% of their expenditures in 2009 went to program services.  Saving the children of Japan isn’t just an organization, it’s a challenge to us all.

The University of Kentucky Cancer Center Donation

Save the Children-Japan Earthquake Tsunami Children in Emergency Fund Donation

So here’s to you Big 12!  You haven’t been around that long but you’ve proved to the rest of the conferences that you show up to play.  You have accumulated 39 team crowns and 459 individual NCAA Championships over your short fifteen year history.  You are spread out over seven states, have fans all over the country, and have every mascot known to man.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jayhawk, Cyclone, Tiger, or a Bear, because we’re all in it to win it when it comes to giving back.