Archive for December, 2012

Charitable Celebs Remind Us That the Holiday Season is About Giving

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief

The 12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief

It’s easy at holiday time to get swept up in consumerism. Ads bombard us with all the things we should want. Stores trumpet new and deeper sales every day. I’ve already started to worry about what I need to buy for my kids, my family, my friends.

It’s important to remember that the holidays are about giving — to others, to causes, to those in need.  The act of giving is not just about kindness and helping someone;  it’s good for the soul and the spirit. In 2006, neuroscientist Jorge Moll and a team of researchers from National Institutes of Health found that the mere thought of giving money to charity activates a part of the brain associated with pleasure.

Introduce your children to the concept of how good it feels to give now so that it becomes instilled in them early. Getting kids (or anyone) to think beyond themselves and their wish list can be a tall order. Sometimes examples can help. Charities often turn to celebrities to help bring attention to causes, and so we’re turning to some of those notable stars who are doing good works to inspire you and your family to follow suit and get involved.

Here are some:

— Many stars have donated to Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel volunteered during a recent weekend, handing out supplies to people in Far Rockaway, some of whom have spent weeks without power. The Dave Matthews Band is donating proceeds from a Nov. 30 concert to the cause. ABC held a fundraising “day of giving.” NBC held a star-studded telethon. MTV held a telethon, appropriately led by its Jersey Shore stars. And Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael J. Fox have participated in public service announcements urging donations be made to the Empire State Relief Fund, set up specifically by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for New Yorkers. No doubt the storm has been a topic of conversation in your home. Now maybe you can talk about ways to  give, even if it’s to allocate allowance money to go to the efforts. And of course, there’s the 12/12/12 Concert, which continues to add to the $50 million it has already raised.

— Jon Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank N.J. is an unusual restaurant. The concept is simple: Doors are open to everyone, but if you can’t pay for your meal? No problem. One hour of volunteering covers it. You don’t have to travel to New Jersey to help fight hunger. Among the organizations with  volunteer opportunities relating to food is Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and aid around the world. You can visit the group’s website to find out how to host your own meal-packing event.

Betty White

Betty White is a well-known animal rights activist

— Betty White gives to animal causes. It’s a passion and interest she has cultivated for years with many different organizations, but particularly with the Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, CO. She not only donates time and money. She has also personally sponsored more than 30 animal health studies, the foundation says, to improve the lives of cats, dogs, horses and many kinds of wildlife, including California sea otters, one of her favorites. The site encourages fundraising, and offers a way to create a personal webpage on the site in honor of a favorite pet for soliciting donations.

— Taylor Swift is a random charitable star. She has given to all sorts of different organizations, from a group focused on Internet safety to various schools around the country to flood victims in her home state of Nashville. Sometimes, like Taylor, you just need to be inspired by a cause and do what you can to help out.

Global Giving

When big catastrophes happen, they receive a lot of attention. Weather events, such as the recent Hurricane Sandy, the tsunami that hit Japan last year, the earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 and, of course, incredibly destructive Hurricane Katrina in 2005, prompted charitable acts and giving from numerous celebrities.

Other, serious ongoing issues, often involving health and human rights, have prompted celebrities to get involved around the world and stay involved until the situation changes. These larger global issues often aren’t just about charitable giving, they are trying to bring about a change in the culture. In these cases, activism is another way to give.

Sean Penn

Sean Penn in Haiti

— Sean Penn was so moved by the hit that Haiti took during the 2010 earthquake that he immediately got involved. He and Los Angeles entrepreneur Sanela Diana Jenkins founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, (J/P stands for Jenkins/Penn). They began working immediately to save lives and help get programs set up in Haiti to provide emergency medical aide, remove rubble, help displaced families,  distribute food and water purification systems, help improve communication systems and housing. Penn was named an “ambassador at large to Haiti” by Haiti’s foreign affairs minister, Laurent Lamothe, earlier this year in recognition for all his work. Through the group’s website, you can find out about volunteering, fundraising and donating to the organization.

— U2 frontman Bono’s involvement with the ONE campaign, which is known worldwide, goes back to 2002 when he helped found a new advocacy group called DATA (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa). It was started with the idea of pressing governments in developed nations to help fight against extreme poverty in Africa.  In 2004, DATA and 10 other leading anti-poverty groups (including Bread for the World Institute, CARE USA, International Medical Corps, Oxfam America and Save the Children) joined to form ONE, a non-partisan campaign to fight poverty and preventable global disease. Since then Bono and others have met with world leaders, held fundraisers and worked in numerous ways on various issues. On ONE’s website there are many ways to help out, from contributing a sweet potato recipe to ONE’s new cookbook to calling Senators about issues to signing petitions for various initiatives.

— George Clooney and movie pals including Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle, got together in 2008 to form Not On Our Watch, an organization devoted to “end mass atrocities around the world.” The group cites Darfur, Burma (Myanmar) and Zimbabwe as main areas of concentration because brutal military regimes regularly torture, rape and drive people from their homes. But Clooney’s interest in Darfur goes back even earlier. In 2006, he spoke at a Darfur rally in Washington and in March of this year, he was arrested for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy for the Save Darfur organization. The site offers ways to “take action now” and suggests that calling Congressmen isn’t the only way to make a difference. You can also use creativity to share the message. Draw a picture or create a short film to highlight the problems and help spotlight the issue and educate others about it.

— Ben Affleck has had his eye on Africa, too, working with the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring awareness to and improve conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rogue militia abduct children to serve as fighters or sex slaves and families face hunger and suffer from disease, unable to get proper food or medical care amid violence and civil war. His latest effort is Theo chocolate bars. The ECI connected with local cocoa farmers in theCongo with chocolate makers to create the firstCongo bar. The concept is to help raise money through a free market system, not just charity.

— Alicia Keys founded the Keep A Child Alive foundation, dedicated to AIDS treatment, care, nutrition and support services to families in Africa and India. Work focuses on building wellness centers, clinics and orphanages. Ways to donate, from creating your own web page to buying special items, can be found on the organization’s site.

Time Shift Your TV – White House Christmas

Monday, December 17th, 2012

White House Christmas

This week is likely to bring more devastatingly sad images from the tragic school shooting in Connecticut on television. If your children want to talk about what happened, you need to be ready to address their questions and give them lots of hugs. And when the TV is on, you need to be extra aware to find appropriate programming. One uplifting possibility with a touch of history thrown is NBC’s look at holiday traditions at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in A White House Christmas: First Families Remember, airing Thursday at 8 p.m., and repeating on Friday at 9 p.m.

Meredith Vieira hosts the new special that covers 10 presidential families over the past 50 years. Interviews include First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Ladies Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter.  Many “first children” (now grown up) also talk about what it was like to celebrate the holidays in the White House. Among them are Jenna Bush Hager, Chelsea Clinton, Dorothy Bush Koch, Michael Reagan, Amy Carter, Tricia Nixon Cox, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson.

They’ll talk about the amazing decorations in this historic and famous house, including 50 Christmas trees that are tucked throughout the corridors and rooms and a gingerbread mansion from the White House pastry chefs that is sure to inspire the budding bakers in your home.

A Time for Giving

Friday, December 14th, 2012

You don’t have to feel like Scrooge if your wallet doesn’t allow you to give as much as you would like this holiday season. After all, it’s a time of year when people are really strapped for cash yet are expected to give the most. As we try to teach our kids fiscal responsibility as well as compassion for others, we need to think of innovative ways to accomplish both. Many of us can’t afford to simply write out a check (even if it is tax deductible) but it’s important to remember that money isn’t always the answer.

Even if you aren’t financially flush, you can still be generous of heart and help others less fortunate than you.  If you have a favorite cause that you simply can’t donate money to this year, ask if you can donate your time instead. Perhaps you can pass out fliers or volunteer at their office. Many places need help collecting items. You can set up bins around your neighborhood and collect school supplies, toys or books for organizations. Here are some more giving ideas to help when cash flow is tight. Just remember to call first to make sure the places suggested can make good use of your donations:

Those awaiting a white Christmas may have forgotten about hurricane season, but the victims of Hurricane Sandy can still use some help.  Organizations such as the Red Cross  Salvation Army and, AmeriCares have special sections just for Hurricane Sandy. While it is usually best to stick to well-known organizations, you may also want to check out Jersey Shore Hurricane News on Facebook, which often lists local groups looking for supplies in the hardest hit areas.

Honor Guard lounges offer a home away from home for service members around the country and to supply their efforts, the USO Honor Guard collects individually wrapped snacks such as cookie, crackers, fruit snacks, cereal bars and bottled drinks. You can check your local USO or donate to the Washington DC branch which provides refreshments for Honor Guards conducting funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Sadly, these folks are far too busy. Contact to help out.

If want to get the most bang for your buck, check out This non-profit organization has created a vehicle for donors to loan money to those who need it most.  Called microfinance, for as little as $25, you can help a struggling business owner or student through a rough patch. And because it is a loan, the people you help must pay it back. Your donation then becomes a credit in your account and allows you to help someone else. It really brings new meaning to the gift that keeps on giving.

Buy4 - Do good… Better!Even shopaholics can help while surfing the net. allows you to shop at more than 2,500 online retails and spread holiday cheer. When you join Buy4, you can choose from 1.5 million registered non-profits to donate to and then, just by shopping eligible purchases at select retailers, a percentage of each sale is created to your appointed charity. The great thing is that the site also offers coupons and money saving deals that still bring in money to your organizations.

Before your closets get stuffed with coats from visiting guests, be sure to go through and weed out the items the kids have outgrown and donate them to the  The Warm Coats & Warm Hearts Drive.

Cell Phones for Soldiers allows folks to get rid of the old phones and turns them into prepaid calling cards for the troops. Nothing beats reducing clutter and helping those who serve connect with their loved ones.

Pictures and cards a worth a million dollars to service members and veterans over the holidays. Send a card to them through American Red Cross’s Holiday Mail for Heroes.

Local food banks are especially hurting this time of year and can always use supplies.

Holidays can be a lonely time, especially those in nursing care facilities. Check with your local nursing home and see if you can “adopt a grandparent.”

All of your travel soaps, shampoos and free samples would be welcome at local homeless shelters.

Towels, sheets, blankets, toys and stuffed animals are put to good use at animal shelters

Local Lions Clubs collects old prescription glasses and gives them new life for folks who can’t afford them.

Teardrops to Rainbows helps to redecorate cancer patient’s rooms and give parents and kids going through treatment a better atmosphere in which to heal. They need everything from computers to home goods like curtains, wallpaper and supplies.

All of those sewing projects you’ve never gotten to or old quilting squares would be great for Project Linus , which provides free blankets for sick children. They also need people to sew the blankets.

In Cooperative Games, Everyone Has Fun (Even When No One Wins)

Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Peaceable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom

If you think that there are no winners and losers in cooperative games, then you’re wrong. It’s just that, unlike standard competitive games, cooperative game players win together, if they win at all. Sometimes, when teamwork is weak or the odds don’t work out, the game wins. This is what Donna Jaffe, President of Peaceable Kingdom, has taught parents and game enthusiasts over the last few years through her company’s series of Parents’ Choice Award winning cooperative games.

Hoot Owl Hoot

Hoot Owl Hoot

Jaffe is a regular game player, but she only recently became aware of cooperative games. The idea resonated with her instantly. Jaffe says that as a child, “I was a sore loser and a sore winner. I felt bad when someone lost.”  That feeling, and the opposite unpleasant feeling of losing games, makes playing them unpleasant for some little ones. Some of us try to alter game rules, or intentionally lose to make games less likely to trigger tears.  Children are very perceptive, though. They know when a game is not fair, and can tell if mom or dad is letting them win. Fortunately, there is another way to keep games fun while still giving children access to the learning and family time games offer, one that involves rethinking how games are won and played.


Parents’ Choice and Absolutely Mindy Team Up for a Giant Holiday Giveaway!

Monday, December 10th, 2012

This week, five lucky fans of the Parents’ Choice Foundation and Absolutely Mindy of SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live will win the holiday prize package shown above. Whether the kids on your list enjoy word games or music making, building blocks or clever crafts, they will find something to inspire learning and play among this fabulous batch of Parents’ Choice Award winning products. Not only that, but the prize package includes several Parents’ Choice Award winning CDs handpicked by Mindy herself.

In total, this year’s holiday prize package’s contents retail for over $350! To enter to win, use the form below, or enter via the Parents’ Choice Facebook page (you must be a fan of ours to see the entry form).

Entries will be accepted until 5pm EST on Friday, December 14th. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 17th. Email addresses are collected solely for the purpose of contacting winners. Only United States residents may enter, please. Prizes provided by Parents’ Choice Award winning companies. For more details about the Parents’ Choice Awards program, including information about how winners are evaluated and chosen, please visit our website.

Best of luck to those who enter, and thanks to the companies who have made this giveaway possible! Because of them, each winner will receive the following:

  1. HEXBUG Warriors Battle Arena ($21.99), Innovation First International
  2. Bill & Betty Bricks ($24.99), Smart Toys and Games
  3. Doodlepedia ($21.99) and The LEGO Ideas Book ($24.99), DK Publishing
  4. Invisible Friends by Dog on Fleas ($15), Dean Jones Music
  5. Science Fair by Various Artists ($12.99), Spare the Rock Records
  6. Can You Canoe? by the Okee Dokee Brothers ($13.99)
  7. A Swinging Jungle Tale by JumpinJazz Kids ($15.99), JJ Swing, LLC
  8. Princess Revolution! by Moey’s Music Party ($13.98), Lemonade Productions LLC
  9. The Frank Show by David Mackintosh ($16.95) and Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure by Matt Luckhurst ($17.95), Abrams Books for Young Readers
  10. Feed the Woozle ($19.99), Peaceable Kingdom
  11. Life-Size Farm ($18.95) by Teruyuki Komiya with photos by Tamaki Ozakia, Seven Footer Kids
  12. All Duct Out ($27.95), ALEX
  13. PathWords Jr. ($19.99), ThinkFun
  14. Mo Willems Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection, Vol. 1 and 2 ($19.95), New Video
  15. Symphony in B. ($49.99), B. Toys