worthy in your eyes

worthy in your eyes

Aggregate celebrated four years of being in business this October and today we celebrate four years of showing our gratitude by giving back. We donate approximately 10 percent of our profits each year.

Selecting the organizations to which we make donations is a collaborative process, with staff proposing their ideas for organizations that reflect Aggregate’s values as a company: committed to social justice and equity, unapologetic about their passion, and believers in storytelling – in its many forms – as a tool for social change.

Every day in our work, we must pitch ideas to clients and make effective arguments as to why they should be embraced. And we must develop and execute upon communications strategies that impel people to take actions that will help our clients achieve their missions. So these pitches are also an opportunity for staff to hone their skills. In this case, they need to convince ME to write a check.

Wait…WHAT? Subjective decision-making?

Yep.

Just as many of our “worthy” ideas never see the light of day because we have failed to convince a client to embrace them, only a few among the many that are worthy of our support ultimately make the list.

Once again I am proud of the team for their ideas. We share these organizations with you in the hopes that you will consider joining us in supporting them. But if we don’t convince you, we hope you’ll still share your good fortune with other organizations that are worthy in your eyes.

We remained loyal.
We made our fourth annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights. The Center provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, improves legal representation for people who are low-income, and challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails. This year was also the fourth year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to homeless LGBTQ youth. And for the fourth year in a row, we made the donation in honor of Spencer Cox, who gave so much to all of us in his efforts to end the AIDS pandemic.

We did something we never did before.
We maintain a strict line between our charitable donations and our business development efforts (i.e., we’re sincere), so we’ve never made a donation to a client organization. But then we had the honor of working with the Abortion Care Network. At the end of a year during which women’s access to their constitutional right to plan their families was attacked repeatedly, we think it’s an imperative to support providers who literally risk their lives every day to provide exceptional care to their patients. The Abortion Care Network is small in size, but enormous in ambition and their value to the abortion care community. We want them to succeed.

We believe in justice – in all its manifestations.
We’re heading into an election year and we need to be prepared to ensure that those who want to go to the polls are not impeded and their votes are counted, so we made the decision to support Common Cause. We appreciate how the Campaign for Youth Justice uses storytelling in their effort to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system, so we made a donation to them to help them to continue to do so. We made a donation to Girls Who Code to help bridge the gender gap and inspire, educate, and equip more girls to have the computing skills they need to succeed. We donated to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit media organization focused on reporting on the American criminal justice system, because they help to make us smarter every day. We donated to Seattle’s Splash to support their efforts to provide clean water to kids around the world and, specifically, in response to the earthquake in Nepal this past April. And we made a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to better enable the organization to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence. And because we love Sylvia.

We’re good friends.
We made a donation to The Lowline in New York to support our friend Dan Barasch to build an underground park in an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side. We supported Kat Galasso’s Kickstarter campaign to relaunch The Floatones at La Mama. And we supported another friend to show support to HIS friend by riding in DC’s Ride to Conquer Cancer.

We (still) love filmmakers.
For the third year in a row we are supporting the True/False Pay the Artists Program to enable the festival to financially support the filmmakers who screen their films at the fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking.

We attended Good Pitch this October and made donations to two of the films presented that day: Whose Streets and Canary in a Coal Mine. Whose Streets is the Ferguson MO story as told by the activists who took to the streets when Michael Brown is murdered by the police. It is “a first-hand look at how the murder of one teenage boy became the last straw for a community under siege.” Canary in a Coal Mine brings attention to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which disproportionately impacts women. (And is being executive produced by our hero Debby Hoffman.)

We love Seattle.
Last year we gave money to KEXP (for the second year in a row) to help them to move into their new studio at the Seattle Center. They made that move this month. This year we’re making our third annual donation to make sure they know how grateful we are to them for helping to make Seattle a great place to call home.

Unfortunately, calling Seattle home continues to become a greater and greater challenge to too many people. For the second year in a row we have made a donation to the Tenants Union of Washington State to support their ability to advocate on behalf of tenants.

We made a donation to the International Rescue Committee in Seattle to welcome refugees who have come to our fair city and allow them to rebuild their lives by providing housing, health care, food, education, and legal and social services.

Finally, we made a donation to our local YWCA, supporting their efforts to empower women who are facing poverty, violence and discrimination in our backyard.

Thank you to everyone who makes our giving possible. Best wishes for the new year.

the power of food and potential of people: a visit from robert egger

the power of food and potential of people: a visit from robert egger

Earlier this month Robert Egger—Founder and President of L.A. Kitchen—dropped by our offices in Seattle for a visit. Over a tequila and tonic (his signature drink, for anyone who might be hosting him soon), he talked to our team about a lot of things—from economic sexism and the expanding constructs of what it means to be a refugee, to nutritional imperialism and aging. What struck me most is the number of issues Robert and his organization are addressing through their work, including “lovingly disrupting senior meals.”

Food waste, unemployment, poverty, senior nutrition—these are all treated as “solvable issues” within the L.A. Kitchen ecosystem. Considering the number of organizations focused on addressing any of these single issues, it’s especially impressive to see how L.A. Kitchen is addressing them all as part of one interconnected system.

They reclaim nutritious, local food that would otherwise be discarded (primarily due to cosmetic issues); provide culinary training to men and women (most whom are coming out of foster care or the criminal justice system) who turn those ingredients into healthy, delicious meals; then distribute those meals to social service agencies serving the city’s most vulnerable, particularly low-income seniors, who are so often provided with processed foods. It’s an impressive cycle all aimed at “ensuring that neither food nor people go to waste,” and one that was noticed by the AARP Foundation, who awarded them a founding grant of $1 million, the largest single AARP grant in its history.

Tapping into the power of food and potential of people, I’d say Robert is disrupting more than just senior meals. L.A. Kitchen has also started a for-profit subsidiary—Strong Food—which will compete for food service contracts, employ graduates of the organization’s training program, and ultimately support L.A. Kitchen to be self-sustaining. That’s important to Robert not just from a financial perspective, but from an advocacy perspective as well. Too often the organizations best positioned to advocate for policy changes are prevented from doing so because of their funding models (most grants specifically state that funding cannot be used for advocacy) or their 501(c)3 status.

I’ve seen the power of culinary training programs with my own eyes–someone close to me, who’s faced their share of challenges, is currently enrolled (and thriving) in one—but L.A. Kitchen takes this to a whole new level, in a way that truly inspires my farmer’s-market-shopping-foodie heart. If you ever have a chance to meet Robert Egger or hear him speak, do. And be sure to check out the amazing work that L.A. Kitchen and D.C. Central Kitchen (the organization Robert founded and ran for 25 years before heading to Los Angeles) are doing.

 

sharing our good fortune

sharing our good fortune

Selecting the organizations with which we share our good fortune is a group effort that includes our full time staff as well as the collaborators with whom we work. My request to them is that they share ideas that reflect who we are as a company: we want to support organizations that are unapologetic about their passion, who use storytelling as a strategy to achieve their goals, or have simply reached us with a powerful story about their work.

I’m proud of the people who have joined me in building Aggregate and of the ideas they shared this year. I hope you’ll consider joining us in supporting the following organizations.

We believe in justice.

We have now made our third annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights, which provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails and improves legal representation for people who are low-income. We made the donation in the name of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

After reading about Lenzi Sheible, the 20-year old founder of Fund Texas Choice in The New York Times, we felt compelled to make a donation to enable her to do her important work. Because of legislation passed in the state of Texas—as well as in a number of other states—women often must travel long distances to access abortion services and many cannot afford to do so. So our donation will support Lenzi and Fund Texas Choice to cover those costs.

In July, we paid a Detroit resident’s overdue water bill  to prevent their water from being turned off thanks to the quick organizing and deft communication skills of the Detroit Water Project. We admire them for jumping in to address a need and for ensuring others both understood what was happening and that they could do something to help.

And in September, we made a donation to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation after they successfully worked to enable the exoneration of two men—Henry McCollum and Leon Brown—who had been on death row for 30 years in North Carolina for a rape and murder they did not commit.

We love filmmakers. 

Because 1) we like working with Josh Simon, 2) because criminal justice should be just, and 3) because Josh asked, we made a donation to support the production of This Place is Dirty. This new documentary—currently in production—is about Jon Burge, a former Chicago Police detective who was convicted of torturing criminal suspects for nearly twenty years.

For the second year in a row we are supporting the True/False Film Fest‘s Pay the Artist program to enable the festival to support the filmmakers who screen their films at the Fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking. (We’ll  be announcing additional support for the festival soon, so stay tuned.)

We made additional donations to support the re-release of Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer as well as the Sarah Jacobsen Film Grant, which is a grant for young women filmmakers “whose work embodies some of the things that Sarah stood for: a fierce DIY approach to filmmaking, a radical social critique, and a thoroughly underground sensibility.”

We think young people deserve better.

This year was also the third year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to LGBTQ youth. And for the third year in a row, we made the donation in the name of Spencer Cox, the great AIDS activist who died in 2012.

Closer to home, the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle works with homeless and street youth to enable them “to experience creativity and success through art.” We supported them this year to buy a new press. They reached that goal, but they have countless additional needs, so we’re confident that would appreciate your support as well.

We also gave to the national organization, Girls on the Run, which uses running as a strategy for promoting self-esteem, teamwork and a positive body image for young girls.

We love Jay Smooth.

We made a donation to WBAI‘s hip hop show Underground Railroad, which is hosted by our favorite video blogger Jay Smooth. Jay was such an important and smart voice on race relations this year, someone to whom we looked to make sense of a series of events and a world that often made no sense at all.

We love Seattle.

We also gave money to our hometown public radio station KEXP (for the second year in a row) to support their efforts to build a new home in Seattle. As I said last year, they are a significant contributor to making Seattle the amazing place it is and we’re grateful to them for filling our office with music every day.

KEXP is building a new home at a time when the real estate market in Seattle has gone apeshit, leaving many of our lower income neighbors in situations where they are paying an unlivable percentage of their income to put a roof over their heads. It’s a heady time to live in Seattle—if you are among the privileged who can still afford it. So, we’re supporting the Tenants Union of Washington State to enable them to continue to be advocates for tenants’ rights. Thanks to the fabulous Ansel Herz at The Stranger for pointing us in their direction.

We owe it to veterans (especially Ryan).

My friend Ryan Friedrichs came home safe this year after serving for the past three years in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. To express our gratitude for and admiration of Ryan, we made a donation to the Veteran Artist Program, which has a mission to “foster, encourage and promote veteran artists.”

We love food.

Finally, we gave to L.A. Kitchen, which “reclaims local, healthy food that would otherwise be discarded, training men and women who are unemployed for jobs and providing healthy meals.” L.A. Kitchen was founded recently by Robert Egger, who founded D.C. Kitchen 24 years ago as the first “community kitchen.”

Best wishes to everyone for the new year. Give when you can.

getting your undriving license

getting your undriving license

Instead of pledging money, what if you pledged to change your behavior and challenge your daily routine? That’s radical.

As a newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life.

Minimizing your car use can reduce carbon emissions, ease parking and traffic congestion, and enhance community connections. Undriving is an organization that challenges residents of Seattle and the surrounding neighborhoods to “get creative about getting around” and to pledge to reduce their car use or stop using a car altogether. As part of their campaign, you can sign up to receive your Undriver’s license for a donation of $20. You can include your own photo and your pledge is printed on the card as a reminder of your commitment. Undriving envisions this movement going national, so non-Seattle residents can sign up, too.

Named No. 1 on a list of walkable U.S. cities by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Seattle is the perfect place to make an Undriving pledge. Seattle was recently ranked as one of the top cities with the fewest number of cars per household, so we’re on the right track. If you pledge to reduce your car use, or stop using your car completely, you’ll be in good company.

Minimizing the use of your car might be more of a radical change of your lifestyle and schedule than you think. Think about how often you truly use your car. Is it one hour a day? Two hours a day? For those who sit on congested highways getting to and from work, five hours a day? A quick trip to the store might not be as convenient when you factor in waiting for a bus, catching the right one, and timing your trip properly. Add in bags of groceries or a baby and a stroller and complications arise.

I live a short 6.5 miles from the office, a quick 15-minute drive without traffic. That trip turns into 45 minutes during rush hour, regardless of my means of transportation. In an effort to reduce my footprint, I forgo my car and use the local bus system to commute. Taking the bus has resulted in other benefits in my life. I have increased my activity level during the day walking to and from my stops, I’m saving money on parking and gas, I am able to make a small dent in my current book on the way home (Ishmael Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow, in case you are wondering), and I have noticed new things around downtown Seattle, like the street art on the electrical boxes or an interesting architectural detail on the building across the street.

I’ve started minimizing my car use in other ways, too. Instead of driving a mile to the dog park near my house, my dogs and I walk there together. If I have errands to run that require my car, I’ll plan them all on the same day so I’m not going across the neighborhood more than once during a week. These are small changes, but I like to think they make a difference.

For more information on Undriving, peruse the website, like it on Facebook, and follow it on Twitter.

Did you miss our other Radical Locals features? Read more about Project Violet, Seattle’s Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, and the Seal Sitters.

Image credit: Press Office, City of Münster, Germany

giving away money

giving away money

It’s time again for our end of year donations, but the truth is that Aggregate gives money throughout the year. Sometimes we do so to show our admiration and other times our love. Sometimes we do so because a great story compels us or because we want to support our friends. We always do so because the missions that these organizations pursue—as well as generosity—are core to our values.

  • In February, we donated to the True Life Fund at the True/False Film Fest, which is run by our Creative Director, David Wilson. Each year, True/False selects one of the films in their program and raises money to “support and honor those who appear in front of the camera.” In 2013, the True Life Fund film was Which Way is the Front Line from Here?, about Tim Hetherington, a conflict zone photojournalist who was killed in 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya. The money we donated went to support Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues and the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Sierra Leone, an organization that Tim supported when he was alive.
  • In March we donated to the Brothers of a Boston Fraternity because we were so impressed with their decision to support their transgender brother to have top surgery after his insurance company denied his claim.
  • In June we donated to PATH, our neighbors in Seattle, to support their efforts to transform global health through innovation.
  • In August we donated to the Maplewood Barn Community Theater to support the Willy Wilson Scholarship to support high school graduates to study performing arts in college. Willy, David’s dad, passed away this summer. In addition to being a talented performer, Willy gave us David, for which we are eternally grateful.
  • In September, we donated to support friends who were riding in the Canary Challenge to raise money for cancer research at the Stanford Cancer Institute.
  • In November, we donated to charity: water because it was the least we could do to show Paull Young that we admired his willingness to wear a Speedo on the streets of Philadelphia in November.

Through these donations, we nearly doubled what we gave through our year-end contributions last year.

For this year’s donations, we renewed our commitment to last year’s recipients: the Ali Forney Center (again, in honor of Spencer Cox), which provides housing for homeless LGBT youth in New York, and the Southern Center for Human Rights, which provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails, seeks to improve legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, and advocates for criminal justice system reforms on behalf of those affected by the system in the Southern United States.

As far as new recipients, staff contributed their ideas and these are the additional groups that have received our support:

  • We made a donation to KEXP in Seattle because we listen to them every day in the office and because of their own contribution to making our favorite city an amazing place to live.
  • Finally, after seeing Jim Olson speak at PopTech in October and then again this month in Seattle, we made a donation to Project Violet at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. It is Jim’s ambition, commitment, innovative approach and amazing skills as a storyteller that caught our eye. We’re honored to be able to help him and his team.

In total, our donations this year were three times what we gave away last year. We did well and we gave back. We hope you’ll consider giving to some of the same organizations to which we donate.

Best wishes for the new year.

scorpions and brain tumors

scorpions and brain tumors

A “tumor paint” derived from the DNA of the Israeli death stalker scorpion that chemically adheres to cancer cells and lights them up like a flashlight and is thousands of times more sensitive than MRI imagery? Radical.

As a newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life.

Everyone you meet impacts your life in some way. Some of us are lucky enough to meet people who change our lives in a radical way. For Dr. Jim Olson, Violet O’Dell was one of those people. One of a few hundred children per year diagnosed with brainstem glioma—a rare, deadly, and inoperable tumor—11-year-old Violet understood she would die and requested that her brain be donated to science after her death. Violet wanted to leave a legacy of helping researchers and doctors develop effective treatments for other kids in her situation.

Violet’s generous and fearless donation inspired Dr. Olson to start Project Violet. Part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Project Violet is on a mission to create anti-cancer compounds that will allow for more effective treatment of cancer. These compounds will attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells unharmed, allowing for more precise treatment of tumors, particularly those in more complicated areas of the body.

Tumor paint, an ongoing success for Project Violet, uses DNA from the Israeli death stalker scorpion to light up tumors like a flashlight. This “molecular flashlight” can adhere to a cluster made up of as few as 200 cells and is 100,000 times more sensitive than traditional MRI imagery. After nearly 10 years of research, tumor paint will start human trials in early 2014. Originally created for the purpose of treating pediatric brain cancer, the team has since discovered that tumor paint may have applications for breast, colon, lung, prostate, and skin cancer.

Speaking at Town Hall Seattle earlier this month, Dr. Olson said he believes nature is an incredible resource for medical research, with many plants and animals having millions of years to evolve their DNA. Dr. Olson also believes citizen science, or crowdfunding for research in the case of Project Violet, is an untapped resource for drug development. Whether you donate $100 or $10,000, you have the opportunity to “adopt” a drug candidate for research. You can follow the drug’s progress as it goes through creation and testing as it is added to the library of drug candidates. This library will allow the Project Violet team to discover drugs that might be used to alleviate symptoms of rare diseases or minimize or destroy inoperable tumors. With the help of donations and tireless work from the Project Violet team, that drug candidate may eventually become a cure for a once-incurable disease.

To make a donation, please visit Project Violet’s website. To find out more, view the project’s videos, like it on Facebook, and follow it on Twitter.