As we shared in December, this year, our team at USEED participated in our own version of Secret Santa: Instead of buying gifts for each other, we'd make a donation to an organization in our chosen giftee's name. On Friday, we unveiled to each other the various charities and causes that we had the opportunity to impact through our Philanthropic Secret Santa exchange.
So, as promised, here are the 12 charities and causes our team members chose to support on behalf of each other:
For Matt: Yoga to the People
"I gave to Yoga to the People on behalf of our Chief Customer Officer and co-founder, Matt Racz. Matt has always had a passion for yoga and meditation, and in researching local nonprofits, I stumbled upon this donation-based yoga studio down the street from us in Tempe, AZ. Yoga to the People, which originated in New York City, relies solely on generosity to keep their doors open, which allows yoga to become more accessible to our community members who would otherwise not be able to afford a membership elsewhere.
"And to make this experience even better, Matt and I have planned to go to one of the classes together next week. It's so fun how philanthropy organically connects us on a deeper level every time we practice it!" -Kristen
For Kristen: Little Free Library
"I donated to the Little Free Library nonprofit on behalf of Kristen. Kristen, who has her own Little Free Library, is passionate about her own local library and utilizing it to it's fullest. Little Free Library inspires readers and more importantly continues to build and promote a community of passionate people. I'm honored to be able to give on behalf of Kristen to help her and others just as passionate to continue to share that message." -Kyle
For Kyle: Common Threads
"I had Kyle for Secret Santa and made a gift to Common Threads on his behalf. One of the last times Kyle was on the ground in Arizona (USEED's headquarters), we spoke about his interest in and passion for cooking, and Common Threads teaches low-income children how to choose and cook healthy food." -Chris
Per their mission:
At Common Threads, we bring our family-centric, hands-on program model with proven results to kitchens in low-income, urban communities across America. Our unique approach empowers children to eat healthy, make sustainable behavior changes, and celebrate culture through food.
For Chris: Music and Memory
"I had Chris Torrenzano for Secret Santa. His interest in music and neuroscience led me down a fun road of researching different charities, which eventually led me to Music and Memory. Within five minutes of discovering their charity, I knew I had found a cause that was so human -- so meaningful -- that I had to donate.
"Music and Memory is an organization dedicated to helping people in nursing homes and assisted care who suffer from cognitive and mental disorders, including Alzheimers and Dementia.
"I stumbled across Music and Memory because of the science and the research, but I connected with Music and Memory because of how unbelievable their impact is.
"Words can't express how much I was moved by discovering this charity, so I'll leave this 6-minute clip to demonstrate the unbelievable impact Music and Memory has.
"For any readers interested, there's an amazing documentary about their charity called Alive Inside - I challenge anyone to watch it and not be immediately moved to donate." -Rob
For Rob: Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation
"I had Rob, and I chose to donate to the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation. I decided on this particular organization after doing some research and looking into the most transparent and for-good nonprofits I could find. Knowing that Rob has Type 1 and that there's currently no cure or vaccine, I thought that even a small gift could potentially help him see a cure in his lifetime.
"Also, carbs are (by far) my most favorite thing to eat and it makes me sad that Rob can't eat mac 'n' cheese or pasta carefree." -Shanna
For Shanna: Four Peaks Animal Rescue
"I had Shanna for Secret Santa, and I choose to give to the Four Peaks Animal Rescue, a non-profit that is based in Arizona! I picked that because I know that she loves animals and that she loves to rescue animals (as she did with her cat, Beta). It was also important to me to pick a local rescue in her community so that it was having a positive impact where she lives." -Brian
For Brian: The Humane Society
"I had Brian for Secret Santa (lucky me!). I knew that Brian and his girlfriend have trained a couple dogs from the time they were puppies to go on to be guide dogs with The Seeing Eye organization. Our Slack channels are filled with pictures of his dogs (seriously, lucky us!), and I knew that, because he's such an avid dog lover, I had to donate to a rescue on Brian's behalf. I chose to give to the Humane Society!" -Ross
Brian and his dog, Fletcher
For Ross: Kids Who Care AZ
"I donated to Kids Who Care AZ on behalf of Ross, because he is actively involved in the organization as a board member and a passionate advocate for their mission. As a parent in today's world, I want to raise my children in an environment where they can feel safe and where emotional intelligence, along with self-awareness, can be cultivated. Kids Who Care's mission identified with me with their mentorship program that allows them to create a culture of empathy, kindness, and compassion - all of which are changes that I want to see in the world." -Angelo
For Angelo: Bay Area Discovery Museum
"I had Angelo for Secret Santa and made a gift to the Bay Area Discovery Museum on his behalf. I picked this group as it's local to Angelo, and I thought that it had a really great mission that focuses on family, learning, and fostering creativity and STEM - specifically with a focus on science, technology, and engineering in early years." -Tim
For Tim: Project Linus Foundation
"For my Secret Santa, I was honored to have selected our CTO, Tim 'please don't stop the music' Walsh.
"I selected The Project Linus Fund because of the organization's mission to provide handmade blankets to seriously ill or traumatized children. I've known Tim for a few years now and Tim is the master of staying up late and still finding the energy to be an incredible leader for USEED, a loving boyfriend to his girlfriend Shanna, and a caring friend to lean on. My hope is that through our joint donation, a few children can find solace and peace for the blankets we are sponsoring." -Paul
For Paul: Preemptive Love & The Empowerment Coat
"As a part of this year Secret Santa we could donate to something that our Santa is passionate about, or to a cause that we were passionate about. For the one that I was passionate about, my wife and I donated to Preemptive Love to support the relief efforts in Aleppo. The organization is focused on battling hate and fear with love, while also providing sustainable change and opportunities for those being affected by violence.
"As for the organization that I thought Paul would support, I gave to The Empowerment Plan, and more specifically, the Empowerment Coat, which provides people who are homeless with coats that transform into sleeping bags. This was based off Paul's heart for those who have found themselves in a rough spot in life. There is more to that story, but just know that Paul is incredibly generous not only with his finances, but also his time, energy, and home." -Cameron
For Cameron: Young Life
"I had Cameron Kinney for my Secret Santa this year, which I was incredibly excited about since we work so closely together. Cameron is a constant source of inspiration and a leading example of living live with virtue, character, and mindfulness.
"When I first met Cameron, he shared that he was a member of the Young Life organization, which had a profound impact on his life as he grew up. It was great hearing this, as I first learned about this organization from another team member at USEED, Kristen Gluch, who also shared similar reflections.
"Several years ago, Cameron's wife was a Young Life leader to a young girl named Meaghan, who is now on staff at Young Life. Most people don't know this, but staff members are required to fundraise a large portion of their salaries, so both Cameron and his wife contribute to Meaghan's salary each year. With this being the case, I made my first recurring donation to Meaghan to help support her in her efforts to have a meaningful impact on young people.
"Contributing to amazing causes is quite rewarding, but contributing on behalf of a dear friend to something that is meaningful to them - this was one of the greatest holidays I've had." -Matt
Beyond expected, Philanthropic Secret Santa was an experience that made each of us feel known: That Kyle remembered my Little Free Library and love of literacy. That Rob recalled Chris' passion for neuroscience and music (and found a charity that focuses on both of them). That Cameron remembered the story of when Paul went above and beyond for a homeless person in crisis. This is what connects us.
So here's to an amazing experience rooted in philanthropy and connectivity! I know I'm already eager to do it again next year.