Earlier this year, while juggling the tasks of Facebook stalking, denying Farmtown requests, and desperately trying to think of something clever to say in my Facebook status, I came across a new charitable organization called The Way to Begin, created by my friend Corinna Sanders.
The name alone caught my attention. And it described exactly how I feel about charity. With all of the need out there; the “dollar a day” charities, 3rd world hunger, poor quality water and medicine in various places, disasters in Haiti, and the litany of needs on our own soil, one might ask themselves, “Where the heck do I even begin to address all of this?”
Luckily, Corinna and her organization provides a way for people who over-think and become overwhelmed with charity to get involved in simple yet meaningful ways. The Way to Begin is no where near solving world hunger, but they have made an impact in the St. Louis metro area. Inspired by this, I asked if Four Finger Culture could do an interview with her, in which she happily agreed. The following in an hour long interview we had over the internet.
FFC: So in a nutshell, tell the thousands in attendance and the millions watching all over the world (sorry I’ve always wanted to say that) exactly what is The Way to Begin?
CS: The Way to Begin is a year long project I started to give my friends and I (and anyone else who wanted to come along for the ride) the chance to help others and make a difference in our community.
FFC: Very cool project. How are you getting involved in the community? Are you focusing on one specific charity?
CS: No, not just one charity- several! We are focusing on a different project every month.
FFC: Are you doing original charity work or finding other pre-existing charities to get involved with?
CS: I’m mostly finding ones that already exist. My friends have helped me find a lot of worthy causes. Some of them don’t have an actual charity set up yet, but they are still in need of help. For instance, this summer we’re working on a project to help this school in St. Louis where most of the kids are below the poverty level and need school supplies. They’re not asking for anything, but we’re going to help!
FFC: How do you find some of these causes? For instance, the school in St. Louis, how did you come to know of their needs?
CS: The school in St. Louis was found by my friend Todd. He is one of the leaders at the church I go to. August Gate (the church) is really involved in the Soulard and St. Louis communities. They’re always trying to find ways to help out. They asked me to be involved with this because they know that I have organized some things like this in the past.
FFC: What are some of the other charities and causes you’ve helped out with so far?
CS: Let’s see…we’ve helped out with Cookies for Kids Cancer, the APA of Granite City, and we’ve assembled backpack filled with essentials for homeless people. We’ve also ran a community clothes swap, and I’ve also sold fair trade chocolates to fund a company fighting against human trafficking.
FFC: So you’re definitely doing more than raising funds and asking for donations, you’re actually getting out there in helping in more physical and tangible ways.
CS: Definitely trying. I recognize that I have strengths and weaknesses and I’m trying to do whatever it is I am capable of doing.
FFC: I like that. Especially in harder economic times, people may not have a lot of money, but they can donate things like time and skills.
CS: Exactly. With the clothes swap I asked people to donate clothes that they don’t wear anymore. Still usable, but it’s just something we leave in the back of our closet but someone would be glad to have.
FFC: Now, what inspired you to start all of this?
CS: Well I think the first start was when my sister-in-law asked me to come to this “Knitting for Newborns” project she heard about. I went, even though I can’t knit! But I went home with the realization that I wanted to help people more. I liked the idea of it. So then I started to organize stuff that I COULD do, and realized I had a ton of friends that were interested and passionate about helping people too.
FFC: I could make assumptions about why it’s called The Way to Begin, but I’ll let you tell me
CS: I think “The Way to Begin” really describes a lot of people that I know, including myself. We all want to help people, but it’s so much easier to know how to help when you are aware of the community’s needs and who you can give donations to. We all need “a way to begin”.
FFC: That’s a good way to put it. You have something that I feel is a little more unique as far as charities go. I mean, I (sadly and ashamedly) don’t really know the needs of my community. Perhaps people think of charities more in a global way, forgetting about the simple needs of our neighbors.
CS: That’s true. I do think it’s very important to help globally as much as possible, but when someone next door just needs some clothes or food, that can be so easy.
FFC: There are a lot of obstacles when trying to make a grassroots idea a success. Four Finger Culture is dealing with the fact that there are already a million other blog sites out there, so staying relevant and original is a big challenge. What are some of the hurdles you’re dealing with that comes with a brand new charity?
CS: Hmm…I guess sometimes it’s hard to know which causes people will be interested in helping with. I don’t want anyone giving because they feel they have to or out of obligation. But even if only one person helps out, I figure it is better than none!
FFC: Heh. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. I guess you can’t assign a particular number to success, unless the number is one. Whenever you start something new, you want it to be successful. I guess we all have our own definition of success. So let me ask you this, because this is a grassroots and smaller, more community based project, is it hard not to compare yourself with success of other larger charities?
FFC: Or are you just that pure of heart
CS: LOL, of course it is easy to look at a big charity and think of how much they are able to give. But I really like the way that we’re doing things. We are not just helping one cause, like many charities, we are pursuing multiple charities and therefore are able to give to exactly who we want to. I think that’s kind of cool. I like the freedom of choosing and the ability to find needs that are not necessarily in the spotlight most of the time.
FFC: I really like your ethos. Now your website says that this is a year long project. Will The Way to Begin stop in 2011? Any plans to continue or pass on the torch?
CS: I would love to have it continue, but I don’t have any definite plans for next year. I think the people involved would be more than willing though. They are all so giving.
FFC: If anyone that reads this and is interested in getting involved, where should they go?
CS: They should go to The Way to Begin Facebook page, the blog (www.thewaytobegin.wordpress.com) or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would also like to add that the uniqueness of The Way to Begin is now an inspiration to Four Finger Culture. Corinna’s mindset isn’t about numbers, it’s about helping people. So if one person gets helped, then The Way to Begin is a success. I have to admit that this mindset challenged how I’ve been viewing the popularity and success of Four Finger Culture. I’ll admit that I’ve cared too much about the numbers and get a little bummed when the website doesn’t get viewed by 1,000 people a day…or 100 people………..or 10 people. It sucks when there are times where the viewing charts drops like BP stock, but that’s okay. Thanks to The Way to Begin, I’ve come to realize that if just one person can be impacted by Four Finger Culture, then I’ve done my job.
Rock on, Corinna. You’re helping more people than you know.