Published on
The Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot/Los Angeles Times

Give Something Back

Catherine Cooper

When a really good idea shows up, it's hard to turn away. It's harder still, when the idea comes from a compassionate young woman who is dedicated to making a difference.

Annie Kirschbaum is a young special-needs teacher in the Chicago school system. She is an idealistic, forward thinker whose personal goal is assist others who are less fortunate than her.

Recently, Annie was shared dinner with her family -- Mickey and Phil -- and they started talking about the tax rebate checks. Annie expressed her outrage over the wasted expenditure of $42 million to simply notify citizens about the program. Phil said something along the lines of "wouldn't it be great if people did something really good with the money?" After some thought, Annie suggested, "How about a Donation Day?"

Instead of pouring the rebate directly back into the corporate coffers, the idea was to shift the paradigm and give it to those who have much greater needs. Give the dollars to folks, who in Annie's vision, should have received the largess in the first place.

The idea began to sprout legs. The more friends Annie spoke to, the more support she gathered for her idea. It wasn't about any particular charity, but the idea of giving. Simply giving.

Phil, both a good friend and a client, called me to ask for my assistance. What could I do with this great idea? I could help! We needed a name, a timeline, PR, a blog, a video. We needed the world and we had very little time.

"Give It Back" seemed like a perfect name for a campaign, but morphed in to "Give Something Back." A logo was developed. A web URL secured and we were on a roll. Then Joseph, our writer, discovered that Give Something Back already existed as a charity vehicle and we had a serious trademark conflict.

The plan took a breath. Which way to turn? How to name this wild idea? In the meantime, the clock was ticking. The first checks were to be mailed in just three weeks.

We started to flesh out the story and craft a compelling tale. Annie's enthusiasm for idea was infectious.

"There are so many things I love about this plan," she wrote. "It is an opportunity for everyone to come together for something bigger, even people who do not get the check. In a time where everyone is so divided, it is good to remember that we can all come together and really make a difference. Instead of fighting with each other, lets use that energy on something positive. We spend so much time fighting against a cause or being angry with something that the government does, lets take a breather and fight for something that does not divide people... It is an opportunity to do something with our tax money that the government should have done."

"I love the idea of people talking about where they want to give their money," she continued. "It makes me feel all warm inside! What a positive thing for circles of friends to be discussing."

I asked each team member to describe what the world might be like if everyone actually sent a percentage of their refund check to a charity of their choice.

Phil wrote, "The world would be like the best of human came out.... We'd be encouraged by our priorities. We could have followed 'the program' and spent it all on ourselves, but we didn't - we thought of those in real need of the gift... I'd call it a miracle. I'd call it a shift, a sea change... a new face for America."

As the clock ticked, we found, that even as a team we simply didn't have time to complete our tasks. We were idealistic -- and not one bit sad about it. We didn't create a website, the video has not been shot and the blog is in sketch stage. But, the dream is still alive and the idea simply needs to be broadcast -- one person to the next -- which is what I'm doing with this column.

Instead of taking that rebate check -- whatever size you might happen to receive, and spending it solely on yourself, take some percentage of it -- whatever makes your heart feel fuller, and direct it toward someone with greater need. There are so many that could use your help -- those who are hungry, or have no access to clean water or an education.

The list of charities is as long as you might imagine. Annie's favorite web organization is which functions as an evaluator for causes and non-profits seeking donations. They have a rating system on over 5,000 of America's best-known charities.

"Everyone is in this world together, and we have to make it work. There is no option," wrote Annie. "The world is only as strong as its weakest link, ever action affects something, and since this is such a great action, it will be felt by everyone... You don't have to be a millionaire to do so, every single person can make a difference."

Play it forward.

Catharine Cooper is honored to count Annie Kirschbaum and her family as friends. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2008 Coastline Pilot

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