Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's That Time o' Year

As the title says, it's that time of year again. Many holidays just happen to fall right around now: Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Festivus, Solstice and so on. Some of these involve the giving of gifts. Some do not. Some parts of the world lie covered in snow and ice (unless you happen to be in certain parts of New England this year and haven't seen any dusting of snow stick around...not that I'm bitter or anything). Some celebrate with a glass of wine in the sun. It also just happens to be the end of the tax year.

I brought this up a couple years ago and thought it could use a bit of a repeat.

As I mentioned the last time I did one of these posts, there are a number of reasons to make a charitable contribution. A big one is to simply help others. There are a lot of charities that rely on the generosity of individuals, foundations and companies to help fund their day-to-day activities and long-term goals. The holidays are a wonderful excuse to support a charity, whether you are in the habit of celebrating by giving gifts or not.

Another reason to make a charitable donation is that the tax year is ending soon. Donations to registered non-profits in the U.S. are generally tax deductible, and some other countries even recognize some donations to U.S. organizations, too. Making a gift like this is a great way to help not only other people, but to get a little something back yourself. However, if you want to be able to claim a deduction next April 15, you need to make sure you make your gift before December 31. This can be done in a few different ways: mail a check, making sure your get a 2012 postmark on it; call the charity to make a gift by credit card before they close on the 31st (most charities will have at least one person through the end of business on the 31st just to handle credit cards); make a credit card gift online via the charity's web site; work with your broker to make a gift of securities, making sure the stocks reach the charity before Dec. 31; make a wire transfer directly from your bank account to the charity, again, ensuring the wire hits their account before the 31st. Whichever method you choose, this time of year is a good time to support aid organizations, scientists (and with budget cuts looming at the National Institutes of Health, they'd really appreciate some support so they can continue advancing knowledge), and educators.

Whatever your reasons, I'm a strong believer in philanthropic giving. So that's my plug to get out and make a donation now. And if you're having some trouble deciding, here are some ideas (and this may look a bit familiar):

Autism Science Foundation

First off, the Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is once again doing their year-end campaign, Recipe4Hope.

According to their web site:
The Autism Science Foundation's mission is to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.
If you are interested in supporting research into the causes of autism and how to improve education and awareness, the ASF is probably a pretty worthy charity. Here's a link to the ASF donation page, for your convenience.

Next up are two Boston-area organizations: The New England Center for Children (NECC) and the Lurie Center for Autism.

New England Center for Children

A friend of mine used to work at NECC a number of years ago, and I had the opportunity to visit several times to see the work that they do. One of the driving goals of NECC is to teach their students the skills they will need to succeed in the world, to the best of their abilities. To achieve this, the teachers utilize Applied Behavior Analysis to teach self-care skills, safe/dangerous situation identification, social skills and some academic skills. They also teach parents and work to reduce the medications that the kids take as much as is safely feasible. Students can be in either a day program or residential program, and respite services are available for caretakers. NECC also employs their older students to help them gain job experience and prepare them for employment once they leave. Overall, I was really impressed by what I saw. Visit the NECC giving page for more information on how to donate.

Lurie Family Autism Center

There's also the Lurie Center for Autism, which is at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The Lurie Family Autism Center combines both clinical services and research. I spoke with a member of the MGH Development Office, Anne MacLean, about the program. According to Anne, not only do they provide early diagnosis and treatment services, but the center also provides support for families, education services and support for adults with autism. Something that Anne mentioned to me that impressed me is that they give quite a bit of thought to figuring out how to provide medical services to a population that traditionally suffers from a range of communication impairments. How do you test hearing in someone that doesn't communicate? How do you perform an MRI for someone who has difficulty staying still and dislikes loud noises?

The physician-researchers at the center are also engaged in research into the causes and etiology of autism. For example, Dr. Martha Herbert heads up the TRANSCEND program, investigating the relationships between brain abnormalities and the bodies of those with autism. There are research projects looking at twins, genetics, family history and so on.

[Update: I've recently learned that Dr. Herbert may be somewhat woo-oriented. Despite that, there are other program areas and research initiatives at the Lurie Center that are worth supporting, in my opinion.]

The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center

Finally, I want to give a quick plug for another Boston-based giving idea that I have supported in the part. As regular readers know, I care quite a bit about vaccines and the issues surrounding them, so much so that I ran through 5km of zombie-infested trails this past May to raise money for vaccine research. The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital covers a lot of research ground. Two projects that I supported were the development of a new cholera vaccine that will hopefully be better than the currently available vaccine and research into using a focused beam of light as an adjuvant for vaccines, mitigating the need to use aluminum-based adjuvants, which some unnecessarily worry about. They have a lot more going on than just those two things. If you want vaccine technology and knowledge to advance, consider supporting the work of the VIC.

To wrap up, there are a lot of opportunities out there to support worthy charities. Hopefully, I've given a decent insight into three that support the autism community and one that helps advance vaccine knowledge. I have already made my donations, and I strongly urge my readers to consider making a gift of their own. Here are some more links for your convenience:

Autism Science Foundation Online Giving Page
New England Center for Children Online Giving Page
Lurie Center for Autism Online Giving Page
Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center Online Giving Page

Merry Christmakwanzukkahnaliafestilstice! Or, more simply, happy holidays, everyone!

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