Years and years ago, Aaron Burr set the mold for "ruthless banker." Hell, he was murderous. Burr was the third Vice President of the United States and founder of the Bank of the Manhattan Company. In one of our nation's most infamous duels, he gunned down his rival Alexander Hamilton, who was the founder of the Bank of New York and the nation's first Secretary of Treasury. After a series of historical financial mergers, some of which are considered history's most epic, Burr's Bank of the Manhattan Company is known today as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. It's the country's second largest bank with assets of more than $2 trillion. So it's nice that they found an extra five mil to throw at social network savvy nonprofits.
That's right, coming off a historically grim year of PR for Wall Street, one of the nation's fattest fat-cat institutions is trying to make good by way of a Facebook popularity contest. What, never thought you'd get "fat-cat institutions" and "Facebook popularity contest" in the same sentence? What year are you living in?
Deemed the Chase Community Giving program, the bank set up a competition that ran through Chase Bank's "fan page" on Facebook. After becoming a "fan," Facebook users could vote for up to 20 of more than 500,000 charities and nonprofits they felt deserving of a million buckaroos. The top 100 — four of which hail from southeastern Michigan — were recently announced and each was awarded $25,000. Though only one $1-million winner will be announced when the competition comes to a close on Jan. 23, five runner-up charities will receive $100,000 awards.
The competition, the biggest of its kind, has drawn flak. A New York Times piece that ran Dec. 18, two days after the top 100 were announced, told the story of three nonprofit groups (Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All), which claimed Chase disqualified them over concerns about associating its name with their objectives. The groups each claim that before Chase suspiciously made changes to the contest guidelines on Dec. 9, they appeared to be among the top 100 vote-getters.
Metro Times talked to four qualm-free nonprofits who made it to the top 100: The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Friendship Circle and Sikhcess, both from West Bloomfield, and Canton-based charity Hand by Hand. Each had to submit to the contest a plan, their "Big Idea," on how they'd use the grant in the event they were to win. Big ideas were set to be announced on Monday (Jan. 11), but had yet to be posted on the Chase Community Giving Facebook page by the time we went to print. The second round of voting ends on Friday, Jan. 22.
Founded 14 years ago, the friendship circle aims to bring social inclusion and genuine camaraderie into the lives of children with special needs. Local teen volunteers are paired with each child. "Together, they form a friendship that empowers both the child and teen," says the organizations founder, Rabbi Levi Shemtov. Critical life-skill training inside goes on inside their facility. "We have a true-to-life cityscape with eight storefronts where kids come every day to learn how to use crosswalks, go to the bank, check out a library book, go to a doctor's appointment and more," Shemtov says. "Parents receive respite for an hour or two while the kids receive gross motor, sensory and life-skill training." With a special website (votefc.com) built for the competition, Shemtov launched a Facebook, Twitter and viral video campaign. If they win? They'd use a portion to develop a professional training program for 900 volunteers, but most would be used to double the size of their mock city. Thus, Shemtov says, "doubling the number of families we can serve." See friendshipcircle.com.
Hand by Hand Educational Fund
In Canton, Guozhen Lu works every day to better the learning conditions of Chinese children both in China and in the United States. From 2006 to 2009, HBHEF has sponsored more than 1,300 students from the eight poorest counties in Hebei Province, Guizhou Province, the earthquake-stricken Sichuan Province, as well as a poor county in Zhejiang Province. "For just $50 for elementary school, $80 for middle school, or $130 for high school, you can give a child the gift of education for a whole year," Lu says. It's mind-blowing to think what a million dollars could do. Apart from establishing scholarships, Lu wants to build two elementary schools in rural areas of China, sponsor 500 needy students to complete their K-12 education, enhance 20 libraries in K-12 schools in rural China and partially support U.S. students visiting rural areas of China. See hbhef.org.
Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit
Mosaic has been on a mission to empower young people to maximize their potential through professional performing arts training and the creation of first-rate theatrical and musical art since 1992. Their performances have toured to Africa, Europe, Asia, Canada and to 30 states throughout the United States — including performances at the White House and Kennedy Center. "But what we are most proud of is that 95 percent of our youth ensemble members have graduated from high school and gone on to college," says founder Rick Sperling, who credits their placement in the top 100 to Mosaic's young, Facebook generation alumni. Sperling says the $25,000 they won thus far will be used to fund their college performance tour. "This tour is very important to us because it gives our young artists the opportunity to visit colleges and audition for scholarships," says Sperling. Mosaic recently acquired a 40,000-square-foot historic building in Detroit's New Center, the former home of Channel 56 and the original home of WJBK. "Our 'Big Idea' is to renovate this building to become a center dedicated to youth excellence. It would have a performance space dedicated completely to youth arts, one that other youth organizations would use as well," Sperling says. "We think this center will be a real 'game-changer' for Detroit youth." See mosaicdetroit.org.
Originally founded to fight the disparaging effects discrimination, racism and hate brought into the Sikh community, Sikhcess, which can be found in Malaysia, the U.K., Australia, India, Dubai and Canada, evolved in 2007 into a group that champions volunteerism is every community. "We want people to see the value, the positive impact in helping one another through selfless acts of kindness," says program director Kartav Patel. Sikhcess is also active in feeding the homeless, backing clothing drives, blood drives and community cleanups, as well as the distribution of hygiene packages. Most recently they've taken up educational tutoring and youth mentoring. "Our idea is to connect 2.2 billion children across the globe in efforts to reduce ignorance, the root of crime, hate, poverty and racism," Patel says. "Imagine the world in 2020 with less acts of violence and hate. This is our big idea!" See sikhcess.com.Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]