Charity Cases

Written by Nicki Escudero Category: Valley News Issue: April 2015
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These local nonprofits step outside the box and make philanthropy fun.
As far as organizational activities go, 501(c)(3) groups aren't exactly known for their edginess – certainly, their importance in providing awareness and aid for good causes is well-documented, but fundraising is hardly a party – unless you're one of these local nonprofits, each of which takes a new tack toward bettering the world.

Ron Haberle knows firsthand how boring chemotherapy is. The Chandler resident was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 20 and found solace in his Walkman while he underwent treatment. As a teenager who was often surrounded by patients more than three times his age, Haberle, who has been in remission for nearly 20 years, empathizes with young patients suffering from life-threatening and terminal diseases. He formed nonprofit PeppedUp! in 2011, which delivers technology devices such as tablets and music players to local children. The goods from PeppedUp! keep kids uplifted through challenging times and give them high-tech aid for practical needs, such as school and therapy. With partners such as the Phoenix Coyotes, PeppedUp! has raised more than $150,000 for the cause, which includes equipping play rooms at hospitals with video game systems. “Whether we provide a tablet computer for physical therapy, a laptop computer to get a high school diploma, or a gaming console just for the fun of it, PeppedUp! provides a much-needed service to families by keeping young cancer warriors connected to life and the things they love,” Haberle says.


Paper Clouds Apparel
Phoenix resident Robert Thornton’s mission to help those with special needs starts with showcasing their art on the shirts, hats and bags in his Paper Clouds Apparel line. He donates 50 percent of profits from each two-week, limited-edition campaign to special needs charities, schools and programs, benefiting causes directly related to the artists. Local special needs employees package the apparel, completing the cycle that raised more than $30,000 in 2014 for organizations like St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Rio Grande Down Syndrome Network. Thornton, whose mother was a bus driver for a special needs school, was inspired to launch the give-back company in 2009. “Every single person has a chance to change the world, and I know for certain Paper Clouds Apparel is my chance,” Thornton says. “Everybody needs shirts and clothing, so why not wear a shirt that is not only super-comfortable, but you also know your money is going to help people who desperately need it?”

Celebrate Autism
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and it’s a special one for Jenny Anderson, founder of Celebrate Autism. The 26-year-old Phoenix resident’s brother, Brent, has autism and was having trouble adjusting to the traditional workforce after high school. Brent wasn’t alone – about 85 percent of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, according to Autism Speaks. With their mom’s help, Brent started his own business – a line of humorous books and products – and he became a successful public speaker, sharing his story with the world. His courage and achievements as an entrepreneur inspired Jenny to drop out of graduate school and start her own nonprofit to help people with autism start their own businesses, just like her brother. Launched in July 2013, Celebrate Autism has a business curriculum designed for those with developmental disabilities and works with high schools in Ohio, Colorado and California to help their students get on the entrepreneurial track. “The school system today doesn’t really prepare students with developmental disabilities for their futures,” Anderson says. “We’re giving them the practical skills to know how to apply to a job at a younger age.”


 Alliance for Education Fund
When Alliance Bank of Arizona put together their new oversized coffee table book celebrating Arizona business, At Work in Arizona: The First 100 Years, the bank didn’t want to just promote local ventures – its team wanted to give back to educational efforts to help grow the next generation of entrepreneurial minds. Proceeds from the 168-page pictorial essay, with more than 200 photographs dating back to the 1880s, benefit the Alliance for Education Fund, which contributes to 12 local education-related causes, including Junior Achievement of Arizona, College Success Arizona and Support Our Schools AZ. “It’s not just about moving a book – it’s about raising dollars and awareness for the good work those organizations are doing,” says Ruzica Radulovic, vice president of marketing at Alliance Bank of Arizona. “We really believe education is the bridge to the next 100 years. We have to get serious about diversifying our economic base and skilled workers.”