Valley charity Geeky Giving sells fresh sci-fi stories to raise money for Barrow Neurological Institute.

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Written by Amanda Kippert Category: Valley News Issue: May 2016
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“That’s your body in the shaft?” Frank asked again, now that the ghost was talking. 

“Ayup,” the man confirmed. “Been down there since Halloween. Took you fools long enough. Started thinking nobody was ever gonna come ’round and see me.” 

 Excerpted above, sci-fi writer Sierra Dean’s Ghosts of the Motor City is one of four short stories readers can devour if they make a donation to the advancement of neuroscience. 

It’s the wave of the future for fundraising, say Christina Vanoverbeke and Chelsea Mueller, co-founders of Valley-based nonprofit Geeky Giving ( The name is meant to be complimentary. “We embrace ourselves as geeks, and we wanted to do something geeks wanted to get involved in,” says Vanoverbeke, who works as a director at Barrow Neurological Institute’s philanthropic foundation in Phoenix. While the 36-year-old is passionate about giving back, she found she wasn’t overly inspired by endless charity golf fundraisers. “I’m not a golfer and I don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to go run a 5K, but I wanted to give back.” 

She also wanted to get her similar-age, creative-type friends involved. “I thought if I could generate interest in something and the cause was parallel to that, it would spark their interest,” Vanoverbeke says. 

In February, Geeky Giving was born. It solicits well-known science-fiction authors to pen original, neuroscience-inspired works. The collections are then offered for donations as little as $5. Proceeds benefit Barrow Neurological Institute in 2016, but benefit a different science-based charity each year thereafter. 

Geeky Giving hit a personal note for Mueller, whose dad died several years ago of an aggressive form of brain cancer. “Barrow worked incredibly hard to save my father’s life,” she says. After his passing, she wanted to do something to raise awareness, and being a sci-fi fan, the overlap between reality and fiction seemed an obvious connection. “The work Barrow is doing actually is so forward-thinking, it borders on what we think of as science-fiction,” Mueller says.

The first story collection debuted in February, and contained works not only by Dean, but also by Karina Cooper, Edward Ashton and Mary Robinette Kowal. Upcoming contributors include Robert Roll Russell, a short-story author and nurse who writes fiction inspired by his personal experiences treating people with Alzheimer’s disease. Vanoverbeke says most of the contributors have shared personal testimonies about being shaped by neurological diseases in some way. 

Which is what Vanoverbeke was hoping would happen when she started brainstorming the charity, which she concedes is skewed toward a younger demographic. “Neuroscience and its research of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are not causes young people think about. But the truth is, most of us will be affected by one of these diseases at some point in our lives,” she says. “We’re working to find treatments now that can help us when we’re older. I know they’re not ‘sexy’ diseases, but they’re really important.”

The best local venue to target Geeky Giving’s young adult audience? Phoenix Comicon, of course. At the June pop culture festival in Downtown Phoenix, Vanoverbeke and Mueller will join a panel discussing their charity, sci-fi and neuroscience. 

They aim to raise $10,000 before the convention, which they say they’re on track to do. Oh, and also forge communication with author Neil Gaiman. “We had a running joke when we first started that our secret mantra was ‘Get Gaiman,’” Vanoverbeke says. “We’ve yet to make official contact with him, just in case he’s listening.”