Saturday, January 26, 2008

Raising Awareness and $$: Making the Choice to Be Different

As a freshman college student taking Sociology 101 back in 1990, I along with the rest of the class received a assignment that also was sort of a challenge. We were asked to do choose to do something a little out of the norm in public.

I can't remember how the assignment was graded, but I do remember suspecting that most of the class did not rise to the occasion. I was tipped off to the unpopularity of this assignment when a fellow classmate asked me what I did, and then reported exactly what I said when called upon by the instructor--taking credit for my idea. (I don't remember exactly how I handled this, but I think I talked to the instructor to make sure I received credit for the assignment.)

What did I do for the assignment? I wore a pair of my mom's slippers on my way to my first class on a crowded shuttle bus. The slippers were black with tiny pink, orange, blue and yellow flowers. I realize the slippers seem kind of cute so far, but the style was pretty unflattering. They were classic old lady slippers.

What happened? I noticed that people glanced at my feet and then looked away. That was it. No snickers or rude comments. Well, I suppose this was back in the day where one big trend was wearing white socks with sandals. Even today, college students in my town dress a little quirky--pajama bottoms in the grocery store, shorts and flip flops outside in winter, etc.

However, the theme of this post isn't about the occasional weird fashion choice of college students. It's about doing something noticeable to raise awareness and donations for a cause. It's remarkable how doing something completely out of the ordinary can create an extraordinary response.

A story about a college basketball coach who coached barefoot for an entire game is what inspired me today. The goal of Ron Hunter, who coaches the team from Indiana University-Purdue (IUPUI), was to inspire the donation of 40,000 pairs of shoes. As the result of his action Hunter exceeded his goal and actually received 110,0000 pairs, more than $20,000, and and offer from a donor to fly his team to Africa this summer if NCAA rules allow.

Hunter's charity was Samaritan's Feet, a nonprofit, Christian-based charity that hopes outfit 10 million people world-wide with shoes over a 10-year period. A freshman guard on his team inspired Hunter. The guard, Christian Siakam, is from Cameroon where "shoes are a luxury."

It is worth noting that Hunter did suffer a bit as the result of coaching barefoot (standing up most of the time.) "My feet hurt so bad," he said after the game. "But imagine a child or a human going their whole lives without shoes."

Connecting this story to autism awareness: College coaches (especially for football and basketball) are usually hometown celebrities that can easily attract attention for actions such as that of Ron Hunter. Even principals of standard American schools are well known enough inspire people to rise to the occasion when the principals volunteer to do extraordinary things such as being duck taped to a wall if a certain amount of money is raised for charity.

But what about your standard American "soccer mom"? Is it possible that a person who normally blends in with the crowd could inspire people? Could she do something out of the ordinary to raise enough money for, say, buying the necessary insurance to get chapter recognition from Autism Society of America for her fledgling group? If so, what would that something have to be? Should it be something that underscores the idea that people with autism suffer as a result of having difficulty processing sensory information? Any ideas?

Poll Results: Sometimes I can accurately predict the outcomes of the polls I put up, but the results of the poll related to this story completely surprised me. The question: What is the best way to raise money for autism awareness? Five choices were listed. The results were as follows: 1. Quirky Awareness Stunts (42%); 2. Cultivating Wealthy Donors (28 %); 3. (tie) Writing for Grants/Donations and Sponsoring an Event (14%); and 4. Selling Items (0 %).

My thoughts: Well, Quirky Awareness Stunts can be quite effective in snaring the attention of the media which has a penchance for reporting on stories such as that of Coach Hunter. As for Selling Items, it does work for the Girl Scouts who have been selling their famous cookies for eons. Selling stuff is a good way for children to begin building fundraising skills. Hundreds of dollars and more can be raised with this method. All methods seem to work, but in terms of specific causes/organizations it is a matter of choosing the most efficient, cost effective, and appropriate method.

Will I do something quirky in the future? I cannot predict that one. The method has its appeal but I would have to figure out something that fits into my mom/wife life. If inspiration hits...

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