Saturday, May 22, 2010

Out of work? start volunteering

If there was a positive to come from the global recession, it's that some of the jobless it created began working on solving social ills. They either took on new professions with non-profits, started their own social business, or used the time between jobs to volunteer.

From the Sacramento Bee, writer Stephen Magagnini profiles some of the new philanthropy start-ups in the area. Magagnini says there are more non-profits in the Sacramento area than ever before.

The battle to save the world often is launched from checkbooks in Roseville, Granite Bay, Folsom or Davis, whose residents have consistently ranked among California's most generous in recent years, based on IRS reports.

While the recession has cut into a steady rise in charitable contributions seen through 2008, experts say more out-of-work Americans are joining the fight.

The real estate crash spurred West Sacramento "eco-urban" developer Levi Benkert and his family to move to Ethiopia in May 2009 to rescue orphans.

The value of his development projects had declined so much "that investors and lenders were not willing to continue to put money in when there was no prospect of profit," Benkert, 28, said via e-mail. "It felt like the whole world was crashing in on us."

So Benkert went on a reconnaissance mission to Ethiopia and learned of the plight of orphans there. On his return to Sacramento, he created the nonprofit Drawn From Water and partnered with the Rock of Roseville church. Then Benkert, his wife, Jessie, and children – Nickoli, 9, Luella, 6, and Ruth, 3 – moved to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

From there, they drive 17 hours south of the capital to an orphanage in Jinka, a town of about 30,000, to immerse themselves for two to three weeks at a time in the daily lives of the orphans. They are working on arranging U.S. adoptions for some, which Benkert said will start in June.

At first, the family was overwhelmed.

"When you pick up a new child who's severely malnourished and might not make it through the night it affects you in ways you never knew back home," Benkert said via e-mail.

So far, the family has helped rescue 21 children from remote tribes that Benkert said thought they were cursed and needed to die. He said tribal leaders agreed to send the children to the orphanage.

"Emotionally it's taxing, but rewarding like nothing else on earth," Benkert wrote. "Our kids are attached to the children in the orphanage and we love them all like they were our own. That feeling is something I wish everyone in the world could experience."

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