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Sometimes, in order to accomplish a feat as large as a marathon, one needs outside inspiration. A larger source of motivation. A reason to keep going mile after mile, step after step.

26 Miles for 26 Charities is the philanthropy program of the Livestrong Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, for which runners pledge to run and raise money on behalf of a participating charity. In the past five years, the program has raised over $1.2 million for Austin-area nonprofits.

“Our vision for this race is to use running as a tool to help communities and individuals reach their goals,” said John Conley, race director, in a press release. “By signing up to raise money for one of these organizations that has a direct impact in our city, participants are doing both at the same time.”

The relationship between the two groups is one that keeps on giving: The charities are also present on the race course, giving back to the runners in the form of water, electrolytes and roaring cheers. The relationship between the two groups is one that continues to sustain itself through mutual admiration.

To either run (better hit that pavement stat) or volunteer, visit www.youraustinmarathon.com. Or take a peek at the list of participating nonprofits and volunteer at any time, marathon or not.

An asterisk indicates a newly participating charity. The marathon takes place in Austin on February 17.

  • Jimmy Kimmel
    Courtesy photo
  • Malaika kids
    Photo by Chelsea Dee Photography
  • Malaika mums
  • Zane Wilemon and Jeremiah Kuria (US & Kenya director)

Get punched in the stomach by Jimmy Kimmel to support Austin's CTC International

worth the pain

Who doesn't want to get punched by Jimmy Kimmel on air for supporting local Austin non-profit Comfort The Children (CTC) International?

CTC has partnered with Kimmel and Mozilla Firefox, through Crowdrise, in a contest to raise the most money for charity — and in the process, the opportunity to win an additional $50,000 from Mozilla.

The celebrity challenge that includes Jonah Hill, Will Ferrell, Sophia Bush, Seth Rogen, Kristen Bell and a host of others who are supporting their favorite charities.

By donating at least $33 to Kimmel's Crowdrise campaign, you are entered in the chance to win VIP Green Room access for you and five friends to Jimmy Kimmel Live in Hollywood — and Kimmel will punch the friend of your choice in the stomach.

This whole thing came about because Kimmel is a friend of Austinite Zane Wilemon, founder of CTC International, a community of people working diligently to create solutions and opportunities for a better life in Kenya. You can read more about the organization in a previous profile story we ran back in February.

Kimmel's fiance and senior writer for his show, Molly McNearney, is a friend of Wilemon's from college. She'd been involved with CTC and gone on their volunteer trips to Kenya when she started working on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The show took an interest in the organization, and soon Kimmel did personally as well. Soon Kimmel was a monthly CTC donor, and he and Wilemon got to be buddies. But Kimmel was interested in doing more.

Enter Crowdrise, a unique blend of online fundraising, crowdsourcing, social networking, contests and "other nice stuff," according to the website. Actor Edward Norton is one of the Crowdrise founders — and as it so happens, a friend of Kimmel's as well.

"Zane is very passionate about creating sustainable change in an area that desperately needs it. So passionate that we couldn't help but get involved." - Jimmy Kimmel

Soon the "Jimmy Kimmel will punch you in the stomach" contest was born, and as of December 23 has raised more than $40,000 and taken the easy lead in the Mozilla competition.

"Zane is very passionate about creating sustainable change in an area that desperately needs it," Kimmel says. "So passionate that we couldn't help but get involved. CTC is an organization that empowers the people it helps with job creation, not handouts. The volunteers live in and are fully invested in the community. CTC isn't handing out money. They are handing out tools and the skills needed to use those tools."

"This is huge, because it's the first time Jimmy has gone public with his involvement with CTC," says Wilemon. If CTC wins, the organization plans to use the money for education initiatives. "This is a fun, easy way to take a step into the CTC community and get involved so we can help more people."

It's also one of many ways that CTC is recognizing their 10-year anniversary of taking volunteer teams to Kenya. "We wanted to make sure that was something we celebrated," Wilemon says.

The Austin-based nonprofit has a lot more to celebrate, as well. 2012 has been its most successful year to date in taking volunteer teams to Africa: eight different teams traveled to Kenya this year, totaling nearly 80 volunteers.

In fact, a team of some of Austin's top entrepreneurs have just completed CTC projects in Kenya, including Jim McDermott (owner of The Belmont), Joe Ross (Grande Communications, CSID) and Kevin Warden (Austin Monthly's most eligible bachelor and owner of Austin Which Wich). As a parent of a special needs child, Warden immediately identified with the program where mothers of special needs kids work to earn an income to provide education and therapy for their kids.

"I was extremely moved when I visited the program in Kenya and saw the strength showed by the mothers, who care for their kids with none of the support services we have here in the states," Warden says. "I am also excited to be involved with an organization where I can have an immediate impact. CTC’s philosophy of creating sustainable change by empowering the Kenyan people to improve quality of life attracted me.”

CTC also launched TRIBE this year, an intentional community of supporters like Warden who are committed to the organization, financially and otherwise. TRIBE is a collection of people that not only support the people of Maai Mahiu as they fight to lift themselves up but that also wish to hear about the true impact of their support, join like-minded individuals in meaningful community and walk alongside an inspiring group of people creating change in Africa. In short, it's an invitation to change the world.

TRIBE, which counts Kimmel among its 100-plus members, was born from the growth of CTC. "We had a lot of people who wanted our time, and we needed to figure out how to focus that time...and to know we were meeting the needs of our Western customers too," says Wilemon.

The addition of many new Lifeline products to the CTC store this year is something Wilemon is also proud of. The line, which includes bracelets and bags, went from $120,000 in sales to over half a million over the last year, and has created over 400 new jobs in Kenya.

"All of these partnerships came from personal relationships," says Wilemon. "It wasn't companies seeking out a charity to get involved with; we weren't trying to find just any corporate sponsor. It's not causes and celebrities utilizing each other. It all grew organically, from friendship. That makes the relationship so much deeper. At CTC, we are all about sustainability—and our relationships are the most sustainable part of our organization."

The Jimmy Kimmel Crowdrise contest runs through January 10, 2013. "Help me win a whole lot of money for Comfort the Children by raising more money than everyone else," Kimmel states on his Crowdrise campaign page. "I. must. beat. everyone."

  • Building Comfort Kits

The Comfort Crew: Spreading Christmas spirit and peace of mind to military kids

Comfort and joy

It’s Christmas Eve, meaning that many Americans are spending quality time with family at home, usually with relatives that they don’t get to see often enough. The time will be appreciated, but there will plenty of folks out there, including many children, who will have to miss out on holiday family time due to having a parent out on deployment for the military.

It’s never easy for these kids, but there are those who will stand with them to help them through.

The Comfort Crew for Military Kids understands the challenges faced by the modern military family, especially over the past decade of overseas conflict. The size of the military has shrunk by 30 percent since 1990, which has resulted in longer and more frequent deployments for men and women in uniform due to large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For months on end, many kids have dealt with the anxieties of knowing that a parent is in constant danger. The Comfort Crew seeks to ease the difficulties of military family life through various efforts.

One common method is the creation and distribution of Comfort Kits for youngsters. Each kit contains DVDs, plush toys and journals that encourage kids to express their emotions and feelings regarding various situations. For many, it’s dealing with deployments, moving or reintegrating with returning parents, while for others it will be learning to cope with a loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The non-profit also offers more hands-on efforts to help military kids by hosting camps that foster their physical, social and emotional resiliency. Camp Hero was held at Camp Mabry in 2012, focusing on creating an environment that builds support amongst peers as well as support throughout the military community. The Comfort Crew will also assist spouses and loved ones in trying to understand the difficulties of being a military kid and how to work through those problems.

During a USO Tour, the Comfort Crew estimated that it was able to meet and reach 75,000 military children. Over the past two years, 69,000 Comfort Kits have been distributed. The Comfort Crew is on a mission and is committed to helping as many children in need as possible. It’s summed up in their motto ­— “We Are With You All the Way!

Colorado River Foundation: Preserving a natural Texas resource for the nextgeneration

Culture of Giving

It’s not hard to imagine that Austin would have never evolved from the tiny village of Waterloo into a bustling cultural and economic center without the help of the neighboring Colorado River. Possibly the most defining visual characteristics of Austin might just be the glistening waters of Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake, reservoirs that have served as a major boon for local aquatic recreation.

Thanks to the use of these waters, Austin has gained both a unique visual aesthetic and another springboard for revenue in a strong local economy.

It may be easy to show Austinites how much the Colorado River has contributed to the growth of this city, but the river extends far beyond Austin's borders. That's why organizations like the Colorado River Foundation exist: to raise awareness for the protection of one of Texas’ most important rivers, from the Highland Lakes all the way to Matagorda Bay.

The foundation seeks to promote natural science education through special activities and outdoor recreation programs for youth living near the river, particularly those who are at-risk.

The Colorado River has always been close to home for me. Growing up in the small town of Columbus, Texas, which is one of many other towns nestled on the banks of the river, I have seen how important these waters can be in serving communities outside of the Capital City.

Just like in Austin, the river in Columbus has provided its own recreational activities, like boating and fishing, as well as one of the best duck hunting spots in the state. Columbus might not host massive music festivals that attract thousands to the river's shores, but it has certainly made the most of its proximity to the water.

Growing up in a county that derived its own name from the river certainly educated me on how important the water from this river can be to wildlife and local rice farmers. The massive drought that gripped the state in 2011 had a major effect on many farms south of Austin, and the Lower Colorado River Authority had to cut off irrigation water for the first time in 70 years. Due to the continued low water levels in the Highland Lakes, it’s very likely that once again the LCRA will have to severely restrict water to farmers once again in 2013.

It’s because of this ongoing crisis that the mission of the Colorado River Foundation seems more important than ever. The foundation seeks to promote natural science education through special activities and outdoor recreation programs for youth living near the river, particularly those who are at-risk.

Educational programs include hands-on learning at the Wilkerson Center for Colorado River Education, as well as in Kids on the Colorado, a rafting and nature tour in which students learn about river stewardship and wildlife conservation. The foundation estimates that at least 65 percent of participating students are from underserved communities and often receive scholarships funded by the Colorado River Foundation.

With the prospect of water resources continuing to be stretched thin in the years to come, the mission of preparing the next generation to understand and handle these emergencies is an imperative for environmental preservation. A sustained environment is a gift that will keep on giving for many generations.

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The Colorado River Foundation is a member of I Live Here, I Give Here. You can donate to the Colorado River Foundation directly from this page, using the form below.

  • A 2012 Woman of Distinction honoree, Brigadier General Laura Richardson.
  • Etta Moore and Girl Scouts at the 100 Anniversary event at the State Capitol.
    Photo by Erin Sellers
  • A STEM event where girls learned how to build robots.
  • Girl Scouts dressed up in uniforms of the past at a 100th Anniversary event.

Girl Scouts of Central Texas celebrates 100 years and allows girls to discovertheir potential

female empowerment

A lot about Girl Scouts' programming has changed over the past 100 years, but one thing has not: its mission.

"The mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. We offer the girls opportunities so they can develop their skills in order to do that." Lolis Garcia-Baab, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Girls Scouts of Central Texas says.

The Girl Scouts celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. When the organization was founded in 1912, times were very different. For example, women weren't allowed to vote and had more limited opportunities. Garcia-Baab also says women didn't often get the opportunity to venture outdoors, so the Girl Scouts provided exposure to activities they otherwise would not have — like camping.
While the Girl Scouts still teaches the fundamentals it did when it started, Garcia-Baab says its programming has expanded to have an even greater impact.
"I think the most important thing girls get out of Girl Scouts is a sense of empowerment. Both because they learn that they are capable of doing certain things they didn't know they could do, and second because they see that their actions can have positive consequences both inside their families and their communities," she says.
While learning about outdoor living via camping and about business through the annual cookie program remain important, Girl Scouts of Central Texas is also exposing girls to other interests to help them prepare for their futures.
"We've developed a STEM program because we understand that science technology engineering and math is key to the future, so we give the girls opportunities to do things like build robots where they can get excited about STEM," Garcia-Baab explains. "We try to show them how all these different skills are applicable to real life." Girl Scouts also offers fun educational programs that focus on fine arts, the environment, community service and life skills.
The Girl Scouts of Central Texas will face the new year with new leadership. Long-time CEO Etta Moore recently retired and the board is searching for her replacement. As she pioneered many cutting edge programs, Garcia-Baab says Moore's innovative leadership will be missed, but the organization looks forward to continued success in shaping the lives of young girls.
"We will continue to do the work that we are doing and do it in a bigger and better way. We always look for better ways that we can serve our girls, because they come first."
Garcia-Baab says the most ambitious goal of the organization in the coming years will be to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the United States. "We have charged our membership with achieving balanced gender in leadership positions in this country in one generation. Which is a huge undertaking but very exciting."
Garcia-Baab says the majority of this country's female political and industry leaders have something in common: They were Girl Scouts at some point in their lives. "When you start to see the impact the Girl Scouts have in women who succeed in our community, you start to see the importance of girls becoming Girl Scouts. And so we want to increase our membership. That's our first order of business."
She explains the second challenge is getting the Girl Scouts' message out to the community for involvement. If you'd like to support the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, you can become a member, volunteer or donate. It's through the support of the community that the organization will continue to have an impact on thousands of girls each year.
"They have fun. They learn new skills, and they learn the difference one person can make."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center launch $31 pet adoptions for the holidays

New home for the holidays

Two Austin organizations are looking to get local pets into their "furever" homes this holiday season. In a special December promotion, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) and Austin Animal Center are working to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, by making all adoption fees a flat $31.

The promotion runs December 1-31. According to a release, APA's director of lifesaving operations, Stephanie Bilbro, sees this as a great opportunity to clear out the shelters and make a great impact heading into 2023.

“The holidays are a great time for the Austin community to come together and add to their families. We have so many precious kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs just waiting for their turn to find a family,” said Bilbro. “We hope this is a chance for any family who’s been looking to add a pet to theirs to do so right in the middle of the holiday season. We know Austin is in the upper echelon when it comes to animal welfare. We hope this promo sets us and AAC up for a successful end to 2022 and a fast start going into 2023.”

Both shelters are also seeking fosters and volunteers throughout the holiday season, for Austinites looking to help the shelters without making a long-term commitment.

APA has two locations, one at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez St., and one in Tarrytown (3118 Windsor Rd.). Both locations operate 12-6 pm daily, except Christmas Eve (12-4 pm), Christmas Day (closed), and New Year’s Eve (12-4 pm). The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop and is open every day from 11 am-7 pm for adoptions. For holiday hours, AAC will be closing at 5 pm on December 23 and will be closed December 24-26.

'Famous' rooftop igloos return to Austin hot spot for the coolest experience this winter

Stay Cool

There aren’t so many winter wonderlands in Austin during the holiday season, but things get colder at higher elevations. The Hotel Van Zandt fourth-floor rooftop may not be high enough to change the weather, but visitors throughout December are invited to hang out in its self-proclaimed "famous" all-weather igloos, snacking on bites from inside and themed cocktails after the sun goes down.

Each private, six-seat igloo at the “South Pole” contains a Christmas tree, board and card games, festive records, and other cozy holiday decorations. It’s as private as Austin dining gets without completely breaking the bank, but the poolside mini-village of transparent igloos creates a warm feeling of togetherness. And in case it actually does get cold (a Christmas miracle!), the vinyl globes are heated.

It's not just a fun gimmick — as cute as the igloos are, Geraldine's is a great foodie destination. Visitors can expect (strong) drinks like the “Dandy Andes,” a minty chocolate mix of Grey Goose vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and matcha tea. “Santa on a Beach” combines tropical flavors with cinnamon, and other drinks include unusual ingredients like Chartreuse whipped cream, pistachio, and chocolate mole bitters.

Geraldine’s menu focuses on classic Southern cuisine without getting weighed down by tradition; that means a roster of semi-adventurous gourmet comfort foods, like mole birria short ribs, smoked carrots, and salty Brussels sprouts with serranos and mint. Shareables are a good idea, since the igloos are intimate (read: not especially convenient unless you like balancing a dinner plate on the couch).

Two rounds of two-hour seating will be available every night, and reservations will go very fast. As of December 5, there are only a few dates left. Reservations ($100 upfront) entail a $200 minimum on food and beverage, plus a 20 percent service charge. Book on Eventbrite.

Acclaimed Texas chef toasts the Italian liqueur that's perfect for the holidays

The Wine Guy

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day and covers it regularly in a column for CultureMap's Houston site. Here, he talks not about wine, but the perfect after-dinner sip.

All right, team! Listen up! I’m going to give you some very important holiday information to help you get through all of the parties, family gatherings, and large festive dinners. We are not going to talk about wine today. We’re going to talk about another love of mine — the life-saving amaro.

What is amaro, you ask? It’s an Italian herbal liqueur that’s traditionally consumed post-meal as a digestif. Think of it this way: you start your meal with an aperitif — could be a martini, Campari, or Aperol spritz — to get your palate going and your body ready to eat. After dinner, amaro will help you get through the rest of your night. This elixir will magically and quickly break down everything you just consumed.

Most amari are from Italy, but fortunately new producers with similar styles are popping up all over the world. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. You just have to find the style you like. Producers don’t traditionally tell you what’s in their amaro, because most of them are made up of dozens of herbs and spices. It’s all about trial and error to find the one you love.

I drink it neat, but some people drink it on the rocks. More and more, you’re seeing amari in cocktails, too.

The amari selection at our house is awesome. My wife and I are firm believers in this beverage as a night cap, and it’s even become part of my regiment pre-dinner as a spritz. Kill two birds, you know?

Unfortunately, not a lot of restaurants carry multiple amari, so it’s up to you guys to get this trend moving. The more you ask for it, the more they’ll stock it.

Our No. 1 go to at home? Montenegro. It’s easy to find, and it’s easy drinking. It has flavors of vanilla and orange, but it’s not too sweet and not too bitter. It’s had the same recipe since 1885, and I hope they never change it.

My wife’s favorite is Braulio. This spirit is from the Italian Alps and aged in Slavonian casks. Using more medicinal herbs and fruits means it skews more bitter than Montenegro, but it has a nice sweetness at the end.

A newish player in the amari game is Amaro Nonino. The Nonino family is historically one of the best grappa producers in the world — they’ve been distilling grappa since 1897 — but they didn’t start to produce their namesake amaro until 1992. (By newish, you get what I mean.) It has lots of honey, vanilla, licorice, and orange flavors. It’s a tad less sweet than most, but I think it’s fantastic.

Pasubio is really different from other amari. If you’re a fan of blueberries, this is for you. It literally tastes like crushed blueberries.

The next two are really cool and unusual, because they're made here in the U.S. An all-time favorite is Southern Amaro from High Wire Distilling Co. in Charleston. Yaupon is one of the main characteristics, which is found all over Texas.

High Wire built its reputation on using regionally grown and foraged ingredients. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should stop into the distillery and say hi to Scott and Ann! Also, try some of their Jimmy Red Corn whiskey. Actually, everything they make is delightful.

Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is made in Minneapolis. To me, this is fantastically bitter but also tastes like roasted pineapple in a glass. One of my new favorites, for sure.

Now, here’s a helpful tidbit of info. You may have heard of fernet. That’s a general term for an amaro with very little to no sweetness. Branca is a producer that makes fernet, and it’s the most well-known. Search out others as well, because they’re all pretty cool.

Almost everything I listed can be found at most liquor stores. Don’t be afraid to try something. Yes, sometimes it tastes like taking your medicine. But I’ll bet the smell of Jägermeister penetrates your early 20s, and surprise — that’s a style of amaro as well.