Heather Hamm and I outside of Loehmann’s in Long Beach after the shopping spree.
Heres a write up of the Giving project. Enjoy.
By Jessica Selva
Slug: Long Beach Giving Project
Possible Headline: Community Project Inspires 15 to Give Big
Samuel Lippke had known 67-year-old Heather Hamm for less than an hour, but on Wednesday afternoon, he was already helping the woman pick clothes off the racks at Loehmann’s in Long Beach.
After Hamm, who has multiple sclerosis and dementia, switched to a new medication and gained 50 pounds, each day became a battle with her wardrobe.
She needed new clothes, but she didn’t have the money. That’s when Lippke, a 22-year-old freelance photographer, stepped in.
At the cash register, he paid for a blouse, two pairs of pants, two pairs of underwear and a bra. The bill came out to $98.44, just under his $100 limit.
Lippke had just completed his second “give.” He was one of the 15 participants in the Long Beach Giving Project, a community giving contest that started three weeks ago. He had until Saturday night to finish using the rest of his allotted $500.
“That’s going to just help out so much because I just had a terrible time getting dressed in the morning,” Hamm said.
Lippke was competing to be the most effective giver, and he won. Some of his other gives included buying lunches for the homeless and piano lessons for 9-year-old girl whose brother and grandfather recently passed away.
Altogether, the group of contestants gave out $7,500 in gifts. An additional $1,000 was awarded to Lippke, who will use the money for more for more giving.
The project was yet another community service event put on by one of Long Beach’s most popular community activists—Justin Rudd. The six-foot-one Long Beach resident, originally from Alabama, is the founder and director of a nonprofit organization called the Community Action Team, through which Rudd hosts about 38 annual community events. Last year, LBPost.com recognized Rudd as “2007 Person of the Year.”
This year, the environmentalist and dog enthusiast who lives in the Belmont Shore area, is continuing with his usual projects—monthly beach cleanups, dog parades and beauty contests, national child and adult spelling bees, weight loss contests—and he has added a few new ones as well.
Rudd’s most recent is his giving project. It was a plan inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s “Oprah’s Big Give,” a reality television show in which contestants compete to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars in life-changing ways. On the show, contestants are judged on their giving and eliminated as the episodes progress.
Rudd decided to hold a Big Give of his own. It started after a missed opportunity last summer to audition for the show. He heard that there were going to be auditions in Los Angeles and wanted to try out, but vacation plans interfered. Friends had emailed him, telling him he would be perfect candidate, and he agreed.
“It’s right up my alley, being resourceful, being creative, and I think I’d do really well on the show,” he said.
Rudd watched “Oprah’s Big Give” when it later aired, and as the season approached its ending, he had an idea—why wait for the show to hold its next auditions? Why not create a Big Give of his own?
That was about a month ago. A week after coming up with the idea, Rudd contacted some of his regular volunteers to see who was willing to participate. The contest began on April 20 the day of the finale of “Oprah’s Big Give.”
It ended on Saturday night at Bayshore Community Congressional Church where contestants shared their stories and were judged on their giving decisions by a panel of philanthropists before their family, friends and community volunteers.
The rules were simple. No more than $100 could be spent on one person, family or organization. No more than $100 could be spent in one place or from one vendor. All the giving had to be done in the Long Beach area. And participants could not simply give cash. They had to spend the money on specific needs or goods that would be given directly to recipients. The contestants were judged on their levels of creativity and effectiveness.
At the start of the last week of giving, full-time mother and contestant Beth Barnes obsessed over her gives. She had plans but still had to take some action, and the pressure was building. The next couple of days would be very busy, she said.
But by Thursday, Barnes was at Ability First, a Long Beach care center for disabled children and adults. Completing her third give, Barnes stood in a hallway with her two teenage daughters as she handed a 9-year-old autistic boy a gift bag full of surprises.
The boy, who a facility caregiver said comes from a financially struggling family, received a giant Sponge Bob-shaped pillow, a fuzzy blanket, a Sponge Bob DVD set and a T-shirt. The items were chosen from his wish list.
Some contestants said the most challenging part of the project was the financial limitation, especially since they were not allowed to fundraise or accept donations like contestants on “Oprah’s Big Give.”
“A hundred dollars is great, but it’s not life-changing,” said contestant April Rivas, who is a Long Beach Airport sales agent. “I was trying to really think of things that would keep giving beyond maybe the day they were received.”
Rivas ended up using her funds to partially sponsor a Down syndrome child for summer camp. She also bought a Jigsaw tool for a construction class at Woodrow Wilson High School and groceries for a Catholic church’s homeless meal program.
According to Rudd, the challenge was all part of the project.
“It’s not easy, and I don’t want it to be easy,” he said. “The idea is that it’s diverse—the giving is diverse—and that they don’t go to one person’s house with five people living there and give them all $500 worth of groceries. That would be too simple. I want them to see many areas of giving.”
Rudd said his goal was to create a pattern of giving that extends beyond the event.
“I’d like for this to be the start of a movement—a giving movement,” he said. “And I hope that the contestants and the people that find out about it will begin to give more freely on a day-to-day basis. I don’t want it to happen just once a year.”
Rudd funded the giving project through two of his organization’s charity events, the Long Beach Turkey Trot and Haute Dog Easter Parade.
His decision to do the project came as no surprise to those who know the blue-eyed 38-year-old who speaks in a calm demeanor and a Southern accent.
Rudd is known for his extensive involvement in the community. He was the leading force in opening the Dog Zone, a leash-free area for dogs at the beach in the Belmont Shore area. It is Los Angeles County’s only dog beach, according to the Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine Web site.
Rudd approached city leaders and rallied community support to get the beach idea passed. He led a one-year pilot program for daily leash-free dog access starting in 2003. The Dog Zone was finally approved by the city council in 2004.
“There is no one that does what Justin Rudd does,” said City Councilman Gary DeLong, who represents the 3rd District, which includes the Belmont Shore area. “There are a lot of things that you look at and scratch your head and say, ‘I don’t think that’s going to work,’ but he figures out how to make it work and it does.”
Because of his community work, friends and others in the area prodded Rudd to run for City Council in 2006. He entered the race against Councilman DeLong but dropped out a few weeks later, deciding the position would take away too much time from his activities.
“I feel blessed to be able to do what I’m doing, and I like what I’m doing,” Rudd said.
Instead, Rudd is employed by his organization and also works as a personal fitness trainer and a coach for beauty pageant contestants. He distributes a gay and lesbian e-mail newsletter, as well as an e-mail newsletter for dog-owners.
Rudd’s first event was nine years ago—a beach cleanup that he started with a group of his exercise friends after spotting trash on the sand during a run. It grew by word of mouth and advertising on his Web site, and the cleanups have continued since then. Eventually, more events entered the picture and more community members got involved.
Rivas, a giving project contestant who has volunteered with Rudd since his first beach clean-up, said she is amazed at how he draws people into his enthusiasm for the events.
“I always laugh. I say, ‘Justin can make me do anything,’” Rivas said, noting that he got her to compete against him in a cotton-candy eating contest at an event last weekend.
She also said he has certain qualities that make the Long Beach Giving Project and other events successful.
“I think one of the ways Justin is a very powerful leader is that he doesn’t micromanage things. He lets people do what they’re going to do and he has a great faith in them.”
For Rudd, his success comes in knowing when to say yes.
“I think that God just puts ideas in our heads and in our hearts,” Rudd said. “Sometimes, we say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that right now.’ But… when something’s on my heart and it’s heavy, I try to say, “There’s a reason.’”
Jessica Selva is an amazing writer and a great Salsa Dancer.
Her credentials line up out the door and it shows in her writing!
If you like her way with words and want to know how she does it, or just want to learn some salsa moves do it! I'm sure she wouldn't mind! Write her!
Thanks Jessica for taking your time and writing about Justin's Giving Project.
Cheers to your success Jessica!