Humans have been around for millions of years, and we used to roam the earth in small, equal, interconnected groups working in connection and harmony with the natural world; the “Great Mother”. Agrarian society and modern times, however, have left our human psyche to the idea that nature is something to be conquered and owned (Elise Loehnen). What we know, now, is that connection to nature has a massive impact on mental wellbeing, physical health, and life on our home planet.
Wherever you’re from, nature should be available. As Vermonters, many of us recognize the importance of being outside and access to clean and green spaces, but few of us realize how this is very much not the case for many communities. Natural elements that provide well being include trees, diverse vegetation, local biodiversity, water features, parks, and gardens. A study found that nearly 50% of people polled said they weren’t connecting with nature often enough to help their mental health (Mental Health Foundation). The feeling of bare feet in dew-coated grass, the view from the top of a mountain, even a dip in the ocean are things unavailable to many.
People of all ages and abilities enjoy higher levels of health and wellbeing when they have nature nearby. Stress is lowered, illness and mortality decrease, and even greater social capital results in those who regularly get outside. People’s connectedness with nature is “key for feeling that life is worthwhile, nearly four times larger than the increase associated with socio-economic status” (Mental Health Foundation). There are also direct medical benefits to being outside and breathing fresh air, plus, more plants and animals equal more carbon capture and clean air in surrounding areas. It has been found that direct experiences with nature “form a sense of stewardship and active care for the environment which is vital for the protection of a life-sustaining planet now and in the future” (APHA).
This is something we at Pennywise are hoping to champion in the coming years. Climate change isn’t some far-off threat anymore, something our grandchildren will have to deal with, we are living it. The world is up in flames and drowning in rising sea levels and glacial ice melt, and a society removed from these natural cries for help is a society that will remain complacent.
There are ways we can develop our connectedness with nature. Activities that involve the senses can help develop a connection to the natural world, as well as activities where we feel emotions such as “compassion, perceive beauty, or find connection in nature” (Mental Health Foundation). Nature is available everywhere, but high quality nature, i.e. outdoor spaces that are both clean and green, two things necessary for positive mental effects, aren’t available equally.
Access to the outdoors is both disproportionate and vital to mental health and environmental sustainability. We need mentally well people who are connected to our earth, not wanting to conquer it, to divest from fossil fuels, spread awareness, and begin to reverse an age-old school of thought about how humans exist on this planet. The ski industry, in particular, can be economically exclusive. During a season where many don’t get outside, increased access to outdoor industries like this can have huge impacts. An industry that, if nothing is done about our deteriorating climate, will soon scarcely exist at all.
On Our Best Behavior — Elise Loehnen
Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature
Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health
Why giving through Pennywise is smart and necessary in a world of corrupt charitable donations
You may or may not have heard of the old saying, “penny wise, pound foolish”, but it was a large part of the naming of our little organization. It’s meant to describe someone that is financially smart on a micro scale, yet may overlook the bigger picture and end up spending more in an effort to do just the opposite.
A great example is someone who drives to multiple grocery stores to find all the best deals, yet ends up spending more on the gas used for transport to these various locations.
What this means for our organization is simple: We work to identify and support specific approaches to nonprofit service delivery that are proven to generate more effective, efficient and enduring solutions to persistent problems. We provide comprehensive information donors need to make the best decisions about their giving. Decisions that we think should be based not only on what an organization is doing but also on how they are getting it done and why their methodology is likely to be successful over time. In this way Pennywise is able to match creative giving with creative problem solving.
Pennywise was created in an effort to rewrite how charitable giving can be done. To create a foundation built on transparency, sustainability, and innovation. We are proud of how we approach this sector through our unique model; finding “pennywise-ey” organizations to which our supporters can trust easily and give freely.
This, in contrast, to the greater world of charity that exists in the world today.
For example, Charity: Water. Don’t get us wrong, this is an incredible organization that brings clean drinking water and thus life saving hygiene to some of the most desperate corner’s of the world. It’s their “100%” model that makes things tricky.
Charity: Water claims that 100% of every donor dollar goes directly to the affected communities, no overhead, nothing. However, this means that very specific private donors are giving large sums of money separate from the main pot to fund the staff and leadership behind this massive organization.
Further, the precedent that 100% giving sets for smaller organizations doing their best to shoe 99 or 98 percent giving straight to grantees can actually be very damaging. Because of their exceptional marketing and wide reach, this pledge is becoming the norm for charities.
They’re making donors believe it’s possible to fund a non-profit without overhead while also demonstrating the notion that overhead expenses are bad. They’re not, and they’re necessary. Especially in a well-run charity.
So we’re here not to give an all encompassing solution to the sometimes misguided and nearly always confusing world of charitable giving, but just to highlight some things that we’ve been looking at.
And also, of course, to highlight our innovative Pennywise “spiral”, a graphic which highlights what we do, how we do it, and why it’s unique. After all, the smallest and most passionate groups can create the most impactful change.
As we grow the scope of what we do here at PW, the team with which we do so grows as well. Mia Mckay is just one of our incredible interns that we asked to write about her experience as part of the pennywise family. Below are her words:
"I am grateful to work with the Pennywise Foundation because I am continuously inspired by the people and organizations I work with. One of my favorite experiences while working here was conducting interviews with some of our partners because I had the opportunity to hear about personal stories and feel more connected to the communities we help. For example, seeing pictures and having a conversation about how Roberto’s Kids has provided sports equipment for underprivileged youth around the world allowed me to learn more about the heart of why they do what they do. Working as the administrative intern, I have also learned so much about the operations and policies that go into running a nonprofit by attending the Board of Directors meetings. I continue to be inspired by the other interns who show so much talent, passion, and creativity in their work and Liz and Laura who bring so much excitement and dedication into even the smallest administrative tasks."
Thank you, Mia, we totally agree!
How Roberto’s Kids was Born
Sometime in the early 90s, Steve Pindar, the founder of our grantee organization, Roberto’s Kids, found himself playing baseball with his youngest son in the Dominican Republic. The apartment they were staying in had some baseball equipment laying around; a bat, glove, and ball. The pair went out to the street to play catch, a normal occurrence in their baseball-heavy-household.
What they didn’t necessarily expect was an audience. A young local approached them and joined in on their game. “He knew exactly what he was doing”, Pindar says. They asked if he wanted to use a glove, and his eyes lit up. His first question was which hand the glove went on.
“It’s hard to verbalize the look on the kids face.” Pindar recalls “You’d have thought you’d given him the greatest gift in the world, and maybe we had.”
This, and many other stories like it, are what drove Steve Pindar to create Roberto’s Kids, a non profit working to expand their efforts beyond the work of delivering lightly used baseball equipment to children in vulnerable parts of the world and through to greater, expansive social change.
For several years, they were just a family doing a project. Granted, a project that was responsible for two-thirds of a ton of baseball equipment being delivered globally each year. Steve’s family thought this, however, was only the tip of the iceberg.
That provincial iceberg, in fact, has now seen 25 tons of equipment through to various places all over the world, each year.
If you’re inspired by Steve’s story, as we are, you can read more about it in the Grantee tab of our website and on our social media platforms. Thank you, Steve and Roberto’s Kids for your work, heart, candor, and inspiration.
We’re checking in this month with some media to share. The written word is a powerful tool, but life’s busy and we love to showcase the color, vibrancy, and light that shines through the work of our grantees. Here are some things we’ve come across recently that make us swell with pride and inspiration.
Soil effectively uses infographics to educate, inform and fundraise.
Agua Para La Vida created this video to help tell their story. It's truly worth the watch! (Click photo to watch)
Roberto's Kids There is something special about work done to benefit children in need. Check out these heartwarming photos and our most recent blog post to learn more about how this inspiring organization got their start.
Lisa Maldonado of The Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP), knows the difference that good funders can make in the work of her organization. "At first", she says, "We were only doing contraception and abortion work." When their eyes were opened to the possibility of expanding their healthcare undertakings to include early pregnancy loss care. "It presented a challenge for us, which opened my mind as a leader" It is new and vital steps like RHAP's choice to include miscarriage care that are made possible by funders like us here at Pennywise, and that is why we do the work that we do.
RHAP is one of our newer grantees, but falls nothing short of awe inspiring from a grantee standpoint. Speaking with Lisa opened our eyes to the importance of the work they're doing. When asked to tell the RHAP story in her words, she highlighted that the aim of the project is to mainstream reproductive healthcare, as just that, healthcare. "So people can access it from their regular healthcare provider, as it should be". We completely agree.
RHAP does work all across the country, and the reproductive health access certainly varies from state to state, in a very dangerous way. The good news? "Many clinicians WANT to take these things on now" Maldonado says. There are so many new members, and RHAP is currently opening chapters in five new states. Maldonado jokes that she has "never talked to so many lawyers in my life".
In other good news, RHAP seems to think pretty highly of the work we're doing here at PW. She noted how supportive and open Laura was in the beginning stages of the partnership. She also mentioned that the way Pennywise is able to make grants to RHAP while highlighting other important organizations and causes is something really special.
And this is just the beginning for The Reproductive Health Access Project. As they slowly expand they hope to take on more issues of sexual health, gender affirming care, and fertility care as well. So thank you, Lisa, for your kind words, candor, and heart that shines brightly through all of the work that you do, we feel so lucky to be a part of this vital partnership.
Learn more about RHAP at their website: https://www.reproductiveaccess.org/
Or donate straight through our PW grantee page: https://www.pennywisefoundation.org/reproductive-health-access-project.html
We're back! While many of you may not have noticed that our PW blog took a bit of a hiatus, it did. Not to worry - we're back and better than ever.
The goal of the refurbished PW blog is to become a hub of information. Information about our grantees, their work, our work, how non-profits run, environmental issues, advocacy issues, political issues, basically anything interesting, relevant, and exciting related to our core work of partnership forging and grant making.
We hope to see you all back here soon for our more frequent posts and updates, and appreciate any and all comments and feedback!
The Pennywise Team
All of our staff here at Pennywise work to contribute to the blog, either as an author, behind the scenes researcher, or just someone to bounce ideas off of! We hope you enjoy our collaborative and creative collection of work.