I have always been a philanthropic person – while I don’t have much to give financially, I have always been interested in supporting charitable organizations with what little money I have and moreso, my time. When I was younger, I was mostly aware of larger organizations such as Make-a-Wish and St. Jude’s (both of which still continue to benefit so many people). I volunteered for a few years at the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital and think its Child Life program is remarkable; I was so blessed to spend time with children and families and hope that anyone who has a sick child will benefit from a program as good as MUSC’s.

I stumbled upon Autism Speaks (the organization I work for), knowing virtually nothing about autism. I attended a Walk Now for Autism kick-off event and immediately wanted to become involved – my desire to become a volunteer translated into a full-time job. Seeing the families that are affected by autism has further driven my passion for the cause.

Working for a non-profit organization is a double-edged sword. While most people who work for non-profits are generally philanthropic in nature, you are trained to advocate and fundraise for your cause, primarily. When the economy forces people with already limited needs to have even less, you find it difficult to ask people to support “yet another cause.”

I’d have a hard time finding a charity that I don’t think is worth supporting. Unfortunately, some of the best charitable organizations are small and don’t get the support they deserve. One such is Lauren’s First and Goal, a cause that is very dear to me.

I’d like you to meet Lauren, the lucky girl pictured above with Orlando Bloom, who she had the pleasure of meeting recently. Lauren is the recently 12-year-old niece of two of my closest friends; she is also a brain tumor survivor who has been living with a diagnosis of multiple brain and spinal cord tumors, Neurofibramatosis and Evan’s Syndrome, since she was nine months old. Read more about Lauren and her story here. Lauren is one of the most sunny, optimistic, unique, loving and courageous people you will ever get the chance to meet. How many 12-year-old girls do you know of that ask for a birthday party themed after “The Office,” after all?!

Lauren’s First and Goal is a charitable organization created to raise funds to support pediatric brain tumor research, support local pediatric cancer services, provide financial assistance to families living with a pediatric cancer diagnosis and to raise public awareness regarding pediatric brain tumors. The fund is supported primarily by Lauren’s First and Goal Football Camp, a non-contact, one day instructional clinic taught by experienced Division I, II and III college coaches. Since the Foundation’s inception five years ago, over 5,300 high school players have attended the camp and over half a million dollars has been raised to support research towards a cure for pediatric brain tumors.

Everyone knows that times are tough – but when it comes down to it, we are all luckier than we think we are. Having volunteered at a Children’s Hospital taught me how optimistic terminally ill children and their families are – it also reminded me what I can do without to help others.

Take the money you would spend on your morning’s Starbucks, that extra pint of beer at happy hour or the cab you took instead of the subway and donate it. I guarantee the benefit you are giving someone else will certainly outweigh what you are giving up.

If you can’t donate, help raise awareness. Awareness is the key to fundraising – join the Facebook group for Lauren’s First and Goal; link the First and Goal website to your Facebook page.

It’s a beautiful Friday here in New York and hearing Lauren’s story of meeting Orlando Bloom reminded me that great people DO exist in this world. I’m proud to know so many people who put others first and do what they can to make a difference.

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