by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Seattle local Justin Mueller, 25, is a busy man. Justin is one of the those guys who's always got something going on, only instead of filling all of his free time with self-serving endeavors, he can often be found raising money for local non-profits and working to create change wherever he sees injustice. In short, Justin is a great steward of the image that Gay men lend a hand to the community whenever they can.
When Justin found Philanthro, he found a perfect fit.
What the group does is quite remarkable. Philanthro (www.philanthroproduction.org) in Seattle follows a three-step approach to partnering with other non-profits. They partner with three groups a year for three months each.
'First, we volunteer with the organization, and they in turn educate us on the services that are generally unseen or unknown to the general public,' Justin told Seattle Gay News. 'Secondly, we host a mixer or event specifically designed to educate our friends, families, and the public with the information we learned in hopes of sparking passion for their cause. And third, we celebrate the non-profit with a party/fundraiser where we excite people about getting more involved and giving back to the community.'
The third step, said Justin, is 'where we make our largest financial contribution, after months of physical and emotional support.'
WHY I BECAME INVOLVED
On the surface, Justin Mueller has got it together, but that hasn't always been so. He told Seattle Gay News that the life he lives now is far from who he used to be.
'I have been through a lot in my life, from unhealthy living situations, extreme poverty, and struggling with my identity,' he said. 'I swore that when I was fully on my feet and at least semi-stable, that I would make sure to give back to my community.'
He maintains that others helped him when he needed a hand-up, and so he 'must do the same to pay it forward.'
'I came across Philanthro while networking for my work as a loan officer. I was intrigued at the thought that this was a brand-new organization in Seattle and consisted of nothing but young people my age with a passion for service and volunteerism,' he recalled. 'I took the opportunity to volunteer with Philanthro at their first project, in partnership with the YMCA.'
'I fell in love,' he said. 'Ever since then, I have devoted a great deal of time to helping the marketing team spread the word about Philanthro and what we do. I am also surprised every time I reach out to the group to help me with a project. They always come through.'
For example, Philanthro members showed support at his last birthday celebration to benefit Lifelong AIDS Alliance. In addition, a team of them helped landscape with Earth Gay, and many of them volunteered to help Justin work on the Youth Pride Dance for GLSEN.
The young men and women who make up Philanthro are representative of a generation that strives to be all-inclusive.
'We are all so different, but love each other regardless,' said Justin. 'Whether Asian, Arab, Gay, or straight, we have it all in Philanthro, and it serves to prove that literally no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make a difference - and have a blast while doing it!'
Other members of Philanthro agree.
Co-president Kevin Wong, 26, says that the group represents diversity. 'My personal goal for the organization is to represent a different way of approaching charitable giving. It's about embracing divergent thinking and trying new models. It's a scary ambition, but it's a necessary risk worth taking in a world where rules are changing. We're working toward crafting different experiences that will resonate with young professionals and promote greater activity in their own network. It's going to be a long journey, but I hope others will want to collaborate with us.'
It's not a question of caring, he says; all people care about their community to some degree. 'The question is, how can we continue to eliminate barriers that prevent people from becoming more active? Our communities are on a path that's leading into a troubled future where our environment, our economy, and our health are slowly deteriorating. It's hard to recognize that change because it's so slow and humans are simply incapable of thinking about these things. Who can even remember what they had for breakfast? The sooner there is sustained action toward a better community, then the more we can redeem for others in the future, including our children,' he said.
John Taing, 28, also co-president of Philanthro, told Seattle Gay News that he hopes that the organization 'reaches the entire young professional community and starts a movement for more community-oriented living in the greater Seattle area.'
'I feel that people must collaborate with their communities to solve human and social problems, but more importantly to develop a sense of unity amongst all of humanity,' he said.
Community involvement, fair treatment, and positive communication seem to be a common thread that binds the young professionals who make up the group.
'At the end of the day, our strength as a society should be judged by how we treat the most marginalized people in our community,' Noha Mahgoub, 28, non-profit education coordinator for Philanthro, told Seattle Gay News. 'We are all connected.'
A RECORD OF SUCCESS
The organization may be new (it began in November 2010) and the members may be young, but they've already got a long list of successful community outreach events.
The group began by volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) by helping with facility upkeep. They spent four hours with the staff, helping the second-largest RMHC in Washington. In all, 23 volunteers were present.
Their work continued as they volunteered at the downtown Seattle YMCA, helping with various projects including designing thank-you cards for donations, designing materials for their internal foster youth leadership conference, baking cookies, and updating content on the website. For that event, over 40 volunteers lent a hand.
Philanthro prides itself on not repeating the same formula over and over. They help out when and where they can, such as at an educational event at the Balmar in Ballard. Nearly 100 guests raised over $500 from in-kind donations.
Last week, Philanthro threw a very successful party, 'Illuminate,' at the Hard Rock Café. Nearly 300 guests came, raising over $5,000 for the YMCA foster youth program.
'The 'bright future' theme was possible thanks to sponsors providing black lights, balloons, and glow sticks, making everything come together in an amazingly colorful way,' said Justin. 'VIP guests were given swag bags filled with coupons to Buca di Beppo, free haircuts at Seven Salon, and gift cards to Sweet Iron Waffle and Candies. Prize giveaways included chocolate box packages, free whitenings, Massage Envy gift cards, and a Julep Salon gift card.'
Their Puget Sound Blood Center donations are ongoing - over 100 lives saved so far, with three lives saved for every pint of blood collected. Their goal is to donate over 120 pints by the end of the year.
'We are new in Seattle and would love any support, whether it be marketing/media connections, financial support (they are a registered 501c3), physical support as a volunteer or member, and any other support possible,' said Justin. 'We are also always looking for deserving non-profits to partner with, and we are actually accepting ideas for our next partnership to start in June. We are meeting on May 15 to present to each other our ideas and decide as a group.'
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