A stray smartass chat comment to Barry Greenstein in a PokerStars chat window asking him to say “donkaments” on TV got the reply from Barry that he’d be happy to say it for $10,000.Â If this was an ordinary poker story, that would be the end of it.Â But when the guy reported the conversation on 2+2, several people claimed they would pony up some bucks for the cause.Â Sure enough, Barry managed to say it on national TV and the folks on 2+2 came through with a pledge drive that ultimately raised $45,000 for Children, Inc, a Richmond-based charity that supports needy kids in our country and abroad.Â I put up a post on ITH that raised the last few dollars and ended up with a personal note from Marian Cummins, the CEO of Childrens, Inc inviting me to stop by their offices for a visit.Â I did so and promised to share my story with Barry when I next saw him at the World Series of Poker in June.Â The other night, I got a call at home from Marian who said she had spoken to Barry and that he hoped I could write up my experiences and post them sooner than that, as he was eager to read about it.Â What follows is my account of the experience as posted on 2+2 (although I have taken the liberty to fix a few of the more egregious errors in the original post).
I received a nice letter from Marian Cummins at Children, Inc when I donated a few bucks to them after Barry gave his “LOL Donkaments” shoutout. I figured it was better to give some cash to the kids than to payoff some donk chasing his gutshot on Stars. Since I live in Richmond, Marian invited me to stop by and visit their offices. I gave her a call and made arrangements to skip out of work early last Friday and drop in on them. I’m not exactly a IRS auditor and I know virtually nothing about how to run a charity, but I can always use a few hours away from work, so I thought it would be interesting to meet with them and see what they were all about.
When Friday rolled around, I drove up to their offices off the interstate tucked behind one of the old money Richmond neighborhoods. I hadn’t called them to confirm I was coming and I managed to forgot Marian’s last name as I was driving over, so I was already feeling stupid, since I was going to have to explain what I was doing there to the receptionist.Â The story sounded a bit odd and awkward as I rehearsed it in my head and I was trying determine how to explain my situation to the receptionist without looking like a complete goober. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. As soon as I opened the front door, there was a large sign welcoming me by name like some kind of VIP. I smoothly pointed to the sign and told the receptionist “That’s me!” She greeted me warmly and I was soon surrounded by Marian Cummins who is the CEO and Peter Pastore who is the COO. Marian is lovely woman who has been with the organization for a long time and has an easy southern charm that makes you feel comfortable right away. Peter had more of a business background, which became clear when he handled the PowerPoint pitch later on. It was immediately obvious how pleased the entire organization was by the unexpected donation sparked by Barry and made possible by all of us. They were so kind and grateful to me that I really wish all of you could have shared in the reception. I’ll try to do my best to explain what it was like so you can live vicariously through my trip. Although Barry has visited some of the programs in the field, he hasn’t been to the offices in Richmond, so I got the royal treatment afforded to big deal donors, despite my minor role in the whole process. Although the people were so cool, it is quite possible that I would have received the same warm greeting if I just put up $28 a month to be a regular sponsor.
It turned out that the receptionist was the lady who first received the emails that fateful Monday morning. When she told me that she was shocked to find 45 emails (or however many) waiting for her, I teasingly asked her if that was more than usual for a Monday. Her eyes got wide as saucers and she said “Oh my, yes!” It was awesome. Marian explained to me that word travels very fast in such a small office and they all were immediately excited about it. It was obviously a big boost to them on a random Monday. She said that they were all following the BBV thread with great interest that week and they all were completely fascinated by the whole process. If they were freaked out by any other BBV threads, they never let on.
They gave me a tour of their facility and introduced me to everyone who was at work. I met the people who handle the correspondence to the sponsors, the lady who processed all the credit card payments, the PR lady, the accounting guy and pretty much everyone. Virtually every room is named for a key supporter of the charity. Peter’s office is the “Barry Greenstein Room.” I got a picture of the plaque. The office is plastered with newspaper clippings and stories of the kids they have helped and Marian delightedly shared each story with me as we passed them one by one.
They call us “Barry’s Bloggers” which caused one of the younger staffers to roll his eyes. I’m guessing he has tried to explain to them the difference between forum posters and bloggers more times than he can count. I told him I was actually both so I had no objection to the loose use of the term.Â Marian admitted that she still used it even though she knew it wasn’t technically accurate because she liked the alliteration.
I already felt very pleased by the whole experience and thought our tour was drawing to a close since we had worked our way through the building, when Peter announced that all of the division heads were assembled in the conference room and that they were waiting for us. I got treated to the full presentation of how the charity is organized, their history and a summary of the projects they work on. It was fascinating, exciting and depressing all at once. They divide their programs by region, with someone for the inner city projects, Appalachian, Latin America, American Indian, and Overseas. They explained the nuts and bolts of how their operation works and answered my questions, no matter how stupid, patiently. They have a network of local coordinators and agencies that facilitate almost everything. This gives them local knowledge and the ability to make the right decisions on the scene. They told me an amusing story about the coordinators in Appalachia. They are all volunteers and at one point Barry toured the operations in the field and was so impressed with the work of the volunteers and the relative hardships that they had to endure that he designated a portion of his donation to be granted directly to the volunteers themselves so that they might get a modest improvement in their own lives.Â They explained to me that that the volunteer coordinators in these depressed areas were usually struggling to get by just like most people and how gracious it was of Barry to earmark money to go to those overworked men and women.Â With a laugh, the lady who manages the Appalachian division said “Of course, almost all of them gave that to the kids too.”
The obvious enthusiasm and pride these folks have for the good that they have done was contagious and their resolution in the face of unrelenting poverty that threatened to overwhelm me with depression in just an hour or two was inspirational. I don’t know whether to be more disgusted by the fact that we have kids who can’t afford shoes to go to school or medicine to get rid of their lice in such a rich and powerful country as our own or by the even more crushing poverty in the third world. They explained a lot of places where the specific donations from the Donkaments fund were helping them and even more places where Barry’s contributions have made a real change. The approach that they have is probably the only way to navigate in an imperfect world. One step at a time, one child at a time.
I really liked these people that I met and they were clearly making a big effort to show me that our contributions have made a difference. They explained how they are able to use funds like ours to react quickly to unexpected needs. They explained to me that in the Appalachian division they probably get one family a month whose trailer burns down and needs unexpected replacement of the kid’s clothing and shoes and so on. Because the sponsorship money always goes to the designated child, funds like ours give them the ability to react quickly to those kinds of needs.
I wish you all could have been there. It isn’t often that you get to feel like you are doing some good in the world. This is a good and dedicated group of people and they were sincerely grateful for the good deeds that you all have done. I don’t kid myself that we are going to eliminate child poverty, but we are at least going to go down swinging.