Tom Smart, Deseret News

I am a matchmaker at heart. As a child I was fascinated by the character of Yente from "Fiddler on the Roof." At family gatherings I paired up siblings and cousins and presided over make-believe mass wedding ceremonies to rival those of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon. In college, numerous futile efforts were made to line people up. And during my first year of marriage I spent considerable time and relationship capital in unsuccessful attempts to convince my husband that setting up his single friends with my single friends was a good idea.


So thwarted, I’ve been forced to make peace with the fact that my contribution to the world probably won’t be as a marriage broker. Instead, I play matchmaker in my job as the Deseret News' "Care for the Poor" reporter. I scour the Internet for people and ideas that have the potential to change the world in some way, large or small, and connect them to an audience hungry for ways to do good.


Take, for example, Nancy Rivard, a flight attendant working to stop human trafficking. While the airlines are aware of this problem, they aren’t teaching employees how to deal with the situation. Using her vacation days, Ms. Rivard travels the country teaching other flight attendants how to recognize and report human trafficking.


Although this story was published months ago, I continue to receive emails from people around the world who want to participate in Ms. Rivard’s seminars, help expand her reach, and share their observations and feelings about this modern form of slavery.


The world is full of people like Rivard who are trying to make this world a better, safter place for the poor and vulnerable. New technology created by the nonprofit group One Laptop per Child gives children without access to school or teachers opportunities to learn. Students at Stanford University developed a low-cost incubator that can save the lives of hundreds and thousands of children in the developing world who die simply because their parents don't have a way to keep them warm.


Society is bound together by the ideas and stories that we share. One of the roles of a reporter is to participate in making these connections. For an incurable matchmaker like me, this is a pretty great gig.

Changing the rhetoric of the immigration debate
Tom Smart, Deseret News

Since the Immigrant Learning Center opened in 1992, Diane Portnoy has helped more than 7,000 immigrants from 109 countries learn English. But even though her students have gone on to find jobs, go to college and start businesses, Portnoy points out with sadness in her eyes, people do question their contributions to American society.

The immigration debate in the United States focuses disproportionately on illegal immigration, crime and the plight of poor immigrants, according to a number of media analyses conducted by think tanks and university researchers. In an attempt to change the conversation, Portnoy recently teamed with George Mason University to launch a research center that will study how immigrants affect their local economies.

Read the full report here: Changing the conversation on immigration

Closing the achievement gap between rich and poor kids

A recent Brookings Institute study shows that the average low-income student, one who qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches, attends a school that scores in the 42nd percentile on state tests. The average middle- or high-income student, on the other hand, attends a school whose average state test scores are in the 61st percentile.

Although policymakers and educators are trying to reduce income-based achievement gaps, new evidence suggests the spread between the rich and the poor is growing. Since the 1960s, the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students has grown by 40 percent, according to a 2011 study by Sean Reardon of Stanford University.

Read the full report here: How mixed income neighborhoods could save schools

Hope for juvenile delinquents
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The country is barreling toward a kinder, gentler era in juvenile justice, experts say, but the road ahead is still hazy. As prisons close, states are scrambling to figure out the next steps. While advocates for children's rights are hopeful, some worry a less punitive approach in the juvenile justice system may push prosecutors and judges to try more children as adults.

"We are a long way from coming to our senses, but we are in the midst of a huge trend toward deinstitutionalization," said Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice strategy group at the Maryland-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. "The question is, will we take this to its logical conclusion and create a continuum of care that will actually make a difference?"

Read the full report here: Fixing the time in youth crime: Long, harsh sentences not seen as way to rehabilitate

Getting grades for doing good
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Ballooning interest in philanthropy as an academic subject is part of a larger trend toward civic engagement on college campuses. The number of colleges that offer classes based not just on philanthropy, but also volunteerism, advocacy and activism have steadily climbed in recent years. In a 2010 survey of 1,100 colleges and universities across the country, more than 50 percent indicated they had made community service a requirement for at least one major, according to Campus Compact, a national coalition of educators that promotes civic engagement. Fourteen percent offered students the opportunity to major or minor in community service and 12 percent required all students to log some good deeds before graduation.

Read the full report here: Teaching the art and science of philanthropy: Students learning to give

How to save a child: American in Haiti helps save families
E.W. Ristau

Over the past two years, Shelley Clay has helped 220 people like Malkaline through an innovative nonprofit program called the Apparent Project, which she runs out of her house in Port-Au-Prince. The goal of the program is simple: to keep poor families together by providing them work.

Today, the jewelry her artisans make sells through home Tupperware-style parties and partnerships with stores like the GAP and designers like Donna Karan. Last December, the Apparent Project sold $100,000 worth of jewelry, helping Clay's artisans move from what most Americans would consider extreme poverty in to what Haitians think of as the middle class.

Read the full report here: An American woman helps keep Haitian families together

Power of one: how one man's faith is helping end famine
E.W. Ristau

The Horn of Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years and Abdulahi Muse is on the front lines of fighting it. He has heard the stories of the refugees who cross the dry riverbank not far from here, leaving Somalia and entering Ethiopia, their tattered clothing shredded by desert winds, their feet raw and blistered from the long walk, which can take a week or more.

His people are starving, his children are far from here, and he has left a comfortable life in the Ethiopian capital to come here to the border of Ethiopia and Somalia to see what he can do to help. At times, it seems insane and impossible. This problem is so big, the suffering so vast and deep, what difference can one man really make? And so he prays, hoping for divine intervention.

What he doesn't realize is that he is the answer to his own prayer.

Read the full report here: Praying for rain: Sustainable strategies deliver water, hope to East Africa

Stolen innocence: Fighting against modern-day slavery
Shutterstock/photo illustration by Josh Ferrin

With job descriptions ranging in scope from prostitute to waiter to maid, more than 150,000 people in the United States are living in slavery, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Their stories are as different as their backgrounds. There's the boys choir from Zambia that was forced to sing seven concerts a day then locked in a trailer in Texas while their benefactors collected the cash. There's the case of 400 Thai agricultural workers who came to Seattle looking for salaried work picking apples and wound up shut in wooden shacks with no pay. Researchers estimate close to half of today's victims of human trafficking are people like Keisha Head who have been coerced into the sex industry.

Read the full report here: Stolen innocence: The battle against modern-day slavery in the U.S.

Websites shine a light on charities (charity navigator)

When Charity Navigator launched 10 years ago, the nonprofit world was embroiled in scandal. At Covenant House, the largest privately funded agency in the U.S. providing shelter and food to homeless and runaway youth, the founder and CEO had been accused of sexual and financial misconduct. William Aramony, CEO of United Way, was facing criminal charges for fraud. Concerned, self-made millionaire couple John P. and Marion Dugan went looking for a third-party, objective source of information to help guide them in their giving.

There were already a few organizations, like Guidestar, on the scene that supplied information about nonprofits for donors. But the Dugans wanted experts to interpret the complex reports for them. And they wanted it to be free of charge.

Read the full report here: Websites shine light on charities

Pioneering ways to bring fresh food to urban poor
Real Food Farms

Forty years ago, the people of southeast Baltimore considered Oliver a quiet, middle-class neighborhood. Today, the median household income is $21,448 per year, according to the U.S. Census — well below the national poverty line. The community is plagued by crime, drugs, racial rioting, underperforming schools and abandoned houses. And if that wasn't enough, the residents of Oliver live in one of the worst food deserts in America.

A food desert is a community where retailers offering fresh food are scarce, but fast-food restaurants and convenience stores selling prepared foods are plentiful.

Read the full report here: Mobile farmers markets feed families in food deserts

Businesses honor top performers with chance to serve poor
Academy Mortgage

A career salesman, Bill Sohan has lost track of the number of incentive trips his employers have sent him on. Sunshine, margaritas by the pool, relaxation — "I'm not going to tell you it's not a good time," he says with a laugh. But, in his mind, all those cruises and Hawaiian getaways were just perks that came with the job; he never altered his work habits to earn a spot.

This year, though, his company planned a different kind of vacation for the most elite performers. Instead of beaches and luxury hotels, Academy Mortgage proposed a trip to Guatemala, sleeping on the ground and spending a week building a water system for the poor. When the memo hit his email box, Sohan informed his coworkers, "I am going on this trip if it's the last thing I do with this company." And then he started burning the midnight oil.

Read the full report here: Redefining rewards: Businesses honor top performers with a chance to serve the poor