Princess: Giving back without breaking the bank | AspenTimes.com

Princess: Giving back without breaking the bank

After Ryan and I got married, one of my parents' friends offered to donate money in our name to our favorite charity.

At first this annoyed me. "Tell them to donate it to the Margo Mortgage Fund," I said. I didn't feel that we'd achieved a place of financial standing where we could afford to just give our money away, even if it was for a good cause.

I get it that there are Girl Scouts with only a few dollars in their piggy banks doing charity work and that it's not really about the money — not really.

Oh, but it is.

I've always been wary of these big nonprofit organizations because it's obvious it takes so much money to run them that I question whether or not my contribution, be it financial or volunteer work, are going to the actual charity itself or if it's just greasing the cogs in the machine. Then I found out, thanks to my beloved editor, Rick Carroll, who reported on this very issue for The Aspen Times last September, that there are directors of nonprofit organizations in Aspen who make more than $500,000 a year.

That's a half-million bucks to you and me, those of us who supposedly work for profit. Except for one tiny, little problem: Most of us aren't making much of a profit. If anything, we're scraping by, living the dream of the glorified ski bum posing as a professional who works just enough to get the bills paid and still ski 100 days a year (OK, 45 days).

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So the nonprofit director who raises money for stuff like art (not starving babies or victims of abuse or people suffering incurable diseases, but pretty paintings hanging on the wall), are raking in the dough. Am I the only one who wonders how, in good conscience, you can go around asking people for money when you're taking that much for yourself? I get it that Aspen is an expensive place to live, but come on. Most of us manage on one-tenth that amount.

But still, ever since my parents' friends had posed this proposition, it got me thinking: What cause means something to me?

If I may shift gears for a second; I promise it's related.

You guys know Ryan and I were on this mission to try to get pregnant for the last three years even though (let's face it) the chances of getting knocked up at my age are slim to none. That didn't stop me from thinking I could overcome the odds.

"Statistics just don't apply to you," my mom had said, her tone hopeful.

As a spoiled child (and still a child because of it), I'm used to getting what I want. So I did what any good little Princess would do — I asked my parents for more money, thinking that might solve the problem. But it didn't.

So one day I had an epiphany. Rather than hide in my castle and cry all day, I realized instead of wasting all this energy on something I can't have, I should just let life happen. So one night I said to Ryan, "You know, I could always work with kids. I love it and I haven't done that in so long."

The very next day, as if a message from God herself, I got an email from Lucy at Youth Entity, a nonprofit in Carbondale that provides real-life education for middle school and high school kids with programs in business, finance and technology. Lucy said she loves my column. She said had a gift for me. She also wanted to tell me about her organization and to introduce me to Kirsten, the program director. The gift and the praise were all the incentive I needed.

So we met at Saxy's (where I got my gift of chocolate-covered and peanut butter-filled pretzels, yay) and I spent a good two hours with these ladies, learning about what they do. "Jesus Christ, I could use a class in finance myself," I told Kirsten when she told me how they teach the kids all about credit cards and budgeting and how to avoid getting into debt. But it was the culinary classes that really piqued my interest. Ryan and I have gone from being cool kids about town to never missing an episode of "Iron Chef America." Nothing sounds cooler to us than a chance to be in an industrial kitchen with mirrors on the ceiling and a chef who knows something we don't.

And that's exactly what it was like when I went to the old middle school in Carbondale on Tuesday to check out ProStart, the culinary arts program for high school students put on by Youth Entity. These kids, looking very professional in chefs coats with their names embroidered on the chest, whipped up three seemingly complicated dishes in a matter of hours with entertaining and expertly direction from their coach, Chef Matthew Maier, a private chef in Aspen who has cooked for Oprah and the Dali Lama, and no, I'm not joking. These kids had the kind of focus and competence you wouldn't expect to see in a bunch of teenagers. They're into it. And not just the cooking, but everything they learn that prepares them for the Hotel and Hospitality industry, from restaurant concepts to management skills — another class I would probably benefit from. And I'm sorry, but those kids are so dang cute. I'd rather hang out with a bunch of inspired teenagers any day of the week. It's goose-bump- inducing goodness.

And unlike everything else I've been going through for the past few years, this felt meant to be. And it answered some of those questions I've been asking about how to give back in a meaningful way, because that's the only way I can afford to give.

The Princess is always more motivated when it's cold outside. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com. For more information on Youth Entity, visit youthentity.org.

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