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Buy Me A Drink? I'll Take A Charitini

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Hello! I'm Rachel Sklar, former HuffPo Media Editor. This is my first time posting since I bade farewell last month, and it 's nice to be back. It's also nice to get a break from the Media page (so much orange!) and hang out here on the pretty purple Living Page for its "The Giving Life" column.

Here's my story: Not only am I celebrating my return to HuffPo today, it's also my birthday. I'm 36, which can sound sort of old when you're used to being a sprightly young 35. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to the birthday, and planned to let it pass quietly, with little more than a few grumbles and perhaps one or two self-pitying moans.

But these are strange and harsh times of late, and complaining about turning a year older seemed rather hollow compared to the actual problems people are facing these days. The economy's tanking. Belts are tightening. Banks are dissolving. To put it bluntly, things suck.

Meanwhile, the people who have it worst are those for whom it has always sucked - the people who rely on charities and the kindness of others to improve their lives even just a bit. Charitable giving has taken a massive hit from this economic crisis - never mind no more Lehman Brothers for massive corporate giving, don't forget that Lehman Brothers employees gave, too. So did Citicorp's. Ditto GM. When times are tough for the givers, it's the givees who feel it the most.

Here's where the drinking comes in. Tonight, I've planned a birthday party with a twist: Instead of plying me with drinks 'til I'm wobbly, I've invited friends and colleagues to donate the equivalent sum to some of my favorite charities: Foundation Rwanda, Habitat for Humanity, DonorsChoose, and the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation. All are worthy causes in their own way, benefiting survivors of devastating genocide, rebuilding homes in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, funding educational projects in needy classrooms, and caring for returning soldiers, wounded in the line of duty.

I know. What did I have to complain about, again?

Nothing. Quite the opposite - today I've got this one day when everyone is supposed to be nice to me and buy me things. What excuse to hit up all my friends for drinks! Except without the bloating, slurred speech or awkward lampshade table-dance. Sounds like a win-win for everyone, really.

Hence the name - Charitini. It's my hope that it can be a concoction for giving that can add up to real results. The idea was inspired by three things: (1) My friend Bill Bragin, who turned his birthday party into an Obama fundraiser in September, and raised a whopping $43 thousand bucks; (2) An amazing new startup called EchoAge.com, which plans children's birthday parties to collect gift money, spent half on one meaningful gift and half to the charity of the kid's choice; and - yes - (3) the Obama campaign, which proved again and again that micro-giving is an idea that works. Can we tap into those online habits to gin up support for people who need it? Yes, we can. Even if there's no actual gin involved.

So - that's it. For now. Today Charitini launched in a test-run, to see how much an idea that matches great intentions with easy opportunities for giving can catch on. We do have plans to create an infrastructure for taking this service wide - there are 365 days in the year, after all. I've been working with Richard Waldvogel of Giveness and Rex Sorgatz of Fimoculous on how to take the idea wide, and so far, the response has been great. For now, though, we're going through the fine folks at Network for Good who are hosting my birthday wish list. So please, pour generously! The bar's always open.

Let me know what you think of the site (also purple!) in the comments below - I hope you like it! Here's to raising a Charitini with you all very soon.

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