Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Want to get money for a good cause out of a group of active, competitive, 55-and-overs?
Try setting up a swear jar on the pickleball court.
It’s worked well for Mirehaven Gives Back, a philanthropic neighborhood association in the Del Webb at Mirehaven Active Retirement Community on Albuquerque’s West Side. Pickleball enthusiasts in the neighborhood raised about $1,000 last year for the group, which each year picks a different nonprofit with a strong local presence to support.
“That’s a lot of money, at a quarter a word,” said Linda Babin, who was among Mirehaven Gives Back’s founders and an avid pickleball player herself.
While perhaps the most colorful initiative, the pickleball swear jar isn’t the only way Mirehaven Gives Back cajoles donations for its causes. Over the past five years, the group has raised more than $130,000 for local charities by hosting a whole array of fundraising events.
Babin said the idea for Mirehaven Gives Back started with gratitude – and a sunset happy hour with some neighbors.
The gated community, which nestles up to Petroglyph National Monument not far from Unser and Interstate 40, is mainly home to active and healthy retirees, from all over the country – even the world – and from all walks of life.
Babin said several years ago over drinks, she and several neighbors fell into a conversation about how wonderful the community is and whether there was a way to give back.
That conversation evolved into a two-pronged vision: Finding a way to draw the still-growing Mirehaven community together, while also raising money for local charities. Kathleen DiMascio, who has been involved with the efforts for three years and has been a member of the planning committee, said she’s seen that mission come to life.
“I think it’s done a lot to bring people together, people that aren’t necessarily ‘joiners’ in a lot of the activities, but feel privileged to be living in a community like this, and want to give back,” she said.
In its first year, 2017, the neighborhood chose Make-A-Wish New Mexico and raised $6,000. The next year it was Saranam, a nonprofit that serves families experiencing homelessness, and Mirehaven residents donated twice that. In 2019, the neighborhood nearly doubled the amount again, raising $22,600 for Albuquerque Public Schools’ Title I Homeless project.
Last year, the group raised more than $52,000 to benefit the Rio Grande Food Project, which claims the distinction of being the largest food pantry on the West Side.
Over the years, Mirehaven Gives Back has held bingo nights, garden tours, live and silent auctions, garage sales, a “fall fiesta” complete with a cake walk, and even embraced some corporate sponsorship.
In 2021, an online auction brought in more than $10,000, while a live auction netted $5,200. Other events brought in varying amounts. Like the pickleballers, other hobby groups in the neighborhood got in on the action – the poker club anted up $2,000, and the mahjong group and bridge group pitched in as well.
In the last two years, organizers have adapted to fluctuating COVID-related restrictions, moving some events online or outside.
“We never said, ‘Let’s not do it,'” DiMascio said, adding that in 2020, organizers came up with the idea for a “donate day” where they simply drew attention to a donation link on the Mirehaven Gives Back website. “… That was really, really successful, so we incorporated that into this (last) year as well.”
The charities are selected democratically. Around this time of year, the committee puts out a call for Mirehaven residents’ nominations of charities. The committee vets the organizations to ensure they’ve obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and are fiscally responsible, and tries to get an idea of their scale locally.
“We do try to be very local on our charities,” said Lelia Wright, who chaired the planning committee in 2021.
Ultimately, the committee produces a shortlist, and sends ballots to everyone in the neighborhood, which at this point includes about 500 homes. Whichever nonprofit wins the most votes is then “adopted” for fundraising efforts that year. The community-oriented process helps get the neighborhood engaged, Babin said.
“That’s the key, is to draw the community into the whole thing,” she said. “… (Then) they’re willing to give their time and their money.”
According to Wright, the organization operates as an unincorporated association. It does have an employer identification mumber in order to keep its records, but is not itself a charity.
Wright said Mirehaven residents have embraced the group’s efforts, not just with their money but with their time.
“We have over 100 people in the community actively volunteering for one or more events (in 2021),” Wright said.