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Not Your Father's Lodge: 5 Charities That Make Giving Fun

We're all looking for connections to our communities—and to each other. One way to find that attachment is to join a civic group or charity organization. But not everyone can fit a weekly lodge meeting into their busy schedule, and others find that these institutions simply aren't what they're looking for. Thankfully there's a new generation of philanthropic groups that don't require a lot of your time, allow you to have a lot of fun, and still do a lot of good in your community.

1. Child's Play: Mashing Buttons for a Good Cause

Video gamers often get a bad rap. They're accused of wasting their time, some studies show they have violent tendencies, and if you ever log onto Xbox Live, one of them will probably call you an unsavory name within the first few minutes. The guys behind the popular gaming website Penny Arcade felt like something had to be done to refute this bad reputation. So, in 2003, they created Child's Play, an organization that donates money, books, DVDs, and, of course, video games, to children's hospitals around the world.

Aside from donating on PayPal or buying items from a hospital's Amazon Wish List, gamers can also raise raise money through gaming marathons. Two of the biggest of these fundraisers are "Mario Marathon" and "Desert Bus for Hope." The Mario Marathon is a team of four guys who play every Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game (currently there are 15 in the series) in one long gaming session broadcast live over the internet. In 2009, they played for 96 hours straight and brought in over $29,000. There's also the "Desert Bus for Hope" marathon put on by the comedy group LoadingReadyRun. These guys play Desert Bus, a spoof video game where players drive a rickety old bus that pulls to the right, on an 8-hour, one-way trip from Tuscon to Las Vegas. Needless to say, it's not a game you'd want to play unless it was for a good cause. In 2009, these lunatics played for five days and 16 hours, while raising nearly $150,000. If you want to get involved in the 2010 marathons, check out their websites, mariomarathon.com and desertbus.org, for more information.

Thanks to efforts like these, as well as the thousands of everyday gamers who donated or purchased items, Child's Play was able to raise over $1.7 million in 2009 alone. Not bad for a bunch of slackers.

2. The 501st Legion: Bad Guys Who Do Good

Just because you're bad doesn't mean you can't do good. The 501st Legion is a group of hundreds of obsessed fans who don custom, homemade uniforms modeled after the villains of the Star Wars universe, including Imperial Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, and, of course, the big bad guy himself, Darth Vader. Often you'll see them marching in parades or at promotional events that could use a bit of the Star Wars touch, but one of their most important functions is to raise money for charities.

Split into garrisons in 40 different countries across the world, the 501st has helped raise money and generate publicity for organizations such as The American Cancer Society, The Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, and The American Red Cross. Aside from personal appearances, the 501st also sponsors online charity events, like the 501st TK Project. The TK Project features Stormtrooper helmets custom-painted by celebrities like the guys from Robot Chicken, artists who work for Lucasfilm, and even Jeremy Bulloch, the actor who portrayed Boba Fett in the Star Wars films, and Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca. Once the helmets are completed, they'll be put up for auction and the proceeds will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

If you'd like to join these bad guys who do so much good, head over to their official website and contact your local garrison today. And May the Force Be With You (C'mon...I had to say it!)

3. ZombieSquad: Protecting You From the Zombie Apocalypse

When the zombie apocalypse comes, will you be ready? With the help of Zombie Squad (ZS), you can be. ZombieSquad is an emergency preparedness organization that uses the fictional scenario of a zombie infestation as a metaphor to help people get ready for a real-life emergency, such as an earthquake, tornado, or other natural disaster.

Aside from promising to keep the streets clean of the living dead, they offer seminars on living off the land, first aid, and are proponents of "bug out bags," a duffel bag you keep packed with water, food, medical supplies, and other necessities so you can survive if you and your family need to evacuate your home. While they can prepare you for a "zompocalypse," they don't wait for the undead to rise before helping their communities. Every year, ZS raises thousands of dollars by selling tickets to zombie film festivals, spearheads canned food drives for local pantries, and holds blood drives for The American Red Cross. To promote these events, the members of ZS will often set up zombie flash mobs, where dozens of people dressed as zombies will slowly shamble down the street and converge on the event location. Suddenly, the ZS will appear, dressed in their paramilitary gear, and help quell the zombie uprising. Nothing like a little shock and awe to get people's attention.

The group has 15 chapters across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., so if you're interested in learning what it takes to be a survivor of World War Z, check out their website to see if there's a local Squad in your area.

4. Keep A Breast Foundation: I

To bring their message of breast cancer awareness to young women, the Keep A Breast Foundation doesn't beat around the bush; they are often direct, matter-of-fact, a little brash, and really, really fun. The Los Angeles-based organization can be seen all over the country, hitting such popular music festivals as Coachella, SXSW, and the Warped Tour, as well as sponsoring art gallery auctions and other fundraising events. Wherever they go, they sell bracelets and t-shirts emblazoned with their slogan, "I Heart Boobies," which inevitably gets a laugh and the occasional surprised look.

The group's biggest fundraising project is the cast program, where famous and not-so-famous women volunteer to have their busts cast in plaster. Afterwards, an artist or entertainer paints the bust and it's sold on eBay to the highest bidder. Past casts have included Burlesque star Dita Von Teese, actress Kelly Hu (X-Men 2), Suicide Girls models, musician Katy Perry, Tila Tequila, and quite a few professional female surfers. Painters have included Shepard Fairey (of the Obama campaign HOPE poster), The Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop, and the bands Alkaline Trio and Newfound Glory.

If you're interested in helping KAB, head over to their website and become a member for $25, which gets you all kinds of swag, as well as advanced news on upcoming events, and alerts you to volunteer opportunities. They also have their infamous "I Heart Boobies" t-shirts, tote bags, and bracelets for sale, with the proceeds going directly to their educational programs.

5. American Mustache Institute: A Celebration of Facial Hair and Humanity

Salvador Dali. Burt Reynolds. Tom Selleck. The Swedish Chef. All of these men are known for one thing and one thing only "“ their mustache. At least that's how it would be if the American Mustache Institute had anything to say about it. According to their website's dubious history page, the AMI was founded in St. Louis—the home of the world's largest mustache, the Gateway Arch—to promote and protect mustached Americans. When they're not waxing philosophical about the advantages of a mustache, the AMI is helping to promote some of the many 'stache-centric charity events that have cropped up over the last decade.

Most of these charities, like the nationwide Mustaches For Kids, involve men getting sponsors for walk-a-thons or marathons. But instead of running 26.2 miles, they grow their mustaches out for a few months around Christmas before competing at a special 'Stache Bash party to see whose mustache is the "sweetest." Since Mustaches For Kids was founded in 1999, local chapters have helped raise over $1 million for children's hospitals and other kids' organizations.

Not to be outdone, the AMI has their own 'Stache Bash, held every year around Halloween. But instead of local mustache-a-thons, the Bash is really more about celebrating the "Mustached American" lifestyle. Buy a ticket and get beer and music all night long, as well as appearances by special mustached guests. The guest of honor for 2009 was John Oates of '80s rock duo, Hall and Oates. Attendees will also witness the presentation of the AMI's official memorial "Robert Goulet Mustached American of the Year Award." This year's recipient was Arizona Diamondback's pitcher Clay Zavada, who sports a handlebar any silent film villain would love to twirl.

While it's fun for the people who attend the AMI 'Stache Bash, the real winner of the night is the Challenger's Baseball Team, a local league for kids and adults with disabilities. Ticket sales to the event go towards buying equipment, uniforms, and trophies for all the players. A good cause, a good time, and mustaches for all. You can't go wrong with that.

If you'd like to setup your own chapter of Mustaches For Kids, head over to mustachesforkids.org. And if you'd like the AMI to help you with your own mustache-based charity event, visit their website or call 877-STACHE-1.
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Ever been to a charity event that's a bit outside the norm? Maybe you're a member of one of the groups we mentioned? Or maybe you're part of another not-so-serious group we should all know. Tell us about it in the comments below!

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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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Smart Shopping
25 Dapper Outfit Choices for Fashionable Pets
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Lavishing your furry friends with adorable attire is a benefit of pet ownership that they don't mention on the adoption forms. Whether you prefer practical clothing like sweaters and jackets or statement pieces like bow ties and tutus, these dapper duds are perfect for a howl-iday or "gotcha day" gift, or simply for saying, "Who's the cutest little pupper in pajamas? You are!"

1. CASHMERE DOG SWEATER; FROM $165

dog in sweater
Canine Styles

This classic cable-knit cashmere sweater is a sophisticated look for Fido or Finn. Get it from Canine Styles, a luxury dog emporium in New York City that has plenty of posh and preppy outfits.

Find It: Canine Styles

2. TOGGLE DOG COAT; $85

dog in coat
Canine Styles

This toggle coat (available in orange, navy, and tan) is as fashionable as it is warm. Made of Melton wool, it has Velcro closures to make getting dressed easy. It's great for long walks in the country.

Find It: Canine Styles

3. DOG TUXEDO; FROM $90

Dog in tuxedo
Etsy

This satin tuxedo is perfect for the canine members of your wedding party, though it will brighten up any other occasion as well. The custom, handmade outfit comes complete with a snappy bow tie.

Find It: Etsy

4. DOG BELLE DRESS; FROM $45

Dog Belle Dress
Etsy

The queen of your castle can feel like a Disney princess in her very own version of Belle's iconic yellow dress from Beauty and the Beast. This ball gown is made from yellow crepe satin with chiffon overlay on the bodice and features hand-painted gold detailing on the skirt. Enchanted rose not included.

Find It: Etsy

5. POODLE SKIRT OUTFIT FOR DOGS; $26

Rubies Pink Fifties Girl Pet Costume
Amazon

What if you could buy a 1950s poodle skirt for your poodle? This retro dress is comprised of a pink poodle skirt, striped bodice, and sequined belt, and comes with a bow headband.

Find It: Amazon

6. RIBBED CROCHET BUNNY SWEATER; $25

bunny in a sweater
Etsy

Your snuggle-bunny will look like a little fancy-pants in this ribbed crochet sweater. Choose from seven colors, including this dashing deep red.

Find It: Etsy

7. BESPOKE MONOGRAM DOG SWEATER; FROM $155

Dog in sweater
Ruby Rufus

Bespoke clothing isn't just for humans: British luxury dog clothing brand Ruby Rufus will make your pooch a custom monogram sweater made with 100 percent Italian cashmere. You can even order it in your dog's favorite color.

Find It: Ruby Rufus

8. HOT PINK DOG TUTU; $17

Dog in hot pink tutu
Etsy

Tutus look absolutely adorable on tiny humans and animals alike. If your pooch wants to get in touch with its inner ballerina, then grab this hot pink number from Etsy. Rave reviews are a sure thing.

Find It: Etsy

9. PINK DOG POLO SHIRT; $35

Dog Pink Polo Shirt
Canine Styles

This pink polo shirt is perfect for your preppy fur baby. It features not one but a veritable multitude of crocodiles. They'll be the most dapper dog at the country club.

Find It: Canine Styles

10. DOG BARN COAT WITH BROWN CORDUROY COLLAR; $85

Dog in barn coat
Canine Styles

When it's time for a walk, your dog will look effortlessly chic in this fancy barn coat. It comes in navy, cranberry, orange, hot pink, and loden and features convenient pockets for anyone with opposable thumbs.

Find It: Canine Styles

11. WHITE PET NECK RUFF; $26

Pet Neck Ruff
Etsy

Your canine or kitty will look like their painting belongs in London's National Portrait Gallery with this Elizabethan neck ruff.

Find It: Etsy

12. CHICKEN SWEATER; $25

chicken wearing sweater
Etsy

Chickens can get cold when they're strutting around outside. A sweater (well, more like sweater vest) for your bird can also help prevent feather picking during molting season. Or, it can simply keep them warm while they stare pensively across a snowy landscape.

Find It: Etsy

13. PET CIRCLE SCARF; $15

dog in scarf
Etsy

An infinity scarf is a perfect burst of color on a dreary early morning walk. The proprietor of Mitten Made on Etsy originally designed this wool snood for her miniature Dachshund to help keep her warm during the long, cold winters in Michigan.

Find It: Etsy

14. FAB DOG TRAVEL RAINCOAT; FROM $18

Fab Dog Travel Raincoat
Chewy

This timeless yellow rain slicker will look great on any puppy when it's raining cats and dogs. It's made of 100 percent waterproof nylon shell that keeps fur dry. Bonus: It's perfect for an It Halloween costume.

Find It: Chewy

15. LACE CAT OR DOG COLLAR; FROM $10

cat in lace collar
Etsy

This handmade, white lace collar is a must-have for fancy felines. It's also embellished with a large rhinestone.

Find It: Etsy

16. FITWARM PENGUIN PAJAMAS FOR DOGS; FROM $10

Fitwarm Cute Penguin Xmas Dog Pajamas
Amazon

Keep your pupper warm on cold winter nights with these penguin PJs. They're great for doggie sleepovers or lazy weekends on the couch watching Netflix.

Find It: Amazon

17. PLAID CASHMERE DOG COAT; FROM $225

dog in plaid coat
Canine Styles

Your dog will look like a proper gentleman in this smart plaid peacoat. This fine garment is made of cashmere with a faux fur lining and leather buttons, and is a perfect shield against chill and fog.

Find It: Canine Styles

18. SATIN PET BOW TIE; FROM $8

Satin Bow Tie for Dog
Etsy

This satin doggie bow tie is perfect for any occasion. It comes in several colors and features a Velcro fastener that makes it easy to attach to a collar. Plus, 10 percent of every sale goes to charity: specifically to SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Feeding Pets of the Homeless.

Find It: Etsy

19. RED DOG DRESS; FROM $34

dog in dress
Etsy

Your good boy or girl will look red carpet-ready in this elegant gown. The voluminous tulle skirt is to die for, and each bow is embellished with beads. Custom orders are also available.

Find It: Etsy

20. DOG TIE; FROM $13

Dog tie
Etsy

Your pooch will be ready to stun at any black tie event. This tie is designed like a collar, making it easy to dress your four-legged friend. This Etsy store gives back: 10 perfect of all sales are donated to an animal protection association.

Find It: Etsy

21. NAUTICAL DOG DRESS WITH MATCHING LEASH; $20

Dog sailor dress
BaxterBoo

Perfect for a day on the town or setting sail in a schooner, this is the sailor outfit you never knew your best furry friend needed. This vintage throwback also comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

22. TARTAN FLANNEL PET BOW TIE; $5.50

tartan pet bow tie
Etsy

Your dog or cat will turn heads in this flannel tartan bow tie. It has a convenient elastic loop that slides over your pup's collar.

Find It: Etsy

23. PUCCI DOG SHIRT; $23

dog in Pucci dog shirt
Etsy

Only the fanciest dogs wear, err, Pucci. Grab this punny "designer" t-shirt for your pup. This high-quality cotton statement piece is perfect for small breeds.

Find It: Etsy

24. PINK POLKA DOT AND LACE DOG HARNESS DRESS; $20

Pink Polka Dot and Lace Designer Dog Harness Dress
BaxterBoo

This feminine pink polka dot dress is simply adorable. It features a convenient built-in harness and comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

25. PET SWEATER VEST; $6

pet sweater vest
Amazon

Your dog or cat will look like an erudite Oxford professor in this sweater vest. Note that the button on the pocket is shaped like a bone.

Find It: Amazon

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