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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Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive
iStock
iStock

Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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