Mighty Writers Gets Some Props

But did they really have to use that eight-letter word to describe us?

First thought.

Who you callin’ do-gooder, Phileb boy?

We’d just learned that Mighty Writers, where I serve as executive director, had been nominated by Philebrity for one of its 2010 best-of awards.

It works like this: Philebrity announces their nominations, and readers of the website vote for their favorites among a myriad of categories, ranging from the traditional (“city publication of the year”) to the offbeat (“award for general fabulousness’). The winners receive kudos at a big whoop celebration at the Troc. [SIGNUP]

A bag of cash would make the whole Philebrity sweepstakes really sing, but just being singled out for distinction is pretty cool in and of itself, especially for Mighty Writers, given we’re only into our second year and awards are still a foreign concept, the kind of thing that happens to other nonprofits—like, say, oh I don’t know, Mural Arts, perhaps?

The rub came when we learned of the category Philebrity put us in: “Outstanding Do-Gooder(s) of the Year.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the term “do-gooder” in today’s you-actually-want-to-keep-extending-unemployment-benefits-at-the-cost-of-raising-the-deficit parlance just another way of calling a guy soft?


Knee jerk.

The kind of liberal fool who might show up at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving?

When’s the last time you heard “do-gooder” used as a compliment? Said without a patronizing sneer?

See what I’m getting at?

Can you really be Mighty AND do-goodish at the same time?

Can you be a lean, mean and effective writing nonprofit for city kids AND a soft touch? I would argue the trials and tests of keeping things Mighty and running smoothly at any nonprofit these days would eat your run of the mill do-gooder alive.

One of the nominees we’re competing against is Bon Jovi, who still has remarkable hair (arguably a good reason to throw a vote his way in and of itself). In addition to still selling out shows, Bon Jovi has a foundation that helps people in economic despair, inarguably a growing constituency these days. Say what you will about the Jersey boy (he don’t care), but there are plenty more glamorous places he could be dropping his loot.

A fellow nonprofit in our category is Back On My Feet, run by the indefatigable Anne Mahlum, who uses running as a way of building confidence and self-esteem among the homeless, which might sound a little wacky on the surface until you see how fast her movement is growing (six cities and counting).

Inexplicably, and not that he would notice, Gerry Lenfest, the gazillionaire former cable mogul, is also in our category. Long before Bill Gates and others pledged to give away their money, Lenfest had already started emptying his bank account. Lots of local nonprofits are alive because of his generosity.

Finally, there’s Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, which I confess I don’t know much about, except that they offer assistance and support to crime victims, witnesses and their families—which sounds pretty serious and important. (They are also urging their friends and supporters to vote for them “often and daily,” in the age-old South Philadelphia tradition, which you’ve simply got to respect.)

Mighty Writers is in with some wildly eclectic and respectable company here.

But do-gooders?

Well, you know, when you break it down, actually, yes.

And on our best days, not to sound squishy here, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

So maybe instead of being defensive about being called something that has been co-opted and mangled by the selfish and the righteous, we should embrace the compliment and accept its literal meaning.

The Mighty Do-gooders.

Kind of has a nice ring, don’t it?

Tim Whitaker (twhitaker@mightywriters.org), a writer and editor, is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.