Spotlight on worthy causes this week

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TODAY marks the start of the first Straits Times Causes Week.

Spotlighting charities and issues in the paper's Home section, it will feature stories of various individuals and groups, and the causes they are passionate about.

The dedicated week aims to inspire others to contribute to charities and causes, especially during the year-end season of giving. While the newspaper regularly highlights such groups, the Causes Week will showcase them in a more focused manner.

The Causes Week comes right after the weekend when The Straits Times and The Business Times co-organised this year's ChildAid concert. Held at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre, it raised more than $2 million for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

The focus for this week shifts to efforts and initiatives by many groups that are doing their part to contribute to the community.

Said Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez: "We have uncovered some amazing people doing great things to give of themselves to help others and make a difference. Their stories deserve to be told, and make inspiring reads."

A financial adviser, for instance, is taking a break from number-crunching to run 1,000km before Christmas to raise funds for chronically ill children.

There is also a mother-and-daughter team that started a social enterprise to bring in elderly friendly clothes that are easy to put on.

And there is a generous cafe that hires those from low-income or broken families - and to motivate them, they are made part-owners of the shop if they stay on for two years.

These were among more than 110 groups and individuals who responded to The Straits Times' call for submissions for the Causes Week last month. As soon as the submission period opened on Nov 13, eager respondents wrote in. Some even wrote about groups they were not a part of, but wanted to commend.

The beneficiaries ranged from migrant workers to the blind, and at-risk youth to the environment. It seemed clear that the variety of issues close to Singaporeans' hearts ranged far and wide.

Although established groups with interesting projects are featured, The Straits Times also sought to showcase the efforts of some smaller, lesser-known groups.

Featured groups were excited by the prospect of a week set aside for acknowledgement.

Mr Prem Kumar, director of the Singapore After-Care Association, said: "It's a fantastic thing. It's important for the public to get a sense of what groups need help, especially those under the radar and underserved."

The group recently launched a published book of essays written by prison inmates.

Mr Lee Siew Weng of the Volunteer Guitar Connection - which teaches volunteers how to play the guitar so they can perform for their voluntary welfare organisation clients - hopes the coverage would be matched with follow-ups to check "if we're still here" in a year.

Speaking of the benefits of the public outreach, he said: "At different times of our growth, awareness of the different things we need would be helpful."