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If there is one thing that stands out about the winners of this year’s Community Service Awards, it is their dedication. The winners went beyond token donations to existing charities. In the case of Liz Claiborne and Bestseller, they created unique and effective solutions to underaddressed problems. Many of this year’s winners also stand out for involving customers and employees in their charitable efforts.

Claiborne Talks to Teens About Abuse

Liz Claiborne Inc. has been helping teens recognize and get out of abusive relationships since 2005. For example, one teen realized she was in an abusive relationship after reading another girl’s story in Seventeen magazine, one of Claiborne’s partners in the Love Is Not Abuse program. She contacted a hotline Claiborne helped create and was able to leave the relationship. Now a sophomore in college, she tells other teens the story of the boyfriend who verbally abused her and threw her against a school locker.

Claiborne’s thinking is that talking to young people early in their dating years will help break patterns of abuse and ultimately help end domestic violence.

The apparel brand has researched teen violence, founded a teen dating abuse hotline, put together an educational Web site and developed a three-day educational program for ninth and 10th graders that has been taught in more than 1,000 high schools in the U.S.

“Ideally we would like to get it into every high school,” said Jane Randel, vice president of corporate communications for Liz Claiborne.

The company’s latest research shows that technologies such as cell phones, pagers and the Internet are being used to stalk and bully victims. “Girls in relationships are being contacted by partners 30 to 60 times an hour asking ‘Who are you with, what are you doing?'” said Randel. The company is updating its curriculum to reflect the findings.

Claiborne partnered with the National Domestic Abuse Help Hotline and donated $1 million over several years to launch the Teen Dating Violence Hotline last year. It is staffed partly by well-trained teen volunteers. “Kids are talking to peers, which is unique,” said Randel.

The organization advises teens to let friends in abusive relationships know they are not alone, they don’t deserve to be mistreated and that there are people who can help them.

This story first appeared in the January 9, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Also, while it is true that most domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women, it crosses gender and socioeconomic lines, Randel adds. “People think of domestic violence as a women’s issue, but it’s an ‘everyone’s’ issue. We all need to get involved.”

MAC: Makeup for AIDS Health Crisis

From sterile syringe programs in Washington to Haitian prisons to sex workers in India, the MAC AIDS Fund goes where others don’t, or won’t.

In 2007, the fund provided more than $15 million to various HIV/AIDS programs around the world, many of which are considered controversial.

“I think it is a myth that it is bad for business if you embrace these tough issues,” said Nancy Mahon, executive director, MAC AIDS Fund, the philanthropic arm of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. MAC’s own employees chose the cause 13 years ago when the fund was created. To date, the fund has raised $100 million through the sale of MAC Viva Glam lipsticks.

Having reached that milestone, it now aims to raise $20 million annually and double its grant-making in just five years’ time, said John Demsey, chairman of MAC AIDS Fund and group president of Estée Lauder.

“When you talk about AIDS,” Demsey said, “everyone is very focused on sub-Saharan Africa or what may or may not be the eventual pandemic in China or Southeast Asia, intravenous drug use in Eastern European countries. Yet the second-largest per capita AIDS infection rate in the world sits [just] hundreds of miles off the shores of the United States” in Caribbean countries. Demsey said he is “surprised” at the public’s lack of awareness.

The MAC AIDS Fund is the largest, nonpharmaceutical corporate funder of HIV/AIDS programs in the United States, according to a spokeswoman from Funders Concerned About AIDS, a New York-based nonprofit.

Bestseller Pays It Forward

Having benefited from globalization with stores in Europe, the Middle East, Canada and China, $2 billion Danish retailer Bestseller aims its goodwill at those shut out of the party.

“There are both winners and losers in globalization and among the losers are a lot of poor people in undeveloped countries who are not able to gain anything from globalization,” said Torkil Dantzer, manager of Bestseller Fund, whose programs reach the “untouchables” in India, poor villagers in China and victims of the Asian tsunami.

Funds come strictly from corporate profits — no donations and no fund-raisers that can cost more than they bring in — with more than $2 million distributed in 2007 and another $14 million pledged this year. Many of the programs help artisans preserve their crafts, such as block printing, weaving and embroidery, and reach beyond their local markets.

Bestseller helped build a design school — including dormitories, offices and exhibition hall — in the desert Indian town of Kutch, home to 50,000 artisans. The school, run by nonprofit Kala Raksha, teaches students to think not just as craft laborers but as designers and trend-aware marketers to diversify their products for a global consumer.

Judy Frater, the American anthropologist who founded Kala Raksha, said Bestseller is actively involved, makes site visits and “has provided support for construction, which many funders will not do.” Next up for Bestseller and Kala Raksha: a similar design school in Tibet.

In 2007, Bestseller put $700,000 toward developing five “model villages” in the remote mountain region of Yunnan, China, where annual income is about $250 and food is scarce, Dantzer said. There, it works with another group to construct roads, a safe water system and public bathrooms.

Bestseller’s aid to victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is not just food and supplies; rather, it’s schools, self-help groups and micro loans for Dalit women, members of the untouchable class, to start their own businesses.

Dress Barn Suits Up for Success

One week every year, usually in March, customers come into Dress Barn’s 821 stores across the U.S. and donate a suit to charity. Once a Dress Barn customer included a note with her suit that said “This suit helped me get my first job. I hope it helps you as well. Good luck.”

Since the $1.4 billion off-price retailer started working with Dress for Success in 2003, Dress Barn has collected 145,000 suits, donated 27,000 new suits from its inventory and given $172,000 from its foundation to Dress for Success. (Dress Barn founder Roslyn Jaffe is also a member of Dress for Success’ worldwide board.)

After Dress Barn collects the suits, the retailer ships them to Dress for Success’ 60 locations around the country, where they are hung by size and ready for women to browse and try on.

“It’s almost like a personal shopper,” said Donna Baccollo, Dress Barn marketing manager. “They size a woman up and who she is personally. They want her to put her best foot forward.”

Dress for Success works by referral. The organization does not merely outfit disadvantaged women for their first interviews, but also provides career guidance and a small wardrobe of outfits after a client lands a job. The organization’s strict requirements for professional behavior mandate that if a client is late to her appointment, she will not receive an outfit.

“It’s really about women overcoming obstacles and taking the first step to self-sufficiency,” said Vivian Behrens, Dress Barn vice president and chief marketing officer.

Penney’s: Keeping Kids on Track

J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s charitable giving reached $30 million last year and its Afterschool Fund put an additional $9.25 million toward defusing a volatile mix: kids and idle time.

The Plano, Tex.-based retailer’s Afterschool Fund, which draws donations from employees and customers, gave 20,000 children in kindergarten through high school an alternative to just “hanging out.” Afterschool Fund research shows 14.3 million U.S. children (25 percent) are unsupervised after school.

“We know it’s a critical time period — 3 to 6 p.m. — and if we can get those kids where they are safe and getting educational and physical enrichment, then we can make an impact,” said Mike Theilmann, chairman of the J.C. Penney Afterschool Fund.

Philanthropy takes additional forms at Penney’s, whose employees and retirees devoted more than 225,000 volunteer hours to various causes in 2007. J.C. Penney’s annual United Way giving campaign pulled in $11.5 million last year.

Theilmann said the company’s partnership with the National Football League “is one way we get our associates ‘juiced’ about the Afterschool Fund.” That program makes NFL players available for children to take to school for a “show and tell” of sorts and to drive home the message about the importance of education.

Other past innovations include the “J.C. Penney Jam: Concert for America’s Kids” fund-raiser, which aired on CBS in 2006.

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