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#BettyWhiteChallenge Raising Money and Awareness for Animals

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The late Betty White was a tireless lifetime advocate for animals, from caring for those without homes to launching her own weekly TV show, “The Pet Set,” dedicated to her celebrity friends and their pets.

Her most far-reaching contribution, though, may be yet to come: On Monday, fans of White will be poised to donate to animal welfare charities and shelters as part of what’s been dubbed the #BettyWhiteChallenge. And animal welfare nonprofits are gearing up to capitalize on the viral tribute to the star of “The Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland” on what would have been her 100th birthday.

“I’ve had many conversations with Betty about animal welfare, and I know she’s looking down from heaven and really smiling,” said Robin Ganzert, who leads American Humane, an animal welfare organization that White was involved with for more than 60 years.

“She’ll be smiling on her birthday,” she said. “And she’ll be smiling about the lives she’s changed.”

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It isn’t exactly clear who started the #BettyWhiteChallenge on social media shortly after White’s death on Dec. 31. However it began, the idea — to donate $5 to a local animal rescue organization in White’s name on her birthday — quickly took off and drew support from celebrities like actors Mark Hamill and George Takei on Twitter.

Traffic to American Humane’s website spiked after White’s passing. Ganzert said donations, too, have increased. The nonprofit is waiting to reveal by how much until more gifts flood in, including sizable donations it’s expecting from some donors.

During the decades in which White was involved with the organization, she made fundraising appeals and served on its board and as a presenter and judge on its televised show featuring “hero” dogs. During tapings of “The Pet Set” in the early 1970s, Ganzert said, White would have American Humane representatives on set to ensure that animals were safe. In 2012, the nonprofit honored her with its highest award, the National Humanitarian Medal.

Ganzert would also give White a photo book each year of the animals the organization helped.

“She kept those out on her coffee table,” Ganzert said. “And (it) always touched me whenever we would visit.”

The “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Golden Girls” star died weeks shy of her 100th birthday, according to her agent.

Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based animal welfare organization, has raised $25,000 in donations made in White’s name, according to the group’s chief mission officer Holly Sizemore. The group has promoted the #BettyWhiteChallenge broadly across its social media channels to drum up support both for its work and other organizations.

“That’s the beauty of animal welfare,” Sizemore said. “There’s something for everyone to support. There’s so much good work happening and so much opportunity, particularly right now, to make the world a better place for people and animals.”

Sizemore hopes that Monday will bring plenty of donations and attention for animal welfare.

“What an incredible opportunity to honor Betty White’s legacy — to come together as a nation and celebrate something that she was so passionate about, her love for animals,” she said.

Maintaining that connection with #BettyWhiteChallenge donors is the main test for animal welfare nonprofits after Monday. Viral fundraising efforts can bring in a stream of money, but experts say donations tend to drop off quickly.

Sarah Newhall, the chief strategy officer of the fundraising firm MissionWired, says charities can best capitalize on these moments if they already have a strong foundation in place to engage new donors — whether through emails, a website, social media or other methods.

“What it allows them to do is really use that tent-pole moment to get in front of an audience they might not otherwise have gotten,” Newhall said. But, she added, retaining these donors can be an uphill battle because the push to give is tied to one day, and the motivation to one person. Animal groups might also become overshadowed by other organizations soliciting donations during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which also falls on Monday.

Betty White Through the Years in Pictures

North Shore Animal League America, a no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, plans to engage new #BettyWhiteChallenge donors through a mix of social media appeals and invitations to visit its adoption center in Port Washington, New York, said Joanne Yohannan, the organization’s senior vice president of operations. It is also dedicating its next 100 animal rescues to White in honor of her 100th birthday.

The organization has received a donation from the Hallmark Channel in honor of White, part of a tribute that also includes a “Golden Girls” marathon and her Hallmark movie “The Lost Valentine” on Jan. 17.

“It’s about raising awareness for the plight of homeless animals and what can be done to help them, including volunteering and adopting,” Yohannan said.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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Watch What Happens: South Florida woman returns pricey timepieces, owner pays it forward

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(WSVN) – A South Florida woman did a good deed after finding some expensive jewelry. Now just “Watch What Happens” when she returned them to their rightful owner. 7’s Kevin Ozebek reports.

There are two things in life that Michelle Bucur is passionate about: rescuing homeless animals…

Michelle Bucur: “So right now, I have three fosters. One of them is Hunter. (to Hunter) You’re so sweet. I love you.”

And Teslas.

Michelle Bucur: “I have 10 Teslas.”

In her spare time, Michelle volunteers at Wonder Paws Animal Rescue in Fort Lauderdale.

She also rents out her Star Wars-themed Teslas through a rental service called Turo.

Michelle Bucur: “Which is a peer-to-peer rental platform similar to Airbnb, but instead of for homes, it’s for vehicles.”

During the Christmas holiday, Michelle rented out a Tesla Model Y to a man from Boca Raton. When the rental period ended, she picked up the car and took it straight to a car wash.

Michelle Bucur: “Long story short, a week later, the previous guest contacted me and lets me know that he’s lost some of his belongings, and if we found them. I actually hadn’t seen them.”

The car had already been rented out to a new guest, who told Michelle nothing was in the car.

She then called the car wash … and got some good news.

Michelle Bucur: “They said, ‘Oh yeah, we found some watches on the side of the door, and we shoved them in the glove box.’”

Michelle wanted to keep the watches safe until she could get her car back, so she used the Tesla app on her phone to lock the car’s glove box.

When she finally got hold of the watches, she realized she was in possession of some pretty pricey timepieces.

Michelle Bucur: “They turned out to be super high-end watches worth like over $100,000 combined.”

They definitely were. They were a Rolex and an Audemars Piguet.

The owner told Michelle that even though they are expensive, their sentimental value is much more.

Michelle Bucur: “One had been given by his mom, who was suffering with Alzheimer’s now.”

Michelle says he offered her a finder’s fee for returning the watches. She declined the money, but gave a suggestion:

Michelle Bucur: “‘I do help with the rescue, and if you’re willing to donate, it’s tax deductible. I can give you the link and whatever donation you want to give to us.’”

He made the donation to Wonder Paws Animal Rescue, but the amount was quite a surprise: $10,000!

Paulina Claure, Wonder Paws Rescue: “We were speechless! We couldn’t believe it. We were in shock when we found out.”

Paulina Claure runs Wonder Paws with her mother, Patricia Lara. They just moved into a storefront in Fort Lauderdale and say this generous donation will make a huge impact.

Paulina Claure: “We have tons of medical cases every day and medical bills that are piling up, so it’s really nice to be able to have that money to be able to put towards our bills.”

Michelle’s foster dog, Hunter, just finished a pricey round of treatment for heartworms. She is excited that more rescued animals can now get the same care.

Michelle Bucur: “What comes around, goes around. I think, if we just continue to do good deeds and always try to help without expecting anything in return, eventually somebody comes around.”

For Michelle, that “eventually” is right now. Her good deed shows that timing is everything.

Copyright 2021 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Mark Rosenberg resigns as FIU president, cites ‘recurring personal health issues’

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WEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) – Florida International University has begun a national search for their sixth president after accepting Mark B. Rosenberg’s resignation, Friday afternoon.

In a letter to Board of Trustee Dean Colson, Rosenberg wrote that he has chosen to step down immediately to focus on himself and his family.

“I am stepping back so that I may give full attention to recurring personal health issues and to the deteriorating health of my wife, Rosalie,” he wrote in the letter.

He also wrote, “I want to thank our university community. I have always appreciated the ‘can­ do’ attitude of faculty colleagues, professional staff, and our hardworking students, and am grateful for the widespread community support that our university now enjoys.”

Rosenberg had been president since 2009.

FIU students hearing the news said they feel sad to see him go, calling him part of the school’s legacy.

“He was a really good president, and I’m definitely going to remember him,” said student Maria Aguirre. “He did a lot for the school and for the community, and he was always with the students.”

“Everything comes to an end at one point, so I think it’s time for him to retire, so he can just rest and be with his wife,” said student Katherine Cadavid.

Prior to Rosenberg’s letter to the FIU community, a letter was sent out by Colson.

Along with accepting Rosenberg’s resignation, the letter went on to reference a possible interim president.

“I will be nominating Chief Financial Officer & Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration Dr. Kenneth Jessell to serve as interim president while we conduct a national search for FIU’s sixth president,” wrote Colson.

In ending his letter, Rosenberg said, “It has truly been the honor of a lifetime to represent our community and help build our FIU.”

FIU’s Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Friday afternoon.

While Rosenberg had celebrated success in FIU, he also helped the student body through one of the school’s darkest days, after 2018’s bridge collapse.

But despite rave reviews and more than a decade of leadership, conspicuously missing from the Board of Trustees’ emergency meeting was any mention of Rosenberg’s long list of accomplishments. In fact, his name was never mentioned at all.

The only FIU official to mention his name publicly was the school’s new interim president, during a taped video message.

During the emergency meeting, the board of trustees appointed Jessell to the job.

“I want to thank former president Mark Rosenberg for his leadership and heard work, and making FIU what is is today. I know that we will continue to elevate our university to new heights,” said Jessell.

Copyright 2021 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Homestead Police release picture of person of interest in fatal hit-and-run

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HOMESTEAD, FLA. (WSVN) – Homestead Police released a picture of a man they consider to be a person of interest in a hit-and-run that left an elderly man dead.

Police on Friday said they would like to question 20-year-old Edgar Mendez about Sunday’s crash in the area of Northwest Eighth Street and Campbell Drive.

Investigators said 71-year-old Carlos Diaz was walking was hit by a driver who took off before police responded.

If you have any information on this hit-and-run or Mendez’s whereabouts, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000.

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