There is nothing quite like the feel-good moment of biting into a homemade cupcake, unless it's knowing your sugar rush went to a worthy cause. Bake for Hope organizes weeklong bake sales, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to breast cancer charities. The Phoenix chapter, with only two months of organization this year, sponsored seven sales and raised more than $3,000, catapulting itself to the top slot for sales nationwide. Impressive, considering most items sold for a buck. During this year's local sales — held the week before Mother's Day — we scarfed up "Elvis" cupcakes (peanut butter/chocolate/banana), Bundt cakes, savory herb biscuits, gourmet brownies, and every flavor of cookie imaginable. As the local organizer of Bake for Hope, Julie Zagars, tells buyers, "If it's for charity, that removes all the calories."

There are a ton of geeks around these days, so this one was tough to narrow down, but when you've got a group whose sole reason for existence is an 11-episode TV series that was axed in 2002, well, maybe it's not so tough after all.

These do-gooder space cases reside in a place called the Whedonverse — named for Joss Whedon, creator of the TV hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more to the point, the character-based sci-fi oater Firefly. The original run of Firefly was butchered by Fox (the network ran the episodes out of sequence) and then unceremoniously canceled, but its fanatical followers, called Browncoats after the lead character's signature duster, have kept its memory alive via good deeds.

Arizona's Browncoats chapter meets monthly for "shindigs" at Bookman's (see www.bookmans.com/events) and also hosts regular Firefly-related charitable events.

If you only knew the charitable contributions of the dark side of the force, you'd know precisely why we've picked the Dune Sea Garrison as the best nerds with a cause. The garrison is the Arizona chapter of the 501st Legion, a worldwide organization of Star Wars costume makers who use their movie-accurate bad-guy outfits to walk for multiple sclerosis or bring smiles to Star Wars fans in children's hospitals. Locally, Dune Sea stormtroopers have been popping up at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Challenger Learning Center, and Tucson's UMC hospital. Maybe the Empire isn't all bad.

About a decade ago, a veteran Phoenix sports medicine doc named Paul Steingard started this laudable volunteer program hoping to save the lives of young athletes who, unknowingly, are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest and other potentially dangerous medical conditions. This year, more than 2,000 students — eighth grade through community college — went through the free TOPS screenings, held on a Saturday at a Phoenix high school. The screenings include comprehensive cardiac and other testing, conducted by a cool group of docs, nurses and other healthcare types — physical therapists, physician and nursing assistants, and a slew of osteopathic medical students. The TOPS program quietly has become a must-do for young athletes of all stripes. For this, we thank them.

Fresh Start Women's Resource Center

Found yourself thinking, "I need help"? Thought so. That's why we love Fresh Start Women's Foundation. Located in downtown Phoenix, the Jewell McFarland Lewis Fresh Start Women's Resource Center was the first comprehensive self-help center for women in the country. The center is designed for women 18 and older, and with $5 workshops on everything from crisis budgeting, family law support services, career services, getting in touch with loss and grief, blended families, and inner-beauty boot camps, there is something for everyone — no matter where you are in life. Start by attending Fresh Start 101 (no charge), which offers an overview of how to access and utilize services to meet your needs.

Escape from Cubicle Nation. It's a great name and a great sentiment. And it's just what Pamela Slim helps her clients do everyday — and she does it all from her living room in Mesa.

A certified life coach who trained with Martha Beck (of Oprah fame) and a specialist in business and community development, Pam Slim is a bona fide entrepreneur. She has traveled the world, worked with some of the biggest companies around, started her own business, and helped countless others to start theirs. Six years ago, she indeed in Mesa, got married (to a Navajo man who owns a construction business), and had two children. Settle down she did not.

Instead, this self-made wonder woman transitioned her consulting business, Ganas (that's Spanish for "drive"), to the Web with a blog that has gained an international following, www.escapefromcubiclenation.com, and she wrote a book by the same name. Now, she is, once again, traveling the globe, teaching workshops and giving speeches to anyone who wants to figure out how to escape from their cubicle and start their own business. For hundred of clients, Slim has made the phrase "don't quit your day job" sound like a joke.

Usually the word "ambassador" conjures up images of overpaid, overindulged, three-piece-suit-wearing foreign dignitaries who don't have to pay their parking tickets. In downtown Phoenix, it means friendly folks who will answer questions, show you around, and even walk you to your car. Dressed in orange shirts brighter than a hunting vest, they're like urban Boy Scouts who are always prepared and looking to do a good deed. Need to find parking? No problem. They'll help you find an available lot. Can't find a restaurant open after a game? No worries, they'll show you where to go. Can't figure out where to find a cocktail? That's an easy one. On bikes loaded down with maps, fliers, directories, and even bottled water, Copper Square Ambassadors make getting lost an adventure. Who knows what they'll help you find?

While big chunks of downtown Phoenix are developing spaces for mega-corporations and ultra-spendy lofts, it seems there's nary a hope left for the entrepreneur who wants to get a business off the ground. That's why we love .anti_space. Located on the corner of Fourth Street and McKinley, this L-shaped conclave is helping the little guy grow his vision and climb the counterculture corporate ladder. With rents that are manageable and just enough space to get an aspiring tycoon started, .anti_space is the spot that's launched a load of indie businesses — all packed with hipster cred — including Pravus Gallery, Mint Vintage Clothing, Conspire, and Butter Toast. It's called progress, baby. .anti_space is proof positive that there's still a place for small-business owners to get established and then make room for the next generation.

Now that Melrose on Seventh has emerged as the 'Who's Who' of CenPho shopping districts, what better way to solidify your status as a killer 'hood than a street festival? And when it comes to neighborhood street festivals, no one does it better than Melrose on Seventh. Recently celebrating its eighth year, this annual festival keeps getting bigger and better. Nowadays, the entire swath of Seventh Avenue between Indian School and Camelback is closed off to make room for the 10,000 or so people who pack the street to join the party. Quirky vendors, food, and, of course, cotton candy are all present and accounted for in the area known as "the curve." Car fans line up to peep the sleek, metal machines in a classic car show, a nod to the street's old-school flair and venerable neighborhood business, Chester's Garage. Kiddies, too, are in the mix as crafts and events were added just for them. We can't forget the bands, either, as the main stage rocks into the night. We can't think of a better way for a neighborhood to signal that it's arrived.

Historic Heritage Square

Nothing says spring like a couple of nikku-filled onigiri and a little taiko. Can't understand us? Don't turn on the subtitles, just head to Matsuri for a couple of meat-filled rice balls and a little Japanese drumming. This downtown Phoenix festival celebrates other aspects of Japan, like the humble bento (lunch box) and karaoke (singing like a drunken cow in public). There are also regular tea ceremonies and plenty of Nippon swag to snatch, from kimonos to manga comic books. So cast aside your Godzilla-inspired notions of Japan and gain some culture, gaijin (foreigner).

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