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Support local charities this holiday season

The season of giving is upon us, and many of us make meaningful contributions to charitable organizations at this time of the year. When thinking about what groups to support, please consider helping out some of our local nonprofits which work to improve the lives of people in our region and create better communities.

Photo by Mindful One on Flickr.

Here are a few nonprofits which our contributors listed as some of their favorites:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth: There is one organization in this region which advocates for all of the issues we discuss on this blog, including smart growth, transit, affordable housing policies, and bridging the east-west divide.

CSG advocates for policies in many of the parts of the region where they are most needed, from Loudoun to Prince George's, and has been featured multiple times in the Catalogue for Philanthropy.

A movement is most effective when blogs, traditional nonprofits, and elected officials work together to promote ideas in concert. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is working every day to turn what we believe in and discuss here on the blog into reality.

They're a small organization (4 full-time staff) and need our support, especially in this tough economic time, to continue doing their great work and to do even more. Plus, for the month of December, other donors will match every dollar you give to CSG.

Human services: Help those most in need this year with basic food, shelter, and more. This is especially important now with a bad economy, widespread unemployment, and governments cutting back on vital services. Direct service groups like Bread for the City and So Others Might Eat provide food, clothing, medical care, legal counseling, job training and more to the most needy.

The Capital Area Food Bank provides most of the food that the direct service organizations distribute. And DC Central Kitchen turns unused food from area businesses into meals for the needy, and trains unemployed people for culinary careers.

N Street Village helps homeless women find housing, get medical and mental health care, and job training; their center on 14th Street replaced an ugly parking lot and has become an anchor for more growth on its part of 14th Street. Charlie's Place helps homeless people with food, clothing and job training. AMEN gives emergency financial assistance to Arlington residents in crisis.

Advocacy membership organizations: Many nonprofit advocacy groups are structured as membership organizations. Being a member supports their work and sometimes comes with a few extra bonuses as well. Consider joining the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and Maryland's Action Committee for Transit. The DC Sierra Club provided much of the driving force behind streetcars. And of course, if you think DC residents should have voting rights like all other Americans, join DC Vote.

Environmental groups: Sprawl constantly threatens our natural resources and, by extension, the quality of our drinking water, recreational opportunities, and more. Some of the many local groups working are the DC, Virginia, and Maryland Sierra Clubs, the Anacostia Watershed Society, Friends of Rock Creek's Environment, Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, and more. Casey Trees plants and nurtures street trees to help all neighborhoods develop a healthy tree canopy.

Education and mentoring: There are so many worthy education nonprofits it's not possible to do them justice here, but here are just a few to start with: For Love of Children connects underprivileged children with one on one volunteer tutors; they're looking for more volunteers as well as funding. College and Career Connections works in Ward 7 to encourage youth to stay motivated in school and go to college, which are key to success in the modern world. And Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area has made a difference in so many children's lives.

Food security and urban farming: People struggling with hunger and homelessness aren't the only ones who need help with food. All children need healthy meals which are often difficult for poor families to afford. Urban farms and nutrition programs seek to make more fresh food available to poor neighborhoods.

Consider supporting the DC Farm to School Network, which gets healthy, local, and sustainable food to DC schoolchildren; Common Good City Farm, an urban farm and education center growing food for low-income residents; The Farm at Walker Jones is building a farm in the H Street area for kids to learn about food and to provide it to them and needy neighbors.

Your local aging in place "village": A number of neighborhoods have "village" associations which help senior citizens remain in their homes by providing assistance with illnesses and disabilities, small home maintenance tasks, and connections to community activities. A diversity of ages is healthy and important for every neighborhood.

There are villages in Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Kalorama, Palisades, Chevy Chase, and more. Also, Iona Senior Center not only provides services for the elderly but helped fund the Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action program to make upper Connecticut safer.

Others in the Catalogue for Philanthropy: This annual publication showcases valuable, small, effective nonprofits in the DC metropolitan area around sustainability, education, human services and more. It's a great way to find out about organizations worth supporting that you might not otherwise know about.

What other local and regional organizations do you support?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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On a related note, for those of us who are Federal employees, the Combined Federal Campaign has been extended here in the DC area until January 17.

by Froggie on Dec 16, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

Join the National Association of Railroad Passengers to support our lobbying and grassroots advocacy work to bring more and better passenger trains to all Americans -- both intercity trains and commuter trains, metros and light rail/streetcars. NARP members save 10% on most Amtrak rail fares.

by Malcolm K on Dec 16, 2010 1:55 pm • linkreport

Just for the record re: Malcolm's comment, I deliberately didn't include national organizations, but there are definitely a lot of great ones.

by David Alpert on Dec 16, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

Does anybody here have experience with literacy charities? For instance Literacy Volunteers and Advocates

by Jasper on Dec 16, 2010 2:23 pm • linkreport

Was already planning on it, $250 to CfSG. Added bonus, my company 100% matches up to that amount, so with their match for December, that $250 levers to $1K.

by John on Dec 16, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

In light of WMATA's random bag search announcement, I think I'll be making a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union.

by Matt Johnson on Dec 16, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

Matt: Good thought, but if you do, you'll get a thick paper envelope soliciting more money at least once a month. I can't help wonder how much of donations to the ACLU just go to harassing their members for more money. Personally, I'm stopping donating to them because of that.

by David Alpert on Dec 16, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

@ David: I can't help wonder how much of donations to the ACLU just go to harassing their members for more money.

That goes for most charities. In fact, I get solicitations from charities I have not donated to, and I have no clue how they got my address.

by Jasper on Dec 16, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

Jasper: The ACLU is way worse than others. We donate to a fair number of different charities and only the ACLU is constantly sending us mail. I don't mind a reminder once a year or something. I mind constantly getting envelopes with thick papers about their "strategic plan" and whatnot which are all just vehicles for more fundraising pitches.

by David Alpert on Dec 16, 2010 4:08 pm • linkreport

Thanks for including the Anacostia Watershed Society! We really appreciate the shout-out and support. For anyone interested in contributing through the Combined Federal Campaign, we are CFC #88425. Happy holidays!

by Emily Gillespie on Dec 16, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: I read that giving a small amount only gets your name sold to other charities, so you're better off choosing a much smaller number of charities and giving an amount large enough that they don't want to share your name.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 16, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

Any local affordable housing charities you would recommend?

by rock_n_rent on Dec 16, 2010 5:23 pm • linkreport

Knowing your recipient and how they spend their money is missing here. one of the useful things about the CFC campaign is that it provides info on how much money goes for administrative costs.

Personally, most my donations go to my hometown which is economically worse off than DC. the many transplants here should think about doing that, too.

by Rich on Dec 16, 2010 5:32 pm • linkreport

One area of extreme need is in basic legal representation. People get screwed by the system because they don't have access to lawyers that the rich take for granted. Lawyers at these organizations (I am a volunteer at one) help people get into affordable housing, get health insurance, navigate the byzantine social security regulations, get food stamps, fight slum lords, get CPOs against domestic abusers, and fight foreclosures. Donate to, or to Bread for the City (which also does a great job providing a full range of services to the urban poor - social workers, food banks, job training, etc).

by David on Dec 16, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

Don't forget about your local NPR affiliate WAMU 88.5

Also food and friends and DC central Kitchen are two great food related charities.

by Canaan on Dec 16, 2010 7:09 pm • linkreport

Thanks for a nice collection of charities, Alpert. Another one I wanted to mention is the Washington Architectural Foundation (WAF).

WAF is the non-profit arm of the Washington chapter of the AIA. The Foundation funds three major projects every year:

- Architecture in the Schools, a program that brings architects into 30 D.C. and Northern Virginia schools to introduce kids in grades K-12 to architecture and design, as well as fostering analytical and creative skills.
- Community Design Services, a program through which architects, landscape architects, interior designers, urban planners, preservationists, and others provide pro bono services to other D.C. nonprofit groups.
- Public Good Program, which draws attention to local issues ranging from the problem of hunger to important local planning decisions. It includes Canstruction, an annual design-build competition that benefits the Capital Area Food Bank.

I wasn't sure if you were aware of the Foundation, but feel its programs align nicely with many of the objectives discussed here on GGW.

by Bryant Turnage on Dec 16, 2010 11:02 pm • linkreport

This year, I selected AHC Inc., AMEN, AFAC, Bread for the City, WAMU, WABA for my contributions.

AHC builds and operates affordable housing in Arlington and elsewhere. As part of the housing, they run excellent resident services programs. It was as a volunteer tutor with their teen tutoring program that I first got introduced to what AHC does for our community. Their Teen Tutoring program graduated all 12 of their high school seniors, and 10 of them are headed to college. I'm proud that one of the students I first tutored as a freshman is now studying engineering at Virginia Tech.

AMEN provides emergency funds for Arlington residents in dire financial need. Sometimes the difference between staying in your home and being out on the street is a couple hundred dollars to make the rent. Sometimes people just need the first month's rent or security deposit in order to finally move into housing rather than stay on the street or a halfway house. AMEN also manages the Energy Share program which provides funds to families having difficulties paying their electric or heating bills.

AFAC is Arlington Food Assistance Center, the food bank. They serve about 1200 referred families per week with supplemental groceries.

The other charities I listed are familiar to most people.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 16, 2010 11:47 pm • linkreport

Thank you so much for mentioning AHC Inc. We really appreciate your support for our education programs for children and teens and our affordable housing initiatives.

by Celia Slater on Dec 17, 2010 9:27 am • linkreport

Thank you so much for including N Street Village in your list. We provide basic needs, health, housing, and employment services for nearly 900 homeless and low-income women each year, and we couldn't do it without community support!

by Tracy Cecil on Dec 17, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

Audubon Naturalist Society, with wildlife sanctuaries in Maryland and Virginia, provides nature activities for children and adults. The Society's mission: to inspire us to appreciate, understand, and protect their natural environment through outdoor experiences, education, and advocacy.

by David Gorsline on Dec 19, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

Thank you for posting this blog! The Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area is the only authorized workplace charitable giving drive for employees in the Federal workplace. The CFCNCA has become a powerful way to help neighbors and strengthen communities.

Through the collective contributions of nearly 150,000 civilian and military Federal employees, the campaign generated more than $66.5 million in pledges for participating charities in 2009.

The 2010 goal is $67 million, and the support has been amazing. The dedication of the Federal employees is inspirational!

by HJ Higgins on Dec 24, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

Go CFC -- that's an amazing amount of money raised, which translates into lots of hope and healing. There are more than 200 great Catalogue for Philanthropy nonprofits that participate in the CFC. Find them at the link. You will find several other search criteria on our website-literacy orgs,employment, housing, etc. Also, if you click on the Learn More link on each nonprofit page, you can find out if the org participates in the CFC. We added this link because so many people asked if they can support Catalogue nonprofits through the CFC. These amazing, front-line nonprofits open themselves to scrutiny by a team of 5-7 of reviewers, so just remember to let them know you found them in the Catalogue, too.

by Kathy Jankowski on Jan 3, 2011 7:37 pm • linkreport

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