‘Tis the giving season! This week, we at Sightline share our favorite charities in Cascadia and beyond. We hope this helps inspire your end-of-year giving. Enjoy!
To me, perhaps the single most egregious failing of the United States (among several) is that ten times as many people with schizophrenia and other forms of severe mental illness are locked in prison as are in psychiatric hospitals and other residential recovery facilities. My favorite organization working for mental health reform is the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), which aims to eliminate barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness. Right now, TAC has a campaign against mass incarceration of people with mental illness; the video Mental Illness on Trial is a good starting place for learning more about this issue.
My family also supports Sound Mental Health in Seattle. The agency provides comprehensive services for people struggling with both severe mental illness and poverty, often including homelessness. And I’ve recently learned of a wonderful Washington program that helps people with mental illnesses who are incarcerated. It’s called Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities. I would like to learn more about effective programs across Cascadia in the field of services for people who experience extreme mind states.
I also support Homeless in Seattle, a Facebook page that connects those struggling without shelter and home-full people like me. I love the way the site tells stories through words and photographs and provides tangible, specific ways to help.
There are lots of issues faced by people who identify as transgender, and one of them is the financial cost of aligning the way you are seen in the world with the way that you identify. For example, a name change can cost over $150 in most Washington counties, and this is a very high fee for people of low income. In 2011, Gender Alliance of the South Sound (GASS) created a program called Name-Aid that helps people of low income pay for their legal name change. GASS is a nonprofit that provides support, fellowship, and education for people on the transgender spectrum and their families, friends, and allies.
I’m a supporter of Mary’s Place, a resource center for homeless women, children, and families in emergency situations. Mary’s Place provides meals, showers, laundry, medical care, support groups, and resources that help women find housing and employment. It is busy keeping moms and kids a little bit cozier and cheerier during the holiday season. My daughter and I also like to work together to pick out food and special holiday items that are on local children’s wish lists. In Seattle, you can get matched with a family by an organization like Navos or Bellevue LifeSpring (where people can post Amazon wish lists) or contribute gifts to “free stores” where people can pick out gifts for their own kids (Hopelink and Wellspring Family Services). This year we chose Treehouse because they do both wish lists and a holiday gift “shop” for local kids living in foster homes.
Refugee resettlement is close to my heart. This recent story on KUOW about a Syrian family upon their arrival in Seattle is a beautiful snapshot of how much refugees immediately benefit from a welcoming community after such an arduous and exhausting journey. Resettlement organizations need all kinds of donations, not just monetary. When I worked for a resettlement agency, families always appreciated gift cards to a grocery or retail store—especially around the holidays. You can locate your closest resettlement agency here. (Direct links for: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia!)
If you’re looking to support a great service organization over the holiday season, Wellspring would be a wonderful choice. This family services organization on Rainier Avenue in Seattle has a great safety network. It offers a “baby boutique,” which provides free children’s items (new and gently-used) to families with children ages 0-17 who are experiencing homelessness. It also offers domestic violence intervention programs, early learning programs for families with kids experiencing homelessness, and housing services. YouthCare is another organization doing critical work to care for youth experiencing homelessness. For 40 years, it has been a leader in providing effective services to Seattle’s homeless youth. It has grown from a three-bed shelter in 1974 started by a group of concerned citizens to a thriving community-based agency with six sites serving the greater Seattle area.
PAWS, Progressive Animal Welfare Society, is a local organization that rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, finds homes for cats and dogs, and educates people to better the relationships between us and our animal companions. I adopted my cat Rorschach from its no-kill Seattle shelter when he was six, so PAWS has a special place in my heart. It has plenty of volunteer opportunities, too, if you prefer to support it that way!
Friends of the Children is a mentorship organization with local chapters in Oregon and Washington. Much like Big Brothers Big Sisters, it helps disadvantaged youth break the cycle of poverty. Its full-time mentors commit to spend 12.5 years with the kids they mentor, from kindergarten through graduation.
Want to contribute to Seattle’s unique culture and promote well-rounded education for all ages? Supporting the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Public Library, or the Seattle Symphony is a great way to do so!
This year I’m giving to St. Francis, a church in my neighborhood that serves hot meals to homeless people every day.
And Kiva, because reading through the descriptions of what people can do with micro-loans reminds me of what many people’s lives are really like, and what “entrepreneur” really means (hint: not SnapChat).
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At a recent event with #BlackLivesMatter Co-Founder, Patrisse Cullors, I left wondering how I can support black-led organizing in the Northwest. The Social Justice Fund Northwest is a small community-led organization working at the frontline of social change. Your donation will be pooled and leveraged to achieve a community benefit that would be impossible through individual contributions. More info here.
This isn’t a local organization, but definitely an inspiring one! I encourage you to check out Lideres Campesinas, a grassroots organization that advocates for female farmworker rights. In addition to mostly being single mothers and farmworkers, these amazing women somehow find time to organize around gendered issues in the fields.
I also agree with Alicia: the Seattle Public Library rules! It amazes me how many resources it has for free, including subscriptions to lynda.com and the Oxford English Dictionary. They also host great speaker events! (If you become a “Friend of the Library,” then you can attend the annual book sale preview night!)
The great outdoors is important to me, and it is my hope that future generations will feel the same. The frustrating part is that not all kids have the same access to the mountains and rivers of the backcountry—how do we change that? One great resource I found was Outdoors Empowered Network. Through its partnerships with several organizations throughout the country, Outdoors Empowered Network is getting kids outside and is focused on environmental education. A local Seattle affiliate is the Washington Trails Association that contributes by sharing outdoor gear and hosting camping workshops in the Seattle area.
Homelessness is an issue I’ve cared about for a long time, be it in the Chicago suburbs where I grew up or far away among Syrian refugees or right downstairs from the Sightline office, on Seattle’s Third Avenue. Goodness, do I feel grateful to have a warm, dry, safe home to return to each night.
This year, I donated to Doctors without Borders a few months ago in hopes of supporting its frontline work both with refugees and also with war victims still in Syria. In fact, for a day, Google was matching every donation to it and to a few other refugee assistance groups, so I felt my dollar went further. I’ll also give to Facing Homelessness Seattle—a.k.a. the Just Say Hello project—part of whose mission is describing the stories behind the faces of people experiencing homelessness and creating “a grassroots movement of kindness” to help address the issue.
This month I served as a trustee for Seattle’s Awesome Foundation. Trustees donate money and collectively give a mini grant every month to someone with a creative idea, aimed at serving the local community. This month Seattle’s Awesome chapter gave $1,000 to Un-loop, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to providing tech industry training to people who have been in prison (as you can imagine, Microsoft geeks volunteer to make this happen). Un-loop plans to host robotics classes in three Washington State prisons this winter. There are Awesome chapters in lots of cities across the United States, Canada, and the globe where you can get involved if you want to serve as a trustee or submit an application to fund your own awesome idea.