9 local and 7 national charities to consider giving to this holiday season

It's the time of year where everyone is thinking about giving, and I hope charitable contributions are a part of your plan for gifts this year. Even if you volunteer regularly, remember that there are things organizations need money for that no volunteer time could fill. It's also nice to be able to make deductions on the amounts you give when tax time comes around.

These local Washington, D.C. organizations are ones that I have either personally volunteered for, worked with, or donated to:

* denotes charities that you can give to via the Combined Federal Campaign

  • Joseph's House - I honestly don't think I have the words to articulate the impact or importance of Joseph's House. I have tried to do as much as possible to support them since first reading this piece about the organization in the Washington Post 9 years ago. In 1990, Dr. David Hilfiker and his family moved into the third floor of a town home in Northwest Washington, D.C. On the second floor and basement lived the first residents of Joseph's House: a man who had spent most his life in prison for shooting a relative, another who had burglarized homes for almost two decades and a recovering drug addict with a suburban, middle-class upbringing. Nearly 30 years later, Joseph's Home continues to provide a home with access to 24 hour personal and medical care for homeless men and women with late-stage or end-stage AIDS and terminal cancer. It has maintained a tight knit community where residents, staff, and a small group of volunteers come together for family style meals, household chores, and simple companionship.
  • Omid Foundation- A family friend of mine helped set up the OMID Foundation, an organization that assists young women in Iran who are victims of sexual, physical, or mental abuse. The foundation's approach is based on three pillars: self-empowerment, education, and training. Through the 3 year program, teachers and psychologists in Tehran provide therapy and education for over 200 underprivileged and vulnerable girls at any one time.  During the program, the girls are able to attend educational and vocational training classes and workshops to ensure that they are able to reclaim their emotional stability and re-integrate into society. Many graduates end up working in a prominent company in the business community, starting their own business, or enrolling in a university program. And because no one understands the suffering of marginalized young women better than a young woman who has experienced it herself, the foundation does its best to transfer major parts of its management to OMID graduates.
  • DC Central Kitchen*- As a long time volunteer with D.C. Central Kitchen, I can't say enough great things about what they do. The growth of their outreach efforts speaks volumes about how necessary they are in the community. I've had personal encounters with people who credit their current stability and livelihood to the opportunities they were given by DCCK. DCCK consistently turns thousands of pounds of food each day into meals that are then distributed to hundreds of local shelters, transitional homes, and rehabilitation clinics. They offer outreach and counseling services to chronically homeless and low-income individuals. Through a job training program, D.C. Central Kitchen helps disadvantaged people acquire the professional and personal skills necessary to make a meaningful change in their lives.
  • The Wanda Alston Foundation - Identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) continues to mean that one has to face a lifelong battle of bullying, harassment, and anti-LGBT bias. It means not being safe at school, where LGBT kids are disproportionately harassed with few teachers trained to help. It means not being able to find a job or having to compromise one's gender identity in the workplace. It means being a target for hate crimes, as LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be the target of a violent hate-crime than Jews or black people, more than four times as likely as Muslims, and almost 14 times as likely as Latinos. And, especially for youth, it often means not having a stable living situation due to a multitude of factors - from family kicking you out of the home, to not having the income to find a place of your own. While there are resources for each of these problem sets, there are few that are tailored to the needs of the LGBTQ community. The Wanda Alston Foundation is a resource that offers pre-independent transitional living and support services to homeless or at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 16 to 24. To ensure LGBTQ youth have the resources they need, the foundation offers housing, life skills training, and linkages to other social services.
  • Keen Greater DC - I am especially passionate about working with people who have disabilities, particularly children. It's important to recognize that many things in our society - especially our education system -  are not designed to empower people with disabilities. KEEN DC creates programs that use sports, music, and other fun activities to build the confidence and self esteem of youth who live with intellectual, cognitive, communicative, and physical disabilities. Through these same programs, they strengthen communities, encourage inclusion, and provide families with respite and a supportive network. 
  • Friends of Soldier's Home - I was grabbing catfish at my favorite throwback catfish spot in Petworth (Fish in the Hood, RIP) when I bumped into an old friend and her husband, who were on their way to volunteer during a game night at Friends of Soldier's Home. I decided to tag along with them that evening, and I've been volunteering at FOSM ever since. The team there puts in countless hours of work to connect veterans of the Armed Forces Retirement Home with the community through monthly events and annual celebrations. The engagement means so much to the veterans of the retirement home, and it's a very unique way to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices that many of them have made.
  • Metro TeenAIDS (with Whitman Walker Health) - The HIV/AIDS epidemic is usually associated with the 80's, and the social hysteria around it has largely died down due to advances in medicine and education around the virus. While this has worked favorably in terms of reducing some of the stigma around people who are HIV+ or otherwise impacted by it, it has inadvertently created an apathetic, dismissive attitude among people from younger generations. Through education, support, and advocacy, MTA works to prevent the spread of HIV among youth. They also use programming to promote responsible decision making and improve the quality of life for young people infected with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS.
  • Wendt Center for Loss and Heating- If you've ever lost a family member, friend, or other loved one, then you know how difficult it can be to deal with the grief and trauma that follows. If you've ever been challenged with a life-changing condition or had someone close to you with one, you also know how hard it can be to process the emotions that follow. The Wendt Center is a valuable resource to the D.C. community in helping people cope with grief, loss and trauma. The organization offers personal counseling, support groups, and trainings to the Greater Washington area. They also have outreach posts in strategic places, like therapists who visit the morgue to help families who must identify a body and workshops after school shootings to prevent retaliation. When traumatic events occur, their crisis management teams counsel victims and first responders.
  • Woodley House - In 1968, occupational therapist Joan M. Doniger founded the Woodley House in an effort to provide much needed community-based mental health treatment for low-income people. As Woodley House comes up on its 60th birthday in 2018, it deserves acknowledgement for changing lives and advocating for the mentally ill on a local and national level. It's trained staff provide counseling, skills training, and coaching. Through their programs, people who are suffering from mental illness are able to acquire skills that encourage their transition towards self-sufficiency and successful independent living. The organization provides housing support through three of its own residential centers (Crossing Place, Holly House, and Valenti House) and leased units throughout the D.C. area. In addition to housing assistance, they provide crisis care. With all of these programs in place, Woodley House is able to provide mental health treatment to more than 350 residents a year.

Here are some national and international organizations to consider supporting:

  • White Helmets - I've done work to support the White Helmets and met Raed Al Saleh personally. The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, are a group of unarmed volunteers in Syria who risk their lives to help anyone in need. 
  • Sesame Street (Yellow Feather Fund) - As the philanthropic arm of the beloved Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop educates vulnerable children who lack access to education.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union- Long live the ACLU! They continue to defend the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. While I do not always like who they are defending, I usually agree with what they are defending.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America- I was a "big" sister to a child when I was in high school, and it was a fantastic experience. Roughly 85% of every dollar you give goes directly to support matching Littles with Bigs. 
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital- Donations ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food for their children. It also means doctors can do research that save lives.
  • Doctor's Without Borders-  An international organization that ensures medical care can be provided to those threatened by violence, neglect, natural disasters, epidemics and health emergencies. They are often in places where no one else is providing care.
  • Planned Parenthood- A very necessary organization that provides reproductive health services and advocacy.