The Giving Season

More nonprofit organizations

6. Children's Defense Fund
"I was blessed to be at a convergence of great role models and major social events," says Marian Wright Edelman, who credits her parents' belief in service and her experiences with civil-rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., for her drive to create the Children's Defense Fund in 1973. After working with poor families in Mississippi--helping parents get off food stamps and find jobs, and assisting them in getting their kids an education--she witnessed something profound: "The sight of children having hope was incredible," recalls Edelman.

Forty years later, CDF is still fighting to create opportunities for all children by advocating for changes in public policy while also working directly with kids in need. It played a key role in expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start, both of which support low-income children and their families. More than 115,000 children have participated in CDF Freedom Schools, after-school and summer programs designed to help foster a love of reading, build self-esteem, and engage in community service.

How You Can Help
$25 gets a Freedom Schools book and teaching materials to one child. $100 will give a child several books plus teaching materials. $250 provides a child with meals and snacks at the Freedom Schools summer program.

7. Jumpstart
On the first day that Ethan Peritz entered a classroom as a Jumpstart Corps member, excited to share his love of reading with a group of low-income kids in Boston, a 4-year-old boy named Christopher spat in his face. Every week, Ethan tried to read him a story according to the Jumpstart curriculum, which is specially designed to help preschool-age kids get ready for kindergarten, but Christopher refused to acknowledge him. One day Ethan heard the little boy making noises and realized he was beatboxing, so Ethan started beatboxing too. By the school year's end, Christopher, a Haitian immigrant who had survived the earthquake at age 3 and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was able to greet Ethan with a smile and write out his full name.

"Those kinds of stories tell us how Jumpstart does so much more than early-education intervention," says Naila Bolus, the organization's president and CEO. Founded 20 years ago, Jumpstart is in 76 cities across 14 states plus Washington, D.C. Members work with kids to help them read, improve vocabulary, and learn letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Research shows that these children make significantly greater gains in reading, social skills, and school readiness than other kids in similar low-income settings.

How You Can Help
$25 will supply a year's worth of crayons and paper for one classroom. $100 will get two classrooms puzzles and song charts. $250 provides five Jumpstart sessions for one child

8. Harlem Children's Zone
Harlem Children's Zone was founded in 1970 with the goal of working with young children in Harlem who came from troubled low-income families and who were often absent from school. Today, the nonprofit has a much bigger mission: to break the cycle of poverty for the 10,000 children and their families living in a 97-block area of Harlem.

To do this, HCZ offers a range of educational programs and also runs two Promise Academy charter schools and a variety of health and social-service initiatives. In the 2012-13 school year, 100 percent of the kids who attended HCZ's preschool program achieved school readiness according to national standards, and 98 percent of the Promise Academy's 2013 graduating senior class headed off to college last fall.

HCZ just opened a new school and community center in the St. Nicholas Houses, historically a highly vulnerable stretch of central Harlem. "It used to be held hostage by the drug dealers," says Anne Williams-Isom, the organization's COO. She and HCZ's CEO and president, Geoffrey Canada, see their project as a model that other struggling neighborhoods can replicate, no matter what their challenges. "We want other communities to do what we're doing because we know it works," she says.

Meanwhile, both Canada and Williams-Isom stay plugged in to the needs of local families. "One mom lost her kids to foster care last year; we've helped her get them back. Now she's calling me any morning they're running late for school to let me know what's up," says Williams-Isom. "We're holding her to a high standard because those kids matter--but we're also wrapping our arms around her. We're treating her like the strong mom we know she can be."

How You Can Help
$50 gets supplies to an elementary-school classroom; $100 provides a month of healthy lunches for one student; and $250 provides uniforms for five pre-K students.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment