Knowing how to help a homeless person can sometimes feel difficult, confusing and overwhelming. The dollar you give might be used to buy drugs or alcohol. Even offering food can be a problem – imagine handing an apple to a homeless man and then discovering he has no teeth. Just as there are many reasons people become homeless, there are also many ways to help. Understanding the leading causes of homelessness is often the best way to learn what the homeless need and how you can make a positive difference in their lives. The chronically homeless, who often struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues, need a safe and stable living environment where they can get counseling and health care. To help them, consider volunteering at a local shelter or halfway house that provides longer-term housing. Donating clean towels, pillows and blankets can also help create a comfortable and safe living environment. The majority of homeless youthhave been kicked out of their homes or abandoned by parents or guardians. Others who left on their own accord have suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their families. For many, trusting another adult or authority figure can be difficult. One of the best ways to help is to simply ask them what they need. Maybe it’s a hot meal, a warm coat or a clean pair of socks; or maybe it’s information on how to get into foster care, enroll in a drug and alcohol detox program or register for the GED. Taking the time to listen to their needs, and to follow through, can go a long way in helping them regain their trust in others and get off the streets. For many veterans, physical disability, mental anguish and post-traumatic stress can make readjusting to civilian life very difficult. This can lead to drug and alcohol addiction, the inability to hold down a steady job and homelessness. Because many veterans have very specific needs to help them get back on their feet—job placement services, medical services, housing assistance, counseling—there are numerous ways to get involved. Consider donating your time or money to organizations which help homeless vets:
While we need to address the problem of homelessness as a whole, the more we can understand each person’s individual circumstances, the more we can help. Before making assumptions or judgments, take the time to ask some questions and do a little research. It can make all the difference. The Face(s) of Homelessness
Hunger: it’s a daunting problem the world over. Even though I was eager to research and write on this topic, when I started to dig into it, I got more and more overwhelmed with how broad and profound the issue is. The stark facts saddened and discouraged me.
In the United States, almost half of all food is wasted, while 1 in 4 go hungry.
Here’s what shocked me the most: 16.2 million children in the U.S. are without adequate food and nutrition. And we know poor nutrition in early childhood causes lifelong problems with mental and physical development (Journal of American Medical Association, 2013).
It’s hard to believe it happens at home. Many American families can’t adequately feed their own children. Parents and grandparents have had to choose between paying heating bills or putting a meal on their table. When I read through stories on the Feeding America website, many moved me to tears. Not just because of the sadness of the situations, but also because they were stories of hope. I learned that food banks are a pretty wonderful resource. They connect community members with life-saving food supplies, and even offer health and nutrition based programs for people with special health concerns like diabetes.
Then I started to think: what can I realistically do—locally— to help?
Outside of governmental programs, I knew that taking a holistic approach, including equitable food distribution, sustainable agricultural practices, and nutrition education was the most positive way to make a difference in the fight to end hunger. That’s when I discovered the Food Justice movement .
I didn’t know much about this community-based movement, but the name alone made me feel empowered and reminded me that hunger is actually a social justice issue. I started checking out local groups involved in this activism.
Food Justice is the right of every person to have access to fresh, nutritious food. Food justice groups are caring individuals who create food production techniques that are healthy and sustainable (often in underused public spaces); raise awareness; teach waste reduction; and offer nutrition programs, gardening and other resources for schools and communities. These are actions anyone could take to make a difference in the world.
So what am I going to do, now that I’ve educated myself about hunger? I’ve signed up to volunteer with the Oakland-based organization Planting Justice. I’ve promised myself I will be more mindful and less wasteful about the food I bring home, and I may try building my own food-producing garden…even if it is just one basil plant and one rosemary plant for now! One step at a time, right?
How you can get started
Here are a few Food Justice-focused charities working to bring together nutritional resources, sustainable food production and distribution practices, and community growth:
We reached a major milestone in the history of JustGive last week when we processed the one-millionth donation on our website.
Who was behind this auspicious donation? His name is Al Danish, and he hails from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
Al made his donation to PathWays PA, a nonprofit dedicated to helping to keep low-income, vulnerable women together with their children by offering programs and services that help families stabilize their lives.
“If my donation can help in a small way, then that makes me feel good,” Al said about helping PathWays.
Al said his role as a grandfather of two makes PathWays’ mission even more relevant to him. “I liked the idea of making a donation for something specific like a case of diapers for a baby,” Al said.
Pathways PA is also a JustGive nonprofit affiliate. Since 2008, they’ve used our nonprofit services to accept donations through their website.
With just a few clicks, PathWays created a customized donation page, allowing their donors to select from a list of suggested gifts like $25 to “provide basic toiletries to a mom in need,” or to enter in any desired donation amount.
“JustGive is a wonderful avenue for our online donors to give in a quick and easy way,” said Fran Franchi, Director of Development for PathWays. “We are so grateful for supporters like Al Danish. Thank you, Al for your continued support of PathWays PA’s mission and congratulations on being the one-millionth donor.”
Al was gracious about his 15 minutes of online donor fame when we first shared the news, saying, “You made me feel very good about helping out with a donation.”
JustGive was one of the first nonprofit organizations to channel the power of the Internet for online giving. Since 2000, we have sent more than $400 million to over 70,000 charities working throughout the world—and every day, we are inspired by donors like Al Danish to create new ways for people to find, learn about, and support virtually any charity, anytime.
Thank you to Al and PathWays PA for helping us reach this important milestone!
As a woman, it’s hard to grow up without exposure to sexual violence of some kind. While I was lucky to get out of my early childhood unscathed, I experienced sexual harassment from several peers beginning in middle school, and was involved in a verbally abusive relationship in high school, which led to choosing a verbally abusive marriage.
Even as I was making poor decisions in partners, my inner voice wondered, “Why am I doing this?” Pushing aside our inner voice is, I believe, one of the key reasons why I and so many other women find ourselves in the less-than-ideal situations that lead to sexual assault.
Sexual Assault is an umbrella term, which includes child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact (touching or grabbing), unwelcome exposure of another’s body (exhibitionism), domestic violence, and rape. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The ultimate goal: raise our children with the core values that help them avoid sexual assault.
Encourage healthy sexuality at a young age
An awareness of what is wrong starts with an understanding about what’s right. And this, parents, is up to you. Sexuality needs to be discussed many, many times: think of it more as a series of moments where you can educate your kids, not one Big Talk. If you’re wondering how to educate your kids about sexuality, check out this great healthy sexuality PDF from National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).
It’s important to keep these conversations age appropriate, addressing different topics at each age. NSVRC offers another helpful PDF with an excellent chart to help parents understand what’s “normal” for sexual development at various ages, and which conversations to have.
Talking to your kids about sexuality is only part of the issue, though. My father was an OB/GYN and my mother a nurse, so I grew up knowing “the birds and the bees.” Yet, I still didn’t make good decisions.
Teach your children that they own their own bodies
At my daughter’s second birthday party, a friend tried to force her daughter to hug mine. My little girl is very shy, didn’t know this girl very well, and didn’t want to. My response? “You don’t have to hug anyone you don’t want to.” It is very important to me that my daughter knows that she owns her body and makes all decisions concerning it. This means she doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone she doesn’t want to, even if I’m worried the other person might be offended.
While well-intentioned parents have a tendency to force their kids to hug or kiss their friends or grandparents, this practice can send an unintended, detrimental message to kids: Push aside your own feelings to make someone else happy. This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’
If your children are huggers, teach them to ask others for permission to hug (“May I hug you?”). If you would like for them to hug Grandma, you can say: “I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won’t make you do it.” Teach them to respond with a hug, or a “no, thank you.” And mean what you say—don’t let any child feel disappointment or resentment from you. Explain your reasoning to family members, and remind them it’s not personal. Every child goes through stages where they don’t want to offer affection.
This is hardest for me as a parent, actually—I constantly want to kiss my daughter’s adorable little face, and at two, she often responds with a firm, “NO MOMMY!” Not wanting to squelch her currently strong inner voice, I usually respond with, “that’s okay, honey, it’s your body.”
Understand and talk to your kids about teen relationship violence
After years of bullying during middle school, I was desperate for acceptance. When my family and I moved to another state during my junior year in high school, I became involved with a verbally abusive boyfriend. Though the relationship lasted only four months, the damage lasted much longer—and led me to a verbally abusive marriage. While it is embarrassing for me to admit I didn’t value myself, I know that I’m not alone. By talking about it, I hope to help more young girls understand the long-term repercussions of their choices.
Talking with your children about healthy relationships is extremely important—second only to modeling good relationships. If you are not in a healthy relationship, your children are more likely to choose unhealthy relationships for themselves.
So how do you teach your kids about healthy relationships? Point out loving interactions, examples of good communication, and healthy boundaries when you see them, both in the media and in life. And point out examples of unhealthy interactions when you see them, as well.
If you suspect that your child is already in an unhealthy relationship, check out Love is Respect’s “Help Your Child.” This can be a very tricky situation to navigate, so if you need help, definitely get it — from a hotline, a counselor, or a domestic violence counselor.
Concerned and involved parents are key: what we teach our children truly can prevent sexual assaults. In addition, the wonderful charities mentioned in this post provide a wealth of information. Please donate now to help spread the word, fund research, and provide resources to parents, kids, and affected adults.
Nearly fourteen years ago, I was sitting in my senior classroom when the principle came over the loudspeaker and told every teacher to turn on the TV. A mass shooting was in progress at a high school in Colorado. My classmates and I watched the news coverage in horror, most of us in tears.
This was the Columbine High School Massacre, which remains the deadliest shooting on a high school campus in United States history.
The shootings were terrifying, in part because they weren’t entirely surprising. You may remember Kip Kinkel, the student in Oregon who killed his parents and then shot his classmates. That happened the year before, in Springfield, an hour from my school.
When we think about teen violence, these horrific school shootings (especially the most recent one at Sandy Hook Elementary) are what come to mind. But youth violence is about more than school shootings. When you include fights, gang violence and suicide under the umbrella term of “youth violence,” the statistics are frightening. Believe it or not, violence is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Statistics like these leave us asking questions: “Why is this happening?” and “How can we stop it?” These are hard questions. And there’s no greater reflex than the instinct to protect our children—which makes us feel desperate to find the answers right now.
How to Prevent Youth Violence
Because of the many factors that contribute to violent attitudes and behaviors, there is not one approach or one group that can effectively stop the violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are a few proven strategies that help:
Get involved in parent- and family-based programs. In these programs, parents receive training on child development and learn skills for talking with their kids about solving problems in nonviolent ways. (Find free educational courses online at Veto Violence, or search online for “parenting courses” in your community.)
Teaching non-violent communication. Teach children how to handle tough social situations, and how to resolve problems without using violence.
Take advantages of mentoring programs. Mentoring programs pair a young person with an adult who serves as a positive role model and helps guide behavior.
Support environmental changes. Changes to the physical and social environment can address some base causes of violence. Youth violence is a particular concern for low-income, minority communities, where poverty, family instability, and unemployment provide a fertile context for gangs and illicit drug markets. Addressing these issues is key.
Programs That Help Young People
There are many great nonprofit organizations working on a grassroots level to help educate parents, teachers and kids about youth violence. Check out these six charities, each of which take a different approach:
Afterschool Alliance provides afterschool programs for children across the country. Afterschool programs are critical for kids who have working parents, helping keep them out of trouble and learn important skills.
STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere), a program run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has a threefold mission: 1) increase awareness about youth violence, 2) promote prevention approaches based on the best available evidence, and 3) provide guidance to communities on how to prevent youth violence.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters improves children’s lives by pairing kids aged 6 to 18 (“Littles”) with adult mentors (“Bigs”). The results? Higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships, avoidance of risky behaviors, and educational success.
Second Growth counsels adolescents and young adults on drug, alcohol, and recovery issues, and violence prevention. They provide Student Assistance Programs to middle and high schools, and train others to replicate their programs.
Alternatives to Violence USA is an association of community- and prison- based groups offering workshops in personal growth and creative conflict management. They empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation, and trust.
The best news is that Youth Violence is now top-of-mind, and we’re having real, constructive conversations to solve the underlying issues.
Let’s hope that Sandy Hook is the last of these tragic massacres. Donate now and get involved to help stop youth violence.
I’ve been having great difficulty dealing with the horror that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My kids are often in Sandy Hook for sports and other activities, and I have spent many weekends on the sidelines of the soccer fields directly behind the school.
Newtown is almost identical to my town of Weston, Connecticut, so it is very hard for me to let go of the horror by rationalizing to myself that it is far away or such a different type of community than my own. This trauma is deeper for all of us because the reality is that this could have happened anywhere and to any of us. That is what is most profoundly frightening about this event.
I have a 7 year old who is always curious, and he came home from school on Friday asking a lot of questions. After asking all the main questions, he paused and asked, “How did the kids know what to do when their teacher died?” He was obviously putting himself directly into that situation. I am very sad he has to think about these things at such an early age. As he was going to bed that night he asked, “Does God make these bad people?” I had to explain that everyday, we all wake up and have to make many decisions that can make us “good” or “bad” for that moment.
Every night now when I put him to bed, I first get a chill of realization that he could have been in that 1st grade classroom, and then I give a grateful hug that he is still here to tuck in.
It is almost impossible to comprehend the depth of tragedy and anguish that will always be a part of the Newtown community. Life is so precious—and at the same time, it can be unfair and unpredictable.
While our hearts are broken for the victims and all of those affected by this senseless tragedy, the healing process must begin. There are many nonprofits that are currently supporting the town with: cleaning up the old school, setting up the new school, providing health services to residents in the community, supporting the firefighters, supplying aid for the memorial services, and offering ongoing activities to help the kids heal. To find out more and how to help Newtown, here’s an article that gives several ways you can be supportive.
A few charities providing the community with services that you can donate to:
My personal belief is that we all must put a little bit of goodness back into the world and do what we can to overcome the horror by being kind to those around us. In addition to helping Newtown directly, random acts of kindness should be part of our daily routine to spread goodness. More than something we do in response to Ann Curry’s tweet…something we make part of our everyday life.
Every night after my daughter and I climb into bed, she picks three books for me to read to her. In the morning, the first thing she does after she opens her eyes is reach for a book to “read” out loud.
Children have a natural curiosity for reading that amazes me. My daughter has gone from literally eating her books at 6 months old to reciting them from memory at 2 years old. She has a veritable library full of board books to choose from, and at the end of most days, they’re scattered all over the living room.
How does the average parent encourage literacy?
If I’m being totally honest, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing when it comes to teaching my daughter (Charlie) to read. We sing the ABC song and we read aloud every day—but is that enough?
The nonprofit Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is an amazing resource for learning more about literacy and teaching your child to read. As it turns out, a big part of early reading is simply learning the joy of storytelling—which means I’m doing all right so far. In addition to reading books, you might try singing, finger plays (like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot”), and nursery rhymes, which are great ways to get small children excited. Toddlers who love for someone to read to them often begin “pre-reading,” which is what Charlie is doing when she tries to recite her books from memory. This is the first step toward literacy.
Reading books out loud helps children understand that letters have meaning, and you can emphasize this by teaching them the ABC song, making letters out of pipe cleaners, letting them play with flash cards, or shaping letters out of play doh. You don’t need to drill your two year-old with flash cards, though—simply making the commitment to read to them every day is the most important thing you can do.
For older children, the goal is to learn to read fluently, not to read every word. This means resisting the urge to jump in every time they skip a word or miss a sound. If your child understands what he or she is reading—that is, the meaning behind the story—they’re on the path to a lifetime of reading. Not sure? Ask detailed questions about the book to encourage comprehension.
Ultimately, children learn by example, so pick up a book and read with your little one. If you enjoy reading, it’s likely your child will want to try it, too.
For fun resources, check out RIF’s Learning to Read section (which is also available in Spanish). I am madly in love with their “finger plays” page, which teaches all the hand gestures to popular rhymes like Pat-a-Cake.
What about kids who don’t have these resources?
Unfortunately, not every child has a parent with the ability to encourage reading. Did you know that two-thirds of America’s children living in poverty have NO books at home?By the fourth grade, an astonishing forty percent of children do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency. According to RIF, African American and Hispanic students are, on average, nearly three academic years behind their White peers at this age.
It’s clear that having access to books at home is key for helping children learn to read: fourth graders who reported having 25+ books at home had higher scores on reading tests than children who didn’t have that many books (NCES, 2003).
Organizations like RIF are working to encourage literacy for all children. In addition to the awesome resources I listed above, they have a variety of programs aimed at helping children who don’t have easy access to books. One of their programs is called Books for Ownership, which distributes 15 million new, free books to 4 million children in all US states and territories. Two other programs, Care to Read and Family of Readers, empower childcare staff and parents with the resources they need to encourage reading.
Motivated to help? I am super inspired by Reading is Fundamental (their bumper sticker is now on my car), and I encourage you to support this amazing organization with your donation:
For just $10, you can provide 4 books for children in need.
For 20 more charities providing valuable educational and reading resources, check out the JustGive Guide. And you could be the difference in a child’s life!
Thank you very much to Margaret Carter and Samantha Louk from Reading is Fundamental for the images and statistics about this important topic.