Category Archives: Charity Review

Fighting Youth Homelessness: HOPE 4 Youth

It is really hard to recover from homelessness. In addition to the basic lack of food, hygiene, and shelter, homelessness presents long-term challenges that make it even harder for people to find opportunities and get back on their feet. How do you get a job or apply for government assistance without an address? How do you enroll your kids in school? Where do you feel safe?

The challenges of the homeless are magnified even more in homeless youth. On any given night, there are about 6000 homeless young people between the ages of 16 and 23 on the streets in Minnesota alone. Some of these kids have aged out of foster care and have no home to go to. Others have been abandoned or kicked out by their parents/guardians. Some are runaways.

Becoming homeless at some point in your adult life is hard enough, but starting out homeless is a deep hole. In 2012, a group of people in the north suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul (where I live), decided that it was unacceptable for these kids to crash with different friends every night, to live out of backpacks or cars, or to sleep on the streets. So they founded HOPE 4 Youth.

HOPE 4 Youth is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has shelter space, drop-in centers, food, personal hygiene, and clothing supplies available for teens aged 16-23. They also provide assistance so the kids can finish their education and/or find employment. They do outreaches and work to prevent more kids from becoming homeless, as well.

So what can you and I do to help groups like HOPE 4 Youth in their efforts to prevent youth homelessness and rescue at-risk kids?
-First, if you do not live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, dig around online for an organization in your area.
– Second, consider ways that you can financially support the organization. Non-profits are always looking for corporate sponsors for their programs and fundraisers. As an individual, you can also attend or participate in a fundraiser for the organization. In fact, tonight my husband and I will be running HOPE 4 Youth’s “Darkest Night of Your Life” 4k race.
– Third, shelters need stuff. Non-perishable food items, new and gently used clothing and shoes, unopened toiletries, bedding, etc. Check the organization’s website for specific needs.
– Fourth, consider giving your time. Groups like HOPE 4 Youth keep their overhead low by using an army of volunteer labor. You could get involved short-term by helping to plan a fundraiser or event, or take on a long-term role sorting donations or helping kids with homework. Again, the organization’s website will be your best resource for this information.

Kids need to be safe, healthy, loved, and provided for. What can you do to help at-risk teens, tomorrow’s adults, in your community?

 

Responding to Disaster

The last couple weeks have been heavy, with constant news stories of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires ravaging parts of the world. Countless lives have been altered by these natural disasters, and millions are in need of emergency aid. So for those of us not directly affected by the crises, what can we do to help?

Of course, the first thing I’m going to suggest is prayer. We serve an all-powerful God. He is not surprised by these disasters. He cares deeply, and his heart is broken for those who are suffering. He welcomes a dialog with us about our needs and our feelings. Prayer changes things, and it changes us. Spend some time talking to God about these crises and the many people who are in need of a miracle right now.

Secondly, don’t start sending boxes of junk to the disaster areas. Every time a catastrophe like this happens, people gather boxes of useless junk and ship them off to the disaster area. Their hearts are in the right place, but overwhelmed locals end up with warehouses full of stuff that needs to be sorted and cleaned before it can be distributed, and they have to dispose of landfills full of stuff that no one needs. You would be better off holding a garage sale and sending your profits to a reputable non-profit organization.

The best thing you can do (other than praying), is to give to a reputable non-profit organization providing disaster relief in the area. They have trained, dedicated staff who deliver things like clean water, medical supplies, and food where it’s needed most. Be careful when you select your non-profit. Some of the big guys that get a lot of publicity have tremendously high overhead, and only a fraction of your donation ever makes it to the disaster victims. Use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to help you find an organization that keeps their overhead low and uses best practices of accountability.

Finally, think local. If you have friends or family members dealing with the tragedy, ask them what they need. I was surprised last week to find out that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey there is a need for bug spray in parts of Texas. I never would have thought of that. They are far enough into the cleanup effort that most of them are getting mail service again, so Amazon can get supplies to your loved ones in just a couple days.

And on the topic of thinking locally, don’t forget the small charities and churches local to the area in crisis. Donating funds to local churches or local food banks will put your dollars to work in the local community quickly.

Some links:

GuideStar

Charity Navigator

Convoy of Hope – Convoy is my charity of choice for giving to the hurricane relief effort. I’ve blogged about them before. Check out my previous posts here and here.

Food Bank Locator

Organization Profile: Kiva Microfinance

Thank you for your patience as I have been up to my eyeballs in kitchen remodel and then traveling for Easter weekend. My part of the kitchen remodel (painting the cabinetry) is done, and it’s in the hands of the pros who will soon be installing the countertops and the new sink and faucet. I can’t wait to have it all done!

Over the years I’ve mentioned the power of microfinance in creating long-term change for people living in poverty. The lack of access to relatively small amounts of capital stunts an individual’s ability to build for the future. But I don’t just talk about microfinance; I actually participate in the process.

I currently have a portfolio of four microfinance loans through Kiva. Kiva is a four star-rated non-profit organization that connects private lenders to small borrowers around the world. With an investment of $25 or more, you can become part of a team that helps poor or underrepresented people get the capital they need to start or expand their businesses. The loans vary in amount, as do the borrowers’ projects, but the lenders always chip in at $25 per person. Kiva gives you the tools to choose your borrowers by gender, location, group or individual, and by investment type (education, agriculture, production, etc.). You can narrow down the results and then read through the borrowers’ stories until you find one with which you connect. Some loan projects even have matching funds available, so your $25 can go twice as far!

The borrowers have a repayment schedule, just like a loan from your local bank or credit union, and they pay a little interest. Kiva claims their repayment rate is 97.1%, and the individual stories come with a risk rating to help you chose your project. So far all of my loans (with the exception of the one I made just this week) have started to make repayments.

I make a new loan twice a year, at Christmas and at my birthday. My goal is to build a portfolio of loans large enough that I can continue making my bi-annual loans using only the repayment capital from the old loans. It’s really exciting to read the stories of the potential borrowers and to have the opportunity to support their dreams and a better future for their families. I currently have four loans open, and they include male, female, and group borrowers on several continents. Two of my loans helped small farmers add bee keeping to their family farms – a benefit for the environment as well as the farmers’ futures. One of my loans is right here in the US, helping a small business owner invest in her company. The fourth loan helped a group purchase raw materials for their peanut butter business (my son chose that one!).

I always evaluate a potential project by the long-term sustainability it will provide for the borrower. For example, I would pick a project that helped a farmer get equipment before I would pick a project that provided wholesale goods that would be here and gone. Not that wholesale goods is a bad investment, but I want my investment to keep on giving year after year, making it possible for the borrowers to do more for many years to come. Some of the donors like giving to loans for women in countries where women are denied access. Some donors have a heart for a particular country and make loans in those places.

Participating in a microfinance loan is a low-risk investment. If a loan goes unpaid, you just made a $25 donation – no big loss. But if it gets repaid and you continue to reinvest the money, your $25 could have a tremendous impact for generations to come.

Charity Review and Service Project: Dress for Success

The answer to long-lasting change in the lives of the world’s poor and hungry is opportunity. If people have the opportunity to get an education, start a business, or get a good-paying job, they can break the cycle of poverty for good. That’s why my favorite non-profits address the vital need for opportunity. That’s why I support fair trade companies, microfinance for access to capital, and non-profits that feed and educate kids around the world.

Recently I learned of another charity focused on opportunity: Dress for Success. The mission of Dress for Success (from their website): “to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.” Not a handout, an opportunity. An opportunity to get a professional job and to break the cycle of poverty for good.

So how do they do it? Dress for Success has local offices in most major cities, including right here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (1549 University Avenue West
St. Paul). At the local office, they collect clean, current-season, professional apparel, and distribute it to women entering the job market. They also offer career services like job interview training, career coaching, and mentoring to help clients find and keep jobs.

You can easily see how their work helps women overcome a significant barrier and gain the opportunity for a better future! Charity Navigator has given Dress for Success a perfect 4-star rating, so you can feel good about supporting their work. They accept financial donations, volunteers (working with both the clothing side and the workforce-prep side), and donations of clean, in-season, professional women’s clothing and accessories. You can bring in a small load from your personal collection, or you can host a clothing drive (info on the website under your local chapter). Right now I’m in the process of sorting through my Great Wardrobe Purge collection, and I’ll be taking a load to DFS in the near future. If you’re interested in doing the same, check out this list from their website:

publication1

Organization Profile: International Justice Mission

IJM

I wasn’t planning to bring you another organization profile this week, so soon after the FMSC profile, but when I woke up this morning, the first thing I saw was a friend’s retweet about an International Justice Mission (IJM) lawyer, his client, and a taxi driver who were kidnapped in Kenya. IJM was asking its supporters to use social media to make the Kenyan ambassador aware of the kidnapping and move him to help the investigation along. I added my voice to the chorus by posting my retweet, and I decided to use today’s blog post to introduce you to IJM.

Because of the underground nature of the offense, as well as the varying definitions of “modern slavery” and “human trafficking,” there is no concrete number of people enslaved in the world today. In a 2014 report, the U.S. State Department put the number at around 20.9 million people. The Global Survey Index puts the estimate at 35.8 million. Other estimates run even higher. Only God knows the actual number, but whatever it is, it’s too many. Even one is too many.

I could go on and on about how our wasteful love of cheap commodities and industries like fast fashion and pornography fuel this problem, but I really want to talk about the heroes, not the villains. International Justice Mission is one such hero. They are the largest justice organization in the world. IJM has 17 field offices around the world, and they work with the governments of developing nations to insure that all people are treated fairly and allowed to live free.

IJM’s focus is on fixing broken systems by providing resources and training for local law enforcement and advocacy and hope for victims. They physically rescue people living in slavery, work with social services to see people restored to their communities in a safe and healthy way, push for the prosecution of criminals, and provide legal services to the falsely accused.

It’s a big organization with a lot of irons in the fire, but it is extremely well run. International Justice Mission is rated “gold” by GuideStar, and is a Charity Navigator four-star organization. Their financial reports from the past five years are available right on their website. IJM’s CEO, Gary Haugen, has a background in human rights prosecution with the U.S. State Department. He founded IJM after working on the Rwandan genocide for the State Department and realizing that the world needed more people fighting injustice and violence against the powerless.

If you’re interested in the cause of human trafficking or modern slavery, the IJM website has many useful links and resources. I highly recommend them as a source of information, and they are an excellent organization to support with your finances and prayers. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter so you can raise your voice for awareness as well!