After a busy morning running errands, getting last-minute accoutrements for my family's holiday celebrations and a few cups of tea, I'm reveling in the holiday glow and feeling very lucky for the festivities ahead. I'm especially excited about some of the gifts I scored this year (which shall remain a surprise). But as I watch Tom Brady's post-game press conference, I'm also feeling very humbled by all that surrounds me; for anyone reading this, the thoughtful gifts I've already received from friends and for another year of adventures.
But with all the thanks and love in my heart, I know that there are ways to spread that love around to anyone whom might not otherwise receive it. I'm talking about ways to give back during the holiday season, into 2017 and throughout the new year. I'm always looking for ways to keep the Christmas spirit the whole year through so I've rounded up some of my favorite charities, non-profits and good causes for anyone looking for a special last-minute gift idea, way to pay-it-forward or general ways to give back:
ALL HANDS VOLUNTEERS: Disaster relief means more than just thoughts and prayers. It means getting a community back on their feet no matter where they are. But help like that needs housing and meals and tools in order to be effective. All Hands Volunteers has been a part of 57 projects in 10 years all over the world, deployed 31,000+ volunteers from 94 countries and isn't slowing down.
AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION: I like to think that the work they do at the American Heart Association not only saves lives but also fixes broken hearts. By donating, you help to promote "cardiac care in an effort to reduce disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke".
CRADLES TO CRAYONS: Sometimes I talk about the "essentials" as things you need in your wardrobe but around this time of year, I remember that those things are just things. Cradles To Crayons knows the definition of "essential" by providing things like clothes, books, shoes, developmental toys and backpacks to children from birth to age twelve year-round.
ELIZABETH STONE HOUSE: Domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness all contribute to homelessness no matter where you are and these issues can become difficult to overcome without help. The Elizabeth Stone House provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, support groups and classes for families and individuals who need a little extra help in tough situations.
GIRL UP: I'm a big believer that women are the best advocates for other women. But before they can do that, they need to be girls who have been supported. They need education, healthcare and safety to have the basic needs that will help them to support themselves and others and later, their communities. Girl Up activates young women who believe in this goal all over the world and helps them to help themselves.
INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: I don't know if there's a single person who has seen footage out of Aleppo and hasn't thought about how truly terrible and heartbreaking it is. An entire community has been destroyed and will need to be rebuilt. I feel like every generation has the opportunity to make the world a better place and for us, the time is now.
MASSACHUSETTS IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE COALITION (MIRA): If you've traveled to another country, you already know how alienating it can be to not speak the language, be unfamiliar with the food or the local customs. But imagine going to a new country under duress and having no resources to acclimate yourself or social services to connect with. MIRA is more than just an advocacy group, its organizes around policy issues, assists with citizenship and empowers new Americans.
MOVEMEANT: Earlier this year I attended a charity barre event to support a foundation that provides body-positive, self-confidence building tools and resources where fitness and physical movement promote success across all aspects of life for young women. I loved working out with a room full of women who also believed in the conditioning of positive experiences for young women and its a cause I will always be behind.
MSPCA: It's no secret that I love animals and my sidekick #lucythecuriouskitten in particular. The MSPCA does great work at their facility in Jamaica Plain and all over the state, keeping animals healthy, safe and finding humans to love them no matter their size or number of feet.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD: If your doctor's office could help people who can't afford healthcare, would you want a help? It's unfortunate that an organization like Planned Parenthood, that provides healthcare to both men and women, gets caught up in politics but that is the reality of a lot of social services. STI testing, cancer screenings and pregnancy services are just a part of the short list of ways Planned Parenthood is changing the lives of people all over the country.
THE STEPPING STONE FOUNDATION: I was never great at taking tests and as a young person that made me feel like I wasn't smart. Without the right teachers to help me tap into my strengths, I don't know if I ever would have learned how to understand that i. For underserved students, this can be a problem that pervades their entire educational experience, causing a disinterest in school and an overall lack of success. A donation to The Stepping Stone Foundation helps to sustain programs to prepare underserved students for educational opportunities that lead to college success which has led to a 99% high school graduation rate among participants and a 92% college enrollment.
ST. JUDE: I had a friend in college who had a sister who was treated at St. Jude and even through my very indirect connection I could feel how powerful the organization was. Later, I would work as a Sales Associate at LOFT and become even more familiar with their work as a research hospital for cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Its a tremendous organization that makes a difference to families who are seeking treatment regardless of their ability to pay, taking away another reason to worry when a loved one is ill.
I am proud to support and encourage others to help these and other causes throughout the holiday and throughout the year. And I wish you and yours a happy, healthy holiday season...