I have wanted to make this list for years, and, with each year, the list grows. Because there are just that many (and so many more!) phenomenal organizations doing work that often can’t be grasped, unless you get to experience it. I have been blessed to be the proverbial fly on the wall, observing, volunteering, and partnering with all of the organizations on this list, and I’m hoping to capture for you some of the experiences I’ve witnessed.
I know the choice to support a particular nonprofit can be so very personal. I also know it isn’t possible for me to remember all of the groups that have inspired, energized, and simply blown me away by their service to others, especially in ways that show how important it is to reach out and to lift each and every person in any community. My personal connection to nonprofits often goes in the youth development and education directions, since that’s been my work, in one way or another since I graduated from college. Almost all of my nonprofit work has been in New Orleans, so, for this iteration of the list, I’m going to stick to New Orleans nonprofits.
Yes, it’s my humble opinion that these organizations are doing incredible work, and are worthy of support, but it’s coming from firsthand experience. I’m including a few brief words about each. I’d be happy to talk more about any of them, but you can also click on the organization names to get links to their websites to learn more, straight from them. The link takes you to their DONATE page, but you can also poke around the sites.
A note about nonprofits in the time of COVID: Each and every one of these organizations is serving in ways that weren’t even on the table a year ago, and each and every one is stepping up to stay true to its mission and impact, meeting people in the ways they can, safely.
Here goes, in alphabetical order:
Cafe Reconcile: Maybe you have heard of them before, or maybe you have tasted the delicious food they make at their place in Central City. I have gotten the chance to observe their program and facilitate trainings for their team. Reconcile is focused. Reconcile is serious about giving young people the chance to learn skills and to attain solid jobs that begin thriving career trajectories.
Electric Girls: It is impossible to visit an Electric Girls class without smiling. I mean, I was the somewhat serious external assessor in the room, observing and scoring what I saw, but I still couldn’t stop smiling! My own girls have participated in the Electric Girls summer camp, and I saw their confidence skyrocket in just a few weeks. Now, when they are faced with a challenge, they tell me, “Mom, I can do this. I went to Electric Girls!” No lie. In Electric Girls programs, girls create their own designs - yes, I said their own designs - and then have the support of adults to bring them to reality. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to be done!
Girls on the Run New Orleans: Girls don’t just run with GOTR… they GROW to be more joyful, healthy, and confident, through a top-notch afterschool curriculum. GOTR is national, but GOTRNOLA is the local chapter, and I recently joined its Board of Directors. We are working hard to be sure girls have at-home access to programming while we are all at a distance, and we will be ready to return to schools with the strong programming that GOTR is known for.
KID smART is the best at what they do, for students and for teachers. After about 10 years of partnering with them when I ran afterschool programs, I’m now on the Board. In my nonprofit days, there wasn’t a single grant application or program design for which I did not call KID smART and ask how I could get them involved. They are consistently on top of the ways in which children learn best. If you ever get a chance to visit a KID smART classroom, do it! You will see children moving their bodies to explore architectural design, turning history lessons into a school mural, and acting out stories for comprehension so deep, it will never leave them. This is how learning should be!
New Orleans Youth Alliance is only a few years old, but it’s the organization the youth development community has always needed - to bring us all together, to push us to higher quality, to bring attention to the phenomenal work done not just FOR young people, but BY young people, all over New Orleans. You know when you dread going to a meeting or a training, because there are so many better things you could do with your time? NOYA’s meetings and trainings are the exact opposite of those. I leave each and every NOYA gathering with such an abundance of knowledge, skills, and inspiration that I try to attend every single one. NOYA’s value is increasing each year, and the ways in which NOYA shows up for the community are growing, exponentially.
NOVAC (New Orleans Video Access Center) has been in my world for years, and I have observed their work since right after Katrina. Recently, I had a chance to dive deeply into their Born Digital program, which trains high school students for the film industry, giving them technical skills and opportunities to be credentialed. The biggest challenge I had, during my observations, was wanting to be the student in the room, learning all the things that are putting these young people light years ahead of their peers.
The Beautiful Foundation: This New Orleans girls mentoring organization provides a safe space in schools & community settings for adolescent girls to learn & to express themselves. I used to partner with them when I ran afterschool programs, because I knew that middle school girls would have a space and a place that was just for them, to learn and talk about what’s important to them, and to work through their challenges, in a way that the rest of the world doesn’t often make space for.
T.R.E.E. (Teaching Responsible Earth Education) was my first stop on my nonprofit path. I went from teaching in a classroom to teaching in the woods at Sunship Earth and Earthkeepers. T.R.E.E.’s program is so strong that I had to admit it was the first place I learned essential scientific concepts - like photosynthesis, and what the air, water, and soil cycles are really about. As an adult. Kids don’t just learn science with T.R.E.E. They live it, through their heads, hearts, and hands, alongside their classmates. Once someone attends a Sunship Earth overnight program, they’ll be changed, very much for the better.
YAYA is the one organization that I’ve known about longer than I have been in the nonprofit world. They were probably just a couple of years old when I stumbled upon some YAYA artists proudly showing the chairs they painted. I was blown away by the young people’s artistic talents, and also by their poise and confidence. They hooked me into 30 years(!) of fandom. YAYA is growing even stronger, with a clear vision for providing not only artistic development opportunities, but also opportunities for young people to develop as leaders, entrepreneurs, and just plain great people who serve and thrive in whatever they do.
YouthRun NOLA was created to serve all young people in middle and high school, yes, to give them a chance to run, but also to give them a chance to connect - to themselves, to their goals, and to each other. Youth Run humans are leaders, goal-attainers, and family. If you’re a runner, or if you’ve ever cheered on runners around New Orleans, you have seen their yellow shirts and energetic selves weaving in and out of the older runners (like me), keeping the crowd going and making themselves proud.
Oh, my goodness. There are so many more I could add, but I’m going to stop there, for now. I’m certain this isn’t the only nonprofit list I’ll make. If you’re inspired by any of the organizations on this list, I’d love to know. I’m also sure they’d love to hear from you and maybe help you find a way to get involved!