Freedom Waters Foundation (Ft. Lauderdale and Naples, FL) brings the tranquility of the ocean to children and individuals with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, veterans, active military, and at-risk youth.  Formed by a cancer survivor and a professional disability sailing instructor, the organization seeks to bring the freedom and empowerment of sailing, fishing, and yachting to uplift the spirits of those with disabilities and illnesses. Local boat owners in the South Florida area donate the use of their vessels to share the therapeutic effects of being on the water.  Studies on combat veterans with PTDS and the effectiveness of Ocean Therapy have proven the therapeutic effects of the world’s largest resource, the Ocean.  Give the gift of freedom from the stress and devastation of combat, disease or disability. 

For the Love of Books (Rockbridge County, VA) and other Book Donation Programs (Regionally). The holidays would not be complete without the gift of stories!  Nestled by the fire on a chilly winter afternoon exploring the adventures in a book is a treasured childhood memory maker that promotes literacy and learning.  Children of all ages love to read, and the importance of reading for intellectual and social growth cannot be understated.  There are several organizations across the Southeast that provide books to children. Some of our favorites are Rockbridge County’s For the Love of Books, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Internationally), Rockbridge Reads via United Way (Rockbridge County, VA) and Kids In Need (Nationally), Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library puts books in the hands of children all over the world by working with local community organizations. For the Love of Books is a four year old program opened in 2015 and has donated thousands of books to local children.  The founder Anna-Lisa Fitzgerald, owner of Books & Co...Toys too!, was inspired by the Christmas Basket program. After donating books for the basket she wanted to make sure that more and more children got the gift of books.  She said, “It was about teaching children that books are your friends.” The organization worked with Cornerstone Bank, GifTicket, Inc., and the Rotary Club of Lexington. They continue to work with these organizations as well as many other local groups and businesses such as Charles W. Berger & Sons Inc, Lexington and Rockbridge Area Democrats, Rockbridge Advocates for Tomorrow, Rockbridge Area Republican Party, Spencer Home Center, Trinity United Methodist Church, and White’s Travel Center.  Another great organization is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  We love that even blind children are not left out because Dolly’s organization has partnered with the American Printing House for the Blind to provide audio and Braille books.  The Rockbridge Reads program via the United Way, works with families, schools and community organizations to promote childhood literacy.  Another excellent organization is the Kids in Need organization that helps children nationally by providing books and school supplies.  Just last year they gave us a billion dollars of supplies to 200,000 teachers and 6 million students across the country.  You can donate online or you can host a school supplies drive!  As Fitzgerald put it, “Literacy leads to success.  Receiving a book in this way can be important in a child’s life…a book is a gift that you can open again and again.”

​The Holiday season is about giving. Our last article focused on finding the perfect gift, but we wanted to be sure to balance out the holidays by focusing on the importance of giving. As we shuffle through our holiday parties and events it is important to remember those that are having a hard time.  Holidays can bring a lot of sadness and anxiety for people who are in financial need or a health crisis.  It is easy to get lost in the excitement of gifting to your loved ones the perfect special gift.  We look forward to the delight on their faces as they open their gifts during the holidays as we look forward to the new year. Charitable giving spreads these warm fuzzies to people that need a little extra support. When we give back to those that might need a little extra cheer, we build stronger communities.  Putting smiles on the faces of dozens of people that have had a hard time creates a positive impact that can last a lifetime.  Your local churches, community centers, schools and county organizations (like local fire departments) often have a list of families in need that you can donate gifts to or “adopt” a family.  Often these families just need one or two dedicated families to “adopt them” to help with holiday meals and gifts.  This is a great option, along with supporting larger non-profits with clear missions.  Here are some of our favorite charitable organizations in the Southeast.  We love their missions and all have proven to have amazing results touching people’s hearts and even saving people’s lives.  Don’t forget that a gift to a charity in your loved ones honor makes for an amazing gift to the person “who has everything” and is a great way to start 2020!

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (National: Local Chapters in all 50 States)  Suicide is one of the most heartbreaking epidemics in our society.  Loved ones of suicide victims feeling the loss created by suicide even more so during the holiday season. The AFSP provides support for families that have been affected, as well as prevention support for those who are contemplating suicide.  The AFSP not only helps individuals through therapy tools and emotional support but also promotes a great deal of research and public policy geared toward fighting the suicide epidemic.  The AFSP is the largest private funder of suicide research, and they use their research to educate the public as well as promote preventative public policies.  They make it easy to donate in someone’s honor online.  If you like to be more active in your philanthropy, you can sign up for a fundraising walk with your friends and family! 

HumanKind (Lynchburg, VA) has been serving children and families since 1903.  It was originally opened as an orphanage but now helps people of all ages by building people up!  They offer several areas of service in order to help individuals with every aspect of their lives.  Services include mental, physical and behavioral health, wellness practices, family support services, disability services, economic opportunities, and early childhood development.  They also safeguard their historic property, the original Presbyterian orphanage campus, which they envision to be a community space for decades to come as it already has for the past century.  HumanKind offers plenty of volunteer and partnership opportunities in multiple cities all over the state of Virginia.  They have community fundraising events like the Lynchburg Turkey Trot that you can participate in but they also make donating easy online.  You can purchase a “First Night Kit” for a Foster child for only $35 which provides pajamas, a blanket, a toothbrush and a stuffed animal for children who often arrive in foster care with nothing. 

St Jude’s Children’s Hospital (Memphis, TN) has saved the lives of thousands.  St. Jude not only focuses on treating childhood cancers and rare diseases, but helping the families that have been devastated by childhood illness. Memphis, TN is the annual host of the St. Jude Marathon, a qualifying marathon for the Boston and New York Marathons. You can donate to running groups all over the community (and other communities far and wide) that are raising money throughout the year if you are a sports lover.  The marathon route goes right past St Jude where the children and families wave and cheer everyone on!  It is exciting and heartwarming to witness and be a part of this special fundraiser each year.  However, for those located outside of Memphis, St Jude makes it easy to donate online or over the phone.  Donations not only fuel research which is done right on the St Jude Campus, but also supports children's treatment.  The families are additionally supported with everything they need to help their child heal from transportation to housing to emotional support.  Their groundbreaking research in childhood cancer genomes is one of the most promising treatments for the future to end childhood cancers.  No family is turned away from treatment due to cost once they are accepted and oftentimes families are housed cost-free with the MacDonald house.  St. Jude takes the pressures off of a family’s health crisis while simultaneously strives to save lives.  You know when you donate to St, Jude that you are giving the gift of life to a family whose lives are affected by childhood cancer.

Matthew’s Hope (Winter Garden, FL) is a Christian based organization that helps the homeless help themselves.  Matthew’s Hope offers a range of services from taking care of basic needs like clothing, food, and housing to helping find a job and obtain an education. Daycare and transitional housing are all available to their guests.  The participants are able to earn points by participating in events, study groups, and mentoring opportunities. Matthew’s Hope offers a tiered homelessness recovery program that gives higher benefits and incentives the harder and more effort the program participant works on their self-success.  They strive for their mission: helping the homeless become independent and self-sustainable while giving them the spiritual support of a church community. Since opening the church doors during freezing temperatures in 2010, the organization has grown to service hundreds in the area.  They rely on volunteers and donations and accept no government grants or funds. 

KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs (Regional Locations) offers help, hope, and healing to children and the adults that love them.  KidsPeace offers a psychiatric hospital with unique crisis programming for children and young adults at their Pennsylvania campus, but have several services in the south as well.  Their residential treatment centers are located in PN, GA and ME with wellness services and around the clock care and support.  They have community and foster care programs all over the south-east including a North Carolina chapter located in Fayetteville.  Their Foster care program was rated one of the most successful in the country focusing on hope and resilience.  You can check out their 2019 annual report and outcomes here.  Supporting foster and troubled children in their families creates a life long impact!  Being a part of such a treasured organization is its own gift! 

Holiday Season Giving

Giving a little Christmas cheer is easy because there are so many ways to get involved.  Many organizations take gently used items such as books or clothing for those who have a slim Christmas budget, and ALL organizations allow donors to give the gift of time with volunteering opportunities and fundraising events.  Make a difference in the life of someone in need this year!  Be sure to check out the organizations' websites for impact reports and inspirational stories.  Whenever you have gifts to purchase consider donating in your loved one’s honor.  If you need a little more help with gift ideas, be sure to check out our last blog full of great gift ideas

Rockbridge Christmas Baskets (Rockbridge County, VA) This program has been going strong since 1948!  This program provides food and toys for people in need in all areas of Rockbridge County, VA.  After receiving hundreds of donations each year they give the community an opportunity to participate in Packing Day – wrapping and packing all of the gifts for the community members. However, it is easy to donate online as well!  They also make it easy to apply online to receive a basket of you are in need.  The organization has cared for the holiday needs of hundreds of families, bringing joy to the community. Thousands of toys and food have been distributed for over 70 years!  Now that is a lot of Christmas Cheer!