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urbanMamas 11: Charities we think are worth the endless emails

You know what I mean: the organizations one supports these days bombard you in new and different ways. Gone, for the most part, are the address labels and thank-you cards showing up every month in your mailbox. Today, it's emails (sometimes two or three a day!) and the pledge drives. I was surprised to hear the one-day pledge drive NPR put on this week; reinforced with, yep, daily emails reminding one that the December 31 tax deadline was fast approaching. I've even been getting emails this afternoon. The political campaigns are almost there!

In the spirit of end-of-the-year lists, the urbanMamas team put our heads together and picked 11 favorite local (and a few with lots of local impact) non-profits that are worth the endless communication and begs for just-five-more-dollars...

1.Portland Fruit Tree Project. It makes us sad to see a sidewalk or a front yard littered with spoiling fruit from perfectly good fruit trees. It makes us even sadder if that's our own fruit tree and, due to babies or work or the craziness of family life, we haven't gotten to picking it. Portland Fruit Tree Project to the rescue -- the organization matches volunteer pickers with volunteer tree owners, and half of all the fruit picked goes to the Oregon Food Bank. It's the Biblical concept of gleaning, gone 21st century.

2. OPB. Say what you will about pledge drives and stereotypes of Northwest denizens, most of us get all of our news from OPB. As local television has become more and more sensationalist, fear-creating and celebrity-focused (no, I don't care to know what's going on with the latest reality TV star), OPB and its NPR affiliates are doing the kind of in-depth investigate news and serious journalism that explores topics we really care about -- from autism to breastfeeding to those beautiful stories about families that make us cry (I cried twice today already!).

3. Community Cycling Center. OK, so we love a good bike nonprofit, but this one's particularly great: in addition to being a great neighborhood bike shop for its Northeast Portland community, the nonprofit gives camps, classes, and ongoing support for low-income young people to "broaden access to bicycling and its benefits" and "bikes accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and incomes."

4. Morrison Child & Family Services. A lot of us have gotten services for our children through the county or the school district, and those of us who've been through it know how little they can provide due to budget restrictions and enormous needs of our children. Morrison Child & Family Services fills a gap with "a comprehensive continuum of mental health, substance abuse and prevention services for children from birth through age 21."

5. Growing Gardens. We're all passionate about how life-changing access to good, local, organic food can be; but not all of us have the money or bandwidth to get the good stuff. That's why we support Growing Gardens: the nonprofit organizes "hundreds of volunteers to build organic, raised bed vegetable gardens in backyards, front yards, side yards and even on balconies," supports "low income households for three years with seeds, plants, classes, mentors and more." The "Youth Grow" and "Learn & Grow" workshops and work parties help teach all ages of community members about eating and growing good whole food in backyards, porches and community gardens.

6. SMART (Start Making a Reader Today). Love the library but have a hard time with returning books or making time in a work day to get there before closing time? Wish your kids had better access to a variety of new and classic picture books? And for the low income families among us, it's even harder. SMART sends red book bags filled with books home every week to a bunch of preschoolers who are in early intervention programs and selected day care and preschool programs; kids just bring the bags back every week or two and get a new one. No hassle and kids and parents get lovely new books to share together. I've found many of my now-favorite picture books through SMART bags, and I love how simple it is to impact families with this program.

7. Playworks. I've seen Playworks in action so many times that it brings tears to my eyes just typing this. I shake my head at the "it gets better" campaign which seeks to bring "awareness" to bullying. I firmly believe that bullies are not criminals just waiting to turn 18 and go to jail, but real kids who just are dealing badly with anything from a developmental delay to learning disability to a difficult home life. Playworks is a much better approach to playground problems; whether it be leaving children out of games or aggressive behavior; by teaching older kids to be "junior coaches" that have skills to help younger kids work out problems. I've seen junior coaches negotiate arguments about rules for tag that were about to escalate into shoving and fists; I've seen them start new games to involve all the kids on the playground. Playworks, works, and I'd like to see it at every school.

8. Wordstock Festival. As a writer, I love Wordstock for the access to fantastic authors and workshops cheaper than just about anything but the occasional reading at Powell's. But Wordstock isn't just for writers; it's for readers, too, and kids of all ages get in free. With all the high-cost conventions and festivals and museums and camps, Wordstock makes me giddy -- for $7 to $12 for adults, or even free for volunteers, Wordstock gives free books and author readings and access to interactive storytelling activities for a blissful weekend.

9. Bicycle Transportation Alliance. After many years of believing that the BTA didn't spend much of its advocacy time on child and family biking issues, that has been changing and I, for one, have been keeping my membership up to date. The BTA is one of the hardest-working advocacy groups in Oregon, and we believe this kind of advocacy makes streets safer, not just for bicycling families, but for all of us (especially pedestrians -- and our kids are all pedestrians sometimes).

10. Oregon Environmental Council. As I struggle with three boys, each with a different sort of developmental disorder that challenges my everyday, I look more and more to blame environmental toxins -- much research lately supports this, from data that living near high-traffic areas increases attention disorders to research linking autism to high maternal and infant pesticide exposure. And really? Don't we all want our kids to enjoy rivers teeming with salmon and lakes that are swimmable? This nomination comes from urbanMamas reader Brenna Burke, who says: "Oregon Environmental Council is on the forefront of making sure that our families stay healthy and our state's resources remain sustainable."

11. The Dougy Center. This is also a nomination from Burke, who's very passionate about The Dougy Center, which "provides support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death can share their experiences." Burke writes, "the Dougy Center has helped families grieve the loss of a loved one for more than 25 years. It is free for families and provides a service to those it helps that means more than anything. It has personally been a great place of support for great friends of mine."

 (Apologies: this list was later than I intended, and, as I compiled it, discovered was insufficient to the task of representing the many wonderful nonprofits in our community. I've already thought of a half-dozen I'd like to include had I chosen a higher number -- but it's almost the end of the year! Please include your favorites in the comments.)


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Thanks for this great list! Happy to discover some cool new groups. Will definitely support some of these in 2012. Friends of Trees is also a good one. We are lucky to have so many wonderful local non-profits.

I'll chime in with my own personal favorite -- I serve on the board of The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank http://www.nwmmb.org

We're a group of very dedicated volunteers working to build a human donor milk bank in Portland that will serve the whole NW region. With the highest breastfeeding rates in the country, the NW has donor mamas eager to help sick and vulnerable babies get life-saving donor milk.
We've raised 65% of the funds we need to open a processing donor milk bank. With only 11 milk banks in North America, the demand for donor milk exceeds the supply.
And NICUs in the Northwest are not always able to get the donor milk they need. A milk bank in Portland will help the most vulnerable babies.
Volunteers, supporters, financial and milk donors wanted! Together, we can help make this dream a reality in 2012.

at the tippy top of my lottery list is transactive: http://www.transactiveonline.org/index.php

these superheroes provide services to support transgender and gender-nonconforming children. they're the only group like this in the country, i think, and they are truly life saving for many. they provide counseling (for kids and their families), education (for families and schools), and gatherings so people can connect. ALL of their services are provided for free. they are funded by donations and run by volunteers. and families who really need them never know they do - until they do.

See if any teachers need school supplies, snacks, etc. for their rooms. Also check with local shelters to see what gaps need filling after the holidays.

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