If solving the social ills of the next generation seems too overwhelming for one parent, don’t sweat it. These organizations are here to help. From literacy advocates to healthcare groups, these kickass nonprofits tackle some of the largest issues plaguing our kids in innovative and exciting ways. Unfortunately, they frequently do it without any thanks. Here’s our salute to twenty-five of the coolest kid-focused nonprofits you’ve probably never heard of. Add your own in the comments, and if you’ve got a few extra bucks: well, you know what to do.
Barrel of Monkeys Productions, Chicago, Illinois
Part theatre troupe, part literacy organization, the actors and teachers who comprise Barrel of Monkeys have their work cut out for them. During the week, Barrel of Monkeys teaches creative writing workshops in Chicago’s under-funded elementary schools. Then, professional actors adapt the children’s sketches, songs and poems, spelling mistakes and all, into live productions for kids and adults. The result is a weekly sketch show that features dance numbers by hip-hop princesses, monologues by vampires that change into cheeseburgers and barbershop quartet-style songs about the perils of being a ninja. The proceeds, of course, filter back into creative writing workshops. Young authors receive encouragement – world saved.
How to Help: Donations are always welcome through JustGive or by setting Barrel of Monkeys as your charity of choice through igive or goodsearch. Chicago-based parents can support the organization by volunteering or going to see a show Monday nights that the Neofuturarium.
Hopelab, Redwood City, California
What’s the best way to help kids fight cancer? Provide them with an arsenal of virtual weaponry. Developing the world’s first video game that addresses issues germane to children with cancer, Hopelab and their Re-Mission game provide a free, non-invasive way for kids to learn about their disease and open a dialogue between patients, doctors and families. Hopelab also offers a digital storytelling workshop to help young cancer patients and survivors connect with others.
How to Help: Parents interested in supporting Hopelab can contact them about donations at 650-569-5900.
New Eyes for the Needy, Short Hills, New Jersey
Nearly 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance. Even fewer have vision insurance. To help kids perform well academically, New Eyes provides free eye exams, glasses, frames and adjustments to low-income neighborhoods in the US and poverty-stricken locations abroad. The kids who receive gently used eyewear have higher grades, fewer headaches, a reduced chance of learning disabilities and better social skills.
How to Help: Unload old glasses, hearing aids and jewelry by shipping them here. Parents can also help by sponsoring local glasses drives, volunteering at a donation site, shopping at the Fabulous Finds store in New Jersey or making a cash donation.
Literacy and Arts Education:
- Barrel of Monkeys Productions
- Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company / 826
- The Kramden Institute
- Breakthrough Collaborative
- Ear Candy Charity
Children’s Health and Wellbeing:
- New Eyes for the Needy
- The Child Health Site
- Alex’s Lemonade Stand
- Miracle Flights for Kids
- Child’s Play Charity
Children With Physical and Mental Challenges:
Early Childhood Development and Community Support:
Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, New York City
It’s a store! It’s a reading center! It’s: it’s the only place in Brooklyn where you can get fitted for your own superhero cape. Though it looks like a kitschy toy store out front, the Superhero Supply store actually peddles much more than secret identities and jars of justice. Hiding in the back is the New York chapter of 826, a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization that hooks working authors and illustrators up with struggling kids. The organization not only offers the standard reading and homework help, they also publish anthologies of kids work, funds scholarship programs and offer writing workshops and lectures from big wigs including Ira Glass, Jeffrey Eugenides and founder Dave Eggers. If 826 hasn’t wooed you yet, Eggers’s TED Talk about the need for one-on-one tutoring will.
Dreams For Kids, Chicago, Washington D.C.
Dreams For Kids has two words for children dealing with physical disabilities – Extreme Recess! Providing physically and developmentally challenged children with the opportunity to participate in modified sports, Extreme Recess seeks to improve physical and mental health through single and team sports. While that goal alone is enough, Extreme Recess takes the challenge to the next level by offering extra demanding options like modified rock climbing, hockey and water skiing, proving that no matter what your ability level, it’s still possible to kick ass.
Project Night Night, San Francisco, Cleveland
Blankies, stuffed animals, children’s books, you name it – Project Night Night provides creature comforts for the youngest victims of homelessness. Focusing on children under five, PNN creates Night Night packages designed to help those who can’t articulate their concern overcome the anxiety, emotional and mental stress that comes with home displacement. The project has a second benefit as well. In addition to offering children much-needed care packages, the program also prevents gently used toys from finding their way into area landfills.
How to Help: Donate “like new” blankets, books, toys or gift cards to any of the organization’s pick up sites (listed here), set Project Night Night as your charity in iGive or sponsor a night package here.
Harlem Children’s Zone, New York City
Get ’em while they’re young. That’s the mission behind Harlem Children’s Zone. Operating a cradle to college education program, HCZ provides support starting from free nine-week pre-birth parenting workshops and ending with college scholarships, post-college internship help and career support. Starting from a one-block project in the 1990’s, the organization is now available to parents within a 100 block radius of Central Harlem and offers comprehensive tutoring, social services, healthcare support, community-building programs, after school programs, legal guidance, financial advice, domestic crisis resolution, personal counseling, obesity awareness and support, summer programs, food pantries, mental health therapy, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, truancy prevention initiatives, job skills workshops for teens and adults and academic advising. As for how effective the program is, see for yourself.
How to Help: Online donations are accepted here, but parents can also organize a book drive in their community to help build HCZ’s library, volunteer or convince your company to offer HCZ students a paid summer internship. More information is here.
The Kramden Institute, Durham, North Carolina
Do you have the stamina to make it through Geek-A-Thon? Less-advantaged students grades 3-12 throughout North Carolina sure hope so! Every month, this nonprofit enlists the services of hundreds of volunteers to refurbish and rebuild computers for students without access to home PCs. Since 2003, when the organization started as a father and son endeavor in a home basement, the Kramden Institute has awarded over 6,000 computers to hardworking students in need.
Share Our Strength, Washington D.C., National Locations
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to eat so that others can too. Mobilizing chefs, foodies and anyone with an appetite and a desire to end child hunger, Share Our Strength flexes its socially conscious muscle by putting on community bake sales, nutrition education programs and dining events featuring some of the country’s top chefs. They’re also the geniuses behind the Great American Dine Out. Sink your teeth into something at any participating restaurant September 19th through 25th and a portion of the proceeds go to enroll needy kids in free breakfast and after school snack programs, support community garden initiatives, bring local produce to urban centers and teach at-risk families how to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals at home.
Cradles to Crayons, Boston and Philadelphia
You’ve got stuff; they need school supplies. Connecting the two is the simple mission behind Cradles to Crayons. While C2C doesn’t operate any outlandish or particularly unique programs, they earn a spot on our list because of how efficiently they carry out their duties. Operating with little overhead, the organization has earned a four-star rating for financial health and fiscal effectiveness from the watchdog group, Charity Navigator. That means that your donations go to putting school supplies in the hands of needy youngsters and not to superfluous projects.
American kids aren’t the only ones who need a leg up. Philanthropists with only a few bucks to spare can help fund international community development projects by contributing to microloan funds for future entrepreneurs around the world. Kiva earns a spot on our list for two reasons – first, donors get to choose which specific projects their funds go to, meaning that if a Peruvian-based mother of two trying to get a sewing company off the ground appeals to you more than a Cambodian parent learning the trade of flower sales, you can support who you see fit. Secondly, Kiva is one of the only organizations that financially rewards its supporters. Because donors are funding loans rather than giving fiscal gifts, they can expect to be repaid with interest. Default rates and repayment term information is available for every entrepreneur who receives funding.
Warm Up America, Gastonia, North Carolina
It’s rare that volunteers get to see how their personal contribution makes a difference. Not so with Warm Up America. Mobilizing community sewing circles across the country, WUA encourages volunteers to crochet or knit their own 7″ by 9″ rectangle and mail it to their local chapter. Sections are then sewn together to create handmade afghans to be distributed to day care centers, children’s hospitals, women’s shelters, the American Red Cross, AIDS and homeless facilities across the country. Don’t know how to knit or crochet? WUA can set you up with a local group to teach you how.
When abused and neglected children can’t speak for themselves, courts enlist special representatives to work with the child’s family, foster parents, teachers, therapists, daycare providers, medical professionals and social workers to ensure that the child is receiving adequate care. Short for Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA volunteers handle one case at a time and frequently remain the only constant while a child is in housing transition. Though CASA volunteers typically have no background in legal work, they remain one of the most crucial components in cases involving voiceless kids.
The Child Health Site, International
No time, no money, no problem. As one of the few ways busy parents can support international relief efforts without forking over half their bank account, The Child Health Site allows armchair philanthropists to help a worthy cause with the click of a mouse. For every visitor who clicks the site’s online Child Healthcare button, advertisers and site sponsors will make a small donation to organizations that provide Vitamin A and oral rehydration therapy for poverty-stricken children in Haiti. Those who want to do some extra credit can make contributions to world hunger, animal rescue, literacy, rainforest and breast cancer support organizations by clicking on buttons for affiliate sites. Don’t fret about the site taking a little off the top – 100 percent of all sponsor donations go directly to charity.
KaBOOM! has one simple goal – protect and preserve play for America’s low-income neighborhoods. Constructing playgrounds and skate parks across the US, the group also makes direct grants with low-income communities, providing construction jobs along the way. To date, the organization is responsible for creating more than 1,750 playgrounds throughout the nation, providing physical, non-video game entertainment for approximately 3.5 million kids.
My Stuff Bags Foundation, Westlake, California
When abused kids are forced to leave their homes, they rarely have time to pack. That’s where My Stuff Bags comes in. Creating pre-packed bags filled with toys, games, blankies and stuffed animals to be distributed to homeless and domestic violence shelters, MSBF is frequently the first line of comfort child victims experience.
How to Help: Volunteer, donate or send new children’s toys, photo albums, journals, books or school supplies to the address at the bottom of the page here. Volunteers can also make blankets for the organization using this simple pattern.
Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Wynnewood, Pennsylvanian
When life gives you lemons: well, you know what to do. To raise money to fight her own childhood cancer, Alexandra “Alex” Scott, a four year old based in Wynnewood, set up her own lemonade stand. On the first day, she raised over $2,000. Although Alex passed away in 2004, her work continues through lemonade stands across the country. A quick and easy way to introduce young kids to charity projects, lemonade stands created in Alex’s name have raised over $12 million to fund cancer-related research projects and to fund travel for families of cancer patients.
Breakthrough Collaborative, National
High school and college students need summer jobs; kids from under-funded middle schools need academic support and mentors. To conquer both problems at once, Breakthrough provides older kids with paid teaching internships then allows them to teach small, college prep courses as well as extracurricular electives to middle school children in need of older role models and an extra academic boost. Students help other students, the cycle of poverty and dropouts is broken and everyone winds up better off. Not bad for a day’s work.
Earth Conservation Corps, Washington D.C.
The only way to stop the constant destruction of our environment is to help the younger generation get close to it. This organization tackles environmental woes of both the urban and pollution varieties by taking unemployed youth off the streets and placing them on clean-up and restoration efforts along the Anacostia River. Workers walk away with job skills, environmental expertise and a sense of satisfaction.
All children are adoptable regardless of their physical or mental challenges. Dedicated to finding children once deemed “unadoptable” permanent homes, this organization works specifically with children with physical, mental and emotional difficulties and parents who are willing to take on such challenges. In addition to simply connecting needy kids with loving parents, the organization also provides strong support systems to help families reach emotional and financial stability along the way.
Miracle Flights for Kids, Green Valley, Nevada
To help families manage the fiscal burden of sending their sick kids to specialized medical centers, Miracle Flights is here to help. Mobilizing pilots, donors and corporate sponsors, the group flies families from home to hospitals year-round completely for free. Donors can contribute funds or kick over their airline miles. So far, the organization has coordinated more than 63,000 flights and counting.
Ear Candy Charity, Phoenix, Arizona
When school budgets get cut, arts programs are usually the first to go. To revive dying music programs in Arizonan schools, this nonprofit creates free after-school music programs and provides instruments to area schools. Of course, there are hundreds of music charities nationwide that focus on introducing at-risk kids to the joy of song. What separates Ear Candy from the rest of the pack is their “Beyond the Classroom” project which provides children extracurricular with “industry” experiences like radio station tours and guitar-making workshops. Even those that don’t play are invited to learn the business.
Child’s Play Charity, Seattle, Washington
They say that video games will rot your brain, but they can also take your mind off of your problems. For hospital-bound kids, the ability to destroy zombies and fire away at enemy targets can be a much-needed reprieve from treatments and bed rest. Child’s Play provides more than sixty hospitals worldwide with gaming systems and games kids can check out during their stay. The games not only provide a diversion, they also offer suffering children a way to meet and greet other gamers in their ward.
Save Kids of Incarcerated Parents, Georgia, Michigan, Alabama
When an adult goes to jail, children are frequently the forgotten casualties. Providing services ranging from peer mentoring to writing workshops to family game nights, SKIP strives to provide a surrogate support system to children of jailed parents and to break the cycle of incarceration.
CircEsteem, Chicago, Illinois
At-risk kids and circus arts seem like an unlikely marriage, but thanks to CircEsteem’s roster of dedicated volunteers, the project works. Besides offering circus arts classes – think juggling, acrobatics and trampoline stuff – the group also provides an after-school program that combines an hour of homework study with an hour of “circus work.” Fees are determined on an income-based sliding scale, and healthy snacks are provided by Whole Foods. So far, the homework-circus tricks one-two punch seems to be working. In a city where less than half of all public high school students graduate, 100 percent of CircEsteem students turn their tassels.