Canadians are among the most generous people in the world. About 24 million of us annually donate to charities. In 2010, according to Statistics Canada, we gave an average of $446 each. But let’s not congratulate ourselves too much – the Americans beat us by a wide margin.
If you’re in a giving mood, here’s a personal selection of charities where your money will go far. I’ve written about several of them through the years. They’re heavily skewed toward services for high-risk children and adolescents, where an intervention at the right time can make a big difference. Most of these groups have been recognized for excellence by either Charity Intelligence or the Donner Foundation, which evaluate charitable groups for transparency, accountability and value for money. All began as small grassroots agencies with a strong founding vision. All are passionate about what they do. And all of them transform lives.
Alice Housing, Dartmouth, N.S.: Many women who flee domestic abuse return to their abusers because they have nowhere else to go. Alice Housing offers women and their children affordable housing for up to two years while they stabilize their lives. It has helped hundreds of families through the years, and is the only housing of its kind in Nova Scotia. Eighty-five per cent of the women and children who have lived there go on to independent lives.
Arts for Children and Youth, Toronto: AFCY offers high-quality arts education to kids in “inner city” neighbourhoods. Its mission is to make sure that every child, regardless of circumstances, gets a great hands-on art experience. You can see their exuberant murals all over the city, dressing up outdoor spaces and public buildings. AFCY’s art, music, dance, drama and dub poetry programs are delivered through schools and community groups where arts education is otherwise scarce. It now reaches about 9,000 children a year.
Calgary Food Bank: Not all food banks are alike. This one is among the best. According to Charity Intelligence, it has “a strict policy of referring its clients to appropriate social service agencies within three visits,” so the root causes of their food-bank dependency can be quickly addressed. Its distribution system is highly efficient, and its costs are low. The Edmonton Food Bank is also a strong performer.
Educational Program Innovations Charity Society, North Sydney, N.S.: Cape Breton can be a tough place to grow up. Unemployment and low literacy are big problems. EPIC helps the kids who are falling through the cracks because they don’t have people in their lives who can give them good advice or the motivation to succeed. It hooks them up with young adults who give them tutoring, camaraderie and a safe place to hang out. According to its website, 98.7 per cent of its funding goes directly to charitable activities, and it has been named by the Donner Foundation as one of the best-run charities in Canada. This is what “prevention” is all about.
Eva’s Initiatives, Toronto: Eva’s provides shelter, training, counselling and other services for homeless and at-risk youth between 16 and 24. The staff are nimble, creative and caring. Most youth homeless shelters are basically revolving doors. But as I wrote last year, Eva’s aims to get the kids out of the system. It focuses on moving them into skilled trades that have a real career trajectory. It has forged strong connections with both trade unions and corporations, which are major donors and also potential employers.
JUMP Math, Toronto-based: JUMP is the brainchild of John Mighton, a mathematician who’s convinced that, with proper teaching, anyone can learn to do math. Numeracy is critical to success in life. But many children, especially disadvantaged children, fail miserably in mainstream math programs. The JUMP program works impressively well with all kids, as well as with adults who want to overcome their own innumeracy. JUMP’s track record is inspiring, and educators are slowly catching on.
Pathways to Education, Toronto-based: A comprehensive program that surrounds high-school students in disadvantaged neighbourhoods with the academic and social supports they need to graduate and go on to higher education. It accomplished miracles in Toronto’s Regent Park, and is now striving to replicate that success in Kingston, Kitchener, Ottawa, Winnipeg and other places.
Pine River Institute, Ontario: This small residential treatment centre for teenagers is a model in many ways. It takes in seriously troubled kids – ones failing in every aspect of their lives – and makes them whole again, using a combination of therapy, discipline, work, school, counselling, fresh air and love. It treats kids from all backgrounds, and its track record is excellent. Just one problem: The demand for its services is overwhelming.
Vancouver Native Health Society: VNHS is the only clinic to specifically target Vancouver’s urban aboriginal community. It delivers medical, counselling and social services, including a free dental program, and support to more than 1,500 HIV-positive people living in the Downtown Eastside. Its family centre provides extensive prenatal, parenting and child development help with an aboriginal focus.