10 Organizations That Made 2017 Better

By Meghan Guidry

As 2017 draws to a close, we’re taking a moment to highlight some of the incredible organizations whose works have been beacons this year. Whether local, national, or global, these 10 organizations address some of today’s most complex and challenging issues while striving to make the world a more just, equitable, and compassionate place:

1.    College is a crucial gateway to a more stable and prosperous future. However, for students from vulnerable communities and marginalized backgrounds, college is often out of reach financially. Compounding this barrier is the fact that for many students, particularly first-generation students, applying to and navigating college is difficult without the support of peers and family who have shared the experience. The Posse Foundation helps promising students from nontraditional backgrounds succeed in college. By providing full financial support and by creating small cohorts of other scholarship winners called “posses” that all attend the same school, the foundation creates supportive communities of learners to help each other succeed in college and beyond.

2. In 2002, Vermont chef Sheri Sullivan became a hospice volunteer. During this time, she began to notice that as her clients neared the end of life, and as their family caregivers struggled to manage the day-to-day tasks associated with caring for the dying, entire households often went without one of the most basic comforts: a warm, filling meal. Using her network to organize local chefs, restaurants, and delivery drivers, Sheri founded Dinners with Love, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering warm, filling meals to hospice patients and their caregivers at home. Through this work, Dinners with Love can bring beloved home-cooked comfort foods prepared by community chefs and favorite restaurant dishes directly to those who need them most — helping to maintain comfort, dignity, and community during this difficult time.

3. In the wake of #metoo, it may seem like public discourse around sexual assault is having a watershed moment. However, for incarcerated individuals, rape and sexual assault is a real and daily risk, with few to no pathways for victims to seek justice, medical treatment, and emotional support. For nearly 40 years, Just Detention International (JDI) has been dedicated to ending prison rape. Through public advocacy, community education, and survivor support, JDI works to ensure the dignity of all incarcerated people by dismantling the structures and attitudes that contribute to sexual violence. As a special holiday initiative, JDI collects messages of hope written by people from all over the world for incarcerated survivors. Because many prisoners who report assault are placed in solitary confinement or otherwise punished, these messages create a lifeline for those who are suffering, bringing words of hope, humanity, and compassion to those who need them most.

4. Human trafficking is a global crisis, affecting millions of the world’s most vulnerable individuals. HEAL Trafficking envisions a world completely free from and healed of human trafficking, where every single person has the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. To make this vision a reality, HEAL treats human trafficking as a public health issue. By providing screening toolkits for physicians, HEAL aims to give all doctors, nurses, and other caregivers the skills necessary to help identify victims of human trafficking in emergency rooms and urgent care centers, and safely remove them from harm.

5. Founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr., the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hatred and bigotry to create a world where equity and justice are available to all. To advance this vision, SPLC engages in several forms of advocacy, legal aid, and education. Notably, the organization draws upon the legal acumen of its founders to challenge unjust policies targeting and disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities. They also support other crucial initiatives including the Intelligence Project, which monitors and exposes the activities of known hate groups and domestic extremists and the Teaching Tolerance program which provides free resources for educators to infuse teachings on equity, anti-bias, and tolerance into their classrooms.

6. Regardless of what career path students envision themselves pursuing, strong writing and communication skills will be crucial to their success. However, for many students, access to engaging and exciting practices that develop and reinforce these vital skills is difficult or nonexistent. In response to these gaps, writer David Eggers and renowned educator Ninive Calegari founded 826 — a community-based creative writing and tutoring center in Valencia, California designed to help students 6 to 18 years old improve their writing skills and explore their creativity. Since its founding in 2002, 826 has grown into a nationwide network of centers that offers tutoring, in-school programs, workshops, field trips, and young authors support at no cost to help students build the skills they need to be creative and successful in school and beyond.

7. As a child, Sara Minkara lost her sight. This experience led her to dedicate her life to empowering disabled youth throughout the Middle East and North Africa while working to reduce stigmas surrounding disabilities. In 2009, she founded Empowerment Through Integration (ETI) to advance this mission and hosted a one-month summer camp for 39 visually impaired children in Lebanon. Since then, ETI has flourished, offering mentoring for disabled youth and culturally sensitive community-based education efforts to challenge biases against people with disabilities and create pathways for full social integration and holistic community-building.

8. The year-end holidays can be a challenging and stressful time for myriad reasons. However, for incarcerated mothers and their children, this time of the year can be especially difficult. Because these mothers are often the primary or only caregivers, their imprisonment often leaves their children in tenuous and informal living situations where they are not guaranteed to receive the compassionate care that all children deserve. To help bring joy and happiness to both incarcerated mothers and their children, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration; Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Moms; Nehemiah Trinity Rising, Lifted Voices, and Love Project;, and; Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites created a joint Amazon wishlist filled with toys that anyone can purchase. The toys are then shipped directly to the correctional facilities, where mothers wrap the gifts and add personal notes and touches for their children. This process helps affirm these deep family bonds and provides a special moment of connection during the holidays. (h/t Bustle)

9. While the idea of racism can evoke images of interpersonal prejudice and violence, systemic forces spanning business, education, governmental, medical, and economic institutions continue to drive and reinforce barriers for people of color. Color of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the United States, is committed to dismantling the power structures that disproportionately affect people of color and reforming systems to create a more equitable world. Color of Change designs and spearheads campaigns that aim to restore justice and increase representation of people of color in diverse public spheres.

10. For people facing the daily hardships of extreme poverty and homelessness, compassionate and dignified healthcare is too often out of reach. In 1999, Dr. Roseanna Means founded Healthcare Without Walls, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to providing compassionate and respectful care to women and children facing homelessness. Dr. Means emphasizes trust-building, conversation, and collaboration as key tenets of treating each and every patient seen by the organization. By creating a program designed to provide optimal health by taking into account all aspects of a patient’s life, Healthcare Without Walls delivers whole-person care designed to promote optimal health while enhancing the dignity of each and every client they serve.

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Meghan Guidry is a poet, novelist, essayist, science writer, and librettist from Boston,  Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and a Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied bioethics, medical anthropology, and political philosophy. Her work explores themes of bodies and boundaries, with a particular focus on the intersections of myth, memory, and medicine. Her work has appeared in The Pitkin Review, The Wick Journal, Applied Sentience, The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, and others. Her first novel Light and Skin was published by Empty City Press in 2010, and her second book Kinesiophobia is scheduled for release in 2017. Meghan is also a working librettist, and has collaborated with composers on several original pieces, including Roots and Wings (c. Oliver Caplan), which was performed by the Handel Society of Dartmouth College. She wrote libretto for The Little Blue One (c. Dominick DiOrio), a new opera performed by Juventas New Music Ensemble in 2014. She is currently working on Tarography, an experimental interactive poem, and a nonfiction book about grief and mourning in contemporary America.

Photo by Massimiliano Reginato via Unsplash.

Copyright © 500 Pens. December 2017.