In the last two years, a local real estate company hired me to pilot a philanthropy fund they created. Their mission is to give small-but-impactful and sustainable donations to youth and arts organizations in Philadelphia. My task was to identify the organizations, vet them to ensure they met our mission, then understand how the donation would be used. I jumped on this opportunity: Not only did I get to expand my Philadelphia nonprofit knowledge base, but I also got to talk to people doing great work. (They are so passionate!) While my professional background is not in development, I have worked in and with nonprofits long enough to understand the tenets of giving. This project has furthered my learning. I realized that the research I did could be helpful to others who may want to know about, or give money or time to under-the-radar nonprofits.

As you can imagine, COVID greatly challenged the mission of many of these organizations. Some nonprofits have fared better than others, depending on their programs and funding. Regardless, it is clear that these donations will allow each organization to be more innovative and, ultimately, more accessible to the people they serve.

I started how most projects start these days—on social media. I posted a request for suggestions on the Facebook group “Being Neighborly Philadelphia.” I got back an incredible response and began looking into each suggestion. Now two years in, I have a number of different resources I look to, and my network has grown so much that I hear about new organizations all the time. I will continue to build this list in the coming months, so stay tuned for more suggestions!

Team First Book Philadelphia

Team First Book Philadelphia—a local chapter of a national organization—has been around for over 20 years. Their mission is to get books in the hands of under-resourced children through schools and organizations that already have an existing literacy program. (Schools and organizations that meet the nonprofit’s eligibility—which includes having a literacy component and having 70% of kids being below the poverty line—can apply.) TFBP exists almost completely on its own: They do their own fundraising and receive no money from the national organization. They are 100% volunteer run, which means their overhead is very low, and is important because every dollar of every donation goes directly to the children they serve. The volunteers even cover printing and materials costs. Through private donations and grants, TFB gives out 48,000-60,000 books a year to 25-32 groups (and this is just the local chapter!). They want to reach as many children and families as possible and are always open to new partnerships.

Quintessence Theater

Quintessence Theater is a small local theater group in Mt. Airy that puts on multiple productions a year and also has a large education component. They engage students from around Philadelphia who may not otherwise have access to the arts, particularly to theater and plays. Oftentimes, the actors go into schools and use the current production as a backdrop to their curriculum, helping to guide students through the process of what goes into getting a play from a script to the stage. The sessions culminate with the students coming to see the play. Quintessence is constantly evolving when it comes to education programming and donations allow them to engage more schools and increase their impact on students.

Beyond the Bars

Beyond the Bars uses music to interrupt the cycles of violence and the school to prison pipeline. They do this through community based programs, diversionary programs and incarceration programs. It began 6 years ago with teaching incarcerated youth who had never had music programming before. Students would express, through music, a wide array of traumas, from abuse to homelessness to witnessing homicide. They later branched out to community based programs addressing many of these same traumas. They want the youth to reach small, tangible goals, self-efficacy and exploration.

There are two main programs: the student driven music academy, where they play their own shows, and the practical producers program, where they learn how to write and produce their own music with professionals. They work with approximately 60-80 youth per week across both programs. Their program is unique in that the students who complete one of the two programs can then become student teachers and ultimately get paid for their work. They have 6 student teachers currently. For those who do not choose to teach, they have a career planning component with counselors to guide them.

Beyond the Bars currently has over 25 partnerships (i.e. Covenant House, Temple’s instrument recycling lab, CHOP for gun shot victims, etc.) and they want to partner with other great organizations to compliment their work. Any donations to Beyond the Bars would help ensure their robust programming continues.

Unity in the Community

Unity in the Community is an organization dedicated to changing the lives of people who need it most in Philadelphia. Anton Moore is the Founder and Director, and he works tirelessly to keep young people off the streets. He is incredibly passionate about his mission. He left the entertainment industry with a desire to make his own neighborhood and city better, safer and more hopeful for these youth.

One way he is doing this is through a carpentry program. “So many of the schools with trades programs have discontinued that programming for one reason or another.” Youth ages 14-19 learn how to install flooring, paint, and sheet rock– the fundamental skills of carpentry and building. They receive a small stipend each week for their work. Moore says that this program is reducing gun violence and helping young people get into the workforce. Most of these young people have experienced significant trauma, from abuse to incarceration to food insecurity. And many are being raised in a single parent household. They are in need of mentorship and positive role models, which Moore is working to provide for them.

Unity in the Community has received some money from Sixers players, the Office of Violence Prevention and other private donations. They are always in need of more funding, as they would like to increase the stipends in the carpentry program as well as think about staffing needs.

Paint >Initiative

Paint> Initiative uses art and therapeutic programs to inspire young people to be creative, engaged, and imaginative while expressing themselves and reducing their barriers to success. Many of these youth are witnesses to violence, namely gun violence. Art allows them to express emotions and change the narratives of their experiences. These workshops also introduce youth to peers outside of their neighborhoods, and they discover commonalities. One of their founders, Teisha Brown, is a licensed psychotherapist and the other, Vanessa Young, is an artist. They partner with other organizations for referrals and reach out to families to be part of the workshops, focusing on grief and trauma through painting, creative writing, and conflict resolution. They say that, in general, people relax when they are painting or being creative and can just talk.

Kensington Soccer Club

Founded in 2010 by Executive Director, Jim Hardy, the main focus of the organization is to engage children, open opportunities, and eliminate barriers to sports and recreation. Kensington has little to no green space, so Jim’s idea was to bring soccer to the youth– at their schools and rec centers. If they wanted to play, he didn’t want them to have to go far to do it. This has meant creating and sustaining partnerships with school personnel and staff at rec centers. Kensington Soccer Club has grown to serve 1,400 youth across all of its programs. While 95% is on the field work, it also incorporates nutrition, team building, team spirit, fair play, and community building. There is a Youth Leadership Council that meets weekly to discuss issues in the community and within the program.

We Love Philly

We Love Philly serves mostly students from One Bright Ray Community High Schools. Carlos Aponte, Founder and Executive Director, started the organization while teaching at One Bright Ray and then left his teaching position to work on We Love Philly full time. The program is for 16-21 year olds who have dropped out of high school and need to earn credits toward graduation. WLP helps them do that. The mission is to empower students through mindfulness, entrepreneurship, ownership and content creation. They gain life skills through real life experiences and hands-on learning. These young people are more prepared for the world around them when they graduate from this program. Many are immediately employable. WLP works with 30 students at a time and has hopes to expand. Carlos is as innovative as he is dedicated and is always creating pathways for these students to not only succeed but to sustain success.

Image from: Beyond The Bars