Dear PoPville – What is a DC organization that is REALLY helping youths in the city?

Photo by PoPville flickr user antisocialtory

“Dear PoPville,

I am a federal employee trying to decide on my 2011 Combined Federal Campaign (the group giving campaign for federal employees) charities. I do a payroll deduction of about $20 per pay period and want my money to go towards DC area charities. I’m considering allocating some of my deduction to the United Way of the National Capitol Area, because I know they filter funds down to smaller specialized organizations that are doing great work while also providing resources and extra accountability.

However, one issue in the city that has touched me is the number of young people in the city who are homeless, unemployed/underemployed, or undereducated, including but not limited to those who are also in gangs/crews. I want to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and give directly to one or two other organizations but I need some help deciding. What groups do you or your readers see out there that are actively and most importantly, successfully, addressing these issues? Some of my choices in the Combined Federal Campaign are the YWCA, YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Salvation Army, Capital Peers, Capital Partners for Education, Covenant House, Boys Town, the Latin American Youth Center, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Metro TeenAIDS, Boys and Girls Clubs, and many smaller independent charities. Most of the groups listed above are also part of the local United Way.

I would prefer an organization that is secular, but am not opposed to programs run by religion-based organizations as long as proselytizing/missionary activities are not funded via my donations. Or, another question is whether I better off giving through the United Way entirely?

Thanks so much for any advice you can provide. The CFC drive ends December 15th.”

53 Comment

    • Before donating you should research the history of Youth Build and Latin American Youth Center WRT their purchase of the Cook School in TC. They really had the entire neighborhood up in arms about a year ago and exercised some questionable business practices.

      While I respect anyone’s aim’s to help youth, as a TC resident, I would not donate to either, and would suggest donating to a legitimate school.

  • I’m still very new to the charity, but Horton’s Kids is a very well-respected charity doing tutoring-based work with kids K-12 in a Ward 8 public housing complex.

  • Martha’s Table has been doing incredible work for at least 40 years.

  • My sister-in-law is on the board of City at Peace, a quite remarkable local outfit especially designed for teens that you can donate to via the CFC. Check it out.

  • I’d say Sasha Bruce or Metro Teen AIDS.

  • LAYC does great work with young adults in the neighborhood – and they especially target kids at risk for gang activity.

  • I’m donating to the vigilante biker who smacks around the young troublemakers.

  • I’ve been tutoring/mentoring with Horton’s Kids for over two years now. The program is run extremely well, the kids are fantastic, and the wonderful people who work for Horton’s Kids could not be more supportive or helpful.

    • Thank you so much for your shoutout, Chris!! The dedication of our volunteers to the success and well-being of our kids is outstanding and we could not do it without you!

  • SMYAL is a great youth organization

  • Metro Teen Aids is good too. They help both treat you with HIV/Aids but also help prevent the spread.

    A big issue in DC….

  • houseintherear

    I strongly suggest donating to a school. Non-charter schools are in major need. You could even request that the donation go directly to after-school programs, which have suffered greatly in recent years due to extreme budget cuts.

  • I highly recommending contributing money or time to the Higher Achievement Program. I have been a volunteer mentor with them for over 7 years. I can tell you first had that the program has a tremendous and direct impact on DC middle school children.

    Higher Achievement’s rigorous after-school and summer academic program gives youth from at-risk communities their best opportunity to succeed in middle school — and in life. Our research-based program challenges middle school students to meet their full potential in three key areas: academics, social skills, and leadership. When students get the skills and support they need to invest in their own success, they discover that they can be scholars. On average, 95% of Higher Achievement scholars who complete the program advance to top academic high schools and 93% advance to college.

    Founded in 1975, Higher Achievement currently serves more than 600 scholars per year and, in partnership with local schools, operates achievement centers in Washington, DC; Alexandria, VA; Baltimore, MD and Richmond, VA.

    Higher Achievement is a champion of three principles: talent is everywhere, intellect is built through effort, and opportunities matter.

  • Apparently I can use some remedial help myself…

    I highly recommend contributing money or time to the Higher Achievement Program. I have been a volunteer mentor with them for over 7 years. I can tell you first hand that the program has a tremendous and direct impact on DC middle school children.

  • Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a local non-profit that works with kids specifically in our area (Powell Elementary, MacFarland Middle School, Roosevelt HS). They run afterschool programs at those schools.

  • Sitar Arts Center does amazing things in the arts for kids in Adams Morgan, check it out:

  • Also in the Petworth, CH, 16th St Heights area is the Green Door (Taylor and Kansas?) that provides services and helps adults with mental health issues.

    I’m also a fan of House of Ruth—services for women who have suffered from domestic violence.

    Any of the hunger groups—because there are a lot of hungry people in our area—such as Capital Area Food Bank or Martha’s Table.

  • I third LAYC. I lived next door to them for years and was impressed with the programs and the numbers of kids – in the most vulnerable age group – involved. Everything from education to arts & health.

  • Consider supporting Capital Partners for Education (CPE). CPE helps first-generation to college, low-income high students get to and through college through a successful combination of mentoring, financial support, college and career programming, and individualized staff support. For the past 6 years, 100% of CPE graduates have enrolled in college despite very challenging circumstances. CFC# 75694 or United Way # 8104

  • The Washington Middle School for Girls does amazing work in Anacostia with 4th-8th grade girls. I did AmeriCorps there a few years ago and that’s where I send my CFC money!

    The website is a little rough, but they win some serious local awards for being great (specifically getting the girls onto grade level so they can get into good high schools, supporting them until they graduate and seeing them on to college)!

  • DC Scores is a great local non-profit. They run free afterschool programs at 27 elementary and middle schools in DC. Their program combines soccer, creative writing and service learning. In the summer they also run several free summer camps throughout DC. It was started by a teacher at Marie Reed in the 1990s and now there are affiliates across the country.

    • As a DCPS teacher and a former DC SCORES employee, I can easily say that the DC SCORES program does more for children than any school-based program I’ve ever seen.

      They provide students the opportunity to work as a team (something that many students struggle with more than I ever expected), a chance to meet new people and communities (they travel to different schools to play games weekly), and an incredible chance to express themselves through poetry (their poetry slams are truly moving, but are also truly important as its amazing how little students have the chance to express themselves through writing in school during the testing era).

      I remember going to CFC fairs back in the day and I only wish I could have spoken at them with the perspective I have now. Two BIG thumbs up for them.

  • I third (or fourth) Metro Teen AIDS. Great work cool people

  • can we take a minute to talk about the photo? the problem here is that the room in the portrait gallery has all these crazy tvs, but then on the right side — directly where that kid is looking — they show old porn movies. the hilarity of the exhibit is that it’s this big, loud crazy thing but the only thing anybody ever looks at is the one tv with porn on it. it’s a wonderful piece, but really, there’s no way that kid should be looking at it.

  • The Urban Alliance is the PERFECT organization to address: “One issue in the city that has touched me is the number of young people in the city who are homeless, unemployed/underemployed, or undereducated, including but not limited to those who are also in gangs/crews.” Urban Alliance is a DC-based non-profit that, for the last 13 years, has provided year-round PAID internships for DC HS students. They do amazing work.

  • LAYC does a great job with youth and has for the last 40 years. Your money will be well spent there. Check them out at

  • “Life Pieces to Masterpieces” is an after school mentoring, tutoring, and art program for youth in DC. They do amazing things with youth in the city!

  • Hands on DC is an all-volunteer organization helping to beautify and improve DC public schools. They also raise money for scholarships to send deserving DCPS students to college.

  • I think it’s really fantastic that you’re asking for referrals to make a decision for investing your money wisely. There are so many worthy and dedicated teen programs out there in DC, but I wanted to make my case for City at Peace DC.

    City at Peace is a 17 year old nonprofit using the performing arts to work intensively with diverse groups of young people to promote cross-cultural understanding, teach conflict resolution and prevent violence. Using a youth-led model, we work hard to build trusting, diverse relationships with teens, motivate them them using theater, and create lasting change in the lives of participants, their families, their schools, and their communities.

    We are committed to the value of hearing all voices. In our experience, important conversations on issues concerning youth often omit youth from having a say. So in our program, young people practice ways to communicate effectively and respectfully so that their voices are heard and their opinions become part of the solution to problems.

    If this sounds like something that draws you in, please visit us at to learn more or connect with us.

    At the very core of what we’re doing, we are trying to unite youth to become better people and to help find and create a better community. Year after year we are luck enough to attract a dynamic variety of youth much like you are trying to support. I hope anyone reading this finds value in what we’re doing and our quest to create a true city at peace.


    Encourages middle school kids to read by pairing them with an adult mentor. Together, they read a book that is assigned in class together and meet with other students/mentors. I am just about to begin mentoring with them.

  • Dance institute of Washington. Great group whose students, of all incomes, produce great works of beauty.

  • Great suggestions here. The only thing I would recommend is giving directly instead of through United Way.

  • I have done some volunteer work with this organization and I think its marvelous, underfunded, and worth your money:

  • @Maire: CFC is not in the same league as United way, which is just corrupt and un-necessary from start to finish. Still, any Fed will tell you that once you think the CFC campaign is over it starts up again filling your email with spam.

  • or

    BUILD – Metro DC’s mission is to use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success. BUILD fosters success among students who have sparse vision of their own futures, receive scant academic support, and view school as irrelevant.  In so doing, BUILD addresses one of the single largest root causes of poverty. Currently, BUILD Metro DC serves 200 Washington students in grades nine through twelve at three partner schools.

    At BUILD, public high school freshmen (at the highest risk of dropping out) begin with an Introduction to Entrepreneurship class.  In the class, teams write business plans, refine them with volunteer mentors, and present them at a year-end Business Plan Competition (BPC).
    Over the next three years of high school, students operate their businesses out of BUILD’s youth business incubator—the largest in the DC area. Students spend between three and six hours per week at the incubator, and get support of volunteer mentors and Venture Capital Advisers (VCAs).
    To continue in the program, students must commit themselves to improving their GPA in preparation for college – a challenge most meet with the help of volunteer tutors. The students take SAT/ACT prep classes, tour at least two campuses annually, and use their entrepreneurial experience to help market themselves to colleges.
    After 12 years of operation in the Bay area and four in Washington, the program has yielded the following:
    • 35% of BUILD students’ businesses break even or turn a profit their first year
    • 90% of students operate their businesses through completion of high school
    • Students average an increase of 139 SAT points after taking BUILD’s prep class
    • 90% of students score an intermediate level or higher on BUILD’s public-speaking skills assessment
    • 100% of BUILD seniors graduate and are accepted to college, with 91% accepted to four-year colleges

  • I’ll second the recommendation for Higher Achievement. They just released the results of a multi-year control group study which proves its effectiveness: This program targets students during the vulnerable middle school years. I have also been a volunteer mentor with them for the last three years, and can testify to the high standards of the program and the impact it makes on low income kids in DC.

  • Homeless Children’s Playtime Project:

  • and there’s SisterMentors ( They promote higher education among girls/women of color.

  • DC Youth Orchestra Program!! 100% of the kids who graduate from DCYOP also graduate from HS!! Doesn’t get much better than that!

  • I’ll tell you one that isn’t: The Columbia Hieghts/Shaw Family Support Collaborative. It’s an inept, corrupt nonprofit that over pays it’s senior staff, takes DC Tax dollars and doesn’t do s@#t for kids. Stay away from CH/SFC! Trust me, I’ve had friends that worked there and tell me stories that would make your head spin!

  • Higher Achievement does a ton of good work and has an excellent board.

  • I mentor with Higher Achievement and think it’s great – clearly lots of other people on here do too.

    So I’ll mention a new one: Bright Beginnings provides daycare and preschool to the children of homeless and transitional women and families allowing them to seek employment and education. It provides critical support to help these families out of homelessness.

  • I’d also like to recommend Horton’s Kids ( I work at this organization and see the impact that it makes on a daily basis.

    Our mission is to educate and empower the children of Washington, DC’s Ward 8 by providing comprehensive, direct services which improve the quality of their daily lives and nurture each child’s desire and ability to succeed. Horton’s Kids has a wrap-around approach – our services include one-on-one tutoring, an older youth program, health and basic needs support, educational advocacy, family empowerment, and enrichment activities.

    Horton’s Kids has been around since 1989, and we have a great relationship with the neighborhood that we serve. We also won the 2011 Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management. (

    I actually manage the CFC campaign for Horton’s Kids, so let me know if you have any questions – sveta(at) 🙂

    And thanks for asking the question – what a great idea!

  • Please consider Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) —

    YPT teaches students to express themselves clearly and creatively through the art of playwriting and serves students in all 8 wards in DC. In many schools, it is the only arts education available. YPT produces many of the student-written plays with professional actors and directors at Gala Hispanic Theater in the Tivoli. It’s a very small organization and operates with a very tight budget, yet serves thousands of students in DC. Please take a look at the website for more information.

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