Thinking Outside’s Top 10 Charities of 2014

My giving supports programs that I believe can change the world of their participants and our communities.

Like many families, our giving often focuses around our children — we tend to give to our kids’ schools, to the organizations or programs they participate in, or to programs our friends know and support — and.while these programs and organizations are wonderful, and deserve support, I also want to give to organizations that need my support that are not so close to home. So, we also give to organizations that are changing the world through their work.

This list is made up of organizations and programs that I support through my own contributions, but also includes organizations that the rest of my family likes to support. There are so many great and deserving organizations, but for this list, I wanted more of the nonprofits (though not all) to be ones that are a bit more off the radar screen,maybe a little bit lesser known, but still having a large impact in their field and on the people they serve. Many of the organizations on this list do not have a large fund development teams, and like most small, on the ground, nonprofits, struggle to secure the resources necessary to deliver their programs.

All of them deserve our support. Check them out, they are not really in order of preference, and consider a year-end donation.

1. Outward Bound California (OBCA) (California)

obca photo

Okay, this one is very personal. I am an Outward Bound alumni. My 30 days in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado changed and shaped my life, and my teaching. As an educator I sent my students on Outward Bound scholarships and watched them come back transformed. And now, I am on the board. Today, OBCA is working with all types of students and programs in both wilderness and urban settings.We work with corporations, schools, youth programs, nonprofits, agencies, municipalities, and so on. Some of our students come from families of means, and they can afford our full tuition, but most (over 50%) of our students receive some form of financial aid, and many of the programs we work with receive full scholarships for their programs. Outward Bound could not help our community partners without the generosity of your donors. And, because I believe in supporting youth programs that change lives, I support Outward Bound California.

2. The Mosaic Project (Bay Area)

mosaic project

Lara Mendel has been changing attitudes and lives since the mid-1990s. Few organizations have the ability to take school children from diametrically opposed economic, social, and racial backgrounds and in less than a week bring the community together in a common sense of humanity and common purpose. It is an amazing transformation. This past 2 years our family benefitted in a personal way when my son became a high school counselor for the program. Mosaic’s approach to conflict management, its ability to impart a peaceful approach to disagreements and rancor became apart of our family. Whenever my son works his Mosaic magic, we reflect on what happened, and we realize that we got “Mosaic’d”, our short hand for putting Mosaic’s approach into action.

3. Youth Radio  (Bay Area)

youth radio

If you listen to Bay Area public radio, you are familiar with the reports from Youth Radio. Insightful, expertly done, they give us an insight into the world from the lens of youth, and the analysis of communities often not represented in the traditional media. Along the way, Youth Radio develops great skills in its students and young people.

4. Youth Speaks (Bay Area)

youth speaks

Siting through a Youth Speaks youth poetry competition is exhilarating and emotional. The poets are an amazing blend of talent and wear it on your sleeves, often heart wrenching, story-telling. Youth Speaks showcases young people at their most vulnerable, and at their best.

5. Destiny Arts (Oakland, CA)

destiny artsViolence prevention and youth development through the  arts. Not only do the young people in Destiny Arts learn about love and self-resilience, they also create beautiful art. Talking to some young participants after a recent performance, it struck me that Destiny Arts didn’t just create a place to be safe, but also imparted life-long skills that will always give these young people a leg up in life.

6. Youth Enrichment Services (YES) (Richmond, CA)

YES logoThere are fewer disconnected communities than inner-city Richmond, from the Iron Triangle, if you can get up high enough, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpias. But these two iconic places might as well be across the continent; so few children in Richmond have been the Bridge, much less to the hills of Mt. Tam. Most have never been the ocean, a short, but impossible, 30 minute drive from their homes. YES connects kids to summer camps and the outdoors. YES peer leaders learn crucial leadership skills and develop personal connections to nature.

7. Sunrise Middle School (San Jose)

sunrise ms logo SMShigh expectations

Sunrise Middle School brings the whole world that lies beyond the reach of their students. Sunrise MS is a safe haven from the tumultuous San Jose barrio which dominates the lives of their students outside of the school, but being safe isn’t the only goal of the school — learning to take risks is. Through their innovative outdoor program, Sunrise MS faculty take their youth far beyond their perceived limitations and exposes them to outdoor adventures that build a connection to nature, and a foundation of self-understanding that will last a life-time.

8. Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF)

fuf logo

Having a green city is great. But without organizations like FUF our city would be so much less inviting — and clean.  I am so fortunate to live on a street with trees. If you live on a block with trees, you can most likely thank FUF. Take a moment to notice the difference between streets lined with trees and those without, the difference is striking. They also have really well run youth program.

9. MISSEY (East Bay)

misseyMISSEY works with sexually exploited children to help them find a way out of their situation by providing comprehensive services in a safe environment. MISSEY also provides information to the community and government about the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which does not receive as much attention as other issues facing our children.

10. Girls on the Run (National)

logo_girlsontherunGirls on the Run brings exercise and empowerment together in a great approach and curriculum that is designed to address the challenges facing young girls by empowering them to make thoughtful and healthy decisions. They use a very effective mentoring model that pairs the runners with mentors and running coaches who deliver life skills and fitness skills in a fun learning environment.

11. Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), [Santa Clara]

FLY logo Started by lawyers searching for ways to keep youth from becoming incarcerated, or to help them get off probation, this program was designed by youth and is dedicated to breaking the cycle of violence, crime and incarceration of teens through a powerful combination: legal education, leadership training, and one-on-one mentoring. They even use outdoor education as a way to teach resiliency.

12. Spaulding Wooden Boat Center (Sausalito)


i spent a lot of time at Spaulding this year and it is a magical place. Great history, beautiful boats, terrific people. Their partnership with MLK Middle School is a strong example of how schools can use nonprofits to deepen and enrich their programs. Spaulding is MLK’s off-site shop. Great hands-on STEM connection, as well. Now they are offering adult boat building classes as well.


Ok, so my list has 12. There are too many terrific organizations doing great work. Add your top nonprofits of 2014 in the comments section below.


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