Incredible work is being done out there every day to improve our streets, our neighbors, and our spirits. If you haven’t already, take a look around and consider lending a hand, some time, or even your expertise to make a bigger impact than the one you may be making already.
(Disclaimer: In no way can this list begin to cover all of the great nonprofits in the Bay Area. In fact, I work for one myself that is not included here. The hope is that you'll be inspired by the work being done to support the Bay Area, even if you can't be a part of it yourself. And of course, all of these nonprofits take donations, so if you really lack time but still want to help, that’s always an option.)
What it does: Founded by Bay Area author Dave Eggers and teacher Nínive Calegari, 826 Valencia encourages creative and expository writing skills among students ages six to eighteen. It offers tons of free programs, after-school tutoring, writing centers, and more. The success of 826 Valencia spawned seven more 826 chapters across the country.
What you can do: Sign up to be a tutor, volunteer for field trips, and/or lend your writing, design, or photography expertise to teach a workshop, design materials, or photograph events.
What it does: Youth Speaks seeks to combat illiteracy and silence by creating a safe space to allow youth to develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of societal change through in-school and out-of-school programming, professional development, and programs such as Brave New Voices.
What you can do: Check out one of their many exciting performances or volunteer for Brave New Voices
What it does: Youth Radio partners with industry professionals to train young people in digital media and technology in an effort to encourage education and career paths. It is an award-winning media production company.
What you can do: Listen and watch.
Room to Read
What it does: Room to Read is an award-winning nonprofit that works with communities across the world to develop literacy and gender equality through promoting reading in primary schools and providing resources and life skills to girls.
What you can do: Start your own fundraising campaign, adopt a project, join the SF chapter, and more.
What it does: Artists with developmental disabilities are given the opportunity to create art at Creativity Explored. The artwork is sold through CE’s studios and galleries, as well as around the world, in an effort to enable these artists to become self-employed.
What you can do: Assist in the art studio, prepare and install exhibitions, help out at events, and more.
Larkin Street Youth Services
What it does: For almost 30 years, Larkin Street Youth Services has established a continuum of services that helps youth stay off the streets.
What you can do: Volunteer for short-term, long-term, or group activities and programs; donate items.
Project Open Hand
What it does: Project Open Hand provides “meals with love” to seniors and the critically ill. Every day, volunteers prepare 2,500 nutritious meals and 200 bags of healthy groceries for those who need them in SF and Alameda counties. In 1985, founder Ruth Brinker began the organization in her kitchen, where she cooked meals for seven neighbors with AIDS.
What you can do: Prepare food, deliver, pack groceries, and more; 100 volunteers are relied on every day.
The SF LGBT Center
What it does: The SF LGBT Center provides resources and services to the LGBT community, such as free career counseling, job fairs, youth meals, day care, health services, gallery shows, and more. It is also dedicated to creating a legacy for future generations.
What you can do: Volunteer for a multitude of opportunities and events, depending on your interests and schedule.
What it does: CUESA, whose tagline is “Cultivating a Healthy Food Environment,” has managed the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market since 1999. It is dedicated to fostering a sustainable food system and works to create links between city dwellers and local farmers.
What you can do: Sign up for different opportunities in communications, education, culinary programs, database management, and more.
What it does: Raphael House began in 1971 as an emergency shelter for single mothers and their children; in 1977, it became the first homeless shelter for families in Northern California. Through a variety of supportive and nurturing programs that provide shelter, academic enrichment, career building, children’s services, and more, it hopes to reach an additional 200 families over the next three years.
What you can do: Volunteer in a multitude of ways, including through the corporate and community chefs program, tutoring, workforce development, and more.
What it does: Upwardly Global assists educated and skilled immigrants, refugees, and asylees in building their career portfolios to help them successfully join the professional workforce. It also has an Employer Network Program that increases employers’ capacity to integrate these populations into the workforce.
What you can do: Coach and mentor job seekers, refer people who would benefit from its services, get your company involved in corporate volunteer activities, and more.
What it does: Not only does Magnet provide free health and sexual health services to gay men, it also holds community events and hosts programs in an effort to affirm and promote gay culture. Magnet is a program of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
What you can do: Volunteer for a variety of opportunities including creating special events for the community and being an HIV/STI test counselor.
What it does: Summer Search works to change the odds for low-income students to ensure their success in school and beyond. About 70% of the program’s students are black or Latino and 91% are the first in their family to go to college.
What you can do: Sign up to participate in one-time events, to become a long-term career coach, or to host students in your workplace.
What it does: Greenbelt Alliance works to protect the beauty of the Bay Area and make sure cities grow in a way that creates great neighborhoods for everyone. By 2035 it hopes to fully protect the Bay Area’s three-million-acre greenbelt.
What you can do: Volunteer: fill out a short form to help.
San Francisco SafeHouse
What it does: SF SafeHouse provides gender-specific responses to chronic homelessness for women in commercial sex work through supportive housing and recovery services.
What you can do: Become a GED tutor, work in the garden, write thank you notes, and more.
St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco
What it does: The St. Vincent de Paul Society Multi-Service Center is the largest homeless shelter in Northern California, feeding, clothing, and sheltering more than 150,000 people annually. It also provides services for domestic violence, wellness, and more.
What you can do: Become one of the 2,000+ volunteers needed every year for the organization to operate.
San Francisco CASA
What it does: The SF Court Appointed Special Advocates program focuses on volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children. It is the only volunteer program in SF that empowers everyday citizens to become officers of the court to serve these children.
What you can do: Volunteer to be an advocate.
Precita Eyes Muralists
What it does: One of only three community mural centers in the U.S., Precita Eyes sponsors and implements ongoing mural projects throughout the Bay Area as well as internationally. It has a direct impact on arts education in the Mission District by offering art classes to youth and adults.
What you can do: Become a mural tour docent, an art class assistant, and more.
What it does: In 2013, only 34% of the nation’s fourth graders could read proficiently, and the situation is more dire for students from low-income families. Through one-on-one tutoring, Reading Partners helps students become confident readers.
What you can do: Volunteer to be a reader; commitment is just one hour per week.
What it does: Root Division connects artists, teachers, curators, local schools, audiences, individuals, and foundations through arts education, exhibitions, and studio programs.
What you can do: Take a class or volunteer to teach a class.
What it does: Delancey Street Foundation is considered the country’s leading residential and self-help organization for substance abusers, ex-convicts, the homeless, and others who have hit rock bottom. Residents are offered special skills training, tutoring, and vocational and GED education to prepare them for professional life to get them back on their feet.
What you can do: Hire Delancey Street Foundation for events, moves, and more.
Image via Thinkstock