Season of giving

It’s a cliché, but it rings true during the holidays — it is better to give than to receive. The city is home to several charitable organizations working on all sorts of causes to make our community a better place. Here’s a guide to a handful of charities based Downtown and Southwest looking for donations and volunteers.


VSA arts of Minnesota
Hennepin Center for the Arts
528 Hennepin Ave., Suite #305
Phone: 332-3888

VSA arts of Minnesota is a nonprofit agency in its 20th year connecting people with disabilities to the arts. Housed in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, the VSA presents visual art exhibits by artists with disabilities and assists them through grant programs and

Kids have greater access to the arts as well thanks to the VSA arts’ educational outreach. Schools can send their special education teachers to training workshops and host artist-in-residency programs.

The organization also puts on arts festivals for people with disabilities of all ages, hosts artist-in-residency programs in residential centers, works to make theatre accessible for all and maintains a calendar of theatre events with American Sign Language (ASL) translators.

By presenting annual Arts Access Awards and raising awareness about issues surrounding disabilities through “Arts Access Newsletter” and e-mail updates called “Artists’ Pipeline,” VSA arts promotes accessibility for people with disabilities participating in arts activities statewide.

VSA arts needs volunteers to help compile, edit, and distribute the Arts Access newsletter and Artists’ Pipeline; transport and hang artwork at galleries; record descriptions of art in exhibits for the deaf; expand lists of ASL interpreters and deaf-blind interpreters; assist with web design; and much more.

Artists in the community, particularly artists with disabilities, are encouraged to contact VSA arts about opportunities to volunteer in schools or with adults with disabilities. VSA arts accepts money donations and in kind donations of art supplies.

— Anna Rockne


Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
401 N. 3rd St. Suite 290
Contact: Wever Weed
Phone: 332-9630
Fax: 332-9624
E-mail: [email protected]

When summer fades, the cool north winds blow, and the tip of your nose begins to chap, it’s time to put the canoe away, hunker down in the city, and warm up with a cup of hot cocoa until next summer.

After the leaves have fallen, it’s easy to forget that infamous Northern respite, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Wilderness. To keep those muddy, wild, splashy lake memories alive, and ensure their future, a gift to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness may be just what the outdoors lover in you ordered.

Founded in 1976, the mission of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness is “to protect, preserve, and restore the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Quetico-Superior Ecosystem.”

This is done through both advocacy and education.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness aims to educate the public. They focus particularly on teens and young adults, teaching the value of the wilderness. They cover a wide range of topics from humans’ impact on the wilderness to education on invasive species and plants. They also send underprivileged kids into the wilderness to get a feel for these values firsthand.

On the advocacy end, they work with lawmakers and lawyers, and occasionally show up in the courts to help stop threats to the environment and make the public more aware of issues such as logging and development, supporting natural fires, fighting the loss of native species, and conserving and sustaining the forest as a quiet, healthy respite.

This year is an especially crucial one to help out in. Summer 2007 saw a rash of fires in the BWCAW, the worst since 1918. Fire danger remains a potential across the wilderness today.

Members receive a quarterly newsletter, e-mail action alerts, and an invitation to their annual meeting and events.

Volunteers needed: People can help the Friends of the Boundary Waters by volunteering, especially in the spring and summer months, monitoring water quality in the boundary waters, and working with wilderness rangers. If your passion is anything from cleaning latrines to educating campers on best practices for camping, they can use your help.

Donations welcome: In the form of gifts or giving for membership (gift memberships available). Donations of all sizes welcome, membership levels starting at $20. See website for more information.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
2105 1st Ave. S.
Contact: Kate Hoff, development director
Phone: 870-3404
Fax: 870-4846
E-mail: [email protected]

If you’ll be traveling over the river and through the woods for the holidays, or if you are already missing harvest season and fresh farm produce, you may want to consider a gift to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Starting up in the days of the family farm crisis, the group was founded in 1986 in Southwest Minneapolis by active Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Today, their mission is to “promote resilient family farms, rural communities, and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.”

The group works locally as well as internationally (overseeing the World Trade Organization in Geneva) for sustainability and fair trade, promoting local growers and their fair pay worldwide. They are also advocators of safe food, without chemicals, antibiotics or toxins.

IATP created Peace Coffee, a working business model in fair trade coffee beans. They also bring healthy, farm produce to low-income neighborhoods, reform farm policy to target obesity and have a farm-to-school network bringing fresh foods to schools. They created “Sow the Seeds,” a local food and environmental protection grant program in collaboration with The Wedge Co-op. They also work on antitoxic policy (educating and advocating on the dangerous effects of materials that are toxic or cancer-causing such as flame-retardant clothes).

Donations welcome: In all sizes. Donate online at, then click on the “support our work” link at the top of the page.

— Hilary Brueck


Medica Skyway Senior Center
950 Nicollet Mall, Suite 290
Phone: 370-3869

Looking for a way to connect seniors to Downtown life? Look no further than the Medica Skyway Senior Center.

Located in the skyway system just as you cross LaSalle to get to St. Thomas, the center offers a variety of senior programs, from Tai Chi to computer lessons to information on health and finance.

With more than 50 volunteers, most of whom are seniors, the center is a “phenomenal example of volunteerism,” said Medica Skyway Senior Center Director Christina Kendrick.

The goal is to keep seniors from social isolation, Kendrick said.

“I like to think of this place as Downtown’s hidden gem,” she said. “The most amazing part is that we have only one paid staff member.”

The center is in the midst of a donation drive, which will run until Dec. 13. Once the donations hit $1,600, Thrivent Financial will “graciously” match that amount, Kendrick said.

Although the center receives donations, it also gives back to the community through activities like Bundles of Love, which has seniors preparing fabrics for mothers in need.

Volunteers for presentations on health, finance, history and even entertainment are ideal for the center, Kendrick said. More minor gifts, such as paper napkins, cookies and tea are always more than welcome.

To donate or volunteer, ask for Michelle Lodahl at (612) 370-3869 or e-mail her at [email protected] For more information, go to

Southwest Senior Resources
3612 Bryant Ave. S.
Phone: 822-3194.

The Southwest Senior Resources Center offers a wide array of programs to help seniors stay independent.

Among the most popular is the Adult Day program, which includes daily exercise, cognitive activities to help the brain stay sharp, field trips and more. Other programs and events for seniors include Scrabble matches, bingo games and arts programs designed to cater to seniors’ creative needs.

Social workers are also there to help seniors who need financial advice, a better understanding of Medicare, and knowledge of public and private support services.

The center serves completely independent seniors as well as those on the verge of living in nursing homes, said Southwest Center Director Mary Ann Schoenberger.

Some seniors have a tough time paying for the offered programs they want to participate in, Schoenberger said, which makes cash donations for senior scholarships more than ideal for the center.

“Someone might want their mom to go to the Adult Day program two times a week but they can only afford to go one time,” Schoenberger said. “Scholarships to help these people out would be great.”

Other good gift ideas for the center include soap, dry-erase markers, sugar-free candy, paper towels, and grocery store and drug store gift cards. For those who wish to donate something bigger, the center could use a TV stand and a digital camera.

— Joey Peters


Leonardo’s Basement
4301 Nicollet Ave.
Phone: 824-4394

Think back to when you were a child. Whether it was Tinker Toys, Legos, even crayons, anything having to do with constructing and creating seemed to occupy us for hours. This group has an underlining educational initiative to pursue imaginative, creative, hands-on opportunities for boys and girls ages 4–16.

Programs are tailored to the children’s interests in science, technology and art. From crafting sculptures to assembling robots, the activities aim to build confidence and promote experimental attitudes. The mission of the group is to teach purposeful, inventive lessons with materials and tools and to not only encourage the kids to go on to study sciences or technology, but to provide a stimulating environment wherein children can explore and experiment. It’s a place they can go to move around, steal ideas, and learn from one another through innovation and knowledge.

During the school year, Leonardo’s offers four types of programs, varying with the seasons: After School, Saturday Open Shop, Winter Break and Lego League. Each has a different initiative and the duration and times of these programs vary. The organization is also making strides to promote and gather additional resources for girls.

Donations needed: One-fourth of kids don’t have the resources to attend these programs. You can request that your tax-deductible donation supports a particular program (Tinker Cart, Teens, afterschool classes), be used for general support or be dedicated to the scholarship fund. This year, donations are being accepted for a Mexico City exchange program. Check with your employer to see if your gift can be matched. Hardware materials needed: gears, pulleys, knobs, wheels, clamps and piping. For a complete and updated list, visit the website.

Volunteers needed: Types of volunteers needed year-round are: instructors, photographers, event planners, translators, grant writers or folks willing to tackle any other duties that will fulfill the organization’s mission.

To sign up for a program, donate or volunteer, contact Executive Director Steve Jevning.

The Joshua House
2631 3rd Ave. S.
Phone: 462-3873

The Source, a faith based, nonprofit organization that reaches out to young men, runs the Joshua House for alienated, at-risk young people to help build foundations for healthy futures and to overcome their harmful pasts. Many come from broken homes and don’t have the life skills to successfully navigate through adulthood.

This eight- to 12-month-stay group home initiative was founded to help mold a new life for young men coming from detrimental backgrounds, such as experiencing homelessness, being in treatment centers or incarcerated. Here, they go through the proper training of managing finances, debt reduction and prevention, interviewing skills, household maintenance, formal and informal cooking lessons, communication, and conflict resolution. As a result, sobriety, attaining a GED, enrolling in college, getting and holding employment, and mending family relationships have been achieved by Joshua House residents.

Today, the house shelters about 14, while organizers and volunteers work hard on restoring the attic of the two-story four-plex. The third-story will have two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen, which will open up room to about four more young men who need the

Donations needed: Financially, the Joshua House is looking to retire the $200,000 mortgage. The house will allow grant money to go directly to pay down on the mortgage. The organization accepts donated nonperishable foods and toiletries. Go to the website for more information.

Volunteers needed: Labor for framing, flooring, sheet rocking, finishing, cleaning and painting. Also needed are materials for electrical, plumbing and finishing projects. Other construction initiatives need volunteers, too. Mentoring: Open to families donating a Saturday to spend time with a young man who never had the chance to experience that kind of togetherness. Other volunteer opportunities vary, no specific trades necessary.

To donate or volunteer, contact Joshua House Coordinator Gary Harding at number listed above (leave a message if no one is available).

— Alison Fiebig