This holiday season, we are offering suggestions of charitable organizations doing the work of healing our land, water, air and people. So whether you want to help folks who need care directly or you want to be a part of systemic change efforts for a better world, please check out our recommendations for giving this year.
The health of the planet and the health of the people on it are intricately linked. Pollution causes spikes in hospital emergencies, trees bring scores of health benefits, water contaminants can cause cancer and the health consequences of climate change are severe, not the least of which because melting permafrost is unleashing long-frozen prehistoric diseases.
Meanwhile, we are spending more money than ever on health care. Health care spending in Minnesota reached $47.1 billion in 2016 and is expected to double to $94.2 billion by 2026, according to a state report.
It’s an emergency situation that will require all hands on deck, and many organizations in the Twin Cities are taking up the charge, by supporting low-income individuals and families who don’t have access to health care, raising awareness about environmental issues and attending to the health and emotional needs of people from historically marginalized communities.
Located on the north side of Lake Harriet, the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary is a secret gem of Minneapolis. At different times of the year, the park is home to over 100 different species of birds: mourning doves, American kestrels, great horned owls and more.
The Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary, formed in 2013, is tasked with safeguarding the sanctuary, ensuring the natural area continues to be a place for birds of all kinds to flourish within an urban setting. Among the group’s activities are educational programs that provide an increased understanding of the Minnesota birds and natural wildlife that make the sanctuary their home.
The organization also hosts volunteer activities, where they use their hands (rather than chemicals) to help protect the sanctuary’s environment. They remove invasive species, like garlic mustard and buckthorn, and plant native vegetation, including trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The Friends have also done advocacy work, bringing broader awareness to the importance of birds in the city as a whole.
Follow the organization on Facebook for the latest updates on ways you can help maintain the sanctuary in its natural state. There are opportunities to go on birding and botany walks as well, like their fall and spring migration watch walks, and an owl call event on Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, you can find information on their website about how to make a donation supporting the organization’s work.
The Friends of Roberts Birds Sanctuary is an example of a way you can affect the health of the planet — not in a vague abstract way, but right in your own city.
According to a report published by the Minnesota Department of Health in February, nearly 1 out of every 7 dollars in Minnesota’s economy is devoted to health care. But even with government programs like Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care, many low-income Minnesotans fall between the cracks when it comes to health care. Minnesota may rank in the top five states nationally for having the smallest uninsured population, but we still see massive disparities. While the uninsured rate for whites is 3%, that figure jumps to 6.5% for black Minnesotans and 17% for Latinos, according to WalletHub.
That’s why places like Southside Community Health Services are so important. Started by volunteers in 1971, the center provides medical, dental, vision and behavioral health services for individuals and families in South Minneapolis, regardless of whether they have insurance. Whether folks need a screening, acute care, chronic illness management, a root canal, counseling or a contact lens fitting, Southside’s four programs located in two different buildings support low-income people in getting on the path to health and wellness.
In addition, Southside has patient advocates and MNsure navigators available to assist folks with the paperwork required to get assistance.
Named after the Simon & Garfunkel song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” The Bridge for Youth was started in 1970 by an activist nun named Rita Steinhagen, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Noticing large numbers of runaway youth in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, Steinhagen opened up the nuns’ residence to young people seeking shelter, before eventually working to create a separate facility for them.
In the early years, The Bridge for Youth was run under the umbrella of Catholic Charities, but it’s operated as an independent nonprofit since 1972. In fact, the organization was the first runaway youth shelter in the nation to receive federal funding, according to its website.
The Bridge operates a 24/7 emergency shelter, where youth in crisis can seek safety and shelter and get their mental and health needs met. And while the typical goal is to ultimately reconnect youth with their families, the organization also runs a transition program for 16- and 17-year-olds, for whom family reunification is not the best option. Meanwhile, Rita’s House, named after the Bridge’s founder, is where 18- to 21-year-olds learn independent living skills, work with a case manager and building a rental history.
This year, The Bridge also opened a new building for homeless pregnant and/or parenting youth ages 16–20 called Marlene’s Place. The Bridge also operates crisis phone and text lines, a mobile app and other services through its youth response center.
The Bridge is caring for the health and well-being of youth who are experiencing trauma. Supporting these young people, and equipping them with the care and tools they need to thrive, ensures their health and happiness down the road.
From bike repairs to haircuts to nurse visits, Peace House Community goes the extra mile. The center is a place for people who are homeless or in need of a place to go during the day to come not just for services, but also to be a part of a loving community.
So often, public spaces are inhospitable to folks who are homeless. Emergency homeless shelters don’t allow people to stay during the day, so PHC provides a place people can go to and feel like they belong. It’s a welcoming spot where people have access to healthy meals and hygiene kits. They even provide hand massages and back and neck massages, because touch truly is an important part of creating healthy life.
Like the Bridge for Youth, PHC was started by a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet: Sister Rose Tillemans. After running a free store on Nicollet Avenue for 10 years, Tillemans decided she wanted to take her work further, by providing a space for people to gather and find peace amidst the chaos of life.
A nonprofit organization since 1999, PHC was a volunteer-run organization until 2018, when the board created its first manager position. It’s the latest step in the growth of an organization that provides a needed service — not simply providing for life’s basic necessities but also offering companionship and hope.
Things have come a long way for the LGBTQ community, what with marriage equality and increasing acceptance of queer and trans identities — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done.
Over 80% of the queer and trans youth who Reclaim works with have experienced harassment because of their identities, according to the organization’s annual report. At Reclaim, they find a safe space where they can make connections, find healing and gain tools to take with them for the rest of their lives.
For adolescents and young adults who are grappling with questions of gender and sexual identity, there can be a lack of places to go where they feel comfortable talking about their experiences.
Reclaim offers individual, group and art therapy for queer, trans, gender fluid, gender nonconforming and nonbinary youth. In addition, Reclaim’s Project CLEAR offers individual, group and family therapy, peer education workshops and staff training to support queer and trans young people who have experienced sexual violence and unhealthy relationships. They also train organizations and individuals on how to become effective allies. Reclaim’s education and outreach efforts include engaging in community partnerships to tackle issues of gender and racial justice.
About half the youth Reclaim works with are from communities of color, and 47% have experienced housing instability. Because of this, Reclaim’s work focuses on the interconnected aspects of young people’s identities, including race, gender, immigration status, income and more.
Campaign operative Richard Colbrum, who chaired the campaign to defeat the state amendment to ban same-sex marriage five years ago, now sets his sights on climate change with ULLU. He’s joined by behavior designer Meshach Weber and communications wizard Lindsay DiLorenzo.
Much like the fight for marriage equality, ULLU’s work is grounded in the notion that the answer to climate change will be through one-on-one conversations taking place in living rooms and at kitchen tables around the state. Creating a sea change of majority will is the key to finally making a dent on climate change.
The organization plans to do this through social media platforms, the development of a statewide youth council, coalition building, grassroots organizing and leadership development. While the effort is just beginning, the success of the marriage amendment defeat shows that using personal narratives and open-ended conversations is a powerful way to create big systemic change.
The idea is that the laws and policy changes needed to create a more environmentally sustainable Minnesota will only happen when the people demand them. ULLU is all about drumming up a larger movement and popular support for the desperately needed actions required to make dramatic improvements to the state of climate change here in Minnesota.
Next summer will mark 10 years of the incredibly popular Open Streets Minneapolis program, part of a national initiative that creates car-free experiences on popular thoroughfares. Modeled after the ciclovías in Bogotá, Colombia, and other Central and South American countries, Open Streets brings together neighborhood groups, local businesses and organizations for fun community festivals. The events allow visitors to experience the possibility of a car-free Lyndale or Nicollet avenue. Taking place throughout the summer and fall, these events are both joyful and inspiring, and have done much for bringing enthusiasm and ideas for creating a more bike-friendly city.
Besides organizing Open Streets, Our Streets Minneapolis is involved with a number of initiatives aimed at improving conditions for bicyclists in the city, as well as loosening the grip of the city’s car culture. This includes advocacy and public education campaigns that encourage biking for people of different backgrounds and abilities.
Recent accomplishments of the organization include organizing local voices around winter sidewalk maintenance and finishing up the second year of the “bicycle connectors” program encouraging people of color who identify as female, trans or nonbinary into the biking sphere.
Our Streets’ work is key to keeping Minneapolis at the forefront in the nation of cities great for biking, shifting policy toward a multi-modal infrastructure that de-emphasizes cars — making a big impact on the environment and health of all who live in the Twin Cities metro.
The health benefits of dance are wide. Not only is dancing good for the heart and lungs, and for muscle tone, strength, coordination and balance; it also helps prevent osteoporosis, leads to improved mental health and can actually improve brain function.
Young Dance provides all the health benefits of dance for young people, with particular emphasis on creativity and supporting people of all abilities. The organization is intentional about inclusivity and about protecting young dancers from eating-disordered thinking and pressures to look a certain way.
Their classes include choreography and improvisation, in addition to hip-hop, modern, body-positive ballet and world dance. They also have a youth dance company that performs for the public and an all-abilities program that offers access to dancers with disabilities. Young Dance is infusing dance education with radical inclusion and holistic health.
This year, Young Dance moved into a new space at Co•Motion, a center for movement and fitness organizations in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, sharing space with St. Paul Ballet, Element Gym and other movement-focused groups. Young Dance’s new home means an improvement in the accessibility of their classes and programs, making the positive health outcomes of dance available to even more people.
The education arm of the larger TakeAction Minnesota organization, which works to advocate for equitable health and environmental policies around the state, the TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund is doing the work to bring people of diverse backgrounds into community organizing, policy research, public education and civic participation.
TakeAction’s educational activities center on the voices of people who are most impacted by negative systems. Among their programs is the Women of Color Table, a group that meets monthly to build leadership skills, connections and power. The organization runs similar groups for people who are impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems, as well as for care workers.
Rather than speaking for these groups, TakeAction builds leadership among groups that have often not had a say in policy. Whether it’s learning to advocate for paid family and medical leave, bolstering the state’s clean energy economy or strengthening sexual harassment laws, TakeAction is partnering with communities to grow their voice in changing the state for the better.
MN 350 takes its name from “350 parts per million,” which is what the scientific community agrees is the “safe” level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For most of the history of humankind, the level was at 275 ppm. Now it’s well over 400, with 2 ppm being added to the atmosphere every year.
MN 350 is taking on this startling reality by working in coalition with organizations statewide. The organization’s volunteer-driven efforts include advocating for zero-emission buses and clean car standards, and it has opposed the Line 3 pipeline.
Whether hosting education and community outreach sessions, conducting climate justice trainings, mobilizing volunteers to advocate on behalf of clean climate policies or taking its environmental message to the streets, MN 350 won’t be silent until there are measurable improvements in the health of our earth, air and water.
Correction: A previous version of this story transposed part of the name of the Peace House Community.