Merlene Davis: Organizations that help others have specific holiday needs

Jeff Culver, left, and Earl Washington founded Fostering Goodwill about nine years ago to help young people who have aged out of foster care.
Jeff Culver, left, and Earl Washington founded Fostering Goodwill about nine years ago to help young people who have aged out of foster care. Herald-Leader

It has to be difficult to run a nonprofit organization this time of year.

The donors who have blessed the organization throughout the year are highly sought-after during the holidays by other agencies just as desperate to make their clients or participants happy around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Because those groups are so passionate about what they do and who they serve, competing for dollars is a necessary evil.

"It can be very challenging," said Jeffrey White, executive director of The Nest Center for Women, Children and Families. "There are a lot of things going on and a lot of good organizations."

But that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't help them. While there are many worthy nonprofits, two of my longtime favorites are Fostering Goodwill, which serves young people ages 18 to 25 who have aged out of foster care, and The Nest, which serves families in crisis.

Fostering Goodwill hosts a Christmas party to be held this year at GattiTown for the sixth time, thanks to the generosity of owners Jeff and Kim Frye.

At the gathering, more than 150 people — those who have aged out and their children — enjoy several hours of games, food and fun. Jeff Culver and another social worker, Earl Washington, founded the organization about nine years ago because sometimes the foster youth just weren't ready to be on their own at age 18. But, because they are transitioning out of foster care and might not have any family members to speak of, those youth could go without gifts at Christmas if it were not for Fostering Goodwill.

"We try to give each youth at least $50 in gift cards," Culver said. "For those with kids, we try to give them more."

Plus Culver and Washington give out door prizes and even have an award, the Nick Carter Award, that acknowledges four youths who are succeeding despite the odds.

"We still help throughout the year," Culver said. "We help with rent and with electric and water bills, and we keep extra gift cards on hand for when the youth get hungry."

There are more youths coming in the pipeline, Culver said. The biggest group entering foster care ranges in age from 13 to 17.

"It is the breakdown of the family," he said, "and as the years pass, you see the results. A lot (of the youth) are coming through with status offenses, truancy and runaway (problems).

"These families just don't have a lot of support."

The Nest understands that all too well. That nonprofit offers four programs for struggling families: child care, a domestic violence program, crisis care and parenting programs. Most of their services go to crisis care.

"We see 1,800 adults in that program," White said. "They come in and have basic needs, such as diapers, formula, children's clothing and toiletries."

Eighty percent of the families served are the working poor, he said, who just can't make ends meet.

Through those four programs this year, 717 children received services. They are the ones White wants to give a nice Christmas through Reindeer Express, a program in its 36th year. It allows parents to choose new, unwrapped toys, books and warm clothing forchildren up to 5 years old.

Gift suggestions include games and puzzles; dolls of various ethnicities; sports equipment; cars and trucks; dinosaurs; action figures; art supplies; new winter coats, hats and gloves; and wrapping paper and tape.

The parents have all been sent invitations, but not all will respond. Some have moved away. So White hopes to have at least enough new items for 500 children.

The parents will come Dec. 12 and will be accompanied by a volunteer serving as a personal shopper. By the end of the visit, the parents will have a bag filled like the one Santa Claus carries, plus they will be given a box of food.

"If (donors) bring the items by the 10th, it would be really helpful for setup," White said. "But we will take items all the way up to the day of."

And both groups welcome monetary donations, too.

Whether you give to the newly independent foster youth, to struggling families or to another nonprofit is up to you.

"You have to do whatever speaks to your heart," White said.

These two organizations speak to mine.