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Want to help others for the holidays? Grassroots non-profits can do a lot of good with a little help

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Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Let’s be honest: the holidays can be hard.

They often come with a heaping helping of guilt (I already have way too much stuff) or shame (I blew all my gift money on acro-yoga workshops for myself) or anger (if I have to hear “Baby It’s Cold Outside” one more time I am going to lose it on this blow-up Santa). We all have our own hang-ups.

One way to deal with all that is to try to do some good. But before you look to the big charities, here are a few grassroots Halifax organizations you may never have heard of that could really use your help.

Building Futures Employment Society is a not-for-profit social enterprise that supports people with intellectual challenges. The Lower Sackville organization, which has been around for more than 30 years, offers employment support and job development services, and operates a number of businesses, including The Ladle Restaurant, a print shop and a venture that creates hand-painted lawn ornaments.

“Our goal is to support people to find employment, to be present in their communities, to make friends and to have the opportunity to work,” says executive director Marilyn Forrest.

Right now the society serves 85 clients and has a waitlist of about 72. Forrest says there are many ways people can help. “The first thing we like to say is that people can use our businesses, because we are always working toward more independence for the organization.”

In addition, she says, “we certainly do fundraising and we appreciate every contribution that is made to us.” The society, which receives some funding from the provincial government, is in the midst of a capital campaign so it can renovate its “badly in need” building, and to extend the space to accommodate people on the wait list.

“For me, it’s really important that the people we support have the opportunity to do what they want to do in terms of employment, and that they have choices and get to express those choices and act on them,” says Forrest. “It’s important work.”

To donate, go to buildfutures.ca.

Family SOS is a nonprofit organization that works toward building “strong, healthy families” through programs for parents, youth and children.

“We say that we help ‘at risk’ families, but ‘at risk’ has a very broad meaning,” says executive director Donna Williamson. “They could just be at risk because they are having struggles with parenting, it could be for socioeconomic reasons, mental health issues. It’s a broad spectrum.”

Programs are voluntary and range from home parenting support to free after school programming for youth and children. The organization has been operating since 1978 and helps between 400 and 500 families every year.

It gets about a third of their funding from government and the rest is through private foundations and donations. “We just launched into Dartmouth North with a pilot project and right now we only have enough funds to keep it going until March and we have more youth then we can really accommodate,” says Williamson.

Family SOS approaches Christmas donations a little differently than some organizations. “We do not sponsor families at Christmas,” says Williamson. “We would rather empower families and allow them to select the items that they wish to have at Christmas.” Instead, they ask for donations of gift cards, particularly to Wal-Mart or Superstore, where families can get food, basic needs and gifts.

Family SOS also welcomes donations of tickets to Moosehead or Rainmen games, plus bus tickets. Williamson says it can cost close to $100 to take a group of kids from Spryfield to the museum. Find Family SOS at 2006 Gottingen Street or via familysos.ca.

And finally, The Youth Project has been providing support and services for young people around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity for 21 years.

The group suffered a devastating loss in October when executive director and co-founder Leighann Wichman died unexpectedly. I had spoken with Wichman for this column just a week before her death. In our conversation, she had made it clear that she took great pride in the accomplishments of the young people she worked with, explaining how pleased she was that she had recently written several recommendations for medical school.

She also noted that the holidays can be a rough time for LGBTQ youth, particularly for those who are living on their own because of homophobia or transphobia.

Certainly, this year will be especially difficult for everyone involved with the The Youth Project. Support services coordinator Sheena Jamieson says the group’s work will carry on “to honour Leighann’s memory and legacy.” If you’d like to help, go to youthproject.ns.ca/donate.php.

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