32 Ways to Be Good in Philly

With so many great nonprofits doing amazing work in the region, where should your dollars go? Here, a few of our favorite causes.

The Food Trust’s Katie Berky teaches a nutrition education lesson to a third-grade class at Kensington’s John Moffet School. Photograph by Neal Santos

The Food Trust
Childhood Obesity
What They Do: Get Kids Hyped for Health
Budget: $9.4M
Founded: 1993

The super-popular Night Market food-truck fests are just an added fillip to the Food Trust’s mission of improving the health of Philly’s youth. The org’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative works to increase nutritious food availability, and its HYPE program (Healthy You. Positive Energy) works mostly in North Philly to help middle- and high-schoolers lead their schools in pushing for healthier food options and physical activity. Community partners range from the tiny Village of Arts and Humanities to the Free Library, and the program has gotten props from Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Consider us hype. Get involved:

Prevention Point Philadelphia
What They Do: Strike Back at Opioids
Budget: $1.6M
Founded: 1992

Philly’s overdose epidemic — on pace to kill 1,200 this year, up from 907 in 2016 — wasn’t always centered on opioids. But Kensington’s Prevention Point has been on the front lines of the fight to reduce overdoses via a “harm reduction philosophy” for 25 years, offering syringe exchange and other services to those suffering from addiction. In 2017, the org is leading the charge to train everyone from librarians to city staffers to neighborhood associations to use Narcan, the over-the-counter overdose reversal drug. It’s crowdfunding through the end of the year to distribute another 1,200 Narcan kits throughout the city. Get involved:

Project HOME
What They Do: House the Chronically Homeless
Budget: $28.3M
Founded: 1989

Run by the famous Sister Mary Scullion with the radical tagline “None of us are home until all of us are home,” the nonprofit has gained considerable fame in its nearly three decades for its comprehensive homelessness services. (Jon Bon Jovi is a high-profile friend of the organization.) These programs include on-the-street outreach, workforce development, and 802 units of permanent supportive housing. Its latest project is 30 affordable housing units at 8th and Girard for LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to end up homeless; clients include those who have aged out of the foster-care system. Groundbreaking on what is purportedly the first young-adult residence of its kind is this month. Get involved:

Dan Brooks, left, works with Gregory Tasik in the Neighborhood Bike Works high-school Earn-A-Bike class. Photograph by Neal Santos

Neighborhood Bike Works
Bicycling Advocacy
What They Do: Better Living Through Bicycling
Budget: $630K
Founded: 1996

You know the old saying: Teach a kid to bike and she’ll bike for a lifetime; teach a kid to fix a bike and she’ll get to keep that bike, plus be trained for a potential career. That’s the mantra of this University City org, which also runs Ride Clubs, mechanic classes, and repair workshop Bike Church for adults. Philly has the highest rate of bike commuters of all big American cities, at two percent. We have a feeling that as these students grow, so will that number. Get involved:

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Urban Renewal
What They Do: Prune Back Blight
Budget: $23.3M
Founded: 1827

Yes, PHS runs the herbaceous hullabaloo that is the Philly Flower Show. But it also has a big green-thumbed hand in the cleanup and beautification of Philly’s ample (really!) verdant space. Its LandCare Program has greened and maintained more than 12,000 blighted lots, while increasing local housing wealth and employing neighborhood residents and formerly incarcerated individuals to maintain them. Since 2000, more than 800 of these lots have been converted to functional uses, including housing, commercial and permanent green space. It’s a green win-win-win. Get involved:

Food Insecurity
What They Do: Cook Up Solutions to Regional Hunger
Budget: $51.4M
Founded: 1984

Philly, again, has earned the unwelcome title of poorest big city in America, with a poverty rate hovering around 25 percent. That means we’ve got a lot of hungry bellies. But the problem is regional. In 2016, the Delaware Valley’s largest food bank distributed 24 million pounds of food to 90,000 people in nine counties while also running programs such as Community Kitchen, a job-training course for low-income adults, and Chester’s Fare & Square, the country’s first nonprofit grocery store. Get involved:

Children’s Literacy Initiative
Youth Literacy
What They Do: Teacher Training for Smarter Kids
Budget: $12.9M
Founded: 1988

Only 40 percent of third- graders in Philly public schools can read at grade level — and those who don’t meet that threshold are four times less likely to earn a high-school diploma. That’s why this Center City org with national reach trains educators in more effective methods of teaching young students to read over the three years following preschool. Students whose teachers have CLI training score higher on standardized reading tests and are more likely to read proficiently by the critical third grade. Get involved:

Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation
Information & Literacy
What They Do: More Than Just Books
Budget: $23M
Founded: 1894

The Free Library system’s 54 branches do more than house books; they’re community hubs where adults can learn English or find a job and kids can take science classes or prep for college. The library also coordinates the Read By 4th literacy campaign, runs STEM-focused Maker Jawn project days, delivers library materials to the homebound, operates the Business Resource and Innovation Center for entrepreneurs, and, yes, so much more. When you give to the foundation, you support the library’s general operation, including these programs. Get involved:

Community Volunteers in Medicine
Health Care
What They Do: Mend the Safety Net
Budget: $7.1M
Founded: 1998

Chester County is the healthiest and wealthiest in the state, but this West Chester nonprofit still saw 35,178 patient visits in 2016: Its clients are at or below 300 percent of the poverty line but don’t qualify for government support. Last spring, CVM won $100,000 from giving circle Impact100 Philly to expand its Mobile Dental Outreach program as well as fund a bilingual patient education guide. (About 55 percent of its clients speak Spanish.) The org relies mostly on volunteers and gifts, with an overhead of just 10 percent, so the equivalent of your flu shot co-pay will go a long way. Get involved:

Rodale Institute farm manager Ross Duffield inspects the hemp crop. Photograph courtesy of Rob Cardillo

Rodale Institute
Agriculture Research
What They Do: Get High on Hemp
Budget: $3.8M
Founded: 1947

Philly may be a concrete jungle (with pockets of green), but out in the wilds of Kutztown, there’s a 333-acre farm that’s been a big part of the national organic push for the past 70 years. More recently, the charity’s research arm has made news for its experiments in growing hemp: Once illegal for its similarity to marijuana, the plant is now celebrated for its many uses, from fibers to food to medicine (but not that kind of medicine). Get involved:

Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia
School Access
What They Do: Open Doors to Private School
Budget: $10.2M
Founded: 2001

If you’re on the school-choice side of the public-vs.-vouchers debate, this org will tug your heartstrings. In the past 16 years, it’s awarded 22,500 private- and parochial-school scholarships to low-income K-8 students via lottery. (But yikes — demand is so high, it turns away some 8,000 applicants per year.) Plus: Its participation in the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program lets businesses get back up to 90 percent of their donations in tax credits. Get involved:

Red Paw Emergency Relief Team
Animal Welfare
What They Do: Save Pets From Disasters
Budget: $153K
Founded: 2011

Founded by firefighter Jen Leary, this scrappy nonprofit partners with emergency-response organizations to rescue pets from homes hit by fires and other disasters. In 2015, 905 pets were rescued on behalf of 448 families. This mostly volunteer team responds to crises 24/7, 365 days a year, and will care for pets for up to two weeks post-rescue. Leary was named a CNN Hero of the Week in 2014. Get involved:

Juvenile Law Center
Youth in the Justice System
What They Do: Fight for Kids Caught in the System
Budget: $3.4M
Founded: 1975

Remember that kids-for-cash scandal where a Luzerne County judge was sending juveniles without legal counsel to jails in exchange for payments from the owner of those jails? That investigation was prompted by a lawsuit from JLC, the public-interest law firm serving incarcerated youth and youth with records, advocating for issues such as access to mental health treatment and ending solitary confinement. This year, the org released a resource map, Youth Matters: Philly, for young people in need. Get involved:

Travis Manion Foundation
Veteran Support
What They Do: Helping Hands for Heroes
Budget: $3.9M
Founded: 2008

Doylestown soldier Manion was killed in 2007 during his second tour in Iraq, but his family has kept his legacy alive with programming like transition workshops for new veterans — Philadelphia has something like 66,000 vets — and service-focused expeditions for the families of fallen soldiers. The org also facilitates mentorship with local youth organizations and schools. It’s all driven by a few simple words: “If not me, then who?” Get involved:

Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House
Long-term Illness
What They Do: Provide a Refuge During the Hardest Time
Budget: $4.5M
Founded: 1974

The original Ronald McDonald House, in University City, has been providing comfort for the families of critically ill children for more than 40 years. Also available: a house at Front and Erie, rooms at CHOP and St. Christopher’s, and a sleepaway camp for patients and their siblings. Ten percent of the org’s budget comes from local outposts of the namesake chain; the rest is from donations, allowing families to pay $15 per night for a room that would otherwise cost much more. Get involved:

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission
Meals for the Homeless
What They Do: Three Square Meals x 365
Budget: $3.6M
Founded: 1878

Yes, there’s a religious bent to this Callowhill nonprofit. But even the godless can get behind an org that’s been feeding the needy every day of the week — including Sunday, of course — for almost a century and a half. It’s more than that, though, with emergency shelters, an urban farm, a furniture bank and outreach workers in Bucks County, GED prep, and a year-long Overcomer Program for men in recovery. The org relies on volunteers to keep costs down — some 7,000 people helped out in 2016 — so if you can’t donate, consider stopping in to serve a meal. Get involved:

Left: Adrianna Margarite cheers on the 2017 Alex’s Lemonade Stand Lemon Run. Right: Saxophone and clarinet instructor Glenn Stanford, a 42-year veteran of Settlement Music School, works with student Clara de Groot. Photography by Neal Santos

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
Childhood Cancer
What They Do: Battle Pediatric Cancer
Budget: $22M
Founded: 2005

This foundation keeps alive the legacy of Alex Scott, the Wynnewood girl who pledged to raise $1 million for childhood cancer research — and succeeded — before dying of neuroblastoma at age eight. Since then, the org has stacked its board with the likes of TV personality Marc Summers, former Sixers GM Billy King and QVC’s Michael George and raised more than $150 million for the cause. Alex would be proud. Get involved:

Pathways to Housing PA
Homelessness & Addiction
What They Do: Work at the Intersection of Homelessness and Addiction
Budget: $9.6M
Founded: 2008

Pathways uses a housing-first model, meaning it doesn’t require those experiencing chronic homelessness to be sober or have any other supports in place before getting apartments. Once their most basic needs are met, the theory goes, clients can better tackle other challenges, like alcoholism or mental health issues. According to a 2011 evaluation, this method is half as expensive per night as traditional permanent housing and two-thirds as expensive as residential drug and alcohol treatment. Participants were also half as likely to have an interaction with the prison system. Pathways also operates the Philadelphia Furniture Bank — a house isn’t much good without a bed. Get involved:

Nationalities Service Center
Immigrant Issues
What They Do: Fresh Starts for Refugees in Philly
Budget: $5.1M
Founded: 1921

Though fluctuating federal policies mean the future of refugees coming to the United States is murky, 875 were resettled in Philadelphia in 2016, and those folks need support. NSC helps about 400 of them per year with resettlement through legal aid, English classes and mental health services. It even connects about half of the refugees it serves annually with their first U.S. jobs. American Dream, found. Get involved:

Bread & Roses Community Fund
What They Do: Fund the Resistance
Budget: $610K
Founded: 1977

Named after the motto of the 1912 immigrant textile workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, this Center City foundation uses a collective-giving model to fund grassroots activist nonprofits working for racial and economic justice. It also runs the Giving Projects, a months-long fund-raising effort that assembles a “cross-class, cross-race, intergenerational group of people who share a vision for social justice” — the first of its kind in Philadelphia, though it follows a model used in Seattle and other progressive cities. The Spring 2017 cohort raised a whopping $266,000 from 24 participants through peer-to-peer fund-raising. Get involved:

Students in the training room of Hopeworks ’N Camden. Photograph by Neal Santos

Hopeworks ’N Camden
Youth Development
What They Do: Hack for Good
Budget: $1.3M
Founded: 2000

Just over the Ben Franklin Bridge is another city with staggering rates of poverty and violence. Using a trauma-informed approach, Hopeworks — which was named the Philly Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 nonprofit of the year and won the behavioral-health-focused Scattergood Foundation’s 2017 Innovation Award — trains Camden’s at-risk youth to better themselves and their communities via tech and entrepreneurship skills. Kids can earn pay for client work, participate in civic hackathons, or just enjoy a safe space in which to explore new interests, from GIS to Web design. Get involved:

Year Up
Workforce Development
What They Do: Bridge the Opportunity Gap
Budget: $106.8M
Founded: 2000

This Boston-based organization has been working in Philly through Peirce College since 2013, thanks to funding from venture philanthropy group GreenLight Fund Philadelphia. In its four years here, it has helped close the “opportunity divide” for 375 young adults who were neither working nor in school by giving them access to free college courses and professional skill-building classes, plus pairing them with paid internships at local entities such as Penn, CHOP, Wells Fargo, USLI and Citizens Bank for six months. Nationally, 85 percent of program participants are employed or in school four months after program completion — and in Philadelphia, that’s meant nearly $14 million in new salaries over four years. Get involved:

Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer
What They Do: Support Patients and Survivors
Budget: $4.7M
Founded: 1991

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, along with one in 1,000 men. This Bala Cynwyd-based advocacy organization is a digital information hub and an in-person support system for both, with events such as community meetings and the annual Reach and Raise yoga fund-raiser for survivors and supporters on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It also offers specialized programming for young women, African-Americans and LGBTQ folks with breast cancer — all for free. The nonprofit has consistently received praise for its financial transparency and best practices. Get involved:

Philadelphia VIP
Legal Help
What They Do: Pro Bono Legal Eagles for the Underserved
Budget: $1.3M
Founded: 1981

Formerly known as Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for Action Program, this organization wrangles volunteer lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to those at or below 200 percent of the poverty line ($49,200 for a family of four). That means in 2016, more than 3,500 people who couldn’t afford their own attorneys got help with basic needs like housing, health and employment. It’s part of a larger system of service providers, including Community Legal Services and Philadelphia Legal Assistance, working to keep the gavel from falling on struggling Philadelphians. Get involved:

Photograph courtesy of Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

The Big Man’s Big Plan
We all know Sixers center (and December cover model) Joel Embiid does game-changing work on the court. Now, he’s looking to do good work off the court as well. This holiday season, he’s launching the Arthur Embiid & Angels Foundation to honor his brother Arthur, who was just 13 when he died in a car crash three years ago in their native Cameroon. The foundation, a partnership with UNICEF, will work with at-risk youth in Cameroon through education, athletics, wellness and environmental initiatives. Embiid, putting that just-inked contract extension to good use, is kicking off a holiday fund-raising drive for the nascent org by matching the first $25,000 donated.
To donate to the cause, please visit

Community Legal Services
A Bit of Everything
What They Do: The One-Stop Shop for Free Legal Help
Budget: $10.8M
Founded: 1966

Philly’s largest and oldest public-interest law firm celebrated a half century last year. In that time, it’s helped more than 10,000 low-income Philadelphians each year access free legal help and other resources. CLS checks off a bunch of do-gooder boxes, providing aid to those struggling with everything from eviction to foster care to wage theft. In the past year, it’s taken an activist stance, speaking out in support of racial justice and immigrants regardless of status, and advocated on behalf of “clean slate” laws for returning citizens. Get involved:

Women Against Abuse
Domestic Abuse
What They Do: Stand Up to Domestic Violence
Budget: $9.3M
Founded: 1976

This spring, the org behind the city’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline became the first Philly nonprofit to win the Wharton-housed Lipman Family Prize. The win comes with an unrestricted $250,000 and recognition as an innovator “with an emphasis on impact,” and was due in part to the Center City org’s work coordinating the Shared Safety plan that will help victims get care the moment they enter the city’s system. It’s a big task: The hotline received more than 15,000 calls in 2015. Get involved:

Settlement Music School
Arts Education
What They Do: Feed Young Brains With Music
Budget: $10.7M
Founded: 1908

Start kids with music lessons at a young age, science tells us, and they’ll turn out smarter. This music and visual arts education program, started more than a hundred years ago in South Philly, has grown to six locations across the region, including Camden, with lessons like dance, voice and theory. The celebrated nonprofit makes its classes accessible, too, with more than $2 million in financial aid gifted per year. Famous alumni include Kevin Bacon, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Kevin Eubanks, G. Love, Acel Moore, Chubby Checker and, um, Albert Einstein. Smarter indeed. Get involved:

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Youth Development
What They Do: The Mentorship Mothership
Budget: $6.3M
Founded: 1915

It’s a simple concept with potential for big impact: Match kids facing adversity with willing, responsible adults and have them hang out a few times per month. Sit back, let those relationships develop — and watch both parties grow. The local Independence Chapter of the national org, once headquartered in Philadelphia, celebrated its centennial in 2015 and now supports the matches of about 3,500 kids annually in seven counties across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Get involved:

Attic Youth Center
What They Do: Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Youth
Budget: $1M
Founded: 1993

The Attic started, literally, in an attic in 1993, but the community center has grown to serve more than 10,000 LGBTQ youth in its almost quarter century via mental health services, life skills classes, social activities and more. It also runs the Bryson Institute, which offers educational training for orgs working with LGBTQ folks. In a vote of confidence, the nonprofit received one of three $100,000 core mission grants from local giving circle Impact100 Philadelphia this past spring. Get involved:

Selvi and Octo Missa (front) with their daughter, Victoria, a participant in the Maternity Care Coalition’s Early Head Start, with parent engagement associates Shinika Blue-Pitts, top left, and Michelle Nava. Photograph by Neal Santos

Maternity Care Coalition
Maternal Care
What They Do: All Things “Mom”
Budget: $9.3M
Founded: 1980

MCC advocates at the local, state and federal levels on issues of maternal and child health and early education (ages zero to three). It also runs programs such as Early Head Start, a federally funded full-day early-care program for low-income parents with young children, especially those with disabilities, with four locations around the region; provided breastfeeding stations at last year’s DNC; and for the past 11 years has brought its pink-and-white MOMobile car service to Riverside Correctional, so pregnant and new moms can receive case management during and after their incarceration, plus doula service when they go into labor. Get involved:

New Leash on Life USA
What They Do: Canines and Corrections
Budget: $729K
Founded: 2010

Anyone with a pet knows how good they are for the soul. But pair a pup with a prisoner and you’ll see some true healing powers at play. This Narberth non-profit pairs rescued and sick dogs (176 so far) with local prison inmates who train them for adoption. The rehabilitation is mutual: New Leash reports that of 229 graduates, 129 have taken paid post-release internships with partner orgs such as Providence Animal Center and the Pennsylvania SPCA, leading to 87 full-time jobs. And this fall, the nonprofit adopted three hurricane-stranded pups to participate in the program. We’ll raise a paw for that. Get involved:

Julie Zeglen is the editor of, the go-to news source for Philadelphia’s nonprofit and social impact community.

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Published as “32 Ways to Be Good” in the December 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.