Spotlight 2020: Organizations That Moved Us To Give

This year has been a rough one. There’s no doubt about that. Between COVID-19, economic collapse, the unjust killings of Black people, unprecedented wildfires, and more, one can feel like there is no hope left in the world. However, there are many unsung heroes who have worked tirelessly to provide relief and joy to individuals and their communities.

We are taking this moment to spotlight nonprofits, big and small, that touched our hearts here at Burness and to which we contributed. This holiday season, we are extremely grateful to those who have given us a glimmer of hope in these difficult times. 

Abby Manishor

New Yorkers for Parks & Riverside Park Conservancy

“I’ve been a long-time supporter of New Yorkers for Parks and Riverside Park Conservancy, but doubled down this year. With the pandemic, access to outdoor space became a live-saver for city people. Riverside Park is my local park and is our go-to place for everything including our son’s first birthday celebration. New Yorkers for Parks is an advocacy organization and works to protect and promote park and open space across all five boroughs. Their work is extra important because most parks in the city do not have private conservancies to support them so access to public funds and resources are essential to their maintenance. NY4P does a great job of representing and advocating for these parks.”

Alec Caso

Sunrise Movement

Sunrise Movement is a dedicated, youth-based organization that advocates for social equality and a green future. My primary participation with the organization was over the summer and focused on the Ed Markey-Joe Kennedy primary, where we advocated for Senator Markey. They have a great sense of community and purpose, and I feel they made an impact in that race. More importantly, they have a track record of elevating climate and equality topics to a national platform.  I’m proud to support them to give a voice to youths on these important topics.”

Anna Chen


“Over the past year, I have thought a lot about how my race does (and does not) define me. While exploring my identity, I realized that I had a real sense of pride for my Chinese ancestry, but didn’t feel like I knew enough about the culture to be fully embraced or to fully embrace the culture — my grandfather’s roots. My sibling, Evan, was a fellow with Kundiman, a “national organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American creative writing.” I learned so much from their experience, and I learned the value of writing as an expression of our shared and individual histories. I made a small donation at the close of 2020 to mark the intentional start of my lifelong journey to understand, appreciate, explore, and define who I am and how I came to be.”

Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy

Yoga Heart Kenya

“I’ve supported the team at Yoga Heart Kenya, a Kenya-based yoga studio in Nairobi, who have been running a food distribution program for communities affected by COVID-19 and containment measures. I have been incredibly inspired and humbled by their commitment. At a time when their own business was suffering, they did not lose their positive spirit and decided to focus their energies on giving back to their community. By fundraising locally and internationally, they were able to organize distributions of essential items—including food items and blankets—for thousands of some of Kenya’s most vulnerable populations. With a group of friends, we managed to fundraise over $15,000, which Yoga Heart Kenya used to distribute food baskets to about 1,500 families. They have since raised at least as much money through their own channels, and continue their work even as they try to keep their own business afloat.”

Bridget DeSimone

Families4Families, Food & Friends, Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive

“For the past several years every year our family has joined an army of volunteers from our church and school in the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive. This year, we knew that it was more important than ever to get those bags out to our neighbors so they could fill them up and get them to the nonprofits around the DC area who distribute them to those in need. It literally brings me to tears to see the kids running through the neighborhood gathering the bags of canned goods and helping them load them into the cars of volunteers in the Geico parking lot each year. Additionally, we support Families4Families by contributing, collecting and distributing food and other essentials like masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, paper products and diapers directly to the families of Healthy Babies Project. It feels great to help make a difference in others’ lives and important for our children to learn to be of service to others. It is such an amazing opportunity for us to be able to give back during such a challenging time. It also makes us truly grateful for all we have.”

Britneé Davis

Operation Impact

“Operation Impact is an amazing organization dedicated to serving the community. I donated to the organization for the first time this year to support its holiday initiative, where organizers make sure hundreds of families have gifts and feel loved on Christmas.”

Dan Klotz

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Prince George’s County

“For the past five years, I have sat on the board of this local organization and chaired its communications committee. The organization serves youth in foster care, pairing them with volunteers who advocate for them while providing a steady presence through exceptionally disrupted childhoods. Many of these children have suffered abuse; the CASA volunteers provide safe harbor for them as they move through the foster care system. CASA was named “One of the Best” nonprofits in the region by Catalogue for Philanthropy and the national organization was recently highlighted by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.”

Elizabeth Wenk

Small Things Matter

“Small Things Matter is founded on the idea that small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life.  Their motto is “kid-powered kindness for those in need!”  They are a club that is open to everyone.  All you need is a desire to help others. Specifically, my daughters and I volunteer every Friday morning with Small Things Matter — helping to organize and deliver food to families in need throughout Montgomery County, including those without homes, those with disabilities, the elderly and children and their families.”

Ellen Wilson

Crossroads Community Food Network

Crossroads Community Food Network works to “connect and empower those who grow, make and eat healthy food in the Takoma Park/Langley Crossroads area and beyond.” I feel very connected to food—my family makes a healthy, vegetable-rich meal almost every night. We are among the lucky ones. I want the same for others who don’t have access to any food, and if they do, can only access canned or heavily processed unhealthy foods. A close friend of mine once said, “Food is love.””

Janet Firshein 

Campaign ZeroCapital Area Food BankHorton’s KidsMartha’s TableRun, Hope, WorkWorld Central Kitchen

Horton’s Kids works directly in Ward 8 with one of the most disadvantaged young people and families in the most under resourced and underinvested parts of DC; it focuses on helping kids graduate high school and getting the support they need to thrive. Run, Hope Work also works with young people who are at risk for taking a wrong turn and provides them a path out of poverty.  It was started by my neighbor, a triathlete and businessman, who once was homeless, so he really understands what these kids face.  I admire their holistic focus on the physical aspect of healing, the mental aspect of healing and giving people a work skill so they can be independent.”

Kara Basabe

Feeding AmericaLegal Defense Fund, Movement for Black Lives

“On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, I opened the Washington Post that was delivered to my door, and the front page featured an aerial image of the enormous line of cars waiting to get meals from a local food drive in Houston. I thought about the typical “abundance” imagery we see featured around Thanksgiving, contrasted by the sheer number of people going hungry this year (26 million according to The Post). I pulled out my phone and set up a monthly contribution to Feeding America.”

Karen Su 

ACLUApex for YouthFair FightMN Freedom FundMott 46NAACP,  National Suicide Prevention LifelineNYC Food BankSend Chinatown Love, The Innocence Project, The Okra Project, Yemen Aid

Apex for Youth is a NYC-based nonprofit that provides learning possibilities, afterschool programs, mentorship, and more to underserved Asian and immigrant youth from low-income families in the NYC area. They have also provided relief to many families during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing school supplies, bagged lunches, etc. Their mission means a great deal to me because as a young kid who spent her early years in Manhattan Chinatown, I personally benefited from programs like this. These programs were instrumental in building a strong foundation for paving the path for me as a first-generation college student.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has worked tirelessly this past year to provide support to hundreds and thousands of people who seek advice, tips, resources, and more to cope with grief, anxiety, depression. This past year has not been an easy one, there has been so much suffering due to COVID-19 and the economic downturn. With mental health resources such as therapy being highly inaccessible, the National Suicide Prevention Lifelines is vital to helping people in our communities to remain resilient during these difficult times.”

Kasia Burns

Wellness Ally

“It’s not often you have friends you know who run nonprofit organizations. I chose Wellness Ally not only because it was founded by one of my friends, but it also focuses on underserved wellness providers (particularly Black-women-led) who are doing great work, but don’t necessarily have the platform or the support to be able to reach their target audiences who may be seeking help. Wellness Ally bridges this gap by linking wellness providers to those who are seeking wellness support such as therapy where they can receive quality care from individuals who understand their background, issues and needs.”

Katie Fogleman

Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER)

WISER is educating the next generation of women leaders in Kenya. WISER helps girls overcome incredible odds to excel in secondary school and beyond. Their high school graduation and college success rates are phenomenal! I helped launch this program while in undergrad and have been inspired to watch it grow throughout the years.”

Laura O’Connor

Act BlueACLUColor of ChangeJDRFLLSThe Dispute Resolution Center, Washtenaw County, MI

The Dispute Resolution Center is a Black-woman-led nonprofit that redirects offenses from litigation to peacemaking, mediation, and restorative justice. The nonprofit advocates tirelessly against disproportionate and unfair enforcement of people of color and does regular community education on the power of a more restorative and peaceful criminal justice system. There are only a handful of staff members and dozens of volunteer mediators and peacemakers so they run a tight operation with an even tighter budget. It works with local middle and high schools to train teens about how to resolve conflict peacefully and be peer mediators.”

Luisa Guaracao

The Guatemalan Maya Center

“I’ve been volunteering with The Guatemalan Maya Center since I was in high school. They work with migrant kids and families in Palm Beach County. COVID-19 has hit this community especially hard. Many of the parents are farmers and had to labor long hours in the field to make sure our grocery stores stay stocked with fresh food amid the pandemic. Thanks to them we were able to keep food on our table. But they weren’t. To help feed the families that kept us fed, The Guatemalan Maya Center started the table to table challenge. The basis of the challenge was to cook a meal at home and donate the money you would’ve spent eating out to the Center. I did the challenge myself and raised $1,000 in two days. Overall the center raised $100,000. It felt good to give back to the community that has given me so much. But much more needs to be done. Many of these families lack the PPE they need to stay safe and don’t have health insurance. COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed. During these dark, difficult times, The Guatemalan Maya Center has been a refuge for these families. The work they do is so important, especially right now. If you’re looking to make an impact this holiday season, please consider donating to the Center.”

Mary Darby

Girls Write Now

“For over two years now, I have volunteered with and supported Girls Write Now, New York City’s first and only writing and mentoring organization for girls. Girls Write Now provides support, resources, and community for girls from underserved communities to find and develop their voices as writers and digital creators. They provide monthly workshops and offer a variety of forums for girls to learn and share with each other. All this is virtual now, of course. I love this organization because it allows me to connect with the energy, enthusiasm, and talents of the next generation of women writers.  It’s a wonderful community and a great cause.”

Maya Brod

Color of Change and the Southern Poverty Law Center

“After the senseless killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and countless others), I knew I wanted to donate to the Black Lives Matter movement. This year, I supported Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. Driven by 1.7 million members, Color of Change moves decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.”

Michelle Geis Wallace

Equal Justice InitiativeShining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kenya

SHOFCO is an amazing organization in Kenya and founded and run by Kennedy Odede, who grew up in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest urban slums. They invest in education and leadership for girls, health services, clean water and also build grassroots community advocacy platforms. I first heard about them in 2013 when I met Kennedy and have closely followed their work and visited some of their sites. I’ve witnessed the passion and dedication of their staff, the trust they’ve built with the communities they work with, and the impact they are having. They also mobilized quickly around COVID — providing hand washing and screening stations, as well as emergency food support and cash transfers.”

Molly Ellison

Casa de MarylandFor Love of ChildrenHigh Country United WayLa Clínica del Pueblo, National Association of Black Journalists, Shepherd’s Table, Sustainable Villages HondurasTracy’s Kids

“When I was in high school, I went on two trips to visit small farming communities in the mountains of Honduras with my church’s youth group. We worked with a nonprofit that taught these communities about sustainable farming practices and reforestation techniques to achieve economic stability and address climate change. We helped plant trees, built eco-friendly chicken coops, learned about irrigation systems and played heated soccer matches. More than a decade later, I am fortunate to sit on the board of that same nonprofit, Sustainable Villages Honduras. In 2019, I visited the communities again. I reconnected with familiar faces and learned about the incredible work the communities have done. They have built water systems on mountainsides, planted vast fields of grains and beans, created micro-enterprises, and mapped out plans to build a health center. This year, the communities have been navigating COVID-19 just as we have. But they were also hit by two devastating hurricanes, ETA and IOTA, this November. We’re supporting the communities to rebuild homes that were destroyed, replant lost crops, and in some cases relocate entirely to more safe land. Sustainable Villages Honduras shows the importance of community-led work and makes a meaningful impact even with limited resources.”

Nick Seaver

Black Lives MatterLebanese Red CrossNew Hope for WomenThe Trevor ProjectWAMUWashington Improv Theater

“Each year, I support a New Hope for Women, which is a nonprofit that provides support and services to those affected by domestic abuse in Maine’s mid-coastal region. While services to those affected by domestic violence is important every year, the stress and isolation of 2020 make their work more important than ever. A too-often unseen crisis like domestic violence only grows worse in conditions like this year and we need to support local organizations serving communities. I’ve supported Washington Improv Theater (WIT) this year because local arts nonprofits have been hit hard in 2020. In addition to providing classes and performance space for many in the DC area, WIT also works to bring the arts to many across the city, and in this virtual time, far beyond. When we can come together again after the pandemic, we need the groups that provide space for community, connections and creativity.”

Saad Saroufim

Emergency Release FundLebanese Red CrossOffre JoieThe Okra Project

“The pandemic has only further increased the homelessness rate of black trans individuals and The Okra Project is a great charity that secures home cooked meals for Black trans folks currently experiencing homeless or whose homes cannot support chef’s cooking. 

The explosion that occurred in Beirut on August 4th personally affected me and my family, increasing devastation in a country that’s already been suffering from a massive economic crisis and continued government corruption. The Lebanese Red Cross stepped up to provide emergency medical assistance following the explosion in the midst of a pandemic.”

Susan Tonassi 

RaicesWorld Central Kitchen, World Food Programme

“Being far away from the US, there is little I can do on the ground to help people in need. So, I chose to donate to two charities this year—World Central Kitchen and Raices—that are doing really important work to help end hunger and injustice.”

Todd Hilgert

Gay and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S), Marsha P Johnson InstituteMinnesota Freedom FundVCUArtsWe Happy Few (a DC theater company), WNYC

“My husband and I make a point to donate to small organizations that are often overlooked by donors. One big issue in our community is that the life expectancy of a black trans woman is only 35 years of age. We support G.L.I.T.S. because it helps provide access to housing, healthcare, and social programs for the trans community and helps to improve life expectancy for the community. 

We also donate regularly to We Happy Few. They are a DC theater company that specializes in classical theater through a modern lens. We specifically support them because of their commitment to elevating diverse historical voices and works that are rarely performed by larger companies.”