Last Christmas my family didn’t get each other any gifts. Instead, we made donations to organizations whose work aligned with the receiving relative’s passions. It felt like a really important and good choice to make after the 2016 elections and subsequent denouncement of environmental and social policies that we deeply valued. This year we are doing it again and I’m happy to share some of the organizations that help protect natural resources and bring more diversity to the world of outdoor adventure and youth athletics. Many of the non-profits I’ve chosen are lesser known organizations where each dollar goes a long way to create impact and grow the community of folks who will fight to protect open space, the environment and public health programs in the future. Beyond being a really easy present, I found that gifting donations instead of material items sparked thoughtful conversations where we educated one another on the issues we care about, and brainstormed ways we could be more engaged in those issues as a family. If it’s too late to do this for your holiday gifting this year, keep it in mind for the next celebration where presents are exchanged! Scroll on for our suggestions and happy holidays!

OUTDOOR & WILDERNESS EXPLORATION

  • Aim High – Each year provides 500 low-income youth of color with a free, weeklong summer outdoor education experience that teaches them to be champions for change, to advocate for the environment, and to protect it for themselves and future generations.
  • Brown Girl Surf – Works to build a more diverse, environmentally reverent, and joyful women’s surf culture by increasing access to surfing, cultivating community, amplifying the voices of women of color surfers, and taking care of the earth.
  • Outdoor Afro –  A rapidly growing national network leading the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation for all! Outdoor Afro has more than 60 leaders in 28 states who celebrate and inspire thousands of African American connections and leadership in nature.
  • Outward Bound – Outward Bound is the leading national provider of experiential and outdoor education programs for youth and adults. Donations support their scholarship fund enabling low income students to enjoy backpacking trips, mountaineering trips, whitewater rafting trips, canoeing trips, dog sledding expeditions, sailing trips and many more.
  • YES Nature to Neighborhoods – Provides low income youth and families living in West Contra Costa County California access to experiences in the natural environment – opportunities that can ignite the imagination, build self-confidence and enhance leadership skills.

NATIONAL PARKS & ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION

  • Ecology Project International – Through conservation, education and cultural exchange programs, EPI improves and inspires conservation efforts worldwide through field-based student-scientist partnerships. They give youth a mechanism to become active in conservation and be out in the field, making a difference on the ground, helping out habitats, ecosystems, and scientists.
  • National Parks Conservation Association – A leading voice and political advocate for America’s national parks, working to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for present and future generations. NPCA celebrates the parks — and work tirelessly to defend them — on the ground, in the courtroom and on Capitol Hill.
  • Wilderness Watch – America’s leading organization dedicated to defending and keeping wild the nation’s 110 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System.

INCLUSIVE ATHLETICS 

  • PeacePlayers International – Uses basketball to unite, educate and inspire young people to create a more peaceful world in communities of conflict. Based on the premise that children who play together can learn to live together, PeacePlayers International implements consistent, year-round sports activities that bring together children from opposite sides of religious, ethnic and cultural divides to develop friendship and mutual respect.
  • Playworks – Through play, kids learn to make friends, solve problems, and believe in themselves. Even in hard times. In partnership with teachers, principals, and parents at public schools, Playworks builds a culture of play that enables kids to feel a real sense of belonging and have the opportunity to contribute on the playground, in the classroom, and into their communities.

Images courtesy of Outdoor Afro and PeacePlayers International