WE Can Give Back and Make an Impact Because There is ALWAYS a Way to Help Others

For a long time I naively believed that hard work and determination could overcome anything. I’m learning the hard way that some things are out of my hands. They are out of all our hands. There is so much I cannot control. I have watched the progression of my Stepdad’s Cancer slowly take him off his feet, while my mother has had to reach deep within herself to be his rock and steadfast caretaker. I have seen my Dad participate in clinical trial after trial, only to see limited results and greater spreading of this monster that is taking over so much of his body.

My Parents

My parents

All the while, I have felt helpless and useless – like a spectator to a train wreck. I try to offer my comfort and my love and my prayers, but it never feels enough. Then my helplessness and heartache turns to anger or grief or frustration.

This is why I reached out to my readers and friends via Facebook last week. I needed to figure out ways I could give back. I needed to see what I could do to help others. I suppose you could say it started off selfishly. I wanted to feel better and I wanted to do something – anything. I needed to feel in control. The response was incredible and yet again a reminder that this is not about me and what I can do. Rather it’s about what WE can do together. I learned that while I may at times feel helpless, it doesn’t mean that I am actually without the ability to help.

Below I have organized a list of ways we can give back. I wish I could include every charitable organization, but instead I am focusing on the organizations close to YOUR hearts. The ones you told me about.

I received e-mails and private messages from people who were passionate about so many things. What struck me most, was that people were not asking for help for themselves. They were asking for others. One mother, whose 12-year-old son Mathias is battling Cancer, asked for help not for her son, but instead for the Children’s National Medical Center’s drive to collect gifts (more info below). Here was her message: “Last year the clinic had set up this little room in the back – filled with little gifts (all new – but unwrapped) for the kids to go and pick out their Xmas presents for their family members. My son who was 11 at the time spent about an hour socializing with other kids and chose some very thoughtful gifts for me, my husband and my other son (his younger brother). The gifts were then wrapped in Xmas paper and got a tag on – it was simple & beautiful. So this year I thought I would like to contribute to the pile of gifts for the moms, dads and siblings. Can you help us help the kids?”

I was touched and overwhelmed. How do I do this thing justice? How can I make an impact? I’m not some hugely known blogger with more than 100,000 followers… or barely 1500. But, then I was reminded that together we are strong. Together we can make a difference. Small changes and contributions do matter. We can give back and affect change.

I researched the organizations shared with me and reached out to many of the leaders/organizers directly. I am not collecting your money or acting as a pass through for these charities. Instead I am sharing the information in hopes that you will learn about a new cause and connect. That you will choose to give back and pay forward your blessings.

You don’t have to donate money (although there are plenty of organizations in need of financial support), but instead how about your time, or in-kind donations, or even thoughtful notes and extra prayers. It all counts. It is all giving back.

I know this is a long post with a ton of information, but please take a few moments to look over each section and really think about what you can do for someone else.  Is there an organization or story that touches you? Also please SHARE THIS POST with your friends on Facebook, on Twitter or anywhere you can so as many people as possible can see it and help give back to these causes. I don’t normally ask for this, but getting the word out is the first and sometimes the most important step to anything.

Before you peruse the vast amount of ideas and ways to pay it forward, I want to share this short documentary from The Truth 365 because Cancer is taking the lives of not only our fathers and mothers, but also our children. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children and adolescents in the United States (National Cancer Institute), yet in 20 years the FDA has initially approved only one drug for any childhood cancer.


truth365The Truth 365 is a documentary and social media campaign that gives a voice to all children with all types of cancer. This collaborative campaign is led by Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation (AWOCCF), Frankie’s Mission, Journey 4 A Cure, The Rally Foundation and Emmy-award winning producer Mike Gillette. AWOCCF has made a name for itself in the Childhood Cancer Community as a small charity that thinks big and gets even bigger results.

Here is how you can help:

1.)    Sign the Online Petition. Signatures are being collected online and will be delivered to Congress or the White House in 2014.

2.)    Share the documentary. Here is a direct link: http://youtu.be/qLnNyZclkDQ

3.)    Make a donation. All proceeds will go directly to childhood cancer research.


Below are other ways to give back as shared with me by my readers. Most of my readers are local to the Washington DC area, which is why there are so many regionally focused organizations listed, but there are some national and even global charities listed as well:


In-Kind Donation Opportunities:

We all have stuff. Some of us have more than we know what to do with. How often have you thrown something away or left a piece of furniture on the street hoping someone would pick it up? How much do you hoard in your basement or attic? What is currently in your home collecting dust? Well, here are some ways you can give your material possessions to someone else in need. Your stuff can make an impact on the lives of others.



daiperbankThe DC Diaper Bank works to provide an adequate and reliable supply of diapers to babies, toddlers and their families in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Diapers are necessary and expensive. In DC, 44% of children under age three live in low-income families. In Maryland the number is 33%, and in Virginia 36% of three-year-olds share this reality. The cost of living in the DC metro area is the 8th highest in the country. The DC Diaper Bank provides an average of 50,000 diapers to more than 1,500 families a month. To date the DC Diaper Bank has donated over 500,000 diapers to families in need, and this number continues to grow.

Since I am always knee-deep in diapers, I decided to host a Diaper Drive at my daycare. Starting today and until December 13, 2013 I will be collecting diapers. If you are interested in contributing all those extra diapers and opened packs lying around your house, please contact me at nicoledash@gmail.com.


Maternity Clothes

applepearApple and Pear Wardrobe Design helps women build wardrobes that flatter their bodies and fit their lifestyles. The owner, Jennifer Mary, helps women love their bodies by teaching them to dress their body types, and to love their closets by teaching them how to shop for functional, flattering wardrobes. The owner is collecting gently used maternity clothes through Thanksgiving. The clothes will delivered on the Friday after Thanksgiving to Birthright, a crisis pregnancy center. Contact jennifer@appleandpearwardrobe.com for more details about where to drop off your clothes in the Washington DC area.


Clothing, non-perishable food, art supplies, toiletries

miriams-logoMiriam’s Kitchen – Miriam’s Kitchen is committed to ending chronic homelessness in DC by creating meaningful connections with chronically homeless individuals, placing them in permanent supportive housing, and ensuring they have the necessary support to remain in housing. They provide healthy meals and high-quality social services to more than 3,500 chronically homeless individuals each year. You can donate clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, toiletries, non-perishable foods, art supplies and many other things to help the homeless population. Here is information about in-kind donations – http://www.miriamskitchen.org/give-in-kind


Household Items

wider circleA Wider Circle provides basic need items to families transitioning out of shelters or simply living without life’s necessities. They furnish the homes of more than 1,000 children and adults every single month, all free of charge. They also go into low-income schools and shelters to lead educational workshops on topics ranging from healthy self-esteem and stress management to resume writing and financial planning. They go where the needs are greatest and do what is most needed. A Wider Circle serves clients from more than 300 social service agencies in our region. Check out their wish list and needs, which includes everything from sofas to lamps to TVs, cleaning products and kitchen supplies.


Volunteer Opportunities

Sometimes when you think about giving back, you think about giving monetarily. It is easy to write a check. It is less messy. To me, what really takes courage of conviction is the willingness to give of your time. To step outside your comfort zone and lend a hand. I am guilty of not putting myself out there enough. I have written a lot of checks, but have fallen short with the hands-on part of giving back. This is going to be something I work on. Here are some opportunities to give of your time and heart.


FMSC logo_horizontal_PMS 647CFeed My Starving Children provides meals to people who need them all over the world — from countries affected by natural disasters to places enduring economic despair.  FMSC meals have been distributed in nearly 70 countries through missionary partnerships at orphanages, schools, clinics, refugee camps and malnourishment centers. The organization packages and sends what they call “MannaPacks” to countries in need.  A MannaPack is a food mixture that is easy and safe to transport, simple to make with only boiling water, and culturally acceptable worldwide. A single bag of food provides highly nutritious meals for six children. After the Typhoon in the Philippines, FMSC was able to distribute more than half a million MannaPack meals to Typhoon Haiyan survivors. They are continuing to support this region. Here is how you can help these efforts – http://www.fmsc.org/philippines#A2Volunteer Opportunity: You can help put together MannaPacks by volunteering to host or join a MobilePack event. In 2012, more than 177,000 MobilePack volunteers packed over 41 million meals, with 204 events in over 30+ states. The next event in Northern Virginia is December 6, 2013, at the New Hope Church in Lorton. You can find an event near you and bring the family to help pack meals.


Volunteer Opportunity: Julie Royes, owner of Julie Royes Photography, LLC is leading a group of local families (children and pets welcome) to help spread the holiday spirit to the residents of Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Old Town Alexandria on Christmas Eve morning. Together, volunteers will deliver cards and other festive goodies, a smile and the spirit of the season.  This is an opportunity to really bring some cheer to others. Pets permissible with proof of shots no later than December 15.

Here are the details:

When: Tuesday December 24, 2013 — 10:00am – 11:30am

Where: Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, 2729 King Street Alexandria, VA 22302

RSVP: yourlegacy@julieroyesphotography.com


meant to liveMeant 2 Live is led by the belief that all humans are meant to live a life free of poverty. They currently serve the Orphans of Zambia and the thousands of homeless in the Washington DC metropolitan area. When I researched this organization, I was struck by the long list of ways you can volunteer your time to help the homeless. This sentence really struck me: “We are looking for those who have an open mind and heart to serve those less fortunate than ourselves both locally or abroad.” From cooking, driving, tutoring, catering to offering administrative assistance, almost anyone with any skill-set can help. Here are their local volunteer opportunitieshttp://www.meant2live.org/#!/volunteer-in-the-dc-metropolitan-area.


Miriam’s Kitchen – Miriam’s Kitchen is committed to ending chronic homelessness in DC by creating meaningful connections with chronically homeless individuals, placing them in permanent supportive housing, and ensuring they have the necessary support to remain in housing. They provide healthy meals and high-quality social services to more than 3,500 chronically homeless individuals each year. Volunteer Opportunities: You can sign up to prepare meals, serve meals and hand-out non-perishable items- http://www.miriamskitchen.org/volunteer


The DC Diaper Bank works to provide an adequate and reliable supply of diapers to babies, toddlers and their families in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Diapers are necessary and expensive. In DC, 44% of children under age three live in low-income families. In Maryland the number is 33%, and in Virginia 36% of three-year-olds share this reality. The cost of living in the DC metro area is the 8th highest in the country. The DC Diaper Bank provides an average of 50,000 diapers to more than 1,500 families a month. To date the DC Diaper Bank has donated over 500,000 diapers to families in need, and this number continues to grow. Volunteer Opportunities: Bring the entire family to sort, count, organize and distribute diapers at their warehouse. Children are welcome and there is even a play area for the kids who get tired of counting diapers. Visit http://www.dcdiaperbank.org/get-involved/events/ to find the dates and times to volunteer.



Love, Support and Goodwill Gestures

Giving doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Sometimes it’s a sentiment or an act of kindness. Here are some ideas of how you can make someone’s day or life.

  • One of my readers sent me this message, “Sometimes, it’s hard if you really feel like you can’t make any donations to help a charity or you don’t have the time to fund raise etc. Everyone, and I mean everyone needs blood. Being a blood donor is a great way to help save three lives with one donation. Taking it a step further – I always thought that registering to be a marrow donor meant you would have to have surgery, if selected. In the majority of cases, if you are chosen to be a donor – the procedure is very similar to donating blood. I think people shy away from being marrow donors because they don’t know what’s involved, but it can be a simple procedure and it can mean the difference between life and death. I know a little boy who is now 6 years cancer free due to his marrow transplant.”  Here is more information on becoming a bone marrow donor – http://bethematch.org.
  • You can support our military troops who are deployed overseas by sending a card or letter thanking them for their service and bringing them some comfort while away from home. Operation Write Home makes it easy to do this any time of year, but they are working especially hard to get our troops cards for the holidays. Click here to learn more about their holiday card program and make sure your greeting is sent before December 1st so it can get to our heroes in time for their celebration.
  • Beginning in November, kids of all ages can drop their stamped letters to Santa, addressed to Santa At The North Pole, in the Santa Mail letterbox at their local Macy’s. For each letter received through Dec. 24, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. Visit Macy’s Believe website for more information.


Holiday Drives

The holidays can be especially stressful for families going through hard times. Putting together a Thanksgiving dinner and buying presents are luxuries many people cannot afford. Here are some ways you can help:


team mathiasAs I mentioned above, I was approached by Team Mathias to collect presents for the National Children’s Medical Center. Please consider donating an unwrapped present for the siblings and parents of these patients. Here are the details for where to send your gifts. Your donation will bring joy to children and families who deserve it most. You can also donate money here. These families are going through unimaginable battles every day. And while you are putting together a package, PLEASE visit the Team Mathias Facebook page and show your support. Follow their story, buy a t-shirt or just send a PM of support to a family who truly deserves the love.



Toys for Tots has a long-standing tradition of organizing toy drives to gift children with new toys. There are donation centers and drives all over the country collecting new unwrapped toys. Visit http://www.toysfortots.org/donate/toys.aspx to find a drop-off location near you. My mother-in-law is actually organizing one in Fairfax, Va. Contact allstarcare@aol.com to learn more.



Eme - no ribbon(1)EmesArmy.org is made up of supporters of Emerie (Eme), a local girl from Northern Virginia who is in the Fight for Sight against rare disease LCA, a degenerative retinal disease that is causing her to go blind. This season you can order a Braille ornament to support Eme and her battle to find a cure. Visit http://www.etsy.com/shop/EmesARMY to purchase a custom made ornament for $13 with shipping.


Donations and Monetary Support

Almost every organization I have already listed could use monetary support. So, if something touches you and you have a few extra dollars to share, then please check out their websites and donate to them directly. Here are a few more causes that really need the attention and financial support.


stillbraveStillbrave is part of The Truth 365. Here is the message shared with me about this organization: “It was started by a local Dad who lost his 16-year-old daughter to cancer and this man is incredible. He’s called Tattoo Tom and his team call themselves Renegades. They do everything from handyman help for families dealing with pediatric cancer who can’t afford basic repairs, he delivers gift cards for food, gas, basic supplies, and he helps transport kids to their cancer treatments. He was the one who showed up earlier this year in a horsedrawn carriage so that a little girl battling cancer could be princess for a day.” Stillbrave offers volunteer opportunities, renegade packs to children undergoing treatment and is starting an All Star Sibling Program. Donate here.


journey 4 a cureJourney 4 A Cure is an organization that was started in honor of Declan Carmical, who lost his battle with pediatric cancer 8 days shy of his first birthday. I have followed and supported this organization for some time now. They raise money to fund research, rally to bring awareness and present children undergoing treatment with iPads. Donate here.


mission-sleep-logo-tagline-white2Mission Sleep is a non-profit organization that strives to provide free, overnight newborn care to military families where a partner is deployed or wounded, or families who have lost a parent when baby arrives. Mission Sleep is the non-profit arm of Let Mommy Sleep. Both organizations are owned and operated by Denise Stern – someone I truly admire for her commitment to helping families. Donate here.


mental healthMental Health America advocates for those with mental health conditions and educates about mental wellness. Mental Health America is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental and substance use conditions and achieving victory over mental illnesses and addictions through advocacy, education, research and service. Donate here. You can also participate in their 5K race in Alexandria scheduled for next fall. Click here to learn more.


Amy Pope Fitzgerald is running the JFK 50 Miler on November 23, 2013 to raise money for the National Capital Lyme Disease Association.  Amy has been battling chronic Lyme disease for almost 20 years and believes running is her “natural antibiotic” against Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a National epidemic with the CDC recently announcing that there are over 300,000 confirmed cases currently in the United States. The JFK 50 Miler takes place in Maryland, one of the top 13 states with confirmed Lyme disease cases. Donate here.


Sean and Liam Cunningham who are six and four-years-old are on a mission to raise money for comfort care items for INOVA Fairfax Children’s Hospital. Their mother Karen said this, “My now 6-year-old used his donation section of his piggie bank last year as a starting point to raise money for comfort items for Fairfax Children’s Hospital. He started with $24 and ended up with $704. My boys LOVED shopping and delivering a van load to the hospital.” This year his younger brother has joined in and they have a goal of raising $1,000 for the children at the hospital. Donate here.


Tyler Burke’s family and friends are uniting to raise money to help him with medical expenses after a horrible accident that broke both his legs. Donate here.


A Forever Home Animal Rescue is a non-profit organization located in Chantilly, Va, that helps to save the lives of dogs and cats to find them forever homes. They always need volunteers for fosters, adoption event helpers, transporters and donations. Donate here.


To help Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Philippines, please checkout this list of organizations offering relief to millions of people impacted by this deadly storm – http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/13/21386694-how-to-help-organizations-offering-relief-to-typhoon-haiyan-survivors


Shop and Give

popnodThere is another way to give back and that is by shopping at PopNod. PopNod is a crowd-funding platform for nonprofits, causes and organizations – both national and local. They combine the power of shopping with people’s desire to find a simple way to give back every day. PopNod gives people a way to shop online, receive cashback at over 200 major brands, and at the same time donate a portion or all of their cashback to a cause of their choice.


Thank you for sharing, giving and spreading love and gratitude. Please leave a comment if you do connect with an organization or have a story to share about giving back.


Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.




  1. Wow, what an amazing list of ways to get involved and help others. Thanks, Nicole!

  2. I love this, the list turned out really well. I’m always looking for ways to teach my 9 year old to give back. Especially around the holidays, thanks for making it easier for us this year.

    We will select someone from your list to pay it forward.
    Michellette Green recently posted…Xtreme13: Feather Weight Strong Man – Marine Corps MarathonMy Profile

  3. What a great collection of ways to give back! We exercise random acts of kindness as a family because it’s important to my husband and I that our kids grow up thinking of others and doing what they can to make a positive impact on the world. We’re always looking for new ideas and this post is full of them. Thank you so much for sharing these!
    Corinne recently posted…Easy Sweet & Sour MeatballsMy Profile

  4. What a great list! Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together. I know many (including myself) will find it really useful. Cheers!

  5. Thanks so much for this, Nicole.