Gift Guide Lifestyle

SEEN’s Giving-Back Guide: 85+ Local Nonprofits to Support

November 6, 2020

Feeling charitable this season but not sure where to direct your dollars? We’re here to help. From organizations dedicated to child welfare and social justice to those focused on education and assisting individuals with special needs, here are 85 local nonprofits worth checking out.

By Nicole Frehsee Mazur

Child Welfare

Starfish Family Services

Headquartered in Inkster, this 57-year-old organization serves over 4,000 children and their families each year, providing programs and support services that focus on early childhood education and development, behavioral health and empowered parents.

Foster Closet of Michigan

Children are often placed in foster care with no personal possessions — but Foster Closet of Michigan is setting out to change that by providing new clothing, toys, shoes, baby equipment and other gear to children placed in foster care statewide.

Alternatives for Girls

Homeless girls and young women have a place to turn thanks to this Detroit organization, which helps them avoid violence, teen pregnancy and exploitation while providing access to support, resources and opportunities that foster safety, growth and positive choices.

The Children’s Center

The Children’s Center in Detroit is guided by the belief that improving the lives of children and families strengthens communities.To that end, the nonprofit serves over 7,500 kids annually with a wide range of services, including crisis care, mental health services, parent support and more.

Kids Kicking Cancer

Kids Kicking Cancer

Kids Kicking Cancer empowers more than 7,000 children worldwide.

Since starting in 1999 with 10 young cancer patients at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Kids Kicking Cancer has grown into a global organization focused on easing the pain of sick children through the teaching of martial arts as a therapy. (The organization’s motto: “breathe in the light, breathe out the darkness.”) The Southfield-based nonprofit now empowers more than 7,000 kids facing a variety of illnesses in 90 hospitals worldwide.

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives

Every kid should have access to safe playgrounds — a goal that Urban Neighborhood Initiatives is working toward. As part of its commitment to remove blight, the Detroit nonprofit works with the Springwells community in Southwest Detroit to develop and restore parks and green spaces in the neighborhood. Aside from playgrounds, it’s also dedicated to building community centers and creating safe alleyways.

CARE House of Oakland County

CARE House of Oakland County has been advocating for children for more than 40 years, providing everything from treatment for child-abuse victims to Early Head Start programs for low-income families with infants and toddlers.

Blessings in a Backpack

Blessings in a Backpack Michigan

Volunteers fill bags for Blessings in a Backpack Michigan.

Michigan Across Southeast Michigan, more than 377,000 children are at risk for food insecurity, defined as the inability to consistently access food. Blessings in a Backpack Michigan aims to change that. Every week, the organization — which serves 4,000 children across 19 communities — distributes backpacks filled with six meals worth of nonperishable food for at-risk students.

A little goes a long way: A donation of just $110 will provide food in a backpack for a child for the entire school year. “It’s important that we help these children so that they’re not left behind,” says Cheryl Whitton, the national organization’s Michigan advisor, “and they have the same advantages as their fellow classmates.”



The Greening of Detroit

The Greening of Detroit is focused on enhancing the quality of life for Detroiters by planting trees, providing job training and teaching young people about the natural environment. Since 1989, the organization has planted more than 130,000 trees in and around Detroit.

For Love of Water

The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world’s fresh water supply — and For Love of Water (FLOW, for short) is on a mission to protect them for future generations through education and policy efforts.

Detroit 2030 Districts

Construction has a big impact on the environment, but the Detroit 2030 District is part of a national effort — which also includes Ann Arbor — to create high-performance building districts committed to meeting 50% reductions in energy, water and transportation-related emissions by 2030.

Heart of the Lakes

Heart of the Lakes represents the collective voice of Michigan’s land conservancies working to conserve forests, farmland, coastline and more for generations to come.

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is committed to creating a cleaner city.

Historically, minority and low-income communities have suffered disproportionately from environmental burdens including heavy industry, high truck traffic, toxic facilities and contaminated abandoned land. With five of the top-25 most-polluted ZIP codes in the state, and Detroit is no different. But Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is on the case. Founded in 1994, the organization has dedicated its efforts to creating initiatives around youth education, community engagement, advocacy and activism, energy efficiency and sustainability. Says DWEJ’s Brad Ashburn, “We’re focused on creating a clean, healthy and safe Detroit for all residents.”



Beyond Basics

Beyond Basics

Beyond Basics provides literary enrichment for K-12 students

This Southfield-based nonprofit, which provides one-on-one reading tutoring and literary enrichment for K-12 students, is doing its part to ensure that children and families across Metro Detroit know how to read. The organization recently got a welcome boost to further its mission: $1 million from General Motors.

482 Forward

Sitting at the intersection of education and social justice, 482 Forward works with neighborhood organizations, parents and youth to ensure that all Detroit kids, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, have access to an excellent education.


For more than 40 years, Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program has partnered with universities, training programs and K-12 school systems to connect underrepresented kids aged 4 to 18 with the best science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational experiences in Michigan and beyond.

Michigan College Access Network

As of 2020, 70% of jobs in Michigan require post-secondary education, according to the Georgetown Center of Education and the Workforce. Michigan College Access Network helps students statewide access college certificates and degrees, the keys necessary to success in our knowledge-based economy.

Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan

Established in 1949, Detroit-based Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan serves more than 50,000 K-12 students every year with programs on everything from financial literacy and workforce readiness to entrepreneurship.

Midnight Golf Program

Midnight Golf Program

Midnight Golf Program boasts a high school graduation rate of 99% for its students.

At first glance, golf doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with education. But Reneé Fluker, who founded Midnight Golf Program in 2001 after noticing the positive impact the game had on her own son’s life, begs to differ.

Based in Bingham Farms, the nonprofit offers mentoring and professional development to kids in underserved communities, and boasts impressive results: More than 3,200 youths have gone through the program, with 99% graduating from high school. MGP boasts a college-graduation rate of 70%, four times the rate of Detroit students not involved with the program.

The support that the program lends is especially crucial this year, when many schools are closed, disrupting learning environments and other things students need to thrive, says Gabe Neistein, MGP’s fund development director. “For a lot of our students, Midnight Golf is their only direct source of support,” he adds. “They’re talented and have the grit and determination they need to be successful, but a lot of them just need a support system to get them where they want to go.”


Social Justice

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights

Detroit is home to various nonprofits dedicated to human rights.

Founded in Detroit in 1980 by two bishops and a rabbi (no, it’s not the start of a joke), Detroit-based MCHR promotes awareness of, commitment to and advocacy for human and environmental rights through education, community organization and action.

Ruth Ellis Center

LGBT activist Ruth Ellis — who was known as the world’s oldest surviving open lesbian when she died at age 101 — is the namesake for this Highland Park center, which provides trauma-informed services for LGBTQ youth with an emphasis on young people of color, involved in the child welfare system, experiencing homelessness or other barriers to health and well-being.

We the People of Detroit

We the People of Detroit is an organization whose mission is to inform, train, and mobilize the residents of Detroit in order to improve the lives of those in the community.

Focus: HOPE

Started out of a Detroit church basement in 1968, Focus: HOPE is dedicated to overcoming racism and poverty by providing education and training for underrepresented minorities. Programs include everything from early learning and job training to youth development and providing food for low-income seniors.

Detroit Justice Center

As a nonprofit law firm, Detroit Justice Center works with communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system and promote equitable cities.

New Detroit

Since its founding in 1967 by then-Michigan Gov. George Romney, Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh and business executive Joseph L. Hudson Jr., New Detroit has provided a forum for community leaders to come together and learn from one another. In 2020, that’s translated to initiatives like its conversations on Race, where people from different backgrounds address issues of racial inequality in Metro Detroit, cultural competency training, the Multicultural Leadership Series and more.

Michigan United

After merging the Michigan Organization Project (MOP) and the Alliance for Immigrant Rights (AIR), Michigan United was born in 2013. Since then, their coalition of labor, business, social service and civil rights members have been dedicated to working toward assuring social and economic equality throughout Michigan communities. Some of their efforts include immigration reform, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and creating an overall caring majority.


Animal Welfare

Detroit Dog Rescue

Detroit Dog Rescue came on the scene in 2011 to help solve the city’s stray dog epidemic. As Detroit’s first no-kill shelter, DDR takes in homeless dogs and invests the time and training necessary to re-home them.

Horses’ Haven

Established 25 years ago in Howell, Horses’ Haven rescues, rehabilitates, retrains and re-homes at-risk equines, from ponies and horses to donkeys and mules. Whether the animals are ridable or not doesn’t matter — this nonprofit aims to give each one the skills to be a “good equine citizen.”

New Beginnings Animal Rescue

This no-kill Royal Oak organization is dedicated to helping abandoned and re-homed cats with everything from medical treatment to finding their forever families.

Detroit Animal Welfare Group

Detroit Animal Welfare Group

Detroit Animal Welfare Group rescues domestic pets as well as wildlife.

Set on a 25-acre farm in Romeo, Detroit Animal Welfare Group helps all kinds of neglected, sick and homeless animals, from domestic pets (cats, dogs) to farm animals (goats, potbellied pigs) to wildlife (foxes, deer, birds and more). The nonprofit is the brainchild of Kelly LaBonty, Ph.D, an assistant professor in clinical nurse anesthesia at Wayne State University who spent 20 years working at Detroit Receiving Hospital. She was inspired to start DAWG after noticing animals roaming the city’s streets. “Driving back and forth to work, I’d see all the homeless dogs,” she says. “So I decided to start my own animal rescue.”

LaBonty established DAWG in 2011; since then, the organization has helped more than 10,000 animals with everything from restoring their health to finding forever homes. “Getting emaciated and sick animals in and bringing them back to a state of health, or releasing them to the wild where they belong and watching them flourish is very rewarding,” she says. “There are so many rewarding parts.”


Disabilities + Special Needs


JARC Started in 1969 by a small group of parents of children with developmental disabilities, today JARC serves more than 150 developmentally disabled kids, teens and adults via group homes, independent-living support and in-home respite care — as well as social, recreational and religious enrichment.

Friendship Circle

Friendship CircleBrett Mountain

Friendship Circle serves 3,000 kids and adults with special needs

Friendship Circle creates friendship in the lives of individuals with special needs via social, recreational, educational and vocational programs. Last month the organization, which serves 3,000 kids and adults, purchased Dakota Bread Company in West Bloomfield to provide job opportunities for adults with special needs.

Leader Dogs for the Blind

Since starting on a small farm in Rochester Hills in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind has grown into a world-renowned organization dedicated to empowering people who are blind or visually impaired. To that end, the nonprofit offers everything from guide dogs and programs to teach orientation and mobility skills to summer camp for teens.

Lions Hearing Center of Michigan

The mission behind Lions Hearing Center of Michigan is to provide education and social services to assist the deaf and hard of hearing. To that end, the organization offers hearing screenings, educational programs and outreach to deaf communities across Southeast Michigan.

Wish Upon A Teen

Southfield-based Wish Upon A Teen promotes peer interaction and self-esteem-building for teenagers facing life-limiting medical conditions. The nonprofit’s programs — like Design My Room, which allows teens to make over their hospital rooms, and Evening of Dreams, an annual gala for those who can’t attend their school’s prom — serve teens in nearly 70 hospitals nationwide.

Detroit Institute for Children

Founded in 1920 in response to the effects of polio and tuberculosis on Metro Detroit children, Detroit Institute for Children provides care for children with physical, neurological, developmental, emotional and/or behavioral special needs. The agency serves kids in over 150 schools, Head Start and Early Intervention programs throughout Metro Detroit, southeast, central and southwest Michigan.

Variety Detroit

Variety Detroit has one simple goal — to help children — and it’s been doing just that since 1931. The organization serves Detroit-area children with special needs, providing everything from electronic prosthetics and weekend meals to elementary student to horseback riding lessons and essentials such as clothing, bedding, winter apparel, and more.

Dutton Farm

Dutton Farm

Dutton Farm provides job opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities

Jenny Brown graduated from college around the same time that her sister, Becca Smither, finished high school — but while Brown was preparing to pursue a career in law, Smither, who has Down syndrome, found herself with no job prospects. “For years she sat at home,” says Brown. “My parents tried to piece something together for her to do every day.”

In 2010, Brown and her mother, Michele Smither, launched Dutton Farm to remedy this dilemma for Becca and other individuals living with developmental disabilities. (Brown is the organization’s CEO.) To date, the Rochester-based nonprofit has served about 2,500 people with programs that focus on workforce development, community involvement and adult education. In 2016 Brown started an initiative, Everybody by Dutton Farm, to provide job opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities. Her team — nearly half of whom have disabilities — produces natural bath and body products that are sold in stores statewide; this year the company created over 5,500 hours of employment. “We built an inclusive work environment at competitive, fair wages so that people with and without disabilities work side by side,” she says.

As for Becca? Now 42, she works at Everybody as well as a coffee shop in Lake Orion that employs Dutton Farm participants. “She went from being unemployed with nothing to do every day to having two jobs and a fulfilled life of relationship building and accessing her community,” says Brown. “She’s doing things she loves to do.”


Arts and Community organizations:

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