By Dave Fountinelle | email@example.com
In his book “The American Crisis” Thomas Paine famously wrote, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” He was speaking about the Revolutionary War and the need for all Americans to find the strength to endure the long and difficult road to freedom and independence. He spoke of “summer soldiers” who were happy to devote themselves to the cause of American independence when the war was going in their favor, but who lost their zeal when it didn’t. Paine’s writing has held up as a message to the people that true courage and strength comes from holding onto one’s beliefs when times are at their toughest.
It almost goes without saying that 2020 was a year that tried the soul of our country. March marks the one-year anniversary of the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 lockdowns. Over half a million Americans have died in that time. Tens of thousands of small businesses across the country have been forced to close their doors forever. Millions of Americans are out of work, many of whom are facing food and housing insecurity for the first time in their lives.
Then there were the summer protests against police brutality. A modern revolution in its own right. Mostly peaceful protestors clashed with police over the killing of unarmed black men and women. Hate groups capitalized on the conflict to push their divisive agenda, and in turn incite violence and destruction. Fires burned into the night, blood flowed in the streets, and many were left wondering if any of this would truly change things for the better.
And the year drew to an end with a historic presidential election. Joe Biden was elected president by the largest number of votes any presidential candidate has ever received, in an election that many viewed as a referendum on where we stood as a country. What our values were. What our vision for the future was as a nation.
The shameful events of January 6th, the attempted coup by violent insurrectionists, incited by the previous administration, cast a black mark on our nation. However, despite the failed effort to destroy it, our democracy remains intact. The long, difficult road to rebuilding our country has begun and with the national rollout of COVID vaccines, a light at the end of the tunnel is finally coming into view.
Now, perhaps more than any time in modern history, Americans are in need. Everyone has been affected in some way by the pandemic. Some have lost jobs, some have lost their homes, and some have lost family members and loved ones. The strain that has been put on charitable organizations and non-profit service groups is unprecedented. More than ever, the importance of volunteering and charitable giving needs to be recognized. Our nation has never been stronger, our future has never been brighter, than when we all come together for the common good. Together, we can lift ourselves up and carry on through the long road ahead. One nation, indivisible, we can and will get through this.
All of us can do our part to shine a ray of hope into the lives of our friends, families, and neighbors who need it. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, is like a pebble tossed into a pond. The ripples radiate out from it and grow into waves of change. Let us all commit to making 2021 the year that proves there is nothing that we cannot accomplish if we work together.
Please consider donating or volunteering with one of the groups listed below. Or any of the other amazing organizations in the valley that are saving lives and giving hope to the hopeless every single day. Be that pebble that creates a wave of change.
2300 Tulare St. #210, Fresno
Since their humble beginnings in 1996 with only one full-time staff member and a handful of volunteers, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) began serving the foster youth of Fresno County with the goal of being a voice for the community’s most at-risk children. In 2006, CASA expanded to serve the children of Madera County as well. All of the services provided by CASA, from legal to counseling and mental health, are made possible through the hard work and tireless dedication of men and women who volunteer their time and resources. Attorneys, therapists, advocates, social workers, teachers, and anyone else with the desire and ability, help provide these often overlooked children with hope for a better future and the comfort of knowing someone is looking out for them.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer advocate can visit the CASA website and RSVP for a volunteer info session, currently being conducted via Zoom due to COVID-19 protocols. Those wishing to make a donation or help in other ways can find information for that on the website as well.
255 N. Fulton St. Ste 105, Fresno
Integral Community Solutions Institute (ICSI) is a non-profit mental health agency founded in 2011 by a group of community mental health experts, providers, and advocates. Since that time, ICSI has partnered with schools and other local agencies to provide mental health services to individuals and families in need. Recipients of their services include children, young adults, and women who are exposed to trauma, abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
ICSI currently works with community based organizations and Fresno State University to provide intern positions for students from advanced graduate programs who are interested in training to be counselors. Any other professionals who wish to donate their services as counselors, consultants, facilitators, educators, or advocates are encouraged to visit their website for more information on joining the ICSI team.
Beautify Fresno is a city-wide effort to clean Fresno neighborhoods, streets, and highways. They have partnered with local non-profits, churches, and service organizations, along with individuals in the community with the common goal of making Fresno a cleaner, safer, healthier, and more beautiful place to live.
Beautify Fresno operates under the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) affiliate program. They join over 600 other affiliates, including 27 states and several international groups, representing more than 3.5 million volunteers. Through their efforts, litter in these communities is reduced, solid waste is managed responsibly, vacant lots and other empty spaces are being improved or repurposed, trees and flowers are being planted, and recycling and composting programs are expanding.
Beautify Fresno’s mission is to “inspire everyone to take pride in their community” and show that anyone can “take action to make [their] community a clean and beautiful place to live.
Beautify Fresno invites clubs, churches, Boy/Girl scouts, professional organizations, and anyone who wants to lend a hand to do their part to make Fresno more beautiful. Whether it be hosting a trash pick-up event, planting trees and flowers in their neighborhoods, cleaning up vacant lots, or starting a community garden. For more information on ways you or your organization can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
7545 N. Del Mar #105, Fresno
Started in 1979 as a coalition of 6 independent support groups for parents of adults with severe and persistent mental illness, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) has grown to over 200,000 members in 1,200 affiliates nationwide. In that time, NAMI has expanded beyond a parent support organization to include children, spouses, siblings, and friends of people with mental illness, as well as many mental health care professionals.
The heart of NAMI’s mission is providing grassroots support and sharing information with those affected by mental illness. For the individuals and their families, friends, and loved ones. NAMI is working to change the national conversation about mental health at all levels. From the individual in need of help, to their loved ones seeking support, to the communities at large. All with the goal of providing support, sharing information, advocating on behalf of patients, lobbying for legislative changes, increasing funding for programs, and ultimately erasing stigma and prejudice.
NAMI is currently seeking volunteers at all levels, from counselors, advocates, coordinators, educators, medical and legal professionals to help line support, website support, artists and graphic designers, or anyone else who wishes to donate their time to help. To sign up as a volunteer or to get more information, visit the NAMI website or email email@example.com.
412 F Street, Fresno
The Poverello House began over 30 years ago with one man and a truck full of peanut butter sandwiches. Mike McGarvin was looking for a way to repay God for saving him from a life of drugs, violence, and hopelessness. He was inspired by a San Francisco coffee house called simply “Poverello” that served the homeless in the city, and where he had volunteered. It was through this life-changing experience that “Papa Mike” found purpose in helping others. Years later, after moving to Fresno with his wife, and with those sandwiches, a handshake, and a kind word, his work began.
Soon after, Papa Mike obtained the storefront that would become the first Poverello House, named in honor of the coffee shop where Mike had found his calling. The menu expanded to include chili beans and hot coffee and so did the lines of hungry people. Fire, evictions, and financial insecurity would force the Poverello House to move from one location to another until finally landing at the F Street address they have called home since the 1990’s.
From those humble beginnings, the Poverello House has grown into one of the largest homeless services non-profits in the Central Valley. From serving peanut butter sandwiches and bowls of chili to a few dozen people a day to providing 3 meals a day for over 600 individuals and families, including special holiday meals for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Their services have expanded far beyond providing hot meals too. Clothing, blankets, tents, backpacks, shoes, clean socks, laundry services and hot showers are some of the many services the Poverello House provides for homeless and low-income individuals and families. Additionally, the Poverello House also provides off-site meals for partner agencies including The Marjaree Mason Center, Spirit of Women, EOC Youth Sanctuary, Trinity Lutheran Church and the Patti Project.
Social services offered by the Poverello include Naomi’s House, a temporary shelter for homeless women, many of whom find themselves on the streets fleeing domestic violence. There is also the Men’s Residential Rehabilitation Program which provides counseling and services for men struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
The Poverello House runs in large part thanks to hard-working and dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been giving their time for years. Whether prepping meals in the kitchen, serving clients for a “Papa Mike’s Cafe”, or wrapping the hundreds of gifts that are donated every year for the Christmas toy giveaway, volunteers are the lifeblood of the Poverello House.
Papa Mike passed away in 2017, but the Poverello House organization continues to carry on his legacy of purpose through service and believing in the dignity of every individual.
The Poverello House is always in need of both volunteers and donations. If you would like more information, to RSVP for a volunteer orientation session, or to make a donation, visit their website or call.
990 E. D Street, Lemoore
Valley Animal Haven was founded in 2014 by Pamela Brasil to serve the homeless and helpless animals across the Central Valley. Her dream was to open a haven for all animals, big or small, young or old, until a forever home could be found for them.
From its small, backyard beginnings, Valley Animal Haven has expanded to a 2.5 acre parcel, thanks in large part to the generosity of the caring community. They now house dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, and more. There is also an infirmary on site to provide essential medical services for the animals.
Valley Animal Haven is a non-profit, no-kill animal rescue facility and shelter. They provide care and rehoming services for abused, neglected, abandoned, homeless or surrendered animals. It is their mission to find a forever home for every one of their animal companions.
Valley Animal Haven is always looking for volunteers to assist their team of coordinators and technicians with a variety of tasks and services, ranging from walking, grooming and serving as a community ambassador, to cleaning, laundry services and more. There is always work to be done for these furry friends. For more information, visit the Valley Animal Haven website, call or email.
We Are Not Invisible Fresno is a non-profit homeless housing and resource assistance organization started in 2015 by Desiree “Dez” Martinez, who was homeless herself at the time. She was motivated to do something by the absence of “real help” available to those in her situation. Discouraged by the lack of resources, long-term transitional housing, and outreach available to the Fresno homeless population, Dez took it upon herself to create We Are Not Invisible in an effort to bring attention to the plight of the homeless community and bring their voices into the conversation about how to address the homeless crisis in Fresno.
Most recently, Dez was successful in securing an empty lot in downtown Fresno for a homeless camp. Called “Project Safe Camp” it provides a safe, secure place for homeless individuals and even some families to set up a tent without worrying about crime, violence, harassment, or being constantly forced to relocate by the city. It has been one of the few truly safe havens for the homeless in the otherwise violent, drug and crime-ridden downtown area.
Currently, Dez has been focused on the “Project Offramp” project, which is intended to address the problem of homeless camps along the 99 Freeway by relocating them to motels that have been converted to temporary housing facilities. It is a project that Dez believes is a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done.
Dez has been operating the WANIF organization and running the safe camp project almost single-handedly since it began. She is always looking for hard-working, dedicated people to volunteer their time to help run the daily operations at the camp, or assist with her outreach efforts in the city. They are also always in need of donations ranging from blankets and tarps to bottled water and food. Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation can contact WANIF through their Facebook page, Homeless in Fresno, by phone, or emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org