Sarah Leamon: 5 organizations worthy of your support over the holiday season

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      The holiday season is upon us and 2016 is coming to a swift end.  It’s safe to say that with the year we’ve had, many people are eager to welcome the New Year. 

      It seems that 2016 was not kind to many. It may even go down in history as one of the worst years in recent memory. Various media outlets, like the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Slate, and the Telegraph dubbed it "the worst year ever"—and the evidence is pretty daunting. 

      With a quick glance through the news, it is easy to conclude that 2016 left a wake of sorrow and destruction in its path. First off, there were the devastating effects of the Zika virus throughout the world, and particularly in Latin America.

      There was the jarring reality of the Brexit vote, a violent coup in Turkey, bloodbaths and mass murder in Aleppo, a dramatic rise in police killings in the United States, the fentynal crisis here in Vancouver, and various horrific terrorist attacks throughout Europe.

      The year also included the loss of beloved cultural icons like Muhammad Ali, Prince, and David Bowie, and a long and painful presidential election that ended with the rise of a dangerously unqualified misogynist, racist, and xenophobe to the highest political office on the planet. 

      It’s been a bad year. And it’s tempting to sit in all the terribleness of 2016, feeling overwhelmed and upset, and just hope that it all somehow gets magically better when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2016. But we cannot do that. 

      In order to make positive change in the world this new year, we must be that positive change. 

      Now, most people do not have the time or energy to go out and start political protests, or tend to the wounds of injured, or develop a vaccine to combat dangerous viruses.  But what most people do have are a few extra dollars—and we can use those dollars in order to make the world around us a better place. 

      So—in that spirit—here are five suggestions for where your charitable donations may be best spent this new year:

      1) Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia

      The Immigrant Services Society helps recent immigrants to Canada as they settle into their new life. It assists refugees and immigrants who face multiple barriers in finding adequate housing, medical services, employment, and access to legal services throughout the Lower Mainland. It also helps immigrants develop English language skills and offers a women’s peer-support program, specifically aimed at addressing the unique challenges that women face as they adapt to life in Canada. These services are particularly valuable to Syrian refugees, who have come to this country with very few resources. 

      You can donate to ISS of B.C. here.

      2) Catholics for Choice

      A unique organization with head offices in the United States, it works to help improve access to contraception and reproductive health care for women throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Catholics for Choice uses faith to promote respect for individual rights, including the right of all people to access safe and affordable reproductive health-care services. This organization is doing very important work in the countries that have been most affected by the devastation of the Zika virus. It's working to change public policy and increase education around sexuality and sexual health. 

      Catholics for Choice accepts charitable donations here.

      3) Planned Parenthood

      This organization was founded on the premise that all women should have the information and care that they need in order to live healthy, fulfilled lives. It operates from a pro-choice, pro-woman perspective. It has come to be known as a trusted health care provider for women of all income levels. Planned Parenthood also offers advocate services for women and girls around the world, and works as a source of public education for all people. It is an indispensably important organization for women and it will need all the help it can get once the Republicans assume power in the United States. Thousands of women—and men for that matter—have already started protesting Vice President–elect Mike Pence’s opposition to the organization by making donations in his name. 

      I would encourage you to do the same.

      4) PACE Society

      Full disclosure, I act as board chair for this incredible organization, which is located in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—so perhaps my support of it is a little biased. However, the mission at PACE Society is simple: to promote safer working conditions for sex workers through education and support. This organization has worked tirelessly for more than 20 years to provide frontline services for some of our cities most marginalized men and women. PACE Society offers violence prevention education and harm-reduction services throughout our community, as well as one-on-one support, advocacy, referrals, and drop-in services. It also recently spearheaded the Gender Self Determination Project, which helps trans people navigate the various legal barriers that often prevent them from assuming a gender identity that is consistent with their being. In light of the fact that dangerous antisex work laws still exist in Canada, PACE Society’s work is absolutely immeasurable. 

      You can donate to PACE Society—and even chose which programs you’d most like to support—by simply visiting its website

      5) Georgia Strait Alliance

      This environmental organization works to protect our environment and our wildlife, right here in British Columbia. The Georgia Strait Alliance fosters programs that promote healthy local ecosystems while encouraging us all to get outdoors and enjoy nature. It is tirelessly working to protect our coastlines from the threat of ever expanding pipelines and potential oil spills. It supports a clean energy future and knows that we need to put resources into addressing global warming, while also maintaining our economy. It provides education for all people to help us lessen our carbon footprint on this planet, which is something that we simply cannot afford not to do. The Georgia Strait Alliance is a principled and practical organization, with a local focus. 

      It could certainly use your support

      These are just five suggestions, but there are many other worthy organizations, working to better our community one way to another, which are just as deserving of your donations. Remember that donations do not have to be much—even $5 can do a very long way in helping their efforts. Plus, if you make it in the name of a loved one, friend or coworker, charitable donations make a wonderful and thoughtful holiday present!

      Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and an altruistic new year!