The story of Mental Health America is a story of hope and transformation. In the year 1900, a young man named Clifford W. Beers suffered an acute breakdown brought on by the death of his brother, and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, was hospitalized in a private Connecticut mental institution. There, he faced degrading and inhumane abuses at the hands of the untrained staff. Over the next decade, Beers was confined in a number of hospitals, all in brutal conditions. Bruised—literally—but unbroken, Beers began to overcome his tribulations in 1908 with the publication of his autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself. The next year, he founded the organization that would become Mental Health America. Perhaps the starkest symbol of Mental Health America's metamorphic character is the Mental Health Bell, a 300-pound carillon forged from the melted-down chains and shackles once commonplace in mental institutions.
Today, Mental Health America consists of a network of 240 affiliates working to address mental health conditions. The organization lives up to its mission of "promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders, and achieving victory over mental illness" through a number of programs, including health-care reform advocacy programs. Mental Health America has been combating mental health conditions and their associated stigmas for more than a century, and will continue to do so.
The Child and Family Network Centers provides free education and social services for preschool children, and job training for their families. The children it serves are considered at-risk due to limited English proficiency and low-income backgrounds. To fulfill the need for strong educational programs, CFNC operates a year-round preschool in 10 classrooms—with literacy and language support for bilingual children in 27 languages—to prepare them for kindergarten with their peers. These programs reach out to families in their own neighborhoods and supplement the students’ education with additional resources such as health services.
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Arts Are For All Ages' aim is to bring classical music to people with restricted mobility and to help young musicians find outlets for their art. More than 28 young musicians performed for six senior communities during the inaugural season in 2009. Now, young musicians bring a variety of musical instruments and give live classical concerts on a regular basis for elderly neighbors who otherwise could not attend arts events.
When she was a tutor to children from low-income families in Washington, DC, Kyle Zimmer was amazed by how excited students would get whenever given their own books. As she relayed in a 2011 New York Times story, this work inspired Zimmer to start First Book, an organization dedicated to making reading materials accessible to children in need.
Today, nearly 20 years after Zimmer's eureka moment, First Book works toward this goal through two channels: the First Book Marketplace, an online store with quality books—including Caldecott and Newbery award-winners—available at up to 90% below the retail price, and the First Book National Book Bank, a clearinghouse for publishers’ excess inventory. To date, the organization has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to 50,000 schools and programs throughout the United States and Canada—with more added each month.
The impact has been inspiring. An internal study found that 70% of children reported reading more at home after receiving books from First Book. In recognition of this and other accomplishments, the organization has received numerous awards and honors, including the 2005 Nonprofit Innovation Award and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.
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In 1989, Karin Walser was leaving her job on the Hill when she stopped at a gas station. Several young children offered to pump her gas in exchange for change. Moved by their stories, she organized a trip to the zoo to help them experience the city in a new way. She soon founded Horton’s Kids to address the needs of children living in poverty around the city. The organization’s volunteers provide a wide range of services for participating children, including regular tutoring in reading and math and activities such as swimming lessons in local pools. In 2011, Horton’s Kids was awarded the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management due to its long service educating and empowering the youth in Ward 8 with academic and social programs.
As their motto goes, "It's all about the music." Eschewing props, costumes, and staging for a focus on the sounds of voices and instruments, the Washington Concert Opera seeks to thrill audiences with performances by some of the profession's leading lights. Their stripped-down approach allows the company to focus on rarely produced works, from little-known Rossinis to classic Puccini B-sides.