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Charity That Defies Economics

One of my favorite Washington institutions is the Power Lunch program run by Everybody Wins, the literacy and mentoring organization. Power Lunch gets adults to give up schmoozing with clients and colleagues over chicken caesars once a week for reading with elementary school students over PB&J's. You'll find General Dynamics employees at John Tyler Elementary, Washington Posties at Ross Elementary and Discovery Communications volunteers at Highland View Elementary in Silver Spring. General Dynamics is also a financial sponsor of the program.

Behind every good Washington nonprofit there is -- what else? -- a Washington law firm. Partners, associates and staff not only provide free legal work, but most often strategic advice, funding, technology services and toys at Christmas.

Volunteers serve breakfast at Miriam's Kitchen at Western Presbyterian Church on Valentine's Day. Bailey Law Group has been staffing a breakfast program there for the past two years. (Melanie Burford For The Washington Post)

_____Past Columns_____
Absurd Report On Drug Prices Clouds the Issue (The Washington Post, Dec 29, 2004)
Screwball Logic Muddies Baseball Arguments (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
Baseball, AOL, Fannie: Raines Strikes Out (The Washington Post, Dec 17, 2004)
Column Archive

Among the legal philanthropy that came to our attention this year were Venable's ongoing work with the Seed Public Charter School, King & Spalding's commitment to Women Empowered Against Violence and O'Donoghue & O'Donoghue's weekly advice to welfare recipients at the D.C. Employment Justice Center. Arnold & Porter invested $3 million in cash and lawyers' time to pursue a lawsuit against an international marriage broker on behalf of Tahirih Justice Center. And Patton Boggs represented the First Place Gardens Tenants Association in its two-year battle with a property owner who was later convicted of criminal housing code violations.

For the past dozen years, Covington & Burling has "adopted" the District's Cardozo High, providing funds for school supplies, family emergencies and mentors and tutors for students. Most Saturday mornings, Covington personnel can be found running mock trials for Cardozo's budding lawyers, some of whom will find summer jobs at the law firm. This year, with the help of the Latin American Youth Center, Covington has been offering a once-a-week legal clinic at the school to provide legal advice to students and their families.

And speaking of the Latin American Youth Center, the center's development director, Lynn Jenkins-English, credits Verizon with going beyond its usual commitment this year to expand the center's after-school arts programs for kids and computer training for adults. Verizon and its employees also stepped up their involvement with Covenant House, which serves runaway, homeless and at-risk youth in the region.

Bank of America has long been the leader in financing housing and economic development in economically depressed areas of Washington. That commitment now includes a close relationship with the Washington Area Housing Trust Fund, which makes below-market-rate funding for affordable housing developments. President Peggy Sand credits BofA not only for its generous financial and technical assistance, but also for putting the arm so effectively on the rest of the financial community.

One increasingly popular way for companies to make a community contribution is to identify a discrete project and contribute the money, manpower and expertise to get it done. Out in Prince William county, Woodbridge Plumbing, Prince William Pipeline and Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting got together to install a new fire suppression sprinkler system at the ACTS homeless shelter. Home Depot employees spruced up the playground at Watkins Elementary School on Capitol Hill. And volunteers from the Boston Consulting Group renovated Ferebee Hope Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, bringing the baseball field back up to code so the local Little League team can play there.

Nearly 50 employees from Deloitte descended on the Goodwill retail and donation center on Glebe Road in Arlington one day this fall to perform fix-up tasks, including setting up a network of computers to look for and keep track of donors. And the new Lifelong Learning Center at Brookland Manor in the District is all wired up thanks to $500,000 in equipment and service donated by Comcast. Thanks to a donation from Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, 100 local high school students were able to travel to New York as part of a program run by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Other companies prefer to develop ongoing relationships with one or two charities. Among the partnerships we learned of recently were those between Ernst & Young and So Others Might Eat, and between Quadel Consulting and Family and Child Services of Washington.

For several years now, the Urban Alliance Foundation has been placing students at Anacostia High in afternoon and summer jobs at places like the Advisory Board, the Corporate Executive Board, Merrill Lynch and National Public Radio, with the hope things might some day work into an entry-level job. Now that the World Bank has begun taking several dozen students for the summer, other schools have been added to the program.

And this year's Christmas Charity campaign by the Hecht Co. resulted in $135,000 in grants to 15 local charities, including big gifts to Arlington Food Assistance and Northern Virginia Family Services.

At some companies, community service is hard-wired into the corporate culture. One example is Social and Scientific Systems of Silver Spring, an employee-owned company that provides biomedical research support, data analysis and program design for government clients. This year's projects at SSS included a charity spelling bee, a kid's scavenger hunt, races and walks for cancer, leukemia and AIDS, a Thanksgiving food drive and Christmas gift project, a book drive and a local tutoring program.

If you've never heard the Eastern High School Choir belt out a gospel tune or a Christmas carol, you're missing one of the great pleasures of living in Washington. This year the choir got a new logo and informational brochure designed for them by Mediastudio in Falls Church as part of its CreateAThon, a 24-hour design blitz that benefited a dozen other local nonprofits.

And, finally, the story of Allie Scott, an infant from faraway Allen, Tex., who spent much of the year waging a brave battle against leukemia. Because Allie's favorite toy was a small giraffe, family friends began searching for similar toys and hit upon a giant stuffed giraffe featured on the Web site of PoshTots, a children's toy and furniture retailer based in Glen Allen, Va. Unfortunately, the listed price was a bit steep -- $922 -- so the friends contacted the company in the hope of getting a discount. But PoshTots wouldn't hear of it. The company immediately shipped the giraffe to Allie's room at Medical City of Dallas free of charge. PoshTots also committed itself to donate a portion of each giraffe sale to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Allie died in September, three months short of her first birthday.

I hope you'll recognize this literary effort for what it is, namely a highly incomplete list of the corporate good works in our area this year. For those who feel they know of other corporate philanthropic efforts that should have been included, please accept my apologies, along with an invitation to send along an e-mail next December.

Happy holidays.

Steven Pearlstein can be reached at pearlsteins@washpost.com.

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