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A Time Of Need

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By Steven Pearlstein
Friday, December 19, 2008

One of the great design flaws of our social and economic ecosystem is that the times when we are most in need of the services provided by the nonprofit sector are precisely the times when it is most difficult for the rest of us to help them out.

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We are now in one of those unfortunate periods, particularly as it relates to corporate charitable activity. In almost every industry, profits are falling, money is tight and many of the local companies that have taken the philanthropic lead in recent years have been sold, are in receivership or are struggling just to keep their own heads above water.

All the more reason, then, to celebrate those companies and their employees that have continued to contribute their time, money and ingenuity to local charitable causes.

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Among the hundreds of submissions I received from nonprofits for this annual column on corporate philanthropy, one name came up time and again: Booz Allen Hamilton. During the past three years, 180 Booz employees contributed their time to participate in three new leadership programs for the Girl Scouts. Booz's Women's Forum provided computer and telecom upgrades to Suited for Change, a nonprofit that provides professional clothing and career advice to low-income women. Booz's Lynne Filderman spent the year on loan as executive director at Neediest Kids, while dozens of her colleagues have spent countless hours at Northern Virginia Family Services, tutoring and mentoring workers stuck in dead-end jobs. Booz employees raised more than $50,000 for the Special Olympics of Virginia. And that's only a random sample. All in all, the company figures its employees gave more than 50,000 hours of volunteer service this year to 276 local nonprofits.

Equally impressive, however, are the volunteer efforts of Raffa, a District-based consulting and accounting firm whose clients come from the nonprofit sector. Last year Raffa's 195 employees each dedicated an average of 52 hours to philanthropic activities -- 10,000 hours in all.

Back in September, Men's Wearhouse offered to help collect used business clothing to help ex-offenders transition back into the workforce. Working with OAR (Offender Aid and Restoration) in Virginia, the retailer in September offered customers 10 percent off their next purchase for every "gently used" outfit they donated. The response was amazing: 1,118 suits, 414 sport coats, 459 slacks, 66 pairs of shoes, 31 overcoats, 596 belts and other accessories. OAR used what it could, then began calling churches, veterans groups and other organizations that might have similar needs. And Men's Wearhouse decided to throw in a new dress shirt to update each of the donated outfits.

This hasn't exactly been a banner year for Citigroup, but that didn't put a stop to the bank's philanthropic efforts. Citi donated $25,000 to Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing to fund classes in English and financial education. And Citi provided $100,000 to the District's Cardozo High School for its Reach for College program to increase the number of its students who go on to college.

Speaking of education, let's give a shout-out to Feld Entertainment, operator of the Ringling Bros. Circus, for reprising its $100,000 gift of 2007 to Duke Ellington School of the Arts. This year the money was used to pay for the salary of a full-time costume design instructor along with costumes for the school's opera productions.

For the past three years, Capital One, working with Junior Achievement, has supported a financial literacy program for middle school students in Northern Virginia. The program has been such a success that the company is working with Fairfax County to integrate it into its eighth-grade curriculum.

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