Feeding the hungry, housing the poor, educating the young, caring for the elderly, tending to the sick, fighting injustice, nurturing artists and musicians. . . .

Much of the positive work that takes place in the Washington area is accomplished not by the government or in the marketplace but through nonprofit organizations that rely on the financial goodwill of the community.

This year, however, that goodwill is shrinking. Government cutbacks, fewer and smaller grants from charitable foundations, falling household income and public anger over financial and management problems at some larger nonprofits have hit the area's charities hard.

This year -- more than ever, these groups say -- they need your support. But how does one decide which groups to help? More than 25,000 nonprofits are in the Washington area. Choosing where to donate can be daunting.

In this issue, The Washington Post Extra sections in Northern Virginia profile a sampling of charities, arts groups and other community nonprofits that rely on donations of time and money. Also listed are Web sites and contact numbers for these and other local groups working to make a difference in people's lives.

The need is so great. But so is the generosity of our community.

Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry

Officials with the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry want their organization to be "the face of God" in this epidemic, which they're attempting to accomplish by providing services to those infected with, or affected by, HIV and AIDS.

Each year these services come in the form of education and prevention efforts with 26,000 high school students, transportation to medical appointments for 13,000 people, and social services for children whose lives are touched by the disease.

The ministry, which began in 1987, runs holiday gift drives, provides Thanksgiving dinners, organizes mentoring programs, funds summer camps and provides clothing and dental work.

This year the nonprofit started a program for adolescents whose substance abuse increases their risk of getting HIV.

About half of the organization's $1.5 million budget comes from federal grants. Local governments, religious organizations, special events, individuals and the United Way are also significant contributors.

About 80 percent of the budget funds direct services such as care providers, drivers, outreach and social work; the rest goes to administrative costs and fundraising.

"The primary mission here is to affirm God's love for everyone who has been touched by the epidemic," said Executive Director Nathan R. Monell. "We try to provide services delivered in a loving way."

703-746-0440 or

www.novam.org

Potomac Conservancy

For many Northern Virginia commuters, the Potomac River is the body of water that washes by the George Washington Parkway and flows under the Key, Roosevelt and Memorial bridges as they battle traffic to and from the city.

But that is just part of the journey for the mighty Potomac, which winds for 383 miles, touching three states and the District.

The Arlington-based Potomac Conservancy has as its mission protecting the river throughout its 15,000-square-mile watershed.

Founded nine years ago as a land trust -- to acquire property or the development rights along the Potomac in the Washington area -- the organization now focuses on conservation and land restoration.

Its presence is felt in myriad ways: It has organized tree plantings, fought residential clear-cutting for shoreline decks and stairs, set up a kayak patrol to watch for illegal development, and educated landowners and officials about conservation.

"We believe it is very important to develop a culture of conservation," said Executive Director Matthew Logan, who has helped the organization grow from a budget of $100,000 in 1998, when he arrived, to $1 million this year.

Recently, the conservancy produced a bilingual brochure outlining local fishing regulations, after a survey found that as many as 75 percent of those who fish in the Potomac are Hispanic.

"This is a diverse community, and if we're not reaching out to all those folks, we're missing opportunities," Logan said.

703-276-2777 or

www.potomac.org

Legal Aid Justice Center

In his Falls Church office, lawyer Tim Freilich keeps a large photo of a $200 check.

On the document -- made out by a Vienna contractor to a day laborer he employed in 2000 -- the contractor had scribbled "void." When the worker tried to cash it, the bank refused.

"That type of thing goes on all the time," said Freilich, managing attorney of the local office of the Virginia Justice Center for Farm and Immigrant Workers, one of three main programs of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Freilich's office, which represents low-wage immigrants in Northern Virginia, exists to ensure that those at the bottom of the economic ladder get fair treatment.

The center, created in 1998, represents nannies, construction workers, food preparers, landscape workers and others, many of whom speak no English and have little formal education.

The group recently came to the aid of Nader Sinnugrot when a siding-installation contractor paid him for only 45 of the 80 hours of work he had completed. With the center's help, Sinnugrot won a $900 court judgment. The check for the lost wages is "on its way," Sinnugrot reported with a wide smile last week.

These days, the center is facing its own financial crisis. With state funding for legal aid slashed, it has raised only $140,000 of its $320,000 budget for next year.

Still, the center is determined to push forward. Said Freilich: "We'll keep doing this work as long as we can."

703-538-3953 or

www.justice4all.org

Carpenter's Shelter

The shelter was founded 20 years ago in the basement of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria after a priest found homeless men seeking refuge from a harsh winter. Two decades and six moves later, Carpenter's Shelter on North Henry Street is a $4.5 million, state-of-the-art facility designed with children and families in mind.

Staffed by a dozen full-time employees aided by 500 volunteers, the 80-bed shelter is a way station for the working poor and the homeless. In addition, Carpenter's -- named for Jesus of Nazareth's vocation -- operates a day shelter, with showers and lockers for those who want to remain on the streets; an overnight winter shelter; and aftercare to help those leaving the shelter stay sober, employed and on their medications.

"It's like Mother Hen extended," Executive Director Fran Becker said. "It's more than just a roof."

Expanding its efforts to help residents move on to independent living, the shelter has partnered with Wesley Housing Development Corp. to preserve affordable, transitional housing in four units at Lynhaven Apartments. The first occupants will move in this month.

Every meal served at the shelter is donated by businesses, churches or individuals; officials say about a half-million dollars in food is donated each year.

The shelter's operating budget for fiscal 2003 is about $1.1 million. The largest sources of revenue are government funding, private grants and cash contributions. Officials say 87 cents of each dollar donated goes to the shelter program, 6 percent is set aside for management costs, and 7 percent goes to fundraising.

703-548-7500 or

www.carpentersshelter.org

Arlington Free Clinic

About 5,000 patients a year come to the Arlington Free Clinic, which serves low-income, uninsured county residents.

With only one full-time nurse coordinator on staff, the majority of patients are seen by one of the clinic's 500 volunteer health providers. Without them, "we don't operate," said Lee Miller, the organization's volunteer coordinator.

Patients qualify for treatment on a sliding economic scale; an individual, for example, must earn less than $12,000 annually and have no medical insurance. Most are seen for cardiovascular, gynecological, endocrine or musculoskeletal issues.

The clinic's annual budget is just more than $1 million, most of it donated by churches, foundations and individuals.

"We're very fortunate that the community believes in what we do," Miller said. "They understand that for the community as a whole to be healthy, everyone has to be healthy."

About a third of the budget comes from grants. Another third is raised during an October gala. "Ten percent came in last year from the United Way, but we don't expect that this year," Executive Director Nancy Pallesen said. "That's making us a little anxious."

703-979-1400 or

www.arlingtonfreeclinic.org

The Untouchables

Each Thursday afternoon for the last 14 years, dozens of boys ages 3 to 18 have gathered at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria for the weekly meeting of The Untouchables.

This self-styled "male youth club" was founded by center counselor Theodore Jones and three boys sickened by the drugs and violence then claiming the lives of young blacks in their neighborhoods.

The focus, supporter Albertha Gray said, is "keeping the kids positive and keeping them out of drugs and anything else negative" through participation in events such as church programs, sailing camps, youth leadership conferences and meetings with mentors.

The club's unusual name refers to being untouched by negativity, members say. And their T-shirt logo -- a pen and pencil crossed atop a shield -- symbolizes knowledge and the "shield of faith," said member Norman Gardner, 15.

Organizers rely mostly on such fundraisers as carwashes, raffles and support from individuals. The boys pay 25 cents a week to attend -- but only if they can afford it.

"Everything we get is just what people give us," Gray said.

What keeps the boys coming back?

"The information they give you to carry yourself as a young man," said Rashad Price, 15.

"And the love for each other," added Kevin Smith, also 15.

703-838-5075.

No Web site.

Classika Theatre

Great theater is as close as Shirlington.

Classika Theatre may be small -- its main venue seats 86 -- but its array of programs has had a mighty impact in Arlington.

Founded by two e{acute}migre{acute}s in 1996, it presents theater in the Russian tradition: children's shows with music and puppetry, and more mature fare for its growing adult audience.

A major boost was the $500,000 federal grant Classika received last year to expand its public school outreach program, which includes a project that uses games, art and theater to help students prepare for their state-mandated social studies tests. This year it added an initiative to boost first- and second-graders' reading and comprehension skills.

Hefty grants do not guarantee a trouble-free existence, however. The group funds only a third of its budget through ticket sales, and Shirlington is its fourth home.

But its founders have not let adversity shrink their ambitions. Their goal: a national arts center for children. To fund it, the theater recently launched a $5 million campaign.

"That," said Managing Director Alyona Ushe, "is our dream.'

703-0824-6200 or

www.classika.org

"We believe it is very important to develop a culture of conservation," said Matthew Logan, executive director of Arlington's Potomac Conservancy.At Carpenter's Shelter, volunteer Liz DeMik talks with a resident. The 80-bed shelter is a way station for the working poor and the homeless, offering a day shelter, overnight shelter and aftercare.Classika Theatre's Hanna Bondarewska performs onstage in Shirlington. A grant allowed the theater to expand an outreach program that uses games and arts to help students prepare for state tests.