There's a rhythm to official workday Washington, a flow to its businesses and government offices, its stores and its think tanks. Subway cars and sidewalks get crowded. Office doors are unlocked. Computers are woken up. Emails are read or sent or ignored. Customers are helped.

It's a rhythm most of us are familiar with, one we live day-to-day with minimal variation.

But there's another rhythm, too, one that thousands of people in our area experience. It's the daily search for a meal, a search for a place to stay, a search for a job. It's a search for the stability that will allow those things to be acquired and kept.

It's a search for lost dignity.

Fortunately, many nonprofit groups in Washington offer help. These charities have their own healing tempo. I'll be exploring them in upcoming weeks during The Washington Post's annual Helping Hand fundraising campaign, which begins today.

We've partnered with three respected local charities — Bright Beginnings, N Street Village and So Others Might Eat — in the hope that you will be moved to support them.

At Bright Beginnings, a preschool not far from New York and New Jersey avenues NW, families start arriving about 7:30 a.m. They walk up stone stairs that are flanked by two compact playgrounds: one for toddlers, one for older kids.

Founded in 1990, the school extends a lifeline to unique — and uniquely desperate — parents. Bright Beginnings offers child care for homeless families. It's a safe place for children as young as 6 weeks old to be while Mom or Dad is navigating the bureaucracy that can hopefully set the family on a path to a better life. Parents can pick up their children as late as 11:30 p.m., allowing them to work or go to night school.

But Bright Beginnings is more than just a child-care facility. It's a preschool, too, with a rich program designed to help kids who have grown up in traumatic settings get ready for kindergarten.

And it serves more than just children. Bright Beginnings aims to help the whole family, so, depending on the day, the rhythm there might include a job-training session, a résumé workshop, a financial literacy class or a healthy-cooking demonstration.

When children are arriving at Bright Beginnings, homeless women are leaving the night shelters operated by N Street Village. The organization's shelter near Logan Circle — called the Luther Place Night Shelter — and a second in Chinatown, are open from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m.

But women aren't simply cast into the streets when the sun rises. Across N Street is the organization's day center, a haven for homeless women. It opens when the shelter closes, offering a safe place to take a shower, wash some clothes, use the Internet — and just relax in a setting that doesn't require the hypervigilance that being a homeless woman demands.

In the beginning, that's all some women want. But for many, N Street Village's day center serves as the first rung on the ladder out of homelessness. It introduces them to other N Street programs designed to build their self-esteem and their physical health. They can make an appointment to see a doctor. And they can learn about the housing programs that N Street Village offers.

By 11 a.m., a line has already started forming on O Street NW, near North Capitol Street. People who are hungry know they can find a meal at a place whose name only hints at the breadth of its services: So Others Might Eat (SOME).

Yes, men and women experiencing homelessness and poverty can eat there: every day of the year, breakfast and lunch. But there is health care, too: medical and dental clinics, as well as behavioral therapy.

On Tuesday and Friday mornings, clients can go "shopping" for outfits in SOME's clothing room, replacing a warm coat that has seen its last days or picking out a suit for a job interview.

SOME oversees hundreds of units of low-cost housing, too, with more on the way. And at its West Virginia facility, SOME offers addiction treatment.

There, in the clear mountain air far from Washington, former drug abusers are introduced to a new rhythm: life without drugs.

Extend your helping hand

With your help, we can meet our goal of raising $200,000 by Jan. 5. To find out more about our three Helping Hand partners, and to donate online, visit Prefer to donate by check? Read on:

To donate to Bright Beginnings by mail, make a check payable to "Bright Beginnings" and send it to: Bright Beginnings, ATTN: Helping Hand, 128 M St. NW, Suite 150, Washington, DC 20001.

To donate to N Street Village, make a check payable to "N Street Village" and mail it to:

N Street Village, ATTN: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, DC 20005.

For So Others Might Eat, make a check payable to "So Others Might Eat" and mail it to SOME, ATTN: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Tuesday: After nearly 40 years as an addict, Annette gets clean with the help of So Others Might Eat.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit