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One of the best ways to choose a charity or foundation to donate your time or money to is to find one that resonates personally — for whatever reasons. We at Creative Loafing wanted to highlight the charities or foundations that are close to our individual hearts. Below are our picks. You'll find more info on other organizations at the bottom.

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Alzheimer's Association of Western North Carolina

My mother passed away in 2002, but in many respects, I felt I had lost her the previous year. The early signs of dementia had been building for a while — months? years? all a blur now — but in 2001, the disease hit her with full force. Thankfully, her personality didn't change: The woman a school chum once described as "the nicest person I have ever met" was still soft-spoken and all smiles. But that was all that was allowed to remain: Her behavior became embarrassing — not only to those around her but, most importantly, to the individual she had always been — and she no longer recognized anyone except my daughter, and that cognizance in time also dimmed.

It's been reported that each year, Alzheimer's kills more people (upward of 80,000) than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. But, as always in matters that involve the loss of loved ones, this isn't about numbers. It's about individuals — and about fighting so that their faces can be around to grace us a while longer.

For more info, call 704-532-7390 or reach the 24-hour hotline at 800-272-3900; also go to www.alz.org/northcarolina.

— Matt Brunson

Charlotte Family Housing

I have a hard time fathoming the difficulties my mother faced as a single parent. In fact, I probably never will. Though I could never tell, I know she struggled to provide me, her only child, with not only basic needs but enough emotional support to carry me through my formative years. That's why I particularly admire Charlotte Family Housing. Not only does it reach out to single mothers and fathers by providing them with temporary sheltering, housing, vocational training and counseling, but it also provides plans that help them save money and even purchase vehicles. It takes a holistic approach to helping families by tackling immediate needs and empowering them to make and reach goals.

For more information, call 704-335-5488 or visit www.charlottefamilyhousing.org.

— Ana McKenzie

Coalition to Unchain Dogs

After I adopted my two dogs (one from the Humane Society and one from Recycled Pets), my husband banned me from volunteering at any animal rescue group. Two dogs already make our house quite full. "You'd come home with a new dog every day," he said.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting Neya Warren, director of the Charlotte chapter of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, at a photo shoot for nFocus magazine. Every Saturday, Warren and more than 100 volunteers head out all over the state, looking for dogs that are chained in backyards. The volunteers knock on doors and ask the owners, "If we build you a fence, will you unchain your dog?"

It's a labor of love from an all-volunteer organization and a whole new world for a dog that, if tethered, has likely been depressed or stressed on his or her chain. But these fences don't just help the dogs, according to the Coalition. Relationships grow between dog and owner once the dog is relaxed and playful in his or her new environment.

The best part? These dogs already have homes. So there's little chance someone like me would bring home another dog — or 10.

For more info, go to www.unchaindogs.net.

— Melissa Oyler

The Villages of Hope Haven

If it weren't for people like Arietta Black and Alice Trotter, more people like me might be on the street, or in prison, or dead. In 1976, the two founded Hope Haven, initially a retreat designed specifically for women suffering from the disease of addiction and its family-destroying consequences: shattered marriages, vulnerable children, homelessness. Black and Trotter were recovering addicts themselves, and they wanted to give back to the community that had helped them along their own journey.

Today, Hope Haven is open to both women and men, and it is far more than just another treatment center — this place has heart and soul. Its 11-acre campus consists of sprawling conference and meeting rooms, 206 temporary residential units, a kitchen and dining area, a commercial greenhouse. Not only do its programs treat addiction — with counseling, recovery workshops and regular 12-step meetings — but they help recovering addicts re-acclimate to society via parenting workshops, job-training programs, education assessments and more. This helps not just the addict, but all of us.

And all of us can help Hope Haven continue its important work in this city. The organization depends on volunteer work as well as private donations to fund new equipment and other supplies, replace furnishings and improve living facilities. Back in the '70s, Black and Trotter went door-to-door to raise funds to start Hope Haven; today, we can thank them by taking our resources to their doors.

For more info, call 704-372-8809 (ext 341) or go to hopehaveninc.org.

— Mark Kemp

Mecklenburg Guardian ad Litem Advocacy Foundation

By the time most children are admitted into the foster care system, plenty of damage has been done. They've been abused, separated from their siblings and are totally vulnerable, living at the mercy of strangers. Kathy, my best friend at 12, was a bright, hilarious girl who had no memory of her life before age 10. Shunted into a predatory foster home by an overextended social worker, she had no defense against her foster mother's advances. An adult to listen and represent her interests would have made a huge difference. Such is the purpose of the guardian ad litem, a court-appointed advocate who builds a long-term trusting relationship with the child, watches for troubled behavior and speaks for them in court. Mecklenburg Guardian ad Litem Advocacy Foundation needs volunteers and donations, to protect kids from situations like Kathy's.

For more info, call 704-577-2375 or go to www.MeckGuardian.org

— Emiene Wright

Regional AIDS Interfaith Network

Although Tom never admitted out loud to me that he had AIDS, I knew. In a small community, people talk.

We both tended bar for a catering company back in my hometown. A couple decades older than me, he was funny as hell, often relaying tidbits of wisdom that could only come from someone who just didn't give a shit anymore. "You can be just as rude to anyone as you want," he'd say, his Southern drawl stroking the words, "as long as you have a smile on your face."

Sometimes, Tom would come to work messed up. I never knew if he was drunk or high, but it was obvious he was turning to something to ease his pain. He was especially silly those days, retelling stories from when he worked as a stripper, many of which I'd already heard. Yet, there was a hardness in his eyes.

When I moved to Charlotte, I lost touch with Tom. He's been on my mind more frequently this past year, though, as I've learned more about the nonprofit Regional AIDS Interfaith Network. For 20 years, RAIN has helped people in the Carolinas living with HIV/AIDS, offering advice and direct assistance with health care, stable housing, education, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and more. Since 1992, RAIN has provided more than 150,000 hours of service to more than 1,100 people with HIV and AIDS.

If he's still alive, I hope Tom has found an organization like RAIN.

For more information, call 704-372-RAIN (7246) or go to www.carolinarain.org.

— Kimberly Lawson

Ronald McDonald House

When your child is at an out-of-town hospital, the last things on a parent's mind are 1) where am I going to sleep and 2) what am I going to eat. Ronald McDonald House — a nonprofit corporation whose largest donor is McDonald's — provides families with a place to stay while their children receive medical treatment. While it costs more than $89 per night to stay there, families are only asked to contribute $15 (though no one is turned away due to inability to pay). In addition to monetary donations to help cover costs, volunteers donate their time and talents to cook meals for worried parents, clean rooms and even bake cookies to provide a welcoming smell.

In the coming week, I'll be staying at a Ronald McDonald House in Durham while my newborn daughter undergoes surgery. Knowing that people are willing to donate their time and efforts to make the stay for my wife and me a little more worry-free has gone a long way toward our peace of mind.

For more info, call 704-335-1191 or go to www.rmhofcharlotte.org.

— Jeff Hahne

Trips for Kids Charlotte

Riding a bike is one of my most memorable, routine childhood activities. It was my mom who took me to an abandoned parking lot and stripped away my bike's training wheels, to teach me how to operate the two-wheeled vehicle. Later, I'd teach a friend to ride. (Well, sort of, if you don't count me forgetting to tell her how to stop, and her running smack-dab into a stop sign.) Together, my friend and I would go on biking adventures, from fast-paced races to leisurely cruises around the neighborhood.

Trips for Kids Charlotte — a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring by taking children on bicycle excursions — offers new and refurbished bikes to children who otherwise would not have them and the pleasurable treks they offer. It's a program that resonates with me, not just because riding a bike is fun, but because children need positive role models and a means to safely explore the real world. Plus, time spent playing video and computer games doesn't equal exercise. Trips for Kids also supplies children with a series of tools, including teamwork, that are valuable for success both on and off the road.

For more info, call 704-910-3970 or go to www.tripsforkidscharlotte.org.

— Anita Overcash

Visit www.charlotteonestop.com/charities.html or www.charity-charities.org to find a comprehensive list of charities in the Charlotte area.

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