Want to invest in something worthwhile for the holidays? Consider becoming an advocate for a foster kid or a homeless veteran.
Support Center for Child Advocates, the foster-child advocacy group, is looking for volunteer attorneys.
"As our caseload is increasing and we are taking more appointments from family court, we have a great need for attorneys to represent our child clients," said Moira Mulroney, director of development.
"We train and support hundreds of attorneys each year who work pro bono, side by side with a staff social worker, to advocate for our kids" in the courts, Mulroney said.
Becoming a Child Advocates volunteer attorney requires a full day of training - the next one is Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 - a half day of courtroom observation, and complete child-abuse background clearances.
To learn more and register for training on the group's website visit www.advokid.org/join-our-mission/volunteer-attorneys/.
"It can be a life-changing experience for a lawyer. We say that this could be the most important client of their career," she said.
If you aren't a lawyer but still want to help, Support Center for Child Advocates needs donors to sponsor a family or teen who has more significant needs.
"Many of our families are impoverished, have large sibling groups, are medically needy, or are older youth about to 'age out' of foster care and need help to get started," Mulroney said.
After they turn 18, some foster children are legally on their own without a guardian. Many become homeless.
You can give online at www.advokid.org or mail checks to: Support Center for Child Advocates, 1900 Cherry Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.
"Foster children who hit their 18th birthday sometimes are given a garbage bag for their belongings and turned out on the street," says Ardmore resident Sharon McGinley.
When she found that out, McGinley privately set up Eddie's House, a support network for foster kids who age out of the system.
She did so after befriending Eddie Lewis, who had aged out of foster care and explained what the young people need to avoid homelessness and go to college.
McGinley set up Eddie's House in his name and has helped over 100 teenagers. (Lewis died in 2010 of kidney failure).
Eddie's House functions as a safety net for those leaving foster care without family.
To volunteer or donate, contact Marion Campbell, executive director at 215-307-3273 or visit the Eddie's House website, www.eddieshouse.org.
Now to veterans.
Snyder House/Healing America's Heroes is a pilot program of the Department of Veterans Affairs designed to help vets who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless, and suffer from mental illness.
Snyder House, located at 1425 Snyder Ave., off Broad Street, is in need of basics for men and women, including underwear, socks, gloves, knit caps, and toiletry items.
Call the VA's public affairs office (215-823-5913) to donate or to get information about Snyder House. (Be prepared for a wait for the VA to call you back.)
Anthony Fedele, a disabled veteran retired from the Army, is raising money personally for Snyder House through GoFundMe to benefit the vets living there.
Fedele sits on the facility's advisory committee and said the program's holistic, individualized approach to healing is a game-changer.
"The process of getting assistance from the VA can be very daunting.
"Sometimes it takes several years just to get the basic services they provide, which can be overwhelming to our veterans," says Fedele, who lives in Center City.
Snyder House "is a recovery based model, instead of a medication-only model. They shelter vets while reintegrating them back into society."
"I've experienced these hardships myself and have given up a couple of times due to the intimidating experience of it all."
In 2010, Philadelphia was one of five cities nationwide selected to open a Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans facility at Snyder House.
In the Department of Veterans Affairs' efforts to end homelessness among veterans, Snyder House "does everything from pushing the vets out into the world every day to cooking classes," says Fedele.
Facility staff members help veterans focus on living independent and healthy lives, with the goal of integrating successfully into society.
Another organization Fedele works with is the Veterans Group, at 3209 Baring Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. It can be reached at 215-222-4379.
For a website list of current needs at the Veterans Group, visit theveteransgroup.org.