Thankful for nonprofits—as vital, invisible, and underappreciated as air

[Image description: Golden sunlight streaming through a forest of pine trees. By the way, someone told me they didn’t understand why I write these image descriptions. It is not just for fun. Image descriptions help people who have vision impairment. Read more here.]

Hi everyone. This week is Thanksgiving in the US, a holiday revolving around food and spending time with the people closest to us, the people we love despite their continuing to have no understanding of what we do. It’s capacity building, Dad, holistic organizational capacity building combined with equitable leadership development, I’ve told you a hundred times, gaw!

Thanksgiving forces us to reflect on what we are grateful for, the people and things we often take for granted, and this should include the fact that we are on, and benefit from, stolen Native land. Take a moment to read this article, “This Thanksgiving, Educate Your Family About Native History and Culture.”

Among the many things I appreciate, I am grateful for you. The past few months, I have been traveling all over, speaking at various events and stuffing my pockets with as many swag chapsticks I can gather from vendor tables. Everywhere I go, I meet amazing folks and am constantly reminded of how dedicated the people in this sector are. There are folks working to end hunger, others trying to stop human trafficking and to care for those affected by it. There are nonprofits doing home repair for low-income seniors, using the visual art and theater and music to build community, providing legal services for asylum seekers, sheltering individuals experiencing homelessness, helping children who are going through grief, changing inequitable laws, rescuing animals, fighting climate change.

These last few years have been difficult. The daily stories of injustice are heartbreaking. I read this article about children as young as 3 years old being sent across the border by themselves, and I hold my 3-and-6-year-olds and think about what choices I would have to make in similar desperate circumstances.

In every story, though, there is always one or more nonprofits trying to help. This is what we do, even if society or our own family doesn’t understand it.

This Fall, my family celebrated the 30th year since we arrived in the US, fleeing poverty after a horrific war. I think about how lucky we were that we had arrived then, because I am not sure we would get the same welcome now. What has remained constant, though, over these 30 years, is the compassion and community-mindedness that nonprofits and the people who work for and volunteer with them continue to show. In the most challenging of times, our sector, comprising people like you, has unfailingly served as a beacon of hope and kindness.

Now, I have two kids, one who is almost as old as I was when I first arrived to the US. I think daily about what kind of community I want them to live in. It makes me appreciate all of you out there doing your best to make the world better, because my family and I and so many others benefit from your work.

This Thanksgiving, as you think about what you are grateful for (while trying not to get into fisticuffs with your relatives over politics) I want to let you know that I am grateful for you. This work is not easy. It is constant. There is always more to do.

And it often goes unappreciated. I often say that nonprofit is like air, whereas other sectors are like food. People can see food, can taste it, so they value it and take pictures of it and put it on Instagram. The work that you do is often invisible, so most people do not see it, even as they benefit from it. Though it is just as vital as food and water, no one really thinks much about air unless it is gone. Take a deep breath. That is you. You are the air of the world. Your work allows our community to breathe.

Thank you. I appreciate you. Happy Thanksgiving