#GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It’s a perfect opportunity to start supporting Northern Michigan nonprofits by donating your time or money. The following stories are just a peek at the amazing work going on in our communities and offer opportunities for you to give back!

Old Town PlayhouseBrighter Futures Through Arts Education

As school budgets continue to shrink, funding for arts education often takes a hit—but in Traverse City, the Old Town Playhouse is stepping up to fill in the gaps. Through its educational arm known as the Young Company, the volunteer-run community theater offers year-round kids’ programming for youth ages 3 to 18. “This programming is important for two reasons: First, it’s proven over and over again that having creative expression taught to children gives them better skills in math and science,” says development director Betsy Willis. “It also provides a sense of place, and a place to be a part of a team, which is especially great if a child is not into sports.” In addition to after-school classes covering specific skills like singing, dancing or technical artistry, the Young Company offers summer workshops and hosts auditions and rehearsals for kids-only productions. Educational programming is tuition based, with scholarships offered for those who need financial assistance. “The kids come in shy and unsure of themselves and maybe feeling as if they don’t have a place with their peers,” she says. “They leave feeling completely changed.”

Recently, this beloved creative hub got something of a costume change in the form of a half-million dollar renovation of its main stage auditorium in downtown Traverse City. The renovations were completed in October, but its public campaign continues; donors can give directly or purchase a seat in the theater in memory of a loved one or, perhaps, in honor of a theatrically inclined child.

Grow Benzie: Raising Vegetables…and Strong Communities

At Grow Benzie, a nonprofit community farmstead and farmers market in Benzonia, veggies aren’t the only thing sprouting. What began as a community garden has grown to encompass a simple yet big-hearted mission: to enrich the lives of Benzie residents by encouraging self-reliance through education in nutrition, agriculture, job training and life skills. In light of this goal, the facilities have grown to include a licensed commercial kitchen that acts as an incubator space for up-and-coming food-based businesses as well as a kitchen classroom where residents can learn food-prep basics and culinary entrepreneurial skills like cheese making and bread baking. There are hoop houses onsite where folks can learn how to tend to and harvest vegetables; the sixth graders from nearby Platte River School helped prepare the soil here, planted the first seeds, then watered, weeded and picked the veggies to take back to the classroom where volunteers helped them learn how to make tasty dishes from the food they had grown. Grow Benzie also acts as a gathering space by offering use of its assembly meeting hall as a space to host potlucks, reunions, weddings and other community events.

The common thread connecting all these programs and offerings is community: strengthening it, expanding it. Grow Benzie’s executive director, Benzie native Joshua Stoltz, is full of creative ideas about how the nonprofit can keep evolving to keep creating local opportunities and get maximum impact from its volunteers and donations. “We’re looking for intentional engagement from the community,” he says. “Our biggest need, right now, is for people to stay tuned.”

Check out this interactive U.S. charitable giving map to see how your state ranks!

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