I read in the Indianapolis Star recently of a new study shows that charitable giving is up across the nation–but that demand for services here in Central Indiana has risen, as well. Times are tough. More people need more services. Charitable organizations can’t keep up with the requests.

We see this every day in our neck of the woods. Yesterday, a man looking for scrap metal stopped in to ask if he could take the screen the wind had blown out of one of our windows. “I’m collecting cans, anything I can get,” he said. “I’m just trying to get bus fare.” One morning last week, a man walked in the front door of our office and asked if we had anything he could do to earn a couple of dollars to get a hot meal. “I’m from Shelbyville,” he said, “and I don’t know where to go.” We gave him a few dollars and directed him to Horizon House, a day center for people who are homeless. We hope he took our advice, even as we knew Horizon House would be horribly crowded on that cold day, and accommodating this new homeless neighbor would be one more stress on an already strained system.

So if you’re one of the fortunate souls who doesn’t need the services of charitable organizations for yourself or your family, be thankful. It’s been a tough year for lots of people who never thought they’d find themselves in such dire straits.

And if you haven’t made all of your year-end giving decisions yet, I have a request to add to your list.

As lots of readers surely know, we started Second Story about four years ago to help introduce kids in Indianapolis to creative writing. At a time in which homeless people are wandering the streets looking for their next meal, this may seem an insignificant or frivolous cause–but stay with me.

Through our work with Second Helpings, LISC, and the community development clients we’ve worked with over the years, including Southeast Neighborhood Development, King Park Area Development Corporation, West Indianapolis Development Corporation, and East 10th Street Civic Association, we’ve had an up-close and personal view of poverty in our city. We know it’s generational. We know it takes extraordinary motivation and determination and resources to lift yourself out of poverty.

We believe that education is the door out of poverty. And we believe that creative writing is one of the keys that can unlock that door.

We believe creative writing opens young minds to new possibilities. Helps them stretch. Helps them become more curious about the world around them and their place in it. Gives them schoolwork they can look forward to–where there’s not a right or wrong answer. Makes them more avid, engaged readers and more interested students.

And for some kids, creative writing is the spark that sets their whole lives on fire with possibilities. They see themselves differently. They see a way out of the poverty that has crippled their family and everyone they know, for generations.

We were big fans of The Wire–and one of the lessons from this extraordinary novel-on-television was that, if you’re really lucky, you can help save a kid. And because life in poverty is so crazily difficult, you never know exactly which kid you’re going to save.

So you have to try to save all of them.

Second Story won’t save all of them–not even close. But we believe deeply in what we’re doing, and we’re already seeing the effects of our efforts. Kids who used to “hate writing” now look forward to it. Kids who had no desire to share anything about themselves swell with pride to see their stories included in the books we publish. Kids who didn’t have much interest in school have a new reason to get engaged.

Want to help? We can take donations at our website. Next semester, we’re bringing Second Story creative writing programs to more kids than ever before. But the need is great, and we’re just getting started.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for considering. Thanks for helping if you can, where you can. In tough times like these, we need each other more than ever.