Here are a few of the more than 100 Des Moines-area charities that make it easy to help to the community. For more information, visit Des Moines Register


With a new year comes a chance to reflect on accomplishments and look toward goals for the future.

While resolutions sometimes focus inward, the Des Moines Register's "15 People to Watch in 2020" are committed to helping others — in their communities or across the world.

These Iowans are movers and shakers, givers and doers. They were chosen by Des Moines Register news staff from scores of reader nominations.

Amber Lynch

Des Moines

Amber Lynch was recently appointed the first executive director of Invest DSM, a new nonprofit designed to make investments in four target neighborhoods to improve housing stock, increase amenities and attract new businesses.

Read the story: Amber Lynch will work to lift up four Des Moines neighborhoods as Invest DSM director

Michael Penniman

Iowa City

The challenges Michael Penniman faces due to a wrestling accident inspired him and his friends to find creative but practical solutions that three years ago they turned into Students Care, a nonprofit that connects disabled students who need round-the-clock care with student caregivers. 

Read the story: Quadriplegic Iowa entrepreneur bullish on future of home health care startup

Sean Wilson

Des Moines

As the culinary lead of a job training program, the Justice League of Food, Sean Wilson teaches at-risk youth how to prepare elevated bar food for patrons of The Hall at The Foundry, a railcar barn-turned-distillery, beer hall and commissary kitchen in the revitalized Valley Junction district. 

Read the story: Chef Sean Wilson leads Iowa youth with empathy in nonprofit kitchen

Al Perez


Al Perez became a chaplain for Des Moines police in 2014 and, in 2017, started working at Des Moines schools, helping struggling families connect with community resources. 

In June, he is helping to bring Convoy of Hope to Des Moines, a massive volunteer and community service event that connects people with services, including health screenings and job opportunities.

Read the story: From rough Chicago neighborhood to Des Moines, the Rev. Al Perez helps kids and families find resources to succeed

Beth Shelton

Des Moines

In her nearly four years as chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, Beth Shelton has implemented benefit policies that have increased employee retention, workplace satisfaction and engagement. She credits that to supporting her employees.

Read the story: Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa CEO Beth Shelton is putting families first

Chelsea Chism-Vargas

Des Moines

Chelsea Chism-Vargas, 28, ultimately lost the three-candidate race for a seat on the Des Moines City Council on Nov. 5. But the ripple effect of her candidacy — she is one of only a few Latinos to ever seek a seat on the City Council — is still taking shape.

Read the story: Iowa community organizer Chelsea Chism-Vargas: Actions big and small can make a difference

Nate Moore

Iowa City

Nate Moore coaches girls' wrestling at Iowa City West. The sport is among the nation’s fastest-growing at the high school level, and support for it to be officially recognized in Iowa continues to build. 

Currently, West has 29 girls registered and eligible to wrestle this season, according to Trackwrestling, the most by a single school in Iowa.

Read the story: Iowa City West coach invests in, propels girls' wrestling movement in the state

Beth Skinner

Des Moines

Beth Skinner, 47, was appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in June to run the Iowa Department of Corrections, a position historically dominated by men. In the first six months, Skinner joined Reynolds' criminal justice reform committee and rolled out a system to simplify the voting rights restoration application. 

Read the story: Corrections director stirs optimism with nontraditional background

Donna Jeffrey


Donna Jeffrey, 70,  is leading a downtown Eldon redevelopment nonprofit that aims to reinvigorate the area by giving visitors a reason to spend more of their time — and their money — in the small town. 

Read the story: Donna Jeffrey is on mission to energize Eldon, town made famous by 'American Gothic' home

Courtney Reyez

Des Moines

In just two and a half years at One Iowa, Courtney Reyez's responsibilities grew, and in November she was named executive director. Now she oversees the entire nonprofit, from fundraising to advocacy. 

Read the story: One Iowa's new executive director: 'We are fighting for equality' for LGBTQ Iowans. 'We are not fighting for anything extra.'

Robert Johnson

Des Moines

Associate minister and community activist Robert Johnson will lead the city's 30th Juneteenth celebration. He also plans to engage more black Iowans in the upcoming year's political process, and use faith to increase mental health awareness.

Read the story: Des Moines pastor uses religion to increase mental health awareness, political engagement in black community

Scott Syroka


Scott Syroka left a job at Google in February, returned to his parents' house in Johnston and, weeks later, started a firm that helps small businesses find audiences online. Then he ran for and was elected to a seat on the Johnston City Council, where he plans to "modernize" city government.

Read the story: Scott Syroka trades big-city job at Google to take on suburban politics

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson


As manager of corporate affairs for Renewable Energy Group, the largest producer of biodiesel in North America, 29-year-old Elizabeth Burns-Thompson's responsibilities range from meeting with state officials to guiding 2020 presidential candidates on tours of the company's Iowa refineries.

In November, she was elected to her first term on Altoona's City Council.

Read the story: Elizabeth Burns-Thompson advocates for biodiesel around the country. Now she's also helping Altoona grow

Barwaqo Aden


As assistant director of Nisaa African Family Services, an organization in Des Moines that serves those who have suffered domestic sexual violence, Barwaqo Aden helps women in any way she can, whether it’s as simple as getting a lock changed or something more complicated, such as finding a lawyer or a place to live.

Read the story: 'Putting my heart in people's lives': Barwaqo Aden finds calling in local Somali community

Brynn Baker


Brynn Baker will join the 14th leg of eXXpedition Round the World, a series of 30 voyages that will cover 38,000 nautical miles with an ever-changing crew of volunteers over two years.

After her 12-day trip, the 34-year-old writer and editor at Meredith Corp. plans to write about the crew — a diverse mix of women from across the globe — and the science behind plastic pollution for both young and adult audiences.

Read the story: Meet Brynn Baker, a landlocked Iowan joining a voyage to study plastic pollution in oceans

These stories were written and photographed by Register journalists. Support our work by subscribing.

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