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vacation for vets logo
When a service member returns from combat wounded, their life and the lives of their family are forever changed. For many veterans, recovery is a long road and can mean a considerable amount of time spent in a hospital or VA center. This week’s Friday Focus organization, Vacations for Vets, plays a special role in the recovery process by providing service members with experiences that both lift their spirits and allow them to spend time with their loved ones. Board president Connie Pennington spoke to us on behalf of her organization for this week’s interview.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.).

A: Our organization serves recovering service members and their families by offering weekend retreats to those undergoing treatment at local military hospitals and VA centers. Recovery is based on many factors, and one of those factors is family time. We have families that travel from different states just to spend the weekend with their service member away from the hospital setting. Some of the service members haven’t seen their families in months—the costs associated with visiting are just too high. We supply all lodging, food and entertainment for all guests. We host 5 events a year; weather permitting, we take them boating, tubing and kayaking. We also take them to local organizations for tours and entertainment, and invite public groups to come out and give demos. Past participants have included: the Pax Aero Flyers (remote control planes), search and rescue dog team demos, Superheroes of Southern Maryland, local fire departments and Clydesdale horse carriage rides. We also bring out professional face painters and scrapbookers, and we’ve done Mary Kay facials, chair massages and more.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: My most favorite moment was when a double amputee, Juan, said to me “Miss Connie, I thought I would be sitting in my chair all day bored, but I didn’t. I can do everything, I didn’t know I could still do those things.” He was very emotional and patting his chest while he spoke. He kayaked by himself, he drove a golf cart by himself and he went tubing by himself. Of course, we had 2 medics close by at all times, but given the chance, he was able to participate in all the activities.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our biggest challenge is the turnover rate of guests. When I receive the list from the hospital of guests that are cleared to attend, it will have about 15 service members’ names on it. By the time I am done calling them all, the list is in half. The week before the event, the list is even smaller. Because of their injuries or illness, the doctors will often remove them from the list at the last minute, creating a void that is almost impossible to fill on short notice. At this point, the meals, lodging and activities have all been reserved, so we start contacting other agencies to see if they have someone to come at the last minute.

Of course, another challenge is the financial side. The handicapped facility we rent has raised their rates this year, and the cost of food and supplies has increased as well. The typical weekend retreat costs approximately $2,200, depending on the number of guests and any special needs that need to be met. Our 501(c)(3) has been submitted, but not approved yet. If you wish to make a donation, please make checks payable to So. Md. Vacation for Vets and mail to the address below. The donation can be claimed on your MD taxes. We will send you a thank you letter with our EIN on it for tax purposes.

So. Md. Vacations for Vets
22673 Pops Way
California, MD 20619

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Be committed. Don’t sign up if you don’t want to help.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization? Are there any upcoming events?

A: Our website, vac4vets.org, has a volunteer application on it. Once it is completed, just send it to me and we will do a background check before releasing any information about upcoming events. It is in our agreement with the hospitals and treatments centers that we do not release the dates the service members will be here to the public—those dates are only released to volunteers who have passed the background check and the service providers. We also have a fundraiser set up for March 16 (the flier will be on our website shortly).

center for children logo
This week’s Friday Focus is an organization that makes a difference in the lives of over 4,000 individuals each year from Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties. Currently the largest provider of children’s mental health services in Southern Maryland, the Center for Children offers a wide variety of resources for children of all ages and their parents. We spoke with several members of the Center’s team for this week’s interview.

Q: Tell us about your organization. Who do you serve?

A: Established in 1989, the Center for Children is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of positive mental health for children, youth and families, and the prevention and treatment of child abuse in Southern Maryland. Through therapy, education and advocacy, we provide hope and healing. Since inception, we have helped over 50,000 children and families.

Q: What has been a favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: We gave Thanksgiving baskets (turkey and all the fixings) to our clients who are less fortunate and at Christmas we had a wonderful Children Christmas Party with Santa with gifts and food for the clients. It was wonderful. It is such a rewarding gift to see the excitement on someone’s face that otherwise may not have enjoyed the holidays.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our biggest challenge is providing help for all the children and their families in need of therapy.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: All nonprofit organizations are dependent on volunteers. Without them, the organizations wouldn’t exist. When looking to volunteer, make sure you are really passionate and dedicated to the work of the non-profit. It will be rewarding for you and the organization.

Q: How can people get involved?

A: We accept donations on our website at www.center-for-children.org or via mail to P.O. Box 2925, La Plata, MD, 20646. We can also always use volunteers for the Center, our events or for CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates appointed by a judge to speak up for abused and neglected children in court). Interested volunteers can contact Diana Colomo at colomo@center-for-children.org.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Each April, we sponsor Touch A Truck, a unique, family-oriented event featuring cars, trucks and other vehicles that children are allowed to touch, climb on, take pictures alongside and explore. The proceeds from the event help raise money and awareness for the Center.

We are also in the process of planning for our annual BIIKR (Bikers Involved in Kids Recovery) event. This event will be held on May 3, 2014. It is a Poker Run event and starts at the Center for Children in Waldorf and ends at the Mechanicsville Moose Lodge. All bikes and vehicles are welcome.

humane society logo
Since 1978, the Humane Society of Charles County has worked to make a difference in the lives of our furry friends and their families. From providing vaccines and training classes to adoption services, the Society has helped countless animals live happier, better lives and even find their “forever homes”. This week, the Society’s Fundraising and Volunteer Manager, Leigha Messick, shared her thoughts on the organization’s work, the challenges they face and those special moments that make all of their hard work worth it.

Q: Tell us about your organization. Who do you serve?

A: It is the mission of the Humane Society of Charles County to provide shelter and care for homeless, injured and neglected animals through adoption, fostering, community partnerships, education and affordable spay-neuter and vaccine services. The vision of the Humane Society of Charles County is to create a community where animals are cherished and no longer need us for protection and shelter.

In upholding the vision and mission of the Humane Society of Charles County we will all work with these values: to always be compassionate and caring; to foster respect and understanding of all life; to protect, rescue, adopt and care for animals; to create partnerships for animal welfare; and to educate the community on animal welfare issues.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: It's hard to pick just one. Seeing the smiles of families reunited with their pets; watching an animal change from being frightened to being loving; watching an animal we've had for months finally leave to start a new life with its forever family. Knowing we are able to give hope to families who just need a little time or a little help to be able to keep their cherished animal brings so much joy to us. The happy stories keep us going.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Never knowing what will happen each day. It's a roller coaster of emotions here—one minute we are elated to see an animal find a happy ending, just to have another pet brought in. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the animals at the shelter have something wrong with them—that is not the case. Usually when they are brought in, we are the last option. Most owners are devastated to be giving up their loved one, and we do everything we can to keep them safe and find them loving homes.

Q: How can people really help/get involved?

A: Volunteer, donate at www.humanesocietycc.org/Donate.html, spread the word about these amazing animals! Just the simple act of talking about the animals in our shelter to your friends or sharing a Facebook post can save a life.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Know that what you are doing makes a difference. You may not get thanks, you may not always feel like it does, but everything you do has a direct, positive impact on our community.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Our Top Dog Dinner and Dance featuring Johnny Seaton as Elvis will be held Friday, February 28th from 7-11pm at the Waldorf Jaycees. Call 301.645.8181 x3 to order tickets.

calvert library
For thousands of years, libraries have been a staple community institution where people could gather and seek out information. Today, the Calvert County Library system continues the tradition, providing central hubs that provide not only books, but an endless list of programs and services as well. This week’s Friday Focus organization, the Calvert Library Foundation, plays a vital role in supporting the Library’s mission by providing additional funding. We spoke with Scott Deacon, Vice President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, who shared his thoughts on the many ways the Library benefits the local community.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: Calvert Library Foundation is an enabling organization whose stated purpose is to improve public library services and facilities in Calvert County, Maryland. The Foundation accomplishes this purpose by securing non-government funding from residents of Calvert County and its surrounding counties in Maryland, businesses and private sources. These funds are used to purchase resources that will make significant improvements to libraries and their programs not otherwise obtainable through governmental or other institutional funding. In 2013, the Foundation provided needed funds to the Library for furnishings and for staff training to improve services for County residents. We also conducted a capital campaign and provided more than $225,000 for the outfitting of one branch. Funds provided by the Foundation help bridge the difference between the Calvert Library being good and being GREAT!

The Calvert Library is comprised of four separate branches throughout Calvert County, Maryland. In 2013, the library was able to provide the more than 88,500 county residents and residents of nearby counties with a complete range of library services and employed 54 full-time equivalent employees. They served nearly 600,000 customers in-person, circulated the 265,864 items in their physical collection 1,121,505 times and answered more than 145,954 reference questions. Their website saw 186,465 unique visitors and the webpage was viewed 904,867 times. The computers were used 141,507 times. Additionally, outside groups used the meeting rooms 3,471 times.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: I do not think I have just one "moment". Actually, every time I go into one of the library facilities I get a sense of satisfaction. You can almost feel the wonderment of those who are gaining from all the library has to offer. When I grew up, we lived in an area that was so rural we did not have a library facility. Rather, we had an old bus that served as a mobile library and brought books to our area once a week. So when I go into the library facilities, I look at all the patrons who are benefitting from its very presence and I appreciate all of those who made and continue to make that reality. For example, the Foundation provided a large flat-screen television in the meeting room which has become a mainstay for presentations, workshops, the cinema café movie nights, and is used extensively by community organizations on a daily basis. Also, the circulating video games the foundation provided are very popular. Finally, the Foundation has provided for children’s activity cubes, additional computers for patrons and staff, comfortable library furnishings and foreign language CDs and DVDs.

Q: Why is the Library important?

A: Calvert Library is a hub for members of our community to connect and interact across all demographic groups. The Library hosts a range of activities and social programs that engage our minds and provide opportunities to exchange ideas with other people. It has numerous partnering agencies (College of Southern Maryland, public schools, Head Start, Workforce Investment Board’s Mobile Job Center, etc.) where its programs complement and reinforce theirs. The library provides opportunities to bring diverse segments of the population together to have civil discourse about matters of importance. Their “Choose Civility” programming is just one of many the library offers to address needs in our community.

It is also an important economic equalizer, providing equal access to technology, information and lifelong learning opportunities to all who wish to develop both professionally and personally. It is a meeting place for those seeking to improve their English-speaking skills. Students and job seekers flock to the library to use computers for schoolwork, research, job searches and many other things.

It also makes green sense (environmental, not just dollars) to have reference materials, databases, literature and media in one place for people to access. Having hard copies to share across a community and online copies of documents shared by thousands of people in our county saves trees from being harvested and waters from being polluted. The Library provides timely, accurate responses to questions. Its inter-library loan system connects people to the information they seek – all these services are provided free of charge to everyone.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Managing technology. We need to assist the library in staying relevant to their patrons, young and old alike. We also need to help the library stay abreast of the emerging technology as it relates to providing access to entertainment and knowledge. There is a move toward having Maker-spaces in libraries where computers are programmed to manufacture 3D items. By providing cutting edge equipment such as this, the Library helps to ignite people’s imagination and foster the science, technology, engineering and math skills that make America competitive.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have an awards dinner and fundraising event scheduled for the evening of February 22 at the Rod and Reel restaurant in Chesapeake Beach. The honoree is Kitty Hurrey, who was Director of Southern Maryland Regional Library Association from 1968-1995 and simultaneously the Director of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's Libraries. She was a visionary in her field. Starting out on the bookmobile in 1963, Kitty led the Tri-County library system into automation in 1992. She was a community leader in numerous areas, pioneering as the first female President of Calvert County’s Board of Education, volunteering with the Scouts and serving on the Republican Central Committee.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Please visit our website at http://calvertlibraryfoundation.com and look for activities and opportunities to join the foundation in its endeavors. I should point out that the Calvert Library Foundation is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and as such, your contribution is tax–deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please contact us if you would like to become a member of the Library Foundation Board or if you would like to assist and/or participate in any of the Foundation events. Finally, there are few—if any—institutions that provide so many free services and programs for people. Your donation will help this great institution innovate and reach out to all segments of the population. Your dollars will enable people to achieve their potential. And, you will know that you are an important part of something larger than yourself.