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This week’s Friday Focus takes us to Calvert County, where the United Way is nearing the final days of preparation for its annual Mardi Gras event. As the organization’s largest fundraising event of the year, proceeds from Mardi Gras will go toward the United Way’s mission of helping to end poverty and provide relief to struggling families and individuals in the community. United Way President and CEO Kelly Chambers took some time this week to share her organization’s story with us.

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

A: The United Way of Calvert County was established in 1980 and is governed by a group of local volunteers who serve Calvert County with a mission to engage the community in making a meaningful difference to improve people’s lives.

United Way of Calvert County brings people and organizations together to address the underlying causes of crisis issues like poverty, hunger and homelessness in our community. We are working to break the cycle of poverty by investing our resources in education, financial stability and health programs. By pulling our partners (both agencies and businesses) together to focus on these areas, we believe our community will become stronger.

What we do on a daily basis is provide opportunities for giving, advocating and volunteering. Sometimes that may mean we are hosting a large event, sometimes that may mean we are on the phone with a struggling family and giving out resources, and sometimes that may mean we are working with an agency representative.

United Way of Calvert County works with over 30 partner agencies and local non-profits. We wear many hats, from fundraisers to community facilitators to grant funders.

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

A: Having been with the organization so long, there are many great moments. I would have to say that the most meaningful moments have come from our Day of Caring. Day of Caring is a partnership between businesses and United Way where businesses give their employees the day to volunteer in a United Way agency. I do believe the volunteers get even more out of it then the people they are helping. It was extremely meaningful for me to have one of our volunteers stand up and give testimony about her Day of Caring experience – she spoke of a desperate time in her life having to use the homeless shelter, Project Echo, for herself and her daughter. She wanted to give back and chose to work there for her volunteer project. She spoke of how grateful she was that the shelter was there for her and that United Way funded it. And she was so happy to be able to give back through painting and cleaning and sprucing the place up, a place where she had been able to put her life back together. It was extremely moving and she remained a faithful volunteer for many years until she moved away.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Most challenging is getting the general public to understand all that we do in the areas of education, financial stability and health. Equally challenging are the limited resources available to accomplish all we want to do to break the cycle of poverty we see in Calvert County. We partner with over 30 non-profit organizations, the public schools, county government, health department, social services and local businesses. We are unable to fill the requests from all our partners when we receive proposals and this is disheartening when there is so much need.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: United Way’s 16th annual Mardi Gras fundraising event is March 7 at Annmarie Garden Arts Center. Dance and dine the night away to live music, enjoy live performers and gourmet Cajun cuisine, or test your luck at the auction or jewelry raffle. Mardi Gras sponsorship packages and tickets are available online at http://www.unitedwaycalvert.org/mardi-gras​ or by contacting the United Way of Calvert County at 410-286-0100 or at 443-968-2731.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: You can get involved with our organization in many ways! You can volunteer for one of our Impact Councils in the area of education, financial stability or health. We also have other committees you might be interested in, like our golf committee or Mardi Gras committee. You can participate in Day of Caring as a volunteer or business (it is the second Wednesday of September every year).You can start a payroll deduction campaign at your office, participate in our Spirit of Giving Campaign, or create your own fundraiser for United Way of Calvert County.

Or you can contact us and we can talk to you about other ways to get involved! Visit our website at www.unitedwaycalvert.org or call us at 410-286-0100.

Nonprofit organizations play an integral part in shaping our local communities. Relying primarily on foundation support and contributions from others, the faces of nonprofit organizations are dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to support, improve, and affect change in the areas in which they work. The Arc of Southern Maryland is one such organization. For this week’s Friday Focus, we caught up with Nkeshi Free from The Arc who spoke with us about her organization’s background, mission, and some of her personal favorite experiences working in the nonprofit sector.

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

A: The Arc of Southern Maryland is the largest grassroots organization in Southern Maryland serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc promotes community involvement, independence, and personal success for the individuals we support. The Arc is a 501(c)(3) affiliated at the state level with The Arc of Maryland, and at the national level with The Arc of the United States.

Q: When was The Arc of Southern Maryland founded?  

A: The Arc of Southern Maryland was started in 1975. It started as small group of parents and friends in Calvert County. In 1992, that group merged with advocates in St. Mary's County and in 1993, extended services into Charles County, thus becoming a tri-county agency. 

Q: What kind of services does The Arc offer?  

A: The Arc now provides the following primary programs and services:

  • Residential
  • Employment training and placement
  • Family support  services
  • Day support services
  • Community inclusive living support
  • Respite care

Q: In working for The Arc, what would you say has been your favorite “moment” (an example of how your organization helped)? 

A: There are many major milestone markers for The Arc. More importantly, however, are the personal successes of individuals supported by The Arc. These are the stories that highlight the lives touched, how we’ve made a difference in the community and continue to grow and adapt with the times. These stories include the young man who flew in an airplane for the first time, self-advocates participated in an adapted public speaking course, the music and yoga therapy programs. That said, some of the recent events that reflected the progress and strength of the organization include:

  • The "Re-branding" campaign that began in 2012 that connected more than 700 individual chapters under a new national organizational identity with a new logo and mission statement.
  • The expanded community partnership programs which include, but are not limited to, bidding on state government contracts, Morgan State University Patuxent Environmental Aquatic Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park, St. Mary’s College of Maryland Service Learning Program, and Community Caravan Day with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
  • The increase of self-advocacy and legislative involvement by individuals supported by The Arc is reflective of our mission to “promote self-advocacy and community involvement.” Over the past few years, individuals supported by The Arc participated in state level committee hearings, met with their legislative representatives, participated in First responder training programs and led workshops at two national conferences. Additionally, people with developmental disabilities are more visible in the community. They are working in retail, fast food and the hospitality industry. They are participating in inclusive classes and recreational activities and sports. For the past three years a group of people supported by The Arc and staff have held a camp-out fundraiser to raise money for a local homeless shelter.

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge? 

A: As an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, The Arc faces many challenges. One of the greatest challenges is the lack of resources. This includes lack of funding for programs, highly specialized trained staff, especially staff with a medical background. That said, one of the greatest challenges faced by The Arc as an organization are the societal stigmas associated with developmental disabilities. Many of these stigmas are unconsciously based on fear, embarrassment, lack of knowledge, and/or a lack of exposure to someone with a disability. Sometimes the unconscious bias toward individuals with a developmental disability is caused by all three of these factors. This is why organizations such as The Arc are so valuable. We strive to focus on abilities and the rights of individuals and their families.

Q: How can people really help?

A: There are many ways that people can help. Financial donations are always helpful. Donations help make programming possible. While The Arc has an annual giving campaign which usually begins mid to late November and lasts through the end of the year. There are two major fundraisers held annually, both of which include sponsorship opportunities. These events are the Pat Collins Golf Classic (held in honor of a former board president) and the Sprout Film Festival, which showcases films featuring individuals with developmental disabilities.  These films range from traditional feature films to documentaries, cartoons, poetry showcases and music videos.  

This year on April 30, 2015 The Arc is participating in the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs “Crabs for a Cause” fundraiser. A portion of the tickets purchased online using a special code will be donated to the agency.

There are also other ways to support, which are just as critical as direct donations and sponsorships. Businesses can partner with The Arc to provide employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. By employing people with disabilities, it creates exposure, opportunities, and community inclusion, thus breaking down stereotypes and barriers. Additionally there are volunteer opportunities where individuals can provide assistance.

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

A: The advice I would give for someone looking to work at a non-profit, are "be open to new experiences." There may be an organization where you would be a great fit, but just never considered. Individuals that are in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career tracks, for example, often plan for careers working in IT, the government, military and even teaching. How many future engineers or scientists are thinking about putting their skills to use to design adaptive equipment or create adaptive apps? How many accounting students are graduating and thinking about helping a non-profit save money? How many English or communication students are thinking about writing grants, media releases or managing the social media for a non-profit? Yet, with the adaptive equipment being built for soldiers returning from war, or to assist people who are injured in accidents, there is clearly a need for this type of technology. The same applies for other skill sets. Non-profit organizations are, in many ways, like any other company. While their purpose is rooted in helping, serving, and making a difference in the world, non-profits are still organizations that need the same type of structure and administrative support as a traditional business. When people bring both their talent AND their passion to a non-profit, the end result is sheer magic!

therapeutic riding logo
Maryland Therapeutic Riding
 provides positive, life-changing experience for children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities each day. Located in Crownsville, Maryland on a 25-acre farm, the organization is committed to helping improve the quality of life for the people it serves. For this week’s Friday Focus, we spoke to Retired Colonel Ken McCreedy, MTR’s Executive Director, who spoke with us about the challenges and rewards that come from being a part of this organization.

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

A: Maryland Therapeutic Riding is a not-for-profit organization in Crownsville, MD (just north of Annapolis). Our mission is to improve the quality of life of children and adults with disabilities by connecting humans and horses. We are a premier accredited center as certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), International. As such, we meet or exceed the highest professional standards of our industry.

MTR serves people with autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, ADD, Down’s Syndrome, post-traumatic stress, amputation, and various other cognitive, physical, and emotional disorders. Our largest single population is children on the autism spectrum, but we served riders from ages 4 to 80!

The horse’s rhythmic motion moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance, muscle strength, circulation and breathing arising from horseback riding. The movement of the horse naturally exercises the core muscles of the body, giving the rider a real workout, akin to performing many, many crunches!

The horse, like a dog, is an incredibly intuitive animal. Our specially trained and selected horses just seem to know that their riders are special and reward them with affection, trust, and encouragement. The size of the horse and its obvious strength can seem intimidating to our riders, but learning to control and direct such a powerful animal is a very exhilarating experience. The unique relationship formed with the horse provides such benefits as increased confidence, patience and self-esteem.

MTR serves from 80 to 100 riders each week, supported by our herd of 15 horses and some 200 volunteers. The volunteers support the riders in the saddle, lead the horses, and perform the endless amount of chores that are necessary to sustain a farm and its animals. MTR volunteers gave over 14,000 hours of their time last year. We operate year round, thanks to an indoor arena, although extremely hot and cold weather will cause us to curtail operations.

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

A: We are continually inspired by our riders. We have seen them say their first words while on horseback; some have taken their first steps. One wounded warrior dealing with post-traumatic stress told me that while riding Eli, he felt as close to being happy as he had in many years. One mother told me that as her special needs child was growing up, she could not picture him having an adult conversation. He now routinely does so, on a subject that he knows well: horseback riding!

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: As a non-profit organization, we subsidize 80% of the cost of providing the services we do to our riders. With an annual budget in excess of $1 million, this requires a significant amount of fund-raising. Through the generosity of individual, family, and corporate donations, together with grants through various foundations, we are able to pay our mortgage, feed the horses, and keep the lights on! But it requires constant effort and not a few cash flow challenges!

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: One of our major fund-raising events will happen on May 2. This is our annual Derby Day party on the farm. We transform our riding arena to celebrate the annual Running of the Roses at Churchill Downs. We bring in a big screen monitor to watch the Kentucky Derby while sipping mint juleps and modeling the “latest” fashions in Derby Day hats! Guests enjoy a wonderful catered meal and a bourbon tasting station and participate in live and silent auctions to support MTR programs. Information on the event and tickets are available at our web-site, www.horsesthatheal.org.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are many ways to get involved. We are always looking for volunteers who can commit to helping us with the riders or with farm chores. No experience is necessary with horses (but is welcome nonetheless!)—we’ll provide all the training and mentoring necessary. We offer quarterly orientation sessions for new volunteers. Information on how to volunteer may be found on our website, www.horsesthatheal.org. We are also always looking for horses for our program. Ideally they are between 8 and 18 years old, physically sound at the walk, trot, and canter, and have what we call a “bombproof” temperament. Finally, donations to support our mission are always appreciated (again, check out www.horsesthatheal.org if you are inspired to make a donation).

Ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day in the 17th century? Visitors to Historic St. Mary’s City have the opportunity to do just that! Located on the St. Mary’s Peninsula, Historic St. Mary’s City brings the early colonial experience to life day in and day out. With a number of interactive historical sites staffed by costumed interpreters, visitors to the museum learn the stories of the earliest settlers of Maryland’s first capital. This week’s Friday Focus takes an inside look at the museum with help from Executive Director Regina Faden.

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

A: Historic St. Mary’s City is a museum at Maryland’s first capital. For the past forty years, the museum has been a leader in research and education about Maryland’s early history. Archaeologists and historians have rediscovered Maryland’s 17th century city. Programs and costumed interpreters provide a hands-on history experience for approximately 25,000 Maryland school children annually. We are also educating the next generation of archaeologists, historians and museum professionals through our programs, archaeological field school and Museum Studies program through St. Mary’s College.

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

A: We love to see that children and adults are enjoying the entire experience at HSMC. St. Mary’s City is set in some of the most beautiful landscape in the Tidewater region. Families can have fun together learning about people who lived in earlier times and make meaningful connections to their stories.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is making sure that we are serving our entire community. There are many people who love and visit the museum often, but we know there are people we don’t reach. As the first capital and a state museum, Historic St. Mary’s City belongs to all Marylanders and we want to make sure we serve the whole state. We also want to educate visitors from outside Maryland about St. Mary’s City about what life was like for people in colonial days. Of course, we love to see visitors from every state and other countries!

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: They can volunteer in a variety of capacities, serve on our Foundation to help support the museum, join us for an internship or see what jobs are available.

Volunteers often like to support events like our annual Beerfest or Indian Discovery Day. They also serve as crew on our replica seventeenth century ship, help maintain gardens and trails or staff exhibits. Many of our volunteers get to do the things they love!

The easiest way to find information is to visit our website: www.HSMCdigshistory.org and click on “Support”. You can also call our Volunteer Coordinator at 240-895-4977 or email Volunteers@HSMCdigshistory.org.

We’re proud to support our friends at Historic St. Mary’s City as they bring the history of the region to life. Learn more in this week’s Friday Focus interview.